It’s a Slow Planet
December 1, 2008
Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow, sat down for a cyberchat with me today. He is not only an incredibly talented public speaker and journalist, but also the owner of SlowPlanet. It is a fabulous Web site for people looking to slow it down a notch. He kindly asked that I write a post there about the value of slowing down in parenting. Be looking for that piece soon!
Carl: After the book came out, the Slow Movement began to explode. My personal website was creaking under the weight. I was constantly getting emails from people who wanted to connect with like-minded folk around the world – for instance, an architect in Uruguay would write in about his Slow vision, and I’d put him in touch with architects in Sweden, the US and Australia. But it all became too much. I felt the Slow Movement needed a global meeting place where people of all kinds could come together to to ask questions, argue, make suggestions, learn new things, share success stories, analyze setbacks, disagree, have fun, test out theories, get angry, get inspired. That is what Slow Planet is for.
CLH: What strategies have you developed to maintain balance? Do you believe it is about balance when you talk about ‘going at the right speed’?
Carl: Yes, balance is the key word here. Trying to find the right speed for every act in your day; giving everything the time and attention it deserves. I have definitely changed – there is for me a very clear Before and After. Before I was always trying to do more and more things in less and less time. It was all about speed and quantity. Now I approach each thing seeking to do it as well as possible instead of as fast as possible. This has made a big change in the way I feel about time: I no longer feel a slave to it. I feel like I have enough time for things and I don’t very often feel rushed (even though I have an exciting, full life). This is not a paradox.
It’s about finding the right equilibrium and not being obsessively neurotic about time. My first step was realizing that I had got stuck in fast-forward, and that too much speed was doing me damage. Then I began making concrete changes. I cut back on the things I was trying to cram into my schedule to allow more time to rest and to devote to the things that are more important to me. So I dropped one sport (tennis) and reduced my TV-watching to a few hours a week, instead of a few hours a day. I also stopped wearing a watch, which seemed to make me less neurotic about time.
I take breaks during the work day to relax, eat and do a bit of meditation. And I switch off my technology (email, cellphone, etc) whenever possible, instead of being always connected. I have learned to say ‘no’ to things – work, social offers, etc – to avoid getting over-scheduled. This is especially important in my work. I get lots and lots of offers to write, speak, consult and it is tempting to do them all, but if I did I would become the opposite of what I’m preaching. So I choose the jobs that I think are the most important in order to keep a balance in my life.
CLH: What advice do you have for others who struggle with today’s pace of life?
Carl: I offer you my top ten tips for starting to slow down in a fast-paced world below:
1. Downsize your calendar. Nothing makes you hurry more than a schedule stuffed to bursting point. Instead of giving in to the temptation to do more and more, try doing less. During the holiday season, cut back on shopping, streamline your social calendar, watch less TV. Easing the pressure on your time takes the rush out of life and makes everything more enjoyable.
2. Question your inner speed demon. We are so obsessed with going faster and saving time that we end up hurrying everything. Next time you catch yourself racing through something – the morning shower, Christmas lunch, opening presents – stop and ask whether you really need to be going so fast. If the answer is no, take a deep breath and slow down. You will find that you get more out of life, and feel more serene.
3. Take up a slow hobby. Activities such as gardening, yoga, knitting, reading and painting can teach you the habit of slowness – not the easiest thing in our turbo-charged, hurry-up world, but a first step for anyone hoping to escape the speed trap. Christmas is a perfect time to discover how slow hobbies can cultivate an inner calm that carries through the rest of your day.
4. Stop clock-watching. Try to be less neurotic about time. Think of it not as a bully to be feared or conquered, but as the benign element we live in. Take off your wristwatch during the holidays. You may start to feel less beholden to the clock. Accept that the old adage “time is money” does not always hold true: you can’t save up time for a rainy day the way you can save up coins in a piggy bank. Also, remember that the best way to get “value” for your time is not always to go faster. Put quality ahead of quantity.
5. Rediscover the joys of the table. A convivial meal with friends and family can be fun, healthy and relaxing. Try eating Christmas dinner round the table, instead of balancing it on your lap in front of the TV.
6. Take a walk. Walking—and we’re not talking speed-walking—is a soothing way to connect with nature, with other people and with yourself. It is also good exercise. Next time you are about to hop in the car for a short trip, go on foot instead. On Christmas day, stroll in the park or through your neighborhood. Your body and soul will thank you.
7. Meditate. Meditation is going mainstream. Ten million Americans now practice it regularly, and meditation rooms are popping up all over the industrial world, from airports, schools and prisons to hospitals and offices. Meditation soothes mind and body. You don’t need to attend a fancy retreat to learn it; anyone can start meditating right away with a few basic techniques. Why not escape the hurly burly of the holiday season by sitting in a quiet room for 15 minutes, breathing slowly with your eyes closed?
8. Consider an alternative approach to your health. About half the population of North America now seeks care outside the mainstream health system, thus enjoying the benefits of unhurried, holistic healing traditions such as massage, acupuncture and reiki.
9. Vacation slowly. Visit a place that celebrates slowness. Official Slow cities make more room for pedestrians and cyclists, and encourage farmers markets. Stroll around the traffic-free streets, indulge in local wine and cheese, linger in restaurants with your partner or family.
10. Turn it off. Find moments to turn off the electronic devices that keep us buzzing. During the holiday season, set aside a few hours without the computer and email, mobile phone and home phone, television and PDA. Let your devices recharge so you can do the same. Give yourself the freedom to unplug, to be slow.
CLH: You’ve given us a lot to think about. Thanks so much for this inspiring chat!
Carl: Thank you!