Carl Honoré, a recovered "speedaholic," had an epiphany three years ago that caused him to slow down the hectic pace of his life.
A journalist based in London, Honoré read a newspaper article on timesaving tips that referenced a book of one-minute bedtime stories. He found it an appealing idea since he'd already gotten in the habit of speed-reading "The Cat in the Hat" to his son.
"My first reaction was, yes, one-minute bedtime stories," he said. "My next thought was, whoa, has it really come to this? That was really when a light bulb went off in my head."
He realized he had become so anxious to rush through the nightly ritual that he'd rather get seven or even eight stories done in less time than he'd normally spend reading one, quality time be damned.
So he embarked on finding a way to address the issue of "time poverty," the constant fast-forward motion in which many overscheduled, stressed-out Americans are always rushing toward their next task -- work, meals, family time, even sex -- rather than savoring what they consider most important.
Honoré's recent book, "In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed," has made him the unofficial godfather of a growing cultural shift toward slowing down.
"[There's a] backlash against the mainstream dictate that faster is always better, which puts quantity always ahead of quality," he said. "People all across the West are waking up to the folly of that."
For advocates of the Slow Movement, it's not about rejecting technology or changing modern life completely, but rather about keeping it all in balance -- not talking on the phone, driving and checking a BlackBerry while headed to the drive-thru before the next meeting.
"I love technology. I love speed. You need some things to be fast -- ice hockey, squash, a fast Internet connection," Honoré said. But, he said, "My passion for speed had become an addiction. I was doing everything faster."
Americans Start to Embrace the Slow
The Slow Movement has been thriving for years in Europe, where Slow Cities encourage walking and more interaction with people. Slow Food, which advocates both healthy ingredients in cooking as well as enjoying meals, has been a force since the 1980s.
In the United States, the movement is small but growing. Slow Food USA has grown to 12,000 members in 140 chapters from 1,500 adherents when it was founded in 2000.
Erika Lesser, executive director of Slow Food USA, said part of the movement is about slowing down enough to not only enjoy food but spend time eating -- not just at a desk or in front of the TV. "It's something that we talk about all the time, something which manifests itself in what we try to set as an example for our members," she said. "Slowness is a philosophical idea. It's not like following a diet. People interpret it in their own way."
Even people with the most hectic schedules can apply some of the values to their lives, she said, by cooking one meal a week with family and friends and shopping at local farmer's markets rather than supermarkets.
In addition, Slow Food USA is working with schools to create gardens and utilize their produce to teach about biodiversity in the food supply. "We've tapped into this vein of interest in alternative food choices," she said.
Seeking a Work-Life Balance
Between working long hours and constantly being connected to the office by technology, the division between work and personal time is often blurred for many Americans. But there's momentum behind a movement to ensure that a work-life balance can be achieved.
The Take Back Your Time initiative in North America is advocating more personal time and simpler lives for all individuals. "Our feeling was one of the biggest prices that Americans pay for our endless obsession with having more stuff and ever-expanding material life and we never get a break from work, despite labor-saving and time-saving devices," said national coordinator John de Graaf. "We feel the cost of our country's extreme orientation to consumerism."
De Graaf said the group hopes to initiate legislation to address things such as paid family and medical leave, three weeks minimum annual paid vacation and a cap on mandatory overtime, policies that are in place in other countries.
In fact, if you lived in many parts of Europe and had not taken any time off, as of this week you could take nine weeks vacation -- the rest of the year. To highlight this, Oct. 24 marked "Take Back Your Time Day," symbolizing the 350-hour difference in work time. "That's a lot of time that's taken away from other things people might be able to do," de Graaf said.
To mark the day, the group encouraged people to host such things as barbecues and family events, as well as church discussions. But the effort should not be mistaken for "international slackers day," de Graaf said.
"We're not about being lazy," he said. "We believe work is important and valuable, but we believe Americans have pushed themselves too far.
"We certainly believe that companies can do this," he added. "We need some legislation that sets some floors. Everything that we're asking for is pretty much already the law in other industrialized countries in the world, capitalist countries."
What to Do?
To transition to a slower life, Honoré has several suggestions: don't schedule something in every free moment of your day; prioritize activities and cut from the bottom of the list; limit television watching; and keep an eye on your "personal speedometer" so you can gauge when you are rushing for speed's sake rather than necessity.
But don't expect the change to happen immediately -- or even naturally. "You don't slow down by snapping you're fingers, 'Now I'm slow,' " said Honoré, who got a speeding ticket on his way to a Slow Food dinner as he researched the book.
"That happens," he said. "My life has been transformed by it, but I still feel that old itch."
Though it may seem radical to opt out of standard activities or turn off your cell phone, you won't be alone. There are many people saying "slow" should not be demonized but celebrated as a healthier way of life.
"They're battling against basic human impulses, as well as the prevailing culture," Honoré said. "But once they make the jump and see how much it pays off, they don't look back. Nobody has two burnouts."