zen habits : breathe

Slow Makes Sense

This is a guest post from Christopher Richards, author of www.SlowDownNow.org.

I am guilty of sometimes trying to cram every moment with activity. I’m working on slowing down. It’s a work in progress. But it’s not that easy. The problem is time greed. I’ll answer one more email before I head out. I’ve just go time to finish this paragraph before I…

Does this sound familiar?

Microsoft’s message is, “Do more faster.” I am not sure I want to. I want to do less. “Do more faster,” is a good enough message for a machine. You wouldn’t want to buy a new computer if it’s slower than the one you have. But this message does not speak to me. I am a human.

Doesn’t it seem like we are living in a culture of speed? In business we are supposed to have a sense of urgency about everything. But constant urgency is madness. It’s neurotic. Action and speed are built-in to our way of life and we, in America, think of them as good things. But some cultures spend a lot more time deliberating before acting.

If someone said to you that you are a fast thinker, would you be proud? Would you think that they were alluding to your intelligence? Don’t worry; you have proved your intelligence by reading this far.

We’ve been conditioned to come up with the right answer fast. This is just the sort of thing you want from your computer. But if someone called you a slow thinker, would you be offended?

We humans (I am assuming you are one) are more complex. If we stop at the first right answer we limit ourselves. Slowing down and looking at things from alternative perspectives is essential to creativity and innovation.

Noticing is not something we learn in school. Well, that’s not entirely true. I went to art school and learned to paint and draw. This helped me look beyond naming, or categorizing objects. I learned to see in a different way. There is a joy of looking. Constant activity is a way to fend off boredom, so slowing down is not for everyone. If you’re addicted to activity, then slowing down may have unforeseen side-effects. So if you try the following experiment, it is at your own risk:

Once you get into the habit of looking, looking at the person you are talking with, looking at the body language of others, you start to see more. But in order to do this, paradoxically, you need to focus less on yourself.

Have you ever been in a conversation and not really been listening? I have. You see it all the time, one person is impatiently waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can say what they want to say. They are practically hoping from one foot to the other. This is not really a conversation. It is? It’s a serial monologue. Really listening is great fun, but you need to slow down to be able to pull it off.

I was at a public-speaking seminar a few years ago, and heard this wonderful question from a young woman. She asked why no one listened to her in meetings. The advice she was given was to first think about what she wanted to say, and how she would say it. Then, she should ask the question as simply as possible and be quiet. Try it. It works.

When you use this technique you get known for saying something of value and you are listened to. It may take time.

Only by slowing down do we come to know ourselves (which may be a reason for some people to speed up). Each of us is unique. We are our own universe there to be discovered. Each of us is a singularity.

Carl Jung said psychological differentiation is the work of mid-life. I wonder if slow is less appealing to young people? However, even when I was young I may have always been slow.

Christopher Richards is author of www.SlowDownNow.org, the “almost” serious antidote to workaholism. Humorous stories ranging from the true to the blatantly absurd.

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