As smartphones and wearables help us stay more connected than ever, they are also raging war on ability to focus on what's most important. While some may be fortunate enough to balance the constant assault on our time, energy and attention, I am not one of those more fortunate souls. Back in 2014, I was balancing the responsibilities of being a girlfriend, daughter, sister, friend, aunt and godmother with the responsibilities of being self-employed as a social media consultant. If I do say so myself, I was doing a pretty good job, too. Then I got engaged, and things flew into a tailspin.
I was far from a bridezilla -- in fact, I was pretty low key -- but the sheer number of decisions and pressures pushed me to the limit. How many guests should we invite? Who should officiate the ceremony? Should Mickey Mouse come to our cake cutting (yup, we were married in Walt Disney World, and yes, Mickey made it!)? Not only were these decisions tugging at my attention, the constant barrage of emails and calls were taking a great deal of attention. All these commitments meant I stopped taking care of myself. My diet suffered and I stopped exercising -- and I felt awful as I carried on, non stop, until my wedding.
After my wedding, I was completely burned out and crashed, hard. Suddenly I took a look at those blogs and bookmarks about minimalism I had been meaning to read. I looked for ways to de-clutter every area of my life and focus on what was truly essential. Within a few months, I had lost weight, I was more focused and productive than ever and most importantly, I was incredibly happy with my new husband.
Although I expected improvement, I was actually surprised at the profound impact simplifying a few key areas would have on my life. Upon reflection, I observed three especially critical ways simplifying led to my happiness.
- I had to think about what really made me happy. How often do you think about what makes you happy? Back in 2014 as I was working tirelessly and planning my wedding, I honestly had no idea what really made me happy -- at least specifically. Sure, I knew I loved my (then) fiancee and I knew that I liked traveling or reading. But on a day-to-day basis, I could not tell you what made me happy. By eliminating the unnecessary distractions and clutter from my life, I was forced to sit down and think about how I wanted to spend my time. After being frustrated at not being able to identify my likes, desires or even passions, I discovered that I really wanted to take a yoga class, begin a meditation practice, read more books and even sit around doing nothing. It may feel wasteful, but sitting around doing nothing is sometimes the best possible choice.
- I felt lighter as I went through each day. "Feeling lighter" sounds incredibly vague, doesn't it? I actually mean this in a literal sense, though. One way I simplified my life was in my diet. I focused on a whole foods, plant-based diet centered on fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Eating a simplified diet helped things, ahem, run smoothly, and within a few days I literally felt lighter. I also felt lighter in my mind. Until your brain isn't running a million miles per hour, you don't realize that it actually is running a million miles per hour. Quiet moments used to mean an internal review of my to-do list, planning ahead for the next day or making a mental note of who I had to email. These thoughts literally weighed upon me. After simplifying my life (and especially after beginning my meditation practice), I found that my mind felt lighter without countless responsibilities and plans vying for my attention.
- I was able to make more choices. The most ironic part about all the planning and scheduling I was doing previously (both for my wedding and in day-to-day life for my consulting career and relationships) was that I thought my work put me in charge. In fact, all the choices and things clawing for attention were the ones who were in charge. I had very little freedom to make my own choices! Once I eliminated unnecessary time commitments, possessions and food choices, I took ownership of my life and the choices that came along with it. I had true freedom to decide what I wished to pursue and what was worthwhile.
No one person has the same formula for happiness, but taking stock of your commitments and distractions to eliminate the unnecessary can help you find the right balance.