11 Ways to Bring Slow Thinking Into Your Life

Welcome to Life Well Lived: an ongoing conversation around how we can use technology to improve our lives. In part two of our series, we asked Geir Berthelsen, physicist and founder of The World Institute of Slowness, to give us technophiles some surprising tips on how to slow down.

Illustration by Daiana Ruiz.

In 1999, Geir Berthelsen encountered a problem. He saw Western culture accelerating and values shifting with it. He saw consumerism ramping up and environmental stewardship being dismissed. He saw a “perception of time urgency” driving choices — and he saw the negative results that followed.

As Cittaslow (the movement for slow cities) and the Slow Food movement kicked off, Berthelsen decided to find a way to contribute to the larger Slow Movement that was gaining steam worldwide. He founded The World Institute of Slowness, a think tank, with the distinct aim to change the way people think about values, speed, and our approach to life.

“Most of us can go through high school and university without really understanding what thinking is, and how our thinking influences our lives. That is really a shame. Fast thinking is your autopilot — automatic responses that dictate your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Slow Thinking is what’s happening to you when you turn off your autopilot. Slow thinking is the understanding of our own thinking process and how thoughts make reality,” Berthelsen explains.

Berthelsen uses the work at the Institute to make meaningful shifts in workplace and individual values. “We are working to facilitate a whole new mindset, away from the traditional perceptions of success and status symbols where factors such as health, relationships and environment aren’t subordinate,” Berthelsen shares.

When working with a new group, Berthelsen starts by explaining the virtues of slow thinking: “authenticity, relevance, and transparency, building community and above all, it’s about people.” He explains that, “our problems are not lack of time but the way that we perceive time.”

You might say that time has always been a preoccupation of Berthelsen’s. Prior to waving the flag of the Slow Revolution, Berthelsen was a physicist, and very much concerned with issues of time and space. He draws his understanding of slow time from the Greek interpretation of two times: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is what we know of linear time. Kairos signifies the right moment. Like Kairos, slow time — Berthelsen posits — is non-linear. “It is here and now — an extraordinary time. We seem to have forgotten that there is more than one dimension in time.”

So how can we tap into slow time? How can we bring more mindfulness into our lives? Berthelsen thinks life-logging may help to make people more attuned to the experience of life. “Life-logging as a tool can provide a framework and structure that can help people wake them up from their autopilot thinking,” Berthelsen says. “It is important to focus on experience and not chronological events. The purpose should be to provide and facilitate what a good life is: namely that you smile often, dream big, laugh and realize what you really have.”

Aside from life-logging with apps such as Foursquare’s very own Swarm or the photo app, Timehop, Berthelsen also has some practical advice on bringing slow thinking into your daily life. Berthelsen shares his tips below, but advises first: “Mindfulness is a state of mind you only can get to if you slow down.” Speed-readers, take note.

1. Set your alarm clock ten minutes before you need to get up (you will never run late).

2. Prepare and eat a structured breakfast. Let all parties involved — children and parents — talk during breakfast and say what they think the highlight of the coming day will be. Listen.

3. Hug each other before leaving the house.

4. Smile. Try it!

5. Don’t skip lunch.

6. At 2 pm each day, ask yourself: “How am I feeling?”

7. Prepare and eat dinner with the whole family — no television on — and let everyone recount the highlights of their day. Listen.

8. A hobby a day keeps the shrink away! Hobbies help us to appreciate life here and now. We are educated in a society where we think that everything has a starting point and a finish line, or as American comedian Lily Tomlin puts it: “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

9. Exercise for at least 20 minutes per day. Take a short walk, even if it’s raining.

10. Before bed, spend five minutes reviewing the day and plan tomorrow’s highlights.

11. And finally, don’t live life as if you are afraid of being late to your own funeral!


The is part two of a four part series where Foursquare explores how technology shapes and changes how we live our lives. See here for part one, part three, and part four. Or, follow us and never miss a beat!