carl honoré // from speedaholic to slow movement guru
For a man tipped as the ‘unofficial godfather of a cultural shift towards slowing down’, the ‘international spokesman for the concept of leisure’, and ‘inarguably the world’s leading evangelist for the Slow Movement’, Mr Carl Honoré responds to emails with almost lightning speed.
Within a couple of minutes of sending out an email, Carl had responded, and after a brief interchange one afternoon, it wasn’t long before I met Carl in person and he was donning his mahabis in a London coffee shop. We soon began chatting at length about his transition from speedaholic to renowned proponent of the slow movement.
Now, if you’ve come across the slow movement, then it’s likely you’ll be familiar with Carl’s work- either through his global best selling books, TED talks, countless interviews or his very own blog. But if the slow movement is news to you, then there aren’t many people better than Carl to introduce you to the concept.
photo: carl's mahabis of choice, dark grey x skane yellow
The spread of the slow movement has largely been down to the relatable quality of Carl himself.
“I’m not the shaven headed monk carrying a yoga mat, that people expect”.
Far from a new-age messiah born with an inherent need to spread the ‘slow life’, Carl himself was a self-proclaimed ‘speedaholic’. As a foreign correspondent for a newspaper and a busy globetrotting journalist, Carl was also locked into the compulsion to hurry.
His wake-up call came when he found himself speed reading bedtime stories to his son, skipping paragraphs and pages to save time. When he came across “The One-Minute Bedtime Story” in a newspaper article on timesaving tips, he initially thought it was just the solution he needed, before taking a step back and asking himself “Has it really come to this? Am I really in such a hurry that I’m prepared to fob off my son with a sound byte at the end of the day?”. This event prompted Carl to think long and hard about the roadrunner culture that he and so many others had become entrapped in.
Now ‘on a mission to slow down the world’, Carl has been fighting the cult of busy. He argues that if we stopped hurrying, started prioritising, and viewed time differently, then we’d ultimately enjoy our lives more. “Stop counting the minutes and seconds, and start living them”.
At mahabis, we too believe in the importance of dedicating more of our lives towards ‘downtime’. Whilst other products strive for achievement, speed and performance, mahabis represents the importance of turning down and switching off once in a while.
With this in mind, we spoke to Carl about his slow philosophies, and asked him a few questions about how he chooses to unwind.
A ‘quick’ introduction to the ‘slow’ movement:
Why is the world so busy?
In addition to the usual suspects- urbanisation, consumerism, the workplace and technology, Carl argues that if you cut through these factors the real answer lies in how we think about time itself.
“In some cultures, time is seen as cyclical, unhurried”, moving in circles that renew and refresh themselves. “But in the West, time is linear, a finite resource that is always draining away. You either use it or you lose it”.
How often have you heard the phrase ‘time is money’, for instance? Carl suggests this creates something of an equation; when time is seen as sparse, we naturally speed up, to try and fit more and more within each moment of the day.
“Every moment of the day feels like a race against the clock. […] We turn every day into a race to the finish line, a finish line, incidentally that we never reach.”
Why is it so hard to slow down?
It’s not just due to the demands that are placed on us, but also the fact that we’re almost hardwired for speed. We like the adrenaline, “speed is fun, sexy even”. But in a more metaphysical sense:
“speed becomes a way of walling ourselves off from the bigger, deeper questions. We fill our head with distraction, with busyness so that we don’t have to ask, am I well? Am I happy?”
In a world obsessed with speed, we’re detached from the bigger picture, and instead we focus on the smaller questions, the more immediate and seemingly pressing distractions “Where are my keys? What’s for dinner? How am I going to meet that deadline? Have I missed the train?”
Carl adds that one of the most powerful reasons that makes slowing down appear like an impossibility, is the cultural taboo that society has constructed around “slow”. It is seen as a dirty word, a byword for “lazy”, “slacking”, “stupidity” and even failure.
“The taboo against slowing down is woven into our vernacular”.
Is it possible to slow down?
Yes. Of course it’s not easy, as a consequence of the above, but enter exhibit A: Carl.
A reformed speedaholic.
“I no longer overload myself. Rushing is no longer my default mode. I’m living my life rather than rushing through it”.
The slow movement tackles the taboo associated with being slow.
When Carl first proposed the idea of a “Slow movement,” there were zero entries on Google search. Now there are 1.5 million.
Cutting through even British cynicism, Carl’s books have been translated into over 30 languages and his ideas adopted by thousands worldwide.
Slow around the world
As a Canadian, living in Britain, with a Mauritian father and a globetrotting occupation, Carl has observed how different cultures approach his ideas.
“It helps that I’m Canadian, when I speak in America, they don’t just think ‘here’s another European telling us to take longer holidays’…”
We speak about how even amongst ironic and famously cynical Brits, these seemingly ‘new-age’ mindsets have been adopted. “There now aren’t many businesses without mindfulness workshops !” Carl jokes.
He adds that he’d like to do more research on the concept of slow in Sub-saharan Africa, and look into the balance between ‘good-slow’ and ‘bad-slow’, and also ask questions about what we can learn from countries where the pace of life is so different to our own.
photo: carl honoré, and his book 'the slow fix'
Perceptions of Mr. Slow
As the leading guru on the slow movement, there are a number of preconceptions about Carl’s lifestyle. We joked about him not being a chanting monk with a yoga-mat, and that his email-response speed was shockingly fast.
This led on to him admitting the unmistakable irony in him receiving a speeding ticket whilst on his way to promote his book at a Slow Food event.
“I’m not a perfect paragon of anything. I enjoy subverting the preconception”
Nor is Carl overwhelmingly anti-technology. As he plugs his iPhone in to charge, we speak about some of the conflicts people perceive between commercialism, the slow movement, and the pace of technology.
“I am no Luddite. I love technology and own all the latest high-tech goodies. To me, being able to tap the Web or speak and write to anyone anytime anywhere is exhilarating. By freeing us from the constraints of time and space, mobile communication can help us seize the moment.
But we have to use the gadgets wisely. Otherwise they start to backfire on us. They become our masters and we come their slaves.”
Being constantly connected and wired into technology can take it’s toll, “it keeps us distracted so that we think less well, and it tires us out.”
“When we stay plugged in too long, technology designed to bring us together ends up driving us apart because we become unable to give our full attention to the people we are actually with in the real world”.
Carl is honest about the enriching properties about technology, but aware of the dangers of over-reliance.
“Human beings need moments of silence and solitude — to rest and recharge; to think deeply and creatively; to look inside and confront the big questions: Who am I? How do I fit into the world? What is the meaning of life? You cannot daydream or reflect when your mind is constantly wondering if you have a new whatsapp message or if it’s time for a fresh tweet.”
Thoughts on downtime
“I don’t like the expression, it reflects our unease with not being productive.”
“I don’t think of it as downtime”, Carl adds, rather his general attitude towards living is infused with experiencing moments at a slower pace, less unhurried.
“I think of it more as topping up, stepping back. It’s time to reflect, physically, mentally but also psychologically and spiritually”.
He explains that ‘downtime’ to him is more about experiencing things at the right tempo, taking things at your own pace, looking at the bigger picture and regaining temporal autonomy.
“It’s the time where we should put our feet up, let the world wash by, look out, but also look in”.
If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
Upon being asked this question, Carl pauses for a while and admits that since embracing Slow, he's not thought of his time in this way- and rather than fretting about not having enough time, he now concentrates on making the most of the time he has.
“I guess the things I’m doing less of, I’d do more of. Like drawing. I used to be terrible at it, but I recently discovered the joy of sketching. With an extra hour perhaps I’d fit in a sketching course. I find it restful and meditative.”
Living in London, one of the fastest paced cities in the world, Carl says he sees London less as a hectic metropolis and more a 'constellation of villages'. We often take for granted the green space that London has to offer, and assume that because it's a city, it's a place where we can't switch off.
When Carl was a ‘speedaholic’, he admits he’d ‘lost reading’. Now he has slowed his pace, he uses reading as a barometer. “I read a lot now, I don’t watch much TV, but when I do, I’m picky about what I watch”.
“Whatever time we have, we inevitably fill up. It’s more about approaching time with a slow spirit”.
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