Slow Down To Speed Up
We’re all under increasing pressure to achieve more in less time. But working harder and faster isn’t always the answer.
Not everybody dreams. Or rather, not everyone is aware they do, which is pretty much the same as not dreaming at all. I’m one of those people that dreams quite vividly, on quite a regular basis as a matter of fact. But I’ve never had a dream like this before…
You know the type of dream I mean. It’s the kind of dream you only see in a bad movie with a cheesy script and a Hollywood ending. It’s a dream with a clear message or some kind of sign. Which just so happens to be the message or sign the dreamer needs to hear right at that moment and can apply to their life the very next day with miraculous effect. Can’t say I’m much of a believer when it comes to dreams like that.
And yet, I had one of those dreams recently. A dream with a message so clear it was like walking down London’s Oxford Street and seeing your name in bold caps and flashing lights in every shop front window. The words beneath were simple enough. But the impact of the message was surprisingly powerful.
So there I am at the start of a swimming race. I’m not sure which competition but it’s an important one. Standing on the starting blocks of a fifty metre long pool I’m poised and ready, focused on just one thing: getting to the other side as quickly as humanly possible and winning the race. The crowd is blurry in my peripheral vision, but my ears are alert, waiting for the umpire’s whistle.
I fly through the air. When I hit the water I swim so hard and fast it’s as if my very survival depends on it, as if I’ve been training for this race my whole life. I don’t need to think. My body knows what to do. But I am thinking. I’m thinking that everybody else is going faster, and they’re all going to beat me. I can’t let that happen.
I swim harder and faster, thrashing my limbs with a monster’s fury. The muffled cheers from the crowd mix with the pounding of my heart, so when the voice speaks for the first time I hardly hear it. It gets louder and louder, clearer and clearer. “Slow down” it says, gentle but insistent. “If you want to go faster, slow down”.
Don’t ask me who’s voice it is I have no idea. Which makes my immediate acquiescence all the more surprising. “Slow down” says the voice. So I do.
The fact that I won the race with ease matters less than the way I won it. You know when you watch Olympic swimmers doing backstroke? How they bob up and down with the rise and fall of the water, gliding smoothly and seemingly effortlessly and yet at an extraordinary speed? Well, suddenly that was me: weightless, effortless, and unbelievably, astonishingly fast.
Funny, I’m really not much of a swimmer. Well I swim well enough, but it’s not something I love. I always felt I had to work harder at it than everyone else, to get the same results.
Come to think of it, that’s kind of been my attitude all my life. Work harder, you have to do more to keep up, even more to excel or exceed. Those of you who feel like imposters, who lack confidence or question your ability on occasion, you guys know what I’m talking about it.
But the message I was receiving was pretty clear: Less is more. Slow down to speed up. If you want to get ahead, sometimes it helps to stand back, to let go, to do less.
As I digest the message I start to make sense of it. And as brains are want to do, mine leaps at the opportunity to connect similar messages I’ve received recently: a recent podcast from bestselling author of The Four Hour Week, Tim Ferriss, discussing the Minimum Effective Dose (the minimum amount of input required to produce the desired output); Pareto’s Law, also known as the 80/20 principle, whereby 80% of our results are shown to flow from just 20% of our efforts; the increasing number of high achievers that consider meditation – the practise of being still and doing nothing – an integral part of their success (Oprah Winfrey, Ray Dalio, Arianna Huffington and countless top executives worldwide).
Slow down, to speed up. It doesn’t get more counter-intuitive than that. Surely we need to work harder, faster and longer to keep up, let alone get ahead? If we slow down aren’t we going to miss something, or worse, get left behind?
My experience proved otherwise. I had my swimming dream at a time when I was juggling more balls than I could count. I was getting up earlier and earlier (5.30am soon became 5.a.m, which all too easily became 4.30 a.m.) and still there weren’t enough hours. What I learned from that dream, and from the changes I subsequently made to my way of working, was that the way to achieve more was to deliberately slow down, occasionally maybe even to stop. So now, this is what I aim to do.
If what you’re thinking as you read this is “I’m too busy to slow down” then here’s a thought for you: it’s said that people who think they are too busy to meditate should meditate three times as much as those who claim to have the time. So the busier you are, the more important it is that you stop.
There’s an old adage that says ‘awareness is curative’. It means becoming aware of an issue can be enough to drive the change necessary to solve it. So that’s my advice to you this week. When you find yourself working harder and faster to meet deadlines, or multitasking to meet the many demands on your time, simply notice. Notice the speed of your pulse, the adrenalin pumping through your veins and your shallow breath; notice your thoughts ping-ponging from one problem or issue to the next, the physical tension in your body, your ever weakening attention span; notice the speed at which you’re trying to get everything done, and ask yourself: what would happen if I slowed down, even just for a minute?
Do you race through the day boomeranging from task to task without pause? Do you think it’s possible to be more effective by slowing down? I’d love to hear your thoughts or personal experiences.