The Benefits of Slowing Down

Life is fast-paced, and its only accelerating. Taking time to slow down is a valuable practice. Here are the 3 most unlikely benefits of slowing down.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

A cocky, impatient Hare challenges a slow, methodical Tortoise to a race. The Hare, lacking concentration, gets distracted repeatedly throughout the race. The Tortoise wins through steady progress and resolve.

The Benefits of Slowing Down - Tortoise and the Hare

We live in a hectic, turbulent, and disruptive world. And the pace of change is only accelerating.

Like the Hare, we can get distracted by the wrong things, relying too much on our speed to get through. But this is the path to burnout.

We should learn from the Tortoise. Sometimes slowing down and getting it right is the best way to way to move forward in life.

Here are the the three most surprising benefits to slowing down:

  • being more creative
  • achieving bigger goals
  • changing the structure of your brain for the better

Let’s look at each benefit, shall we?

What Slow Cooking Has to Do With Creativity

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance and 99u, recommends you devote 5% of your time to “slow-cooked projects.”

Don’t work up an appetite yet. It’s not what you think.

The secret behind many of the greatest dishes is patience and pacing. When you cook something slowly, at lower heat for a longer time, the flavors and textures can yield culinary masterpieces. The process of our own creations isn’t much different.

Belsky makes the point that most of us rush through our work tasks to meet deadlines, whether we’re a salary slave, a contract employee, or a young entrepreneur. Projects with deadlines are critical to shipping and getting paid, but are they our best work?

Belsky suggests the answer is no: “The insight here is to know the difference between the work that requires pressure and deadlines, and the few things in life that should be slow-cooked. Your living is likely the result of the former, your masterpieces the latter.

Could you set aside 5 percent of your time for slow-cooking projects?

What about that business startup idea you’ve always dreamed about? Or the unfinished novel that’s been sitting on your hard drive? Or the second stream of income that could turn into a full-blown career if you gave it a little more TLC?

Everybody will push you to deliver fast, cheap, and easy. The things in life that matter rarely have any of these characteristics. Don’t be afraid to take it slow and steady.

They really do win the race that matters.

Seth Godin and the Power of Gradual

There’s enormous power in taking things slow.

Seth Godin, author of marketing classics Purple Cow and Tribes, knows something about building projects that resonate. He’s written twelve bestsellers, blogs every single day, and co-founded Web 2.0 darling Squidoo.

Here’s Godin writing for Fast Company on the benefits of slowing down:

Here’s the point of gradual: You don’t win an Olympic gold medal with a few weeks of intensive training. There’s no such thing as an overnight opera sensation. Great law firms or design companies don’t spring up overnight, like rock supergroups that decide to get together one weekend.

Every great company, every great brand, and every great career has been built in exactly the same way: bit by bit, step by step, little by little.

Godin’s quote reminds me of the riddle about how to eat an elephant. The answer, of course, is one bite at a time.

Slow-cooked projects have the benefit of being shielded from day-to-day process and demands.

Agile techniques like timeboxing, sprints, the Rule of 3, and the Pomodoro Technique are powerful. But they are head-down activities, useful for the work that’s immediately in front of you. They aren’t necessarily conducive to the creativity you need for Lifetime Achievement caliber projects

Godin reminds us of the awesome power of gradual progress. “Gradual” is the rate of speed that nature prefers, after all.

  • The Grand Canyon was carved by erosion via the Colorado River over tens of millions of years.
  • Every mountain, from Everest to the Rockies, was created by tectonic plates moving a mere 100 millimeters a year (that’s less than your hair grows).
  • Life, in all its diversity, started from a single-cell organism that evolved 3.5 billion years in our past.

Slowing down might be frustrating to the impatient. But there’s no arguing with the results: Gradual gets the job done.

Can slowing things down help even the fundamental processes of your brain?

Meditation Changes the Structure of Your Brain

Meditating Man

And you don’t even have to do a lot of it.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital had study participants meditate 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks. Meditation in this case involved the participants recognizing thoughts and feelings that arose in their minds, and letting them pass without judgment.

The results were astounding. Here’s how io9 described the findings:

The gray-matter in the hippocampus had consistently increased, which suggests an increase in their capacity for learning and memory building. Meanwhile, the density of the amygdala had actually decreased, specifically in the areas governing anxiety and stress.

Learning and memory increased, while stress and anxiety decreased in a way that showed up on brain scans. That’s incredible, especially for a study that took place over such a short period of time.

If there was any disappointing finding, it was that the area of the brain in charge of self-awareness, the insula, didn’t appear to alter at all.

But still. Not bad for a mere 28 hours of meditating spread out over 2 months. You probably spend more time commuting to work every day. And we know that is killing you.

Meditating actually makes you feel better. By slowing down to focus on our mental process, we become better equipped to tackle that ever-changing world.

Becoming agile is about responding to change, yes. But that doesn’t mean being hyper-reactive to everything.

Sometimes taking the slow approach is the better part of being an agile human being.

Image by CarbonNYC.

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