The Paradox of Slowing Down to Go Farther

Astonishment flashed across my face after I hit the ball.

“Where else have my instincts been this wrong?” I thought to myself, watching the ball settle onto the fairway.

I’m not an experienced golfer, and it showed in my performance. I struggled to hit the ball with distance OR accuracy.

To try and hit the ball farther, I changed my approach by swinging the club harder!

In my head, my approach made perfect sense: “More effort = More progress!”

But my instincts were wrong. Putting more “OOMPH” into my swing actually made my performance worse. I was less accurate, the ball didn’t travel farther, and I had used more energy in the process.

Left to my own devices, I would have continued this frustrating cycle. Fortunately, I had an experienced golfer with me to share advice. 

On the next hole, they advised that I slow down my swing to get better results.

At first, this didn’t make sense. (“Doesn’t slower mean less power?”) But I trusted their expertise and gave it a try.

The result? I hit the ball farther and straighter than I had hit it all day!

By slowing down, I maintained better form, and struck the ball more cleanly.

This experience stuck with me as the first example of this counterintuitive life principle: If you want to make more progress, start by slowing down.

The Paradox of Slowing Down to Go Farther

The goal of slowing down isn’t actually to go slower. It’s about taking action in the most effective way.

By optimizing for effectiveness of the approach, you make the overall journey better.

Slowing down is about optimizing for:

  • Quality over quantity: Doing things well instead of doing more things.
  • Sustainability of effort: Doing something you can sustain, enjoy doing, and want to keep doing.
  • Intentionality over reactivity: Doing what you’ve decided you want, instead of letting others dictate your path for you.
  • Open consideration over attachment: Doing what’s optimal, letting go of attachments to “the way things are” or “the way we’ve always done it”.

The Navy Seals have a saying that encapsulates this premise: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

When you do something more slowly, you’re more intentional, and can make it smooth. Smooth means high-quality. And high-quality is effective, which means you make faster progress.

But if slowing down is so important, why don’t we do it more often? Why isn’t “mindful and slow” our default state?

Photo by Tim Guow

Why it’s Hard to Slow Down

There is a toxic narrative present in modern society: “More is better.”

You see it in the form of rampant consumerism across the world. But the same story bleeds into other areas of life, often without realizing it.

And it contributes to a destructive thought-pattern when trying to make progress on things you care about. “If I’m not seeing the results I’d like, then I need to do more! Hustle harder! Do it faster! Put more effort into it!”

There’s something attractive about the idea that hard work solves all. It’s simple and gives you a clear path forward. And it’s rooted in a gem of truth, that action begets results.

But it’s not the whole story. How you do something matters just as much as the fact that you do it.

The Perils of “More Effort”

The more effort approach is like trying to drive up a steep, muddy hill by putting more gas into it. Yes, the engine will rev, and your wheels will spin faster. But if you haven’t made progress at the end of the day, what’s the use?

Slowing down gives you an opportunity to consider alternate approaches. Perhaps there’s a different road that would serve you better. Or maybe, walking is the most effective path up.

To make things worse, acting with the idea that “more is always better, so I need to do more” contributes to:

  • Anxiety: “How will I ever get where I want to?”
  • A mindset of scarcity and impatience: “I’m not doing enough”
  • Fear: “If I don’t create what I want here, then I won’t be okay in life.”
  • A scattered mind: “So much to do, so little time!”

Which brings us to back to the lesson I learned on the golf course: If you want to make better progress, start by slowing down.

The Benefits of Slowing Down

I first experienced the benefits of slowing down while playing golf. But since then, I’ve observed this principle at work in all areas of life.

In Communication + Relationships

  • Speaking: Using fewer words and speaking intentionally begets clarity and understanding.
  • Listening: Slowing down and getting present helps you actually hear what the other person is saying. (Instead of focusing on your response.)
  • Sharing: Instead of blurting out the first thing that comes into your head, slowing down helps you consider what’s actually alive in you.
  • Working through a challenge: Slowing down helps you zoom out, shift your perspective, and see the problem from a new angle.

In Business

  • Sales: If you aren’t creating the number of clients you’d like, simply making more sales calls may not be your best route forward. Slowing down can help you understand opportunities to be of greater service to others by changing your approach.
  • Creativity: When procrastinating, or feeling resistance, slowing down to do just one thing is an effective way to create momentum.
  • Operations: If your days are consumed by logistical challenges, and you find yourself repeating similar tasks over and over again, just doing more work won’t solve the underlying issues. Slowing down can help you consider the underlying system, and find ways to expedite, automate, and improve it.

In Athletics

  • Swimming: Slower strokes can help you maintain a streamlined position in the water, leading to faster speeds.
  • Strength Training: Slowing down helps you prioritize good form to avoid injury, and use your energy effectively through.
  • Rock Climbing: Slower movements help you maintain balance and control on the wall, leading to fewer falls.

In Life

  • When overwhelmed: Slowing down is the best way to regain clarity in hectic and stressful times. Mindfully working with what you’re feeling, you can let go of anything that’s not serving you, shift your state, and establish a clear intention to move forward.
  • Careers: Without clarity that you’re on a path that’s aligned with your purpose and priorities, working harder for the next promotion won’t feel as meaningful. Slowing down helps you orient yourself in the right direction, and make shifts if necessary.
  • Rest: To maintain great energy, you need to slow down, rest, and refill the gas tank.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Slowing Down in the Moment

Slowing down means letting go of the urge to do more. And in doing so, shifting your attention to quality and effectiveness.

In practice, the basic process looks like this:

  1. Notice when you experience the thought “I need to do more or else [consequence]…”
  2. Examine if that’s really the case. Do you know for certain that doing more is the answer?
  3. Let go of the urge to do more, and instead, proceed mindfully by slowing down.
  4. Slow down to re-ground yourself and consider possible paths forward.
  5. Prime yourself for action.
  6. Move forward in the best way: with clarity, intention, and energy.

Not sure what “slowing down” actually means?

It can mean many things, depending on where you’re at and what you’re doing!

But to get you started, check out the 8 approaches below. They work well together, but this isn’t a fixed sequence. Treat them as options to experiment with.

8 Ways to Slow Down (and Get Better Results)

  1. Physically slow down. Changing your physical body is a great way to shift your psychology. Start by sitting still. Put your devices away. Breathe deeply for a few minutes. Sit in meditation. Or, go for a walk outside. Anywhere from 5-20 minutes can create a profound shift.
  2. Get out of your head and into your body: Re-ground yourself by directing your attention towards the physical sensations in your body. Observe how the sensations ebb, flow, and change over time. By noticing what’s there without judgment, you can stay more intentional.
  3. Recall the nature of your thoughts: The thoughts crossing your mind are just thoughts, not universal truths. Think of them as suggestions, or possibilities. Question them. Is this thought actually true?
  4. Consider alternate paths forward: What do you want here? How have you been approaching it? What are some different ways you could approach it?
  5. Set a new intention: Having slowed down and considered your approach, what do you want to do now? In the big-picture, what’s most important?
  6. Write about it: Thoughts move quickly in the mind. Noting them down on paper slows things down so you can see them more clearly. Grab a pen and some paper and write thoughts as they surface in your mind. (Without judging them or needing to do something about it.)
  7. Prime yourself for quality action: Before taking action, consider: “What would it look like to move forward in the best way?” For me, this often involves taking a break to shift my state. (e.g. Exercising, having some tea, switching my physical location.) Creating a deliberate shift, even a small one, helps with letting go of the previous approach, and orienting to your new intention.
  8. Treat it as an experiment: It can be intimidating to try new approaches. Instead of worrying about what will happen if it doesn’t work, treat it as an experiment. You’ll never know what will happen unless you give it a go!

It’s important to note that slowing down is NOT about making things perfect. Instead, it’s about improving your effectiveness, even by a little bit.

Beware of the trap of overthinking your approach. If you find yourself trying to get things perfect, shift your focus to marginal gains. “How could I be 5 or 10% more effective?”

Slow Down for Better Results

Like the tortoise who beat the hare by managing its energy and keeping a steady pace, slowing down is about optimizing for the process.

The situations you’re in will vary. The specific approaches that help you slow down might change. But the underlying principles remain the same:

  • Staying intentional, you do what’s most important to you.
  • Focusing on quality, you do things well.
  • Focusing on the long-term, you care for your wellbeing and do things you can sustain.
  • Letting go of attachments, you remain open to possibilities, so you can do what’s optimal.

Mindful is slow. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.

Where would you benefit from slowing down this week?

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