Journalist Carl Honore first dissected our speed-obsessed society and celebrated those who’ve found their “inner tortoise” nearly a decade ago in his seminal book, In Praise of Slowness. Since then, the Slow Movement has embraced slow food, slow cities, even slow schools. Honore decries time-saving tools and tricks—from speed yoga to 30-second orgasms—that race us past meaningful things in our lives. Living slowly can give you the time and space to reflect, recharge and reimagine, but it takes resolve to shift out of roadrunner mode.
“Technology cranks up the pressure and temptation to do everything faster. And employers are squeezing those workers lucky enough to still have jobs harder than ever,” says Honore, 47. “We’re marinating in a culture of speed. We are speed junkies. It’s like a drug.”
The key, Honore says, is to quiet down enough to hear your inner metronome, and do things as well as possible instead of as fast as possible. It’s a shift that can be jarring at midlife. “We’re often stuck in fast-forward because we’ve devoted so much time to children and elderly parents,” Honore says. “A lot of people wake up in their 40s and 50s to the fact that they have been racing through their lives instead of actually living them.”
Avoid the temptation to slow down all at once. “You don’t have to have the inner calm of the Dalai Lama to do it. Baby steps will get you there.” Here’s how:
Unplug. If you’re constantly distracted, trimming your exposure to your screens and devices can be curative. Start by limiting screen time by just a half hour a day, or a couple of hours a weekend. Even small changes make a pretty big difference, Honore says. You’ll feel the change and crave more uncluttered time.
Hit pause. Whenever you start to feel frazzled, set aside a couple of hours to look at the big picture of your schedule, and make a habit of checking it once a week to keep your commitments in check. Notice how you arrange your time. “When people arrive in the middle of their lives and have the space to reflect, it’s important to ask, ‘What is a good life to me, what can I begin to do to get there?’“ For some people, a journal, quiet time to reflect, or a ritual of walking can lead toward the answers.
Prepare for inner housework. Speed is often an instrument of denial, a way to avoid the bigger questions. Alone with your thoughts, you may encounter uncomfortable truths—you haven’t achieved what you thought you wanted, or you don’t know what truly makes you happy. That’s okay. Dig in. The answers will come.
Know you will lose some things. The fear of saying no, and missing out, is real. The whole world is a smorgasbord. But trying to do everything is a recipe for hurrying it all. Shifting gears prompts you to focus on the things that really matter to you and define who you are.
See slow in action. It can be liberating to travel to a slow culture, where locals pause to take afternoon siestas and embrace downtime as much as work time. “They have a very high quality of life,” Honore says. “And they’re still managing to do those things by working less and smarter.” Go where slow is working, and notice how you feel when you’re there. Head into nature, or visit a sleepy small town or beach near you.
Communicate your intentions. As connected as we all are, you cannot declare “unilateral slow.” Explain to your friends and family that you won’t respond to email on Sunday mornings. If your colleagues email after 7 p.m., suggest that you all agree to hold off until the morning. (If they’re accustomed to reaching you, they get angry if they suddenly can’t.) “What you discover is that everybody is thinking the same thing,” he says, “Your change begins to change others.”
Say no. Honore realized that he’d been trying to squeeze far too much into too little time. To make more time, he watches less TV. “I also play a lot of sports, and realized I had to pare back,” he says. Though he loves tennis, it takes too long. So he gave it up—for now. “Maybe when I’m older and have more time, I can pick it up again.” Choose which activities make the most impact, and do them.
Take up a daily slow practice. Yoga, meditation, gardening, sketching and knitting are just a handful of activities that shift you back into slow gear. It doesn’t have to be the same every day, but it’s important to do somethingslow every day. “The body will change, and you start breathing more deeply,” Honore says. “It’s a slow cure for the virus of hurry.”
Remind yourself that you will have time. Our marketing-driven culture primes us to believe it’s all or nothing, now or never. “But most of us have loads of time,” he says. “You’re much better off thinking about the things you really like doing, and how you can do them—rather than falling into that hamster wheel.”
Don’t be surprised if downshifting brings darker emotions. “I felt ashamed and silly, really,” Honore says, of his first attempts to live slowly. You may feel blame from other people who are still operating at warp speed. But be patient and the benefits will come: “You realize you have been missing out. You’ve been skimming through your life.”