If you are an avid reader of this blog (of course you are!), you probably know that I have become a believer in slowing down in life and doing everything with a bit more thoughtfulness. I hate the feeling of being rushed. I make too many mistakes that way.
Slowing down has helped me to take stock of my life and figure out exactly what I want it to be. Truthfully, a lot of our financial independence and early retirement goals are a direct result of both my wife and I just slowing the hell down, and it’s only going to get easier once we quit our full time jobs.
I wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, I used to rush through almost everything I did. I drove a supercharged sports car AND rode a Yamaha R1 sport bike (but not at once!). I finished my work as quickly as I could. It was all I could do to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.
I used to think that:
- Making a quick decision (any decision) is better than not making one at all
- More hours spent at the office makes you more productive
- Being “busy” means that you’re doing something important
- If somebody was doing nothing, they were unproductive and lazy
But throughout the years of practicing this ill-conceived belief in doing everything FAST, I quickly began to realize that speed is the worst possible qualifier of importance, success or productivity.
The truth is that despite my adherence to a philosophy that had me believe that doing nothing meant that you were being lazy, I liked doing nothing. I thoroughly enjoyed the break from responsibility.
It almost felt like I was allowing both my heart and mind to just…relax.
Then, I realized something remarkable: It turns out that studies routinely reveal that there may be something to this whole do nothing / slow down philosophy after all. In fact, the benefits of pumping the brakes on a fast life are many and well-researched.
How slowing down increases productivity
Relax! You’ll be more productive – says Tony Schwartz who wrote in a NY Times article about how slowing down during our day can increase our productivity.
“More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less,” he wrote, citing what research into “strategic renewal” has revealed about how we humans operate most effectively.
For example, the Psychological Science journal published a study that revealed simply “having the choice to sit back and do nothing during your day-to-day grind actually increases your commitment to a certain goal, and may even boost your likeliness to achieve that goal.”
It seems that taking the time to reflect on our daily situations aid us in making better decisions and helps motivate us to follow through on our wants and desires. How awesome is that?
Taking a piece from my own life, I have found that the more quickly I attempt to do things, the more mistakes that I make and the more that I miss. It is clear that the more time that I give myself to accomplish my tasks, the better the likelihood of doing those tasks right – the first time. Talk about being productive!
Rest is also an important element to productivity. A Stanford researcher found that when male basketball players slept 10 hours a night instead of the more typical 6 to 8, their performance on the court dramatically increased. Sleep helps to increase energy, improves decision-making and overall thinking and even has a positive effect on heart health.
Sleep even helps to improve your memory! More on this below.
How slowing down and nap time increases performance
Taking naps during the day should be enjoyed by more than just your toddler. Naps provide both your heart and brain with much-needed rest and time to process events from your day. In fact, many studies even reveal that taking naps can help you to remember what you just experienced.
According to a study by University of Geneva researcher Dr. Kinga Igloi, sleep helps to reinforce learning by letting your brain process information more effectively. Those who slept for 90-minutes following a learning session routinely found it easier to recall what they just learned.
The longer the nap, the better most people perform. According to sleep researcher Sara Mednick, a 60 to 90-minute nap produces the same ability to recall information as a full eight hours of sleep!
Parents who’s toddlers miss a nap during the day know full well how a lack of sleep affect us as people. We get irritable. Our ability to focus and problem-solve diminishes. We feel less calm, and our ability to approach problems and express ourselves is compromised.
If these things happen to kids with kid-like problems, imagine the effect a lack of sleep has on adults, who’s set of problems are much more consequential.
How do you take a good nap during the day? According to Harvard Health, here’s how:
- Keep it short, around 20 to 30 minutes
- Nap in a quiet, comfortable place away from distractions
- Make it a part of your schedule if possible
- Time your caffeine consumption for after your nap
- Don’t feel guilty about it; enjoy your increased performance!
How slowing down helps weight loss
Believe it or not, the science proves that slowing your roll helps in weight loss, too. The problem comes when we literally gobble down our food as quickly as possible. The more quickly we eat, the less time our brains have to register the food in our stomachs. For most of us, it takes around 20 minutes for our brains to register that we are full. This means that if we suck down large meals quickly, we’re potentially over-filling our stomachs because we don’t yet feel full.
The problem is we ARE FULL, but our brains haven’t yet raised the red flag. It is easy to over eat when dinners are enjoyed plopped down in front of the television or our computers.
In contrast, eating more slowly gives our brains added time to “process” our food consumption and register that we are, in fact, satisfied. There are several techniques to help ensure that we aren’t eating too quickly, such as:
- Focus on eating, not watching tv/computer/email/other distraction
- Chew food more slowly
- Drink water before and during your meal to “pre-fill” your stomach
- Portion out less food for each meal
How slowing down helps save money
I am sure that we’ve all heard the term “impulse buy”. These purchases happen on the spur of the moment, without a lot of thought, and usually quite quickly. We notice something in a store while shopping for something else, and we simply cannot help ourselves but add that other thing to our cart.
In much the same way that quick eating over fills our stomachs, quick shopping over fills our cart with too much stuff.
Amazon.com makes this trap cleverly easy to fall into due to its insanely-efficient way to add items into our virtual shopping cart and check out. A single touch of a button, and BOOM! You’ve bought stuff, whether you needed it or not.
Slow shopping takes our impulses out of the equation and re-positions our brains to make better spending choices. Ask yourself, “Can I afford this?”. Or perhaps a better question, “Do I really need this?” An even better technique might just be to wait.
Try an experiment – the next time that you shop, restrict yourself only to those items on your shopping list, and make sure your list only contains items that you truly need. If you happen to notice something else that might be nice to have while shopping, resist putting it in your cart. Stay disciplined.
Instead, wait. If you still want that item in a month, then consider buying it. This strategy works especially well for discretionary spending, or in other words, entertainment items like electronics, cars (or car parts) and going out to eat.
Let time help to keep your spending under control. More times than not, our brains will keep us on the straight and narrow if we give it the opportunity to process our situation.
In conclusion, slowing down rocks!
The wisdom inherent in slowing down your lifestyle and taking more time for everyday life is wide-reaching and conclusive. Maintaining a slower roll through life enables your mind to process more information and make better decisions in all aspects of your life both inside and outside of the office. Slowing down gives us time to consider our environment and be much more thoughtful about the things that we do, and it has a direct positive effect on the number of mistakes that we make.
Try slowing down and taking life more in stride. Notice how it effects your mood. It might help you to keep your cool and approach problems with a fresh and rested mind at almost any point in the day.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.