When I worked in corporate PR, I was on a plane at least two mornings most weeks, flying off to Very Important Meetings with Very Important People to discuss my Very Important Projects. At the airport book store one day, I picked up what I thought would be just the perfect thing for somebody as busy as I was: one of those ‘Ten Best Business Books Condensed on Tape’. What a great idea! I could save time while cramming all this Important Business Savvy into my overstuffed brain while driving to the airport and back each week! But something hit me, somewhere between Total Quality Management and Seven Habits:
“This is exactly what’s wrong with my life!”
I realized that I was so busy that I felt no longer able to enjoy settling in with a good book anymore. Even reading – my great love – had turned into just another item on an overloaded To Do list.
I was a heart attack waiting to happen.
That’s pretty much what happened to Carl Honore, too. Nearly 10 years ago, Honore, a Canadian-born journalist now living in London, was at the airport in Rome, waiting for his flight home, and talking to his editor on his cell phone. Like far too many of us, he says, at the time he was wired and harried.
“I was a Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there.”
As such, while both online and on the phone, to make his time even more “productive”, he started skimming a newspaper. A headline caught his eye: “The One-Minute Bedtime Story.”
The article was about a book in which classic children’s books are condensed down to 60 seconds. “Eureka!” thought Carl. The father of a two-year-old son, he saw the book as a great bedtime time-saver. No more speeding through Cat In The Hat, skipping lines and even entire pages just to get it over with. As he started making a mental note to order the book as soon as he got home, he suddenly found himself thinking:
“Have I gone completely insane?”
Standing in that lineup, Honore began to grapple with the questions that lie at the heart of his new book, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.
“Why are we always in such a rush? What is the cure for time-sickness? Is it possible, or even desirable, to slow down?
“We live in a culture where even instant gratification takes too long. We are living the fast life instead of the good life. Time is scarce, so we speed up towards a finish line that we never reach. For many of us, that pace ends up with a serious illness diagnosis.”
His book’s message is especially important for those concerned about their heart health. Researchers have found that a chronic high level of daily stress releases cortisol into the bloodstream, a stress hormone that is particularly damaging to our delicate coronary artery cells.
According to the Centre For Studies on Human Stress at McGill University’s Hôpital Louis H. Lafontaine, repeated exposure to situations that lead to the release of stress hormones can cause wear and tear on both mind and body.
This kind of stress response system was not designed to be constantly activated. This overuse may contribute to the breakdown of many bodily systems, and has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and depression – each of which is considered an independent risk factor for heart attack.
But the effects of chronic stress are worst for people already at risk for developing these and other health issues. For instance, if you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or have unhealthy lifestyle habits, then chronic stress can flip the switch that turns on these health problems.
Hence the need to s-l-o-w down and pay attention before chronic stress begins to feel normalized.
Carl Honore, a self-professed “speedaholic”, advocates the need for a more balanced existence. His message also hit home for Arianna Huffington, founder of the world’s most popular blog, The Huffington Post.
“I came to Carl Honore’s book through a ‘Eureka!’ moment of my own.
“A couple of years ago, exhausted from working too much and eating and sleeping too little, I fainted, hit my head on my desk, broke my cheekbone, and ended up with five stitches over one eye. Determined to find some balance in my life, I took Honore’s book with me on a trip to Greece.”
She was so impressed that she selected Honore’s book In Praise of Slowness as the first pick on her new Huffpost Book Club.
“Speed can be fun, productive and powerful, and we would be poorer without it. What the world needs, and what the Slow Movement offers, is a middle path, a recipe for marrying ‘la dolce vita’ with the dynamism of the information age.
“The secret is balance. Instead of doing everything faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes in between.”
Find out more about the book In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.
© Carolyn Thomas Heart Sisters