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October 9, 2020

Why I choose to slow down

Most people don't choose to slow down. They're forced to learn when their old way of life doesn't work anymore.

Meaningful "slow-down"

First of all, most people don't "choose" to slow down. People either don't care about hustling or they hustle the shit out of everything until they can't. Most of us will happily go all gas no brakes until burnout was manifested in forms of illness or depression.

But what does "slow-down" even mean? To some, it either sounds like an excuse to avoid works, or something you say when you're "high" on something. When I first read the phrase, it reminded me these sketchy motivational posters with cliché copy written in all caps, like "Be The Best of You", or "Be Happy!" You gotta to appreciate the positivity. After all, the person who designed them might actually be happy and feeling like their best version, who knows. But without context, messages as these often end up meaning nothing at all. Yet, with the rise of burnout culture, meditation apps, and wide-spread depression. We finally have the context to meaningfully talk about "slow-down".

A wall of posters - @vviibbitzz

This is the part where I describe the lifestyle that made me think about slowing down. I can talk about the mindless scrolling on my phone. Or I can rant on about the non-stop working at the office, at home, and at park... But I wouldn't, because I'm sure you're well aware of the kind of lifestyle I'm describing. That's why I'm not gonna talk about reducing my days into an endless to-do-list, as if completing it, would buy my way into happiness. And I'm definitely not gonna talk about the feeling of not doing enough, even when I'm practically operating like a machine. Of course I've thought of slowing-down, but rewiring my brain turns out to be harder than I thought.

A theory of change

For one, I think the problem could be inertia. Per Newton's first law of motion — "An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an opposite force". It takes too much effort and energy to do things differently, so we don't, simple. When we're on a course of actions, we tend to stick to it. For most of us, that "course of actions" is almost always the easier option, if not the easiest. It's easier to lie than to tell the truth; it's easier to maintain a broken relationship than to end one; it's easier to give up than to hold on... I spent months think about writing this, because playing Call of Duty, binge-watching Netflix, learning Webflow, and even watering my plant seems like a far easier option than to sit and write.

"An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an opposite force".

The second reason may have something to do with risks and uncertainty. And our survival instincts made it difficult for us to see uncertainty as anything but pain and fear. And statistically speaking, risks breed more failures than successes.  Like any average human, I am not a fan of failures. We’ve all heard people talking about how "failure is the best way to learn". Don't get me wrong, I'm very much a believer of trial and error. I simply dislike failing, it dims our hopes, hinders our confidence, and it's embarrassing, to say the least (even when everyone else fails).

It's only natural to avoid failures. You can't fail if you don't try. If you don't commit to a relationship then you won't get hurt. If you only fantasize of starting your business without doing it, then you get to feel all that excitement without risking the significant chance of crash-and-burn. likewise, if I don't write this, then in my head, I will always feel like I have this all figured out. The truth? I'm just afraid that I won't be able to capture even a fraction of what's in my head. Then, there will be no more running from the same existential question: "am I really who I think I am?"

That brings us to the third reason, one that I think is most profound and difficult to wrap my head around. There's no foreseeable end for any of our struggles. Whether it’s my effort to be a good writer, our attempt to be successful, or the pursuit of meanings and happiness. It's like dealing with depression. You don't cure depression. Those ugly feelings don't go away for good once you conquer them. They come back, always slightly different than the last time. You don't solve depression, you cope with it, you deal with it continually and indefinitely. Hopefully, you will eventually get better at dealing with it. The same goes with being successful. No matter what it may appear to be from the outside, people who "made it" know all too well that "making it" is not the end, but only the beginning. And even just to maintain that same level of success, one has to work tirelessly and indefinitely. Finding peace in mind is not like getting an "A" for your school essay or nailing your big report. Because in life, a day's end merely marks the beginning of another day to come, and tomorrow, the work continues.

Autopilot no more

Looking at it now, I stayed "on autopilot" for too long, got used to receiving those dopamine hits from all sorts of apps. And to-do-lists provided me with a sense of security, it helped me visualize the path to so-called "success".  All that momentum from doing the same thing, again and again, kept me going on the same path, it's too demanding to have it otherwise. Perhaps it's because I'm too comfortable with my life as it is. that my weeks and months are predictable and stable, so why take the unnecessary changes to risk it all? Or, perhaps I lacked the courage to accept life as it is. I always find new excuses and make up rationales for not doing the things I should be doing. It's not because I don't know what to do, or even how to do it. But I will always be scared shitless to think that I don't have what it takes to do it again, and again, and again.

Somehow, I felt like I had to write this. I was only in "autopilot" for a few years, and it made me so numbed and broken. Even when I'm surrounded with people who loved me, it all felt so incredibly fleeting and temporary. Gradually, I grew less responsive to happiness, sadness, excitement, hope or just about any feelings that you'd expect a human to feel. I found myself unlocking my phone every 50 seconds, checking the notification bar every 10 minutes, and my email inbox every hour. Being aware of my toxic habits didn't help, it only led me down the path of guilt and self-resentment. After all, you end up with a sustained period of emotional rollercoasters, with no clear sign of an end.

I found myself unlocking my phone every 50 seconds, checking the notification bar every 10 minutes, and my email inbox every hour.

I'm fed up with having all those noises inside of my head, always reminding me what I should be doing. It's there when I'm lying awake on my bed, it's there's when I close my eyes, and it's there when I open them after a long, sleepless night. It's never quiet, and it makes you feel restless and exhausting.

Another perfectly normal day

The point is, I didn't choose to slow down. I had to look elsewhere because I could see the numbness and emptiness down the road in where I was heading, and it frightened me. Now, I'm convinced that if I can't find meanings in living a perfectly normal life in a perfectly normal world, then no amount of success will mean anything to me. In the hope of not losing everything I ever cared about, I have to try.

Like what you read?

We write about tea. But most of all, we write about what it means to slow-down in the 21th century. Stay tuned, we're just getting started.

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