Slow might sound like a nice thing to do for ourselves, but what does Slow have to do with the ability of human beings to thrive into the future?

‘Fast’ culture privileges speed, immediacy, quantity and the short term over the long term, and leaves us in a state of hyper-stimulation and reactiveness. While a quantity-over-quality, ‘take away-throw away’ mindset is a familiar problem for many sustainability professionals, two problems arising from a Fast orientation that I would like to call out to consider as deeper issues are disconnection and short-sightedness.

Disconnection

I often lament over the inadequacy of the English language (or at least my grasp over it) to express what I mean by connection. But indulge me for a second.

Most obviously, disconnection from nature is extremely problematic. Research shows that people who have never had a special place in nature (my interpretation: never felt a connection to nature) are unlikely to exhibit pro-environmental behaviour. Someone wise said something along the lines of “you need to see if you are to want to save it.” I would take that one step further say “you need to feel it if you are to want to save it.” We need to let go of the barrier of the ego which keeps us feeling like a separate entity from the rest of nature. Nature is not just our playground, but we are an integral part of it, and the rest of life is an integral part of us.

If we are not connected to ourselves we cannot appreciate what we feel about situations that we face or know what we feel passionate about, let alone devise proactive responses. Talk about a barrier to being an engaged and active citizen! When we are going fast, it is all too easy to remain operating at a very superficial level of being. Indeed, I feel this is a large part of why we remain on a Fast course. Much like a long-neglected friendship, it can be painful and scary to try to get to know yourself, with some serious trust issues thrown in for good measure.

Not connecting with others is also a huge sustainability issue. Often sustainability issues are complex or wicked problems. Dealing with wicked problems is primarily a social process. This means needing to understand each other, having empathy and a sense of collective meaning. It seems to me that we are really struggling to find empathy for others in tough circumstances, struggling to make the time to listen and be able to see things from others’ points of view and let trust develop.

Short-sightedness 

Humans have evolved to privilege the short term for survival reasons. Biases in thinking are a fact of being human. Types of biases that are particularly pertinent to longterm and holistic thinking necessary for considering sustainability issues include:

Biases that steer the decisions of groups towards quick fixes include:

  • action-oriented biases – we are overly optimistic about the outcome of planned actions and overestimate our ability to influence future outcomes leading to jumping into solutions where more caution would be warranted. We think the quick fix will work
  • legacy bias – we have an emotional attachment to investments already made, leading us to prefer directions stemming from that legacy
  • current moment bias – we prefer decisions that result in pain in the future rather than in the present
  • stability biases – tendency toward inertia in the presence of uncertainty; we don’t want to see real change, just enough change to make it seem like the problem will go away

Fast culture exacerbates these tendencies to focus on immediate issues. It takes a level of pro-activeness in order to think about the long term. With the constant stream of new information, bombardment of stimuli that snatches our attention and a culture that values immediacy and kind of compression occurs which leaves us with little room to enter a depth of thought to consider the long term and the complexity and uncertainty that goes along with it. We don’t want to wait for anything anymore.

Our short-sightedness also prevents us from considering a wider view, resulting in less ability to take into account impacts on the harder to measure stuff, such as social impact and environmental externalities.

We will be workshopping how sustainability professionals can utilise Slow principles and practices in their work on Friday April 11. Email me to rsvp claire@theslowproject.com

sustainability workshop invite

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When I first started considering the concept of Slow, one of the reasons it resonated with me was that it is completely congruent with one of my other passions, facilitation (the art and science of serving a group to enable it to perform its best work, among other definitions). Here are a few of the congruences. 

1. Presence and intention as the facilitator’s main role

I consider presence and intention to be at the heart of the Slow conceptual framework and I am wondering if this is also true for facilitation.

One of the things that was first impressed upon as a budding facilitator, was the motto ‘first facilitate thyself.’ This means developing self-awareness and practicing staying centered because facilitating groups is an emotional and psychological journey. We must do this because the most fundamental role of the facilitator, it could be argued, is catalysing presence. Presence allows a group to connect to each other, act cohesively, be more aware of what is going on during a discussion and be in the ‘flow’ of the conversation, ensuring the purpose of the gathering receives  full attention.

To me, it feels like facilitators act as a pivot point for the group. We help keep the focus and energy grounded in the room. Just like the physical act of pivoting requires grounding and stability, acting as this pivot requires the facilitator to be connected to themselves at a deep level and present to what is going on in the room so that the energy can be orchestrated.

From the outset of a workshop, the facilitator must be centred and present (I call this being ‘Slow in space’) because how the facilitator is will greatly affect how the group enters the room. Emotions resonate and catch on. I’ve heard it said that it takes about 20 minutes for everybody in a meeting to feel the same emotion so a facilitator must be how they would like the group to be. By helping a group slip into a more present and connected state, we enable them to remain cohesive, keeping a sense of the collective. Once members start forgetting their common purpose and act as individuals with competing interests then the focus on achieving the team’s goal is lost.

How we ‘set up the space’ is crucial to how the group functions. Part of this is how we help the group connect with their collective intent. How people are invited to show up goes a long way to framing the intent. Then surfacing that intent explicitly during a workshop, ensuring that there is a common understanding of what is the intent of the group at this particular meeting.

2. Facilitators use ‘Slow’ tools

I propose that the core Slow principles can all be translated into skills and practices that we use to implement Slow in our lives. Facilitators likewise have a set a tools that put Slow principles into action in group settings.

Slow practices Tools of facilitation examples 
Presence we use being present to the group to sense what is going on with the dynamics of the groupwe use being present to ourselves to monitor our own reactions and sense our intuition so that we can be of better service for the group
Mindfulness & Slow Thinking we help groups think about problems from different angles to minimise biases influencing decisionswe use ‘noticing’ as a tool to help the group become aware of dynamics which may influence their work
Reflecting we allow silence to give the opportunity for reflection as well as building in reflective activities to encourage insight
“Connection to self”: depth, centredness we use connection to ourselves as facilitators to remain grounded and not be swept up into the emotion of the groupwe draw the group members into a state of presence, asking participants questions to invite them to slow down and look inside
“Connection to others”: presence, empathy, coherence  we use dialogue as a tool to enable empathy, a crucial factor to group being able to act as a group rather than a bunch of individuals
doing less things but doing them well avoiding ‘over-processing’ the group to keep them busy doing stuff to make it look like a productive workshop
relaxation use of playfulness to open the group to new ways of being
honouring natural rhythms and cycles taking into account how groups form and maintainworking with the cycle of problem identification and solution forming; moving through divergence with dialogue and then into convergence with deliberation 

3. Help avoid the quick fix trap

Humans err towards quick fixes; over-simplistic solutions that take action in the immediate term. Why? We are equipped with biases that help us survive. These evolved out of the need to avoid life and death situations. Now our survival issues are usually less immediate but our brains haven’t quite caught up. For example we are designed to want to eat calorie-laden food which served as a protective mechanism in the past but now is killing us with chronic disease.

Biases that steer the decisions of groups towards quick fixes include:

  • action-oriented biases – we are overly optimistic about the outcome of planned actions and overestimate our ability to influence future outcomes leading to jumping into solutions where more caution would be warranted. We think the quick fix will work
  • legacy bias – we have an emotional attachment to investments already made, leading us to prefer directions stemming from that legacy
  • current moment bias – we prefer decisions that result in pain in the future rather than in the present
  • stability biases – tendency toward inertia in the presence of uncertainty; we don’t want to see real change, just enough change to make it seem like the problem will go away

Fast culture also exacerbates a natural tendency to focus on immediate issues. We don’t want to wait for anything anymore.

Facilitators with a good knowledge of how groups make decisions can help take the bias out of decisions ensuring that a sound process is followed for example:

  • discuss biases explicitly
  • ensuring sufficient time is given to problem definition and options generation to avoid action-oriented biases
  • explicitly exploring major uncertainties to avoid over-simplification of the issues
  • drawing out a diversity of views, including those that contradict the opinion of higher ranked individuals
  • making sure that those with skill, experience and different points of views are invited to participate in decision making along with those with rank and authority
  • ensure the appropriate work gets done to assist decision making outside of meetings, for example data analysis, working groups assigned to explore different hypotheses and options
  • create an environment of trust so that people with differing opinions feel comfortable to speak up; disassociate views on the issue from personal conflicts
  • use visual aids as transitional objects to help keep the discussion objective and ensure all points are being taken into account
  • using criteria for decision making
  • get some or all of the group to play devil’s advocate (‘premortem technique’)

These are just some of my initial ideas and I know there are many more experienced facilitators out there! Would love to hear your thoughts on the above and your ideas on how Slow gets implemented through the work of facilitators. We are going to explore some of these topics at the AFN WA event on Thursday April 10. All welcome.

As I mentioned in my post on how I got to Slow, one of my first big lessons that still echoes inside my head is the importance of being good to yourself in order to be of any use to the rest of the world.

I have identified a number of ways in which the Slow movement can help a changemaker become more effective. I will present these in a series of posts.

The lesson about taking care of yourself is so important that I have noted this to myself multiple times in various ways. This makes me think that it is likely a hard lesson to learn for many people driven to create change; their passion is a strength but also an Achilles heel. A burnt-out shell of a person is no good to anyone.

I wonder if even changemakers who acknowledge the complexity of the problem situations they are working with still succumb to our fast culture’s need for immediacy. Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time so make sure are armed with good physical and mental health.

Slow & physical health

Research shows that our model of work, work, work Monday to Friday then take a weekend or a few weeks holiday every year, is not ideal to help the body and mind rest and rejuvenate. We need short, consistent bursts of rest and relaxation and also honour our natural, longer rhythms by having deeper periods of rejuvenation on a weekly, monthly, seasonal, annual basis.

We are no longer accustomed to letting ‘time heal all wounds.’ We want the quick fix to our ailments; in pill form, please. In one session we expect a manual therapist to fix our back we have spent years neglecting. Slow Medicine is emerging, which Carl Honore describes as ‘taking time to work out the root cause of ailments; learning what we can from the patient; taking a holistic approach to traditional forms of medicine; marrying medical treatment with wider changes in lifestyle; and treating the mind and body together.’

Slow & mental health

Happiness is crucial to the effectiveness of a changemaker. Research shows that happiness drives performance far more than performance drives happiness. When you are optimistic and experiencing positive emotion your peripheral vision is wider so you are more likely to notice things, your brain is more creative (conversely, stress inhibits creativity) and resourceful and performance at intuitive problem solving improves. Dopamine increases which gives you motivation to take action.

Lets look briefly at PERMA, the most recent framework for understanding happiness from the Grandfather of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. This framework offers five key ingredients for lasting happiness.

P = position emotion. Human beings are hardwired to err to the negative (which is useful in avoiding risk but not great for our happiness). To experience greater levels of positive emotion, we may need to actively work against this tendency. This is a massive topic but one of the more fascinating findings is that mindfulness increases positive emotion more than daydreaming about the future, even when the activity you’re being present to is something you don’t like!! By being more present we are more able to take pleasure in the small stuff.

Another relevant Slow idea is taking time for reflection and contemplative practices. By going within ourselves we decouple from the constant barrage of information from the outside world. This decoupling is an essential characteristic of a resilient organism. Take time daily to notice the great stuff that happened to you. A simple, effective and well-researched technique I do is write down 3 things I am grateful for every night before I go to bed. I found it is quite impossible to be disingenuous when doing this; grateful is a magic emotion that lets all negativity slide away like water off a ducks back.

E = engagement. This refers to experiencing the state of flow. Flow is being fully engaged in the present moment, where the sense of time and even the sense of self falls away as you engage seamlessly with the task at hand. Not only does this feel incredible, but is also related to peak performance and learning. Slow practices of mindfulness and presence enhance our ability to experience flow.

R = relationships, connection to others. By slowing down, listening and being present to others we are more able to experience, form deep connections and experience improved relationships with others.

M = meaning. To purposefully create a meaningful life we need to understand what is that we truly care about. The motivations that come from inside of us, not imposed from the external. This can be a difficult task entangling the two. We need to shut up, reflect and listen to ourselves more often. Otherwise, how can we even know what we care about in order to find meaning? Not only that, but we can see meaning when we understand how things are connected. For that, practice presence which enables us to see richness.

A = achievement. We need to be quite reflective and able to change habits in order to set and achieve goals. By reflecting we give ourselves opportunity to realise the little daily accomplishments rather than always thinking of the future.

Slow makes people happy. Happier changemakers are more effective changemakers.

‘Slow’ is much more than simply ‘a slow pace’ or a measure of how much activity is conducted vs time. Slow is a meme that encompasses various expressions of the adaptive response to our addiction to speed that has cemented itself in modern culture. This reaction is an adaptive response to the deleterious effects of Fast culture. This wordcloud is displays all the stuff I’ve found so far that has been pre-fixed with ‘Slow.’ There is definitely something happening at the level of cultural dynamics.

Memes are like packets carrying cultural ideas, symbols and practices that are transmitted from one person to another as part of the dynamics of cultural change. Within the Slow ‘packet’ there is a fascinating, rich, and I believe, fundamental wisdom.

When attempting to define Slow, we can look at how it has been used so far. We saw the first verbalisation of the Slow meme with Slow Food. The Slow Food movement arose as a reaction to Fast Food and the impact Fast Food was having on the environment, biodiversity, local traditions, local economies and the social impact on food producers and consumers. The founders of Slow Food sought to highlight all that is to be treasured about producing, preparing and sharing food in a way that nurtures the land and connections between people and celebrates diversity of cultures and species.

I think we can safely say that the Slow Movement has pinpointed the following statements (not a definitive list) about Slow. Slow:

  • is not about going at a slow pace all the time; it is about finding the right speed to suit the situation
  • seeks to rescue the wisdom we forego with our obsession for immediacy
  • is about quality over quantity; doing less things but doing them well, rather than many things hurriedly
  • enables us to see and take joy in the small things, in the richness that we all too often miss when we’re going fast
  • builds strong connections between people; enhances social capital
  • promotes sustainability by promoting a decrease in the rate of consumption and being more aware of internal and external impacts

At the heart of Slow I truly believe are ideas and values that have the potential to heal some serious issues of our times. I am excited that with this project I am able to contribute to the unearthing of a Slow conceptual framework. I suspect our understanding of what Slow is has some refinement to be done and I feel we may be missing some of the transformational power of the meme without it. Some ideas, informed by positive psychology and neuroscience, about what may be ingredients in a conceptual framework of Slow include:

  • presence and mindfulness are the foundation – awareness is required to judge what the ‘right speed’ actually is and then supports implementation of changes we want to make (it takes mindfulness to break out of habitual patterns)
  • ‘Slow in space’ – presence is like being slow in space rather than slow in time
  • rhythms and cycles – inform what the right speed is and allowing synchrony with natural rhythms can make finding Slow less effortful
  • dynamic balance between the extremes of frozen and fast
  • relationship between Slow and depth; by going Slow we can go deep to the core of ourselves and situations
  • connection via resonance, coherence and synchronicity; less priority placed on the ego
  • a finessed use of consciousness; our deliberate, intentional Slow Thinking system

These two sets of ideas are my starting point for my investigations into Slow. I will be presenting more in-depth material on these concepts as the project progress, but I hope this has communicated just what an incredibly rich and potent concept Slow is.

**I know some of these concepts may seem a little abstract for now, but fear not. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate how these play out in everyday life and explain how to implement these concepts.

Leading up to the New Year, I had planned to write a substantial blog post on intention setting.

As the time drew nearer however I became increasingly anxious about that. Not because I couldn’t write about the theory and practice of intention setting, but because I still feel there is a decent gap between I intend to be and where I am. I felt like I would be being disingenuous writing about intention setting from this state. But then I remembered that the point of this phase of the project is to use my story of transformation to help others, not from the point of view of ‘expert’!

I also realised what a difference there is between having intention and living with intention. 

I already had a strong intention when I had the idea for the Slow Project. As I mentioned in this post, I was actively searching for a way I could contribute using my strengths, experience and interest. I had already done a lot of reflecting and sketching out of rough ideas. With the intent so clear it seemed completely natural when the inspiration and idea for the Slow Project occurred.

What came next was me learning about how I had to transform myself in order to deliver on this intent. After a while, when I thought I had done quite a lot of learning about the importance of routine and removing the need to decide on things that don’t matter, I was waiting for my behaviour to all fall into place. And I waited some more. And then I got frustrated at myself. This frustration was the gap between my intent and how I was living day to day.

So finally (yes I was impatient, but as I mentioned I need this Slow transition myself!), I began to implement small steps to help bridge that gap, instead of expecting it to happen all at once.

Let me share with you the top 3 things that have helped me keep my intention closer (still integrating and adjusting with these practices) to me as I move throughout my day:

1. Begin each morning consciously  Read More