Is Slower Better? The Speed of Our Experience

It seems to me that our modern busyness has the flavour of tight focus, linearity and being goal directed.

The slow food movement is taking off around the world. There are also a number of other slow ‘movements’. And the growing popularity of meditation as a way of dealing with stress fits into this pattern.

Does this mean that we are busier than we have ever been? I think the only possible answer to this is, ‘Yes and no’. We’ve always had 24 hours in the day and we’ve always had the capacity to try to fit as much into these 24 hours as possible — or even a little more. The two oldest documented medical systems (Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) both have ways of dealing with (what we modern people call) stress. So part of the answer has to be, “No”.

I think part of the answer is also, “Yes”. Or, put another way, our kind of busyness has altered. Spending a day walking to somewhere or spending a day driving to somewhere both take a day. But driving for a day is different to walking for a day. The kind of attention required is different.

Likewise, spending a day wandering from house to house and chatting to friends is different to chatting to different people online.

What is this difference?

For me, it is the quality of focus required. While walking, on a relatively smooth path, you can look around, give your major attention to a companion, or even be quite reflective or meditative. Driving is much more focused, and there is far less room for reflection or deep engagement with another person.

With chatting online the quality of focus is also different, at least for me. Partly I think this is because the other person is not physically present. Even if it is via video, when I can see the other person, I feel freer to look around and not make eye contact than I do when talking to someone in person. With the person physically present I also feel more emotional connection. Online chatting I experience as more cerebral — it is easier to talk ‘about’ something.

It seems to me that our modern busyness has the flavour of tight focus, linearity and being goal directed.

Why this difference?

My guess is the technology. In some senses technology is ‘neutral’ — if the roads weren’t so crowded, and we didn’t drive so quickly, then our attention wouldn’t need to be so focused when driving. This is true. It is also true that walking through a crowd of pedestrians is different to driving in traffic. Texting a friend from the bus is different to chatting to the same friend sitting beside you on the bus. The technology shapes our experience to some extent.

It seems to me that our modern busyness is shaped by our technology. It is a busyness that requires focus.

Is slow better?

Up to a year ago I would have said, “Yes”, without qualification. A year ago I moved from Australia’s biggest city (Sydney) to one of the smaller ones (Hobart), and I have since moved again. Hobart is a beautiful place — it is green and at far more of a human scale than Sydney. The people are friendlier, and you spend far less of your time travelling.

Life in Hobart is lived at a slower pace, which I liked — except when I was in the supermarket check-out queue. How can it take so long to check stuff out? There were things I wanted to be doing. There were other places I’d rather be. Why are these check-out operators so slow?!

If I thought I didn’t share our culture’s focus on goals and productivity, standing in the check-out queue in Hobart showed me how wrong I was.

I still think slow is better most of the time. Now, I qualify it a bit more.

Why is slower better?

When we focus on one thing we ignore everything else. This can lead to a much poorer experience. We will usually be able to pay less attention to beautiful scenery if we are driving through it than if we are walking through it. Sending a quick text to say, “Hi” doesn’t provide the same interaction as saying, “Hi” in passing.

Slowing down can allow us to widen our experience; it can also allow us to ‘digest’ our experience. Slowing down can allow us to ‘catch up with ourselves’. Slowing down doesn’t necessarily mean that we will widen our experience or digest it — it just offers this possibility.

It seems to me that our lives will be richer if we can slow down and spend more time with ourselves and with others.

What do you think? Do you thrive on busyness or do you find it that it constricts you? Do you have ways of coping with or minimising your busyness? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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