Why did you decide to write a book about slowing down?
Because my life had become an endless race against the clock. I was always in a hurry, scrambling to save a minute here, a few seconds there. My wake-up call came when I found myself toying with the idea of buying a collection of "One-Minute Bedtime Stories." Suddenly it hit me: my rushaholism has got so out of hand that I'm even willing to speed up those precious moments with my son at the end of the day. There has to be a better way, I thought, because living in fast forward is not really living at all. That's why I began investigating the possibility of slowing down.
What did you discover?
That our obsession with speed is taking a terrible toll on our work, diet and health, our relationships and sex lives. The good news, however, is that more and more people around the world are resisting the pressure to do everything in a hurry. And, by slowing down, they are enjoying richer, fuller lives.
Are you anti-speed?
No, definitely not. I love speed. I like my Internet connection to be fast and I take planes all over the place. I play two of the fastest sports around, ice-hockey and squash, in my spare time. Speed has its place in the modern world. Often you have to move quickly, particularly at work. The problem is that speed has become a way of life. We do everything in a rush. We are stuck in fast forward and that's unhealthy.
But isn't slowing down just a privilege for the affluent?
Far from it. I think people get hung up on the idea that slowing down is always and only about working and earning less. It is not. Even if putting in fewer hours at the office or factory is not an option, most of us can decelerate in our free time. And there are loads of ways to slow down that will fit any budget. These include: walking instead of driving; indulging in leisurely love-making; giving children more free time; reading instead of watching television; eating home-cooked meals with family and friends; taking up relaxing hobbies such as gardening or knitting; practising yoga, Tai Chi or meditation; unplugging from technology from time to time. Simply resisting the urge to hurry unnecessarily is free.
But surely cutting work hours is an important part of slowing down, and that must mean economic sacrifice, individually and collectively?
Getting a good work-life balance often entails working less. But the economic cost is often not as high as you think. Working fewer hours, or finding room for slow moments in the workday, can actually make people more productive. But when you talk about a society working fewer hours, then you have to ask a bigger question: What do we really want from life? An economy whose sole aim is to maximize GDP growth and make everyone consume as much as possible? Or an economy that allows people to be ambitious and entrepreneurial, but without turning every moment of the day into a rush, and without burning out the planet and everyone on it? When push comes to shove, I think most of us want the latter.
Even if people are slowing down, is there really such a thing as a Slow movement?
Definitely. Like most movements for social change, the Slow movement is not a formal organization. It is a loose collection of individuals and groups who share the same belief: that we can live better if we live more slowly. Down at the grassroots, though, Slow activists are forging links across the world. And increasingly the movement has short, catchy word to rally round. Everywhere, the English word "Slow" is being used as shorthand for a better, more balanced way of doing things. Italy has spawned the Slow Food, Slow Cities and Slow Sex movements. The Japanese aspire to what they call "Slow Life". Holland and Denmark have Slow Life networks. An American professor of education recently published a manifesto for "Slow Schooling". In Dutch, my book is called Slow, and in German it is Slow Life.
So how would you define the Slow philosophy?
Despite the name, it is not about slowing the whole world down to a crawl. The aim is to do everything at the right speed: Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes in between. Being Slow means taking the time to get the most out of life. It means never hurrying for the sake of it.
How have you applied the Slow philosophy to your own life?
Yes, and it has paid off. I have eased the pressure on my time by giving up tennis, re-arranging my work deadlines and resisting the temptation to fill up every hole in my schedule. I now keep an eye on my own speed, and when I find myself hurrying unnecessarily, I slow down. Meditation is helping me develop an inner calm. No longer wearing a watch seems to make me less neurotic about the passage of time. The net result is that I feel more relaxed and less stressed. I also enjoy everything more — work, family, friends, sports, food.
Are there drawbacks to slowing down?
Depending on your circumstances, slowing down may mean earning less money, or dropping a hobby. And shifting down a gear can make some people feel restless and fidgety. But such sacrifices are small — and often short-lived — compared to what we gain in quality of life. In my research, I spoke to hundreds of people who had slowed down in one way or another. Almost all were happy with the outcome.
How can I start slowing down?
Embracing the Slow creed means rethinking your whole approach to life. But everyone has to start somewhere, so here are five tips for decelerating:
1. Leave holes in the diary rather than striving to fill every moment with activity. Easing the pressure on your time will help you to slow down.
2. Set aside a time of day to turn off all the technology that keeps us buzzing — phones, computers, pagers, email, television, radio. Use the break to sit quietly somewhere, alone with your thoughts. Or try meditating.
3. Make time for at least one hobby that slows you down, such as reading, painting, gardening or yoga.
4. Eat supper at the table instead of balancing it on your lap it in front of the TV.
5. Always monitor your speed. If you’re doing something more quickly than you need to simply out of habit, then take a deep breath and slow down.