Slow and Steady: The life benefits of slowing down
Uh oh, I better hurry this article up, I have to be somewhere in 20 minutes and then after that I have to go to the grocery store, then make dinner, then hit the gym… Just kidding. I’ve taken the rest of the day off to just BE.
Socrates, alive around 470 BC, warned “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Even about 2500 years ago this guy knew that flying from appointment to appointment, superficially feeling “productive”, people were living lives devoid of “fruit.”
Now, I’ll be the first person to say that on days without completing tasks or going anywhere I feels without purpose. However, after some reflection I’ve found that these feelings are almost wholly based on conditioning. The Protestant work ethic conditioning that taught me from infancy that busy-ness = purpose = success. How can I be successful, or even have any semblance of purpose if I’m not doing, doing, and doing some more? Well, that’s a rabbit hole that I’m traveling down, and I fully support you traveling down it, too. But it’s much too mysterious to hash out here.
Instead, I’d like to talk about ways that we can slow down. I want to persuade you, as I persuade myself, that a life lived slow is a much more fruitful life. And that while bearing fruit, there will be more time to enjoy that fruit, when we give ourselves the time, space, and peace to do it.
Do fewer, but more important, things, fully
Make a list of things you “have to” do today. Now identify the things that are actually important. When I say “important” I mean things that interest you, things that engage you with people, things that make you joyful, and things that inspire a sense of wonder. If you have to work, then work, but do it with focus. That way, when you stop working, you’ve done something and you can fully engage with the next thing, whether that’s uploading an Instagram post or calling your mom. By doing what’s important, and doing it 100%, you can slow down and really be in it. Being present in what you do will help you slow down, and give more meaning to everything you do.
Disconnect from technology and reconnect with life
It’s no secret that technology is a blessing and a curse in our modern lives. It’s so good for many things, but totally messing us up in others. One of the ways it’s caused the most destruction is in our relationships. It’s so easy to escape into our phone lives, flipping from app to app, looking at pictures and videos and comments from other, more interesting lives and stories, and not be part of our own. I’ve thought many times after a trip or an exciting event that I should have taken more photos or videos; then I remember that I was having a great time! When you’re having a great time living your life, there’s less of a chance you want to experience it from behind your phone. When you put your phone down you may find that your life is very interesting (if it’s not, that may be a sign that you’re not pursuing things you enjoy). Without your phone you will be forced to BE with your friends, family, and coworkers. You will need to talk, and ask questions, listen, and experience. This is life. By looking up from your technology, slowing down your level of “connectedness” to the online world, and reconnecting to what’s in front of you, you open yourself up to a new kind of beauty. The kind of beauty that you have no control over, the kind that’s never the same, the kind that is dynamic and alive.
See things, touch things, listen to things, and eat things deliberately
By whirling through life, perpetually on our way somewhere else, we can habituate behaviors that both prevent us from enjoying the small joys of live, and can also be bad for our health. By being in the moment (which means being aware of what’s going on NOW), we can experience life fully. When you’re rushing in traffic you miss seeing the squirrel waiting to cross the road. When you’re not listening, you miss the robin’s song in the spring. When you’re on your phone you just shovel food into your mouth without appreciating the delicacy of the flavors. Stop! Slow down! Each little thing is a moment that will never come back. Each sound is a unique combination, and each smell is a momentary waft in this great space. By slowing down we can enjoy these things, and we can also be more deliberate about what we put into our bodies in terms of food and noise. If you’re paying attention to your surroundings you’re way less likely to listen to people or things that are negative, less likely to eat more than you need, and less likely to watch things that are devoid of meaning. As you slow down, you will realize how precious your time, body, and mind are.
Now, there are many challenges of living mindfully and deliberately in these modern times. However, slowing down and taking back the present moment in your life can help you to identify how that mask of “busy” is often just a way to cover up your own need to distract yourself. What are you distracting yourself from? Do you, like me, have the deep-seated belief that being busy equals being successful? Do you think that’s true?
I don’t have the answers for you. But I can say from my own experience that life is to be lived. Not to be rushed through on the way to do something that is minimally important.