Starting slow

The idea of a simpler life sounds great – but where to start?

One response to the demands and expectations of modern life is the trend of Slow – a wide-ranging but loosely structured movement that's spread throughout the Western world.

It all started with the Slow Food Movement – which officially kicked off in 1986, when the Italian writer Carlo Petrini joined others on Rome’s historic Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti to protest against the arrival of a nearby McDonalds franchise.

Of course, slow food existed well before this time. It was something our ancestors – even our grandparents – cultivated and ate as a matter of course.

Before the 1950s, there was no such thing as fast food, and time-saving devices were luxuries enjoyed by the few. But by the late 1980s, plastic money, cell phones and speed dating had all arrived on the scene and some people were beginning to wonder if life in the fast lane was all it had cracked up to be.

For many, the idea of a crass fast food joint near the old-world Spanish Steps was a step too far. Carlo’s call to resist the globalisation of food culture touched a nerve, and today the Slow Food non-profit organisation has more than 100,000 members, while many millions more around the world have been influenced by its ideas.

In 1999 the Norwegian Geir Berthelsen created The World Institute of Slowness to demonstrate how slow ideas had extended to many other aspects of modern living, including parenting, travel, art, fashion, design and even slow cities, slow science and slow money.

One popular thread of the slow movement has been the critique of our modern work-obsessed culture. Another slow living idea focuses on our spending rather than our working habits. By choosing to do or have less, we allow ourselves to savour down-to-earth experiences and to connect more fully with others.

Voluntary simplicity, or downshifting, as it’s sometimes called, is about simplifying our lives and minimising distractions so that we have time for the things that matter.

But before we can realistically hope to take time out, we first have to take stock of what consumes it in the first place.

We might feel that too much of our time and energy is taken up with earning money – but before we can contemplate cutting back on paid work, some big changes might have to be made.

The first step might be taking a hard look at the finances and a budget: we may have to look at changing our living arrangements, moving to a cheaper house, taking in a boarder or cutting costs in other ways.

We might decide the key to a slower life is through work that’s more personally satisfying, or we might choose to go part time for a while and concentrate on raising our children.

Cultivating slow also involves listening to the voices in our heads. How are we supposed to be in the moment when multitasking is the only way to get through the day? If we allow ourselves to slow down, how will we ever achieve what we hope to get done?

Understanding more about our personality can help us understand what drives us – and where we might make a change.

Are you driven by the desire for perfection, being helpful to others or wanting to win? Helpers can end up on every committee because they find it hard to say no. Perfectionists can push themselves on and on because no matter what they accomplish, it never seems enough.

Being slow is not about being lazy. Counterintuitive as it sounds, the path to slow living isn’t always about doing less, it can be about doing more – that is, more of what nurtures us and less that oppresses. To start living slow we need to stop thinking of time as something to save and consider instead how to spend it. In essence, slow offers an alternative way of looking at time.

From Cultivating the art of slow, originally published in Good magazine.

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