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Slow Down

One of the greatest American contradictions is, “more is better.” We know it is not.

We know, “a greater variety of choices actually makes us feel worse.” Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice, pp122-3.

It’s why the best retailers, merchandisers, and marketers all seek to reduce your options. Choose this one – is the message at the heart of every campaign. It’s for people like you. I’ve argued elsewhere that brands are simply heuristics, mental shortcuts that make it easier for us to make decisions, reducing cognitive load.​

“A way of easing the burden that freedom of choice imposes is to make decisions about when to make decisions…Following rules eliminates troublesome choices in your daily life” – Schwartz, Paradox of Choice, p. 113.

In that way, branding is a decision about when to make a decision. You don’t have to think anymore. People like us, buy things like this​. Watch shows like this. Discuss topics like this. And we fit nicely inside our little silos.

More makes things complicated.

And it hurts your brain like when you do that thing as a kid where you try to really contemplate how big the universe is. Did you ever do that? When you go as far as your brain will let you go into the imagined edge of the universe?

You can’t do it. Your brain implodes. Metaphorically. It starts to go, “OUCH!!! WAS NOT DESIGNED FOR THIS!!! MAKE IT STOP!! PULL. BACK. PULL BACK!”

And so you pull back and go, “Whoa. The universe is very big. Let’s not dwell on it.”

Diverting our brains from the things that hurt is a knee-jerk reaction. It’s biology. With a few exceptions, we seek to avoid pain. And it makes information overload a particularly insidious problem because the deluge of information causes choice overload (which causes pain, which we seek to avoid). What to click? What to read? What to believe? What’s deserving of my time and attention? THERE IS TOO MUCH TUNA!!!

And so begins the recommendations for “media diets,” and social media “fasting.” Anything to take breaks from the deluge of information

But there’s another solution I’d like to propose:

Slow down.

You can get to the information. Just not in such a rush.

How many of you obsessed about the impeachment? (Rhetorical question. I follow you on Twitter, I know how many). Consider this:

How many headlines did you read in outrage vs books on the legislative branch of government? How many of you went back and reopened old textbooks? Read to the very end of an article? Paid to go to a lecture by a professor? Audited a class?

Wrote an essay on what you learned?

Took the time to explain what you learned to others? To teach? To share?

When was the last time (be honest) you listened to a full 2-hour podcast on 1x speed? (Confession = never. I have never listened on 1x speed).

Part of our scarcity mentality in this age of plenty comes from an imagined and manufactured urgency that doesn’t exist.

And the urgency is hurting us. Because when you couple urgency with unlimited choices, you make bad decisions. It’s the jam study, but worse. If you give me unlimited options and then tell me I only have 3 seconds to pick something, I won’t be thorough. I won’t be informed. I will panic. I’ll be rash. I’ll be nervous. I’ll be impressionable.

Marketers, bad lazy ones, prey on this. Your fear, your exhaustion, your desire to choose the “right” or “best” option.

If you want a simple solution to combat the deluge of data and content and news coming your way…If you want to feel not-like-shit again:

Slow down.

Read 3 pages in a book (real paper not digital). Sit with those three pages.

Sit with what David Moldawer calls “aesthetic aftertaste, that layering of impressions and sensations that stay with you after experiencing a work of art.”

We know you’re capable of taking unreasonable amounts of information and making sense of them because you’ve kept your job and you went to college. Or maybe you took the altMBA. There’s always been too much information.

You were never expected to read and know all of it by yesterday.

If you want to consume better consume slower.

The worst consequence to slowness is being with a group of people and having to tell the truth: “No, I haven’t heard about that yet.”

Anyone who shames you for not keeping up with their priority-topic-du-jour isn’t interested in the information. They’re playing a status game. Virtue signaling. And they’re shaming you because you’re not signaling back.

When you don’t signal that you accept their signal, when their currency doesn’t work – they shame you.

And shame is the least effective tool for social change and the topics we purport to care about.

If you want to know more, take the time. Slow down. Urgency is an illusion.

I’m not a magician, but a friend of mine was a child magician and used to tell me stories. Illusions are about distracting you from what’s really going on. That feeling of urgency – of needing to consume MORE and MORE and MORE – it’s distracting you from the real work of learning.

If you want to make better decisions, if you want to be in control of your decisions, if you want to stop feeling like a pawn in the system over which you have no control:

Slow down.

You have plenty of time.

This is a quality and depth game. Stop playing the quantity one.