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Feb 10

Why it is Sometimes Faster to Slow Down

Don't Hurry up and Wait. Slow Down.

Hurry Up and Wait

Yesterday I was driving. It was a two lane road, a typical fairly high speed state highway just out of town. I heard it first, a low rumbling sound like I imagine a bear makes before ripping a hiker to shreds for trying to get a selfie with its cubs. It startled me a little. Before I knew it this huge dark blue pickup truck comes screaming by me (likely using a half gallon of gasoline in the process). It proceeded to pass me and swerved back into our lane. When the ringing in my ears cleared I glanced down at the speedometer while pondering the location of the nearest muffler shop. I was going just about the speed limit, maybe slightly faster.

 

My former self may have been angry, perhaps interpreting this as an affront to my manliness, but as a happy philosopher I remained calm and just observed. The truck sped in front of me and almost immediately there were brake lights, as it came up against the 10 or 20 cars in front of me going almost the same speed I was. Incidentally my speed never changed. As we drove on for a half mile or so, we slowed to a stop at a red light. Mr. Monster Truck Man was exactly several feet in front of me now, not really in a much better place than he was when he was behind me.

 

This got me thinking.

 

How many of us live our lives like this?

 

waiting in traffic

Always in a Hurry to be Elsewhere

This used to be me. I was Monster Truck Man (although in an under-powered Honda Civic). I spent considerable resources and emotional energy speeding up my life, trying to get ahead. I was always racing to get somewhere other than where I was. Where I was, was not good enough, even if it was nearly the same.

 

Now to be fair, Mr. Monster Truck Man could have had a legitimate reason to get to where he was going. Maybe his wife was in labor in the passenger seat (although he was going in the opposite direction from the closest hospital). Maybe some life or death matter needed attention. I can’t know, and I’m not judging him, but I imagine this was just a normal day for him. He was hurrying up to wait. He was not satisfied where he was.

 

Is this not the root of all human suffering?

 

The Cost of Hurrying

When I pondered the marginal gains of his limited progress down the road in comparison to me, I made a quick mental tally of the cost of his action.

 

  1. Rapid acceleration of two tons of metal and plastic used much more gasoline than he would have by maintaining his speed behind me. He has to work a few more seconds/minutes to pay for this.
  2. His actions were not riskless (to him or me). Passing people on two lane roads at 50 mph is one of the most dangerous activities we do in our cars. He may have misjudged oncoming traffic and caused himself or another car to run in to me and my daughter who was in the back seat.
  3. It likely released a bit of stress hormones into his blood stream, which probably is not all that great for the body.
  4. Wear and tear on his car from rapid acceleration and braking will cost him money down the road (no pun intended), just like the additional fuel.

 

Many tiny costs, but costs none the less. When I added up all these factors, I figure he actually LOST time from a vague meta actuarial sense; having to work a few more minutes in the future for the gas and maintenance money, the theoretical loss of time due to potential injury or death, the guilt from causing someone else harm in the instance he caused another accident. In other words, in the future world of infinite possibilities he is worse off if we consider all possible outcomes.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

In isolation this one event probably didn’t really affect his life much. It didn’t move the needle. It’s imperceptible. But what happens when we do this all the time, every day, multiple times a day?

 

One tick bite is annoying.

 

1000 tick bites and you might need a transfusion.

 

Instead of hurrying up to wait, just stop every now and then. Slow down to the present moment. Be where you are. You will get to where you need to be soon enough. Sometimes going slower is faster in the long run.

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16 comments

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  1. Matt @ The Resume Gap

    Ha, I love your takeaway that he actually ended up losing time in the process! Great points here. Reminds me of my favorite bumper sticker: “I’d Rather Be Here Now”

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      If I see that truck again I will offer him that bumper sticker 😉

  2. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    I have this exact experience in traffic *every day* on my way home from work. I just stay in the same lane and cruise along, but many people are in a “hurryuphurryuphurryup” mindset that they forget their manners. It’s funny because I usually make better progress than they do. It’s about being more mindful with your time and focusing on the present instead of rushing. It’s hard to do that as a person with anxiety, but it’s the best recipe for slow living and happiness.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      I used to have terrible road rage, but these days it just doesn’t bother me. Sometimes I catch myself getting aggravated and quickly take a slow breath but that’s it. You are right in that simple mindfulness is the key. I love this short article by Derek Sivers which also nicely illustrates the concept.

  3. Ten Factorial Rocks

    “Don’t just do something. Stand there” and observe! Good advice, both in life an in investing. Nice post HP!

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Thank you!

      🙂

  4. MrsWow

    Love your take on life! In this go, go, go society people are always looking for a quick-fix or immediate gratification. Slowing down is not only better for the wallet, but also better for your health and ultimately your overall well-being. I always welcome the reminder to pause and reflect for a moment. It is important since you will never have that exact moment again!

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”

      Living in the present slows everything down.

      Thanks 🙂

  5. ChrisCD

    I don’t usually get road rage anymore, but do occasionally take the opportunity to mess with those that do. I usually do it in a semi-passive nature so I’m not obviously doing it and thus hopefully don’t end up in a dangerous situation. And unless you are driving 100s of miles, you really will only end up at most minutes sooner than you would have otherwise. As you state, it just isn’t worth it.

    cd :O)

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      I used to be a little passive aggressive at times when driving frustrations struck me, but I’ve let this go. For me it feels like stepping into the same trap, although to a lesser degree.

  6. Mr. 1500

    Was the truck equipped with Truck Nutz? Decals depicting a cartoon boy pissing on the logo of a competing brand of truck? Vulgar bumper stickers? Massive wheels?

    I can’t wait for the day when personal, autonomous electric aircraft become an affordable reality. I’ll soar over the sea of nutters contemplating the bright, blue sky: https://www.uber.com/elevate.pdf

    Oh, and you’ll be able to identify my aircraft my it’s rubber balls. I’m working on developing this business after My FI Thongs gets up and going. But crap, AirNutz.com is already taken.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      I noticed no plastic testicles hanging from the truck, nor any objectionable stickers, although it was a bit dark…

      If I encounter Monster Truck Man again I will be more observant and report back my findings.

      Namaste.

      PS: testicleairtaxi.com is still available. Hurry!

  7. Tonya@Budget and the Beach

    I think of this every day. It’s so easy to get caught up in being rushed. In fact I hate the word “busy” and try never to use it. I think we where it as a badge of honor. Although I’m in the corporate 9-5, I’m thankful I at least live 1.6 miles from my job and can walk or ride my bike. That helps slow things way down.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Busy is a terrible word. It means our life is out of control. Usually when we are “too busy” to do something what we really mean is that we have not made that something a priority. We blame business instead of ourselves.

      Amazing how walking or biking slows the world. This is an underappreciated life hack!

  8. Steve from Arkansas

    I’m trying to understand this post but I find it confusing. What is this traffic thing you are talking about? And what are the odds that you’d even see another vehicle on the road? Wait, are you telling me that you live where there are that many people all driving at once, that must be awful. I pretty much just have to worry about suicidal deer on the highway.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Haha, yes I do live in an actual city with traffic. My solution is to try and avoid getting in my car whenever possible 🙂

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