Slowing down as the world speeds up

12 April 2019

Photograph: Lukas Blazek

The world around us moves quickly. Amusingly, Ferris Bueller put it quite aptly: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Those words carry weight, even if they are from the script of a 1986 trivial teen comedy. Time has sped up since then. Rather, the things we’re expected to do in the same amount of time have increased tenfold. Experiences of “millennial burnout” have been widely documented in the mainstream media this year, with 60% of 18-24-year-olds and 41% of 25-34-year-olds citing pressure to succeed as a reason for their high stress levels. According to the Mental Health Foundation’s study, 74% of people felt so stressed in 2018 that they had been overwhelmed or unable to cope.

People are overworked. Last year, the UK was found to have had the worst work-life balance in western Europe. Although some companies have adopted a four-day work week, the idea is yet to gain significant traction. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and it seems you can’t teach them to profit-driven companies either.

Although the corporate world is showing no signs of slowing down, there are things we as individuals can do to go a bit easier on ourselves. Engaging in slow movements, such as slow travel, can help us combat the culture of impatience we are so accustomed to. Slow Travel Europe lists 10 guiding principles, the very first being: “Start at home. The key to slow travel is a state of mind. That can be developed at home.”

Andrew White started at home. In a bid to unwind and limit his personal impact on the environment, the Edinburgh software engineer adapted the idea of slow travel to his commute to work. Since 1 February 2019, he has walked 2.5 miles each way, Monday to Friday, regardless of the weather.

Infographic: Taylor Robertson 

White described his motivation, saying: “The idea came to me after reading ‘Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution’ by Peter Kalmus. There were other reasons too. I found myself struggling to switch off and slow my brain down after a day at work. Getting the bus made it too easy for me to watch YouTube or blindly scroll through Twitter. Walking home requires a bit of attention, but not as much as riding a bike, so there’s not really an option to be glued to my phone. I feel relaxed when walking home, so long as I keep my eyes off the cars and drivers texting while driving.”

Kate Chambers, a volunteer at 2050 Climate Group, echoes White’s praise of exercise as a way of commuting: “Walking or cycling to work makes your commute an interesting part of the day. As someone who cycles to work, I realise that car drivers, taking out their anger at ‘bloody cyclists’, are stuck in traffic and frustrated at their own situation. Commuting in a car is a high stress situation. If I’ve had a particularly stressful day, I leave my bike at work and walk five miles home. It takes me about one-and-a-half hours but the experience allows me to clear my head, get fresh air and exercise.”

Image: Andrew White

Apart from the obvious benefits to the planet and indeed his own health, White arrived at some more surprising, unexpected outcomes. By simply walking to and from work, he has allowed himself the time and patience to take up photography, and now incorporates errands into his commute. He no longer has to plan around bus times or find parking, and has been saving money on bus fares and gym fees. White says: “I’m fitter than ever, and I don’t have to find the time to exercise, it’s worked into my day.”


Photograph: Andrew White 

He continued: “The value of time goes up. If you’re travelling slowly, it takes more time. To find the time required I had to reassess my priorities and shelf projects that I thought were super important. I’m now less busy and spending quality time on things I care most about. There’s less noise in my head and my life that I’m enjoying the things I do make time for 10 times more.”

White works for a tech startup in Scotland’s capital. A while ago, he changed his total working days per week from five to four in order to improve his work-life balance, but has since returned to a five-day week, joking that “mortgages are expensive – who knew?” He enjoyed his extra day off when he had it, and is looking forward to working less in the future: “For the time I was on four days, everything outside of work slowed down, and it was blissful. I’m going to try to get back to that ASAP. I’ve stopped saying yes to so many things. It’s very much a change in mindset to living the ‘less is more’ value.

“Everything is about growth or getting more. Be it personal, professional, or political, it’s always about more. More followers, more money, more time, more power, the next thing, the new thing, almost nothing is about the now or accepting what is. We move way too fast. We’re encouraged to consume from every angle. Greed is praised as success.”

A lot of what White says rings true, especially with the younger generation. Social media is often made the scapegoat when discussing almost everything that’s wrong with society today, but admittedly, it does have a lot to answer for. Our collective obsession with likes, retweets, favourites – I could go on – is overwhelming in itself. And nothing is about the now. I personally find it difficult to celebrate achievements in the present, because I’m already thinking about what I’m going to do in the future. And I’m 99% sure I’m not alone.

Walking to work instead of driving, or getting off the bus a stop early to collect your thoughts, though subtle changes, can make a difference. Chambers, who completed a project on slow travel during her time at university, said: “I don’t see slow travel as a sacrifice. It is a pleasure that we are taking away from ourselves by choosing to make our lives busier and more stressful.”

All in all, going at a slower pace has its benefits. A more relaxed way of living is what White desires, and it’s not difficult to see why. Most of the excuses he had against slowing down were, according to him, “pretty brittle”. All of them boiled down to not having enough time, and were blown out of the water when he took the time to prioritise his commitments properly. I’m thinking I ought to take a leaf out of his book.

If you’re interested in Andrew White’s slow travel experiment, you can keep up-to-date with him on Twitter at @ABeardWalks. Kate Chambers can also be found at @theburdtweets. If you would like to follow White’s photography adventure, he’s on Instagram at @beardoptics.

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