If you are trying to solve a problem or feel overwhelmed by all the demands, go for a walk. A short walk may improve memory, cognitive function, lower stress and improved mood. Steve Jobs generated his most creative ideas while taking a walk. Science suggests that walking is useful when brainstorming ideas. According to research from Stanford University, walking boosts creative thinking by an average of 60 percent.

Practicing gratitude generates many positive mind states, but perhaps the most important is an ability to regain perspective when life looks and/or feels dark and cloudy.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Norma Nikutowski, bestselling author of the book “Turn Your Happiness On.” In her book she shares the most powerful, easy to follow, scientifically proven strategies to increase your feelings of happiness right now. As a motivational speaker and life coach she has helped thousands of people to improve their mood and reach higher levels of success in their health, relationships, and career.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Since a young age, I observed that under very similar circumstances some people were happy and joyful while others felt miserable and couldn’t stop complaining. I belonged to the second group. No matter what I did, had, or looked like I would always find reasons to be grumpy. My inability to change my mood by changing outside circumstances led me to explore psychology, literature, self-help books, and psychotherapy. After much trial and error, I was able to feel happy and cheerful most of the time.

I earned my degree in psychology and worked with clients with depression and anxiety. There is a lot that we can do to change our mood regardless of our circumstances. The easiest way to change our life is to change our mood.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

It’s easy to feel rushed as there are always so many things to do. Technology puts unlimited options in front of us and we try to do one million things in a very short period of time. We get questions or requests over the phone, in person, by email, text messages, social media, and keep adding more and more tasks to our daily obligations.

Crossing out items on our to do list makes us feel like we are getting things done and moving ahead. Organizations push people to do more and more even if they must rush to accomplish all their tasks. We feel the pressure of doing more in less time, so we speed up. We have the illusion that after completing the urgent tasks we will be able to relax. The paradox is that there is always more to be accomplished.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

Rushing harms our productivity because when we try to accomplish too many things quickly we make more mistakes. We focus on the urgent instead of what is important. It may also stifle our creativity as our brain needs extra time and encouragement to come up with creative solutions. There are well documented cases of scientists coming up with breakthrough ideas while relaxing and mindlessly letting their imagination flow.

Our health is impacted when we rush because in the urge to accomplish tasks fast our level of stress increases, which lowers our immune system and we easily get sick. We choose junk food because it’s faster instead of eating nutritious food that may take a little longer to prepare. We work through our breaks instead of relaxing and taking care of ourselves.

It’s difficult to appreciate and be grateful for everything that is positive around us when rushing from task to task. We don’t have time to find the meaning in what we do, which impacts our self-esteem and happiness.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

We can do more by focusing on one important task at a time and scheduling enough time to complete it. Making sure that there aren’t any distractions and the work environment supports our efforts. This will produce higher quality work in less time.

Slowing down will reduce our stress level and our mind will better focus on the work at hand increasing our productivity.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1-Get ready the night before

Make sure to prepare everything you need to start your day on the right foot, the night before. Check the weather, prepare your clothes, phone, computer, and everything else you need for yourself and your family to have a smooth morning. Start by picturing in your mind what a perfect morning would look like for you. Then, prepare everything the night before. Go to bed early to get enough sleep, which is crucial to increase productivity. Starting your day relaxed will set the tone for the rest of your day.


Most people have a long to do list. Instead of trying to squeeze too many tasks into a short period of time, select the three items that will bring you closer to your most important goals. Complete these tasks first and take your time.

3-Take a walk

If you are trying to solve a problem or feel overwhelmed by all the demands, go for a walk. A short walk may improve memory, cognitive function, lower stress and improved mood. Steve Jobs generated his most creative ideas while taking a walk. Science suggests that walking is useful when brainstorming ideas. According to research from Stanford University, walking boosts creative thinking by an average of 60 percent. (Journal of Experimental Psychology; Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2014, Vol. 40, 1142–1152)

4-Use a timer

Before beginning a task limit yourself to a certain amount of time. Get as much done as possible in the time allotted. This is particularly important for perfectionists who can spend incredible amounts of time trying to complete a task to perfection. Take a break and move on to the next task. Done is better than perfect. Do your best within a reasonable amount of time.

5-Schedule breaks

Take some time to evaluate your progress. While taking a break remember to be grateful for everything you love around you. Take a few minutes to contemplate something you love. It could be a plant, a picture of a loved one, enjoy a healthy snack, drink some fresh water, or anything that makes you feel good. Find the meaning of what you are trying to accomplish.

6- Working space

If your workspace is neat and organized, you will feel more relaxed because everything around you seems under control. We spend much time looking for papers, notes, or information. When there is clutter, we are not as efficient as when everything is orderly around us.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

Mindfulness is when you are fully aware in the present moment, acknowledge and accept your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. If you are fully paying attention to what you are doing you will accomplish more in less time.

Any task can be completed mindfully. It is easier to start with activities you find interesting and involve most senses. Gardening, cooking, or writing keep my mind easily focused on what I’m doing.

When gardening I look at my plants, inhale the scents, touch the leaves, and listen to the many sounds of the rustling leaves. There is nothing on my mind besides taking care of that plant. I intently observe all the details in the leaves, flowers, stem, and dirt. I pay attention to the bodily sensations and keep my mind on what I’m doing. This is for me the easiest and fastest way to become mindful. Once you know how to become mindful it is easier to use the same skills when completing other tasks.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

You can integrate mindfulness into your everyday life by focusing your attention on whatever you are doing. Start with a hobby, sport, or activity you enjoy. Make it your intention to be fully present. Use your five senses to make sure your mind does not wander to the past or the future.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Once I feel that my mind is wandering off the task at hand I become aware of my breath and check in with my body. I feel the air coming in and out and check for tense muscles, aches, or pains.

I make sure that the work area is conducive to complete the task at hand and free of distractions.

I schedule breaks to take care of my body such as taking a walk, stretching, or eating some nutritious food.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

I’ve read countless psychology and self-development books and I’ve learned from all of them.

My favorite mindfulness practice is to spend time every day doing something I love and being present in the moment.

When I catch myself rushing, worrying, or stressed, I focus my attention on my breath and think about everything I’m grateful for. This practice helps me to center in the present and have a positive outlook.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This quote was attributed to Napoleon but it is not clear if it’s actually his.

“Dress me slowly I’m in a hurry”

My dad liked to tell me this every time he saw me running around trying to accomplish 5 things at the same time. I was always puzzled by this saying because how could slowing down help you in a hurry?

Fast forward 30 years and now I understand what Napoleon meant. When you rush, you make more mistakes and then fixing those mistakes will take double the time than if you had just done it mindfully the first time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement would be to change our mood to change the world. When we are in a good mood, we are more agreeable and willing to listen to each other. If more people were in a good, positive, happy mood, we would be more respectful of our differences, help each other, and create a more peaceful world.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About the Author:

After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.

Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12.

Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects. Ashley is also a nationally syndicated columnist on Thrive Global and Medium Magazine.