The ultimate measure of your wisdom and strength? How calm you are when facing any given situation. Yes, calmness is a human superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things personally keeps your thoughts clean and your heart at peace, which instantly gives you an upper hand regardless of your circumstances.
Thus, the biggest and most complex obstacle you will ever have to overcome is your own mind. If you can overcome that, you can overcome almost anything. And by “overcoming,” I’m referring to the skill of mindfulness, and learning to effectively control your emotional responses to life’s unexpected tests. Because most of your deepest pain and frustration on a daily basis will come from the way you respond, not the way life is.
Of course, being calm and mindful is easier said than done, especially when we’re under pressure in this day and age. High stress, relentless worry over work and life, and various forms of social anxiety are all a part of the modern way of being. Most of us just don’t feel any sense of peace or calm throughout the day, and are therefore depleted of energy and effectiveness in almost everything we do. I have to admit that Marc and I used to be exactly this way.
The good news is, we have since learned to focus our minds more resourcefully, and so can YOU. Our biggest breakthrough came about a decade ago when we started leveraging five-second daily reminders to keep ourselves thinking better and living better. The reminders simply reinforce the core daily actions and rituals we know we need to engage in to remain calm and in control from the inside out. I have compiled ten of my favorites below (which also happen to be small excerpts from our brand new book).
Challenge yourself to pick the one new reminder every morning for the next week and a half (roughly ten days), write it down someplace you can easily see it (perhaps write it on a post-it note), and then consciously recite it (at least three times) as needed throughout the day. See how doing so prompts you to respond to life with a calmer and more effective mindset.
1. Calmness begins the moment you take a deep breath and choose not to allow another person or event to control your thoughts. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, and begin again.
2. Happiness is letting go of what you assume your life is supposed to be like right now, and sincerely appreciating it for everything it is. So, RELAX. You are enough. You have enough. You do enough. Inhale, exhale… let go, and just live right now in the moment.
3. Be here. Just right here. No matter what, you can always fight the battles of just today. It’s only when you add the infinite battles of yesterday and tomorrow that life gets overly complicated.
4. Calmness does not mean to be in a place where there is no chaos, trouble, or hard realities to deal with. Calmness means to be in the midst of all those things and still remain mentally, emotionally, and physically centered.
5. Be selective with your energy. If you can fix a problem, fix it. If you can’t, then accept it and change your thoughts about it. Whatever you do, don’t invest more energy than you need, tripping over something behind you… or something that only exists inside your head.
6. When you are lost in worry, it is easy to mistake your worries for reality, instead of recognizing that they are just thoughts.
7. Remember, you alone get to choose what matters and what doesn’t. The meaning of everything in your life has precisely the meaning you give it.
8. Most of the time the problem is not the problem—the problem is the incredible amount of over-thinking and over-analyzing you’re doing with the problem. Pause, and breathe, again.
9. Life humbles us gradually as we age. We realize how much nonsense we’ve wasted time on. So, just do your best right now to feel the peace that flows from your decision to rise above the petty drama that doesn’t really matter.
10. What you focus on grows. Stop managing your time. Start managing your focus.
This is an active practice of taking life day by day and being thankful for the little things. It’s about not getting caught up in what you can’t control, but instead accepting it and making the best of it. Because, when you stop worrying about what you can’t control, you have more time to change the things you can control. And that changes everything.
This book represents the culmination of hundreds of hours of work with course students, and lots of one-on-one work with each other, too. Made up of small lessons and tiny, life-changing daily rituals, we have seen these exact practices change lives time and again.
We’re sincerely excited to share Getting Back to Happy with you, so we’re also giving away over $50 in bonuses (including One Day at a Time — The 60-day workbook for implementing life-changing daily rituals) to No Sidebar readers that order the book today. You can get details here.
Above all, what you need to remember is that calmness is ultimately your choice…
So, for the next ten days, give yourself the space to listen to your own voice—your own soul. Too many people listen to the noise of the world and get lost in the crowd.
Just breathe, be, and pay attention to what it’s like to be YOU.
Nothing to fix.
Nothing to change.
Nowhere else to go.
Just you, breathing, being, with presence, without judgment.
You are welcome here. You belong here.
Here, you are enough. Close your eyes. Breathe…
And tell yourself, “I am ENOUGH!” anytime you begin to feel like you aren’t. Because what we do in life ultimately comes out of who we believe we are.
Choose to find calmness within yourself, and make it your superpower.
I don’t like exercising at the gym, but I like being able to play basketball with my friends and chasing my kids around the beach. I don’t like writing, but I like sending a new book off to print, and hitting publish on a blog post that informs and inspires my readers. Place me firmly in the camp of author Dorothy Parker, who once said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.”
And, I’ll admit, I don’t particularly like being a minimalist. Like exercising and writing, and many other pursuits that are hard and require sacrifice, minimalism is not easy. It requires discipline. It’s counter-cultural.
Most people think you’re weird if you reject conventional wisdom of what it means to live the American Dream. But I press forward nonetheless, because the pursuit of less, in a world that celebrates more, is worth the effort and sacrifice.
“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” Booker T. Washington
The reason I can power through a mindless, joyless session on the treadmill under bright fluorescent lights is that it helps me get stronger and healthier, and do active things I love outside of the gym. Similarly, the reason I resist temptation, choose to live with less, and try to keep my priorities in order, is that it helps me to create space and time for what really matters.
In other words, I don’t see minimalism as an end in itself. The process of decluttering, detaching, and deemphasizing materialism is simply a step on the road toward a destination. Like exercising and writing, the process of minimalism is simply a means to an end.
Without an end in mind, practicing minimalism can feel like a rote exercise devoid of any larger purpose. But if you’re using the principles of minimalism to move toward something you love, then all of the stripping away, like a sculptor chipping away at a hunk of marble, becomes a joyful exercise that reveals something beautiful inside.
Stepping Back to Move Forward
Three years ago, my wife, our three young daughters, and I embarked on a path to test a hypothesis: Could we, as a family, pivot from a life motivated by accumulation and consumption, to one chasing meaning and purpose?
It was a long, often hard journey that took us from an expensive suburb outside of a major city, to a small town in rural northern Michigan. We committed to living with less, because we knew (or at least thought) that a life with less could lead to more.
For many years prior, we desired this change but found ourselves unable to act. We would read, ponder, discuss, and plot how to make change happen, but never move forward. We were stuck in a routine and a lifestyle that wasn’t making us happy, but that we had grown accustomed to. We were battling the inertia of ambivalence.
When we first learned about the concept of minimalism, we were intrigued. The idea of shedding possessions and living lighter appealed to us. So we started boxing up belongings and dropping them off at charitable thrift stores, or placing them at the curb for trash pick-up.
But after a weekend of shedding, we’d find ourselves back where we started: with a few less things, but without making much of a dent in our desire for broader change.
What ultimately led to the transformational change, and ultimately greater happiness, that we experienced was taking a step back and trying to understand the larger purpose and vision we had for our lives; the “end” we had in mind through the “means” of minimizing.
A Strategic Approach to Living with Less
2,500 years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. In it, he stated, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
We had been focused on tactics (for example, closet purging), but never took the time to define our family’s strategic mission. For us, our mission was, and is, to shed the burdens of possessions, financial stress, and worry, and replace them with more meaning and memories born of experiences. We formalized a mantra that would guide our mission, which is:
It’s the things we do, not the things we have, that matter most.
In my personal experience, and through the observation of others, I’ve found that those who only focus on the tactic of minimalism, without a larger purpose in mind, tend to struggle to stick with it. Just as calorie counting diets, measured only by the restriction of calories, rarely work, minimalism quests marked only by the dispossession of objects are hard to sustain.
It’s difficult to stay motivated about the means without an end in mind that lights you up inside. Having a larger purpose is what helps you to persevere through challenges, and minimizing one’s lifestyle, in the face of societal pressures to do otherwise, certainly qualifies as a challenge.
With Purpose in Mind, Get to Doing
By no means are we minimalists in the purest sense. We still have too much stuff, get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses, and succumb to temptation despite knowing better. But for the last several years, with mission and mantra in hand, every time we have fallen down we’ve been able to get up and get back on track, happier and ready for what’s next.
We’re girded by the knowledge, born of experience, that the path to fulfillment lies in doing the hard things. With a purpose in mind, you can learn to love the process of minimalism, even if it’s difficult at times.
What’s your purpose? What are you seeking? What prompted you to click on this article in the first place? The odds are that it’s not the desire to live an easy life, because the easy way is simply to conform and act according to modern notions of what it means to live large. You’re likely here because you’re in search for more, but more of a different variety.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I have no idea what your life’s purpose is, but if I had to guess, it’s to live a meaningful life with a focus on the people, causes, passions, and experiences that matter most to you. If this is the case, then here are a few ideas that can help you to not just go through the motions of minimalism, but to use minimalism as a means to grab life by the reins and live it for all it’s worth.
1. Set micro goals.
Minimalism is a journey, not a destination. The destination is, or should be, the fulfillment of your purpose. Change happens incrementally, not all at once. So with your purpose in mind, think big and act small. As the old adage goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time, so set small goals for yourself as you travel your journey, and celebrate small wins along the way.
2. Think and act holistically.
Cupboards, closets, and cellars are not the only areas in our lives that call for minimization—they’re not even close to the most important ones for most of us. Our work, our relationships, and our cognitive biases that limit us from our potential are often ripe for editing.
For example, one of the biggest factors that enabled us to move to a place we love was ditching the expensive space we used for our office, culling clients who made our work lives miserable and beginning to operate our marketing agency virtually. No more commutes, no more rent, and a whole lot more time and resources to live the life we desired.
3. Harden your intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is marked by an internal desire to do something for its own sake—for example, someone’s personal enjoyment of an activity, or their desire to acquire a skill because they’re eager to learn. Someone who is intrinsically motivated doesn’t need someone else to push them forward.
This is important because many people won’t understand the journey you’re on. They won’t identify with your purpose. Some will be outright hostile because they’ll see your desire for change as a rejection of their own choices. The best way to overcome these challenges, and live life on your terms, is to rely on your own resolve rather than some form of external motivation.
After all, there’s nothing more satisfying than doing something hard, and then reaping the rewards of a life well lived.
Take the First Step, then Another
Minimalism is not a magical cure-all. But for those who have a deeper meaning in mind for their lives, and want to pursue a mission in life that is challenging and fulfilling, following the foundational principles of minimalism will give them a much better shot at achieving their life’s purpose. Happiness is not guaranteed, it’s hard-won. And the struggle for happiness begins inside, with a commitment to do the hard work.
You know what it takes. You have what it takes. Now take the first step. Then another. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way.
As my 40th birthday approached, I sensed that change was coming my way.
Somehow I understood that this year would be a tipping point. A critical crossroad at which I would stop being pulled to and fro by shifting mood or circumstance and make a conscious decision about who and how I wanted to be in the world.
Change did come.
I launched my first blog called Embracing Imperfection – an initial, tentative effort at articulating my deep longing to disentangle myself from comparison, perfectionism, and fear. I returned to school, ended up struggling to walk with a cane as I awaited a hip replacement and then passed through a long and painful recovery, and my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
My 40th birthday ushered in the most challenging season of my life. And I am grateful.
The strange thing is, even as I stumbled through this valley that I would never have chosen for myself, I knew I was being changed. Through the pain and sorrow, the agonizing stretching of muscle and soul, I was beginning the process of releasing everything that no longer served.
All the striving and comparison, the self-doubt and concern about what others thought of me and if they loved me, was stripped away layer by layer until I arrived, exhausted yet relieved, at a place of surrender.
Broken and beautiful.
It was like I fully awoke, for the first time.
And what I finally understood was that I was already enough. That I could love myself, with all my mess and struggle, precisely as I was.
As I draw near to my 47th birthday and look back over the past 7 years, I realize there are four interconnected, life-giving lessons I’ve learned which allow me to walk with intention and joy today.
Joy and pain can coexist
I picked up joy in that valley and have never been the same. While I first got a taste of this when I lost my mom, it was in this season that I embraced the life-altering truth that joy and pain can coexist. Beauty and suffering are old friends. Happiness and struggle co-mingle in a beautiful, imperfect, real life.
Life simply isn’t black or white. All or nothing. And if I wait until there is no sorrow, no doubt or uncertainty, no suffering or frustration or brokenness in this big world, then I will miss my life. I will exist instead of truly living.
I can decide that I am already enough. This simple, imperfect life of mine is more than enough.
When I pull my brain back from tomorrow and my heart from yesterday, I live with joy today
Today is an incredible gift. The crumbs on the counters that speak of a family well-fed, the bills to pay and kids to drive and laundry to fold. This matters.
I grieve the people I’ve helped bury and joyfully make plans for my future but most of all I choose to show up fully present and awake today. A nicer home, more money, another vacation or a fairy tale romance will not make me happier than I already am.
If this is as good as my life ever gets I will die content. This is far more than enough.
If I can’t be happy today it is unlikely I will be happy tomorrow
I have stopped deferring happiness – life is too short, and I am worth too much, to allow imperfection or uncertainty to keep me from living fully today.
The truth is, I don’t need circumstances to be perfect in order to choose to be happy. I can take personal responsibility for my thoughts and habits and show up curious and fully engaged to my simple, ordinary life.
Instead of tipping into negativity, I choose to consciously scan for beauty. Instead of living in fear that the good things in life won’t last, I soak up every drop of beauty and joy, love and opportunity for growth, that this simple day offers. This day is more than enough.
There is wisdom in each season
Death and birth, winter and springtime, times of tightening the belt and those of abundance, seasons of being hidden before stepping out into the light – there is a primordial wisdom in each season.
I’ve learned not to panic in the winter seasons; this is where I put down roots that anchor me later on. And I have learned, in the seasons of light, to silence the voice of my inner critic so I can step through fear, into purposeful action, to joyfully do the work to which I feel called.
One season isn’t better than the other. They are both necessary and work together to build a beautiful life that is so much more than enough.
Today, like each day of these past 7 years, I choose how I will show up. I choose if I will see my strength and not just my struggle. I choose if I will see past mess and imperfection to the grace and gifts of this ordinary day. I choose if I will grow and heal and laugh like I mean it or allow frustration and discomfort and a sense of lack to hold me back from truly living.
I alone get to decide that this simple, imperfect life of mine is more than enough.
Running was very important to me as a new mom. When my son was born, life revolved around him. Feeding, changing, rocking, googling whether something was normal. “Is he breathing?” Phew. The person I was before him almost flew out the window. But running was my me time. It was an old familiar comfort where I was myself again and helped me to reconnect. It helped me be a better mom.
It’s easy for us to let work, busy schedules, and even parenting take over and lose our sense of self in the process. We find ourselves stretched thin with little time to recharge. Because of this, it’s become more popular for people to tell you how important it is to say no to things more often. I know I’ve written about it before.
While it’s true that maybe you should say no more often, I don’t only encourage you to say no. I encourage you to say no and then use that time to do something for yourself, such as a hobby. Whether it’s a physical activity such as running, or something else such as sewing or playing piano. It’s your “me” time, and not just something else you need to get done in the day.
Making Time for Yourself
Making this time for yourself will benefit you in so many ways, including:
1. Encouraging a state of flow.
Hobbies have the power of putting you into a state of flow. Flow is a mental state in which you are fully immersed or “in the zone.” It’s often associated with enjoyment and happiness. It’s a state that leaves you invigorated and has been found to increase concentration, self-esteem, and performance.
Writing, drawing, riding a horse, playing a game of chess, all of these things can put you in a state of flow. And, when you are in this state, you are present. Which, means you aren’t worried about a conversation you had with your boss or what you are going to cook for dinner.
As crazy as it might sound, running can put me into a state of flow. Whether I’m doing intervals and trying to keep a certain pace or focusing on my breathing. It leaves me feeling energized and refreshed.
2. Promoting positive stress.
Hobbies promote positive stress while relieving bad stress at the same time. Positive stress is a good type of stress that makes us view problems more like challenges. It keeps us excited about life. When engaging in a hobby you are destressing by taking a break from all the other stuff you have to do. Yet, you’re still doing something with a purpose. Something that has it’s own challenges, which promotes positive stress.
The stress relief is good for both physical and mental health. Meanwhile, the sense of purpose will leave you much more fulfilled.
This feeling will carry over into other areas of your life as well. You’ll be passionate about something, which energizes and lifts your spirits even when you aren’t doing that activity. It’s something in your day to look forward to.
3. Helping with self-identity.
Participating in a hobby makes you feel better after a tough day, but not just because it distracts you and helps with stress. It also positively affects your sense of self. Feeling defined by one thing can lead to anxiety, depression, and burnout. You don’t have to be a new mom to experience this. Life can easily become all about work, or clothes, or whatever else you are chasing.
If a certain area of your life defines you, it’s going to be a bigger blow to your self-esteem when things aren’t going quite right. For example, perhaps you had a tough day at work or someone made an offhand comment about your wardrobe.
If this area is only one aspect of who you are, it will be much easier to get past. Maybe you are also a wonderful baker or enjoy playing tennis. That tough day at work or bad remark won’t be as hard on you because it’s not your entire self-identity. There are many more pieces of your life that make up who you are.
4. Fostering social connection.
I enjoy talking, reading, and hearing other people talk about running. When someone else enjoys running, I feel a little more connected to them.
Whatever the hobby, chances are, there are other people that are also interested in it. These interests will connect you to them. You may find yourself in conversation with someone that you wouldn’t normally be in. Not only will it give you something to talk about, it will be something you enjoy talking about.
Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do but you just don’t have the time? Put yourself first for a bit, and make the time. The benefits are worth it.
This was the question I first heard from The Minimalists’ podcast as I was driving back to my college town. For me, as for most students, college was a huge transition. My living space, schedule, and environment had all changed.
College often shows a pattern of more; more expectations, coursework, obligations, commitments, and responsibilities. In many ways it mirrors life after college, as the full schedule never seems to end.
In a season of my life where I was bombarded with more, I knew it was time to make a change. I was feeling exhausted, overworked, and unfulfilled. So I continued listening to The Minimalists’ podcast, where I began to learn how minimalism allows us to remove the clutter in our lives so we can focus on what’s truly important. My curiosity lead me to other great minimalists, like Leo Babauta, Joshua Becker, and Courtney Carver.
Minimalism and College
As college was filling my schedule with more, I decided to fill my schedule with less of what didn’t matter and more of what did. Here are a few about minimalism that I learned during college.
1. You don’t have to live like everyone else.
Not everyone is a minimalist, and that’s okay. I’m the only minimalist that I’ve ever lived with, yet being able to live with yourself is what’s important.
Minimalism helps me live in alignment with my values and beliefs, and that really helped me throughout my time in college and still helps me today. We have to learn how to say no to what’s not important, so we can say yes to what is.
When everyone and everything tries to pull my time and attention in different directions, minimalism helps keep me focused and on track.
2. There is no universal schedule all minimalists follow.
Some minimalists enjoy doing very few things with great pleasure, while other minimalists have arranged their life in a way where they’re able to contribute to multiple projects they’re passionate about.
Those who aren’t familiar with minimalism may think minimalists must have an empty schedule all the time, yet that’s far from the truth. It’s not about the quantity of tasks, but the quality of tasks.
During college, I was able to work part-time, intern for a nonprofit organization that I care about, be a full-time student, and still spend quality time with my family and friends. This was all possible because I knew what was important to me and scheduled my time accordingly.
3. Less clutter allows for more focus.
Just as I assessed what things were filling up my time, I assessed what things were filling up my living space. I washed my laundry before it became a mountain that took over my room. I washed the dishes before they piled up and resembled a game of Jenga. I kept my room tidy so that I could find what I needed when I needed it.
If I had to spend time looking for my phone charger or most recent assignment, I couldn’t spend that time doing something I wanted to be doing. Even desktop and app icons were beginning to create unnecessary visual stimulation, so I deleted the ones I didn’t need and stowed the rest away.
I remember when I first started decluttering, my friend asked, “There is nothing on your desk? Don’t you use it?” In reality, there was nothing on my desk because I did use it regularly. Having a clear desk helped me create a clear mind, and that’s the mindset I needed for whatever I was going to do next.
4. Work is important, but so is having fun.
Our to-do lists and errands can overwhelm us to the point where we feel like we don’t have time for anything else. In an era where productivity is prized, it’s easy to get caught up in a mindset where we must never stop working. Yet this idea leads to burnout, low morale, and fatigue. Minimalism taught me when we slow down and do things we enjoy, we can enjoy life and recharge.
5. There is no one way to minimalism.
It’s easy to want an ultimate guide to becoming a minimalist. We are used to being able to Google anything and get direct answers. But minimalism isn’t that straightforward and can seem to be full of irony. Just take a look at some of the great minimalists I mentioned earlier.
Leo Babauta has six kids. The Minimalists recently launched a physical product. These may seem like they would disqualify them from minimalism, but that’s not how minimalism works. Minimalism doesn’t have a set standard, it can be crafted to your life as you see fit.
I learned these lessons during college, but they have proved valuable well beyond college. You don’t graduate from minimalism, but that’s the beauty of it; there is always more to learn about the benefits of living with less.
“Not everything can be important, and not always,” I said. “That would be awful.” — Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
We started our married life in an 800 square foot cottage with three kids. We were going to build a larger home, but we built a larger family instead, and then we were too busy to think about building a house.
The gift of that time together was that it completely changed our relationship to “stuff.” My rule was that it had to have a place. If it did not have a place, something had to go to give it a place. We have all heard something similar, but I understand now why it was so important. It wasn’t lack of space for stuff, it was out of respect for the stuff we say is important enough to have in our lives.
Five “springs” ago, we sold almost everything we owned in our preparations to wander the world for a while. We displayed it all nicely and people came and left and all the stuff went with them.
I was stunned at my lack of attachment to things that had so many memories attached: the chair where we rocked our children to sleep, the collectible dishes that marked their births, and the china we received as wedding gifts that symbolized our passage into adulthood.
As I told stories to strangers who were leaving with our stuff, I felt lighter. I know that it was not the chair that rocked my babies, it was me, and the dishes did not commemorate their births or our wedding but it was the people who gave them to us. These memories made me feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for where we have been and the people and experiences that are giving us the courage to go where we have not been before.
Four Simple Steps for Spring “Curating”
The “stuff” we choose to surround ourselves with deserves a place.
1. If you care enough about something to put it away carefully, when you take it out again, you see it in a new light. Your appreciation for what you intentionally keep will be enhanced exponentially more than if it lived on the floor or slung over the end of the bed year-round.
2. When it becomes a burden to re-wrap breakables every holiday season, or to put the winter clothes in the attic, listen to that voice that says they don’t have a place in your experience anymore. Give thanks for the memories the “stuff” helped you create and pass it on.
3. It is when we keep too many things unintentionally that they lose their significance and their splendor. Putting things away, even if it is the dishes in the cupboard, makes them shine the next morning when we are ready for coffee.
4. It is not about stuff, it is about home, and the things that we surround ourselves with that make us feel loved. Our definition of home is not static, even if we stay in one place, so our stuff needs to keep flowing as well, or there is a sense of misalignment.
As you approach Spring cleaning this year, think of it in terms of curating what you choose to keep versus getting rid of excess. If you shift your thinking in this way, the excess becomes easy to purge.
What you surround yourself with not only reflects the past but communicates your thoughts about your future. Take this time to sort, clean, frame and organize each piece you deem worthy of keeping. After all it represents a moment worth savoring from this wonderful life. One definition of curate is: To take charge of, to organize. Are you ready?
It can be a moment to take a deep breath, to fill your cup, to realign your life so that everything fits again.
Or, it can be halting. A frozen image, a standstill, inertia.
There are times when we take a pause intentionally, times when life forces us to pause, and times where pause is simply inevitable. No matter what, there is endless opportunity for growth when things appear to be static.
Minimalists talk a lot about values. But what do you do when your values conflict? What happens when you need to pause progress in one area that you value in order to benefit another?
You grow, and you change, and you’re better for it.
Having It All at Once
When I decided to change my career trajectory and pursue a life that I was passionate about, I took a flailing leap into the dark. I wasn’t sure how things would turn out, but at the time, it didn’t really matter. The one thing I did know was that I was walking toward something meaningful.
Luckily, it was the right move—I loved my new career as a band director, and felt motivated to continue learning and growing. After teaching for a couple of years, I spent an intensive year finishing my master’s degree and acting as a graduate teaching assistant. It was tough, but I loved every minute of it.
Or, more accurately, half of me loved every minute of it.
In the mean time, I had become a new mother. Before that intensive year of work, I spent the first year of my daughter’s life at home—watching her grow, never getting enough sleep, being there for the milestone moments, working through the frustration and loneliness of stay-at-home motherhood, and loving something as I never had before.
I felt it was important to be with her during her first year, but when the opportunity to finish my degree and gain invaluable experience came around, I didn’t hesitate—of course I could balance the two. A happy mom is a good mom.
It was a whirlwind of a year—I was a full time graduate student, a part time teaching assistant, and a full time mom. The night before I started the fall semester, my husband found out that he was being transferred 1,200 miles away for work. Suddenly, I was balancing weaning and Saturday football games, daycare pick up and evening rehearsals, sleep training and studying—it seemed insurmountable.
It took a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and incredibly supportive family members and friends to make it through, but I’m so glad that it happened for two reasons: 1) it taught me that I can do seemingly insurmountable things, 2) it gave me perspective on whether “having it all” is the right approach.
One of my favorite quotes is by Oprah Winfrey: “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”
Value vs. Value
One of the biggest minimalist buzzwords is “values.” We’re encouraged to define our values, to live in alignment with our values, to purge items and activities that don’t bring value into our lives.
I’m in full support of living a life in accordance with our values. However, the big elephant in the room is what to do when one of your values conflicts with another.
Here’s one that modern mothers will recognize: You identify strongly with your successful and motivating career, but you feel that you sacrifice your values when it prevents you from spending meaningful time with your children. Or, you love being the one who gets to raise and experience your children each day, but you feel that you sacrificed your values when you gave up a part of the identity that helped define your life’s mission.
Family versus career is just one potential conflict of values. If you’re the primary breadwinner for your family, it may not be feasible to quit your job, pack everyone up, and pursue your dream of full-time travel. If you’re a working parent, this may not be the season to tack on a full time Ph.D. program.
At times, it can seem like minimalism advocates throwing caution to the wind and jumping in to your dreams headfirst—this is actually the opposite of the intentionality that minimalism is all about. An intentional life requires sacrifice, planning, and hard work.
Learning to Be Okay in the Right Now
Admittedly, having any decision at all is a matter of privilege. It’s a privilege to have the freedom to pursue your passions, as well as to decide to put them on hold. Understanding the nature of the decision doesn’t always make the consequences easier to deal with, it just makes them easier to appreciate.
That being said, how do we cope when we’ve made a decision that enriches one of our values at the expense of another?
1. Find the elusive balance.
If you can manage to balance your goals and time in a manner that is positive for all of your values, you’ve hit the jackpot. Maybe the answer is working part-time so that you can spend more time with your family, moonlighting to avoid losing the security of your 9-5, or taking just one class at a time toward that new career. Where balance is an option, it’s usually a good choice.
2. Stay involved.
Just because one of your dreams or values is on hold at the moment doesn’t mean that you’ve given it up. Stay as involved as you can until the right moment to move forward arrives. Volunteering, becoming involved in the community, helping out a friend—these are small but meaningful ways to that can’t be the priority right now.
3. Remember your why.
The decision to sacrifice is never made lightly. If you’ve decided to put something on hold that means a lot to you, chances are the thing you’ve chosen is that much more meaningful. Write down the reasons and refer to this list when you’re feeling discouraged about putting other dreams on hold.
Finally, remember that to everything there is a season. My goals and priorities now are much different now than they were when I was 20, and I imagine they will be vastly different when I’m 40. Life is not static, and a pause is not permanent. Making peace with the life path that you’ve chosen in this season isn’t settling—it’s liberating.
Ever had parts of your life where you feel like you’re tiptoeing on a tightrope, while balancing a pile of books on your head, and with no end in sight? Me too.
And in those moments all the feelings come rushing through from all the wounded places, the unseen places, and the beaten places within, screaming to solve the ‘external problem’ so they can lay their heads down again.
But it is a lie, that a feeling can be resolved with ‘outside’ action. A feeling can only be resolved through feeling—fully, thoroughly, and unapologetically.
What to do?
I share here what I know, and you likely know too. And this is how we love one another in testing times, we remind ourselves of what is true.
1. Silence is sweet.
When we can sit, and place our attention on our feelings and sensations, the whirling of our thoughts, and the cries of our unmet needs, without story, we find relief. This process is an act of trust. Nothing outside of us can make us feel whole. Our states of being are internally generated but we are conditioned to think otherwise. And the conditioning runs deep.
Allowing silence helps to unravel this lie. It may be counter intuitive to hear, but feeling our feelings first, reveals or helps us to recognize and receive right actions (solutions/help) from a space of inner equilibrium and expansion. The ancient disciplines of silence and solitude usher in refreshing, and help us navigate the minefields of our modern world (looking at you, seduction of 24hr activity), as we witness our precious souls.
“One of the reasons so many people are suffering from stress is not that they are doing stressful things but that they allow so little time for silence.”
― John O’Donohue
2. Generosity is liberating.
To help or give to another in a meaningful way takes your attention of your ‘problem’ and places it effortlessly on connection, abundance, humility and joy which feels amazing, like you have no ‘problem’.
A mind not caught up with itself is more readily a landing place for wisdom, insight and creative fortitude.
3. Creating is the antidote.
Creating is the solution to complaining, which itself is a fear-based activity that denies spiritual reality. It never went well with the sojourners of the scriptures when they complained against their Maker on the way to the promised land. When we take of ourselves (gifts, talents, skills, potential) to create something beautiful in form and/or function we are 100% present in the moment, integrated and whole—it feels great because we are again attuned to our inherent wellbeing, that state of being of having-ness that we lose perception of, when we complain.
Nearly identical twins, colluding clutter, and rampant consumerism are symptoms of not harnessing our creativity to making worthwhile ideas real, so we create in reverse, by not feeling, and by complaining and accumulating.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ll have heard, or know someone that keeps a happiness journal. Similar to a diary, a happiness journal is your own private space where you can explore and understand your own mind, your feelings and emotions, which ultimately leads to a happier life.
However, if you haven’t done anything like this before, it can be difficult to know where to begin, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. Today, we’re going to explore everything you need to know in order to start your very own happiness journal, allow you to start a new chapter in your life.
Choosing a Personal Space
You can start your happiness journal any way you like and feel comfortable with. You might like to go out or search online for a dedicated notebook. You might like to start out on a Word document. You might like a mixture of both.
However you want to start, you need to make sure that you feel comfortable and can easily express yourself in the best way that you know how.
1. Write for gratitude.
One of the biggest problems we face in our everyday lives is the fact that we don’t appreciate the things we have. We’re constantly subjected to the media and advertisements showing us what we don’t have but what we do ‘need’, such as a new house, car, holiday or gadget.
However, in your journal, try and start each entry with a list of three things that you’re grateful for each day, whether that’s the birds singing, the music on your Spotify playlist, a friend or even dinner on your table.
2. Write for quality.
Of course, you can write any way that you see fit and are comfortable with writing. However, aiming to write quality and detail will be far more beneficial to your well-being. Even if you’ve only written a paragraph (a few sentences) but you’ve explored a feeling deeply that you’ve been subject to for a while, this is much better for your mind that a list of 50 vague items.
3. Write about your day.
Since you’ll want to try writing in your journal every day, it’s only natural that you’ll want to write about the things that happened. However, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only writing about the bad things that have happened.
“While this is good for venting and getting it all off your mind, it’s far better for your happiness if, for every bad or negative thing that you write, you also write a positive thing. This is a great way to show yourself that not everything is bad, it’s just a case of your own perspective,” shares Sarah Cattle, a writer for Assignment Help.
Writing the Perfect Happiness Journal
While most of us write in some form or another every single day, the actual skill of being able to write may still elude us. However, there are many online tools you can use to improve your writing skills, allowing you to express yourself properly;
Cite It In; Word Counter: These are two free online tools to help you format your happiness journal entries, or for setting daily word count goals.
Essayroo; Assignment Help: As reviewed in Australian Help review, these are two writing services that can teach you the necessary skills to help you write accurate, error-free sentences.
The longer and more regular that you write in your happiness journal, the more likely you are to fill the benefits. Ideally, you’re going to want to write in it once a day, but that doesn’t matter if you only do it for ten minutes a day, you’ll still start to feel happier.
Try creating a ritual for when you write to make it easy to form the habit. You could write as soon you as wake up, or the last thing you do before you go to bed.
For those of you who believe that you don’t have time to write in a journal, consider how many hours a day you spend on social media, and you’ll soon be able to find the time. However, if you’re truly finding it difficult, even starting to write once a week and then, over time, increasing that to several times a week, can be a huge step in the right direction.
Most of the time, I’m not very good at decisions. I get stuck wanting to find the best option, and don’t want to settle for one that’s just good enough. When there are 37 different things to choose from on Amazon, this can be hard.
I get paralyzed from too many options and end up not making a decision at all. And from what I’ve read, I’m not alone in this.
Barry Schwartz illustrates this idea in his book, The Paradox of Choice. He discusses a study in which researchers set up two displays of jams in a food store. One display had six choices, the other had 24. They found that 30% of the customers exposed to the six choices bought a jar. While only 3% exposed to the 24 choices did the same.
This isn’t the only study that has such findings either. I guess we all need to take the saying “variety is the spice of life,” with a grain of salt.
Too many choices can be detrimental. That’s why simplifying your life can feel so good. It’s why you hear about people like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs wearing the same thing every day.
Decluttering Daily Decisions
When little decisions we make each day have too many options, it’s draining. So what can we do? Simplifying little areas of your life can be a great start. Here are seven areas to consider:
1. Your closet.
I can’t tell you how good it feels to have a smaller wardrobe to choose from. I’m definitely not like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg- I still enjoy having some options. But, when I have fewer clothing choices, I find I’m more creative and happier with what I choose to wear.
2. What you eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Daniel Gilbert, who wrote Stumbling on Happiness, eats the same breakfast every Sunday. When people ask him what is the key to happiness, this is his answer. More specifically, it’s what he eats. Which is fresh tortillas and raw jalapeños, but that’s not the point. The point is that variety can actually make you less happy, not more, as he covers in his book.
He says variety should only be in things we enjoy thinking about. And for him, thinking about breakfast doesn’t bring him much pleasure.
3. Your beauty routine.
Whether you are a guy or a girl, there are probably certain areas of your beauty routine that can be eliminated. Maybe you have too many choices of perfume/cologne, lipstick, eye shadow, hair products, etc. Having 10 eye shadow pallets is not doing anything for you. Cut down to the few you use often, and I bet you’ll be happier.
4. Your purchases.
Stick with what you usually buy. When I let myself consider too many alternatives, it makes me second guess the decision I end up making. Even if I like my choice. The “maximizer” in me keeps thinking there may have been a better alternative. So, try to stop looking for better options. If you like what you usually get, stick with it, and don’t worry about what you will be missing out on by doing so. Fear of missing out can be a doozy.
5. Your morning or evening routine.
We often do the same things every day when we get up and before we go to sleep. Is there something that isn’t necessary that you can eliminate? Also, if you don’t already, try doing these things in the same order every day, that way you don’t have to think about it.
6. Your bills.
Is there something you are paying every month that isn’t necessary? Maybe you have Netflix and Hulu. Do you watch them both? Also, if you haven’t already, put your bills on autopay. That’s one less thing that can come up in your day that you’ll have to make a decision about.
7. Your time.
Yep, simplify your time. As in only doing one thing at a time. I’m a big proponent of this, and not just because I’m a bad multitasker! You will increase your focus and cut down on decisions from having to switch back and forth.
It’s possible you already do some of these, or other things throughout your day, that cut down on decisions. Maybe even without realizing it. For example, I have a favorite coffee cup, and that’s the one I drink from every day. It’s a simple little area of my daily routine that I don’t have to think about.
And by the way, do you enjoy thinking about what you will make for breakfast? If a certain area like this brings you happiness, don’t feel the need to simplify in that regard. We’re trying to make our lives easier and more enjoyable. Pick the areas that will work best for you.
Also, I want to point out that variety is not always bad. In fact, it can be quite good and without it, life would be boring. But, as with most things in life, too much is not a good thing.
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