Slow - 2023

Fast or Slow? You get to choose! 

This year, I have been exploring what it means to wrap a philosophy of slowness around my life. I haven’t posted about it as much as I had expected, but that’s ok! The focus continues, and I am here to update you now. 

The concept that has been messing with my head for the last six months is that some things cannot be slowed down. I mistakenly and very naïvely thought everything could be slowed down to a more manageable pace. Wrong. 

Not everything can be slow, but conversely, not everything has to be fast. Certain things fall into either end of the spectrum, and there is a whole range in which many things lie. I could not fathom how to create a slower life knowing this. I had hoped that there would be a straightforward way to bend everything to my will (yes, you can stop laughing now) or that there would be a simple delineation between the two. Predictably, I got myself tied up in knots. 

Then I found this passage: 

“The slow philosophy is not about doing everything in tortoise mode. It‘s less about the speed and more about investing the right amount of time and attention in the problem so you solve it.” — Carl Honore 

Ahhhh! Lightbulb moment! I saw clearly that I had been looking at this slow lifestyle thing from the wrong angle! Slowness is about paying attention and giving each thing the right amount of time for the desired outcome. (Reminds me of the conclusion I came to in my Presence explorations last year) 

Some things need to be fast, and some need to be slow. The point is to be able to choose the time spent on the task rather than defaulting to warp speed because we think it’s efficient and we’ll be making time for more jobs to be done or because we don’t have sufficient leeway in our schedules to be able to devote the correct amount of time to the task. 

Now that I had found that piece of the puzzle, I experimented to find a way to make that decision-making process more straightforward. I learned some critical areas to pay attention to when figuring out when to go fast and slow or aim for somewhere in between.  

Here we go. The three elements I whittled it down to are: 

  1. Reason: You need to understand why you are doing this thing. What is your reason? Perhaps you are doing this for the process rather than the outcome. You may need to just get it out of the way. Maybe you don’t need to do it at all. What is important to you? Nailing that down makes these decisions so much easier. 
  1. Context: You need to understand the context in which you are working, noting that we cannot always choose our context. You may have external pressures and constraints you are working within. Or you may have none. You may have driving forces in your life that will shape these decisions. You might be a parent with a young child (or many). You may have a task that must be done by a particular deadline. Understanding the context helps us see how much time is available. 
  1. Desired Outcome: You need to decide the desired outcome of your actions. What do you want the result to be? What will success look like? Do you need to just get this thing out of the way, or do you need to create a work of art? Are you writing a shopping list or a job application? Could some menial tasks be improved by enjoying the journey instead of rushing to the endpoint? 

Thus, the formula I arrived at is this: 

Reason + context + outcome = correct time and effort to give

Neat little formula, huh? I like it! So, how do we apply it? With all these pieces of information in hand, tell yourself a story about where you want to go and if you wish to take the task slowly or quickly.  

I hear grumbles … “story … schmory … this is so cheesy! Who has time for that?” I get it, but stick with me — this story doesn’t have to be War and Peace — it will take you a few seconds to take the pieces and reframe the story. 

Bear with me a little longer while I explain why stories are essential. 

Stories are the backbone of the development of civilisations, even back in pre-historic times. They are how we learn and how we pass on our learning. Stories are a powerful piece of psycho-technology that keeps people safe, helps them survive and helps them grow and change if they choose to harness them for good. Stories can also be used for nefarious purposes; look at dirty politics and propaganda. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly telling ourselves stories about all manner of things, but we can jump to the wrong conclusions if we don’t take a moment to get the right information inputs when building the story. Stories are one of the most potent ways to change our lives. Let’s use them. Here endeth the tangent! 

So, to get back on track with what we were discussing, gather your reason, context and outcome information and tell yourself a new story so you can take control and change your life if you want to improve. 

To do that, you need to build some extra snippets of time into your schedule to allow dedicated time for thought and decision-making. If your day is so crammed that you have no choice but to go fast to fit everything in, you are robbed of that choice. Put another way, you have made yourself a slave to your schedule and to-do list. Create some space for yourself. Start small. 

Naming our reason, context, and desired outcomes can be challenging, especially if we are under pressure or driven to do something. This is where your values come in. What is important to you? What do you want your life to look like? How do you want to grow? What changes do you want to make to become a better human? What do you want your future to look like? All these things feed into our decisions about going fast or slow and somewhere in between for seemingly unimportant or unrelated tasks. Make the time to think before you act and choose the life you want rather than being shoved along on autopilot. 

Let’s look at some examples of how I apply the formula in specific situations. It’s always easier to see when we paint a little picture…or tell a story (see what I did there? te hehe). 

Nature Journalling — field sketches versus nature studies 

 Field sketching Nature Studies 
Reason A day out with a local conservation group or nature journalling group, or perhaps sitting in the backyard recording what birds and beasts visit the space. Data collection. Looking at the feather patterns, fur markings, gender differences, or plant components in detail. Creating a pretty page in a sketch journal or piece of botanical art. 
Context Sitting out in the local wetland. Limited time available. Birds keep moving! Insects biting. Cold, perhaps with a storm threatening or nightfall looming. Portable compact art supplies. Sitting in my studio with no time constraints and space to move. I can complete the project over several hours, days or weeks. Field guides and the internet at hand for information. 
Desired outcome Capture a variety of birds, habitat details, numbers of creatures. Capture a record of what’s happening around me. Deep learning about biological structures and behaviours, and beautiful pages in my journal showing the intricate details. 
Speed faster slower 

Urban Sketching in three different settings 

 Urban Sketching local group meetup Urban Sketching while I am running errands Urban Sketching on an overseas trip 
Reason A morning out with my local USK group to socialise and create a beautiful spread in my sketchbook of whatever we are sketching. It varies, but I know I will have two hours. I can usually bring a decent kit to paint with (including a proper watercolour sketchbook) and set up (chair etc). Weather is variable, as is location. I am less bothered by people seeing my sketch and enjoy talking to people who want to have a sticky-beak. I want to create a record of the places we go, the people we meet and the amazing things we see. 
Context I am at the doctor’s surgery, and the doctor is running late; I will see if I can fill a page in my A6 sketchbook. I am distracting myself from whatever has brought me to the surgery in the first place and having to be in an enclosed space with germy, sick people. One or two reasonably polished sketches in my book that look cohesive and beautiful together and tell a story of the outing and what I sketched. Available time, weather and safety factors vary. I am travelling with someone who does not sketch. We only have a limited time in some places. 
Desired Outcome I am at the doctor’s surgery, and the doctor is running lal see if I can fill a page in my A6 sketchbook. I am distracting myself from whatever has brought me to the surgery in the first place and having to be in an enclosed space with germy sick people. I am at the doctor’s surgery, and the doctor is running lal see if I can fill a page in my A6 sketchbook. I am distracting myself from whatever has brought me to the surgery in the first place and having to be in an enclosed space with germy, sick people. I have no idea how long I have to sketch, and I only have the tiny multimedia paper sketchbook, pen and paint palette that slips into my handbag. I feel the need to be discreet in my efforts so that I don’t bother anyone or make them feel uncomfortable as I sketch them. 
Speed SlowFastA bit of both! 

Writing things down 

 Taking a phone message Taking lecture notes Writing a love letter 
Reason The phone rang; someone is trying to contact someone in my household who doesn’t have a mobile phone I want to let my lover know how much they mean to me and how much I love them. The phone rang; someone is trying to contact someone in my household who doesn’t have a mobile phone 
Context The phone rang; someone is trying to contact someone in my household who doesn’t have a mobile phone. This will be in the exam, so I need to be able to revise. The lecturer will not repeat the content, and it is not being recorded. My lover is away on an extended business trip, and I have time to create something beautiful and meaningful 
Desired Outcome I’m in the middle of my uni degree, I am conscientious and interested in the content of the lecture. I want good grades. So, notes need to amalgamate the content as presented with my thoughts and understanding. They must be legible and make sense to me when I read back over them later. Ease of revision for enduring notes and perhaps material for future writing. He receives a love letter that makes him feel loved and appreciated. 
Speed Fast MediumSlow 

Did you see how very different the proper speed is depending on the context and the outcome? I could add another to illustrate how writing or painting can be used in service of personal growth and deep work and focussing on the process rather than the product, but three tables give you enough of an idea of how I apply the formula. If you want help with a specific scenario, leave a comment below, and we can take a look.

You can apply this same approach to anything you need to do; just step through the thought process. Sometimes, you can come to a conclusion without consciously considering it, such as the phone message example above. It is automatically built into our human operating system. Other times, you need to take the time to work through it. 

Assess your reason, context and desired outcome, then choose the needed speed. Some things are easy to figure out, and some are a bit tricker, so start small, work your way up, and build the emotional muscle required to tackle more significant things. Sometimes, we need to do some pruning to make way for more important things that need more time and consideration. 

“Being Slow means that you control the rhythms of your own life. You decide how fast you have to go in any given context. If today I want to go fast, I go fast; if tomorrow I want to go slow, I go slow. What we are fighting for is the right to determine our own tempos.” — Carlo Petrini 

Slow living is about intention — choose yours! Don’t let anyone else dictate that for you, explicitly or implicitly. We are “fighting for the right to determine OUR OWN tempo”. Yes!! 

Don’t let exhaustion be your measure of worthiness as a human or a measure of your productivity. You are innately worthy because you are human, and rest is remarkably productive.

Life is not meant to be a slog where we rush from one task to the next. We are not here to be martyrs, nor to be continually burned out, to be considered worthy. This life is a gift that can be extinguished at any moment. We only get one. We need space to be able to thrive. To live and to love. YOU must be the one in control of how you spend your time because if you are not, there is a massive queue of people in your life waiting to use your time for you. 

Yes, we need to earn a living. Yes, we find happiness and purpose in being around others and serving in some way. Yes, we are bound to our families in raising the kids or caring for elderly parents, but none of that should come at the cost of taking the time to occasionally stop and smell the roses. From looking after ourselves. From thriving. From taking the time to go slow when it is warranted.

So, long story short, the takeaway for me here is that to embrace a slow-living philosophy and welcome its benefits, we need to take control of how we spend our time and appreciate the sliding scale between bullet train and tortoise. 

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