How to Master the Art of Slowing Down

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My daughter is moving out to start college in a little more than 2 weeks, (17 days, but who’s counting) and there is nothing I want to do more than freeze this time we have together. This summer has been a magical time for our family.

Living in a new, smaller space we’ve been spending more time together and really enjoying our new life in the city. By removing things like:

  • big house
  • yard
  • shed
  • mortgage
  • high utility bills
  • property taxes
  • car
  • clutter and other stuff …

we have even more time and attention to spend with each other. Because I realize that freezing time isn’t realistic, I’ve decided to master the art of slowing down to enjoy each moment instead of rushing through to get to the next.

It is our nature to be on two speeds: sleeping and go.go.go. As a society, we put so much value on getting things done, that everyone is moving at an unsustainable speed to do it all. Everything suffers as a result including:

  • the quality of the things we are doing because of our rushed state
  • our connections and conversations because we are so distracted
  • our own health as stress and burnout robs our energy and threatens our physical, mental and emotional health

8 Essential Lessons for Mastering the Art of Slowing Down

1. Wake up slowly

Instead of rolling out of bed and into your life, set your alarm clock 10 minutes early and take time to welcome the day. 10 minutes of gentle stretching, making your bed and drinking a glass of water will remove the rush and noise and set the tone for the rest of your day. If you think you need coffee, morning news or a dive into the email abyss before getting dressed, trade your habits for 7 days and see what feels better, not only in the morning, but all through the day. Create a morning routine with a focus on moving more intentionally throughout the day.

 

2. Identify what is most important

In The Power of Less, Leo Babauta recommends choosing three most important tasks for the day and doing them first. Look at your to-do list. Chances are there are more than three things on that list and maybe more than three pages. What would happen you had a list of only three? As you ease into doing less, try rewarding yourself for staying focused on your three most important things first by taking a reading break, walk or nap before you move on to anything else.

 

3. Stop eating in your car

When you use time in your car to catch up on everything you don’t have time for, you compromise your peace of mind and your safety. Until I realized that the only thing I needed to do in my car was drive, I thought it was the best place for distraction free work/lunch/phone calls and anything else that I didn’t have time for during the day. Once you establish your car as a food free/phone free zone, you can focus on driving and enjoy the time you have to slow down between appointments or destinations. If the idea of only driving while you are in your car seems impossible, something’s gotta give.

 

4. Choose people first

My mind chooses people first, but my actions don’t always represent that. If I am writing or working and someone interrupts me, I might throw out one of these go away phrases:

  • in a minute
  • give me a sec
  • I’ll be done in 5 minutes and then I can talk

Think about when you use those phrases. Maybe you use them while working, but what about when you are checking Facebook, watching TV, doing laundry, or other things that may be way less important than people. It’s frustrating to be distracted, but it’s even more frustrating and hurtful to be dismissed. You can limit the need to use these phrases by setting loose expectations and letting people know what you need, and then by letting go of what you need for a minute, a sec or 5 minutes to give the people you love what they need. The need you.

5. Release regret

Every minute you spend  wishing you had done things differently or being mad that things didn’t turn out better is time that you could spend …

  • being grateful
  • writing a letter
  • hugging someone you love
  • enjoying a meal
  • taking a walk
  • creating something beautiful
  • helping someone

Wallowing in regret might be a sign that you don’t know what matters most to you right now. Redirect your attention to figuring it out. It will change everything and you deserve that.

6. Cultivate dolce far niente

Doing nothing is hard work for some and it takes practice. Dolce far niente is the sweetness of doing nothing and is an art form in itself. There are no rules, but when you begin to do nothing, keep in mind that the opposite of busy is not lazy. The opposite of busy is solitude. The opposite of being busy is being loving and grateful. The opposite of busy is stillness. All of those opposites are essential for your health, happiness and relationships.

 

7. Dump your fear of missing out

I am on a little trip with my daughter for a couple of days and we’ve been talking about all of the different things we can do. Today we could go hiking, swimming, take an alpine slide ride, explore the town, watch a movie, go out to eat, go bowling, and the list goes on and on. Instead we decided to hang out by the pool if it’s sunny and watch movies in bed if it’s rainy. We will miss several activities and options, but without the pressure of scheduling the day or bouncing from activity to activity we can truly enjoy the time we have together.

You miss opportunities all day long by choosing things that matter most, but what you will miss by trying to doing it all and have it all can never be replaced.

 

8. Breathe and start over

Return to the art of slow whenever you feel rushed or scattered. As soon as you notice that you are lost in the busyness of the day or your life, stop. Simply pause, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can choose slow.

_ _ _

Speed and busyness is overrated. If we could put less value on the amount of things we get done and more value on how we treat people, including ourselves, perhaps we can master the art of slow. The next moment will come on its own time. For now, enjoy the one that is right in front of you.

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you Courtney, Just what I needed right now. Since I enrolled in ‘How to Create a Microbusiness that Matters’ I’ve been working hard on my new website, working my 9-5 and maybe lost a little focus on what really matters. It’s funny, I blog about slowing down and enjoying life quite a bit myself, but we all need reminders.

    Dan Garner

  2. says

    Slowing down changes our entire experience of life making it richer and more vivid, doesn’t it? I remember when I was in India where life proceeds at a far different pace and what a visceral experience it was. I love these ideas, especially choose people first even over our digital devices! I’ve never heard the term “dolce far niente” before; how sweet sounding! I was perfecting that practice over the weekend. :)

  3. says

    Thank you for this, Courtney!

    We, too, are just starting our new life in our apartment in the city, and we’ve got a crazy list of activities we would like to do, but we’ve spent the past week going to the pool, talking to each other, and relaxing. I like to think of life as a fine chocolate–something to be savored slowly, not scarfed down.

  4. says

    Courtney, thank you for this post. Especially number 5. The last few months have had their ups and downs and lately I have been more focused on the downs. Instead of dwelling on what I might have done differently in the past, I am going to focus on right now and simply trying to do my best. This definitely helps put things in perspective.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Lauren, When I get caught up in something like regret and hold on to things that make me feel bad, I think about my daughter and if I would wish that on her. Would I want her to be regretful or to punish herself over and over again for something that happened already? Absolutely not.

      I want the very best for her, so I know that if I act accordingly, I can have the very best too.

      We deserve that.

  5. says

    Thanks for a wonderful list. You’ve reminded me of how far I’ve come in the twenty-some-odd years since I started down this path. At this point I seriously can’t even imagine having to use an alarm clock or car every day!

    But the thing is, the frenzy still catches up to me from time to time. At least now I know that it’s totally self imposed, and when the old hurry bug starts to nag at me, I know it means that there’s some emotional stuff brewing that I don’t want to deal with. Somehow getting all worked up about the dishes is just easier than facing the out of control feelings that we all inevitably experience.

    • Courtney Carver says

      I feel the same away about busyness or clutter covering up something I don’t want to deal with. It is so subtle, but if I am paying attention, I can address the real situation.

  6. says

    When we slow down we can become more attentive to what is really important—we can become more productive. Stress makes us busy.

  7. says

    Hi Courtney

    Having just made the decision to “slow down” my life I find your list very helpful in that it gives me something to go by. I was finding myself working way too much with a full-time career position and a full-time side business… thus leaving little time for family and the important things in life!

    Your number 7: “Dump your fear of missing out” is something that I need to better work on as I struggle with this particular point.

    Now that my work life has been reduced somewhat I find I can “breathe” and really enjoy the friends and family that are truly what life is all about!

    Interesting post!

    Chris

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks Chris, Seems we’ve been raised to believe we can do whatever we want and have it all (as if that’s a good thing). The less I own and the more engaged I am with fewer projects, the happier I am.

  8. says

    Courtney! Nice post, man. The quality of our work is despicable for the most part. Now I have sunk to mentally rewarding someone if there are no spelling or grammar errors in their email and they use complete sentences. I think this rushing around is constantly lowering the bar for us all. Conversation has been relegated to weather and health problems and occasional gossip. Taking time to ponder and elaborate on a topic makes for much better and more interesting conversation. This takes time however. Thanks Courtney and have a beaner of a day!!!

  9. says

    I love and embrace the whole idea of slowing down being a choice. It really is. Even if you have a job, a sick pet, or myriad other emergencies, you can prioritize and simplify.

    Great point about regrets, Courtney. They eat away at you, waste your time, and decrease your ability to attend and live life. Thank you!

  10. says

    Thanks Courtney for all these reminders. My personal favorite is letting go of the fear of missing out. I used to be constantly worried that everyone else was having an amazing time and that if I didn’t keep moving I would miss something amazing. I now know that my “best” experiences are always the ones where I am most present. And once again we must be thinking somewhat along the same path because I too wrote a blog post titled, “Permission To Slow Down–Ending the Addiction to Busy-ness”

  11. says

    Numbers 4 and 6 are specially challenging for me. I can’t think of how many times I’ve told my daughter to wait while I finish up commenting on a post or sending a tweet. Part if it is me wants to teach her delayed gratification, but I have a feeling it’s more of a lame excuse on my part to not put her first. There are lots of other ways to teach her patience without making her feel like she’s less important than a machine.

    Do you think it’s true dolce far niente if you have to force yourself to do it? I guess that’s where the art form comes into play. It is truly a difficult concept to master when we’re brought up our whole lives with a zillion tasks to do in school, and then later in work. I remember vividly at the end of each school year or semester having that “I’m supposed to be doing something” feeling when really there was nothing to do. It would take me a few days to release that fear and enjoy the summer. I was also brought up being told “If there’s work to do, you should be doing it.” There was no such thing as down time if there was still work to be done. Now it’s hard work to stop myself, ignore what’s not done and put it on the side (physically and mentally) but I never regret it when I do.

  12. says

    I really needed this. Especially #3. I tell my son “in a minute” a lot. Usually when I am reading my kindle or checking emails. Uh, what a horrid example. I guess I also need #5 and releasing my regret about this too- the only thing that will help is to actively change my behavior.
    Oh, and wolfing down breakfast in the car on my way to work. Need to work on that too.

    Katie

  13. MelD says

    We are currently in our holiday home in France with no internet (unless we are in town).
    We just had visitors from the US. They were amazed at the life we live and how often we just go somewhere to sit, watch, drink something etc. If that is how people are surviving in the US (rather than living), I see why this movement exists… I kinda wondered why there is so much around on this topic!! Now I know, Americans rarely actually live!
    Glad we live life at our own pace in France & Switzerland ;o

  14. says

    This is great advice for slowing down your life. I will definitely try to implement these tips into my life, dolce far niente will for sure be the hardest concept for me to grasp.

  15. says

    I am glad I read this post today! Lots of the points resonate with me. I usually wake up 30 mins before I really need to get up to pray and enjoy the process of waking up. What I would like to do more though is really create more wealth around me so that I can take more time with being with people. I am really enjoying the process of taking about an hour daily to build a website that I love on a topic that I find fulfilling.

  16. says

    I love the slow morning idea, and I think I will work through your morning routine course once we have finished dress with less (we are taking that nice and slowly).

    I agree with driving too. Admittedly I do eat a little fruit in the car to keep my energy up on long drives (which I unfortunately have a couple of days a week at the moment. I am working on that). But I do not answer calls during that time (I do listen to podcasts, but only because it is much better than radio, and it helps with my focus).

    Thanks for these wonderful thoughts Courtney

  17. says

    I really like 4 5 and 7. Life really can get out of control fast (excuse the pun, which is intended BTW) so learning to slow down and appreciate the people around you and your surroundings is important for a healthy and more stable and happy life.

  18. says

    Lovely post! You hit on so many different aspects of life, and how we can slow down, that can benefit me as well as my clients. I sometimes get pulled in too many directions and recalibrating myself with solid practical advice like this is very helpful! I especially liked your paragraph on dolce far niente. Just BE for moment. Although with having 4 kids I do get the MOM… every time I sit down to do something, so putting people first is a runner up-lol! Thanks for sharing.