“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat” – Lily Tomlin, American actress
There’s a reason they call it a ‘race’. In 2007, a well-cited British Council study revealed how our pace of life had become 10% faster than it was in the early 1990s. The research, which measured the walking speed of city dwellers in 32 countries around the world, found that Londoners had an average walking speed of 12.17 seconds. This interestingly only won the capital 12th position in the list of cities analysed, while Singaporeans were found to be pacing the pavement quickest at 10.55 seconds. Yet, we’ve probably all felt frustrated at one time or another when people are dawdling around us, or not keeping right on tube escalators.
Arguably, in the decade or so since the study, our pace of life has only accelerated further as we try to keep up with increasing technological advancements. In other words, pace of life increases with pace of change. Evening Standard suggests that the fast pace of life in London has something to do with the city’s youthful and diverse population – the capital is young at heart with 24% of inner London residents fitting in the 25-34 age bracket.
With a cohort of people open to new experiences, trends are born and die fast in the city, while new tech is often adopted quickly. Uber, Deliveroo and Monzo are just a few tech brands to mention, while on the lifestyle scene, a constant cycle of Insta-worthy hotspots seem to appear overnight. Freakshakes have made way for flower walls and poke is the latest bowl-based food of choice. Londoners are constantly pushing boundaries and this buzzy atmosphere is one of the reasons why it’s such an exciting place to live.
But, does this innovation and the rapid rise and fall of ‘the next big thing’ have a downside? Although glorifying busy is not exclusive to London, there is a perceived pressure to ‘make the most’ of living in the city, as well as pursuing a jam-packed working schedule. But, since when did burnout, both socially and professionally, equate to popularity or success? If your answer to ‘how are you?’ is often ‘tired’, ‘busy’ or ‘stressed”, it could be time to indicate left and move from the capital’s inside lane to the slow lane.
How to Navigate Life in London’s Fast Lane
1. Reclaim Your Time from Your Phone
While we’d never be without the likes of Citymapper, the amount of time we spend on screens each day is increasing. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, we’re checking emails, Instagram and WhatsApp. There are many ways that tech overuse can leave us feeling far from our best – from creating a culture of comparison to stealing our focus from the present moment. Ever found yourself falling into a spiral of screen-scrolling? Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and you’ve read three Daily Mail articles and stalked your ex’s sister’s holiday snaps. Tech is designed to help us become more efficient, but without boundaries, we’re prone to letting it ebb away at our productivity.
Try a screen time app and measure when you’re on your smartphone and what apps you’re using. It will help you work out when you need to reclaim your time from the digital rectangle in your hand. Not charging your phone on your bedside table is a often a good place to start.
2. Cook from Scratch
City living is about choice, but all too frequently, it’s about convenience. Since there are an ever-growing number of healthy takeaway options in London, the joy in cooking from scratch is often overlooked when we can still order nutritious meals to our door. Cooking is often seen as a burden after a long day, but it can be actually be a form of simple meditation and a great way to unwind. Following a recipe and using simple, rhythmic actions, such as chopping vegetables or stirring a pot, allows you to be mindful.
Still don’t fancy spending a long time in the kitchen? Make it easier on yourself by prepping a week’s worth of chopped onions on a Sunday and choosing meals you really look forward to eating.
3. Schedule Downtime
Even tech creators schedule ‘downtime’ for their software, so why don’t we create ‘recharge’ time? Time spent doing nothing can feel unproductive or wasted, but it’s actually incredibly important for our brains. Stew Friedman Ph.D, author of Leading the Life You Want, tells Shape, “Research shows that after you take a mental time-out, you are better at creative thinking and coming up with solutions and new ideas, and you feel more content.” In this sense, we should stop seeing unscheduled time as unhelpful, and rather see it as a tool to help us be creative and find solutions to issues we’re facing.
Natalie Macneil, entrepreneur and founder of She Takes On The World, tells Girlboss that she schedules her first appointment of the day for herself. Instead of skipping self-care when other distractions arise throughout the day, she puts activities like meditation and exercise first by building it into her morning ritual.
4. Escape the City
Whether you live in North, East, South or West London, you’re only a short journey away from somewhere new to explore. Taking a day trip or weekend away is a great way to help yourself switch off and slow down by re-adjusting to a slower pace of life – one with much less pollution, people and public transport. And of course, escaping the city will help you reconnect with nature and enjoy its (free!) beauty.
If you can’t get out of the city, there are still many places within London’s boroughs that offer escapism from urban overwhelm. Kew Gardens, for example, are an oasis of greenery and easily reachable from Central London.
5. Embrace Your Commute
Commuting in London is a fact of life, but it’s still pretty difficult to adjust to. The average commute in London is 46 minutes one-way, adding around an hour and a half to your working day. When crammed against the tube doors (no leaning, please), grappling for a space to hold on and faced with someone’s morning coffee breath, the daily commute feels like a bore, a chore and a waste of time. That’s especially when you consider that both ways, the average commute is the same duration as an entire football match.
Yet, as with most things in life, you can make the most of the situation at hand. Rather than spending your journey glaring at that person with the disproportionately large backpack and arriving at work with less #mondaymotivation that you thought possible, turn your commute into time well spent. Listen to an inspirational podcast or meditation session, read a book, write your shopping list – whatever it is, there will be something you can do to switch off from the business backpackers around you.
If you’re looking to slow down and enjoy a better balance while living and working in London, give these tips a try for thriving, rather than just ‘surviving’ the capital.