Hello there. And Happy New Year!
It’s been a while since I forced myself to set some New Year’s Resolutions. The last time I did it – at least publicly, on this blog – I not only listed the resolutions I’d set for myself that year, but offered some tips for keeping them. (And yes, I’m pleased to report that of the five that I put down that year, three of them – getting a job, eating less meat and seeing more of the U.K. outside London – have all been realised.) Still need to work on “being more romantic” and “easing up on my kids.” Sigh.
But I thought I’d do something different this year, which is to set a goal for myself that I hope others will also emulate: to begin to consciously practice slow living.
There’s an entire philosophy underpinning the slow living movement, which I’ve yet to immerse myself in. (For a great primer, check out Carl Honoré’s book and blog.) Here’s how he describes it:
It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace.It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.
I got wind of it through my husband, who happened upon this BBC Radio 4 special on slow living – featuring Carl himself – and recommended that I listen to it. (My husband and I have an ongoing I go too fast/you go too slow dynamic in our marriage, although in the last year and a half since we’ve both taken on new, incredibly busy jobs, I’d say that we both suffer from the “going too fast” dynamic.)
Revealingly, the first time I sat down to listen to the first segment of this programme, I found myself simultaneously paying bills, checking emails and shopping for post-Christmas bargains Online. In other words, although I recognised the value of forcing myself to listen to a programme about the virtues of slowing down, I couldn’t seem to find the time to slow down and actually listen to it. Exhibit A.
But then my husband suggested that we listen to it together, over coffee, one Sunday morning during the Christmas holidays. And so we did. And the more I listened to the three people featured in the BBC programme, all of whom desperately needed advice from Carl on how to slow down, the more I saw myself – or better put, versions of myself throughout the day: as wife, as mother, as worker – grafted onto their lives.
I won’t ruin the programme for you, which is well worth listening to. (Note: it’s on the BBC website for one more day, and the second part airs tomorrow.) But here are three actionable items I took away from it – the “learnings,” as we say at my office – which I hope to implement immediately:
1. Do something slow every day. It could be gardening. One guy on the programme takes up ironing. I myself made a banana bread today. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as the activity allows you to perform a slow, repetitive motion that enables you to practice, physically, the art of slowing down.
2. Create larger spaces between activities. If you’re like me, you race around from activity to activity – especially those involving your kids – leaving yourself just enough time (if that) to make it to the next thing. You actually feel lucky if you manage to eek out an extra five minutes to run to the dry cleaner or return a library book. But one of the things Carl recommends is deliberately building more time in in between activities, to eliminate that feeling that you are always “just in time.” (Phew!)
3. Say no to one thing everyday. Of all the kernels of wisdom that I gleaned from this 30 minute segment on slow living, the one that must rung true for me was the piece of advice to “say no to one thing every day that you’d normally say yes to.” It could be coffee with a neighbour when you’re completely fried. It could be volunteering for that extra bake sale at the PTA. These days, for me, it’s usually something at work. Someone asks me to edit an article that isn’t technically part of my job. Someone asks me to go to a meeting that I don’t really need to attend. I’m given an impossible deadline but fail to ask for an extension. There’s something truly liberating in learning the word “No.” Try it sometime.
I don’t know about you, but all of this feels very right to me at this stage of my life, both personally and professionally. I’ll let you know how it goes.
What have you resolved to do differently in the new year?