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We normally think perfection is the final stage in a process. But it’s not. There’s another step that comes after: speed.
When you first learn a skill or create something, you struggle. You go through trial and error, trying to figure out what went wrong. The going is slow.
Then, you start seeing small glimmers of success. You receive positive feedback. You begin to feel more confident as you get closer to where you want to be.
Finally, you have it. The ideal prototype. Your technique nailed down. A system in place. Now that the structure is in order, the next step is to go faster, and faster… and faster.
This happens every day in today’s time-starved society. The Internet became high-speed Internet. Reading became speed reading. Communication became instant. We became impatient, wanting everything to be done fast.
But what if instead of speeding up, you were to go the opposite direction? What if you decided to slow it all down?
Why It’s Good to Go Slow Now and Then
There’s no doubt that being fast has its advantages. You learn to become more efficient. You spend less time doing one thing so that your time is freed up for other tasks. Being fast can be good.
Yet, while some things are better faster, there are other things that cannot be rushed.
You need to have moments in your life that are slow. Moments where you pause, relax, and reflect. Moments when you think about what you have achieved so far, and where you’re going next.
But slowing down should not be confused with stalling. Slowing down is about giving yourself peace of mind in the midst of all the busyness. By giving yourself that sense of tranquility, you create the mental space and time to think outside the box. You take a moment to enjoy what’s around you, and hopefully gain new insight from being in a fresh state of mind.
Stalling, on the other hand, is when you’ve hit a dead end. You hit an obstacle, draining you of your energy to move forward and push ahead. Instead of feeling refreshed, you sink deeper into the quicksand. There’s a world of difference between not acting right away and not acting at all.
It’s also problematic to do the opposite of stalling, which is to act fast on everything. One of the fastest people I knew did everything on his own – and he did it fast. He worked fast, he ate fast, he relaxed fast. Everything was fast.
What other people did, he did it faster. He built a million dollar business from the ground up. He slept for only a few hours each night. He plowed through over a hundred emails each day. He took all the burdens in his world and resolved them on his own, simply because no one else could do it faster.
Until one day, he couldn’t. Gradually, his skin turned a sickly color. His cholesterol levels rose. He went from doing everything quickly with ease, to staying confined in bed unable to get up on his own. After a lifetime of being fast, his health deteriorated quickly and he died prematurely.
If you’ve been going at full speed for a long time, take a break.
How to Slow Down For Better Results
Sometimes you need to slow down to see the things you hadn’t noticed before. Other times, slowing down can actually end up the fastest (and best) route.
Here are three meaningful ways you can slow down your life:
1. Slow down your breathing, you’ll feel calmer.
We’re all busy with tasks, big and small. Every day, there are different demands pulling at us, asking for our time and attention. And while you need to take care of things, you can’t keep working to the brink of collapse.
There’s a misconception that the more hours you put in, the more you’ll get done. That’s true, but only up to a certain point. According to this study, the threshold for productivity at a workplace was 48 hours a week, after which employee output dropped sharply. After 55 hours, employees actually produced nothing more with additional hours.
So, take a few moments each day to step away from your work and breathe slowly. Give yourself a chance to slow down and enjoy your lunch break. Get enough sleep so that you’re not perpetually groggy, which is the fastest way to kill productivity. When you give yourself these slow moments, you become more efficient in your work and also get to think creatively during downtime.
2. Slow down your responses, you’ll have better things to say.
Increasingly, it feels as though we’re expected to be available on-demand. If we don’t respond within a certain time frame to someone’s message, people come to negative conclusions. They assume a lack of interest, lack of responsibility, or even just plain rudeness.
As a result, we feel the pressure to get back to someone right away. We check emails compulsively, turn on our phone screens at a notification sound, and fire away a message. Afterward, we exhale a sigh of relief and get back to our business.
This is fine most of the time. You can confirm that meeting at 2:30 pm, send a laughing emoticon in response to a funny video, or send over the document your colleague needs. Most messages are low stakes.
But the messages that require thought and judgment need more time. If an email provokes an emotional response, it’s better to let it sit for awhile, and then respond when your initial emotion wears off. When the stakes are high, it’s okay to draft a carefully-worded message and modify later as needed. Responses based on spur-of-the-moment emotions are hard to take back and often lead to regret.
3. Slow down your decision-making, you’ll make better choices.
If you’re going to make a major decision, sit on it. Sleep on it. Walk on it. Let the issue mull in your head for awhile.
There’s no need to hurry and marry the wrong person. There’s no need to make a major purchase before you’ve considered alternatives. There’s no need to jump on a decision though your gut is screaming otherwise.
When you go too fast, when you rush into things, you make mistakes. Maybe you’re used to going fast because you’re afraid of being left behind or because you’re addicted to the pace. Or maybe you don’t want to face the question, “Why are you doing this in the first place?”
Once you cross a line, there’s no turning back. There’s a price to be paid. So before you do something big, slow it down.
Slow Down, You’ll See More
Someone in a travel group once said their guide told everyone to put down their cameras for a moment and enjoy the view. So instead of taking photos, everyone sat down and soaked in the surroundings using their senses. Afterward, the group agreed that they enjoyed their experience that much more when they slowed down.
Sometimes, we just feel the need to do things. We need to be busy! We need to be moving our hands and spinning our minds to be useful! We need to finish one thing so we can move on to the next! Otherwise, we’re as good as dead.
The problem with perpetually living this way is that other things speed up too. Our stress levels rise up. We make more mistakes. We miss important details and insights along the way.
Slowing down will not kill you. It will not prevent you from living your dreams. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: by deliberately practicing slowness, you begin to appreciate and approach life more deeply and methodically.