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.