We live in a fast-paced world, where slowing down isn’t easy. A world where being busy is glorified – we almost wear it like a badge of honour. We fill our days with tasks, rushing from one activity to the next. If it’s not work, then it’s taking care of the kids or family, running the household or other commitments – and then we try to squeeze in some leisure time.
Then there’s the dangerously fast pace at which we’re consuming the earth’s resources. All to satisfy our desire for new shiny things.
This way of living is just not good for our state of mind – nor for the state of our planet.
So, how can we reject busyness and over-consumption, and instead embrace slowness and learn to love our lives with less?
No time to waste on climate change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its sixth assessment report, giving a red alert on global climate change. It provides new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5oC in the 2030s (much sooner than we previously thought).
According to the report, crossing this threshold will lead to “increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost”.
The science is indisputable. We need drastic change on a systemic level – and we need it now.
Solving this crisis is going to take every one of us. From our world leaders to CEOs of multinational corporations, to local authority decision makers, to you and me.
The fact I’m calling for fast action on climate change might seem at odds with the title of this article. But hear me out.
More haste, less speed
If we continue living in the same way and consuming at the same pace as we have been, things are going to get really dire, really quickly. The disastrous impacts of man-made climate change are already happening. All you have to do is turn on the news to see reports of extreme weather events. And it’s those who have contributed least to the crisis who are and will be most affected.
We must significantly cut our greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists agree we need to halve them by 2030. To do this, there can be no new fossil fuel extraction. Existing levels of fossil fuel exploitation must be vastly reduced. This means we are all going to have to change our behaviour. It means buying less, choosing lower carbon transport options, moving towards plant-based diets and so on.
To do this, we need to slow down. Making lifestyle changes can be overwhelming and exhausting. It’s nigh-on-impossible to successfully make behaviour changes if we don’t give ourselves time to pause, reflect and adjust. If you try to do it all at once, which is tempting when things feel so urgent, you are likely to end up burning out and giving up.
At least, that’s my experience. I learnt the hard way that sustainable living is a lot easier when you slow down.
It works both ways too. Trying to live more sustainably has helped me to slow down, as I’ve had to take more time over activities. Walking to a few local shops instead of one large supermarket takes more time but allows me to choose more locally-grown, plastic-free and ethically-produced products. Taking the time to research products and companies before I spend money on them means I make more ethical and sustainable purchase decisions.
Little things like hanging the washing on the line or making a pot of loose leaf tea, as well as being more eco-friendly, provide opportunities to switch off and rest your mind. Moments of peace that are so important.
Personal benefits of slowing down
Alongside helping you to live more sustainably and do your bit for the planet, slowing down has many benefits for you and those around you. I’m going to talk about just a couple of them here.
Improving your mental health
A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that a small minority of people (13%) report living with high levels of good mental health. Nearly two thirds of people (65%) say they have experienced a mental health problem.
We’re often so busy and stressed in our everyday lives that we might not even notice when we do experience a mental health problem. This can mean we don’t talk about it with anyone or seek treatment until we reach breaking point.
These stresses can come as a result of many factors, from working long hours, to financial worries or problems with personal relationships (to name just a few). Often, in order to identify the cause (or causes) of our stress, we need to allow ourselves the time and the headspace to look inwards and figure things out.
Improving your physical wellbeing
Physical exercise has many benefits – improving general fitness, increasing body-confidence, potentially increasing life expectancy and improving mood (gotta love those endorphins). But it’s not always easy to fit exercise into our busy schedules.
For instance, I spent over 10 years in a desk job, working long hours and too often skipping breaks. I very rarely prioritised physical exercise and over the years I developed issues with my back, neck and shoulders. Issues that I am still having to manage. I put up with the discomfort for far too long, until I couldn’t put up with it any more and sought help.
These days, I try to make sure I take time each morning to do my stretching/yoga/exercise routine (it’s a bit of a mash up), take regular breaks from my desk when I’m working, and get out and about as much as possible. When I let these slip, I really notice the difference.
How to slow down
1. The first step is to acknowledge that you need to slow down and give yourself permission to do so.
Some people find it more difficult to let go of the ‘need to be busy’ than others. It took me a few years to retrain my brain to be able to switch off, give myself time to meet my needs and not feel like I have to be constantly doing something ‘productive’.
2. The next step is to decide how you are going to slow down.
This may mean making a big change, such as cutting down working hours or, like in my case, quitting a job altogether. However, you don’t need to do anything this drastic to achieve a slower, simpler life. It depends on what’s most important to you.
It could just need a few small changes. Such as creating little pockets of time that allow you to calmly think about anything that may be troubling you, listen to music or a podcast, allow ideas to flourish or just daydream. Allowing yourself to be ‘absent’ from time to time is incredibly important for your mental health and wellbeing.
3. Make a plan and set time aside in your calendar just for you each day
Try to be consistent – protect your time like you would an important business meeting. This doesn’t come naturally to many (myself included) so it is likely to take time to get into the habit of doing this and not let others’ needs override your own. If you let it slip, don’t fret – be kind to yourself and renew your commitment to meet your needs.
It’s important to set healthy boundaries. Talk to your family, colleagues and anyone else you need to, so they understand what you’re trying to do and why, and know not to disturb you (unnecessarily) during your time. If they’re used to you running to their aid at the drop of a hat, then expect some resistance at first. If you’re consistent, they will learn to respect your boundaries.
Finally, start talking to others about how much you’re slowing down, instead of how busy you are – and the benefits you’re seeing as a result. You might just inspire others to do the same for themselves.
I’m on a mission to help those who care deeply about the planet and its people to be the change they want to see AND take better care of themselves.
Trying to live more ethically/sustainably can be overwhelming and exhausting. If we don’t meet our own needs first, and figure out how to most effectively spend our time and energy (and money), then it’s pretty impossible to stay motivated and keep making the changes we need (and want) to make.
It’s not always easy when life is hectic and stressful. That’s why I strongly believe we need a societal shift away from valuing profit above all else – and towards valuing our time, our health and our home (aka planet Earth) above all else. Towards having more time for ourselves and each other.
I believe this shift is fundamental to tackling global issues such as climate change, poverty and inequality.
I also believe it’s totally possible, we just need the will to make it happen. And it starts with each and every one of us who has the privilege to be able to choose to slow down and live with less, to do it.
Let’s embrace and champion slowness. Are you with me?
Slowing Down in a Fast World is one of three online courses you get access to when you join the Striving for Simple membership (as well as other benefits). If you would like to be the first to hear when the doors to the Striving for Simple membership open again, join the waitlist here.