If you read the title and think I’m going to justify why you should hang out in your PJs all day watching TV – though sometimes there’s a place for this too – you might be a bit disappointed. This is not exactly what I mean by going slow.
When I suggest adding a touch of slow to your life, it’s much more about being intentional and conscious with how and where you spend your time. This is very much the opposite of rushing through life like a headless chicken. But why is this important?
We’ve created a modern world that sometimes seems to exalt being busy. We pack our schedules to the brim and, particularly in some areas of the startup ecosystem, there’s an implication that working 24/7 is the only way to really cut your chops and contribute in the working world.
It can almost feel revolutionary to suggest taking a deep breath.
While a bit of busyness can give you a nice boost, sustaining this type of living long term is pretty challenging for most of us. This is also where things like burnout start to rear their ugly head…
Stop & pick some daffodils
I still remember my final Year 7 report and a note from my teacher, who was a very creative, caring and empathetic lady. She gave me glowing remarks in relation to my overall performance and grades, but added that I should remember to “stop and pick some daffodils along the way”.
If I’m honest, now almost 30 years later, this continues to be a bit of a challenge for me.
I can get caught up in doing and producing, and then worrying about not doing enough. I think working for myself kind of adds to the pressure, particularly with the whole emotional roller coaster that’s part and parcel of self-employment. While I’m so grateful to be doing something I care deeply about and enjoy, it still entails hard work.
Daffodils can indeed get missed.
However I’m much more aware of this compared to my previous working life. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time considering the type of life I want to lead and how I want to feel. And I want to embody this in the work I do through Food At Heart. Slowly, slowly (which seems appropriate!) I’ve layered in new ways of thinking and behaving that mean I remember to pause.
This has included simplifying my life and my work – while still keeping it interesting and exciting.
For example, I’ve stripped out many of the things I was doing in my business to bring together the beautiful pairing of chocolate and meditation. When I started out I was working with all sorts of ingredients and styles of events (and with many things around the side). I’ve gradually shed some of these over the last couple of years.
This has meant I get to spend a lot more quality time exploring chocolate making in the kitchen, which is both work and pleasure (and leisure). It’s also an incredibly mindful activity so is one that I personally find therapeutic. And I love sharing the results of this with other people. I think this is called a win-win-win!
This is the thing: going slow doesn’t mean you have to be boring and give up doing anything fun (or fast!). It just means what you give your energy to, or, in the words of Sarah Knight of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F**k, what you give your f*cks to, are things you actually care about.
Breathing in, breathing out
Meditation has been one of the key ways I’ve brought more slowness into my life.
One of the less spoken about benefits of regular meditation is that I have more awareness of the small details and moments in life. The seemingly insignificant sensory experiences of a bright blue summer sky, delicious aromas wafting their way out of a bakery or a gentle breeze against my cheeks, can lift, even if just a little bit, a challenging day.
But you only catch these moments by slowing down.
As many meditation teachers say, we are human beings not human doings.
Something that helped me to think about how I balance my doing versus being in a more constructive way is an approach Krista Suh, creator of The Pussyhat Project, explained in her book DIY Rules for a WTF World.
Krista writes about the idea of inhaling and exhaling in life. In particular, she uses the metaphor of a bellows to bring this image to life.
Sometimes we are in inhale mode: we learn, absorb, explore. It may even look or feel like we’re doing nothing. But actually this is a really important part of the creative and producing process. Krista also reminds us that it’s important to recognise this stage and value it, rather than beating ourselves up for being lazy, scattered or ineffective.
The inhale then needs the balance of an exhale. This is our doing phase. The exhale could transpire as writing a short story, creating a piece of art, really getting into the meat of a project at work, taking on new clients, getting on with a big decorating project at home…
Breathing in and breathing out is how we stay alive, and there are daffodil moments to enjoy in both states if we take the time to notice.
3 ways I include slowness in my life
Walking is still one of my favourite, gentle ways of moving my body. No special equipment is needed, you can pretty much do it anywhere and it gives you time to soak in a few details of your surroundings.
When I have a day in London, I walk between meetings, partly to refresh my brain, but also to enjoy soaking up the sights and sounds of the beautiful city. I also take walking breaks in my days when I’m working from home.
There are so many ways you can incorporate walking in your day so that it just becomes part of it rather than another thing to add to your to do list. Maybe get off a stop early on your daily commute or go somewhere green, like a park, in your lunch break for a few relaxing steps. You might like to try a walking meeting. Even just a little walk around the block can be a great energiser.
(As an added bonus, walking is a really great boost for creative thinking so you might find a walking break helps you come up with some solutions to a problem you’ve been mulling over.)
I mentioned above how important it’s been for me to better understand my own behaviour so I can recognise where I need to go a little slower. One of the best ways I’ve found to capture, track and analyse this is through (mostly) daily writing.
I have a notebook and pen that I keep by my bed and every morning after I meditate, I write for 15-30 minutes about whatever is in my head. And yes the pen and paper bit is important. The connection through handwriting is very different to typing (and any break from technology is a good thing).
If you want to give this a go and 30 minutes feels a bit too long for you, even writing just a few sentences on your present emotional (and physical) state is great.
My writing helps me be so more aware of how I’m feeling and acting, and the way this ebbs and flows. Taking the time to reflect has been a really important part of getting to know myself.
3. Looking up & out
In the last online company I worked at before setting up Food At Heart, we were in the midst of the rise of smartphones and used to talk about mobile “snacking moments”. These were those little breaks of time, like when you’re sitting on a train, waiting for someone to turn up for a meeting or standing in the kitchen while the kettle boils, where we instantly turn to our phones to fill the space.
The reason I mention this is that it’s so easy, when we have one of these ’empty’ moments, to try and fill it. I’m guessing this might even why some people like to feel busy all the time. But it’s really important to not always fill these spaces, as they can also be the times that our most creative ideas bubble up. And let’s face it, we do need to give our minds a rest from time to time.
I like to leave some gaps in my day for my mind and senses to roam, when I don’t have to be consciously thinking about anything in particular.
For example, sometimes on train journeys, rather than reading or jumping on my phone, I look out the window at world going by – or (without being too creepy!) studying what other people on the train are up to. It’s actually a fantastic time to take a breath, let thoughts bubble up, and see what’s going on the world.
My mind always feels so much more refreshed and alert versus journeys when I’ve sat glued to my phone screen.
So maybe, just maybe, rather than rushing on to the next action on your to do list after reading this, you might want to take a breath, take note and allow yourself the pleasure of an ’empty’ moment.
Need a little more slow inspiration? Some Slow Revolutionaries to check out…
If you’d like to dig into ways you could embrace a bit more slow in your life (while still having fun!), check out some of my fave Slow Heroes:
- Brooke McAlary at Slow Your Home podcast (also a fellow Antipodean which might be one of the reasons I like her so much!)
- Carl Honore author of In Praise of Slow and The Slow Fix and TED speaker extraordinaire
- Erica Layne at The Life On Purpose Movement
Oh and don’t forget to check out Slow Food too.