The One Life Hack That Will Help You Do Everything Better
Whether you're at the gym, the office, or at home: Slow down.
Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Best Life.
So, you want to drive the golf ball farther, be a better parent, trim that gut, blow 'em away in your next presentation, and make your partner moan with delight? Take a lesson from the tortoise.
It was one of those shining days. The azaleas were peeking out as spring came to the Chesapeake. I was in my car, tearing it up in hopeful duet with Canadian crooner Michael Bublé, when I noticed something interesting. Throughout "Come Fly With Me," I was just a little bit out in front. Bublé held each note a nanosecond longer than I did and waited just an extra half-instant before sliding into the next phrase. Though my voice was every bit as velvety and my attitude even more ring-a-ding-ding, I was always a shade faster than the master. Hmmm…a voice inside me said.
Later, that night, I noted David Letterman's patience as he ambled through a scripted joke. His easy pace, his confidence, his willingness to meander toward the punch line seemed central to the mirth. Hmmm…the same voice purred.
And then, sleepless with incipient insight, I stumbled on the last note of my eureka chord in Bob Dylan's memoirs. "I did everything fast," wrote the troubadour of his early struggles to marshal his skills. "I needed to slow my mind down if I was going to be a composer with anything to say."
"Aha!" I muttered to the 2:00 a.m. silence. All these years, I had been searching for the same thing every man desires: fast answers to all of my dilemmas. And therein lay the problem. Apparently, slower is the secret to success.
While I've got no beef with the easy-goers—the meditators with their mantras, the slow foodies with their local yams—let's be clear that, from its first flicker, my slow wasn't theirs. No, my slow was less about savoring than succeeding. I didn't want to stop and smell the roses. I wanted to tear out the garden and replace it with a sweet post-and-beam cabin in which I could pursue every conceivable form of excellence and pleasure. And so, in the past few years, I've traveled my own private road to slow in search of more: more money, more muscle, more laughs, maybe even more satisfaction. I've found that professionals across many disciplines had found that immense benefits accrue to those who ease off the accelerator. This is how I left the hurried go-go-go path to which we've been habituated in search of the most highly evolved man I could possibly be…at any speed—and how you can too.
Romance: Score Slowly
Mae West was right that anything worth doing is worth doing slowly—very slowly. "Women l-o-o-o-n-n-n-n-g for slower sex," says sex therapist Lori Buckley, PsyD, of Pasadena, California, as emphatically as possible. "Often, the first thing to disappear from a sexual relationship is the long, lingering, teasing kiss. Lots of women miss the run-up to arousal." If you want great sex on a Saturday night, Buckley suggests starting with brief, soft, tender kisses throughout the day, offered as if there's no agenda. Try the back of the neck.
Slow is also female-friendly once the cuddling commences. "A slower penetration and withdrawal often leads to more stimulation for both her G-spot and clitoris," says Buckley. And don't just slow your hips. "If I could give men one piece of physical advice that would improve their partner's pleasure, it would be to slow down their fingers and tongues."
Of course, it's tough to go slowly when Barney is almost over and the kids will run in any minute. But slower sex is a win-win. In one of nature's sweet coincidences, what appears to be unselfishness (deference to her arousal rate) is actually self-serving. If you can render her pie-eyed with lust, your chances of getting another at-bat soon—maybe even later, after SportsCenter—spike. Incidentally, if you'd ever like to keep the party going, remember this: "If, just before orgasm, a man slows and deepens his breathing, he can delay ejaculation," according to Buckley, thus prolonging the pleasure for both of you.
Wealth: Succeed Slowly
"The secret of investing is to get rich slowly," says Jeff Fischer, cofounder of the Complete Growth Investor, an investment advisory service. Our gender's need for speed can undermine our plans. High levels of testosterone may make men impulsive and prone to trading too frequently. A study by the University of California at Davis showed that, on average, female investors outpaced men by 1.4 percentage points a year, mainly because they traded less often. "Men see the market as a game, and our taste for gambling leads us to chase the quick score," says Fischer.
Instead of jumping in and out of the market, dollar-cost average your way in. Every month, without thinking, put the same amount of money into a well-balanced index fund or two. "You'll end up buying more shares when they're cheap, and fewer when they're pricey," explains Fischer.
Consider this counterintuitive thought. "Do your best not to take advantage of the streaming information that's everywhere," suggests Fischer. "Don't check quotes every hour or day, or even every week if you can help it." Remember the wisdom of Warren Buffett, who aspired not to trade. A celebrated study done a few years ago found that successful traders didn't do as well after they switched over to online trading. Why? Overconfidence and "the illusions of knowledge and control" led them to trade too often, wrote the authors.
"If you're confident enough to admit you know nothing and plod tortoiselike along," says Fischer, "you'll end up with a significant net worth." And for more money advice, read up on The 20 Savviest Investment Moves to Make Right Now.
Health: Breathe Slowly
Doctors who embrace both Western medicine and Eastern healing often point to slower breathing as the simplest way to better health. "Humans have two nervous systems: an accelerator, or the sympathetic nervous system, and a brake, or the parasympathetic nervous system," says Dr. Mehmet Oz. "In our hectic lives, we spend more time hitting the gas than the brake, and our breathing becomes quick and shallow." Consequently, we don't draw optimal amounts of oxygen deep into our lungs, down to the smallest airways, the alveoli, where oxygen exchange is most efficient. "If our breathing is quick and shallow, our bodies release less nitrous oxide, a vessel dilator that helps oxygenate our organs and tissues," says Dr. Oz. The fix is called belly breathing.
Place your hand lightly over your belly button. If you're like most bad breathers, when you breathe in, your stomach goes in. Wrong! It should puff outward a bit. If you fill your lungs fully, your diaphragm, which sits between your lungs and your stomach, is pushed down by your expanding lungs, forcing your gut out. On exhalation, your diaphragm moves back and, in the process, helps your lungs move air and your heart pump blood. Practice breathing so that your abs rise toward your hand on slow inhalation and deflate as you slowly exhale. Start small. Make a point of doing some belly breathing now and then, maybe when you feel especially stressed. Over time, try to add a few more daily sessions. Gradually, you may teach your body to take care of itself by breathing more slowly. (If I didn't know how angry it would make you, I'd recommend studying meditation and breathing technique. But never mind.)
The list of health benefits that radiate outward from slower, deeper breathing is long. A study done at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, shows a correlation between how much time patients spent practicing slow breathing and a drop in systolic blood pressure. "It's clear that by managing the stress response," says Dr. Oz, "proper breathing can slow your heart rate and control hypertension. It also enhances lymphatic drainage, the removal of toxins from the blood."
Nutrition: Eat Slowly
Slowing down can help you shed the 20 pounds standing between you and the ramrod you were when you played strong-side safety at A&M.
Our stomachs are lined with nerve endings called stretch receptors. When our guts are filled by that filet with gorgonzola, they signal the brain to step away from the feeding trough. "But there's a time lag between the signal and the translation of the message by the brain," says David Katz, MD, the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. So our forks keep right on moving.
You can cut calories by eating slowly, especially toward the end of a meal. Pause now and then to tell a charming story about how you crushed a colleague today. Get up and walk around. Use a smaller spoon. Somehow, slow your intake. "There's also reason to believe that the more pleasure you take in each bite, the more full you feel," says Dr. Katz. "If you chew food well and take care to savor it, you may want less."
Want some numbers? Research done at the University of Rhode Island at Kingston found that, on average, people who ate slowly consumed almost 70 fewer calories per meal than people who didn't. Multiply that by three squares a day and you'll drop 20 pounds by this time next year.
Sports: Swing Slowly
Like a lot of lousy golfers, each time I address the ball, I tell myself to take an easy, fluid pass. The gorilla-like lurch that ensues once led an orthopod companion to warn me about spinal damage. David Leadbetter, swing coach to greats such as Nick Faldo and Masters champ Trevor Immelman, says the secret to better scores is slowing down.
"Anxiety makes high handicappers move their arms and torsos far too quickly, which actually leads to less velocity for the club head," explains Leadbetter. The problem often stems from too much grip tension. It's tough to feel the ideal medium pressure, so as you address the ball, squeeze the grip too tightly for a moment, and then relax your grip so that it's clearly much too loose. "The tactile difference between the two extremes helps your brain guide your hands to the perfect tension-free grip in the middle," says Leadbetter.
While you're at it, try that breathing thing again. "I'm amazed by how many golfers hold their breath during their swing. Stress speeds them up," he says. Let your breath be a metronome. As you take the club back, start to exhale slowly. And then, as you start down, exhale a little more strongly and allow a nice whoosh of breath to escort you smoothly through contact to a full finish.
If you have trouble finding the brake, try these Leadbetter slow-down strategies: On your way to the course, drive a little more slowly than you normally do. As you walk between shots, stroll rather than striding purposefully. As you draw a club from your bag, do it gracefully rather than with a quick jerk.
Fatherhood: Steam Slowly
I'm not against all paternal anger. In fact, I think anger gets a bad rap in these be-their-buddy days, and a righteous father's wrath can actually be useful to a child. But I was often guilty of instant anger—the flash, the instinctive bark that can be our gender's default response to vexation or dread. Here's the line that sees right through me, courtesy of psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim: "We become very upset when we believe we see in a child aspects of our own personalities of which we disapprove."
When you feel anger rising, slow yourself—maybe for just a beat or two, or maybe for a night to sleep on it—and consider whether the child has really earned your anger. If, on reflection, the answer is yes, so be it. But be sure he's not just a handy target for the scorn you feel for the guy in the mirror.
Brainpower: Absorb Slowly
We're encouraged to read fast. Those kids who zipped through the SAT got four years at palaces such as Princeton and Duke. But reading slowly will not only help us remember more, but may also make us more creative. "If you go so fast that you don't focus, you're wasting time, not saving it," says Barry Gordon, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the author of Intelligent Memory. The best way to focus more effectively is to slow down.
If you have some reading to do—let's say your attorney insists you read the whole indictment—make time for two passes. "The first read is to absorb the general themes," says Dr. Gordon. "Once you have those organizers in your head, you'll be able to store more details from the second pass." Think of making memories as a weaving process, suggests Dr. Gordon. "The more threads of cross-connections, the more context you can create for a memory, so the more durable it will be."
Slowing down can also lead to frame-breaking ideas. "A boost in creativity connected to a slower, more methodical approach is reported in much of the problem-solving literature," says Dr. Gordon. He cites a famous film of Jackson Pollock at work, specifically moments when the artist pauses, seemingly to assess what he has done and to allow himself the time to "see" differently, to jump out of the grooves of going on automatic with his faster mind. So whether you're trying to reinvent microfinance or break down a match-up zone, if you slow your mind's momentum, you may allow it to find a new way.
Fitness: Sculpt Slowly
If personal trainers, as a group, were allowed to give their charges only one piece of advice, they might well choose the importance of maintaining form when lifting, which often means going more slowly. "Many people lift weights too quickly, which interferes with their ability to reach their peak performance," says Suzanne Meth, who runs E, the VIP fitness studio at Equinox health club. "They have a get-this-over-with urge, and they lose form and control of the weights." If you do reps too fast, you can get a bounce effect, meaning the weight rebounds off the bottom of the movement. It short-changes the muscle. "Come to a full stop at the end of each rep," advises Meth. Slowing down and keeping your form is the best way to isolate your muscles and maximize your strength potential.
Another way to slow down is to do exercises that require holding a position for a period of time, which is an effective way to train important muscle groups. Tired of hundreds of repetitions of crunches? Kyle Brown, a San Diego-based personal trainer, recommends the plank and the vacuum exercises for the transverse abdominus. "The muscle fibers of the transverse abdominus run across the abdomen, and when the muscle contracts, it stabilizes your pelvis and thoracic spine," says Brown. "The plank and the vacuum create a virtual weight belt to support your lower spine." Spinal stabilization comes in handy when carrying drowsy children in from the car or lugging a recycling barrel to the curb on newspaper pick-up day.
Style: Dazzle Slowly
Stylish men move just a heartbeat more slowly than the ho-hum majority. Your Uncle Ned is fidgety; Cary Grant was graceful and at ease. Woody Allen is frantic; Johnny Depp, even as the gaudy Captain Jack, seems to have a private cadence in his head. Style moves with dispatch, but never rushes. It doesn't scurry or blurt things out. Its wisdom won't wilt while waiting. The wile known as style may require a barely-there across-the-board deceleration. Walk just a little less quickly. Talk as though people will give your thoughts some time. Never hurry wine into a glass, or beer into a mug. Even loosen your tie with languor. Style savors the journey, not just the destination. Remember the age-old wisdom: He who has command of others is powerful, but he who has command of himself is mighty. And you'll always look stylish with these 30 Timeless Style Upgrades.
Craftsmanship: Saw Slowly
"Every job-site accident since time began is traceable to hurrying," says Norm Abram, master carpenter and host of This Old House and New Yankee Workshop, both on PBS. "If you slow down, you'll save time, prevent injuries, and do better work." Consider your handsaw technique. "Lots of guys use too short strokes," says Abram, "and they fall into a too quick back-and-forth action. Most saws are designed for a longer push-pull, and extending the stroke gets you more efficiency." Want to hammer a nail just right? "Fight the get-this-done attitude lots of men have. Focus on the nail head, remind yourself to go more slowly, and you'll find a rhythm that is quick but unhurried." Craftsmanship is slower than less skilled work. "Remember the carpenter's methodical mantra: Measure twice, cut once," says Abram.
Friendship: Sip Slowly
"People have a million different ideas about how to drink bourbon," says Dave Pickerell, a bourbon distillery expert who prefers it poured into a shaker with ice, rattled around for three seconds, and then poured off the ice into a double old-fashioned glass. "But none of it matters if you don't drink it slowly. Bourbon is about sharing and sitting around at the end of the day. There's something about it that encourages fellowship and good humor. It's a sipping whiskey."
Career: Speak Slowly
"The most common mistake people make in presentations is speaking too quickly," says Stephen Tollefson, lecturer and director of the teaching improvement office at the University of California at Berkeley. "We go too fast because at the top of the talk, we don't make a connection with the audience and we get anxious. You have to start with a linker, a sentence that links you to the crowd. It doesn't have to be anything particularly brilliant, just something that humanizes you." So in Kansas, you've been a fan of the Wichita State Shockers since you were a kid. (By the way, it has to be true.)
"Reading a speech is also a speeder-upper," says Tollefson. "If you need the text typed out, print it in large all-caps, highlight the key points in yellow, and then 'converse' your way from one highlighted passage to the next." And don't get locked in place behind a podium. Movement will relax you and slow you down.
Want more ways to live your best life? Check out these 40 Ways to Have a Healthy Sex Life After 40.
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