• Dr Tobias Fox

Slowing down and Speeding up: how to sustain long-term growth, health and well-being

We live in such a fast-paced society but the recent COVID pandemic, we have been forced big, gigantic pause; which is something a lot of us are not used to. It’s really forced us to think about our lifestyles and what we have to do to stay fit and healthy during quarantine. At LYFE, we advocate eight Core Life Elements, which are the essential components of living well; of which Relaxation is one of them. The purpose of this blog post is to unpack ‘Relaxation’ a little bit so as to get you thinking differently about how you can integrate relaxation into your usual, busy every-day lives.

We need to adapt our lifestyles

In today’s fast-paced world, it can often seem like there are so many things on our to-do lists and that we just don’t have time to fit everything in the day. With an exponential increase in technology and widespread dissemination of information across a connected world, there is the expectation to have everything at convenience and on-demand; and so, one of the greatest challenges our society currently faces is how to deal with this sense of ‘shrinking time spans’.

An accelerated world is also changing what it means to learn and how important it is. The longevity of stable ‘stocks’ of knowledge is diminishing as many jobs are being replaced by intelligent machines. As we continue to develop, new sets of skills and abilities will be required to thrive such as focus, creativity, empathy and an ability to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical way. Life-long learning will need to be taken seriously with a need to continuously be upgrading your skills. Those who adapt and align with these changing winds are the ones who are likely to fly.

As part of this adjustment process, we must find ways of adapting to our ‘always-on’ society.

At LYFE we propose a set of proactive practices called ‘Roots and Shoots’ to help you to adapt to this new paradigm. These are proactive in the sense that they are do not just help mitigate illness (which would be reactive), but their true value is in unlocking and sustaining your human potential, of which, as a by-product, is highly likely to foster excellent health and wellbeing and a feeling that you are at your best.

What are roots and shoots practices?

Imagine a strong tree which is firmly rooted to the ground. It has an intricate system of heavy roots anchoring it to the soil so that the tree can receive water, nutrients and stability. The tree also has big long branches which are shoots of new growth that spread outwards and upwards towards the sky, colleting light from the sun for photosynthesis. Both the roots and the shoots are needed for the health and growth of the tree.

This tree metaphor can be used to categorise the slowing down (roots) and speeding up (shoots) practices that we do everyday. Slowing down is about allowing yourself to re-anchor, recharge and recover from the pressures of a fast moving, always on, competitive world. Speeding up is about doing things in a more efficient manner, becoming better, faster, stronger, identifying passions and getting into flow states.

In the context of our fast-past society, it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘rat-race’, thinking that the speeding up practices are good and that the slowing down practices are bad. However, Roots and Shoots practices are not contradictory to one another but are complementary and necessary for sustainable, long-term mental performance.

How can roots and shoots practices help you?

Thinking about your daily activities in terms of Roots or Shoots increases the likelihood that you will achieve an overall state of healthy balance. Through cycles of speeding up and then slowing down, not only will you be able to sustain yourself for longer periods of time, but you will become more flexible and more responsive to your particular life context. Through this process your ‘individual elasticity’ will then continually increase over a period of months and weeks but also over the course of your day, as you implement a set of routines and habits which fit with a cadence and rhythm that is personalised to you.

Building on this last point, there is definitely a ‘sweet-spot’ in terms of where the balance of Roots and Shoots practices is, which will be specific to you. Whilst I can certainly signpost you to the types of activities associated with each, particularly Roots, this is something that you have to discover for yourself, and it’s a process of seeing what works for you. Of course, having self-awareness is critical here. Stay tuned for next week’s blog where I go into this in more depth.

Too great of a focus on Roots or Shoots can also be a problem, and there is likely to be a point of diminishing returns within each; so again, finding that balance is key. Too much focus on speeding up leads to burnout and eventually loss of interest in what is that you are doing. Too much focus on slowing down, and with practices lacking focus and direction, leads to stagnation. When both sides are in balance, complementing each other and pursued deliberately so as to reinforce the other, this is where the magic happens and where you are likely to be feeling at your best both physically and mentally.

As a side note – whether you’re doing a Roots practice or a Shoots practice, commit to it 100%. You’re either OFF, or you’re ON. You don’t want to be stuck in limbo as this grey-zone means that you’re not being proactive with either your work or your relaxation. Whichever you do, and whenever you do it, commit to it fully to ensure that one practice is complementing and reinforcing the other; because without it, the system doesn’t work. We typically think that ‘hard-work’ is the be-all and end-all. We glorify ‘the hustle’. However, you want to work smarter, not necessarily harder. The total time spent working does not always equate to high quality work. I know for a fact, that I can produce work to a much higher standard with 2 hours of locked-in focus, compared to if I tried to do it with 60% effort for 6 hours whilst being distracted. What I would say is - increase the quantity of your work so far as you can maintain the quality. Work smarter, not harder.

How can balance help you?

So now that you understand that the Roots and Shoots are not just vital, but necessary to form an interdependent cycle, so as to foster a healthy state of balance; why might this be a good thing? The answer is that balance is essential for sustained growth. Going back to our tree metaphor, if the tree wasn’t balanced it would no-doubt soon topple over. Growth is the end result of Roots and Shoots practices and this is a key indicator of good health and wellbeing. There is no doubt that the absence of illness is a compelling goal for its own sake, but many of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, want something more than merely the absence of illness. Most of us want to be something or to do something, and this is at the heart of our Roots and Shoots advocacy. The fundamental reason why you want to engage in Roots and Shoots practices is to unlock your potential and feel at your best. Sound tempting? Start thinking about your Roots practices and what you do to relax. Start taking your relaxation seriously and schedule time in the day these Roots practices; your health and growth depend on it.

Key points to takeaway

  • Understand that in a changing, fast-paced world we need to adapt.

  • Adaptation means rethinking your lifestyle practices.

  • Lifestyle practices should fall into the categories of Roots (slowing down) or Shoots (speeding up).

  • Roots and Shoots are complementary to one another and you must find what your balance is.

  • Balance is important for increasing the likelihood of not only preventing ill health, but sustaining long-term growth; a true marker of health and wellbeing.

#worksmarternotharder #rootsandshoots

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