If asked the following question, “Which is better, fast or slow?” my guess is that most people would say, “fast.” Generally, slow seems to be viewed as inferior to fast. And for sure, lots of times fast is the better choice. We certainly wish people a speedy recovery, we want our favorite horse to outrun the others and we want our emergency responders to respond rapidly.

But perhaps we’ve grown dangerously accustomed to fast. Computer processors keep getting exponentially faster but we still can’t bear the wait for the page to load. Google and Wikipedia have made it virtually impossible to wonder about anything anymore. No sooner do you put the question out there and some smart person with a smart phone has the answer right there for you.

Even when slow is safer, we drive fast when there’s really no rush. Even when slow is more enjoyable, we rush through a meal barely tasting the food. We blurt out words without thinking. We act in haste and create regrets.

Slow cooking yields richer flavor

But in addition to slow being safer and more pleasurable at times, it also has the potential to add greater depth and meaning. Certain mental states which add depth and meaning are difficult to do quickly. If we think of what it means to truly consider something—an idea, or an option, or a dream—we see that it’s hard to do it justice if we do it quickly. In order to wonder or ponder, to reflect or contemplate, we need to take some time to allow thoughts and feelings to emerge, for them to become clear, to blend, to expand and to transform.

Slow allows us to experience and appreciate nuance and subtlety. Nuance and subtlety are important because they enable us to compare and contrast various experiences. “The more I think about it, I realize that the anxiety I have about my new job is the same feeling I had as a child in grade school.” By seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling subtle differences, we can appreciate ways in which things are similar to or different from each other.

Slow allows experiences to sink in, so we go deeper. There is a vast world beneath the surface of the ocean that we never see if we just jet ski across the surface. There is an inner world within ourselves which we can easily avoid getting acquainted with if we don’t take the time.

Slow is often good for mental health

Slow breathing is essential for stress reduction, relaxation and anger management. Slowing our speech, thoughts, decisions and behaviors helps us to improve impulse control and self-discipline. Slowly studying the way we think, what we feel and how we communicate enables us to reach valuable insights which can help us to make important changes on personal and interpersonal levels.

Sometimes we answer questions about ourselves in a quick, routine, automatic way, without giving them serious thought. “Why did I just make that choice, really?” “Am I being honest with myself about my feelings?” “What is it I’m trying to do with my life anyway?” If we simply restate the things we already know, or think we know about ourselves, our self-awareness stays on the surface. But if we sit with such questions, reflect upon them, mull them over, we might learn something new about who we are.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.