Slow: How do we slow down?

If we could just slow down our lives, they would be a whole lot better. Aspects of modern life like the instant gratification of online shopping and the hyper speed of social media have contributed to burnout, a diagnosable condition that includes exhaustion, negative feelings and reduced effectiveness.

So how do we slow down?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Award-winning journalist, TED speaker, and author of In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honoré.

Creative genius consultant, artist and author Mandy Nicholson

Inspirational Business and Keynote Speaker, author, and TED Talk speaker Taz Thornton

Cyber security analyst Felix Odeli

Positive Empowerment Coach and Reiki Master Teacher James Freeman

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Positive Professional Podcast Host Tracyavon Ford

Parenting teenagers expert and psychologist Angela Karanja

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Haemin Sunim, bestselling author and Buddhist monk on mindfulness and slowing down on Zestology:

Books looked at this week:

Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed

Haemin Sunim: The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 26 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

It has officially been six months into this journey, and one thing I realised is my constant need for speed. Attempting to publish an episode every week, alongside interviewing and reading multiple books can be a challenge so it only made sense to look at how to slow down, especially in the face of being overwhelmed.

And it’s not just me, apparently it’s the whole world moving at warp speed towards some goal or other. Here’s what creative genius consultant, artist and author Mandy Nicholson and Inspirational Business and Keynote Speaker, author, and TED Talk speaker Taz Thornton on how to slow down.

MANDY NICHOLSON
TAZ THORNTON

Our first book is by Carl Honore with In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed which is the US title. Honore is an award winning journalist, author and TED speaker and it was my sincere privilege to speak to him this week. Find the full interview on www.howtobe247.com but here is a snippet:

CARL HONORE

In Praise of Slowness offers both an indictment of and an alternative to the high-speed lifestyle that plagues many people today.

Honore says that we’ve let the idea of time run amuck for the past few centuries. People have always tracked time in some way or another. As far back as the Ice Age, hunters counted the days between lunar phases, carving notches into sticks and bones. Moreover, all great ancient civilizations, like the Egyptians and the Chinese, had their own calendars.

For the greater part of human history, life and work moved slowly, limited by the speed of our bodies and the animals we used in industry and agriculture. After our ancestors learned to measure the years, months and days, they began to chop time into smaller units, like the hours of the day. Later, in the course of the Industrial Revolution, we became slaves to our schedules and dehumanized by the people who are controlled by clocks.

Hence, Honore talks about large swathes of people joining the Slow Movement, which fights against the tyranny of time pressure.

In our rush to keep up with the speed of modern life, we forget about the pleasure of enjoying existence one bite at a time.

These rushed eating habits and ready-made meals have adverse effects on our bodies. Obesity rates, for instance, are growing, both because we stuff our body with processed food packed with sugar and fat, and because rapid eating doesn’t give our stomachs enough time to tell the brain that we’re full.

But we can learn to deal with food in a more mindful way. For instance, the international movement Slow Food encourages people to grow and cook their own food, and to slowly savor every bite they take. Cooking and eating slowly can be a wonderful way to unwind, like a form of meditation.

And even though Honore says the brain loves speed because speed triggers the release of two chemicals—epinephrine and norepinephrine—Research has shown that people who are used to Slow Thinking are both less stressed and more creative in their everyday tasks. Experts apparently think the brain has two modes of thought: Fast Thinking is rational, analytical and logical, whereas Slow Thinking is intuitive and creative.

Hence a way of nurturing our slow thinking mode includes meditation. Start by sitting in a comfortable position. Then, close your eyes, focus your attention on your breath for a few minutes and enjoy some stress-free Slow Thinking.

Another aspect of speed is the process of urbanization which has made us forget about our natural rhythms. Speed affects numerous aspects of city life, from the way we’re treated by doctors to the quality of our child rearing.

The evidence suggests that our perpetual need to rush around is alienating us from each other. Consider, for example, that 25 percent of Britons do not even know their neighbors’ names.

Looking to medicine, faster is not necessarily better (except in emergencies). And yet, an average visit to your local general practitioner today lasts about six minutes. Instead of checking out lifestyle and daily routines, some doctors rush to treat symptoms.

And lastly, in today’s fast-paced world we inadvertently teach children to obsess over speed. Competition in school causes ambitious parents to urge children to learn as quickly as possible. As a consequence, children as young as five suffer from stress-related issues, like stomach aches and depression.

There are Slow Cities or Citta Slow in places such as in the Italian region of Piedmont, who have a 55 page manifesto outlining what they would like including things like cutting noise and traffic, and increasing pedestrian zones and green spaces.

Similarly, more and more Westerners are turning to complementary and alternative medicine, where practitioners take the time to speak with patients and hear them out.

Finally, some schools are now adopting a slower approach to education, giving children the time and freedom necessary to develop a love of learning. Finland, for example, already practices slow schooling, allowing kids to study at a manageable pace and take time to explore subjects.

And work life balance is a big part of the Slow Movement. By some estimates, the average American works 350 hours more per year than his European counterpart, surpassing even Japan as the country with the longest working hours among industrialized nations.

After all that work, we’re left with so little free time that we feel compelled not to waste a second. This becomes another source of stress due to the abundance of available activities to choose from.

Luckily, a lot of people have started opposing this rat race, and are learning to enjoy life again. Particularly, the new generation is challenging the assumption that everyone has to work incredibly long hours, and are refusing to hurry. Even in Japan, more and more young people opt for a part-time job in order to enjoy more free time. Gardening and knitting are back in fashion for example.

But Honore says it’s not that we should replace the cult of speed with the cult of Slowness, rather finding a middle ground, as speed can be fun, productive and powerful, and we would be poorer without it.

Hence one way to cultivate inner Slowness
is to make time for activities that defy acceleration—meditation, knitting, gardening, yoga, painting, reading, walking, Qigong.
And eat slower, cook well, and take breaks.

Our final book comes from Haemin Sunim, one of the most influential zen Buddhist teachers and writers in the world. In The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World, Haemin Sunim explains how our fast-paced world can become quickly overwhelming. Here he is speaking on the Zestology podcast.

HAEMIN SUNIM

Haemin Sunim believes our perception of the world governs how we see it. So if we can slow our minds down and allow ourselves the space to breathe, we’ll see that the world slows down right along with it. When that happens, we can see that the problems that once threatened to overwhelm us don’t seem quite as huge.

For example, when you become incredibly engrossed in a project, sometimes that extreme focus can feel like the rest of the world has gone away. Hence it’s one perspective and what we choose to focus on in that moment.

He says it isn’t the situation we find ourselves in that’s making us happy or unhappy, anxious, or relaxed. It’s our perspective on the situation that’s creating those feelings. Especially over the past and future which we can neither change nor control. Hence focusing on the now.

But this means practicing awareness. If you’re feeling stressed, be aware of that stress. If you’re feeling angry, be aware of your anger. It doesn’t do any good to bury it. Awareness brings clarity and purity back into our lives. Negative emotions are temporary. They dissipate quickly once we shine the light of awareness on them.

An excellent way to manage your stress level is to simply make a list of everything in your life that’s causing you anxiety. Write down everything you need to get done, from minor, everyday chores like washing the dishes to bigger goals like changing your career. Writing them down removes them from your mind and contains all of your worries on a single sheet of paper. Once you’ve written them down, go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, you can begin to tackle them one by one.

Another aspect is to understand you are not your feelings. Negative emotions are like mud in your mind. They have many names: anger, disappointment, jealousy, hatred. But these are just words, and they aren’t very helpful. Instead of focusing on the labels, focus on the energy that’s behind those emotions and try to figure out where it’s coming from. In time, that energy changes. It ebbs and flows until, sooner or later, it’s replaced by something else. Just be aware of it without judgement.

Haemin Sunim says when you’re feeling low, take just three minutes to sit quietly with your feelings. Simply observe them without trying to change them or assign a value to them. You’ll soon feel the energy behind those feelings changing. You can’t control your feelings any more than you can control the weather. Even the worst storm eventually passes.

Change is inevitable. Unfortunately, most people live their lives resisting change and the way things are. When we resist, we’re constantly trying to adjust ourselves to fit the world. But if we simply accept the way things are, we can relax. Let the world change. You can’t stop it. You can only be a part of it.

He also adds chasing success can bring problems; it’s also never-ending. Whenever we chase success, we’re using an arbitrary benchmark that was handed to us by someone else. If we achieve it, what happens next? There’s always another goal to chase on the horizon. 

Happiness, on the other hand, is a goal we define ourselves. Only you can decide what makes you truly happy. And when you receive enjoyment from your work, other people see it. Stay true to yourself, figure out what you really want out of life, and pursue it.

But our pursuit of happiness should never place wealth and physical things ahead of forging meaningful, long-lasting relationships with our families, our friends, and our partners. Communication is key.

And when we’re confronted by someone we dislike, we have a tendency to step up to the challenge and push back. Why do we do this? We’re only extending the amount of time we have to spend with this disagreeable person. Instead, take a deep breath, wait 30 seconds, and simply walk away. 

It’s always painful when a relationship ends. The best thing we can do is be aware of our feelings of hurt and anger, then, when we’re ready, forgive the other person and let them go. You’re not doing this for them. You’re doing it for yourself, so you can be free and go on with your life. This requires absolute humility and empathy.

We all want to give our lives meaning. But too often, we look outside ourselves for satisfaction. We look to our careers or our relationships with others. But real fulfillment comes from within. Real fulfillment requires strength, courage, and self-awareness.

However, there are far more ordinary hours in a day than extraordinary ones. Real, lasting happiness requires us to look for joy in these mundane, everyday activities.

We can begin to find these moments of joy if we take ownership of everything we do. If you see litter, pick it up. If someone asks for your opinion, give it honestly. Taking ownership of these small moments adds to our feeling of importance and self-worth.

Also, stop caring what other people think. Haemin Sunim says first off, you need to realize that people are not as interested in you as you think. Second, one of the most liberating gifts you can give yourself is the realization that not everyone has to like you. You can’t control what other people think about you. Let them have their opinion and move on.

Once we stop worrying about what other people think, we can look within ourselves and ask what we really want. Remember to find joy in the steps we take to achieve our goals, not only in the end results

So to sum up:

Honore says In Praise of Slowness that so much of modern life is fast-paced. The desire to keep up fills us with anxiety as we fill every waking moment with activity. In the process, we forgo our natural rhythms and fail to enjoy our leisure or give activities the time they deserve. But all that is changing with the Slow Movement.

Hence he suggests just take a break. Next time you want to take your lunch at your desk so you can work while you eat, remember that you are more important than your job. You deserve some time to relax! Take your lunch to a park bench instead, enjoy the sun on your face and savor each delicious bite of food.

Haemin Sunim says in In The Things You See Only When You Slow Down that the demands of the modern world don’t have to overwhelm us. Through mindfulness and self-awareness, we can alter our perspective and recognize that we are just one small part of a much bigger universe. Delight in your corner of that universe, take ownership of it and remember that long-term happiness is more important, and more attainable, than immediate success. 

He recommends finding your calling. If your job makes you unhappy, it’s possible that you just haven’t found the right path. Expose yourself to as many different experiences as possible, whether it’s by volunteering in different projects or organizations or simply by reading. By cultivating new relationships, you’ll gain additional self-awareness of your strengths, your interests, and the possibilities that exist for you.

I’ve been cooking more for the past year, and I’ve actually finally stopped listening to audiobooks at three times the speed and only twice the speed. We tend to stop enjoying even the things that help us to calm down when we set a timer on it.

And with that, here is what cybersecurity analyst Felix Odeli, Positive Empowerment Coach and Reiki Master Teacher James Freeman and Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Positive Professional Podcast Host Tracyavon Ford have to say about slowing down.

And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe.

FELIX ODELI
JAMES FREEMAN
TRACYAVON FORD

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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