By Susan Hitchcock
Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership
In my younger years, I wouldn’t have been caught dead talking about this topic. But with each passing year (and decade!), I’m turning into a huge fan of the concept of simplicity. (Ok, maybe Martha Stewart suggested it a long time ago, but she isn’t my role model of the concept.)
In today’s world, I think there’s a litany of reasons why we should value the idea of simplicity. Here are some that quickly come to mind.
- An overload of “unprecedented times.”
- Increased complexity in our lives, culture and relationships.
- An abundance of ambiguity and uncertainty.
- The ramping up of conflict, dissonance and social unrest.
- The acceleration of technological advancements and disruptions.
- The ubiquity and rapid evolution of change.
While people don’t seem to agree on much of anything these days, can we agree on this list? If so, then perhaps now is a good time to explore how we manage through and/or cope with all this upheaval. I’m not suggesting that what’s happening is bad, because a lot of it is progressive, moving us forward into the future. However, as humans, we aren’t always prepared to assimilate multiple changes simultaneously without becoming overly stressed and anxious.
Enter a new focus on simplicity. I believe it’s exactly what we need, at least some of us, and it definitely makes sense for me. If you’re interested, I’d like to share a few insights and ask you to consider how they might impact your life.
Rules for a Simpler Life:
Rule #1: Do more of what makes you feel good.
Ask yourself: is there a common denominator of what makes you feel good? From a work perspective, if you love what you do, it shouldn’t feel so stressful. It should feel natural – even “simple” because you’re using your talents to contribute while maximizing your potential. From a personal perspective, if you do more of what makes you feel good, it should start with taking time for yourself, reflecting on your own needs, e.g., the state of your health, relationships, finances, spirituality as well as what you’re doing for pleasure and fun! If/when you’re relatively satisfied that these areas of your life are in order or on track, then you’ll feel more content, at peace and therefore your life is simpler.
Rule #2: Do less of the extraneous.
Take stock of your routine, i.e., your daily, weekly and monthly “to do’s,” commitments, and various activities. Slowly sort through the list (which is likely ridiculously long) and ask yourself: Why am I doing this, what’s the benefit, payoff, or impact? I guarantee you that some items (more than you think) can be deleted with no harm, no foul. Eliminating some of the routine, habitual, maybe nice but unnecessary or unimportant actions is tremendously freeing. You’ll feel less encumbered, less burdened, less structured – thus giving you true freedom to do what makes you happier. Isn’t that a simpler way to live?
Rule #3: Utilize all of your senses.
We miss out on a lot of “the good life” because we’re too busy to notice. Some of the most enjoyable and yes, simple, pleasures are all around us in what we can see, touch, smell, and hear. Being open to / aware of the natural sensations in your environment is a gift. Think sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, floral aromas, chirping birds, cool green grass, babbling brooks, waterfalls, mountains, etc. There’s an unlimited array of soothing sensory experiences to enjoy and which can help you “mellow out.” Be mindful, take it in and reap the simple and life affirming rewards.
Rule #4: Engage in real conversation.
Difficult though it may be, put down your phone, close your laptop or iPad, forget Zoom, and actually look into the eyes of another person and really engage. For example, ask about their day and listen; then ask about something positive / uplifting or just interesting that they’ve heard or read about and share your own story; what’s their favorite memory of / impact made by a special person in their life; where would they love to take a sabbatical if that were possible; what would they do first if they won the lottery; what new topic or skill would they most like to study/ learn and why; or what actor or character would they like to trade places with for a day? The art and blessing of simple conversation with another human being should not be lost due to our hectic lives or impersonal devices.
Rule #5: Seriously Unclutter.
This may be the most basic yet most difficult rule of all. To unclutter is to simplify. However, to be truly effective, it needs to be comprehensive and pervasive, inside and out, in your personal life and your work life as well. Don’t you think it really starts with an uncluttered mind? I do, because that’s the secret to clarity and laser focus – not being distracted or sidetracked by so many other things. It seems a lot of people are beginning to unclutter by practicing “mindfulness” – being in the moment. To me, that’s quintessential simplicity. Another approach is to start the uncluttering process in your surroundings, specifically in your home. It takes discipline for sure but start small, and expand, e.g., try completing one project per week for 52 weeks. It’s doable whether it’s in a closet, garage, basement, pantry, desk, etc. Getting rid of the excess “stuff” in your surroundings – perhaps donating things to charity – will give you a feeling of accomplishment. And, it qualifies you as someone living a simpler life – a happier life – likely a more purpose-driven life.
In summary, if life seems too full, overloaded and even overwhelming at times – then forget MORE! Go for the simpler life – try simplicity.