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17 Mar

101.6 Slow time

Have you ever found yourself feeling frantic, doing things at breakneck speed yet not managing to get “there” in time, whatever there might be? Did you try to go faster, hoping that then you will finally finish those tasks that are assaulting you - perhaps tasks that are not very important at all, and have time to do the things you want?

Does going faster really work?

Let's say you had to walk to work on two different days. On the first day, you had enough time, and walked at an enjoyable pace. Let's say this took you about 25 minutes. On the second day, you didn't have enough time, and had to walk at a very fast pace not to be late. This fast pace made you flush, uncomfortable, and felt quite effortful. How much time do you think you would save by rushing when walking, for your tremendous effort, compared to the first day? Would you be there in 15 minutes? No. Most likely you will brush off only a few minutes of the time it takes you to walk there leisurely. So you might be there in 22 minutes, instead of 25. Perhaps 20, though that is unlikely. But you would have used up a great amount of energy, which was probably worth much more than the 10 minutes you have gained. And you felt fairly uncomfortable for 20 minutes, and perhaps some recovery time after that. This time was therefore lost to discomfort, without gaining you much in return.

The same is true when attempting to do things in a rush. A lot in mastering time richness is not only about managing to finish your tasks, and having time off for leisure, but about the quality of the time itself, you spend on various activities. Time quality is about the clarity of focus, and the ability to pay attention, about not feeling rushed and enjoying yourself. None of us does our best work when we feel rushed out of our minds. Rush might indeed help us finish things, and deadlines might help us get on with things and make them happen.

However, rush should not be the main motivator to achieve things. The things themselves we want to achieve, and our travelled steps towards them, should be a motivator.

This strategy of going faster rarely works out. This is because doing more things that we don’t like, faster, does not make us happier. What makes us happier is doing mostly tasks that we want to do - because then we don’t feel like our time is wasted on things we don’t really like.

In fact, even with the things that we do like, doing them very fast or trying to cram them in too little time can feel unsatisfactory. This is one of the reasons we postpone the tasks that we like - we hope we will have enough time to do them at true leisure. Yet what does true leisure mean? Does it mean that some wonderful time will come over us, when there will be no more tasks we don’t want to do, and only things that we want to do, and we will have ample amount of time to do the latter?

That is rarely the case. In fact, what happens is, waiting to have enough time to do things generally backfires into never doing the things we wanted to do. So what about true leisure? Well, surprisingly enough, true leisure is a function of taking our time to do things slower. It is a bit counter-intuitive, like confidence tricks. Many people wait to be confident to do things want to do or achieve. Wise people know that doing the things they want to achieve makes them feel confident.

A similar trick applies to time. Going faster makes us feel frantic. Going slow makes us feel like we have time. Going slow allows us to savour and truly take in - to process the information, to savour via our senses - the things that are happening. This means that our brain has more time to process and enjoy the things at hand, and we feel comfortable because of it.

Sure, if this was only about physics, increasing our speed would ensure we cover a larger distance in the same amount of time. But our activities are not a distance we need to cover. Our minds cannot increase speed above a certain level to plough through the work without losing the quality and pleasure of the activity. Thus slowing down to a pace that feels comfortable makes us, in retrospect, feel unhurried, and like we enjoyed that activity much more than if we would have rushed ourselves.

You might go faster to be able to achieve more, or reach a goal faster. But at the same time, you are telling your brain that you need to be on high alert, because something wrong might happen if you are not going fast. You are telling your brain that you need to rush, which probably also translates into a message that you are not sufficiently organized not to have to rush. Sooner or later you will be feeling hectic and trust yourself less because you've been rushing yourself consistently, and with no base in the reality of how far you are along with your goals.

Slowing down from the breakneck speed we sometimes engineer (due to bad planning, or fear that we will let go and not accomplish the project if we move slower, because it is a boring project), let's us get on with things at a much deeper level than usual. Slowing down brings peace, deeper thought, and a feeling of contentment.

This goes however against our intuitions, and it is hard to respond to the pressures from our environment, which bestows demands upon us, by slowing down and picking our activities, rather than speeding up. Because it is non-intuitive, this principle is perfectly suited for a time rich mission: it needs the force of repetition and habit to truly affect our lives.

If you ever wanted to feel like your life is wonderful, a true blessing, give yourself the gift of slowing down. Nobody else can do it for you.

See connected lesson 101.6 Slow time

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