“Well, you could slow down,” he said.
I looked over at him, eyes wide. “Slow down?…In the traffic pattern?”
I was adjusting my approach to make space for traffic in front of me. I was diligently following the procedure we had practiced many times over, maintaining altitude until I was abeam the traffic on final. No adjustments until that moment.
What he was suggesting seemed antithetical to the body of training I’d just received, seemed downright foolish to shave off precious airspeed. If you give it up, what do you have to trade if things go wrong? That’s the equation, the simple physics, the facts. We were so close to the ground — just a thousand feet above — there was little margin for error.
Surely, he’s just messing with me, I thought. He was, in fact, the pilot examiner, and that is the most entertaining part of his job I’m sure, filling student pilots with doubt and trepidation, but I could tell he sensed this as an opportunity to impart a lesson.
“My airplane,” he said, putting his hands and feet on the controls.
“Your airplane,” I replied as I removed my hands and feet from the controls.
He immediately reduced power to 1,800 rpm and pulled back on the yoke to keep the airplane at altitude as our airspeed slowed.
“You see, now we can stay within a half-mile of the airport. That way if we have an engine out, we can just glide in. If we maintained our speed, we’d be two, three miles out on final, and we’d be out of luck if our engine failed.”
My heart thumped in my chest as I watched the traffic come abeam of us, and we made a slow turn to set up for final approach. At this speed, you could almost feel the axis around which the airplane rotates to turn.
He modified the approach cutting airspeed and dropping flaps only when it was absolutely necessary and prudent to do so. We flew across the threshold and the wheels touched down softly, right on the numbers.
Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast
The door opened and the eight of us purposelessly ran into the room. We started pulling books off shelves, picking up lamps, and climbing up the walls. We opened refrigerator doors and found padlocked chests and desk drawers with thick locks on them. That was the object of the game, or so we thought.
We truly had no clue what we were searching for, but we knew that we only had sixty minutes to find our way out, and this particular room had a low success rate.
But we are different, we swore. We college-educated people of the world can surely puzzle our way out of this room.
Sixty minutes quickly passed, and with a few helpful hints from our facilitator, we managed to escape the room. There was one inescapable fact we had to face — we couldn’t have done it without the help of our facilitator. There are those times in your life when you just can’t see the opportunity that’s right in front of you. Or you outsmart yourself, thinking that it has to be a puzzle, when in fact it’s as simple as it seems.
He led us back upfront to comfy couches and soft seating where he debriefed us on what we did wrong and what we could have done instead. He took a little too much pleasure in pointing out our failures, but we took the feedback well. And then he said something that stuck with me, because it was the first time I’d heard this phrase. In his opinion, our approach should have been one in which, “Slow is smooth…smooth is fast.”
What he really honed in on, though, was the fact we were running around like headless chickens trying to accomplish a lot of things at once, but without clear focus on any one activity. Yes, we were moving with great speed, but we were a bunch of random molecules nearing the boiling point of the solution. There was no efficiency in our motion. We also didn’t pause to plan and think through our actions before taking them.
What he reminded us was that better teams than ours were thoughtful in their approach to solving the problem. They didn’t simply react to what was happening. They took a moment to get organized, then attack the problem in a methodical manner, allowing time to come back together and check in. They organized all their efforts in a single location, placing all the items they recovered into simple context before advancing. For teams that bought into the approach ahead of time, they didn’t feel the pressure from the clock, each tick of the second hand piling us under the crushing weight of lost time.
This should have been about incremental gains and making sure that, from a risk perspective, all our bases are covered. A modern elite military unit such as a SEAL team moves in unison, covering all 360-degrees around them to that they can neutralize any threat that should appear. They move slowly, smoothly, but quickly.
“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is not truly about slowness. It’s really about moving at pace, in concert with the world around you, and with a calm spirit.
Slowing Down: Not Just for Commando Operations
Sitting in that airplane, hearing the examiner tell me it’s okay to slow down was a stress-inducing experience. In my head at that moment, I felt as if slowing down only created more risk, more danger. And why would we want to intentionally introduce risk?
In reality, slowing down can certainly increase safety of flight operations by ensuring that everything is in its place before proceeding or keeping us within a safe glide distance of a paved runway. Slowing down can also have dramatic effects on our daily lives. And it’s simpler than you think.
Sleep. Much ado has been made about sleep these past few years. Recent studies have supported what we’ve believed to be true all along — a good night’s rest is essential for peak performance. Why?
While you sleep, your brain is building new neural pathways, connecting old ideas to new ideas. As a creative, this building that goes on during sleep allows you to see new connections that you can bring to your work.
Sleep also allows your body rebuild physically. While you’re sleeping, just like the work of creating connections in your brain, your body goes to work healing and repairing your blood vessels, rebuilding broken down tissues, and getting you physically prepared for the next day.
If there’s one thing that we long suspected that is being borne out as a truth, it’s that there is a direct link between the performance of the mind and the body. Our bodies and brains are designed to naturally rejuvenate themselves when we sleep at night. But too often sleep seems like an inconvenience, especially in a world that has extended day well beyond the bounds of natural light.
In a world where we feel like we’re always on, that last activity you want to do is sit out for eight hours. But what we have to realize is that our bodies and our brains need this time to heal themselves. We need to turn off and shut down for awhile in order to solve problems and prepare for coming use. Sleep is a natural part of the human rhythmic cycles and should not be viewed as an enemy, as something that is to be avoided by any means necessary.
Instead, we should embrace sleep as the one true opportunity that we have to disconnect from our world and inhabit terrain that is deeply different than what we live in every day. Think of sleep as a great adventure that energizes you to carry on in the light of day.
Train deliberately. When we think about what it means to train, we often think that there’s a logical start and end. We decide we’re going to run a marathon, so we start training on x-date and the training ends after we run the marathon.
But when we think about life, we should train as if there is no end, no single goal to be reached. To do this successfully, we have to shift our mindsets and utilize systems that will allow us to work in this way. This is what it means to train deliberately.
Training deliberately is about taking a crawl, walk, run approach to whatever we’re doing. It means that we have to accept that one universal truth about doing anything new — you will suck at it…at first. To overcome this suck-factor, you have to continue to practice. Over time, you’ll begin to improve, and as you improve, you gain confidence and take on bigger and bigger challenges. The fastest way to make gains is to start out by focusing on technique.
Focus on technique because what you practice is as important as how you practice. By focusing on technique, you practice the motion slowly, ensuring that your movement is correct. As you refine your motions and begin to master technique, you can build speed and complexity. At the same time you’re building strength. But you’re doing it all in such a way that you won’t practice bad habits or bad technique. It’s much harder to undo something once it becomes engrained in you than it is to practice it correctly from the beginning.
Now this sounds as if I’m talking about physical tasks only. This same approach can be used for mental tasks, or the kind of mind work that you and I do everyday. For example, if I want to learn how to be a better designer, I start by doing small things. I add type, play with spacing, add pictures. Each time I approach a project, I get a little more complex — how do I make sure the reader gets it? Is it the words? Is it the image choices?
By focusing on these bits, I make incremental improvements in my design acumen. Eventually, the work that I do will be passable, but not perfect. But that’s okay, because I’m not aiming for perfection. I’m not going to be a professional designer. I just need to know how to do it well to support the work that I do.
Think slowly. Slow thinking is a term used to describe an approach to mental processing. What it really means is not responding immediately to a stimulus, that is, not immediately flipping someone the bird when they cut you off in traffic. It’s emotional control.
One of the things that distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our big ass brain. What’s special about that brain is that it produces emotions. Emotions are, as far as we can tell, endemic to humans. A squirrel doesn’t look at a sunset in the same way that we do. One of the challenges of emotion is that it can often drive us to do things that aren’t always in our best interest. Not just when anger arises, but also when we’re excited about doing something, so we rush off and hastily begin.
If you’re practicing slow thinking, you separate the time between the stimulus and what you do to respond. So instead of reacting immediately in anger to the person who cut you off, you take a moment to consider the best options, then you take that path.
This sort of slow thinking process is not a natural human tendency, but it is something that can be learned. And like most skills, once learned, it can actually speed up your performance.
What we gain is that we don’t have to immediately react to what’s happening in front of us. This is also a benefit of being human — self-awareness. We don’t have to react instinctually to a stimulus within our environment, which is good, because most times our brains don’t distinguish between stimulus that is truly life threatening and stimulus that is merely inconvenient. It treats both the same.
So next time something grabs hold of you, pause for a moment (maybe take a breath) and ask yourself what your best options are. Be thoughtful in your reaction. This will allow you to develop more creative solutions to the challenges you’re facing.
Technology — it’s just a tool. Moore’s law — which is not an actual physical law — essentially states that computing power doubles every two years. Since 1965, when Gordon Moore made this observation, it has held true for a number of years. At one point, Moore’s law was incredibly accurate, even dropping below two years to 18-months.
There’s no doubt that the seemingly ever-increasing speed of technology has had a profound impact on our world, the least of which has been our perception that life has to move at a speed commensurate with the rate of change introduced by those very advances in technology. When it comes to the pace of change, that’s just it — it’s all about perception.
The reality of our existence is that nature doesn’t rush change. It proceeds at an orderly pace, accomplishing only what’s necessary to ensure survival. We, on the other hand, have the survival part down. We live life not simply because we must survive, but have found many ways to enhance it.
We enhance our lives through the use of technology and have found many wonderful ways to do it. But we’ve also allowed are lives to be dictated by the technology, and the perceived rate of change. We believe we have to change at the same rate as technology, despite our understanding to the contrary.
And, it seems that Moore’s law, too, is beginning to evolve. This sort of wave-like rising and falling is a part of our natural condition. Everything is impermanent and experiences a season. Things come into this world and fade away.
Like Moore’s law, the novelty that we experience soon wanes, and we go searching for more novelty, because we believe that if we’re not steeped in novelty, then we’re not on the bleeding edge of things. We feel like we’re going to miss out if we don’t run with the rest of the pack.
So, we run. And we run. And we run, injecting novelty into our lives. But there’s never enough, so we constantly change it. What we get is so small and doesn’t add much value. But we add it nonetheless, and it seems that the world will never slow down.
One way that we can begin to unspool this and slow it down is to reframe the role that technology plays in our lives. Instead of relying on it to run every aspect of our life and constantly searching for ways to make it different, what if we thought of it as what it is…a tool?
Sometimes, to see things clearly again, we have to take a step back, and that’s where a digital detox can be helpful. It’s the technological equivalent of a colonic. You flush all the shit out of your system, ridding it of all the impurities and poisons that come along with our digital world that we’ve created for ourselves. It can be a weekend, a week, or more. It just depends on your level of addiction.
When you get off the technology, what you feel is the same as when you take an actual two-week vacation: you feel relaxed, your mind is freed — you feel weightless. Not empty, but weightless. And in the case of a digital detox, you begin to see that you can actually live without these devices, that it’s possible to do it yourself.
Yes, Virginia, there was life before smartphones and high technology. And in this way, you begin to reconnect with who you are at your core.
The detox is the first part of the solution. It’s also important to have a plan in place for how you’re going to use technology in your life when you reemerge from your detox. Find ways to limit the roles of tech by focusing more of your internal resources on tackling the issues that you would normally rely on technology to do for you. Reduce distractions by turning off alerts. Limit the amount of time you spend on social networks each day (of course, there’s an app for that). Batch check your emails at the beginning and end of the day. And be realistic about what you can actually accomplish in the span of a day. Do more with less — it’ll sharpen your focus and make space for higher quality outcomes.
Sometimes, to go fast, you have to go slow. Enacting these strategies can help you gain more efficiency from every single day, ensuring that your mind and body are working together and are in peak condition to create the life you envision. As you get better at all of these approaches, you’ll naturally pick up the pace at which you are moving. As long as you maintain a healthy balance of sleep and activity, be realistic about what you can accomplish, and take a bite every day, you’ll make fast progress toward some of your biggest goals. Even if, at first, it feels like you’re moving slow.