Simplify your life and make better choices
A peaceful, successful, and more intentional life awaits you. You’ll have time for yourself, be more in touch with your values and feelings, and more.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.
Thoreau might have been a recluse but he was on to something. We may not be able to retire in the woods by a pond as he did, but we are able to create limits to protect ourselves.
Do you wish you had more time for yourself? Are you out of touch with your values and feelings? Do you feel you make choices “on the run?” If so, this could be an indication that you are too busy. The word “business” is derived from the word “busyness”—a word that means “in use,” “lively but meaningless activity,” or “cluttered with detail to the point of being distracting.”
And why do we embrace “busyness?”
It could start with the way we were brought up. Perhaps our parents instilled the value that working hard was synonymous with success and having value as a human being. How many times do people in your circle respond to your saying: “I’m super busy,” or “I’m not bored, that’s for sure” with “That’s better than the opposite.” Sadly, our western culture—especially American culture—values productivity over our health, families, or relationships.
So if you’re not busy, what’s the problem? Bored? Or just not challenged enough?
When we mention being bored, it usually induces a cringe and we think this is the worst thing that could happen to us personally. On the contrary, boredom is the best thing to happen to us. Coaching leaders agree.
Thomas Leonard—one of the fathers of coaching and the founder of ICF (International Coaching Federation), our accrediting body—is quoted as saying: “Boredom is the gatekeeper to peace.”
The reason people hate boredom and embrace busyness is existential pain. If we slow down and embrace boredom, initially we feel despair, and feel cut off from our created identity. When we slow down, we feel emptiness. We no longer have something to hang on to.
For example: A woman went into therapy with depression after having worked 15-hour days for 35 years without a break. Now that she’s retired, she finds herself with no interests, hobbies, or passion.
She feels she has no reason to live.
Now, she has to take time to listen to herself, find out what she likes and values, before she can start to rebuild her life. During all those years of working long hours, she didn’t have time to listen to herself.
Other stimuli that keep us busy and reactive are instant notifications, emails, social media, coffee, adrenaline, and television. They give us a false sense of purpose. The media influences us more than we can imagine. We think we want that new car, but we are unaware that society is fueling these emotions.
In Europe, we tend to embrace boredom.
This is why some Americans have such a hard time living in Switzerland. They don’t know how to cope with empty time, spurred by the early closing times of shops and restaurants. Except for a few gas stations, most businesses are closed on Sunday. People feel uncomfortable with nothing available to do when shopping is shut down.
We need space to survive, just as trees and relationships do.
If you want more love, more income, or more freedom, the worst way to get these things is to add items to your schedule.
Khalil Gilbran, the Lebanese writer, poet and artist sums this up perfectly: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you… And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
So, what to do?
I’ve written about cutting out items and relationships. Now, let’s take it a step further. Let’s toss out half of what we think is important, and embrace boredom.
Not really. I find it excruciatingly difficult to cut out projects and commitments. Three obstacles that I face when trying to simplify are:
· Having to tell someone I can no longer help them.
· Delegating tasks, as I don’t like to relinquish control.
· Living without a daily to-do list
Living like this isn’t very intentional. By people pleasing, holding on to control, and living by a list I created days ago, I live in the past and not according to what I want in the present.
1. Identify what is taking your time and brain space
Identify your commitments, goals, projects, tasks, responsibilities, routines, habits, or anything that takes up your time and energy—even if you’re not actually doing them. Just thinking about them takes space.
Identify what is taking your time. Go through your calendar and write down every type of commitment and meeting you have. Then write down “why” you do it or need it.
Here are some examples of what was on my calendar:
Driving my son to school: I value and enjoy that one-on-one time with him.
Gym: I like to stay in shape, feel energized, healthy, and strong.
Hiking Group: Besides the physical benefits, I love getting fresh air, vitamin D, and connecting with other healthy people
Piano: Music brings me joy, helps me feel emotion and is good for my brain.
Lunch with fellow coach: Keeps me motivated and connected.
Book Club: I want to stay in touch with old friends and read fiction I wouldn’t otherwise read.
Once you’ve identified those things that take time, write down all the goals and projects you have that are taking your brain space.
2. Cut out three things
Unnecessary commitments, projects, tasks, responsibilities, and routines are taking up your time and energy. Some of these goals may be posing as needs. Are you trying to improve your life on too many fronts at once?
Where is the clutter? What is eating up your peace of mind and energy?
Here are the three things I’ve cut out for now:
Book Club: As much as I adore my friends at the Book Club, the thought of going to each meeting was draining me.
Checking email all the time: is one of my bad habits, and I realize now it is one of my “people pleasing” tendencies. I think I am being super efficient by emptying my inbox constantly, but I am actually living according to what other people want.
My book: I have other projects (like this blog) taking up all of my writing time.
3. Seek help, delegate and automate tasks
Tasks that are necessary but time-consuming and time-wasting include housework, bookkeeping, fixing things in your house, or anything that would cost less to hire out to a professional than what you are producing per hour. For a rough calculation, take your monthly sales goal and divide it by 160 sell-able hours (40 hrs/week x 4 weeks). If your monthly sales goal is $10,000, divide it by 160. This equates to $62.50 per hour. If it costs you $25 per hour to hire cleaning help, it makes sense to hire a maid service.
So, get help, hire a therapist, get food delivered, outsource your taxes, hire a coach, or go to a support group.
4. Toss that daily to-do list
This is the hardest thing to do, for me anyway. Being a bit of a control freak, I’ve learned that I can plan but I cannot control the future. Working from a to-do list has given me a sense of control and safety, but it has also created a feeling of overwhelm and a lack of enthusiasm. Today I capture projects and tasks on lists (see my prior blog post on how to make paperwork fast, foolproof, and fun). I review these lists daily and choose what three items I will do today.
Joshua Fields Millburn of the Minimalists says it best in his “Does this add value to my life” post:
“Over time, though, situations will change—they always do. So I’m forced to ask the same important question over and over and over again: Does this thing add value to my life?… I constantly ask this question because circumstances constantly change: because something adds value to my life today doesn’t mean it’ll add value to my life tomorrow, so I keep asking and I keep adjusting accordingly.”
Initially, there will be some discomfort as you simplify your life. You might experience headaches or sadness. People around you may rebel against the new you. Hold on and resist the temptation to go back to your old ways.
A peaceful, successful, and more intentional life awaits you. You’ll have time for yourself, be more in touch with your values and feelings, and you’ll make better choices.