Time to Simplify

I’m always tempted to write something about how I’m going to start the new year. All the cool bloggers seem to be doing it. Unfortunately, New Year’s Day always feels a little arbitrary to me. Yes, it marks the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another, but with all of the other things that have to be considered at this time, like holidays, parties, taxes, end of year work projects, etc, I never seem to find the time for organizing for the next years’ mental and physical project plan. I’m usually pretty burnt out by the time I get to the new year and spend the first couple of weeks in a state of shell shock.

Changing seasons have always felt more natural for me as indicators that change is needed. When winter turns to spring, I feel like waking from hibernation and getting things done. We’re starting to see some warmer days after a nasty, cold, snowy winter that’s still showing some fighting spirit. Today it’s still chilly and rainy, but the taste of spring last week has gotten my mind going on necessary changes, just like the trees and plants start to prepare for the budding new growth of spring after a few days of warm weather.

It may be premature for the trees, but for me it’s time to make some changes. Over the long winter months, I’ve started feeling restless. Some things in my life are causing some discomfort and, if you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, you know that discomfort is a sign that your body and mind gives you to tell you that you need to make some changes.

For me, I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the clutter in my life again. Some spring cleaning is in order. It’s time to simplify.

Here are a few steps that I’m finding helpful in simplifying my life:

1. Do a brain dump. One of the things that complicates people’s lives is having to carry around a bunch of useless information in the brain. If you’re like me, you have a tendency to sort of tuck away all of your difficulties in a closet in your brain. The problem is that the door won’t shut completely because there’s too damn much stuffed in there and the big, scary, hairy ones are beating on the door to get out.

So, let them out! Open that door, but be sneaky. Remember the cartoon where someone opened the door on the other side and let them run right out of the house? Get all these taxing thoughts out of your brain and onto a piece of paper or text document on your computer.

Take a few minutes as soon as possible and just write down everything that’s on your mind. Make sure to get everything out of your head. Dump it all.

You don’t have to take time to organize it now. The idea is to give your mind a rest knowing that the information isn’t lost. Your mind is struggling to remember and prioritize all of this mental clutter because, deep down, you’re terrified that you’ll forget. You’re subconsciously afraid that you’ll let one of these things slip and something awful will happen.

This is a simple exercise and it’s only meant to put your mind at ease. All you have to do is clear the stuff out of your mind and put it down on paper. You can fold the paper up and put it in your pocket so that you know you have all of your concerns right there with you. Now, though, you’re carrying them in a much more convenient place -your pocket where they won’t interfere while you’re doing what needs to be done to get through the day.

2. Stop reading the news! I wrote a post a long time ago about the effect all this extraneous information can have on your mind. Reading a lot of blogs and news articles every day can introduce a lot of negativity into your life. Sometimes we just use this as a filler when we’re too bored to do something productive or when every task at hand looks like a mountain to climb.

The problem isn’t so much that this time is wasted and could be better spent getting something done, making money, etc. The problem here is that consuming all of this information is adding more to your mental overhead. It’s creating more mental clutter.

So, you were just worried about your job, your relationship, your bills, and that neighbor’s dog peeing on your prize heritage tomato plants. Now, you’re also worried about the new tax laws taking effect, political prisoners in the Far East, climate change, and what Oprah’s going to do with herself after her show ends. Did you really have room for all of that crap in your life?

Consuming all this stuff has a cost associated with it. You’re taking up time that actually could used to clear your mind and de-stress instead. You’re also adding a bunch of tiny threads of concern in your background mental processes. These are things that are way outside your circle of influence. This is an idea from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. What he recommends is to identify the things in your life that you are concerned with and determine what of these are within the circle of what you can control or influence.

The bottom line with concerns and influence is to get rid of the mental baggage of worrying about things you can do nothing about. Then, you can identify those things that you can do something about. That’s where your focus in life needs to be. Otherwise, you’ll go crazy wondering how you can save the baby seals. (Hint: Donate a couple bucks to the cause and forget about it).

3. Let Something Go! We all want to accomplish a lot in our lives and everyone complains of the lack of time to do these important things. It’s so hard to achieve a balance between what we want to get done and what we have time or resources to do. This isn’t quite the same as getting outside of our circle of influence. It’s more like there are a bunch of things that we definitely can do to make life better for ourselves and the people we care about and each of these things can deliver some tangible benefit.

The problem lies in overextending ourselves. We think we can do it all, and, by gosh, we have to do everything. Look at that fellow over there who’s juggling all of this and more. He’s not stressing out or having any trouble coping with it all. Guess what? You may not know as much about this guy as you think. It’s amazing how well people are able to function under extreme stress and give the appearance of not even sweating. Until they have a heart attack or stroke or nervous breakdown!

Also, it’s quite possible that your capabilities don’t necessarily match those of the one you’re trying to compare yourself to. That’s not to say that you’re just not good enough. Far from it. Everyone is different. We have to accept that not all of us can play basketball like Kobe or ride like Lance. We have to adjust the challenges we undertake to our ability to handle them comfortable.

With that said, if there’s a project you’re undertaking at work or home or an activity you’re struggling to keep up with, take stock of your priorities in life and adjust according. It’s OK to just let something go. You don’t have to do everything. It’s OK to ask for help when you’re overburdened. It’s human and it’s normal. You’re not a failure.

I hope that these few thoughts are useful to anyone who’s reading this blog. It seems that life is getting more and more complicated every day and we could all stand to cut back a little on the burdens we are carrying and just simplify.

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8 Responses to Time to Simplify

  1. Be Free says:

    You post is very inspirational. I believe that if we can apply many of your concepts here to our daily lives, we can eliminate much of our stress. I completely agree with your idea on how reading so much bad news can effect our lives negatively. We need to be putting our focus on reading positive things and looking for what is positive in everything.

    • ray says:

      Hi Be Free – I agree. It’s so easy to drown in all the negative inputs the world gives us. I suppose I should say it’s easy to react in a negative way to a lot of what goes on in the world, because it’s really all about how we react to the information we take in. Controlling this reaction is much more difficult with lots of large inflow of negative data, though. A little information diet is probably a good thing for most of us. Thanks for your comment!

  2. razia says:

    I hope that these few thoughts are useful to anyone who’s reading this blog. It seems that life is getting more and more complicated every day and we could all stand to cut back a little on the burdens we are carrying and just simplify.

  3. ryan says:

    Ray – Great article. The new year always seems to bring new stresses and getting organized is the only way that I’ve been able to stay afloat. You’ve offered some very sound advice. Cheers!

    • ray says:

      Thanks, Ryan. I agree. In fact, I think we could all stand to have this kind of review a bit more often than once per year. Maybe most of us could benefit from a sort of adjust course review once a month or so. Thanks for your comment!

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