In our hectic lives, we seem to move very quickly. We are constantly bombarded with information, tasks, and noise. If you're like me, most days I strive to get as much done as possible. Before I realize it, mornings turn into evenings; my alarm clock seems to wake me up right after my head hits the pillow. And, during the night, I often experience anxiety dreams where I have to reach some kind of goal and I simply cannot accomplish it.
All these are results of pursuing what I like to call a "carpe diem" sort of life, where I try to accomplish so many things by "living in the moment," a mantra for many. However, "seizing the day," or rather, "capturing the day," only helps us to conquer, subdue, and even kill our days instead of actually living them. Living in the moment offers nothing to alleviate stress, over-stimulation, and noise from our lives.
Sometimes it's necessary to take a break from living in the moment. Sometimes it's necessary to "take the slow way."
Three years ago, my husband took me on a date to an event called Tour de Fat, New Belgium Brewery's annual traveling festival that showcases zany entertainment, game show parodies, an interactive fashion showdown, and a car-for-bike swap. What makes this festival different from other street festivals is not only its eclectic nature, but also the fact that at its core lies the the idea of "taking the slow way." This concept is highlighted by New Belgium's iconic logo: a simple beach cruiser bicycle.
A bike is a varied thing: there are so many types of bicycles! New Belgium's emblematic choice of a beach cruiser (instead of a road bike, mountain bike, city bike, recumbent bike, etc.) epitomizes the idea of "taking it slow," which is one of New Belgium's core values. The cruiser bike insignia is a call for beer lovers to choose quality over quantity, and supports the idea of drinking craft beer slowly in order to appreciate the taste and savor the experience. In this way, New Belgium supports the idea of living a simple life, at a slower pace.
I loved how New Belgium takes the concept of slowing down and connects it to something as simple and familiar as enjoying a beer. This connection makes it easy to visualize and apply "taking the slow way" to choices we make in our daily lives. Huge improvements can be made to our mental and physical well-being if we just slow down. By slowing down, we allow ourselves time to think about how we are living life. Slowing down gives us space to evaluate our choices and make new goals. And, as a happy consequence, slowing down will help us make our fleeting time on earth as meaningful as possible.
Here are six small changes we can make to "take the slow way," and to reconnect with ourselves and our surroundings:
Walk or ride a bike to work instead of taking a car. This seems like a fairly common idea, but I had to include it. Biking disconnects us from the quick "A to B" commute, and instead connects us to our surroundings, the environment, and our mental and physical health. Even choosing public transportation over driving to work can be beneficial as it takes us out of our protective bubbles and challenges us with the experience of self-orientation and punctuality. Public transit also gives us the opportunity to see ourselves as social creatures, and part of a bigger system. If biking or public transport are out-of-the-question, try to fit in a walk or a bike-ride on the weekend. It will give you a valuable change of pace and allow your mind a break from the responsibilities of life.
Travel differently. Instead of visiting three new cities in five days, choose to visit only one city. This way, you can gradually immerse yourself into the culture, and experience the nuances of daily life. This idea of a lengthened cultural immersion has been dubbed "slow travel"; the method suggests we linger in one place to really get the feel for it, and "take the time to learn the rhythms of local life" without rushing from one tourist destination to the next (Shakwell). You can even spend time doing nothing to allow for restful contemplation of the travel experience. Slow travel allows us to foster a stronger connection to the place we're visiting, and allows us a nice break from our fast-paced daily life.
Cook from scratch. Instead of dining out, grabbing take-out, or reheating something from the freezer or from a can, try creating something original for dinner. Not only will the meal be healthier and free from preservatives and excess amounts of sodium, but it will also leave you more satisfied since it meal was a product of your own efforts. Allowing yourself to accept the challenge of cooking something from scratch will help you grow as a chef, will give you power over your meal choices, and will hone your ability to live life at a slower pace.
Grant yourself permission to breathe consciously. Taking one deep breath helps us to pause, reflect, and refocus our perceptions, and inevitable helps us to slow down. Conscious breathing can help us approach and conquer things like anxiety and stress. Henrick Edburg, in his article "The Power of Breathing," suggests taking two minutes away from stressful situations to slow down and focus on breath. I've found that two minutes is more than enough to find space when our hectic worlds expand and devour us.
Allow for silence. Give yourself some quiet time to think and to rest. Our daily lives are very full of noise, most of which we are unaware. When we make time for silence, we are helping our nervous systems restore themselves. Silence assists in sustaining energy to complete mental and physical tasks, and silence "conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead" (Talbot-Zorn and Marz.) Silence promotes mindfulness and reflection, both of which have been linked to positive mental health changes and increased quality of life.
Disconnect from our devices. Today, time spent in the digital world seems to be a necessity, but oftentimes we confuse necessary digital time with needless distracted time. You might check out a few posts of mine, "Be Free" or "Put Down Your Phone and Live Your Life" where I emphasize the importance of constructing definitive boundaries between ourselves and technology. Setting boundaries helps us reconnect with experiences and people in the real world. Leave your phone at home, in your car, or be content that it is resting quietly in your pocket or purse. Turn on Airplane mode to reduce distractions. There are even applications you can download that can track your cell phone use.
At the core of "taking the slow way" is the important task of reflection. Giving ourselves time to rest and think gives us the power to see the world differently, and to commit to making the change towards living intentional and meaningful lives. Similar to enjoying a quality beer, we should drink life slowly to appreciate the taste and savor the experience.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, over-tasked, and overstimulated, break away from the call to live each day to its fullest. Give yourself permission to Take the Slow Way.