Carl Honore on slowing down

First aired on The Sunday Edition (10/2/13)


We live in a fast-forward world. We're stressed out, maxed out and exhausted, even though we are surrounded by "modern conveniences" designed to make our lives easier. In recent years, the Slow Movement has emerged as a direct reaction to our sped-up lives. And the most famous advocate of the Slow Movement is Canadian journalist Carl Honoré, whose best-selling book, In Praise of Slow, garnered international attention when it was published in 2004. Now, nine years later, Honoré is back in the slow lane. His latest, The Slow Fix, explores how slowing down can encourage creativity and minimize mistakes, and may even benefit business and people in the long run.

Honoré first realized he was living life on fast-forward about 10 years ago. He had a young family, but as a busy journalist, he wasn't slowing down to even spend quality time with his son. "I had become a road runner," he explained to The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright in a recent conversation onstage at the Toronto Reference Library. "Every moment of every day was a race against the clock and that virus of hurry had infected every corner of my life." This included reading to his son at bedtime. "I would go into his room at the end of the evening and I could not slow down. I would sit down on his bed, with one foot on the floor, speed reading Snow White, skipping lines, paragraphs and whole pages."

Honoré realized this was no way to live after reading an article about how to tell a one-minute bedtime story. He began to look at his "addiction to speed," and he realized he wasn't alone. It was a symptom of modern life.

But why? Honoré believes "there's a cocktail of reasons" for our social addiction to an accelerated life. First, we are hardwired for it. "We are programmed to seek out short term thrills and rewards." Second, constantly rushing through things means that we don't stop and smell the roses, but it also means we don't stop to think about life's bigger problems either. "Speed in a way becomes an instrument of denial," Honoré said. "It's a running away from deeper questions and bigger problems." Finally, while the Industrial Revolution and information technology evolution made our lives easier in many ways, it created an expectation that things can -- and should -- be done very, very quickly.


In The Slow Fix, Honoré argues we need to slow down, not just in our personal lives, but in our professional ones too. Businesses that encourage "slow" thinking -- that is, work processes that aren't deadline- or productivity-driven -- have more productive, more successful employees. Honoré points to Google's "20 percent" practice as an example. Google employees are allowed to spend 20 per cent of their work week on personal projects. There are no deadlines and no productivity measures for this time. "It sounds, on the face of it , like a waste of time or a slacker's charter," Honoré admits. but the results have been exactly the opposite: "Many of Google's home-run products -- Gmail and Google News -- came out of that 20 per cent time."

Honoré believes "there's an intimate bond between the slow fix and creativity" and this is true for all professions, not just artists or Google engineers. "Whatever work we do, our best ideas don't come when we are juggling nine emails or racing to a 5 o'clock deadline," he said. "They come when we are soaking in the bath or walking through the park with our phone switched off or swinging in a hammock." When employees aren't distracted or driven by outside measures, they are "able to slip into that richer, more nuanced form of thinking." This is because "when we are relaxed, our brains will create more complex patterns and creative breakthroughs."

So what can someone do to kick-start their own slow fix? Honoré says it's easy. Take five breaths whenever you feel stressed. Do a "speed audit" whenever you feel you are going too fast. If you can slow down, slow down. Schedule "unscheduled" time and allow yourself to dawdle, putter or relax. And last, but not least, schedule "screen-free" time. "The brain needs those moments," Honoré said, and giving it that time makes a difference. People who slow down are "happier, healthier, enjoying their family time more and coming back to the office sharper and with better ideas."

Watch Carl's TedTalk below:

Related links: