The other day someone posted on social media captioned: “Money Never Sleeps.” And I thought, “Yeah, but you have to sleep.”
I get it. He’s hard working. He makes a fortune, and could even be financially independent. But he’s certainly not wealthy. Why? Because his schedule is packed, his days are overloaded, and has no free time to do what he wants.
Where is the affluence in that? He has money but not the time to enjoy it. He has financial freedom but choose to relentlessly pursue more instead. He is a victim of mindlessness, ambition, or distraction. In many ways, his life is more impoverished than those who have far less.
We all have the same number of hours each day to accomplish things. Nobody, rich or famous, has more than twenty-four hours. Our main task is to find the right balance between achievement and enjoyment within the given time frame. Of course, it is not easy for most people.
The symptoms are pretty obvious when things are out of place. Friends and families are talking, but we aren’t listening. We’re trapped mindlessly between what is happening around us and what is happening somewhere else. We’re roaming about what will happen tomorrow or even 30 minutes from now. In the process, we miss a lot!
Of course, modern society puts a premium on speed and efficiency. Likely, many people figure they can accomplish more by doing two or three things at once. But there is a price to pay.
My former mentor explained it like this: “We will die, that much is certain; and everyone we have ever loved will die too, sometimes before us. Busyness numbs the pain of this awareness, but it can never totally submerge it. Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do, what we want to say, what and who we care about, and how we want to allocate our time to these things within the limits that do not and cannot change. In short, we need to slow down.”
He has a point. And there are basic practices that can assist you:
- Shoshin: the beginner’s mind. Looking at things like a beginner helps you see and think about different outcomes from a unique and better perspective. It forces you to slow down and ask questions before proceeding to a final solution. This is pertinent as a way to think and second-guess an otherwise rushed reaction. Whether trying to subdue your anger or making a deliberate effort to better evaluate an important decision, it's worth reminding yourself to look at things like you're seeing them for the first time.
- Take deep and slow breaths. Doctors say slower breathing is one of the simplest ways to better health. Deep breathing lowers stress and reduces systolic blood pressure. It allows oxygen to get down to the smallest airways in our lungs, the alveoli, where the oxygen exchange is most efficient. Quick, shallow breathing causes your body to release less nitrous oxide, so your organs and tissues are less oxygenated.
- Eat mindfully. My meditation teacher taught me this one. And I'm a big fan. When you eat mindfully, you take the time to contemplate on the food you're about to eat. When you eat mindfully you eat more slowly and you will eat less. There is a lag time between when the stretch receptors in your stomach signal it is time to stop eating and your brain gets the message. If you slow your intake, you'll savor your meals more, and shed some waistline in the process. And don’t forget to be thankful.
- Meditate. Sometimes the best way to slow down is to sit still, do nothing, and simply be attentive. Recent studies from Harvard University found that long-term meditators have increased amounts of gray matter in some areas of the brain. The study also reported an increase of electrical activity in regions of the left frontal lobe, an area that tends to be more active in optimistic people. Besides reducing stress and anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and other stress-related disorders, meditation also fosters clear thinking and increases our capacity for empathy and compassion. Beginners, you can start by closing your eyes and feeling the breath at the tip of the nose. As you inhale, fell the gentle air coming through the nostrils. And do the same when you exhale. It’s normal for the mind to wander, just refocus back to the breath at the tip of the nose. Try to maintain this level of awareness for at least 10-15 minutes. Stillness won’t hurt your life and maybe you'll gain wisdom in the process.
- Detachment from technology. Every time you pull out your phone to scan your social media accounts or every mindless web-browsing perpetuates a subtle habit that could build up into something gruesome. A 30-minute entertainment break could easily turn into a half-day binge. Routine technology detachment isn’t just ideal, but critical. Don’t go rushing and pulling out your phone the minute you wake-up out of bed for God’s sake. Wait until you finish your morning routine or drop-off the kids at school before checking. I personally like to wait for a couple of hours before replying to a message. I’d also routinely go a full 24-48 hours without touching my gadgets. Of course, different things work for different people, but you don’t quite realize how much of your daily attention is being hijacked until you step away.
- Have a pleasant walk. I normally commute with a bicycle to work, but some days there just aren't any bikes around so I must walk to my next class. The trouble is that some classes are no where near each other. I can walk there berating the situation for being so annoying, muttering about wasting time and energy, lamenting myself for not noticing that I was foolish, and so forth. Or I can approach it as a walking “exercise", as a meditative activity. I breathe slowly as I start my walk, observe my breath, my footsteps, the world around me as I pass through; I savor the feelings, the scenes. I do, in other words, what Buddhists describe as a walking meditation. I soon find that there is no annoyance or resentment. I am simply having a pleasant walk.
- Drive slow. Driving your automobiles slowly prevents accidents. Each year millions of motorists killed or injured because they were in a rush. It's stressful enough to sit in long commutes. It's even harder to hold the temptation and just press the gas pedal all the way. But by slowing down we're preventing ourselves from being struck by injury or worse, death. And we ignite our driving awareness in the process.
- Ruthless single-tasking. Multi-tasking is overrated and not an effective way to be productive, especially mental taxing work. “When we are engaged in multiple task simultaneously, our brains are filled with a lot of attention residue,” said University of Washington Business School Professor Sophie Leroy. “It also effects your ability to perform new tasks.” Instead, focus on single-task work over extended period to help reverse these adverse side-effects. Performing task one at a time is also more productive and attention-friendly. In fact, single-tasking has the similar approach as mindfulness. The more you do it, the better you get at it to direct your attention to where it matters.
- Stop chasing the market. I started dipping my toes in the stock market early. I had a nice portfolio set-up. To grow my investment, I day-traded in college. As a trader, I'd often chase to make-up for lost capital by trading risky derivatives (futures and options), buying penny stocks, or rolling the dice with hot tips from the media. That was a BIG MISTAKE. When it comes to meeting long-term investment goals, our great mentor Warren Buffet has a very good piece of advice: “Start early, invest regularly, reacting slowly or hardly at all, and go back to work.” Slowing down is part of successful money management and Mr. Buffet's advice is indeed, a winning combination.
A more deliberate pace enhances your quality of life. There’s an old Chinese saying, “Man in hurry cannot walk with dignity.” A constant flurry of activity does not present an attractive image. And it creates stress and anxiety, causing you to miss a lot of what is going on around you. As the philosopher Lin Yutang noted, “The wise man is not hurried and the hurried man is not wise.”
We all have obligations and deadlines. But hurry and extreme future-mindedness impoverish the present. What we value most are love, friendship, solace, beauty, and humor. Yet these things are best appreciated or communicated face to face in a calm, relaxed setting.
Slowing down enhances your sense of gratitude, improves your mental and physical health, allows you to gain control of your life, lets you appreciate beauty, and enables you to reconnect with those around you.
Sometimes the best way to spend a day is savoring what you’ve got before it's gone