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Slow Down

by Tom Lane

August 8,2009

How is it that despite the economy slowing down, life seems to be speeding up? You would think that at least one of the benefits of doing less business would be more time. Perhaps some extra time to think, simplify a few things, be with family and friends, get in better shape, maybe even just be still on occasion. But that’s obviously not the case – so what’s going on?

When I started noticing this phenomenon, I took a look at myself to try and figure it out. After reflecting on my own life, I began to see some patterns of thinking and behaving that might explain how I participate in this phenomenon, and what I could do differently.

My first insight was that I resist change. I find I sometimes expend an enormous amount of energy trying to keep things the same. The funny thing is that I can spend my time and attention to maintain the status quo – even if I don’t like it! If I am not careful, this habitual behavior sneaks up on me and can land me in an exhausting and often counterproductive rut.

Another interesting insight was that I like to do everything fast. At the micro level this can make some sense: Why should a commute last longer than it needs to? Why take any longer shaving than is absolutely necessary?

At the macro level however, there is a great cost to doing everything fast. In his most recent book, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore’ points out that by going too fast we miss opportunities, make mistakes and decrease the quality of our lives. Speed robs us of that which makes us human and makes life worth living. The never ending search for efficiency can suck the joy out of life and reduce us to mechanical entities whose existence is reduced to what we produce.

To see if I could alter this phenomenon I ran a little experiment. I decided to tackle both of these habitual behavior patterns by changing the way I eat and drink. I decided to follow the Quantum Wellness Cleanse for 21 days. This cleansing diet is an agreement to eliminate five critical substances: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten and all animal products.

This was a big change for me and it took a lot for me to commit to it. To ensure that I followed through, I told a number of friends so that I was publicly on the hook. Then I had to relearn how to shop, cook and eat out. I also had to be open to trying new things and experiencing new tastes and textures. I admit that I was not really prepared for the rigors of this new way of eating and because of that, the diet was a huge learning experience for me.

This experience produced a number of rewards. Most importantly, I felt great. Gone were the ups and downs I had from sugar and simple carbs. My acid reflux disappeared and almost magically I shed 17 pounds.

The final insight I took from all of this is that I am just like everybody else. Many or even most of us have been trained to produce to the point that we take a significant portion of our self-worth from doing. Then we get into this habitual pattern and keep doing and doing, even though the costs start adding up. Finally, when this way of living no longer produces the “juice” it once did, we end up doing more and more, faster and faster, trying to get that good old feeling back.

In short, I learned that my experience of the world speeding up is mostly a byproduct of choices I and many others are making. Going forward I choose differently. I choose to enjoy what I am eating and doing; to actually do what I am doing instead of doing one thing and thinking about another. It is in this choice where the joy of life begins. In my choice to slow down, I am beginning to see the power of one of Gandhi’s sayings: “The purpose of life is not to increase its speed.”

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