How to Slow Your Life

Two years ago, on a brightly lit stage in West L.A., Maria Shriver asks me this:

But how? How do you do it? What would you tell someone who wants to slow their life, but can’t? Who feels totally buried already?

I pause, blink at the lights. I say something about how there’s no easy formula, how it’s different for everyone, but how we can start by simply paying attention. Get off the phone. Breathe. Survey our lives, look for triggers, invite passion into the day.

But of course there’s more.

I’m a firm believer that living slowly is possible in any season. It takes practice, of course, to see past the mechanics of it all – to peer at your current circumstances and call the whole lot of a gift. It takes practice to remind yourself that perfection is not just around the corner, that arrivals do not exist, that a better set of circumstances do not necessarily lead to a better life.

After all, slow living has never been about logistics. It’s about linguistics.

The question is not what slow living looks like, who can achieve it, how to master it, where to do it.
The question is not “What is slow living?” but instead is “What is slow living for?”

And the answer is simple: Each other.

Slow living is for connection, for community. For looking a crossing guard in the eye when we thank them. For making the time to help the woman in aisle 9 find the olives. For having the space in our day to welcome an impromptu visit from neighbors, for having the space in our mind to open the door wide even though the hallway’s a mess.

It is thinking about the way we live, and asking ourselves why.

And so, of course we can all do this. In any season, at any moment.

But if you feel buried, here’s a shovel:


Do not victimize yourself.
You are not buried alive until you are buried alive. Call it what it is; resist the urge to exaggerate your current state of living. Chances are, if you are reading this, you’re noticing a bit of a chasm between the life you lead and the life you want to lead, and here’s a secret: we all have this chasm. We all have this gap. There is nothing broken in you that is not broken in everyone. We are each conditioned to want something different than what we have been given. And so, you have two options: (1) Chase someday, or (2) Accept today. I recommend the latter. Remind yourself that you are here, breathing, alive and well(ish). For now, let that be enough.

Notice it.
The trick, then, is to notice the chasm. So what, you’re not yet who you want to be? Who is? Live with the tension. Cozy up in the space between; get comfortable with the discomfort. This is life, in all its glory. Do not numb it. Do not wish it away hoping for days void of hardship. Once you’ve noticed the chasm, you’re well on your way to the good work: figuring out what it means to live a life that’s ripe with limitations and riddled with lessons, but resounding in love.

Consider your compass.
We’re not talking goals here. Life is immeasurable, with a path that winds in the most unfathomable, incredible way. Rather than setting a goal to encourage the arrival, consider setting a compass to encourage the journey. A compass guides graciously, rather than mandates mercilessly. It offers a gentle whisper that yes, you’re headed in the right direction. It is ever-necessary in navigating your life with conviction and curiosity, rather than convention and conformity. Find your compass in something unchanging, something that you deem true and stable and secure. (Mine is here.)

Put on your boots.
Listen. I know what it’s like to have a crippling mortgage. I know the stress of mounting medical bills, of mouths to feed, of requesting overtime hours under fluorescent lights. There is much of this in my book, and so I will simply cut to the chase: after the 2008 financial crisis, Ken and I fought hard to carve out a life with little-to-no overhead.  We budgeted only for needs, not wants. We spent weekends and evenings building separate freelance portfolios, quitting our weekday 9-to-5s once we’d created sustainable demand for our work. We ate peanut butter sandwiches for dinner and called it lovely. We moved to an area where purchasing a home in cash was possible, even probable, where we could live a flexible life that wasn’t dictated or constrained by finances. I quit shopping for sport. We gave generously. We simplified in every area possible, and yes, there was a trade-off (there is always a trade-off). It was ever worth it.

Forget “but.”
You will be tempted to resist making a change because of the “but.” But what will our family think? But what will my career look like? But what if it’s too hard? It is wise to survey the “but,” to consider it a lesson in preparedness, to let it inform your plans. And then it is wise to proceed anyway.

Allow failure.
We needed to live the fast life to understand why we needed to live a slower one. We needed to chase the wrong things, to learn the hard lessons the hard way. The failing nearly always comes before the learning, and sometimes, yes, even after the learning. It is an impossible step to skip. Allow it. Learn from it, and re-learn from it again and again.

Walk ahead.
Take one step; start small. Experiment. Ask yourself what area of your life brings the most stress, currently? Get specific. What stumbling blocks are ahead? Move them, or move around them. My girlfriend dreads picking up the dry cleaning, so she now keeps a strict No Dry Clean Only clothing policy in her home. Another friend despises her inbox, so she rewards herself with a Skittle for every email answered. Infuse tiny joys into your day in whatever way you can. You have far more power over this than you think.

Lighten your load.
We are a culture of more. When we see a roadblock, the temptation is to throw more stuff at the problem – distract, distract, distract. And yet, often times, the solution is to offer less. I know a mother of eight who felt buried in dish duty, but instead of adding a dishwasher, she simply offered less dishes: One plate/glass/utensil per day, per kid. If they want to eat my next meal, she’d say, they’ll have their dish cleaned and ready. Boundaries bring clarity, creativity and perspective. Insist on them.

Look up.
It is nearly impossible to navigate your path when you’re looking down, staring at the phone, scrolling through journeys on vastly different terrain. Lift your eyes. Do you see it? Your path is here. Focus. Pay attention. Greet the people you meet along the way. Look at the wide sky, offer thanks for your smallness.

Survey your surroundings.
If you’ve been consulting your compass for long enough, your surroundings will look vastly different than they used to. Don’t forget to peer at the path behind you. Don’t forget to see how far you’ve come, see where you’ve tripped, see where you’ve detoured, see where you reoriented back onto your path. Peer at the panoramic. Call it beautiful.

  • One of your best posts ever? Maybe!

    Loved this wisdom here this morning …

    Sharing you over on my LinkedIn page, too.

    Blessings, Erin …

  • Erin,
    This post is SO timely. I had a panic attack while rushing from one event to another over Easter weekend and my husband roped me in and we made a firm decision: things have to change. Your post is super helpful and encouraging. Thank you! I am sharing this one all over the place – Insta/Twitter/FB/via email…you have know idea how many of us needed this one. Hugs!

  • This is beautiful and wise and I am so grateful you are able to share your words with us in such a compassionate, loving way! I want to tape this list to my door! So, So good! Thank you xoxoxo

  • This was beautiful and so, so helpful. I crave a simpler life in so many ways, but I also want richness. I’ve been stumbling the last year or two, feeling *it* there for me somewhere and I think I found the key today reading this. No. 3 – stop with goals and follow my compass. That idea feels so comforting and hopeful that I can feel it’s truth.

    This is wisdom for the ages. Thank you for sharing.

  • i just started reading your blog yesterday and I found a great deal of encouragement. you’re such a blessed soul and i pray that more people will be blessed through you, erin.

  • Thank so much for this beautiful and wise post! I needed to hear this today. Always so grateful for your posts 😘

  • Oh, Erin. This is one of your best. Thank you for the beautiful reminder/tutorial. So much truth in your words. :-)

  • I mean, I don’t really like reading because of how fake some things can be; however I like when people keep it simple, easy, and real. I like reading things like this it gives me a better perception of life and how to take each day peacefully enough to enjoy it. I’m a business person so I know how bad and stressing a person can get, even if you own a business like myself, so you’d want, and sometime actually need that time to run away from things, and just simply relax. I love your blogs, they show real dedication to being a humanitarian and healthy lifestyle person. Keep up the astonishing work on your blogs Erin!!

  • Hi Erin! I agree with the other comments–Wow! What an inspiring, real, and helpful post. Gotta read this again and think it over. God bless you and please keep writing!

  • Your post is so beautifully written, it brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.
    Thank you

  • Unbelievably, insightful post! ‘Set a compass, now a goal” I also love what you wrote in another post that you share 1% of your life. That’s what makes your blog rich! Thank you!

  • Many thanks for this, Erin! As always, i seem to read your posts whenever i need them the most. I have been a reader for years and your blog has always been a source of inspiration and perspective to me. Will always be grateful for your words and your heart and eyes that see and feel rightly. Thank you again for everything.

  • This was lovely; well written and full of good suggestions. I took notes ;)

  • Good morning Erin. Being a 56 year old college student, I ask many of my counterparts, how can you move through your day when you are always looking down at your phone, disconnected from your surroundings by earbuds and social media? It should be called anti-social media. When you are “living distracted”, you can’t see life coming right at you and to you. It’s not just young people either. It is my retired husband on his computer for hours and the lovely, older couple at the diner, both on their phones instead of with each other. Your post reminds me that it is time for me to reread Chasing Slow. It has been a while. Your posts are always gentle and hopeful. I need to find my shovel. Sending love and blessings to you and family Erin. Thank you.

  • This was seriously the best, one of those articles that I’ll bookmark and share and re-read. So much wisdom here. Thank you, Erin! :)

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and beliefs in such beautiful words. I always look for your new message first thing in the morning. Following my compass speaks to me today. Directions are not always permanent. There are many opportunities and routes to the same endpoint. As a friend of mine quotes, we must be willing to “ trust the detours” on our journey to slow living. The journey is to worth it.

  • Serious question: Have you considered doing a “Chasing Slow” retreat? I think what I need at this point is an intervention, a radical transformation, a real intensive coaching session. I’d gladly spend a weekend focusing on changes I could make alongside others committed to the same.

  • Erin, this is simply beautiful – a complete refreshment to my soul today. Thank you for taking the time to share in order to encourage others.

  • Like you heard my silent questions and pleas and wrote this post. Much needed. As always, your words cut to the heart it the most simple truths.

  • As ever so much wisdom. And much needed. Thank you so much for these words. I think I will be returning to them often.

  • Erin- these words could not be any more profound nor could there be a more profound time for me to be reading them. “The question is not what is slow living – the question is what is slow living for?”😭😭😭 . As a young growing family on one income with two boys under 5 finances are difficult life is difficult. We downsized from 1000 sq and two incomes too 700 sq fr and one income. We both try to take on freelance work on weekends/evenings as it is available. My husband welds full time and I am a full time student and mother, we don’t pay for excessive memberships or shopping sprees so things are tight without any excessive spending habits to cut back on. A lot of the finicial strain is from health issues and medical bills that we have no control over. Sometimes I wonder if I’m giving my kids enough? They have no play room, fancy birthday parties, we don’t pay to enroll in extracurricular activities. But is that what a good childhood is? Instead, we read books together, play outside, go to the park on the weekend to the library When we’ve tired of home, we try to “make” together instead of spend, there’s so many pulls on our time and finances these days I’ve often felt like a failure on this “slow living journey” but time for each other in the end is my why . Going to practice putting on my boots and looking up today thank you thank you 💛💛 this tired mama needed this messsage today 💫💫💫

    • Couldn’t love this more, Hannah – I 100% hear you on so many levels here! Sending you peace and library books… ;)

  • Once again you are in my head. Just what I was feeling today. There was the possibility of this and then this and then that and I thought, just grow where you are planted right now. Slow down. Don’t add more. Breathe. And trust.

  • This was absolutely incredible and definitely something that I needed (without fully realising how much until I read it!)

    Thank you so much for this :)


  • as someone who has been going through a HUGE life transition for three years now ( enough already!) … there were so many pieces of this that spoke straight to my soul – as your words do. thank you so much erin for your insight and transparency.

  • Slow lane, trade offs, debt reduction – all hard to do but I concur these types of boundaries bring peace. I particularily liked the emphasis on not being a victim and reminding ourselves we have a choice. Some things just must be done but I need to remember there are many activities I want to do and other activities that have crept in. I’m trying to declutter at the moment. Thanks for the post Erin. I’ll share it with my community.

  • I am reading your book right now and as a working mother of two small children this resonates so hard with me. I have been down the pinterest worm hole of “Productive Habits of Working Moms” and “Minimalism for Families” only to feel even farther and more disconnected than ever. I have needed your words so much and I didn’t even realize it. I have a job that allows a flexible schedule so that I can have more time with my kids but when that time comes, I am always finding 18 other things that need to be done. Why is it so hard to just stop?

    • I hear you on so many levels, Kelsi — sometimes it helps to quiet the noise. You already know the answers, each and every one of them. Sending love, warmth and blessings your way.

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