Music can soothe the soul, especially when the noise of our lives encases us. I recently tried out Audéo Perfect Fit Earphones by the Swiss hearing aide manufacturer Phonak. While the quality sounded a little tinny for my taste, I enjoyed relaxing with the sound-silencing feature of the earphones themselves. I couldn’t hear the peep of my children’s voices (which might not always be a good thing) or my husband’s call to help him recycle the bottles. In a moment of relaxation, I liked how I could shut out the world for a song or two. It helped me regain my equilibrium. Most definitely a good time-out!
David Leonhardt used to live in the hyperfast lane. As a public spokesperson for the largest consumer organization in Ontario, David lost himself in the fast flow of city living. Giving last-minute media interviews was the norm. Until one day, when his first child arrived on the scene, his priorities shifted and he downshifted to a saner life. Now, he is president of The Happy Guy Marketing, which offers multilingual SEO and website promotion strategies to companies around the world, and ghostwriting services for books, articles, and websites. He also runs Canada’s social bookmarking website, Zoomit.
Here is his story.
What struck me is how many people said to me how much they wished they could do what I was doing. Of course, they could; they just had not really looked at their priorities. Events compelled me to look at mine.
CLH: When did you realize slowing down was a good idea?
David: Sometimes events make decisions for you, or at least compel a person into a greater clarity of vision. In my case, my wife and I were living in a an 850 square foot apartment condo in the very center of downtown Toronto, in which was also housed my home office. I was working as the public spokesperson for the largest consumer organization in Ontario, CAA Ontario…but working out of home to be effective 24/7. To give some idea of how fast-paced this workstyle was, I would very often receive calls from network TV saying a cameraman was on his way, and could I meet him on the sidewalk in front of our building in 20 minutes to comment on some issue of the day. Yes, they would send the cameraman first, call me second, hoping I was avaialable…because pretty much always made myself avaialble. Each time I would begin the 20-minute scramble to get into business clothes and brief myself on the issue…especially since half the time it really was just a cameraman without even a journalist to pump me with questions.
Then along came child #1, and this arangement would no longer do. We needed more space for Little Lady. I needed a private office area where I could speak on the phone without gurgles, crying, and laughter in the background. I needed to better divide my attention and, more to the point, reallocate work hours to childcare hours. Most of all, kids need room to run; they need land, not a few square feet of carpet. This last point really was the deal closer.
CLH: How did you go about making the change?
David: We moved out to the country. I wrote a humor column about it. The new house is a lot less fancy, but so much bigger, plus it came with a few acres. I quit the job. There was no way I could be effective in my employed job without being in a downtown condo, and I wanted to continue working out of the home to be near my kids as they grew up. I set out to become a motivational speaker, as I had already published my book Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 Habits of Maximum Happiness. I discovered I was a good writer, an OK speaker, but a sucky promoter of speaking, and I had to find something elese to do, which is why I let my career path wander to where it has been these past few years).
CLH: What strategies have you developed to remind yourself about the importance of balance?
David: The best part about working from home is the flexibility. I know I work a lot fewer hours than before. I definitely still work crazy hours (evenings, parts of weekends, bits in the early mornings sometimes). But now it is by choice. I work those hours because when the kids have a field trip, I’m there. When the kids get off the schoolbus, I’m there. When there are errands to do, I don’t panic about when I’ll do them; I just do them. When the kids have a PD day, I’m usually with them. When one is sick. I’m there. And I know I take more vacation days with them than anybody I know, except my teacher brother. The crazy hours I work allows me the flexibility to take off all sorts of crazy hours. My top goal working for myself from home was to be near my kids as they grow up, so I maintain that as my priority almost on every occasion. Then I fit my work into hours that otherwise might be wasted watching TV.
CLH: What advice can you give others who struggle with maintaining work/life equilibrium?
David: Decide what your goals in life are. It is crucial that your career enhance your life. If your life is enhancing your career, you have it backwards. You cannot have it all, so make sure you have what’s most important to you. When I left my high-powered Toronto job, I spent some time making goodbye phone calls to all the people in government, industry, media, etc. with whom I had been working. What struck me is how many people said to me how much they wished they could do what I was doing. Of course, they could; they just had not really looked at their priorities. Events compelled me to look at mine.
CLH: Thank you for your thoughts, David!
David: Thank you!
The other day I had a cyber chat with Aila Accad, RN, MSN. She calls herself ‘The De-Stress Expert’ and is a professional speaker, trainer, author and well-being coach. She has been self-employed since 1978 studying and teaching effective ways to get rid of distress for healthier, happier living, which is kind of neat because nine years into it she had a revelation that would change her life.
CLH: When did you realize slowing down was a good idea?
Alia: When I pulled the covers over my head and wanted to disappear for 3 months in October of 1986. I was married with two children, 9 and 11, a home-based business and studying for my Masters in Nursing. There was definitely too much to do and I was burning the candle at both ends trying to get it all done ~ perfectly.
CLH: How did you go about making the change?
Alia: I pulled the cover over my head and imagined hiding out for 3 months and starting over again. The thought came to me, “What if I died right now, who would do all this stuff?
The answers changed my life.
There were things my kids would do – help with laundry and cooking; things my husband would do – like shopping; and things that no one would do – like change the toilet paper roll, make the beds and help anyone who was in trouble. I asked myself why I was doing these things that did not matter to anyone else.
In some cases, it was because it mattered to me. In other cases, it was beliefs about what I ‘should’ do, inherited from my mother and father’s to-do lists. These needed to go.
I had a heart-to-heart with my husband and children. We adjusted responsibilities and I ‘let go’ of having tasks done the way I would do them.
CLH: What strategies have you developed to remind yourself about the
importance of balance?
Alia: This is a daily practice. I start with gratitude for waking to a new day, set an intention to be present to my soul’s purpose and keep my actions in alignment with that. Mindfulness, breathing and occasionally stopping to reassess ‘what is most important right now’. Being aware that today could be the last day of my life gives urgency to spending each moment in alignment with my self and purpose.
CLH: What advice can you give others who struggle with maintaining work/life equilibrium?
For me, and most women, work and life are not separate entities.
In fact all the categories we place life into are artificial, including weekdays and weekends. Life flows continuously from birth to death.
If you look at a balance scale, you will see that the two pans on each side are not separate, they are connected to a center fulcrum.
Imagine that one pan holds your life-time, the other your life-experience.
This is your Time-Life balance. The fulcrum is YOU.
The time side is finite and you don’t know how much is there. You get to choose what to place on the experience side of the scale.
My suggestion: Choose wisely every moment, every day and be engaged fully in whatever you choose!
CLH: Thank you for your time!
Alia: Thank you!
For more information about Aila’s work, go to her website http://www.ailaspeaks.com Sign up for monthly ‘De-Stress Tips & News” and receive her e-book “Ten Instant Stress Busters” as a gift. Aila presents the simplest, most effective information and tools she has learned and created in a 4 DVD with Action Guide package called ‘The De-Stress ToolBox™’.
I read. A lot. It’s a great way to slow down, get centered, and keep up on what’s hot, and what’s not.
Fredrick Hahn, Michael R. Eades, and Mary Dan Eades came out with The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow-Motion Exercise that Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes a Week in 2003. I’ve known for a long time that slower movements have more impact than faster ones. Whether it is lifting weights or doing yoga, jerking motions only serve to strain ligaments and joints. I like the format of the book. It busts myths such as being fit means you are healthier, all exercise is good for you, and any physical activity is exercise. They define exercise to mean strength training. The stronger you are, the healthier you are. The pictures that accompany the exercise explanations are also easy to follow. I find reading about exercise as about as exciting as listening to grass grow, but the authors’ enthusiasm is rather infectious. It made for an easier read than I thought.
Recently, Frederick Hahn came out with a children’s fitness book, Strong Kids Healthy Kids: The Revolutionary Program for Increasing Your Child’s Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week , which I found a bit harder to digest. I suppose the myths of weight training being bad for growing bodies remains strong in my mind. Weight training for eight-year-olds? I’d rather see my daughter lift the saddle onto the horse herself. Practical exercise, meaning integrated movement, seems less daunting than having your kids wield heavy weights. I will say the case studies the authors mention in the book were inspirational. In fact, when my seven-year-old son cried that he’s not as muscular as his eight-year-old friend, I pulled out the book to show him what’s possible. I doubt he has the focus for weight training just yet, but it’s good to know I have a resource when his interest grows as he does!
Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow, sat down for a cyberchat with me today. He is not only an incredibly talented public speaker and journalist, but also the owner of SlowPlanet. It is a fabulous Web site for people looking to slow it down a notch. He kindly asked that I write a post there about the value of slowing down in parenting. Be looking for that piece soon!
Carl: After the book came out, the Slow Movement began to explode. My personal website was creaking under the weight. I was constantly getting emails from people who wanted to connect with like-minded folk around the world – for instance, an architect in Uruguay would write in about his Slow vision, and I’d put him in touch with architects in Sweden, the US and Australia. But it all became too much. I felt the Slow Movement needed a global meeting place where people of all kinds could come together to to ask questions, argue, make suggestions, learn new things, share success stories, analyze setbacks, disagree, have fun, test out theories, get angry, get inspired. That is what Slow Planet is for.
CLH: What strategies have you developed to maintain balance? Do you believe it is about balance when you talk about ‘going at the right speed’?
Carl: Yes, balance is the key word here. Trying to find the right speed for every act in your day; giving everything the time and attention it deserves. I have definitely changed – there is for me a very clear Before and After. Before I was always trying to do more and more things in less and less time. It was all about speed and quantity. Now I approach each thing seeking to do it as well as possible instead of as fast as possible. This has made a big change in the way I feel about time: I no longer feel a slave to it. I feel like I have enough time for things and I don’t very often feel rushed (even though I have an exciting, full life). This is not a paradox.
It’s about finding the right equilibrium and not being obsessively neurotic about time. My first step was realizing that I had got stuck in fast-forward, and that too much speed was doing me damage. Then I began making concrete changes. I cut back on the things I was trying to cram into my schedule to allow more time to rest and to devote to the things that are more important to me. So I dropped one sport (tennis) and reduced my TV-watching to a few hours a week, instead of a few hours a day. I also stopped wearing a watch, which seemed to make me less neurotic about time.
I take breaks during the work day to relax, eat and do a bit of meditation. And I switch off my technology (email, cellphone, etc) whenever possible, instead of being always connected. I have learned to say ‘no’ to things – work, social offers, etc – to avoid getting over-scheduled. This is especially important in my work. I get lots and lots of offers to write, speak, consult and it is tempting to do them all, but if I did I would become the opposite of what I’m preaching. So I choose the jobs that I think are the most important in order to keep a balance in my life.
CLH: What advice do you have for others who struggle with today’s pace of life?
Carl: I offer you my top ten tips for starting to slow down in a fast-paced world below:
1. Downsize your calendar. Nothing makes you hurry more than a schedule stuffed to bursting point. Instead of giving in to the temptation to do more and more, try doing less. During the holiday season, cut back on shopping, streamline your social calendar, watch less TV. Easing the pressure on your time takes the rush out of life and makes everything more enjoyable.
2. Question your inner speed demon. We are so obsessed with going faster and saving time that we end up hurrying everything. Next time you catch yourself racing through something – the morning shower, Christmas lunch, opening presents – stop and ask whether you really need to be going so fast. If the answer is no, take a deep breath and slow down. You will find that you get more out of life, and feel more serene.
3. Take up a slow hobby. Activities such as gardening, yoga, knitting, reading and painting can teach you the habit of slowness – not the easiest thing in our turbo-charged, hurry-up world, but a first step for anyone hoping to escape the speed trap. Christmas is a perfect time to discover how slow hobbies can cultivate an inner calm that carries through the rest of your day.
4. Stop clock-watching. Try to be less neurotic about time. Think of it not as a bully to be feared or conquered, but as the benign element we live in. Take off your wristwatch during the holidays. You may start to feel less beholden to the clock. Accept that the old adage “time is money” does not always hold true: you can’t save up time for a rainy day the way you can save up coins in a piggy bank. Also, remember that the best way to get “value” for your time is not always to go faster. Put quality ahead of quantity.
5. Rediscover the joys of the table. A convivial meal with friends and family can be fun, healthy and relaxing. Try eating Christmas dinner round the table, instead of balancing it on your lap in front of the TV.
6. Take a walk. Walking—and we’re not talking speed-walking—is a soothing way to connect with nature, with other people and with yourself. It is also good exercise. Next time you are about to hop in the car for a short trip, go on foot instead. On Christmas day, stroll in the park or through your neighborhood. Your body and soul will thank you.
7. Meditate. Meditation is going mainstream. Ten million Americans now practice it regularly, and meditation rooms are popping up all over the industrial world, from airports, schools and prisons to hospitals and offices. Meditation soothes mind and body. You don’t need to attend a fancy retreat to learn it; anyone can start meditating right away with a few basic techniques. Why not escape the hurly burly of the holiday season by sitting in a quiet room for 15 minutes, breathing slowly with your eyes closed?
8. Consider an alternative approach to your health. About half the population of North America now seeks care outside the mainstream health system, thus enjoying the benefits of unhurried, holistic healing traditions such as massage, acupuncture and reiki.
9. Vacation slowly. Visit a place that celebrates slowness. Official Slow cities make more room for pedestrians and cyclists, and encourage farmers markets. Stroll around the traffic-free streets, indulge in local wine and cheese, linger in restaurants with your partner or family.
10. Turn it off. Find moments to turn off the electronic devices that keep us buzzing. During the holiday season, set aside a few hours without the computer and email, mobile phone and home phone, television and PDA. Let your devices recharge so you can do the same. Give yourself the freedom to unplug, to be slow.
CLH: You’ve given us a lot to think about. Thanks so much for this inspiring chat!
Carl: Thank you!
Michelle Obama is a woman with priorities. Attempting to maintain normalcy in her daughters’ lives won’t be easy, but she is committed to trying. While life as the First Lady certainly won’t be slow, she has exuded a level-headedness I find inspiring. We mothers can learn from her choices as she raises stay-at-home mom to a different level. In fact, Obama will be a work-from-home dad once he enters the White House.
What lessons have you learned from Michelle Obama? Weigh in.
Jill Bolte Taylor was thirty-seven when she woke up one day to feel how her body had dissolved and had melded with all the energies of the Universe. She was having a stroke. As a brain researcher, she watched as her brain failed her.
In her now famous speech held at a conference called TED (technology, entertainment, design), she talks about the difference between the right (creative) brain and the left (analytical) brain. Somehow her entire being resided in the right side of her brain, while the left completely shut down. She thought she was going to die, and she had already said good-bye to her life. She felt so expansive, she couldn’t imagine squeezing back into her little body.
But she did.
This moving speech reminds us to live large, to visit our right hemisphere often, and to slow down to a pace that allows us to unfold into the human beings we are meant to be.
Welcome to the Power of Slow, the blog that accompanies a new book being released by St. Martin’s Press in the fall of 2009. The book is entitled The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World.
Slow down to speed up. It’s not as paradoxical as it seems.
Slow isn’t the opposite of fast. You can be efficient in your activities, as long as you are mindful. So often we react to things without thinking. Or we act quickly to get things over with without really enjoying them.
The power of slow reminds us we can do things differently, mindfully, and memorably without delving into a hectic, joyless lifestyle.
Come join the journey. You’ll be glad you did.