Here’s a prediction: If you’re reading this post, your life needs to slow down. For all the ways that our society has improved over the last generation, the undeniable side effect is that the pace of life has sped up considerably. As I noted in this post, experts from the last century predicted that the advance of technology would actually have the opposite effect: that it would slow life down considerably. Experts predicted that future generations would only work a few hours per week because technology would make accomplishing tasks much simpler and quicker. Well, technology has made accomplishing tasks much simpler and quicker. In my profession, instead of mailing a document to another attorney, who would then review the document, suggest revisions, and mail it back, we now just email documents back and forth. A process that took days and weeks now takes minutes. Such examples abound in most professions.
But, the effect of our technological progress has not been a more leisurely schedule. Instead, our lives have become even more hurried. We’re now expected to complete more and more tasks because they can be completed more quickly. Because technology allows us to handle 40 cases a day instead of 10, we’re now expected to handle 40 cases. Because technology has allowed tasks to be completed quicker and easier, those tasks are now cheaper for the consumer. However, because those tasks now generate less income, many more tasks must be completed in order to turn a profit. The result is a business culture in which the hamster wheel now is easier to spin, so we spin it much faster, running more laps in a day than ever before.
Similarly, the pace of life outside the office has sped up as well. As I’ve written about on numerous occasions (here and here), the opportunities for our children have increased dramatically. There is a club, a team, a teacher, a tutor, an event, a practice, or a camp for almost every conceivable interest that a child might have. As a result, we end up cramming our schedules full of activities. We fill every night of the week with a game, a performance, or a practice, and sometimes several of each for one child. And God help those who have multiple children. They become professional chauffeurs whose lives consist of coordinating transportation schedules to these events.
Finally, technology’s effect on culture has been to speed up our minds. Think about how cable news is presented. We are presented with a panel of four to eight pundits who each get a 30-second opportunity to speak their piece. They will all rant about the latest scandal or disaster which will be hailed as the worst in history, yet it will be replaced by another event or issue the very next day. This mode of operation trains us to think and consume information in 30-second soundbytes and to treat the news of the day as much more significant than it really is. Social media has a similar effect on us. Those forums are not conducive to extended thoughts and nuance. Instead, they are more suitable for short statements. So, we scroll through our Facebook or Twitter feeds, reading dozens of updates consisting of no more than two or three sentences. That trains our minds to move fast and move on. There is no room to ponder, to reflect, or to flesh out ideas beyond 280 characters. There is precious little time to consider how we might apply ideas. Nope, we have to move on, because our news feeds and timelines are ever updating, and we’re going to miss the latest comments.
This pressure to move quickly through life and consume information at every turn has even generated an acronym in the popular culture: FOMO, the fear of missing out. If we don’t keep pushing, don’t keep our schedules full, don’t keep check our e-mail and social media accounts, then we’re going to miss out on something amazing, something that will change our lives. We know it’s bullshit, but we keep doing it anyway.
Months ago a popular meme circulated that depicted our current state of affairs: “I saw a guy at Starbucks today. He had no phone, tablet, or laptop. He just sat there drinking his coffee. Like a psychopath.” Now, this is clearly meant as humor. But, it drives home the point that people who are not constantly connected to others and to the never-ending supply of information are deeply abnormal in our society.
So, at every turn, we are encouraged to rush; to rush our lives and rush our thoughts, to have busy lives and busy minds. The quantity of activities and thoughts is valued over the quality. Such is not the recipe for deep contentment. Simply put, we have to slow down, both internally and externally. We have to jump off the hamster wheel. For most of us, that simply isn’t possible in our jobs or businesses. The economy and the market for our industry is established and isn’t changing, and it requires high-volume work. So be it. That means it’s even more important that, outside of our careers, we slow ourselves down.
Theoretically, we understand this perfectly. We understand that quality beats quantity. We understand that our child doesn’t need to attend or be involved in every single activity that is offered. We understand that there’s probably nothing worth reading on Facebook or Twitter that won’t be there tomorrow. We understand that most news stories are not worth paying attention to. We know that we need more sleep. We know that we need to read more. We know that we need more down time. We know that we need to watch less television. But we just . . . can’t . . . do it.
We’ve so conditioned ourselves to the constant influx of information, entertainment, and mental stimulation that we simply cannot turn our electronics off and unplug from life. We’re always looking for more. This need for more builds and feeds discontentment. As a result, I’m confident that more we are able to slow ourselves down and break free from the cycle of perpetual activities and information consumption, the more content we will be.
Let’s face it, our world doesn’t need more information. We don’t need to read another post about our friend’s latest meal, their child’s latest activity, or the latest workout or diet fad. We don’t need to find out about the latest political scandal or the most recent natural disaster. I’m all for keeping up generally with what’s going on around us, but seriously, is there any news story over the last year that caused you to change your life? Is there any social media post that your life would be less full if you’d missed it? Even if you can point to one, is there any doubt that you’d still have found it if you’d cut your information consumption in half, or even by 90%?
Our lives don’t need more noise. We need more quiet. We don’t need to read more social media posts, we need to read more books. We don’t need to watch more YouTube videos, we need to take more walks. We don’t need to look at more screens, we need to sit in the dark. We don’t need to check our e-mail more often, we need to spend more time in nature. We don’t need to binge watch the latest show on Netflix, we need to sit down with our friends around a campfire or dinner table.
We need less information and more thought. Our thoughts need to be deeper. More pondering. More reflection. That takes time and quiet. One cannot reflect while consuming information. One cannot reflect while distracted. One cannot reflect in the midst of noise.
Like I said, we know all of this in theory, but things get confusing when we actually try to do something about it. So, here are some suggestions to help us slow life down:
- Shut your phone off for at least 45 minutes every hour. Your friends will be fine if you don’t respond to their texts immediately. They’ll learn pretty quickly that you don’t check your phone all the time. Our fathers and grandfathers lived successful lives without being tethered to a cell phone; we will be fine as well.
- Keep your consumption of electronics (tv, social media, youtube, podcasts, video games, etc) at a 1:2 ratio with the time you spend reading an actual book. iBooks, eBooks, and audio books do not count. Read an actual, physical book. For every hour that you read an actual book, you can spend 30 minutes using an electronic device.
- Spend 30 minutes each day in absolute darkness, preferably outside, contemplating. You can think about something you’ve read, about life, about how to make life better for your wife, about how to help your kids with an issue, about how to be a better man, about a specific problem you’re trying to solve, or just let your mind wander. The only rule is that it has to be dark and it has to be quiet other than the ambient noise of nature. One thing that I’ve noticed over the last year is the lack of darkness in our world. From streetlights to 24-hour stores, we keep our communities lit. There are few places one can go to experience deep darkness anymore. But there is little that’s more peaceful than a deep darkness.
- Spend at least an hour walking in nature on a regular basis. Keep your phone off the entire time. Try to notice the trees, the plants, and the wildlife. Notice the quiet and sounds. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve never noticed before.
- Sit around a fire. Whether it’s a fire pit in your backyard or a campfire, time sitting in front of a fire is often magical. The crackle, the smell of the smoke, and the colors of the flame create a mesmerizing atmosphere that is both primal and peaceful. It creates a setting that is conducive to both great conversation and peaceful reflection.
- Turn off the screens and the lights and go to bed earlier. Don’t fall asleep on the couch with the television on. Don’t look at your phone until you can’t keep your eyes open. Turn everything off and go to bed early. The hours of sleep before midnight seem to multiply your level of rest. The more rested you are, the more at peace and less rushed you feel. What’s more, the earlier you go to bed, the earlier you can get up. The early morning hours are unrivaled for peaceful contemplation, reading, and settling your mind. If the day starts peacefully, it is more likely to remain peaceful and unrushed.
Don’t think I’m calling anyone to be lazy, unproductive, or to avoid the strenuous life. Quite the contrary; men were created to take on and complete stressful projects. We are made to fight, to strain, and to struggle. But we were not made to run in high gear for days on end. We were not made to constantly be “on”. We are made to hit things hard, then shut down and recover. Technology and progress are wonderful, but their flow will push us into a rushed lifestyle full of busyness, entertainment, and consumption, resulting in discontentment and stress. As men, we must swim against the stream and intentionally unplug. This keeps us from getting too spread out and allows us instead to go deep in the areas that really matter. Deeper thought. Deeper reflection. Deeper knowledge. Deeper insight. Deeper wisdom. Deeper peace. Deeper joy. This is the man’s life.
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