Living the Slow Life

We tend to live life in a hurry. We want to do it all. We are so caught up in checking off things in our lives that we actually forget about doing them well. When we live this way, we are simply racing through life instead of actually living it.

We are wrongly led to believe that faster is always better. Get more work done in less time, be more efficient, etc. We think we can do it all while also being present with everyone at all times, but that never works. We tend to overestimate our capacity to work in the near term, and instead of managing our time and attention effectively and living proactively, we live reactively.

When we try to do many things, we fail (unsurprisingly). As a result, we feel exhausted, distressed, and burned out — these are all symptoms of cognitive overload. This is because we have taken more than we have capacity. Yet, we mistakenly continue to believe we can do it all if we only tried harder instead of accepting and making our peace with the fact that we can’t do it all. The fact is we tend to overestimate the unimportance of virtually everything in our lives.

In our rush to do things, we have forgotten what it’s like to live in the moment. We have forgotten to be mindful. We have forgotten to be present.

Faster is not always better. It’s not about doing more things in less time. It’s about doing only the right things, albeit at a slower pace.

When things are moving so fast, that is exactly when we need to slow down. Only by thinking slow, looking at the big picture, pausing and reflecting about our lives, and thinking things through slowly and deeply can we make any sense of what we are doing and where we are headed.

As Boris Pasternak said during the 1917 Russian Revolution:

In an epoch of speed, one must think slowly.

I use the term “Slow” to describe living proactively and leading a self-paced life by doing a few things well. The idea of Slow runs contrary to living a reactive lifestyle that we have become accustomed to in the 21st century. So, before we understand more about what Slow is, let’s talk about what it’s not.

As Carl Honoré, an advocate for Slow Movement, has said:

It is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about maximizing quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting to sex.

Practicing a lifestyle of Slow doesn’t mean that we are being lazy and/or unproductive. It means we are taking our time to do things right.

Slow doesn’t mean being static or stopping. You’re always moving because there is movement in taking things slow.

Truth is, there is so much power in being slow. When you’re slow, you can do so many things well. The combination of Slow and repetition can create amazing momentum in the long-run.

As Confucius has said:

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

Slow is about living intentionally and with purpose. It involves living each day to the fullest and living in the present as much as possible. It’s about appropriate engagement with ourselves and with the world at large.

Slow is about living proactively. That means not reacting to inputs all day, but being a master of your own time. This includes doing the essential things as much of the time as possible while not getting distracted by things and not getting interrupted by others.

Slow is about doing things mindfully, doing fewer things better, and doing those few things as well as possible.

Slow is about taking each thing as it comes instead of worrying about the past or the future. All we have is the present moment. Things are going to take their own time anyway, so what’s the rush? Why hurry? Let doing those things take their own time. The pleasure of doing things is as important as the result (if not more so).

That said, not everything warrants being slow. There are times where the Slow mindset doesn’t make sense. Some things in life call for immediate action. For instance, we don’t want to be caught up in slow traffic jams or wait on slow internet speed. These things would take more of our time than is warranted. Part of the Slow mindset is to understand the difference between mindless efficiency and having the capacity to act decisively in times of need or emergency.

I hope you’re starting to get a sense of Slow. In the next piece, we look at the long-term benefits that come with being practicing the mindset of Slow.

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