Life often seems like a pyrrhic race, always sprinting towards your next goal but never feeling fulfilled when you arrive at your destination.
When you view life as a contest, you’re always rushing to keep up with everyone else. Whenever you get close to the finish line, you move the goalpost because you don’t know what you’ll do once the race is over.
You tell yourself that you need a better car, a larger house, or a higher income.
You use any excuse to justify your fast-paced lifestyle, a race that is never won because it never ends.
But what happens if you slow down?
Why it’s time to stop racing through life
In Dr. Benjamin Hardy’s book, The Gap and The Gain, we’re introduced to American speed skater Dan Jansen. Despite competing at the 1984 Winter Olympics as a 16-year-old, Dan’s quest to win a gold medal continuously evaded him over the following decade.
The 1994 Olympics in Norway was his last shot to become an Olympic gold medalist. With only one event remaining (the men’s 1,000-meter speed skating final), and one that Jansen considered his weakest category, the pressure seemed insurmountable.
In reality, Jansen had decided that his last Olympic event would serve as a thank-you and farewell to everyone who had supported his journey in the sport. Gratitude was his motivation, not the hunger for gold.
Dan Jansen broke a world record that day and, of course, took home the gold medal.
You don’t need to be a top athlete to understand the lesson of Jansen’s last race.
Life is about how far you’ve come from where you started, not where you finish in the end.
Let’s walk through what life could be like if you stop chasing the next big thing — if you free yourself from the vicious cycle of endlessly pursuing achievements and, instead, slow down long enough to see the progress you’ve already made.
What is slow living?
Slow living is being intentional about the speed you live your life.
Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slowness, said:
I love speed. Going fast can be fun, liberating, and productive. The problem is that our hunger for speed, for cramming more and more into less and less time, has gone too far.
What slow living isn’t
Aversion to speed
Slow living isn’t about avoiding speed entirely.
Speed helps us make quicker progress and stay motivated on the path toward our goals. Slow living is about controlling the speed at which you live life for yourself instead of giving in to external pressures or societal expectations.
Slow living isn’t anti-tech.
It’s not about moving to a cabin in the woods armed with nothing more than a survival knife and a Nokia 3310. Those practicing slow living use technology as a tool rather than a distraction.
In an environment where toxic productivity and hustle culture are glorified, the idea of slowing down may seem terrifying — especially if you’ve grown accustomed to optimizing your output. But, research shows that living at a slower pace can increase your productivity.
One 2011 study found that taking breaks is key to focusing on tasks longer with no decline in performance.
Unfortunately, those with a fast-living mindset often work for extended periods without taking a break — compromising their productivity in the process.
5 tips to live slowly
1. Do nothing
A decade ago, Deep Work author, Cal Newport, asked, “have American students lost their tolerance for a little boredom? At the first sign of boredom, we reach for e-mail or refresh a Facebook feed.”
In the modern day of Netflix, TikTok, and smartwatches, our tolerance for boredom has deteriorated over time.
The first, and perhaps most important, tenet of slow living is learning how to do nothing.
Turn off your phone (or even better, ask someone to hide it) and sit on your couch.
Sit quietly for a few moments and see how it feels. Observe what thoughts come into your head that may have been suppressed by constant stimulation.
If you overcome the urge to organize your desk, check your messages, or turn on the television, you’ll likely find your self-imposed idleness insightful.
2. Do something creative
Expressing your creativity is a great way to slow down. For example, you could write an article, paint a portrait, redecorate your home, start a garden, practice the guitar or cook a nutritious meal.
It doesn’t matter which activity you choose, as long as you give this creative undertaking your full attention. Don’t have a movie playing in another room or listen to a podcast as background noise.
It takes time and practice to enter a flow state, but you’ll quickly realize the value that focused creativity brings to the table.
3. Go for a walk
Because walking is an inherently slow-paced activity, your mind will instinctively slow down too. Unlike other forms of exercise, you can walk anywhere and anytime without needing any special equipment.
Bonus Tip: Walk in green spaces. Spending time in nature is proven to improve sleep, reduce stress, and increase happiness.
4. Tech-free mornings
Enable airplane mode an hour before you go to bed and don’t get back online until after lunch the following day.
This will set you up for a tech-free morning — devoid of push notifications, emails, text messages, social media, and news headlines.
Bonus Tip: Buy an analog alarm clock so you don’t need to pick up your phone.
5. Spend time alone
Humans are inherently social creatures, and becoming a recluse is by no means a prerequisite for slow living.
But taking time to hang out with yourself helps you stay in touch with who you are. Reflect on your thoughts, meditate in the morning, and nurture your quirky side.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin found that solitude increases empathy, productivity, and creativity.
Good slowness vs. bad slowness
There’s a line to be drawn between controlling the pace at which you live versus using slow living to justify detrimental habits.
Procrastination is a prime example of ‘bad’ slowness because it’s a negative reflex rather than a conscious choice to slow down.
Using intentionality as an excuse for laziness is just one way we twist slow living into a negative lifestyle.
For example, if you have an impending deadline but choose to read a book instead, that action could place you in a state of hyperactivity — a condition slow livers seek to avoid.
On the other hand, ‘good’ slowness is impermanent and an active decision — often benefiting the fast side of your life in the long term.
Combining fast and slow thinking leads to improved productivity overall while preventing burnout. In fact, they complement one another.
Hyperfocus helps you narrow your attention to a specific problem you’re addressing. Filling your entire attentional space with one task allows you to work more efficiently and resist distractions.
Scatterfocus is the complete opposite.
Hyperfocus is the most productive mode, but scatterfocus is the most creative.
Letting your mind wander may not be as appealing as operating in a state of peak productivity, but it has unique benefits.
Bailey outlines the three core benefits of scatterfocus in chapter six of his book:
- It allows you to set intentions and plan for the future
- It recharges your mental energy so you can focus for longer during work sessions
- It helps you connect the dots of ideas that have been drifting in your subconscious
To test the ideas espoused by authors like Cal Newport and Chris Bailey, I reduced my work window to three hours per day in August 2022. The (anecdotal) results? I wrote 50,000 words that month — a personal record.
In praise of slow living
Living life like a race implies that there’s only one winner.
That you have to get ahead of others to be happy.
That whoever moves fastest is the most deserving of praise.
Instead of seeing life as a race, why not think of it like a movie playing on TV?
You don’t get to decide every aspect of the movie you’re in, but the T.V. remote is in your hand.
Slow living is simply about hitting play in a society intent on smashing the fast-forward button.