Helena Clayton | ‘You can’t be a hurried person AND a loving person’



‘You can’t be a hurried person AND a loving person’

06 Jan 2020, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog, Work as Love in Action

‘You can’t be a hurried person and be a loving person’.

Perhaps you might find that a bit too definite for your liking. Rather too black and white. But when I first heard someone say it, a large part of me stood to attention because I recognised a great deal of truth in it for myself.

It comes from John Mark Comer, a US pastor. Someone had sent me one of his podcasts and as someone who is neither religious nor great with podcasts, I could so easily have ignored it. I’m glad I didn’t because it shone a light into my relationship with time, my ability to be present, my commitment to what I say really matters to me as well as plenty of things I’d rather not admit to.

Unpacking this for myself, and in the context of my wider work with love and its place in our organisations and wider world, the following three things come up for me:


Some years ago, I spent 18 months on the Teacher Training programme for the Hoffman Process, a deep-dive 7-day immersion into how our past shapes our future and what choices we might make about that. The programme touches on addiction and we used Melody Beattie’s definition of ‘the use of a substance or behaviour to escape an intolerable reality’. Naturally the focus is on what substance or behaviour do you have an addictive relationship with but also what are we trying to escape or avoid when we turn to that.

So is hurrying an addiction for me? In part my hurrying is a habit that I’ve got into and I’m just on automatic pilot. It’s also partly self-importance and superiority because ‘I’m really busy’ proves my self-worth (right?). It’s also part of an acute and often problematic impatience that I have known in myself for many years.

But yes, I also recognise it as an addiction, something that I use to escape something difficult, unfamiliar, intolerable. It’s there as a defence against something. It’s a familiar phrase, in the world of the psychodynamic to say ‘everything is a defence against anxiety’. And one of the reasons I’m ok to describe it as an addiction is that only I know the force of it in my life, only I know how much discomfort and struggle I experience when I am asked (or when I try) to slow down.

I also know that it’s one of the key things that creates a block to love. I’ve written about some of my blocks to love in a previous blog, but I’d put hurrying as one of my primary ones.
For me, I can connect to love when I am fully present to another person. When I really listen and give undivided attention. When I have time to stay put and wait. When I hurry, I can’t be present to someone else. I can’t pay attention in a way that offers a loving presence. When I hurry, I am generally putting my own needs first, and I fail to pay enough attention to others’ needs.

I also know that it’s only when I slow down or stop that I can connect to what I feel. It’s only when I sit in a few minutes of mediation at the start of a yoga practice, or when I pause in a cafe to do some journaling that I’m able to connect with what’s happening on the inside. Maybe what comes up is the difficult grief and feelings of loss or sadness. Maybe it’s a sense of joy or gratitude. Or a sense of deep connection to other people. But whatever, I know that all feelings are a route into feeling love – for myself, for others or the wider world – and that I only get that from slowing down and being honest with myself.  As Carmel Moore of the One Moment Company says ‘our hurrying hides the truth from others and from ourselves. But what could be more loving than to share and express the truth of where we are, right here, right now?’

It’s also only when I am moving more slowly that I act on feelings of love. If love is a verb then for me, it needs space to be enacted. The other week, sprinting to an early morning a yoga class in the still-pitch black morning, I saw a rough sleeper sitting with his head in his hands. I had a huge pull to go and talk to ask and ask him if he was ok – something I sometimes do. But this time I watched myself, with some disbelief, making the choice to keep walking fast so as not to miss the start of my class. That’s what I mean about hurrying getting in the way of love, for me.

• Is hurrying an addiction for you?
• If so, what are you hoping to avoid by hurrying?
• If not, what else does hurrying block?


When we hurry or rush, it tends to narrow our field of vision to the immediate moment. When we rush, we are probably over producing cortisol, the stress hormone, which biologically inclines us to only be able to deal with what’s right in front of us. Likewise, when we travel at speed, we tend to only be able to look short distances. Dashing from one thing to the next means we lose sight of where we’re going, and we don’t get the space to keep our gaze on what really matters to us. I can see that in the example of the rough sleeper – how come I made my yoga class more important than the wellbeing of someone with no home who’s been on a cold street all night? Barbara Fredrickson, whose book Love 2.0 I review elsewhere in the January Newsletter says: ‘the signs of love are so subtle by modern standards that you can miss them completely. If you rush ….how do you find the time or the energy to kindle those fragile states?’

Hurrying also means that we generally aren’t able to see the ‘extended consequences’ of our actions. This might mean we don’t consider what Joanna Macy, in Active Hope, calls ‘deep time’. This is way of seeing our role and actions just as one small cell within a much bigger organism. Where we consider our ancestry and lineage, our widest family system, or our links to people in Australia or Brazil – or to the animal world. Where we might, as the native American Iroquois do, ask: ‘how might this decision effect things seven generations from now’. So a much more expansive story.

We also become myopic in terms of the lateral connections. What might be the wider consequences of this action on, say, the person in the other department, my friend’s mum, the hospital staff, the homeless, our biodiversity or rising sea levels (that rough sleeper)? Joanna Macy says ‘to heal the world we need a radical interconnectedness because this is the only way that we can feel the pain of others and so develop a healthy and normal response that builds connection and develops a deep sense of love and care for others, the environment and all life’.

For me, it seems that love requires that we think bigger, beyond what we’re presented with immediately. It requires that we think beyond our self and our own interests. I’m reminded of a model of strategic thinking by Henry Minzberg (I wasn’t expecting to bring strategy into this post!). He sees strategic thinking as ‘seeing’: seeing above, seeing beyond, seeing alongside, seeing below … and it strikes me that we can use this framework as a ‘way of seeing’ for love. And just as we know that we can’t do good strategic thinking when we are caught up in the myopia of a hurried week, so we can’t do good loving when we’re caught up in the same way.

• What do you actively and intentionally build into your week to allow you to stop and take a breath?
• What are your own practices to help you see and connect to the ‘extended consequences’ of what you do (or what your organisation does)?
• What version of ‘bigger’ most relates to your understanding of love?

‘Hurry Sickness’

Macy describes our economic system as one that measures how fast it’s growing by the extent to which we accomplish more in the same amount of time. The term ‘hurry sickness’ has been coined for this, defined as the constant need to do more, faster, even when there’s no objective reason to be in such a rush and often symbolised by repeatedly pushing the door-close button on an elevator. Richard Jolly of London Business School believes that about 95% of managers he has studied over the past 10 years, both in his MBA classes and his coaching practice, suffer from this sickness. It seems we are caught in an acceleration trap that means we do too much too fast and where a high gear seems the only one available to us.

So there’s something here that’s about a personal or psychological response to time – like habit or addiction. But there’s also the social and systemic aspects too. How come so many leaders I coach have 10 back-to-back one-hour meetings each day? No wonder they hit that elevator button so often. Dan Lyons in Lab Rats refers to many organisations that are ‘modern day sweat shops where human beings are pushed past their limits in ways that make Frederick Taylor and his stopwatch seem like Mother Theresa’. And he means managers and leaders and not just warehouse hands or Deliveroo riders. He tells of how Uber’s CTO compared working at Uber to the way diamonds are formed: ‘compressed with heat and pressure for thousands of years. Those who can actually survive and thrive from it come out as a diamond’.

In The Managed Heart, Arlie Hochschild talks about ‘industry speed ups’ when everything ramps up and we are asked to do more with less. When this happens, her research shows, it becomes all the more difficult to bring an emotional component into our work. Hochschild was researching the airline industry but we have all heard teachers and nurses in the UK saying this for years too. That the way they need to work and the pace they need to do it, means there is so little time for human connection and care. Do you see something similar in our own role, or sector? Because the casualty of speeding up is human contact and a personal connection – with ourselves as well as with the people around us. Hochschild found that after the speed up, when asked to make personal human contact at an inhuman speed, people cut back on their emotion work and grew detached.

Organisations that have love in them are probably those where leaders are more mammalian than reptilian. The qualities of reptiles – like those of diamonds – don’t make for loving organisations. When we are so compressed at work there is little space for any form of love – for empathy, compassion, deep listening, connection and care. All things that my research respondents said were loving.

• When you and your organisation ‘speeds up’, what do you notice gets lost first?
• How are you (unwittingly, maybe) supporting and encouraging this sort of craziness? How are you contributing to the hurry sickness of others?
• If you audited your company policies and procedures, how high would they score if you asked, ‘how loving is this policy?’






  • Tim Bird

    Thank you, Helena. I found myself relating to many of your points, in particular the pattern of addictions: the ‘need for speed’ being just one of those that for me revealed itself more clearly once others were addressed. I also found the idea, advanced in Conversational Intelligence, that I can work to swap my cortisol/dopamine reward patterns for an oxytocin based one really useful in understanding my behavioural choices from a neuroscience perspective

  • Ed

    Thank you for writing this Helena.
    It really made me slow down, stop and reflect!
    For me this really touched a nerve – I definitely fall into the pace trap.

  • Clare Norman

    O@h Helena, this resonates so much with me….my own addiction to hurry up and how that stops me from paying close attention to the person I (supposedly) love – my husband. Even as I was reading your article, I was thinking, hurry up and finish this so you can get onto the next thing on your list. The irony does not escape me! This week, I have been trying to take short – and longer – breaks in between pieces of work, taking the dog for a walk, going for a run, giving myself time to sit with a cup of tea. I’ve really noticed the quality of my thinking going up. Not sure about the quality of my love! But I do need to make this more of a habit and I am so pleased that you have brought the connection to love to my attention.

    I also see this in organisations, as you suggest, and I am so glad that you are leading the way in changing that!

    • Helena Clayton

      Just seeing this post a few months on and wondering how the hurrying has been …? 🙂


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