Cover story: Relax, Go Slow | brunch | Hindustan Times
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Cover story: Relax, Go Slow

What’s on your to-do list? Plenty of things we bet. Big and small. Buying the new flavour of dahi that hit the stands last week, posting party pictures on Facebook and addressing the 54 replies that will inevitably follow, booking a summer holiday NOW...

brunch Updated: Jan 19, 2013 18:42 IST
Brunch team

What’s on your to-do list? Plenty of things we bet. Big and small. Buying the new flavour of dahi that hit the stands last week, posting party pictures on Facebook and addressing the 54 replies that will inevitably follow, booking a summer holiday NOW (when prices are low), catching up on all the How I Met Your Mother episodes you missed, learning the difference between Shiraz and Chardonnay, calling the Khannas over (it’s your turn now), trying out the new spa at the mall, losing the four kg you gained since September, watching three hours of The Hobbit so you know what people are talking about, introducing your useless third cousin to your stockbroker, figuring out how much your neighbour paid for his outdoor paint job....

Oh, and speaking of a job, you have a full-time job to tackle as well.

Wow! You’re really trying to conquer the world, aren’t you? And on Sunday too! But do you really have to? About half those things on your list (or anybody’s list, really) are essentially non-essentials – tasks that don’t mean much to begin with, lead to more tasks and make you feel awful for not having finished them. No wonder you always feel left behind.

The happiest people in the world are not those who’ve realised their every dream, they’re the ones who’ve figured out some dreams just aren’t worth dreaming. You don’t need to be someplace happening every Saturday night. You don’t need to check every email the moment it flies into your inbox. You don’t need to answer the phone the instant it rings. Your home needn’t always look like it’s modelling for an interiors magazine. You don’t have to ace every ghastly PowerPoint presentation. You don’t need a joke to fill every awkward moment. You don’t need to see nine European cities in five days. And honestly, after season three, Barney’s pretty annoying on How I Met Your Mother.

By all means live a full life. But every once in a while, do check to see what that full life is packed with – clutter or stuff that matters?

Take a break from life, and you’ll find you may just enjoy it more. Don’t take our word for it; the experts are saying it too. So are the successful people: the celebs.

How do I do it

Farhan Akhtar, actor, director

FarhanWe’re all trying to achieve so much, do you think we should slow down our pace?

Absolutely. It’s so important to take time off from our daily routine and experience life in a different way altogether. I understand that everyone may not be that lucky to get such opportunities, but if you are, then you shouldn’t squander it.

What motivates me is what I am doing at a particular time. There are times when I want to just sit down and think of a script or concentrate on writing poetry. There is an absolute need for compartmentalisation. I feel there is a part of me that subconsciously cuts off other things or switches off, and concentrates only on the one thing that I am working on at that time.

Was it a conscious decision to choose fewer films?
Yes, it works best for me and this is the way I like to work. What we are doing as actors essentially is portraying fictional characters’ lives. So we have to be more responsible towards that character – be more like him and think like him. And by concentrating on a single film, it helps me to give my best for the film. That’s why I took nearly one-and-half years for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag as I wanted to get into the character completely, both physically and mentally.

But you are in a fast-paced industry, how do you keep it slow and easy?

I guess a lot of it depends on the kind of film I’m doing. Different films demand a different regime and different amount of time. If the scale of the film is huge and is expanding over the life of the character on a large level, then it definitely needs a lot of preparation time.

Expert speak

Calm down, its not rocket science

PN Tandon, chairman at the National Brain Research Center, Delhi

Your brain can do several things at the same time. But individuals have different capacities for handling simultaneous overloads. The brain is trainable to any limits [mostly because these limits are not defined yet]. You have to prioritise what’s important and your brain will do the rest. Priorities depend on your emotions. The information goes from the frontal lobe to the amygdala, the emotional centre, and back to the frontal lobe, which decides what to do and what not to. So get your emotions involved.

How do I do it

Prasoon Joshi, lyricist, copywriter, screenwriter

When you are young, you don’t really pay much heed to anything other than your whims and fancies. You want to achieve it all, be the best in your profession, be the most popular guy around. You want everybody to talk about you, take you seriously. And everything needs to be accomplished at break-neck speed. In the process, family, friends, health, and life in general take a back seat.

I did it too. Ran the rat race and achieved all that I aspired for till I realised I had left a lot of my wants behind – precious time, relationships, friends and poetry. And that was when I took the call to slow down.

PrasoonThrough my years in advertising, I had started to pen lyrics for films to keep the poet in me happy. With Rang De Basanti, I got a chance to write the dialogues as well. And it was perhaps the appreciation for the film that motivated me to pause and take the poet-writer in me a little more seriously. I took a break to write Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. It’s taken me two years. I haven’t quit. Just that now, I choose my work. I delegate and consult more.

I realise that life isn’t about just keeping in touch. It is about building a bond, a relationship. It can’t be done by being on the Facebook friends list or by clicking a ‘Like’ on random pictures. There has to be a physical connect. It may be inconvenient, but pick up the phone and have that conversation. Not with everybody. So, choose your friends. I don’t go to every party I am invited to. I do so only when there is a personal connect. We don’t need to know, or be on top of all things. After all, with new technology getting outdated even before we get the hang of it, how fast can we run? It’s okay to be not updated enough. I was among those who could choose to slow down. So I won’t judge if you can’t manage. But if you can, it’s time to quit being frivolous.

Expert speak

No need for speed

Rachna K Singh, lifestyle management expert

We all are geared to be fast. Faster, we’re taught, translates to more efficient, high energy, ambition and utilising stress in the positive way. And everything in our lives is directed towards a high, so we jump from one thing to another, clog our brains and lives to supposedly be more effective.

Slowing down doesn’t mean stopping, but it implies toning down the pace. You don’t have to give up everything you’re doing. But take out time to savour it all. Appreciate the hours and minutes rather than just count them. Do everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible or as much as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything.

Being present in the moment, with the activity you are doing, or the person you are with, is really the essence of slowing down. Employ all five senses – we’re often in so much of a hurry that we fail to appreciate or even sense something like a good aroma. It’s like watching a movie in the fast forward mode. Of course it’s going to leave you devoid of internal joy.

Take a break – to rejuvenate, and learn how to take things and then get back to the same pace. Unless you slow down, you’ll never appreciate what an adrenaline rush feels like.

At work
Realise the difference between slowing down and laziness. By taking it easy, you’ll be able to perform better because it’s going to be a qualitatively enhancing experience. Get over the insecurity of slowing down – worry over whether you will get left behind if you don’t put that one extra idea on the table. Start accepting that your life will slow down five per cent but the benefits you will accrue will go a long way. It’s an investment.

In a relationship
Taking it slow will let you fully experience all the emotions in a relationship. Say sorry and thank you, and mean it. Listen and allow yourself to feel. Spend time (not just a few snatched minutes of “quality time”) with the ones you love. It will calm you down and help you understand
other better.

Slow it down step by step
* First, admit to yourself the need to stop rushing.
* Create a list of tasks and responsibilities and see how much you’ve got on your plate.
* Take stock of what you can do without. Prioritise what’s important: time with your family or a step up the career ladder? Reading the book you’ve been meaning to or showing up at a party because you’re expected to?
* Figure out where you are in life, where you want to be and what you need to do. Slow down in the areas that matter and quicken the pace on others.

How do I do it

AnujaAnuja Chauhan, author

I am basically a writer and I joined advertising with the purpose of writing. However, with each passing year, I realised that I was hardly getting any time to do that as things like administrative work, meetings and socialising etc, were consuming most of my time. That’s why after working for many years, I recently decided to quit and concentrate on writing. I feel that I am much more productive now as there’s no time wasted on chain emails and waiting for official clearances. In any case, sometimes it is much easier to just pick up the phone and directly communicate with the person than send an array of emails. My new book is ready to be launched at the Jaipur Literature Festival and I have written screenplays for Anil Kapoor productions and UTV.

Another thing I have learnt is that it is all right to say no to things you are not keen on doing or to places you have to go to only to please the family or extended family. Issues like picking up the perfect gift for birthday parties that your kids attend became a matter of stress until we decided to simply give cash instead. I don’t believe in keeping in touch through social media – a whole relationship can be built on the basis of something as simple as a coffee with someone.

Simplify your life. Why lead a distracted life and be superficial when you can be more direct? My daughter has to sit for her Class 12 exams and she is spending more time worrying about things than actually focusing on studies. I keep telling her that being more focused will keep you calm also.Expert speak

Listen to your heart

Dr Mohan Nair, Head, Department of Cardiology, Max Hospital

Scientifically, working too much doesn’t doesn’t harm the body. But it is the lifestyle of stressed people that does. Once you do too many things, you ignore the things you’re supposed to: eat healthy, get exercise, and control your weight. So your blood pressure shoots up and your body secretes harmful hormones. According to a study in the American Journal of Cardiology, stressed people have 27 per cent higher risk of heart attack than cases where stress was managed. It’s as bad as smoking five cigarettes a day.

How do I do it

Palash Krishna Mehrotra, writer and Journalist

PalashI have made the conscious decision of spending some part of the year in Dehradun, so that I can concentrate on my writing. And with the frequent power cuts and no Internet, you have no option but to slow down. But I don’t necessarily mind. It gives you time to sit and reflect on things, probably catch up with your family and do activities that you wouldn’t normally. This is not to say that people in smaller towns don’t lead busy lives. But it’s important to be able to step back and think about what you want, only then will you be able to focus on what’s actually going on around you. It’s essential to not try and squeeze everything out of that one minute. Else you wouldn’t be able to relish the experiences around you. Trying to tick every box on the list of things you need to do will ultimately leave them empty.

It’s also important to eliminate a few things and be cut off from social pressures. Public opinion is

ultimately an artificial pressure and you don’t have to feel it if you don’t want to. Try doing things on your own, like playing the guitar by yourself instead of in a band, or painting if that’s what you like. The idea is to not be competitive about things that you enjoy but to have a good time on your own. It will give you perspective and let you savour experiences instead of jumping from one fun activity to another. Take a moment to think about what you want to do, instead of what you should be doing.

Expert speak

Don't take a trip, take a vacation

Vishal Suri, a deputy COO at Kuoni India

Work pressures make it impossible to have several short trips through the year. But if you’re going to have one holiday, make sure it’s one that works best for your physical, emotional well being. Opt for a destination that lets you relax and put things into perspective. Instead of a super-packed, all-inclusive group tour, try exploring a place on your own, perhaps on a road trip so you can stop wherever it strikes your fancy. Single destinations work better than clubbing multiple locations in one trip – this way you can immerse yourself in the experience instead of giving many sites a fleeting glance. Plan your activities, make time for rejuvenation, try out the local cuisine and live as the locals do. That’s when you’ll unwind and find the side of you that you thought you’d lost.

How do I do it

Amish, author

AmishI didn’t plan to become a writer. I had writing almost thrust upon me. And even though I am working harder now than when I was in banking, I still don’t feel stressed about work. So in that sense, I am taking it slow by doing what I love even when I am probably thinking about ‘work’ all the time. If one wants to slow down, it’s essential to prioritise. Realise what’s important and spend time on that instead of everything that comes your way. We end up spending a lot of time on unimportant things, which is why we feel increasingly stressed. Let’s be honest, none of us are so important that the things will come to a standstill if we don’t check Twitter or Facebook for a day or reply to an email a few hours later. The thing to understand is that none of us are indispensable.

I need to get a little philosophical, since this topic demands it, so as the Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius said, "I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others." If you go out there to impress others, then you’ll never realise what is that you want and won’t end up being happy about it. As far as the line between slowing down and laziness goes, as long as you are able to pay your own bills, anything you do or don’t do is fine.

Expert speak
To really connect, disconnect
Shibani Sharma Khanna, channel director at NDTV Good Times

Get off Facebook and Twitter. We all need to dial down our lives rather than turn anything up a notch. And to do this well, you need to know your threshold. Are you are morning person? Then get into bed by 10pm so you can wake up at 4am and enjoy the time in which you feel your best. Life doesn’t have to be such a rat race – you don’t have to be a me-too. But to be 100 per cent true to yourself, you have to step back and evaluate what is necessary and what isn’t. Daniel Day Lewis recently said “I like taking a long time over things and I believe it’s the time spent away from work that allows me to do the work itself.”

Unitasking is smarter than multitasking – at some point you want the world to disappear so it can be just you and a slice of New York cheesecake. We need to slip back from the barrage of information in our lives, minimise some of those windows and practice mindful living.

Expert speak
Respond, don't react
Lata Gwalani, behavioural and skills facilitator, motivational speaker and author
We all are suffering from the ‘Busyness Syndrome’ – we want to appear busy all the time. There are people who don’t know what to do on a Sunday as they are unable to have a laidback day.

We have to realise that life is not a 100 metre dash but a marathon. You have to learn to ‘let go’. We need to slow our minds and begin to identify the difference between reaction and response. We have trained our minds to be in a reactive mode rather than a responsive mode. There are situations when we actually don’t need to react. When we do, it stresses us out.

With inputs from Parul Khanna Tiwari, Veenu Singh, Rachel Lopez, Amrah Ashraf, Saudamini Jain, Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi and Yashica Dutt

From HT Brunch, January 20

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