At a recent virtual coffee chat hosted by What’s next?!, Canadian author, broadcaster, and journalist Carl Honoré recounted a news story about a divorcing couple to illustrate a bigger problem. The husband said that he knew his marriage was over when he opened his eyes during lovemaking to find his wife checking her iPhone. “We have forgotten how to switch off, how to unplug, how to give ourselves overly completely to another person or how to do one thing at a time,” Honoré said.
Honoré, 52, has written several international bestsellers including In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed and Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives. His research has debunked the conventional wisdom that equates slowing down with being boring, lazy, and “roadkill.” In fact, the opposite is true.
“Musicians talk about the tempo justo,” Honoré said, explaining that each piece of music has a perfect rhythm. “That captures what slow is all about.” He said that those who slow down judiciously at the right moment find that they eat better, make love better, work better, and think better. “They live better,” Honoré said.
In a world that seems addicted to speed – think speed yoga, speed dating, speed drive-by funerals even – it is hard to embrace the idea that “slowing down” can be a good thing. For many of us, the expression “slowing down” conjures up an image of an elderly person with bad hips and arthritic knees trying to keep up. As Honoré points out, no amount of burpees could make us keep up with a 21-year-old. But rather than see our natural decline as a tragic loss, it can bring tremendous opportunity. The good news, he said, is that those in later life are better positioned to master the art of slow.
Asif Nasim, 48, participated in the What’s neXT Zoom coffee chat. He can attest to the power of slowing down. Last year, the strategy consultant and angel investor pushed the “pause” button, taking two months off from his frenetic career. He spent time visiting family, travelling, and considering different opportunities. “I was not putting pressure on myself to achieve certain outcomes,” he said. “But the outcomes were greater than I could have ever imagined.”
By giving himself the space to reflect, he realized how much stress and anxiety was caused by investing his energy into personal and work relationships that were not personally fulfilling. He made some tough choices, severing some relationships to nurture others more fully. Unlike in his younger years, he had more confidence to be selective. He no longer felt the same sense of obligation to meet others’ expectations. “It helped set a new path,” he said.
“Slowness can be a superpower,” said Carl Honoré.
Slowing down also meant devoting more time to his health rather than putting it behind what once seemed like more pressing priorities. He joined a gym, shed 20 pounds and adopted a more plant-based diet. Although Nasim’s wife thinks he’s busier than ever, it doesn’t feel that way to him. “I am happier, healthier and more connected,” he said. “I have more clarity now.”
Slowly, more people are embracing the power of slow. This is good for their minds and bodies. The stress of living in fifth gear can elevate cortisol levels, potentially leading to high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, depression and other negative health consequences. Slowing down, on the other hand, can alleviate these health risks. Sometimes we have to slow down because of a crisis like a heart attack or a failed relationship (maybe because of checking our iPhones during lovemaking) but it can also be a conscious choice, like in Nasim’s case.
Honoré said that living at the right speed, the tempo justo, can be a game-changer. “Slowness can be a superpower,” he said. It’s a matter of relearning the lost art of shifting gears between fast and slow and everything in-between. “That’s when the magic happens.”