We are living fragmented lives in an increasingly frenetic world. Overworked and overstressed we spread ourselves thin flipping between several roles in a single day. We can be a parent, spouse, employee, organiser, blogger, expert in a field, coordinator, entertainer or whatever role we have assigned ourself or have identified with.
Society and culture have also put on us pressures and beliefs that have sucked us in all this madness. Clearly, we are living a consumeristic culture in overdrive. The expectations from our peers and the messages from the mass media and cultural icons are all set to trance us into this consumeristic mass hallucination. In moments of clarity, many have stopped to ask themselves “How do I make it stop? Where is the emergency stop button? How can I break free from all this and return to a simpler, authentic and stress-free life?” — I’m sure you have, as have I too.
The good news is that living a simpler, stress-free life is not something that is a world apart. Like anything else it comes from our will and resolution but also from making some simple realisations and keeping them present in mind. I have listed seven key ideas about simple living that our constant doing and rushing has alienated us from.
Life Purpose Is Simplicity Itself:
Knowing your life purpose is the most powerful information you can acquire in a whole lifetime. Knowing your life purpose means knowing who you truly are which in turns means doing only those things which resonate with your authentic talents and motivations. Life becomes effortless. On the other hand not being aligned with your life purpose means creating friction and wasting time and energy doing things which do not flow with you.
In my book The Art of Simple Living, I make this very important point — that knowing your life purpose does not require looking for it in some special place or doing something extraordinary. It comes from simplifying. When you start discarding all those things which do not belong to you and simplify your day to day living, your life purpose comes in sharper focus because you understand better who you are.
Your Wants Are Not Your Needs:
The consumerist culture has sold us wants as needs. As we are constantly bombarded by advertising messages on all media, we are made to believe that we ‘need’ that latest gadget or that cool accessory to be at pace with our times and our peers. The clear boundary between needing and wanting has been blurred. So we end up spending time, money and energy trying to acquire stuff or reaching goals because we believe we actually need them when in fact we only want them. As the latest fad passes away, we are only left with clutter and wasted resources.
Being sober about what are those things you really need and those which you only want can drastically simplify your life. You eliminate those things which are inessential to your core living thus opening up more time and space to fill in with meaningful things that are genuinely part of your life purpose.
Less Is More:
Another thing society has seduced us into is the idea that more is better. We measure our success partly by how much wealth, status and accolades we accumulate in a lifetime. What is not measured is the stress and strain produced as an effect of pursuing these socially transmitted goals. Not to mention how far we deviated from our more authentic goals and happiness while doing this. We have been alienated away from the practical truth that less is decisively more powerful.
When you have less stuff, work and false ‘needs’ cluttering your physical and mental space, your life is more streamlined and frictionless. With less noise, it becomes much easier to bring your true aspirations and motivations in clear focus. This is the real power of less.
It’s Not What You Thought About Thinking:
One of the greatest ways to hack into a simpler life comes from your thinking or rather lack of it. This is another belief we have been sucked into — that we must think to figure out our way and solve problems. Counter-intuitive as it may sound, thinking is on many occasions, the obstacle to the solution rather than the path to the solution. Not because thinking is bad or futile but because thinking or over-analysing a situation can at times create more noise while blocking our inner intuition.
Masters in the art of simplicity know very well how to make use of their intuition and when to refrain from analysing a given situation. This is because while thinking is energy intensive and can complicate matters rather than simplifying them, intuition gives us instant access to information that may have been overlooked by our conscious rationalisations. It is effortless, fast and simple.
You Don’t Need Approval By Anyone:
Most of the time we are not aware how much our life is complicated by the need to be approved of by others. Some people seek approval constantly and feel the need to have their actions and aspirations confirmed by the stamp of approval of their peers or those in authority. The need for others’ approval, whether explicit or tacit, becomes in some cases a compulsive unconscious behaviour. It limits our possibilities but more importantly, it keeps us from being ourselves and living an authentic life.
The effect of all this is that our life becomes complicated and inefficient since we are putting others’ consent, approval or admiration in the equation every time. People who are completely free from what other people think of their life choices, have a much simpler and straightforward line to follow – their heart. Once you ditch the subconscious fear of being disapproved by others around you, you clear up the space to fill in with your own dreams and aspirations rather those of others.
Money Can Wait — Your Dreams Shouldn’t:
How many times have I heard people (and myself in the past) declare: “Once I will settle myself financially, I will be on my way to follow my dreams and aspirations.” The general sense to it is that “right now I am not living my dream — I have put it on the side while I try to make a living doing things I am not passionate about”.
There is a certain rationale that we believe is sane to follow but the truth is that it is partially insane at best. We limit ourselves thinking that we need to get a financial boost to jumpstart our life project. While it is agreed that some form of financial input or funding is needed to create certain projects, it doesn’t mean that you need to shelve it while you are acquiring your funds. What often happens is that you get derailed into other things while you are not actually doing your real stuff and your dream becomes only that — a ‘dream’. Other times, the financial aspect becomes an excuse to procrastinate or else we do not realise that the situation is not as bad as we fear and that for instance quitting your full-time job to get on your project is not half as financially strenuous as you may believe.
The Space Odyssey — Decluttering:
Read any literature about simple living and it is invariably tied to the idea of decluttering. It does a lot of sense of course because living a simpler life means above anything else being free from clutter that makes your life less simple to manage. My idea of decluttering spaces is a bit broader than that. While clearing physical spaces (and maintaining them clutter free) is an absolute necessity for making your practical living hassle free, I also like to emphasise that keeping our inner spaces clutter free is as much, if not more, important.
What do I mean by inner spaces? It is that space through which we listen to our innermost feelings, intuitions and reflections. It is of course not a space in the physical sense although it behaves like one because it can be blocked by clutter — mental chatter, too much information from the media, worries, beliefs, fears, etc. Likewise when it is free from such clutter, it opens up to allow more authentic things to flow into — joy, creativity, solutions, intuitions, etc. Once again, we are limited as too how much of that space we can free up (if at all) by our social demands and expectations.
We are made to follow certain social models and templates — like for instance being the self-motivated manager who is always on the ball and has little or no time for his inner life or introspection. Inner life is seen as belonging to those who are on the ‘wayside’ or have retreated from life rather than those who are on its mainstream. Wrong assumption, of course.
Dedicating no time to declutter your inner spaces through for instance, quiet time alone, meditation, play, art, relaxing, traveling, etc., is what will knock you off from life’s ‘mainstream’. Instead of giving time to listen to your inner authentic aspirations, you would have lived the life of an automaton filling in a role laid down by society.
This article was originally published on The Mind Unleashed in 2015.