Slow Down

I started listening to Tim Ferriss’s podcast sometime last year, mostly for his productivity tips, but sometimes he has some great interviews. He recently sat down for an epic, 2-hour long conversation with my company’s founder, Matt Mullenweg.

My favorite part of the podcast was the very last question, when Tim asked Matt: “If you could give your 20-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?” His reply:

Slow down.

We talked about it with running earlier, slow down to go further.

I think a lot of the mistakes of my youth were mistakes of ambition, not mistakes of sloth. And I think building foundations, building things that last for the long term… obviously some of that has happened, but, some of it I think I rushed through.

Education, I definitely kind of squandered. Even when I was in high school they put great books in front of us, like The Great Gatsby… I kind of just did the bare minimum pass the class or pass the test, when now I would kill for the luxury to really sit down with one of those books and dive into it and discuss it.

And so just slowing down. Whether that’s meditating, whether that’s taking time for yourself away from screens, whether that’s really focusing in on who you’re talking to, or who you’re with. But, as I’ve aged [laughs], I know it sounds ridiculous because I’m only 31…

I had a lot of success at a young age which is intimidating because you sometimes think, ‘Am I ever going to top this?’ Or, ‘Did I peak, at 20 or 21,’ when I was doing polyphasic sleep and writing these new things, and ‘everything since then has been downhill.’ You wonder about impact on the world.

But ultimately, it’s funny that now what I care more about is a lot narrower. It’s the people who you love and the people that love you. And — you don’t always choose either of those, sometimes you can’t help who you fall in love with. Life would be so much easier if you could. And you don’t always choose who falls in love with you. But there’s responsibility on both. And really focusing on those people, I find, has contributed more to my happiness, than almost anything else. 

This passage really spoke to me, because I’ve been really trying to slow down over the past year, something my dad has been telling me to do since I was a little kid. Nowadays, I meditate (almost) every single morning, and I completed a milestone of 100 sessions last week. I also walk a lot. Instead of rushing from place to place, I try to enjoy the time in-between.

Also – I’ve always known that the people in my life are important to me, but there’s a huge gap between knowing that conceptually, and living that in practice. I learned last summer that nothing makes me happier than spending time with people I care about, and I realized I hadn’t been properly prioritizing friends and family. This year, my New Year’s resolution was to “slow down and make space in my life for people.” It sounds a bit vague, but in practice that means:

  • People over screens. When I work on my laptop, I tend to block the entire world out. Now when someone comes up to me (at my co-working space or in a coffee shop), instead of speaking to them curtly and returning to work, I will make sure to break away from what I’m doing and focus on the conversation in front of me. A real human being in front of me is always more important than what’s on the screen.
  • Put the phone down. I take a similar approach when hanging out with friends – I try really hard to put my phone away. Also when I’m sitting in presentations or on phone calls – the person who is taking the time to present or talk to me is more important than any distraction on a screen.
  • Making space for conversations. I’m the kind of weirdo where if I’m not being productive I get irritated. I always have to be accomplishing something, and sometimes I’ll cut short friend visits or conversations to work on something. Now I ask myself: is finishing that blog post more important than enjoying my friend’s company? Usually, it can wait an hour or two.
  • Replying to correspondence. I’m notoriously terrible at getting back to personal emails and messages, and for a Third Culture Kid who has friends scattered around the world, that’s not a good thing. I now make time on weekends specifically to reply to friends and family, and to catch up with friends far away on the phone.
  • Replying to requests. Getting better at emails also means taking time to reply to strangers as well. I actually get a surprising number of emails to my personal inbox with random questions or requests, and I’m a horrible person in that I don’t always get back to them all. I’m really making an effort to reply (and have been blogging them where appropriate).
  • Being present with random interactions. In life, if I’m talking to a barista, or an uber driver, or the old man who sat by me at the airport this afternoon, or even just walking down the street, I try to put my phone away, take my earbuds out, and actually pay attention to the interaction with the person or people in front of me.

In general, the resolution is about small daily adjustments to make myself slow down, focus on the people around me, and enjoy the present moment that I share with them. It’s a lot easier said than done, but I think slowing down makes us all live longer – we’re experiencing life as it happens, instead of rushing through it to get somewhere else. And where else are you trying to go, anyway?

More reading: Last year I suffered from debilitating panic attacks, and discovering meditation really made a huge difference for me. The book that helped me understand the practice of meditation more thoroughly was 10% Happier by Dan Harris. I never thought I’d be the kind of person to read a book about meditation, but I liked this book because it was kind of goofy, pretty skeptical, and very honestly written.