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Why faster isn't always better

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

August 14 · Issue #256 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: There are benefits to slowing down: from preventing a damaging emotional outburst, to seeing your mistakes clearly—and increasing your odds of correcting them.
(~4 min read)

#1. Increase your reaction time
In his book The Laws of Human Nature, author Robert Greene writes that one way to “master your emotional self” and make better decisions is to increase your reaction time. 
When some emotionally-charged event or interaction requires a response, Greene recommends training yourself to step back. For example, this could mean writing that angry email, but not sending it. Instead, you sleep on it for a day or two.
Increasing your reaction time can be beneficial even in otherwise positive circumstances. If you find yourself rushing to commit to people, for instance to hire or be hired by them, step back and give it a day.
The longer you’re able to take, the better – with that additional time comes perspective. 
For Greene, this approach is similar to resistance training: “the longer you can resist reacting, the more mental space you have for actual reflection, and the stronger your mind will become.”
#2. Even washing dishes can be enlightening
Author and educator George Leonard writes in his book Mastery that most of us can’t avoid doing mundane tasks: from grocery shopping and preparing food, to commuting and the routine aspects of our work.
These everyday chores exist “in between” the major activities and events that really count: beginning a new romantic relationship, completing a project, getting a promotion at work, and so on.
But as Leonard points out, if you stop to think about it, most of life is made up of this in-between time.
He suggests that you can use the practice of mastery, with its emphasis on process rather than product, to be more present during these everyday activities and to reduce the feeling that time is constantly slipping is away from you.
For example, take the experience of washing dishes. You can perform that chore in a hurried and haphazard way, with your main goal being to finish it as quickly as possible.
Or, you can approach it as a kind of meditation or dance.
Leonard offers the following tips for making the most of washing dishes, or similar routine activities:
Compose yourself: Take a moment to balance and center yourself. Decide on the overall sequence of your work, and then begin.
Pay attention to your movements: Try to maintain full awareness of each motion. Even though your hands are most directly involved while washing dishes, pay attention to the rest of your body as well, especially your abdomen, back, feet, and shoulders.
Don’t rush: You’re going for efficiency and grace in your movements, and there’s no need to rush. Instead of thinking about getting the job done and moving on to something else, stay focused on the moment and the task at hand.
As Leonard notes, the irony of focusing on the process instead of the result is that it “often ends up creating more and better products in a shorter time than does the hurried, excessively goal-oriented rhythm that has become standard in our society.”
In any case, the odds are good that you’ll feel better at the end.
#3. Not all practice makes perfect
Author Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent that when we learn how to do something new, our immediate urge is to do it again – faster.
Coyle calls this the “Hey, look at me!” reflex.
This urge for speed is understandable, but it can lead to sloppiness, particularly with skills that require precision. 
Instead, Coyle recommends slowing down the pace of practice. 
As he puts it, super-slow practice works like a magnifying glass: “It lets us sense our errors more clearly, and thus fix them.”
Coyle points out that this deliberately slow practice is used in many “talent hotbeds.” For example, at the Spartak Tennis Club, students swing in such slow motion that they resemble ballet dancers. And performers at the Septien School of Contemporary Music learn a new song by singing one note at a time.
Another example is the professional golfer Ben Hogan, considered by many to have had the most technically sound swing in the history of the game. Hogan practiced his swings so slowly that when he finally made contact with the ball, it moved about an inch.
For Coyle, the lesson is: “It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slowly you can do it correctly.”
Quote of the week
“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.”
- Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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