Canadian journalist, author and TED speaker, Carl Honore, is a modern day philosopher who has made it his mission to deeply examine, and question, key aspects of society and life. Most notably, he focuses on our obsession with speed and rushing, and also our attitudes towards age and ageing, with his book Bolder.
Carl believes that slowing down could be the key to leading a richer, happier and more productive life. This doesn’t mean slowing to a halt, or doing everything at a snail’s pace. It means doing everything at “the right pace”, and living more mindfully, rather than racing through life. At a time in history when we are living longer, healthier lives, Carl, 52, reminds us that this concept of living slower is becoming even more important – as is the need to positively embrace ageing.
Dispelling the myth that younger is always better
Carl’s most recent book, Bolder, shows us how, in a time of longer lifespans, the lines of what is possible at every age, are blurring. Readers are encouraged to be bold, tear up the script, and break free of the stereotypes that restrict us to an outdated three stages of life – learning in our younger years, working throughout midlife, and only leaving some time for leisure towards the end.
Carl says, “Bolder is a rallying cry against ageism, and looks at how we can age better and feel better while doing it. It’s for anyone of any generation who is pondering, or worrying about, what it means to grow older. I wish there had been a book like this around when I was 30 because it would have saved me two decades of anxiety and dread! With this book, I’m taking on the cult of youth, and shooting down the myth that younger is always better. The real challenge facing us is not ageing; it’s ageism. But every age can be wonderful if we embrace it.”
The inspiration for Bolder came when Carl realised that he was the oldest attendee at a hockey tournament. He considered whether he looked out of place, and if he should take up a more gentle activity, like Bingo! From here, Carl began reflecting on the common connotations of ageing, and wondered why we tend to associate it with loss, sadness and decrepitude.
After getting stuck into some research, he was blown away by how much more contented people across the globe tend to be later in life. So, he set out to prove these outdated, downbeat assumptions about ageing wrong, and to spark a public debate about attitudes to ageing. Carl believes that if we want to give ourselves an equal chance of ageing better, then we need to rewrite the rules of everything, from the workplace and education to social services and design.
“Hurrying is the enemy of pleasure. When we try to do too much, we end up racing through life, instead of living it.”
For Carl, this moment of realisation at the hockey tournament wasn’t the only life experience that inspired him to look more closely at how we live our lives. During the early 2000s, he was forced to reevaluate the pace at which he was living his own life, after he found himself speed reading bedtime stories to his young son – skipping lines, paragraphs and even whole pages. He also toyed with the idea of purchasing a collection of one minute bedtime stories that took traditional children’s tales and condensed them into 60 second chunks.
Before Carl could buy the collection, he had what he can only describe as a lightbulb moment – where he saw just how fast he was moving. He remembers thinking, “Am I really in such a hurry, that I’m prepared to fob off my son with a soundbite, rather than a story?” Quickly realising that the answer was no, he began to ask broader questions, such as; “Why do we move so quickly?” and, “Is it really possible (or even desirable) to slow down in today’s modern world?”
These big questions took him around the world, where he met people of different ages, from different backgrounds and cultures – many of whom were in favour of the concept of slower living – even if they didn’t necessarily refer to it as that at the time. Then in 2004, Carl published, In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed; a book which brought all his encounters, experience and research together, and coined the phrase; ‘The Slow Movement.’ The book examines our compulsion to hurry, and encourages people to consider putting on the brakes, so that they can reconnect with their inner tortoise.
Giving greater insight into the thought behind the movement, Carl says, “Hurrying is the enemy of pleasure. When we try to do too much, we end up racing through life, instead of living it. Or to put it another way, putting quantity before quality.”
Credit: Madeleine Alldis
“The way to get the most out of life, isn’t to go faster, or to cram more and more things into less and less time; it’s to slow down, choose the things that really matter to you, and to give those things the time and attention they really deserve. Remember the famous quote from Mae West: Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.”
“This slowness doesn’t just apply when it comes to leisure, it also applies to work and business. There’s a strong taboo against the idea of “slow” in the business world. People traditionally associate it with laziness and a lack of productivity. But I think the mood is changing.
“Companies are starting to realise that too much speed, too much hurry, is backfiring – it leads to more mistakes and burnt out employees. Instead, many companies are seeing that by slowing down judiciously, at the right moments, they can be more productive, creative and sustainable.”
“There’s such a powerful taboo against slowing down, that even when we can feel in our bones that putting the brakes on would be good for us, we find it hard to do so. We’re afraid that others will mock or shun us.”
Since the release of his 2004 book, Carl has become the leading voice of The Slow Movement. He’s also published two more ‘slow’ books; Under Pressure (which explores the idea of slow parenting) and The Slow Fix (which explains how quick fixes often don’t allow for real progress).
As well as offering readers tools for adopting slowness, Carl also takes a closer look at some of the reasons why, as a society, we’ve developed such a need for speed. He says:
“I think that our obsession with speed is partly because it’s fun, sexy and gives us an adrenaline rush. It’s essentially like a drug. I also think it’s partly down to greed: the World is a giant smorgasbord of things to do, consume, experience, and we want to have it all. The problem is that having it all, is a recipe for hurrying it all.
“It’s also down to our own mortality – we want to cram in as much living as possible before the final deadline of it all, and we’re so afraid of wasting time that we rush to fill any unscheduled time with activity. The modern workplace puts pressure on us to work faster and longer. Plus, we’re surrounded by technology, and by gadgets that permit and encourage us to do everything faster and faster.
“Another thing that causes us to hurry is fear – we dash around in a constant state of distraction because it’s a good way to avoid deeper, unresolved questions that we all have hidden inside. There’s also such a powerful taboo against slowing down, that even when we can feel in our bones that putting the brakes on would be good for us, we find it hard to do so. We’re afraid that others will mock or shun us.”
Breaking up with speed
Understanding that breaking free from the fast-paced culture we have become accustomed to isn’t easy, Carl has included some helpful tools in his books that people can use to take a slower approach to their own lives. He also gives regular TED talks, and has created some short online courses, as part of his SLOW School, which aim to help people avoid burnout, and build a slower and higher quality of life.
Speaking about some of the ways that people can break their addiction to speed, and adopt a slower pace, Carl says, “Although slow living might not be easy, or feel natural to start with – there are a few things you can do that might help. For example, downsizing your calendar, spending more time offline, and getting up earlier, so that you have more time to start the day in a relaxed groove.”
Carl says that adopting some of these slow tips himself, has been life altering. Although he does fewer things than he did before, he feels healthier, more energetic and is enjoying life so much more. Expanding on the change, he continues:
“At work, I am much more productive and creative. I also have time for those little moments that bring meaning and joy to my life – spending time with my children, sharing a glass of wine with my wife, chatting with a friend, pausing to gaze at a beautiful sunset. I feel so much more alive now.
“In 2002, I also stopped wearing a watch as part of my research for In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed. It started as a symbolic gesture, but came to make a real difference to my life. I used to wear one and looked at it all the time. Now I feel free from that obsession with the passing of time. I can get the time from my computer screen or from public clocks. Or I just ask people in the street and sometimes that starts an interesting conversation.
“The only time I wear a watch now is when I do public speaking, so that I’m aware of how much time I have. My rapport is more relaxed now, and instead of counting the minutes and seconds, I’m actually living them – and I’m still very punctual!”
Carl’s top tips for slow living
Credit: Tara Taylor
1. Switch off
“Schedule time during the day for responding to emails, or completing other online tasks, and switch off the rest of the time. You can always use auto-replies to explain why you’re offline, and how to reach you in an emergency.
“Whenever you are chatting to someone in person, make sure there are no smartphones in sight – this makes the conversation deeper and more focussed.”
2. Speed check
“Every now and then, stop and ask yourself if you’re doing whatever you’re doing too fast. If you are, then take a few deep breaths and return to the task more slowly.”
3. Just say no
“Make a habit of saying no to invitations or requests that you can get away without doing.”
4. Find a slow ritual
“Choose an activity that innoculates you against the virus of hurry and embed it into your daily schedule. It could be reading, yoga, cooking, gardening, knitting, painting – or something else.”
“Meditation (or mindfulness) is a powerful tool for slowing down. It reduces anxiety and stress, fosters calm and sharpens concentration. It makes you happier, more energised and more creative. Over time it will also rewire your brain, so that you can process information faster.” You can read more about mindfulness and meditation in our introductory guide here.