How Michael Lewis Slows Down Time

He writes, in a piece commissioned by Chipotle:

I even have tricks for slowing time—or at least my perception of it. At night I sometimes write down things that happened that day… Recording the quotidian details of my day seems to add hours a day to my life: I’m not sure why.

Another trick is to focus on some ordinary thing—the faintly geological strata of the insides of a burrito, for instance—and try to describe what I see.

Another: pick a task I’d normally do quickly and thoughtlessly–writing words for the side of a cup, say–and do it as slowly as possible. Forcing my life into slow-motion, I notice a lot that I miss at game speed. The one thing I don’t notice is the passage of time.

The last two points are what meditation and mindfulness are about. Observe the ordinary.

Here’s how Steven Johnson slows down time — he moved to a new physical place. In a new place, your status quo disrupted, and you’re forced to notice small details, which has the effect of making time pass more slowly.

4 comments on “How Michael Lewis Slows Down Time
  • When Andre Agassi, one of the best returners in tennis, was asked how he countered over 130mph serves, he said he could see the threads on the tennis ball when it came close to him. It wasn’t going fast in his perspective, and he felt he had plenty of time to respond, not just react to the speed. This phenomenal viewpoint takes a level of mastery and focus built over decades of practice.

    In the same vein, one of the mindfulness techniques I teach my clients is called “slomo.” It’s just like it sounds, seeing life happening in slow-motion so you can pay attention to the small details. Often, people take the metaphor too literally and try to visualize their actions in slow-motion, as if in a movie. But deep, focused attention is the outcome, not the process, and once you’re in it, you don’t think about being focused, you are focus.

    Instead picture what you are doing as if for the first time. What peculiarities do you notice? What do you bring to it? What are you taking for granted? Why are you truly doing this? What are you reacting to, positively or negatively? Are you slouched, hunched down, tense? Is your breath shallow, deep, even?

    When you treat what you are doing with care and sophistication, the way an artisan would, it doesn’t feel like work anymore, it feels like making art. You are literally in the moment, with no separation between you and what you are doing. That’s mindfulness. Don’t try it just a few times and give up, give it 2-3 weeks. Slow down, and ease up on your expectations. The more you practice, the easier focus comes to you.

  • Reminds me of something I read in Dr. Drew’s book on medical practice, Cracked: “Go slower to get there faster.” It’s stuck with me for about a decade, although Lewis’ words (and the commenter’s above) may crystallize the idea more usefully. Never thought we’d turn to the side of Chipotle cups for this sort of thing, but here we are.

    I now find myself rediscovering the pleasure of prolonged concentration, which in difficult moments goes more smoothly, in my experience, by working as slowly as possible. In the words of Haruki Murakami, “If you cannot concentrate, you are not so happy.”

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