As I’ve worked with clients over the years, I can’t help but notice how incredibly busy — crazy busy — their lives are and how many people are desperately seeking ways to slow down.
It got me thinking a lot about the “slow movement” and how much this fringe idea has picked up steam and spread to so many different areas of our lives over the past 10 to 15 years. Today, this movement includes slow living, slow travel, slow parenting, slow money … you name it and people are trying to slow it down.
RECENT ROOTS IN ITALY
The slow food movement started in Italy in the mid 1980s as a reaction to the fast food culture that was taking over the developed world. The Italians love food and sitting down for a meal with family and friends was often one of the most pleasurable events of the day.
But as people became busier, fast food and pre-packaged food became an answer for many people trying to regain time. No more shopping, cooking and sitting down for a long, leisurely meal; it was all about “grab and go.”
The Italians realized they were missing the joy and pleasure of good food, meaningful conversation, and true connections with friends and family as they ate together.
As “grab and go” became the norm, a technology boom also was occurring.
• In the early 1990s, email became mainstream – and our inbox hasn’t been empty since.
• In 1994, Netscape launched the first browser and the Internet became part of our daily lives.
• In the mid 2000s, social media really took off and we starting posting, tweeting and sharing every moment of our day.
• In 2007, Apple introduced the first iPhone, enabling more of us to stay connected at all times, everywhere we went.
This rapid technology takeover and the abundance of choices has, in turn, accelerated adoption of the slow movement and made it more mainstream. It’s not surprising that people are looking for ways to slow down and rediscover simple joys.
FROM HIPPIES TO THE SCIENCE LAB
This idea of slowing down, being present and practicing mindfulness is certainly not new. It’s been a tradition in Eastern cultures for centuries. When these traditions spread to the West, they were initially considered hippie and new age.
But some brave and curious scientists started studying the impact of these practices on our minds and bodies and now the results are clear: quieting our minds and focusing on one thing at a time has profound positive effects on our physical health, well-being and happiness.
One great example of this is the “Search Inside Yourself” class offered to Google employees, which regularly has a waiting list. This course was created by Chade-Meng Tan (also known as Google’s Jolly Good Fellow) and is one of the most popular, impactful and highly rated programs at the tech giant.
“I’m not interested in bringing Buddhism to Google,” he told Business Insider in 2014. “I am interested in helping people at Google find the key to happiness.”
Tan went on to write a book, also titled “Search Inside Yourself,” and launched an independent nonprofit with the hope of “taking this offering to the world at large.”
One way Tan is spreading the word is as a speaker at the Wisdom 2.0 conferences. These events bring leaders in science, technology and business together with spiritual leaders to explore both the desire and the need for us to slow down and reconnect with ourselves and our humanity. Last year I attended my first Wisdom conference in San Francisco and found the experience so enriching and inspiring that I attended again this year to immerse myself in these ideas and continue learning.
Famed neuroscientist Richard Davidson shared his groundbreaking research on well-being. He discussed the idea that our brains are shaped by the push and pull of our daily lives and that we should spend more time “intentionally” training our brains.
He said well-being can be learned and that contemplative practices, such as meditation and mindfulness, can be powerful tools. He described four constituents of well-being that are supported by hard-nosed neuroscientific research: our basic belief in human goodness, resilience, generosity and attention. The good news is that these characteristics can all be learned.
We also heard from Christine Carter, Ph.D, sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, whose talk was titled “Full Plate, Empty Lives: How to Achieve More by Doing Less.”
She said that when we step away from our crazy lives, we allow the opportunity for our most joyful, creative and productive lives to emerge. But to do that, we must confront the three big myths about busyness that our culture has created:
1. Busyness is a sign of importance The truth is that busyness actually leads to cognitive overload and hinders our productivity.
2. More is better The truth is that less is actually more and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll find that we already have enough. Medical doctors aim to prescribe the “minimum effective dose” of medication. We should apply this concept to every aspect of our lives and look for opportunities to find the minimum required effort to achieve a desired outcome.
3. Doing nothing is a “waste of time” The truth is that our mind actually benefits when we daydream. When we let our minds wander, the creative center of our brains starts firing. If you aren’t convinced, think of how many great ideas have come to you when you’re in the shower.
Sherry Turkle, founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, followed by saying that multitasking is totally unproductive and that unitasking is the next big thing. Hallelujah!
I also loved listening to the wise words of travel writer Pico Iyer, whose new book is called the “Art of Stillness.” Iyer lives in a small two-bedroom flat in Kyoto, Japan, without a car, a TV or even a cell phone. He says only in stillness can he process, reflect and gain insight into all that he’s experienced out in the world.
When he’s home, he does all his “work” while taking two big walks each day, then he sits down at his computer to get it out of his head and onto paper. Such an inspiration.
There were many other great talks over the weekend, but those were a few that really resonated with me as I percolated on this whole notion of slowing down.
So as we move into spring and the days get longer, think of a few conscious choices you can make to slow down. For example, you might choose to:
- Walk or bicycle to work to clear your head before you dive into your day.
- Make Sunday an “unscheduled” day so you can fully engage in and appreciate whatever you decide to do, even if that’s nothing at all.
- Take a break from reading on the web and jumping from one article to the next and instead immerse yourself in a good book.
Time is our greatest luxury and life is short, so slow down and savor it in order to make the most of it. Here’s to making a life, not just a living.