How to slow down to the speed of life (in praise of slowness)

Shutterstock

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

In the chaotic existence that is the twenty-first century, there are too many things competing for our attention.

The exhaustion of constant busyness is real. The pressure to pack your life full of activity and maximize every waking time can be stressful.


Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!


In his book, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore explores why we’re always in such a rush. He writes:

“Speed has helped to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating. Who wants to live without the Internet or jet travel? The problem is that our love of speed, our obsession with doing more and more in less and less time, has gone too far; it has turned into an addiction, a kind of idolatry. Even when speed starts to backfire, we invoke the go-faster gospel.”

In a world where information refreshes endlessly, busy has become the new default. But is constant busyness really mandatory? Life moves at such a fast pace that if you fail to make the most of it, it will pass sooner than you realize.

There is only one outcome to all the business — an overloaded mind.

Life in the fast lane is exhausting.

Millions of people are so occupied that they feel guilty when they do take time to do nothing, go for a walk, enjoy the company of their close relatives, or even watch an insert inch its way across the sidewalk.

There’s just no real planned rest anymore; no sense of completion. Ever.

But life doesn’t have to be a never hamster wheel.

What if you could step off the wheel and start taking control of your time and attention? There is a way out — setting your own defaults.

You can take a conscious approach and embrace the alternative: slowing down. Slowing down to the speed of life means making time to enjoy your day, being present, appreciating your relationships, and enjoying whatever you’re doing, instead of rushing to get through everything.

Slowing down is about making your life your own again — and about getting enough moments in your life to spend them on the things that really matter.

It also means an insane focus on your current task rather than switching between a multitude of tasks, focusing on none of them, and accomplishing little. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits recommends you focus on what’s going on right now — on your actions, on your environment, on others around you. He writes:

“It’s not enough to just slow down — you need to actually be mindful of whatever you’re doing at the moment. That means, when you find yourself thinking about something you need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen … gently bring yourself back to the present moment.”

Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one. But it’s possible to feel less busy and enjoy the present moment more.

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast — you also miss the sense of where you are going and why,” says Eddie Cantor.

When was the last time you enjoyed the present moment without worrying about the past or fretting about the future? “Do you ever look back at the end of your working day and wonder ‘What did I really do today?’

Slowing down, as difficult as it sounds, starts with reviewing how you spend your time and what you get out it. This is something I have been working on for some months now.

Slowing down is about building a personal system that guides your actions and reactions. When you make that conscious choice, you deliberately choose what you want to focus on, build the energy to do them, and start being more intentional about the way you live your life.

Even if you don’t completely control your own schedule — and few of us do — you absolutely can control your attention.

In their book, Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky write, “With new habits and new mindsets, you can stop reacting to the modern world and start actively making time for the people and activities that matter to you. This isn’t about saving time. It’s about making time for what matters”.

Start slowing down by asking yourself this question before you start your day — ‘What do I want to be the highlight of my day?’

That should be your highlight, your focal point for the day, the one activity you should prioritise and protect in your calendar.

It can be anything — an activity or accomplishment or moment you want to feel proud of or feel happy about. Choose your highlight, make time for it, and defend that time until you get it done.

Apart from your focal point (which is likely to be work-related), you can choose other healthy habits to make your day fulfilling but not rushed.

Notice the small things you normally ignore on your way to work and back home. Think outside the work box.

Don’t focus too much on the traffic you can’t control. “You cannot change traffic but you can change how you react to it. So you have an extra 10 minutes in the car? See it as downtime,” says Alison Roberts.

Find joy in the little things. There are amazing things that happen every single day. Just keep an open mind. Going slow encourages a more thoughtful approach to life and helps avoid burnout.

You can even take up a new hobby that helps you focus your mind away from work. Create moments of calm by learning a new language, or skill. Slowing down at the speed of life isn’t all about sitting still.

Take the time to observe and enjoy nature, take a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy the serenity of water and greenery. Exercise outdoors when you can. Try to do this daily if you can.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure it brings you joy. You can’t have a happy life if there isn’t anything you do that you enjoy, says Leslie Becker-Phelps PhD of Psychology Today. She adds:

“If you don’t know where to start, simply pay attention to yourself. What interests you? What do you think might interest you? What used to interest you? You don’t have to know what you would enjoy — only what might enjoy. Then it’s a matter of “trying things on,” much as you try on clothes in a store to decide whether you think they are the right fit for you.”

If you don’t want to be carried by a momentum that overtakes you, take charge of the direction of your life.

Closing thoughts

Life is short. It passes by quickly.

It can become cluttered with too many things. But you are still in control and you can slow down intentionally. Life can be so much more enjoyable if you learn this simple habit.

You’ll be far happier if you choose to consciously spend your time, and purge away everything that steals your attention and make you stressful.

All it takes is a commitment to consciously slow down.

Before you go…

If you enjoyed this post, you will love Postanly Weekly. It’s an email I send to 30,000+ readers once a month, filled with my best essays, posts about behavior change, great books, tools I find useful and more. Join us today.

This article first appeared on Medium