zen habits : breathe

The Brain’s Fast Mode

By Leo Babauta

On a typical day, I’ll be in a work mode that looks something like this:

The problem is that my mind isn’t in a mode for focusing on the writing. It’s in Fast Mode, brought on by the processing of email, where I will make quick decisions on emails, take quick action, and quickly dispose of them.

Even in this quick email processing, I have trouble dealing with the two or three emails that require longer thought or action. The ones that require me to deliberate usually end up sitting in my inbox for a few days, because my mind is in Fast Mode whenever I’m in my inbox.

Writing or otherwise creating when your brain is in Fast Mode is nearly impossible, until you switch to Slow Mode. You’ll just switch from the writing to some smaller, faster task, or go to distractions.

Considering a tough decision long enough to weigh the various factors and make a good decision is also pretty near impossible while you’re in Fast Mode. So you put off the decisions until later, even if it would only take a few minutes to make a decision.

Any task that isn’t a quick click or two also gets pushed back while you’re in Fast Mode. You don’t have time to spend five minutes on a single task, because you’re so busy!

You can’t really exercise or meditate in Fast Mode, either, because those take longer than a minute. They take a block of time that isn’t just a minute or two that you can do in Fast Mode.

You can watch TV, because TV has learned to appeal to Fast Mode, switching constantly to new things every few seconds. But you won’t watch a slower film that requires your mind to pay attention and give it consideration for longer than a few minutes.

Being in Fast Mode leads to constant switching, and constant busy-ness. It leads to overwork, because when do you switch it off? It leads to exhaustion, because we never give ourselves breathing room.

Learn to recognize when you’re in Fast Mode, and practice switching to Slow Mode now and then. It’s essential to doing all the things that are really important.

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