The Power of Slow Living and Doing Less
On the road of life, there are twists and turns, hills and valleys. We can map out and plan our journey. But even then, we can’t always see what’s ahead of us in a given moment. And slowing down is the only way to move ahead.
But when we compare and watch what others do, we are tempted to speed up. We don’t’ want to be left behind. We want to at least catch up.
We feel rushed. We feel pressure to make it to a goalpost, a milestone, a desired destination by a certain time frame. We make the journey harder. We’re less patient, less deliberate, and less adaptable to change.
Even when the road is straight and clear, we can lose perspective. The lens through which we see things can get messy. A swarm of flying bugs can descend on your car. They clog up your windshield. So you need to slow down, clean up and remove the debris to keep moving.
Speed is exciting, instantly gratifying, and distracts us from boredom. But it’s not infinite. It’s like fireworks. It burns up a lot of energy. It loses its spark and burns out.
Slow living creates a richer and more satisfying life. Even when you have goals to meet and projects to finish, you stay present. You tap into an infinite source of energy. It’s like the sunlight. You’re constantly renewing and recharging.
The slow philosophy doesn’t mean you’re procrastinating or always moving slowly. Rather, it’s giving your priority the attention it deserves. It’s moving at the right speed. It’s being intentional about whether to focus on and solve the problem now, or observe, reflect, and let ideas percolate.
This is episode 57. The Power of Slow Living and Doing Less, but Better. Welcome to the Incrementalist. My name is Dyan Williams and I’m your productivity coach who will help you make big changes in small steps.
When we have due dates, deadlines, and demands, the default mode is to speed up. We watch the clock. We think the faster we move, the more things we will check off our to-do list. But the tasks keep growing.
When we’re stressed, overwhelmed and rushed, we overlook the power of slowing down. We act as if we’re in a rowboat, moving with all our strength and effort, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.
But when we practice slow living every day, we avoid the cult of speed and the busyness trap.
We navigate life as if we’re in a sailboat. We’re not sitting idly, but working with the wind – a powerful, uncontrollable factor – to take us as far as we need to go.
You invoke your inner tortoise, says Carl Honore, author of the audiobook, The Power of Slow. Released more than a decade ago in 2009, the book’s core message holds up. The slow philosophy has grown over the years in a world addicted to speed.
So how can you break the obsession with doing more faster and instead do the right things at the right speed? Here are 7 steps to slow, productive living:
1. Prioritize and practice self-care. In the productivity arena, you will hear the term, eat the frog, get your hardest work done first. There is truth to that, especially when you’ve been procrastinating on a project that needs to get done.
But before you focus on work, you need to take a few steps back and focus on yourself. You can only care for others when you take care of yourself first.
In the morning, you toss your favorite fruits into the blender and enjoy a delicious smoothie. If the weather permits, you step outside and soak in some sunlight.
You get clear on what to say yes to and what to say no to. You stop being a people pleaser and become more aligned with what’s essential. Instead of having a sugary cookie, you opt for a high protein, vitamin rich meal. You can start your day slowly and savor the richness of the moment.
This doesn’t mean you don’t get to enjoy dessert or eat birthday cake. Rather, slow living means being deliberate about your choices and the tradeoffs. You celebrate milestones, appreciate treats and gifts, and tinker with your tools and toys.
You’re not constantly adding to your wish list and wanting more. Maybe you don’t have the cookie for breakfast, but you have it during your afternoon coffee. You relax, sit quietly, do nothing, or do some bird watching.
2. Take extended breaks of at least 1 to 2 weeks, twice in the year.
When you’ve been hyper-focused and extra diligent for too long, you can start to feel drained and depleted. It helps to do something new, plan an event you can look forward to, do something out of the ordinary, and get out of your normal environment.
Take a vacation. This could mean booking a flight, packing your travel luggage, waking up earlier to head to the airport, waiting hours to board an airplane, and flying to a distant place.
On the airplane, allow your mind to drift off, daydream, and release any tension. You can take a long nap, watch a movie, listen to music, do a crossword puzzle, or read a good book. But if airplane rides do not create anxiety for you, be sure to enjoy the view, watch the clouds float by, take in the calming white noise, and spot any land or sea below.
Look outside and watch the airplane landing on the ground and arriving at your destination. You have just completed a journey and you get to enjoy what’s next to come. It’s an opportunity to adapt, learn, grow, and improvise in a different environment.
Observe your surroundings. Take notice of what’s the same and what’s not. Maybe you have to drive on the other side of the road. Or the vegetation, landscaping, structural designs and billboard advertising are unique to the location.
Being in new territory helps you to slow down. It’s refreshing and recharging. But at any point, you might start to worry about leaving your work and tasks behind. This is where you come back to the present moment. And you can remind yourself that enjoying life ultimately makes you more productive, creative, effective, and engaged.
Still, you might keep seeing signs and having thoughts telling you to reach your goals faster. Or you’re wasting time going on a break. But just come back to the present moment. Welcome any friction along the way. Stop signs and toll gates get you out of the roadrunner mode.
This summer, I traveled back to my home country, Jamaica, a tropical island in the Caribbean. This is where I was born and grew up. But decades have passed since I lived there and a lot has changed since then.
I’ve now lived longer in the United States, where I have my home, business, husband, two kids, and close friends. I do need to adjust to the culture, the environment, the climate, the language, the food, and the lifestyle when I visit.
Travel opens you up to a different perspective and to view your obligations from a distance. It’s something to look forward to without the unnecessary pressure.
During my trip, I didn’t keep a rigid schedule. You want to schedule free time, but not make it into a series of long do lists.
I had three big overarching objectives, but I was flexible on the timeline and the process, when and how exactly I got them done.
On any important journey, go more slowly to observe the direction you’re heading or the path you’re taking. You really don’t need to power through all the time. Focusing on the journey makes the rewards even more rewarding.
3. Spend time in nature. Modern technology often separates human beings from the natural environment. Connecting with nature brings a unique sense of awe and wonder. Watching pelican birds swim or fly at the beach brings calmness and lifts your spirit.
A close interaction with colorful birds brings you back to the present moment. During an animal trail walk, I interacted with parrots and other exotic birds. They are usually serene, playful, energetic, curious and attentive. Bird watching outdoors is a stress-reducing, therapeutic experience.
Relaxing on the beach whether solo or with friends, watching the waves come and go, listening to the waves crash on the rocks or on the shore, taking a dip in the sea, feeling the sand between your toes, savoring the coolness of the breeze, and embracing the warmth of the sunshine make lasting memories.
Gardening, farming or visiting a farm connects us back to the earth. It promotes sensory learning, healthy living, and an appreciation of where food comes from.
Planting a tree encourages slow living. You pick an ideal spot, moisten the soil, dig big and wide enough, put the roots down, and fill in the hole and tamp lightly. Trees are not in a rush to grow; they take years to root down into the earth and grow strong stems. The wait makes the growth or harvest even more glorious.
Delicious mangoes are plentiful and popular in Jamaica. They are all kinds of varieties, the East Indian, Julie, Nelson, and, my personal favorite, Bombay. You can cut it and twist it from the pit for the flesh to be spooned out.
Mangoes are the sweetest from May through July, which is when I visited this year.
When you’re savoring a favorite fruit, you’re not thinking about where next or what’s next. When it’s really time to move on, you will in due course.
For now, you cut and slice your watermelon and eat as is, use it to make smoothie, or add it to your salsa recipe.
Do what you can to get close to nature. Maybe you don’t have the patience to maintain an outdoor garden or the outdoor space for it. But you can keep low-maintenance indoor plants and watch them grow. They help you stay grounded and mindful. You cannot rush plant care, whether it’s watering the roots, pruning, or finding the best light.
4. Unplug from your digital devices. Technology puts information and entertainment at our fingertips. But to truly live, you need to be more deliberate about screen time and reduce sensory overload.
Try journaling or handwriting to unload your mind. Or do meditation, prayer and sitting in silence for spiritual rest. When you add and take one, be sure to also subtract and leave one.
The convenience of technology can enhance your life. I like having a microwave to make popcorn for movie night at home. It’s not inherently wrong to speed things up with modern-day technology. But we also have to watch out for the consequences of needing instant gratification and immediate results.
5. Just do one thing at a time. Fully taste and enjoy the flavors of what you eat without listening to a podcast, watching a Youtube video, or scrolling social media.
Even mundane tasks can be a form of slow living.
When you do grocery shopping, walk mindfully through the aisles and really notice what’s on the shelves. When you do the laundry, place your items in the machine one by one. When you sweep the floor, imagine yourself sweeping away worries, fears, anger and frustration.
6. Indulge in a creative hobby or leisure activity. Hobbies don’t make you money, but they do wonders for your life, whether it’s photography, videography, cooking, or learning the ukulele. Hobbies help you learn and develop skills and interests outside of work.
To unwind and recharge, you could take a solo walk in the nearby park or take your dog out for a stroll. Being outdoors and engaging your own muscles to move from one place to the next are ways to slow down. Or you could hang out with your kids at the playground or play recreational sports to adjust to the right pace.
You practice the slow philosophy when you have fun, explore a passion, and enjoy life more. If you can relax, it’s easier to find your true north.
Maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends are part of slow living. Enjoy a meal with your loved ones, or people who support your well being. Take note of the colors, textures, smell, appearance, and flavors of the food as you engage in conversation.
Slow living is building community in your neighborhood. Participate in a community organization, do volunteer work, or go to concerts and shows to support local artists and venues. It could be a free kid-friendly interactive concert at the local park or talking to the producers and vendors and listening to live music at the farmer’s market.
7. Keep daily routines and rituals that allow a slower rhythm. You don’t have to travel to a tropical island or take a long vacation to slow down. Sometimes structure and simplicity are exactly what you need.
Take a stroll, sit on a park bench, enjoy the fresh air. Notice the vibrant colors and symbiotic relationships in nature, like between the plants and the bees.
Whether it’s doing yoga in the morning or moon viewing at night, your daily rituals remind you to move at your ideal pace, whether it’s slow or fast or in between. They help you to live in the moment, instead of race through to the end.
Slowing down improves your physical health, mental clarity, sensory balance, creativity, emotional wellbeing, social connections and spirituality. These are the seven dimensions of rest, according to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a physician and author of Sacred Rest. You need active rest for a productive, joyful, and deeper life.
When you embrace slow living, you can focus on what you control and let go of everything else. You can move at a fast pace, but not feel rushed. You can slow down to enjoy the journey, recharge and change course. Moving at the right speed and at the right time is not easy. It involves patience and perseverance. But it’s a proven strategy to cultivate meaning and success at your own pace.
Being an incrementalist is aligned with slow living and the slow philosophy. You’re not taking giant leaps toward the finished line, but taking the right sized steps to figure out where to go next.
For more on how to synch with your natural rhythm and prioritize rest, check out my book, The Incrementalist, available at leanpub.com/incrementalist. To dive deeper on the incrementalist approach to slow, productive living, you may contact me for coaching or a speaking event.
If you have feedback or topic ideas, drop them in the comments section of the YouTube channel or send me an email at email@example.com.
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