zen habits : breathe

The Slow Secret: How to Make Lasting Changes in Your Life

“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.” - William Shakespeare

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

How many times have you rushed into making changes in your life — a habit change, learning a new skill — only to have it flop?

It’s not just the New Year’s Resolution Syndrome — it happens too often at all times of the year, that we run out of steam or get discouraged and give up.

But here’s the secret, and I won’t charge you $29.95 for it: go slowly.

This little change has more power than most people realize. It will help to learn any skill, from martial arts to art to computer activities. It will help form habits that are long-lasting. Slowing down will help you become more effective and ironically, help reach goals faster.

If you’ve ever tried T’ai Chi (or Taijiquan), famous for its series of slow movements and poses, you’ve felt the power of slow. The slower you go in T’ai Chi, the better, for many reasons. One effect of this slowness is that you perfect the movements. And your body adapts, forming muscle memories that will last when (and if) you decide to speed up the movements.

It’s as if your body and mind are forming a groove through continual repetition of the movements. If you move quickly, you’ll be erratic, and the groove will be much more difficult to form. If you move slowly, you can learn to move in exactly the same pattern, in a more precise way, and a groove will form. Once the groove is formed, it becomes easier. It’s now habit, unconscious memory, and automatic.

This is habit formation, and usually it’s done without thought. When we drive home and our minds are on something else, but we make the right motions to get home anyway … this is habit, this is our minds and bodies going in a groove we’ve formed by doing these actions so many times before.

The groove is best formed by going slow, at first.

This applies to anything: exercise, eating healthy, creating art, becoming a patient parent, carpentry, reading. Slow is the secret to making it last. And no, that’s not meant to be dirty.

Some of the reasons slow works, besides forming a groove:

1. Mindfulness. When you do something slowly, you can pay more attention to what you’re doing. I highly recommend that when you make changes, you do them mindfully, with full concentration. This increased awareness is necessary in the beginning, when you’re still forming the groove. Later, it’ll become automatic, but at first it’s anything but. You need to pay attention, and you can do this better when you do it slower.

2. You hold yourself back. Holding ourselves back is often considered a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s the best thing we can do, if we want changes to last. When we start a new change, often we are full of enthusiasm. But then we go all out and use up all of that enthusiasm, and run out of motivation or energy or get distracted by something else. But when you hold yourself back, you build up enthusiasm and keep it going for much longer — through that dreaded 2-3 week barrier when people often quit. So even if you want to run 3 miles at first, start with walking and then run-walking (in intervals), and only do a mile or so. You’ll want to do more, but stop yourself. Save that enthusiasm for next time.

3. You learn it right. Doing something slowly means you can learn to do it correctly, without being erratic, and later as it becomes second nature you’ll do it the right way. The importance is obvious in something like martial arts, but it’s also true in any physical activity. And every activity is physical (and mental).

4. Increased focus. When you do something slowly, you tend to do just one thing. It’s hard to multi-task and do something slowly — they don’t mix well. When you single-task, you can focus, instead of always being distracted. This leads to increased effectiveness.

5. Calm. Slow is calmer. Fast is hectic. Go slow to get rid of the chaos, and find peace.

“Slow down, everyone. You’re moving too fast.” - Jack Johnson


On mnmlist.com: The Definitive Guide to a Minimalist Mac Setup

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