Coming up against the limits of simplifying

I’ve written almost nothing on this blog since January, and it’s not because I gave up on simplifying. In fact, I was working extra hard to apply the principles of simplifying to living better, and failing.

In part because of things going on at work this spring, I fell into a hole with all kinds of painful feelings: frustration, anxiety, resentment, disillusionment, and fear that others were judging me negatively. Also self-pity. I not only felt those feelings, I embraced and settled in with them. I let them ruin conversations and precious sleep. I let my behavior become perversely self-indulgent (you think I’m crabby? well let me tell you, I deserve to be crabby).

And then I made a decision to regularly get eight hours of sleep and I was able to climb out of the hole. I also stopped struggling to make simplifying become an answer to those feelings or a protection against ever falling into another hole. (Why did I think simplifying could be The Answer? I think it had to do with writing this blog and needing something worthwhile to say.)

Now, more than before, I see two phases of simplifying—and that’s all.

Phase I: expend much energy reducing stuff and forming new habits; this phase is task-oriented with visible and relatively quick rewards (now I can park in my garage! wow—sure feels great to no longer have X cluttering up my life!)

Phase II: maintain new habits; apply new awareness about personal choices and use mental and emotional energy, time and physical space freed from dealing with stuff to pursue dreams, work on living in alignment with values, engage in self development, and face problems (sheesh, that sounds like grown-up life)

I think simplifying can deliver us to Phase II, but it isn’t sufficient on its own to help us continue living better. For that we need what people have relied on forever, things like personal resiliency, faith or spirituality, mindfulness, and support from friends and family.

If you’re looking for some recommended reading on these topics, here are a few things I’ve recently found useful.

Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace by meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg (this is a follow-up to her previous New York Times bestselling book Real Happiness)

How to Find Success Late in Life, by entrepreneur Jason Altucher (a short post published on LinkedIn)

Expert tips for resilience, published in a June 1, 2015 article in Time magazine

  1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.
  2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
  3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.
  4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.
  5. Don’t run from things that scare you: face them.
  6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
  7. Learn new things as often as you can.
  8. Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.
  9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.
  10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong—and own it.


7 thoughts on “Coming up against the limits of simplifying

  1. i’m sorry to hear about your spring. sounds yucky, and sad. and i’m glad to hear you’re feeling better. (sleep=magic!)

    your point about process is resonant and timely. a good friend recently reminded me of the power of mindfulness meditation. it’s the habit, the practice, the focus, that matters. not that you ever achieve a perfect practice. same with simplifying. heck, probably the same with life!

    glad you’re back on the blog. 🙂

    • Hi Carole – how nice to see your name!

      Yes, sleep = magic (or, everything is way harder when you don’t get enough of it)

      I agree with your points about practice and focus, and not getting discouraged about falling short of perfection. It’s getting easier to accept zero perfection as I age – I would even call it a blessing of getting older!

      A quick read you might enjoy – kind of related to my post – is Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Darkness. It’s her reflections on the practical and spiritual role of darkness, and there are some examples of really good writing. I liked one passage so much I read it out loud to P. and then typed it up to send to a writer friend.

  2. Reading the beginning of your post reminds me of my experience over the past few months – writer’s block in my case, with some similar causes as you’ve described. My solution in the past few weeks has been a drastic change in my diet and sleep and I feel things coming right (and hopefully write). All the best to you – and thanks for the list at the end.

    • Thanks, Antony, for reading and commenting.

      I saw that you’re writing from New Zealand. Are you anywhere near Piha, north of Auckland? My sister-in-law and her family live there.

      • No, I’m a few hours south of Auckland – in the centre of the North Island. My town is Taumarunui. Been living here since I moved from Canada in 1997.

  3. I love this post! If you like Sharon Salzberg, I have to recommend a book I re-read every 2-3 years: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.

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