Making A Habit Of Slowing Down

Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich shares how deliberate slowness in a time of high stress brought him back to happiness and gratitude. Here are his tips for focusing on mindfulness during crazy busy days.

Image remixed from katykin and Premium Design (Shutterstock).

Every morning at my apartment building, I see the same cleaning lady in the common area. I always greet her, friendly and with a big smile. She doesn’t speak much English, so she always just smiles back. If I were to guess, she is probably in her late 50s. She is very skinny. You can tell from looking at her face she probably has many years of hard labour behind her.

Earlier today, I walked home from dinner through the streets of Wan Chai in Hong Kong. A few minutes in, I saw that same cleaning lady, only this time, wearing a McDonald’s t-shirt. She was carrying a big, heavy box to a truck. It hit me immediately and I wasn’t sure what I should think. At first I felt sorry. Someone her age working two day jobs to get by and probably having just enough to support a family at home.

It gave me a strong feeling of pity.

A few seconds later, she passed me again, running back into the McDonald’s. Seeing her, an old lady, run, made me pity her even more. When I walked past, I looked through the window and there she was, looking back at me. She was smiling, just like she does every morning.

You know, her smile has something very unique. It’s not the type of smile you would expect from an older lady. Those smiles are normally calming and make you feel very content — I call them “the grandma smile”. She didn’t have that at all. She had the smile of a kid — that distinct smile toddlers have, full of curiosity, with a bit of insecurity.

My feeling of pity for her vanished immediately and I felt more like an idiot. How could someone like her, working two extremely labour-intensive day jobs, still give me that toddler’s smile every day?

The Speed Exercise

The reason I noticed her in that McDonald’s was because I was following an exercise from Paulo Coelho. In his book, The Pilgrimage, he calls it the Speed Exercise.

It is very simple. You pick a route to walk and you walk at half the speed that you normally do. You do this for 20 minutes.

Doing this exercise was very difficult for me at first. In such a busy place like Hong Kong, where everyone is rushing through the streets, you get a lot of impulses to just speed up again. But after the first five minutes I was OK and in a good rhythm.

And after those five minutes, things changed a lot. I started to look around. I started to see things I have never seen before — small side streets where people were finishing their day at work, piling boxes on top of each other, loading them on a dirty truck. A woman greeting a man with a great smile, waiting for him to cross the street at a red light. It was a different smile again. That kind of smile when meeting someone you really like is just seconds away. Then I saw two people, both seemed to have just started their night shift as security guards, chatting and laughing away as if they were at a party.

Everything seemed different during those 20 minutes. I could feel my head getting a lot heavier and then all of a sudden lighter. As if every step made me lose a few pounds.

I felt extremely happy.

Making Habits

I tend to create habits to improve myself. I create habits for a better workflow, habits for a better eating routine, habits for a better workout routine, habits for team talks and so on. I am pretty convinced it is only because of these habits, that I am able to improve what I am working on.

Now, here is the interesting part.

The things that I don’t create habits for are those things that actually matter the most. I don’t have a habit for being happy. I don’t have a habit for enjoying the moment. Yes, everything I do and everything I work on, I choose very carefully and with emphasis on enjoying it. But purely for the feeling of happiness and enjoying the moment, I don’t have habits.

Why is that?

Maybe because of this: I know that I get better at something through habits, yet it seems so much more difficult when tackling abstract things. Really, it shouldn’t be.

I have set out to find more habits for feeling happy like the Speed Exercise. More habits to focus solely on enjoying the moment.

Because: The only way to be happy, is to teach yourself how.

Slowing Down [Leo Starts Up]

Leo Widrich is the co-founder of Buffer, a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Leo writes more posts on efficiency and customer happiness over on the Buffer blog. Hit him up on Twitter @LeoWid anytime; he is a super-nice guy.

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