Have you ever heard the saying, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”? What comes to mind for you when you hear it? On a surface level it seems counter intuitive; if I slow down I can increase my speed? However, if we search a little deeper we may find a real benefit and truth to it. If you have head the saying before you may know others who have also heard it and not thought too kindly of it, nay-sayers, if you will. They don’t approve of the message it communicates, but it seems to me there is a lot of misconception and negative connotation associated with the saying. Let’s see if we can get to a root meaning that will make sense and more so, make a positive impact on your thoughts and actions.
From experience, most of the people who have a hard time grasping the positive nature of the phrase tend to look at it from a mathematical view. I.e. slow cannot equal fast and therefore it is a fundamentally flawed process. That is certainly one perspective. However, if we choose to go a little deeper I think we’ll find something beneficial. Think of the saying in terms of a bridge to get from slow to fast. The path to travel is smooth; and as we increase the smoothness of our process we become faster. Crystal clear? Maybe not, but let’s see if we can think of a better analogy for explanations sake.
The phrase certainly has a bit of wordplay to it and is therefore worthy of a little investigation before we write it off to nonsense or rubbish. There is no mathematical process, no transitive property this is a way to say a lot in a few words as possible to get across a much larger idea.
Let’s think of this in terms of process; physical, emotional or otherwise. The truth here is learning and how we go about learning any skill. To test the validity of this saying we depend on two things in the learning process. First, that while we are engaged in learning we are utilizing the most correct and efficient techniques for our area of interest. Second, that we maintain a high standard for performance and we do not jeopardize performance for speed. When we learn processes we discover steps within that process that are crucial for accomplishing the task and if we want to improve the speed of our process we have speed up those steps. Through practice and repetition we increase the ease and speed of what we do, but who starts at the same speed of when they are expert? The answer is no one. We have to start off slow and learn the correct technique and method for accomplishing the task. Our steps may be choppy and cumbersome at first, but correct. As our implicit memory of performing the action correctly is built up we get faster, but not before our choppiness and hesitation goes away. These processes will become smooth through practice and your actions will be continuous. Thus we see the truth and validity in the saying. We start out new to anything with a bit of uncertainty and sloppiness. Through the practice of correct procedures our pace becomes faster; and how does it become faster? Because we smooth out our uncertainty with confidence and memory.
What would happen if we jumped right in to learning a new skill at the pace of someone with years of practiced expertise? We would sacrifice technique and correctness for speed and therefore hinder the upper limits of what we hope to accomplish; any new skill should be practiced slowly and correctly first. This will also develop good memory and subconscious skill. Learning slowly allows our minds to learn the right way without deviating from proper techniques. It is then that we will be able to perform the action faster without sacrificing performance. . Slowly, your mind learns to perform that action right without deviating from proper technique. You can go as fast as you like, but without mastering the technique you will not achieve repeatable and reliable outcomes.
“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is comprised of two separate and distinct statements. If we want repeatable and reliable outcomes we must be smooth in our actions. Also, we cannot perform a smooth action fast if we cannot first perform them a slow action smoothly. When the author described slow as smooth and fast as smooth he did not mean the two words were synonymous. Slowly practicing correct actions will become smooth and it is that smoothness that allow the pace to increase brining us speed without sacrificing performance.