How can I learn to be intelligently slow?

Answer: Read this lovely anecdote by Martin Seligman from his book Flourish:

There is more to intelligence and high achievement than sheer speed. What speed does is give you extra time to carry out the non-automatic parts of the task. The second component of intelligence and achievement is slowness and what you do with all that extra time that being fast affords you.

Mental speed comes at a cost. I found myself missing nuances and taking shortcuts when I should have taken the mental equivalent of a deep breath. I found myself skimming and scanning when I should have been reading every word. I found myself listening poorly to others. I would figure out where they were headed after their first few words and then interrupt. And I was anxious a lot of the time–speed and anxiety go together.

I 1974 we hired Ed Pugh, a perception psychologist who worked on exacting questions such as how many photons of light are needed to fire off a single visual receptor. Ed was slow. He wasn’t physically slow ( he had been the quarterback of his Louisiana high school team), and it wasn’t just the drawl, it was his rate of speech and his reaction time to a question. We called Ed “thoughtful.”

I found myself at a party with Ed, and during a long pause . . .I asked Ed, “How did you become so slow?”
“I wasn’t always slow, Marty. I used to be fast; almost as fast as you are. I learned to become slow. Before my PhD, I was a Jesuit. my socius [the mentor who socializes the Jesuit student, in contrast to the other mentor who grades the student] told me I was too fast. So every day he would give me one sentence to read, and then he made me sit under a tree for the afternoon and think about that sentence.”

“Can you teach me to be slow, Ed?”

Indeed he could.

We read Soren Kierkegaards’s Fear and Trembling together, but at the rate of one page a week, and to top it off, my sister, Beth, taught me transcendental meditation. I practiced TM faithfully forty minutes a day for twenty years.  I cultivated slowness, and I am now even slower than Ed was then. (p 110-112).

About Anne Austin

I have created this website to show you simple, proven ways to improve all aspects of your life.

I hope the practical ideas I present in Practical Savvy help you become happier and more effective in all aspects of your life.

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