Every day, you race against the clock-battling traffic, speed-dialing your cell phone, and grabbing takeout. Ever pause to wonder, What is the big hurry? Now there's hope, as an increasing number of voices clamor for change. "Dropping out" isn't the goal; "slowing down" is. Whether you rush through jobs, meals, or friendships, the global "slow movement" promises you'll enjoy life more by doing less. Former speedaholic and London-based journalist Carl Honore wrote about the movement in his best seller In Praise of Slowness (HarperSanFrancisco), flying off bookshelves in 22 countries.
MC: WHY SLOW DOWN?
CH: One day, while contemplating ways to shorten "story time" with my son, I realized it's absurd to accelerate things that should not be accelerated. Around the world, we've wound ourselves into a state of impatience and over-stimulation, and it's taking a toll on us. I traveled all over to meet people in the "slow movement" and came to believe they were on to something. We're waking up to the fact that the way we live now is just wrong, and we're seeking new ways to approach every day. My book is just part of it.
MC: WHY IS THE MESSAGE STRIKING A CHORD NOW?
CH: The new information-technology revolution allows-encourages-us to keep buzzing 24/7. We're all addicted to running toward a finish line we never reach. If we haven't already reached a breaking point, we're close.
MC: YOU WRITE ABOUT "THE CULT OF SPEED." WHAT IS IT?
CH: Our culture puts a premium on speed, deifying this notion that faster is better, that you must fill every single moment with activity. There's a powerful taboo that makes "slow" a dirty word. In this hyped-up world, we need to keep an eye on our personal speedometers- it's very easy to do things fast just because everything else around you is going fast, without even considering whether or not it makes sense.
MC: WHY IS SLOWING DOWN SO DIFFICULT?
CH: We've forgotten how to switch off. There are Internet-addiction centers now. The Blackberry is known as the "Crackberry." Technology lets us multitask, so we're in "multimoments" all the time. We can't concentrate on just one thing anymore. One antidote is to simply rediscover the "off " button on some of these gadgets.
MC: ARE AMERICANS PARTICULARLY ADDICTED?
CH: Americans' natural tendency is to go fast, perhaps because the U.S. is a young country with a dynamic frontier history. That restlessness informs the American psyche, on the work front in particular: Working hours have come down everywhere except in the United States, where they keep going up! But working such long hours puts a squeeze on everything else.
MC: WHAT'S THE PRICE?
CH: Look at the way people eat, wolfing down empty, processed calories. We know this leads to obesity. Your work suffers if you're in roadrunner mode, because people need time to rest in order to be productive. Otherwise, you charge into bad decisions you have to go back and fix later. One thing you cannot speed up is the emotional side of life. Yet we have speed-dating and parents scheduling five minutes of "quality time" with their kids. These things require patience and time.
MC: HOW DID LIFE CHANGE WHEN YOU SLOWED DOWN?
CH: I'm definitely type A, and for me, the effects were both physical and mental. I sleep better, eat better, have more energy. Before my book, I'd never tried meditation. I was shocked and amazed at how many different types of people do it. Now I find regular meditation a remarkable tool. The biggest impact is on relationships-I'm much closer with my wife, who says I actually hear what she's saying now!
MC: HOW CAN A BUSY WOMAN EMBRACE SLOWNESS?
CH: The first step is simply to do a bit less. Sit and list everything you do in a week, in order of importance. Then, cut from the bottom. Most of us can easily drop a TV show or two. Once you free up a few hours, you can embark on activities that are, by definition, slow-reading or yoga. Try not wearing a watch; having the time right in your line of vision is like a symbolic leash, and constantly checking it and saying, "I have no time!" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Find a clock if you need to, or simply ask someone the time-I've started great conversations that way! Finally, create one space at home with no technology, and retreat there for at least 15 minutes each day, to sit quietly and think-or not think! In time, you'll find that instead of cheating yourself of experiences that take time, you're engaging, connecting, and finding pleasure. You're no longer living superficially.
LOVE YOUR JOB
Working insane hours? By law, most Europeans get two to three months more in paid time off every year than Americans. The U.S. grassroots group Work to Live aims to "make a minimum paid-leave law a reality in this country, and to reform some of the worst excesses of the overwork era." To vent (i.e., send an e-mail about your long hours to "The Water Cooler") or volunteer (i.e., lobby policy-makers and join public-awareness campaigns), visit www.worktolive.info.
FREE YOUR MIND
Slow hobbies have never been hotter. The number of knitters under age 35 is up 50 percent since 1998, and two-thirds knit to reduce stress. "Studies show that the rhythmic, repetitive dance of the needles can lower heart rate and blood pressure, lulling the knitter into a peaceful state," according to In Praise of Slowness. Among the knitterati: Uma Thurman, Courteney Cox, and Debra Messing.
The Slow Down Diet asserts that it's not what we eat but how we eat. Instead of chowing down, learning to eat slowly is the key to permanent weight loss, says author and nutritionist Marc David. "When moving through life too fast, we inevitably eat fast, which destroys our metabolism." The eight week program kicks off simply: "If you eat breakfast in five minutes, bump it up to 10."
Slow Food International has some 80,000 members in 100 countries who object to fast-food empires, said to be the main culprits wiping out diversity in cuisine and threatening the survival of native foods and cooking methods (that includes your grandmother's blueberry crisp!). To start a local chapter or attend a slow-food festival near you, check out www.slowfood.com.