“Chop-chop,” my friends and I often joke when something is taking too long. C’mon, we’re waiting!
In these rona-times when we’re not really seeing each other as much as we would like, those comments are often heard through a raspy Messenger connection, through lame and wholly inadequate voice messages. That’s how it is now.
To some — my mother included — this pandemic was a godsend. We were doing way too many things at way too high a speed, slowly working ourselves to an early and miserable grave. Rushing from one commitment to another, trying to squeeze in ever-more appointments.
No, I’m not about to profess the inner peace of what we’re going through and how our hectic, commercial, individualistic pre-pandemic society was so terrible.
It wasn’t. We did those things because we wanted to, and presumably because they were good for us. What we have now is worth less to us than what we had then — and hand-to-heart, if given a choice would you go back to your pre-rona routines?
Yea, I would too. That’s not to say that what we’ve gained or (re-)discovered has no value. This is the flipside of paying the price for the things we want; when the things we want are no longer available, we don’t have to pay their cost anymore.
Slowing down is one of those underappreciated qualities we had probably not paid much attention to before the pandemic; it was a way of life — pay up and move on. Cutting out an hour or two commuting a day has lead many of us to have more time on our hands. Noticeably so. That feels better, and lets us achieve a variety of things we couldn’t before.
Not to brag, but I cut out that time villain long ago. These days, my commutes are around 20 seconds — or eight minutes if I opt for my latest addition to the many writing cafés Reykjavík has to offer.
Doing things slower has all sorts of benefits across many areas of life. Here are some that I find it particularly useful and where I take a deep breath before I slow down:
- Workout: Working your body extremely hard might be admirable if you’re an athlete, but for most of us working it smart is much better. Quality over quantity. Pushing ourselves to the limit once in a while is great, but if we do it every time we’ll soon enough injure ourselves. No thanks.
I wrote about my yoga practice yesterday, and how I mindfully slow down to match movements to my breath rather than that of an eager instructor or angsty class. Rushing through poses “just because” will at best make you sloppy, at worst injure yourself. When I was younger, I would run and run and run even though my body was protesting way beyond what was a reasonable and beneficial level of exercise. The result was inflammation and damaged joints that kept me away from the track for weeks. No thanks.
- Food: This is where I tell you to ditch the fast-food — How predictable!
Not quite: eat whatever you want — that’s none of my business. If you want to work out five days a week and then, when the weekend arrives, ruin your hard work with garbage food at 3 a.m. and stay up all night, be my guest. Knock yourself out. Just don’t expect miraculous results to your fitness: align your actions with your values.
However, I have found that fuelling my body with better stuff makes me feel better (duh!). Take time to prepare your food, and take time to eat it. I know nothing worse than shoveling food down my throat because I failed to plan my day properly and have to be somewhere in ten minutes.
We all have busy lives with things to do, so this one requires a bit of planning, foresight, discipline, and perseverance. If I keep hitting that snooze button, I will be late. If I’m late, I’ll probably cheat with food and only eat something quick — which makes me hungry a few hours later and prone to eat the nearest junk food I can find. No good: slow down, think through, and always keep emergency snacks around. That seems to work for me.
- News: it’s no secret that I avoid news. I don’t watch evening news, or even the shows that ridicule the things in the news. I don’t read daily newspapers, unless I’m purposefully researching some topic or I’m taking in the comments of some thoughtful columnist. News are like fast food: delicious, but pretty bad for you. They waste your time and fill you with fears about the irrelevant now that in a few short moments will become the irrelevant past. Most of the time the news content is not even accurate — and it greatly contributes to you thinking that extraordinary long-tail events are common across the world. They flavour of worldviews and make them systematically misinformed.
One of my most cherished possessions is a black canvas with green text that states “Darling, you need to read better books.” Zoom out and read the great works that have stood the test of time. Pick up Moby Dick; give Dostoyevsky a try.
News, like chattering acquaintances that add heat but no light, are not worth your time — and if you must consume news, read the slow-form versions: the non-hystericals, the weekly magazines, the thoughtful commentators.
- Travel: These days we don’t really travel anymore, but one day we will. Slower travel was one of the best things I ever embraced. As a youngster hungry for the world, I’d wake up early and walk so much and everywhere whenever I was abroad. I wanted to see everything: check cultural boxes and tick sights off a wholly inadequate travel agenda.
Just don’t. Bring twice the money, half the clothes; stay twice the time and do half the things you imagined. Immerse yourself in the place you’re visiting — try to connect a bit more with locals. Don’t rush eagerly to the next place, spending one night here or there, ever hungry for the next imagined destination but forgetting to live in the now.
“Slow travel is better travel,” my nomad guru Matt Kepnes always says. You see more, you pursue depth instead of width, and you learn which places sell you overpriced touristic garbage and where to find true gems. Most of the time you didn’t even know some amazing natural beauty was just around the corner, and if you pack your agenda too tightly you wouldn’t even have time for it. Not great.
Slowing down is a truly underrated quality of life. Perhaps one good thing to come out of the rona is that we appreciate this lost value of life. I sure have.