The pressures can seem constant, and they’re flying at us from every direction, morning to night. Performance and productivity are the buzzwords of our age, and speed and efficiency are its lifeblood. But what would happen if instead of rushing through our lives in a perpetual state of fatigue and distraction, we simply tried to slow down — enough to catch a breather and a moment, savor ourselves and each other, and reclaim the peace of mind that is essential to tapping into our deepest essence and harnessing our potential?
All around us, we see people who are firing on all engines, working themselves to the bone, seemingly terrified that if they’re not racing towards their career goals, they’re falling behind. The torrent of messages flood our inboxes, social media feeds and mental space. They light up our smartphone screens with the parade of superfluous notifications demanding our attention. And the Internet is awash in tips and tricks for “hacking” the clock, and squeezing more and more out of each minute we exist.
But are we actually squeezing more time and activity out of every day? Or are we only squeezing more life out of ourselves?
Slow and Happy Wins the Race: Why Doing Less Will Give You More
The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections — with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds.
– Carl Honoré
I’d like you to slow down for a moment… and think about when you are at your most focused, creative, and dynamic. Is it when your mind is rested and well, or when you’re stressed and overwhelmed by the flood of demands on your time and mental energies?
Our culture of speed is arsenic for the anxious, and stress has become such an integral part of our daily lives that many of us have forgotten how destructive it is, not only for our mental and physical health, but for the very goals we claim to be sacrificing for. The problem with this industrial-era idea of productivity is that it was designed for economic output rather than human potential. And as the modern epidemics of burnout, stress, anxiety, obesity and other lifestyle-related illnesses loudly remind us, there’s a high price to be paid for riding roughshod over the bodies and minds that nature gave us.
Sabotaging ourselves in a culture of speed
Too often, the first casualties of our breathless and hyperactive lives are the very things that are so essential to our health and well-being. We have little time for our friends and loved ones. We have little time to prepare proper meals and enjoy them with our families. We have little time to exercise, meditate, nourish our minds and souls with cultural and leisure activities, or cultivate hobbies outside of work.
But not everyone is buying into the (very Anglo-American) idea that faster is better. Around the world, there is a growing movement of people who feel that if we slowed down and did less, we would reap the benefits in the additional love and care made available for the fewer things that are worth doing, and worth doing well. Carl Honoré’s international bestseller, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, lists some of the main examples.
In praise of slow: harnessing our potential
In Italy, the Slow Food Movement is trying to turn back the clock on our industrialized lifestyles that have seen us increasingly abandon proper food preparation and ingredients, as well as the ritual of dining together, in favor of fast food and processed ingredients that are literally killing us.
In the world of education, some of the most prestigious private primary schools in the world have implemented a ban on homework for students under the age of 13 — often over the initial objection of parents, who worried that their children would fall behind. The result? In one such school in Scotland, students’ math and science test scores went up by 20%. Even Ivy League universities like Harvard are now actively encouraging students to slow down and be happy with doing less.
And perhaps most important of all, all across Europe the work week is getting shorter, with Scandinavian countries leading the way in demonstrating that the happiness and productivity of workers go hand in hand, and that both go up as employees get to enjoy a healthier work-life balance.
Even some of the biggest corporations in the world have begun to understand that more work hours don’t equate to more results, and that it’s likely even the opposite. That’s why Google allots 20% of their employees’ paid time to roaming freely around the grounds, engaging in social interaction or reflection so as to stimulate their creativity.
If Einstein said it, it must be so
What Google, the Scandinavian countries, the Scottish primary school, and the Italian Slow Food Movement have all understood is that humans are at their best when their environments and lifestyles are working with, and not against, the necessities of our mental, physical and emotional well-being.
Albert Einstein famously said that imagination was the highest form of intelligence, and that creativity was “intelligence having fun.”
Give yourself permission to slow down, and you’ll reap the rewards of an intelligence that is rollicking its way to greatness.