🔗Slowing Down

I went for a walk today and it was really nice. Not walking to get somewhere or walking for exercise, just walking for the sake of walking. Before too long I was having some deep, almost philosophical thoughts.

I realised I really like going for walks. Exploring like you would in another country, collecting your thoughts. It's humbling to slow down and do something simple. I think it's particularly important to me because I often find myself in productivity mode. It makes sense to balance that out by consciously slowing down.

It also makes sense because life is ultimately pointless. We're cosmically unimportant so it doesn't really matter what you do or don't do and it certainly doesn't matter how quickly you get things done. I haven't found this perspective to be overly helpful. It's a bit like replacing "you only live once" with "you're already dead".

Today I started thinking about this in a different way. Time makes things matter. If you two methods to achieve a goal and only have time to try one then the method you choose matters. Jeff Bezos calls these one-way decisions. On the other hand, if you don't have a time constraint you would just do one, then the other, if the first didn't work. You're not locked into either method so it's not a one-way decision.

It's a bit like how Eminem says "You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To, Man" at the end of Lose Yourself. This is true as long as you don't have time constraints, or the goal is fluffy enough to say you achieved it by the time constraint. "I want to be a multi-platinum rapper by the end of tomorrow" is probably not possible. "You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow" kind of thing.

To make things more complicated, if you're under time pressure you might make a decision without considering whether it's a one-way decision or not. If you try something and it doesn't work, and you don't have time to try another option, then it's a one-way decision. You'll just have to let go and move on. Thankfully, time constraints are frequently made up. If you don't achieve your goal and have time to try another way then it's not a one-way decision. You can simply try another way, assuming you still care about it.

I generally tend to put some degree of thought into everything I do. For example, I think "I'll go for a coffee. It might be nice to have a warm beverage". Then a moment later I think "At the cost of $4 and some potential caffeine anxiety later on". That's not a huge problem and I don't have anything else planned so I go forward with the coffee.

What's interesting is getting a coffee is often infinitely better than I imagine it to be. I try a new place, the staff are friendly, the coffee is nice and the sun is nice. It's humbling. It's humbling because my idea of getting a coffee was so narrow, so one-dimensional. "Do I have time and is it cheap?". What's even more interesting is I don't seem to question this conceptualised version of getting a coffee for even a second. I'm subconsciously convinced that my idea of getting a coffee is accurate, even when time and time again I'm humbled by reality.

I wonder if I can change how I conceptualise things. Maybe with:

  • "Get a coffee if you think about getting a coffee." - This would almost certainly become a daily thing and I don't really want that.
  • "Get a coffee if you have time." - How will I know if I have time? How long should I spend working out if I have time? Should I make time for coffee?
  • "It doesn't matter if you get a coffee or not." - I don't find this to be very helpful because nothing really matters when you think about it.
  • "I'm frequently wrong and it might be nice to get a coffee and explore what that's like."

The last one really stands out to me. I like the idea of bringing more humility into my decision making. I enjoy getting a coffee because when I'm there I don't have any interest in scrolling my phone or checking my todo list. I just like to make space for the smaller things and soak it all up. It's strange, apparently that doesn't translate into my decision making.

I think it's because I'm often in productivity mode. I try to do things quickly, even when I probably don't need to. It seems to be a habit despite being unemployed for 4 months. I'm trying to go fast, maybe too fast. I'm reminded by the saying "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast", maybe that's right?

When you optimise for speed and productivity, it constrains how you think about, perceive and conceptualise the world around you. For starters, you're trying to make a decision. The only reason you would do that is because you care about time constraints, either of this activity or the opportunity cost of doing this activity.

There's a weird middle ground here. You're trying to decide whether you should slow down or not but if you slowed down further you would realise life doesn't matter. Maybe that means if you ever think about slowing down then you absolutely should slow down because you won't be able to conceptualise it anyway. The nice part about this is it works even when you have slowed down because you don't make decisions when you're doing things slowly, there's no time constraints so nothing really matters. Put another way, not making a decision is effectively making a decision to do whatever, and you don't even realise or think about it.

Earlier today, I was thinking through some decisions bigger than coffee. I was thinking about job offers and other projects but I felt a lot better about them now. I really believed they just didn't matter that much. Not thought they didn't matter but felt they didn't matter. I felt like I could walk up this street all day and not only would everything be fine, it would probably be better.

This is the mindset I want to practice more, I want to explore with an open mind. I've flirted with this idea before but found it's easily lost and easily forgotten when there's no shortage of distractions around us.

Money is one of those distractions. Here's an illustrated Alan Watts lecture about it if you're interested. Money is particularly distracting because it's widely accepted to be important by almost everyone. If I said I lost a job offer because I went for a very long walk and forgot to respond then you would probably call me dumb. I would be tempted to agree with you and even more so if other people told me the same thing. It's easy to fall into the middle ground I mentioned earlier where we try and conceptualise the value of a job offer versus a walk.

But ideas are easy criticize. It's harder to give them the space they need to grow. Jason Fried refers to this as Idea Protectionism. It means we should do dumb things because we might surprise ourselves, because we're frequently (and fundamentally) wrong. That might be why stepping outside your comfort zone, or "Thinking Outside the Box", can inspire creativity. The Köln Concert is a masterpiece played on a terrible piano, for example.

I guess we tend to undervalue simple things and simple ideas so I'm going to try and bring more humility into my decision making and slow down whenever it occurs to me.

My 30 minute walk today turned into some philosophical epiphanies, which turned into 1h of writing the first draft of this article, then 4h of editing and into my first published article in over a year and the first article I've written in a single day. On the other hand, it doesn't really matter much.

Anyway, I really like going for walks.