How slowing down can take your life to the next level

Published October 26, 2015   Posted in How to Think

If you are an avid reader of this blog (of course you are!), you probably know that I have become a believer in slowing down in life and doing everything with a bit more thoughtfulness.  I hate the feeling of being rushed.  I make too many mistakes that way.

Slowing down has helped me to take stock of my life and figure out exactly what I want it to be. Truthfully, a lot of our financial independence and early retirement goals are a direct result of both my wife and I just slowing the hell down, and it’s only going to get easier once we quit our full time jobs.

I wasn’t always like this.  Once upon a time, I used to rush through almost everything I did. I drove a supercharged sports car AND rode a Yamaha R1 sport bike (but not at once!). I finished my work as quickly as I could. It was all I could do to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.

I used to think that:

  1. Making a quick decision (any decision) is better than not making one at all
  2. More hours spent at the office makes you more productive
  3. Being “busy” means that you’re doing something important
  4. If somebody was doing nothing, they were unproductive and lazy

But throughout the years of practicing this ill-conceived belief in doing everything FAST, I quickly began to realize that speed is the worst possible qualifier of importance, success or productivity.

The truth is that despite my adherence to a philosophy that had me believe that doing nothing meant that you were being lazy, I liked doing nothing.  I thoroughly enjoyed the break from responsibility.

It almost felt like I was allowing both my heart and mind to just…relax.

Then, I realized something remarkable: It turns out that studies routinely reveal that there may be something to this whole do nothing / slow down philosophy after all. In fact, the benefits of pumping the brakes on a fast life are many and well-researched.

How slowing down increases productivity

Relax!  You’ll be more productive – says Tony Schwartz who wrote in a NY Times article about how slowing down during our day can increase our productivity.

“More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less,” he wrote, citing what research into “strategic renewal” has revealed about how we humans operate most effectively.

For example, the Psychological Science journal published a study that revealed simply “having the choice to sit back and do nothing during your day-to-day grind actually increases your commitment to a certain goal, and may even boost your likeliness to achieve that goal.”

It seems that taking the time to reflect on our daily situations aid us in making better decisions and helps motivate us to follow through on our wants and desires. How awesome is that?

Taking a piece from my own life, I have found that the more quickly I attempt to do things, the more mistakes that I make and the more that I miss. It is clear that the more time that I give myself to accomplish my tasks, the better the likelihood of doing those tasks rightthe first time. Talk about being productive!

Rest is also an important element to productivity. A Stanford researcher found that when male basketball players slept 10 hours a night instead of the more typical 6 to 8, their performance on the court dramatically increased. Sleep helps to increase energy, improves decision-making and overall thinking and even has a positive effect on heart health.

Sleep even helps to improve your memory!  More on this below.

How slowing down and nap time increases performance

Taking naps during the day should be enjoyed by more than just your toddler.  Naps provide both your heart and brain with much-needed rest and time to process events from your day. In fact, many studies even reveal that taking naps can help you to remember what you just experienced.

According to a study by University of Geneva researcher Dr. Kinga Igloi, sleep helps to reinforce learning by letting your brain process information more effectively. Those who slept for 90-minutes following a learning session routinely found it easier to recall what they just learned.

The longer the nap, the better most people perform.  According to sleep researcher Sara Mednick, a 60 to 90-minute nap produces the same ability to recall information as a full eight hours of sleep!

Parents who’s toddlers miss a nap during the day know full well how a lack of sleep affect us as people. We get irritable. Our ability to focus and problem-solve diminishes. We feel less calm, and our ability to approach problems and express ourselves is compromised.

If these things happen to kids with kid-like problems, imagine the effect a lack of sleep has on adults, who’s set of problems are much more consequential.

How do you take a good nap during the day?  According to Harvard Health, here’s how:

  • Keep it short, around 20 to 30 minutes
  • Nap in a quiet, comfortable place away from distractions
  • Make it a part of your schedule if possible
  • Time your caffeine consumption for after your nap
  • Don’t feel guilty about it; enjoy your increased performance!

How slowing down helps weight loss

Believe it or not, the science proves that slowing your roll helps in weight loss, too. The problem comes when we literally gobble down our food as quickly as possible. The more quickly we eat, the less time our brains have to register the food in our stomachs. For most of us, it takes around 20 minutes for our brains to register that we are full. This means that if we suck down large meals quickly, we’re potentially over-filling our stomachs because we don’t yet feel full.

The problem is we ARE FULL, but our brains haven’t yet raised the red flag. It is easy to over eat when dinners are enjoyed plopped down in front of the television or our computers.

In contrast, eating more slowly gives our brains added time to “process” our food consumption and register that we are, in fact, satisfied. There are several techniques to help ensure that we aren’t eating too quickly, such as:

  • Focus on eating, not watching tv/computer/email/other distraction
  • Chew food more slowly
  • Drink water before and during your meal to “pre-fill” your stomach
  • Portion out less food for each meal

How slowing down helps save money

I am sure that we’ve all heard the term “impulse buy”. These purchases happen on the spur of the moment, without a lot of thought, and usually quite quickly. We notice something in a store while shopping for something else, and we simply cannot help ourselves but add that other thing to our cart.

In much the same way that quick eating over fills our stomachs, quick shopping over fills our cart with too much stuff.

Amazon.com makes this trap cleverly easy to fall into due to its insanely-efficient way to add items into our virtual shopping cart and check out. A single touch of a button, and BOOM!  You’ve bought stuff, whether you needed it or not.

Slow shopping takes our impulses out of the equation and re-positions our brains to make better spending choices. Ask yourself, “Can I afford this?”.  Or perhaps a better question, “Do I really need this?”  An even better technique might just be to wait.

Try an experiment – the next time that you shop, restrict yourself only to those items on your shopping list, and make sure your list only contains items that you truly need. If you happen to notice something else that might be nice to have while shopping, resist putting it in your cart. Stay disciplined.

Instead, wait.  If you still want that item in a month, then consider buying it.  This strategy works especially well for discretionary spending, or in other words, entertainment items like electronics, cars (or car parts) and going out to eat.

Let time help to keep your spending under control. More times than not, our brains will keep us on the straight and narrow if we give it the opportunity to process our situation.

In conclusion, slowing down rocks!

The wisdom inherent in slowing down your lifestyle and taking more time for everyday life is wide-reaching and conclusive. Maintaining a slower roll through life enables your mind to process more information and make better decisions in all aspects of your life both inside and outside of the office. Slowing down gives us time to consider our environment and be much more thoughtful about the things that we do, and it has a direct positive effect on the number of mistakes that we make.

Try slowing down and taking life more in stride. Notice how it effects your mood. It might help you to keep your cool and approach problems with a fresh and rested mind at almost any point in the day.

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Comments

27 responses to “How slowing down can take your life to the next level”

  1. Chris Muller says:

    I love taking naps! I usually try to head over to the local park on my lunch break and take a 20-30 minute nap in my car. It’s so funny how I’m one of the few people who leave the office at lunch time. Almost everyone else sits in front of their computer and works through lunch. I used to feel bad, but then I started to see people becoming burned out because all they do is work. Getting out of your environment and taking a quick nap is totally refreshing.

    I love your points about slowing down in general, though. It’s so hard to slow down sometimes, but posts like this help remind me that there’s really no rush. Doing something faster isn’t necessarily going to make it better. I constantly equate this to the workplace – there are tons of pressures to get more done as quickly as you can. At the end of the day, you have to remind yourself that it’s just a job.

    Great piece of writing, my good sir!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Chris! I agree, naps in the middle of the day are just absolutely amazing. I usually end up just closing my eyes rather than actually falling asleep, but often that is enough for me to feel rejuvenated afterwards.

      It’s a shame that most companies out there would rather sacrifice quality for the sake of speed. Even with the volumes of research we have at our disposal that prove just how important rest and relaxation is for people – yes, even in the middle of the day – companies continue to hold steadfast that employees must not become too relaxed while at the office…lest they become unproductive.

      It’s ironic!

  2. This is so true, especially when it comes to work. Rushing and trying to complete tasks fasts usually leads to stress and mistakes. I like taking a step back which allows me to plan, make less moves, but still get the task done efficiently. I used to be a big napper (especially in college), but now the day job gets in the way. Sometimes on Sundays I’ll sneak a nap in, especially in the fall during football season.

  3. Right on! Being able to slow down is one of our big motivators toward early retirement. We can’t slow everything down just yet (man, how I’d love to be able to nap each day!), but we’re trying to take on newer “extracurriculars” to give ourselves chill time and avoid feeling fully scheduled. I’m also a big fan of taking a deep breath. If you can’t fully slow down, at least taking a deep breath gives you this little mini reset and meditation that pushes out some of that hurried, busy feeling and leads to better decision-making. Happy Monday!

    • Steve says:

      Yup, breathing techniques are a great alternative if you can’t nap during the day. I’ve tried these when I used to work in an office all day – they helped. It wasn’t quite the same thing as a nap, but it was close! 🙂

  4. Maggie says:

    Oh my goodness! I was just drafting a post on the Power of a Nap! I love naps so much and being in the office this week and nodding at my desk in the afternoons just reinforced the fact that I love napping and I am not meant to be in an office after lunch! Also, the great Winnie the Pooh quote applies here as well: “What I like doing best is Nothing.”
    “How do you do Nothing,” asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.
    “Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, Nothing,’ and then you go and do it.
    It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

  5. Stockbeard says:

    Unfortunately, in my case, slowing down is just a synonym for “procrastinating”. It does not make me more productive, but tends to start a vicious spiral of doing nothing for days or weeks, until I become incredibly stressed about it.
    Did not work for me in general, although I admit that thinking a lot about what you’re going to do has been more helpful to me in my projects, than jumping right into it.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Stockbeard – different people work in different ways, that’s for sure. I can see how slowing down a bit can, for some, give them an excuse to procrastinate. I suppose there is a fine line between slowing down / taking a step back and having the discipline to remain focused when you need to churn through some work. Nothing wrong with keeping a faster pace through life if that’s truly how you operate the best.

      Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

  6. Jack says:

    Well said.

    I’m incredibly jealous of my son and his daily naps… The only plus being I can actually get things done while he’s sleeping!

    Looking forward to the day when I’ll be able to take naps when I want!

  7. Mr. Groovy says:

    My wife and I also work from home which makes it much easier to slow down. As you said, no stressful commute. I used to get stuck in traffic and she used to get body-slammed getting in and out of Penn Station in New York.

    I read in your ‘renaissance’ that you came late to this way of life. I would say retiring from the day job at 36 is awesome. We all wish we knew then what we know now. But the main point is you do know now, and you’re doing something about it. Congrats!

  8. Mrs SSC says:

    I am totally going to pull a Mr SSC and quote some lyrics…. but there is a phrase from a song I like to sing when things get crazy, I’ll sing it to myself when I am biking, or if the kids need a ‘reset’ I’ll pick them up and dance with them and sing “Slow down, you move too fast… you’ve got to make this moment last” Which, I just found out when Googling who sang it – is not the correct lyrics (its ‘make this morning last’) by Simon and Garfunkel. Anyways – that is the closet thing I have to a mantra.

    I still like to make quick decisions (except the latest one about buying a car) because I am a big believer in going with my gut instinct. But, I still fight the urge to be busy all the time… I’ve gotten better with time, but it goes against the last 25+ years of how I lived life as an over-achiever. I’ll get there…

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the lyrics – never get tired of them! It’s true that when you live your life in a certain way for so long, those habits are damn tough to break. I have a feeling that you’ll get there too, and I bet your FI plans will help tremendously in that regard. They certainly are helping me in the same way. 🙂

  9. Ok I admit it, I too have lived this fast life of trying to get everything done quickly. (I am taking my time on this comment) 🙂

    One more thing to add to this madness, we have to make sure to multi-task as much as possible. Eat while we surf the internet and respond to emails. Meanwhile our brain is thinking about something in the future while our phone rings so we can start another conversational thread. It is no wonder we get worn out, burnt out, stressed, overweight, and can’t seem to find that work/life balance!

    This is great timing for this article Steve. I am trying to take a week of R & R away from all the fast-paced activities in my life so I can slow down.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your comment, Bryan – I admit that I sometimes eat lunch in front of the computer, but I’m also just watching a YouTube video or something – not exactly working during lunch. It’s a fine line to walk, that’s for sure.

  10. I really need to internalize this. I work many, many hours a day and I’m trying to limit the hours but even increase my productivity.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Will – you might find that you actually become more productive just by slowing down a bit. Remember that productivity isn’t necessarily measured by the amount of work that you get done. To me, accomplishing a few tasks during the day, while not running myself complete ragged, is all I really need to feel productive. 🙂

  11. Jason says:

    I don’t know but when i read this post I thought about the old Alabama song “I’m In a Hurry” (maybe before your time…you youngun you). But I think you are dead on. Sometimes though I think I need to be in a hurry. I don’t know why. I just have always done things at a frenetic pace. Turning it off is hard for me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdAmiDC0GUQ

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Thanks for the link – I admittedly didn’t know the song just by title, but I have heard it before after realizing what it was on YouTube. Gives a whole new meaning to those words, I tell ya.

      “Rushing rushing ’til life’s no fun.”

      Sing it, Alabama! 🙂

  12. Marc says:

    Great read. I used to be the same way….always trying to be as busy as possible and always saying “yes” to everything. It worked for a while until I got burned out. Sometimes you need to slow down and really think to figure out how to get ahead. Your post ties well into what I’ll be posting tomorrow 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Marc, appreciate your comment. I’ll be one of the first to read your post, no doubt. It seems like the slow movement is gaining traction. 🙂

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