Are you up to the Slow Down Challenge? Could you live your life amid the In-Between – the moments of beauty and connection with others that lie between the big, bold activities of your life? For five days, could you work at slowing down? Could you prolong that into a lifetime?
Jeff Goins, a 30-year-old Nashville writer who has been struggling with his tendency to seek peak experiences and rush through life, issued the Slow Down Challenge on his blog. It's also a theme running through his memoir, The In-Between, and his daily struggle to be a father to his 18-month-old son Aidan, finding bliss for example in being woken up early by a teething youngster.
"Watching my son crawl across the floor to place a green plastic ball in the trunk of his purple and blue toy elephant, I catch him smiling at me. And I realize that as much as I'd like an extra hour of sleep or to get ahead with work, there aren't many moments better than this one," he writes.
In his teens and early 20s, Mr. Goins was eager for new adventures. He made use of every spare moment, to embrace life. He lived life fast and hard. But when Aidan came along, he noticed that when he wasn't around – or alert – he missed things. He would take a business trip and come back to find his son had learned a new word or expression. Mr. Goins had missed something important. He needed to slow down.
"Life is full of these little moments and, if we miss them, we miss a lot. We think we have to rush on to the next big thing but, in fact, we need to live in the moment," he said in an interview. "Life is an adventure, if we choose to see it that way. But it's not just the big moments – it's also the moments in-between."
On his blog, he listed three reasons to slow down:
1. It's good for you: Getting eight hours of sleep, for example, can help with weight loss and pave the way to clearer thinking and better work because your mind is rested.
2. It makes you more likable: If you're always tired from doing too much, you're likely cranky much of the time. And nobody wants to be around someone who's always complaining or in a bad mood.
3. It helps you focus on what really matters: If life is a series of obligations that you rush through, you end up missing the most important moments.
By slowing down, he says you make the following declarations to the world:
"I can't do everything, but I can do the essential things."
"My loved ones deserve my best, not my leftovers."
"When I do less, I do better."
That's great in theory, harder in practice. He struggles with trying to make slowing down a daily discipline in his life. "I didn't write my book as an expert in slowing down, but because I am terrible at it. I wanted to commiserate with other people," he said in the interview.
One technique is to weave a walk into his day. He aims for 15 to 20 minutes but sometimes it will only be 10 minutes, while occasionally it can extend to an hour if he's not busy. He tries to detach from all responsibilities, and just enjoy strolling and taking in nature, rather than trying to fill the time up with phone calls or other productive efforts.
In the evening, he tries to cook a meal from scratch. It doesn't sound like much, but by avoiding convenience food, he can absorb himself in the slow and creative process of bringing a meal to life. "Cooking dinner is a bookmark in the day when I close one chapter and start another. I put work aside and enter another phase," he said.
Many evenings he leaves his laptop in the office. He'll also try to stuff his mobile phone in a drawer, out of reach. In the past, he viewed weekends as just two more days to work. "My wife has helped me to understand the value of a Sabbath – truly resting. I'm not Jewish [nor is his wife], but I like a day of just resting. It's not natural for us in the Western world," he says.
He tries to distinguish between slowing down and resting. The weekends, to his mind, are for resting and rejuvenating.
The Slow Down Challenge asks you each weekday to change your habits. The first day, you are encouraged to notice things that others are overlooking. The next day, you try to savour every moment – even if it comes after being awakened by a teething toddler. Day three aims to puncture the myth of multitasking by getting you to focus on one activity, keeping distractions at bay. The next day, you invite interruptions – to learn to let go of trying to be in control. The wrap-up day – perhaps the start of your new life – is about gratitude, giving thanks to everyone and for everything.
So slow down. Embrace life – all of it. Instead of rushing through life in anger, ease through it with a sense of wonder, openness and gratitude.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter