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How you can learn to slow down and what happens when you do

When we slow down, we can give our body and our loved ones the gift of presence

The need for speed can often leave us feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
The need for speed can often leave us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. (iStockphoto)

Over the weekend, my husband, who loves cooking, decided to treat us to dal makhani, which he slow-cooked for 12 hours. He says this is a dish that needs time for the flavours and the texture to set to the optimal level. The result does show. It’s one of those dishes we absolutely love and is so much richer than any restaurant-ordered dal makhani or one that’s prepared at home over an evening.

When we were eating with friends and family, a friend asked, “What’s the secret ingredient for this delicious dal?” As we were telling the friend that it was slow- cooked, I realised that the entire process of slow simmering and cooking is a beautiful reminder of what makes friendships, relationships, even the process of therapy, work.

Slow cooking requires patience, curiosity and a belief that the result will be worth the wait. Whether it’s our relationships or personal insights, if we allow them time to unfold gradually, allow ourselves to slow our pace and maybe let the feelings evoked marinate us, we find our own answers and the secret to what makes it work. This process of choosing to be intentionally slow is one of the most underestimated skills when it comes to personal growth, relationships, even professional success.

Also Read: From Goa to Iran, the joys and benefits of slow travel

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, introduced us to the concept of immediate gratification and pleasure. Years later, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we live in an age of instant gratification—whether it’s in the form of accelerated intimacy, food delivery options or even our patience when it comes to messages or emails. While fast and prompt services in the context of medical emergencies, ambulance access make sense, we need to ask if we have over-extended this to our relationships and personal insights in the name of optimising our lives.

Our need to be productive, multitask and constantly be on top of things impacts the speed and pace with which we do various things on a single day. This need for speed can often leave us feeling overwhelmed, wired and anxious. Even when things are going right and one is peaking at a personal and professional level, there is still a risk of being overwhelmed and overstimulated. This can tire us out and stop us from savouring the moment. From a workplace perspective, I hear more and more clients tell me what a 38-year-old client mentioned: “At 11am, I get an email which is far from urgent, by 11.15am there is a WhatsApp message on my phone about it and now multiply this by 10-12 people on a daily basis, this leaves me dysregulated and I don’t know what can be done.”

Also Read: How slow travel helps fight fake news

The constant availability myth is an extension of our need for quick turnarounds and shorter response times when it comes to others—and ourselves. Social media and technology have added to this. We are confusing bite-sized Instagram posts about human behaviour with therapy. We are forgetting that the process of neuroplasticity and bringing about long-term change requires time, coming to peace with why old patterns don’t serve a purpose, and an emotional deepening of new insights, before one can embody the insights and live them.

Learning to discern and recognise which areas of our life require us to be slow is the first step. Building trust is a slow process, our ability to share personal vulnerabilities with a loved one takes time and space. When you travel on vacation or spend three-four hours with a loved one, conversations deepen and are far richer than a quick coffee catch-up or an online catch-up. When we slow down, we can give our body and our loved ones the gift of presence. As American psychiatrist Bruce Perry says, “When you learn how to slow down, you go further.”


Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

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