Slowing down


Every morning there is a cleaning lady from our apartment building that I see in our common area. I always greet her, friendly and with a big smile. She doesn’t speak much English, so she always just smiles back.

If I were to guess, I would say she is probably in her late 50s. She is very skinny. You can tell from looking at her face, she’s probably had many years of hard labor behind her.

Later today, I walked home from dinner through the streets of Wan Chai, in Hong Kong. A few minutes in, I saw that same cleaning lady again, only this time, wearing a McDonald’s t-shirt. She was carrying a big and heavy box to a truck. It hit me immediately and I wasn’t sure what I should be thinking. At first I felt sorry. Someone her age working two day jobs to get by and probably having just enough to support a family at home.

It gave me a strong feeling of pity.

A few seconds later, she passed me again, running back into the McDonalds I was still about to walk past on my way home. Seeing her, an old lady, run, made me pity her even more. When I walked past, I looked through the window and there she was, looking out and back at me. She was smiling, just like she does every morning.

You know, her smile has something very unique. It’s not that type of smile you’d expect from an older lady. Those smiles are normally calming and make you feel very content, I’d call those smiles the grandma smile. She didn’t have that at all. She has more the smile of a kid, a toddler really. It’s that distinct smile toddlers have, full of curiosity, filled with a bit of insecurity and feeling of being uncomfortable.

My feeling of pity for her vanished immediately and I felt more like an idiot. How can someone like her, working two extremely labour intensive day jobs still give me that toddler’s smile every day?

The Speed Exercise

The reason I noticed her in that McDonald’s was because I was following an exercise from Paulo Coelho. In his book The Pilgrimage, he calls it the Speed Exercise.

It is very simple. You take a route to walk and you only walk at half the speed that you normally walk. You do this for 20 minutes. My way home from that Sushi place normally takes me 10 minutes, so it was perfect.

Doing this exercise was very difficult for me at first. In such a busy place like Hong Kong, where everyone is rushing through the streets, you get a lot of impulses to just speed up again. After the first 5 minutes I was ok and in a good rhythm.

And after those 5 minutes things changed a lot. With my slow walk, my eyes started to look around. It’s like they gained a life of their own. I would start to see things, I have never seen before, small side streets where people where finishing their day’s of work, piling boxes on top of each other loading them on a dirty truck. A woman greeting a man with a great smile, waiting for him to cross the street at a red light. It was a different smile again. That kind of smile you see, when meeting someone you really like is just seconds away . Then I saw 2 people, both seemed to have just started their night shift as security guards, chatting and laughing away in the most cordial manner I had ever seen. As if they were at a party.

Everything seemed different during those 20 minutes. I could feel my head getting a lot heavier and then all of a sudden lighter. As if every step would make me lose a few pounds.

I felt extremely happy.

Making habits

The one thing I tend to do a lot is to create habits to improve myself. I create habits for a better workflow. Habits for a better eating routine, habits for a better work-out routine, habits for team talks and so one.

I am pretty convinced it is only because of these habits, that I am able to improve with what I am working on.

Now, here is the interesting part.

The one thing that I don’t create habits for, are those things which actually matter the most. I don’t have a habit for being happy. I don’t have a habit for enjoying the moment. Yes, everything I do and everything I work on, I choose very carefully and with emphasis on enjoying it. But purely for the feeling of happiness and enjoying the moment, I don’t have habits.

Why is that?

Maybe because of this: I know that I get better at something through habits, yet it seems so much more difficult when tackling those more abstract things. Really, it shouldn’t be. That’s a bad excuse on top of it also.

I have set out to find more habits for feeling happy like the Speed Exercise. More habits to focus solely on enjoying the moment.

Because: The only way to be happy, is to teach yourself how.

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