The Case for Living in the Slow Lane

This world is a place of business...I am awakened almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath.

Henry David Thoreau,

Speed – this was one of Thoreau’s primary worries about the modern world of work and commerce. “What an infinite bustle!” he said of life in the 19th century.

The “bustle” of his time consisted of things like daily newspapers, telegraphs, and locomotives. In his day, the train felt rapid. The post office felt high-speed.

Now, these tools feel old and slow. Why take a train from LA to New York when you could fly it in five hours? Why send a message in a letter when you could email it in a microsecond?

If life moved at a sprint in Thoreau’s time, it now moves at light-speed.   In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and email, there’s never any need for a pause or delay.  Everything is instant, which is why a five-minute interruption in wi-fi service at Starbucks has the potential to inspire an espresso-fueled riot.

In our world, the idea of slowing down is about as crazy as trading in your car for a horse.  Sure, it might be fun for a day, as a kind of retro experiment.   But the ethos of our culture tells us that just as horses can’t ride in the slow lane of the freeway, productive people can’t slow down.

For this week’s experiment, let’s explore a radical alternative to the rapid pace of modern life.   Let’s see what happens when we slow down.

Given our cultural obsession with fast cars, fast food, and fast Internet, slowing down is no easy task.  It requires swimming up stream, against the current of modern life.   But slowing down holds three unexpected benefits.


1.  From Effort to Ease

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re late for work and need to get everything together as fast as you can.  You race through the kitchen to grab your lunch and then speed-walk out the door.  In these moments, time and space start to feel compressed.  It’s like you’re moving through molasses.  You strain and push to do what would otherwise be an effortless, even mindless, act.

By slowing down, time and space expand.  Tasks that require effort in a hurried state, become easy.   You become like the tortoise – slow at the outset but still going strong at the end of the day.


2. Getting Present

Imagine traveling to Paris to see the Louvre Museum.  It’s possible to see all of the thousands of paintings in less than an hour.  You could sprint through the corridors of the museum – elbowing your way through tour groups – to get a quick glance at every painting.

But there is a quality of presence missing from your actions.  In museums and in life, it’s only when we slow down that we appreciate the nuances of each moment.   When we slow down, we start noticing the feeling of the breeze, the smell of the air, and all that’s happening right now.


3. From Habit to Improvisation

There’s one final reason to slow down.   It can lead to creative inspiration.  The faster we move, the more we fall into habit and routine.   The body tenses, the mind churns, and we live on autopilot, moving from one preprogrammed act to the next.

Slowing down opens a space for creativity to emerge.   Problems that seem crippling at a fast pace start to dissolve.  Insights that once seemed unattainable start to surface.

There are, of course, moments when you still need to rush.  But as you move through the week, see if you can experiment with slowing your pace.  What happens when you intentionally shift your email writing, walking, dishwashing, and other daily tasks to a slower speed?

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  1. Ronnie Rubin says:

    And I just thought to myself yesterday: Where did the summer go? The really scary thing is the older we get, the faster time passes anyway. I find so much value in having presence. And slowing things down is the key to getting there.
    Just Breath.

    Thank you Nate!

    • Nate says:

      Hey Ronnie,

      I hear you. The most difficult thing for me is slowing down my pace at work (where I tend to shift rapidly from one thing to the next). I actually find that I’m more productive and creative when I slow down.


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