Quixote Consulting

Slow Up
by Rob Fletcher

What speed you live your life is a choice. It’s important to remember that. The world may seem to be getting faster and faster, with the rate of change and complexity seeming to continually accelerate. Slowing up is a choice you can try in some parts of your days as an alternative to running on the ‘faster pace’ treadmill. Slowing up entails you making some choices that are easy and some that are difficult. All of the choices involve you looking at your day and larger life a bit more mindfully.

Why ‘Slow Up’?
I call this technique ‘slowing up’ rather than ‘slowing down’ for two reasons:

  1. Using the word up helps shift the mind into engaging. It notices something is different and is one small move from mindlessness to mindfulness.
  2. It implies a choice. You can turn a habit into a choice to live the life you want within the set boundaries you live in, which is true freedom.
  3. It points to the potential for the greater happiness and (paradoxically) greater productivity inherent in slowing up.

Mindful vs. Mindless
“Mindfulness begins with the observation that mindlessness pervades much of human activity. We fail to notice huge swaths of experience. We act and interact automatically, without much thinking.” – Martin Seligman

Here’s mindlessness in action. When Harvard professor Ellen Langer had people butt into a line of office workers waiting to copy something, she had some of them say, “Would you mind if I cut in front of you?” They were usually refused. When they said, “Would you mind if I cut in front of you, because I have to copy something,” they were allowed to cut in.

Mindfulness is the mind awake and alive, alert, taking in new information. Eastern cultures place a great emphasis on this state. Walking and sitting meditation, yoga and tai chi are all excellent methods of mindfully slowing down.

Life in the Slow Lane
“Life in the fast lane, surely make you lose your mind.” – The Eagles

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “I live my life in growing orbits.” Take his advice and practice slowing up in small places first. Try driving just at or below the speed limit in the slow lane on a highway. Consumer Reports says you lose 5 MPG for every 10 MPH over 55. That means you’re paying 60 cents more per gallon at 65 MPH and $1.20 more at 75! Leave early, slow down, relax and enjoy your drive in the slow lane. You’ll really get the feeling that the road is open in front of you if you’re not furiously tailgating someone while going 75 MPH. Show up early to something, somewhere and take a moment to gather yourself, breathe slowly and deeply and take in the surroundings.

Fear Itself
“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

It’s not easy breaking through habitual patterns. Especially in the beginning it can in fact be quite challenging as fears rise up. But, you’re better and bigger than your fears and in fact you can tell your fears, “I’m becoming more effective, so hit the road.”

When we’re scared, we usually try to speed up, feeling that we’re in danger. Follow the fear down to its illogical conclusion, which makes it easier to dispute it. It’s very challenging to slow up when every instinct says ‘speed up’ – but every time you do it, slowing up gets more familiar and easier – Slow up on something that doesn’t matter first, like washing the dishes. Say to yourself, “I only have this moment. I’m going to take my time here, and notice as much of this process as possible. I want notice everything in a relaxed way - how the water lands on the dish, soap bubbles, the music playing in the background.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
Try slowing up when you read The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats and let the words wash over you slowly and deliciously as you imagine yourself by this lake.

I will arise now and go to Innisfree
build a small cabin of clay and wattles made
nine rows of beans, a hive for the honey bee
and live alone in a bee-loud glade.

I’ll have some peace there,
for peace comes dropping slow
from the vale of the morning
to where the cricket sings
midnight, and noon a purple glow
and the evenings, the evenings,
full of the linnets’ wings

I will arise now, for always night and day,
I hear lake water lapping
with low sounds by the shore
While I stand on the pavement grey
I hear it in my deep heart’s core

Saying No
I love to read and mention a lot of books in my workshops that people might like to check out. The title that most people get excited is one by William Ury. It’s called The Power of the Positive No. Why? I think it’s because they realize how much nicer their life would be if they could say “no” strategically. Perhaps one of the challenging words in our vocabulary, we (or our superiors) are consistently over-optimistic about how much we can get done in the time we have done. Yet, if ever there was a simple way to slow the treadmill this word is it. What can you say no to? And by saying no, what are you actually saying yes to? It helps to realize that saying no to staying late at work one night a week is actually you saying yes to spending some quiet time with your children at home that night.

The 80/20 Principle
You may have heard of the 80/20 principle. It states that only 20% of what we do takes care of 80% of the work. Yet we operate unconsciously on what Howard Gardner calls the 50/50 principle. We treat every request, demand, interest as equally important. Yet only 20 percent of what we’re doing matters. What can you cut out, and barely budge your productivity?

The 20/80 Principle
It follows then that we spend 80% of our time inefficiently, getting the remaining 20% of work done. Hence my slightly-tongue-in-cheek newly coined “20/80” principle. So, you can lighten up a little with how seriously to take some of the demands on your time. Ask yourself, “does this really matter?” And when you find yourself getting caught up in how important something is, think in geological time. Think of how long it took for the earth under you to form and become the ground it is. Now, are all those emails really all important? Ask yourself “what can I stop doing” that seems necessary but isn’t really.

Mindful Pleasures
You may have noticed the difference in your level of enjoyment between ordering something on Netflix and channel-surfing (what my friend Django calls “Russian remote control”.) Studies have shown that prevailing mood for people while watching television is mild depression. Ouch! The more you mindfully choose what pleasures you relax and rejuvenate with, the more those pleasures will pay off for you.

The stronger you are the farther you can reach – and the more you can get out of it. But you need to match your strength to the task.  You may notice a difference in pleasure between reading the National Enquirer, People magazine, the New York Times, a Robert Ludlum novel, a Cormac McCarthy novel, Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust, and on and on.

The higher the difficulty, the more solid and potentially lasting the happiness. Some are withdrawals and some are deposits in your ‘pleasure account’. Match where you’re at in the moment. Ask yourself – what do I need right now? Sometimes you just need to curl up with a juvenile comedy. Sometimes you need something deeper. You know yourself best, and the closer you mindfully match what you give yourself with what you need, the stronger the sense of fulfillment.

Mindless Is Fine Sometimes
Your actions don’t have to always be mindful, just more mindful.If you delight in doing a classically “mindless” task and letting your mind wander in a relaxed way, go for it.

But if you’re doing that mindless task and your mind is racing on a treadmill of future worries and past wrongs done to you, then it’s time to reign it in.  This of course takes discipline. But Howard Gardner lists a disciplined mind as one of the five minds that will be most needed in the future.

Slow Beauty
Think of where you drive the fastest and where you drive (voluntarily) slowest. When we drive on tree-lined streets we slow down. Beauty engages us and slows us down.

How can you change your office space to help you slow down – pictures of family and pets, plants, quiet music, a clean desk? – Whatever it is for you, make your space inviting to slow down this coming week.

Factor in the biological fact of habituation. Our neurons only fire if processing new information. At one point you’ll stop noticing that picture. To beat habituation move things around now and then so you notice them anew.

Taking It All In
The next time you’re enjoying a nice dessert, or someone smiling, or a moment with your cat, or the way the sun hits a tree, try pausing for a moment. If you slow up during something pleasurable, you come face to face with it, and expand your capacity for happiness, to take in the goodness of life

Conversely if you slow up during something painful, don’t try to leap out of the challenging moment into hoping or worrying about the future, if you can pause just a moment, you create a capacity for poignancy and have an opportunity to realize the possibility of experiencing the peacefulness in the eye of the storm, the possibility to set up an easy chair in the whirlwind, as Yeats calls “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” and relax in the middle. As Blake said, “it is right it should be so, man was made for joy and woe, and when this thing we rightly know

And you find an even deeper truth – that you can’t have one without the other. Depth of experience, whether joy or sorrow, high or low, come from the same well.

Small Bites
One final piece of advice – Take a small bite of this article on, like an appetizer and revisit it. Schedule a time on your calendar to look at the article again next week and take a new bite. We can only take so much in at a time. Take only what you need right now, pack light, and savor the journey.

‘Slow Up’ Further Reading
Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff
Clock Of The Long Now: Time And Responsibility: The Ideas Behind The World's Slowest Computer by Stewart Brand
The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury
Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything by James Gleick