The way I viewed time changed in 2007. The year I quit my desk job, threw some essentials in a large suitcase, and moved 5,000 miles east to a town I’d never heard of in southern Spain.
I arrived in Jaén with only one real responsibility: teach English. But I, of course, touted my own to-do list. Toward the top was learning the Spanish language and soaking in Andulsian culture.
Immersed in all things Spanish, I soon noticed that something was missing. Rushing. The people of southern Spain never seemed to be in a hurry.
People went along their way steadily. Their steps were laced neither with idleness—everything still got done—nor with a sole determination to get somewhere. Rather, they sauntered at a pace that anchored them in the present moment. And as they passed, I traced no fear of late arrivals or wasted time.
My mainstream American mindset found nothing familiar about this. Wasn’t time money? Wasn’t the purpose of one moment often to propel us to the next? Not here.
My mind thought back to a quote I once read by Ann Voskamp.
“The hurry makes us hurt.”
The Spanish people get this, I thought. So why was acclimating to this cultural norm so challenging for me?
I reflected on this as I walked Jaén’s hilly streets.
So often when I hurried, I thought I was making up time. In reality, I was throwing it away. I was discarding the present moment as I worked to quickly enter the next one.
Rushing, I realized, prevented me from fully entering into what’s in front of me. Hurry made my soul feel empty instead of filled with the beauty and wonder of now.
Could I unlearn rushing during this year in Spain? As it turned out, yes.
Here are three lessons I learned in Spain about slowing down. I return to them often when I catch myself moving too quickly through life.
1. Our Mindset can Set our Pace
The words we say—to ourselves and others—have neurochemical implications. Positive words increase neurotransmitters while negative words deplete them.
Give it a try. “You’re out of time—hurry up!” activates different brain areas than “You have all the time you need.” You can choose to tell yourself either. The second allows you to keep moving forward without hijacking your nervous system.
In Spain, two of the first phrases I learned were “tómate tu tiempo” (take your time) and “no hay prisa” (there’s no hurry). I heard them frequently, along with phrases like “tranquilo” (relax) and “que descanses” (take it easy). The language used in southern Spain facilitated a relaxed mindset.
I run these phrases over in my mind when I notice an inclination to rush. Repeating calming phrases like these changes brain chemistry and, ultimately, action.
2. Intentional Connection is Grounding
The Spanish put an emphasis on enjoying life. They intentionally partake in what fills the soul—a lengthy conversation, good food or wine, a daily siesta. Lunchtime is around 2 p.m. and is an event. The meal begins with a mutual “buen provecho” (before eating, everyone at the table pauses to tell each other to enjoy the meal). Several courses are served, the conversation is plentiful, and the meal lasts at least an hour.
If I’m feeling rushed or spread too thin, pausing to connect with loved ones, whether over a meal or simply morning coffee, helps me recenter. I focus on nothing more than connecting with that person and experiencing the moment. Savoring the tastes, breathing in aromas, listening and sharing. I find this slows the mind and fills the soul every time.
3. Time is a Cultural Concept
The United States is a future-oriented culture. We tend to run our lives by the clock (hence common phrases like “I don’t have enough time”). In pursuit of the “American Dream,” we strive to get ahead, often viewing a busy, hectic lifestyle as a sign of success. Spain is a present-oriented culture. Spaniards view time as a fluid concept, placing more importance on personal relationships than deadlines.
When I catch myself shifting into hurry mode, I stop and ask myself “Do I have a good reason for acting this way? Or am I acting on autopilot, in a way I’ve been culturally programmed?” Usually, it’s the latter. I take a deep breath (or five) and remind myself to feel this moment fully before passing onto the next one. I remind myself that the next moment it’s not promised and that what matters is the here and now.
I often ask myself, “What culture do I want to build within the walls of my own home?” I’ve realized that a life defined by constant rushing, busyness, and attempting to “do it all” is not my goal. Sometimes that means letting go of commitments or saying no to seemingly good things to make space for rest and connection.
Author Marc Chernoff said “Never be too busy to make room in your day for the ones who matter most. Truly being with someone, and listening without a clock and without anticipation of the next event, is the ultimate compliment.”
It took me a year immersed in the Spanish culture to understand the value of slow living. To realize that a life marked by hurry was a life that was lacking.
I’m thankful I learned this lesson when I did.
Because when I look back on life someday, I want to be able to say that I didn’t rush through it, just skimming the surface. But instead, I want to know without question that I lived it deeply, focused on who and what mattered most.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband and two extremely lively young daughters.