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The Art of Simplifying

Photo by Gala Darling

We live in a society where our worth seems to be validated by how large our network is; how often our Blackberry goes off; how worldly we are from our travels; or how many awesome Facebook pictures there are of us, proving to our friends we live the good life. Not to mention, as we grow older and wiser, there is a constant learning curve on how to gracefully handle evolving responsibility.

So, we resort to multi-tasking. A term I’m all too familiar with:

For the past three years, I’ve adopted wearing several outfits: the Corporate Banker, the weekend Real Estate Agent, the closet writer, the Board Member, the six days a week fitness guru, the overly helpful sister/mentor, the “wherever there was time” Nutrition Coach, the social planner… The exhausting list can be rattled on, but these were my staple outfits.

I was this determined, full of spirit person during the day when interacting with colleagues at work, friends at lunch, clients during the evening, friends on Facebook, yoga acquaintances in class, and even the Trader Joe’s Cashier.

But, by the time I stopped moving late at night–by the time I shed all the identity of these outfits–I was dizzy and hardly good company. My husband received the residual affects of my true, underlying feelings of being overcommitted, without focus, and having this ability to “shoot off stress beams”, as he puts it.

I have been raised on goals since the age of four, like they were a serving of food everyday. And, apparently, sometime during my mid-20’s, I also began to acquire goals as if they were collectibles. I had so many different identities—that in order to keep myself from confusing who I was and what I was doing—I literally had 6 email addresses to separate the different responsibilities.

I understood this problem, and finally decided to reason with myself:  I’m a fan of variety who loves dynamic people and a dynamic lifestyle—but it’s impossible to do everything and be good at it all. It’s not fair to my marriage, my ongoing success, and the sustainability of how I live. This lifestyle approach of “productivity and trying to accomplish everything” was becoming “I’m slowly losing myself.”

Once I stopped the ‘thriving’ motions of my busy day, what remained of me was far less than glamorous. While functional multi-tasking can appear to be a commendable skill or gift, it can be incredibly deceiving, as it is also a big distraction.  I was honestly very efficient at doing three jobs—simultaneously—in an eight-hour workday, but it takes a toll…

We cannot be here now…and also be everywhere at once.

4 Keys to Mental Clarity

While I am still on the journey of figuring out this laser beam focus that many people I associate with have—and a trait that I deeply admire—I’ve learned a few things in finding my way towards the direction of singleness of purpose, by moving away from multi-tasking:

1) Know your values and make good decisions based off them.

“By choosing to embrace and practice good values every day,
you may not always get what you desire,
but you will always be the person you desire.”

~John Maxwell

It is easy to be swayed and take on too much when we haven’t clearly identified what we value. A favorite book of mine—that I often reference whenever I feel that I’m lost or disconnected— is Today Matters by John Maxwell.

Last year, after reading this phenomenal book, I decided to embrace a value system that has allowed me to clearly identify the commitments in my life that no longer belonged.  To start, Maxwell recommends creating a list of good values:

Begin writing down any and every idea you have concerning values. List every admirable character quality you can think of. As an aspect of your life comes to mind, try to capture what’s important to you about it. Ultimately, your values should not be determined by externals, such as your profession or your environment.

When you think you’ve exhausted every possible idea, set the list aside for a while but keep thinking about it in the back of your mind. When new ideas come, add them to the list. You may also want to do some reading to stir your thinking and see if you’ve missed anything.

2) Make space by decluttering.

Some people think it’s holding on
that makes one strong—sometimes it’s letting go.”
~Unknown

This is a recurring thought for me lately, but a powerful one that has resulted in action: Take notice of where your energy is spent and begin to allow yourself to identify what is draining you. Recognize where your actions do not align with your values. Then, start to explore ways to unravel yourself from it.

Real Estate has been such a great experience, at least for my bank account: receiving commission checks that totaled half of my well-paying salary. But it was also this mistress that would constantly have me “on”, available, and pulling me in all directions. I realized, in the long-term, real estate was a distraction that would ultimately take me further away from who I am. I have decided to start referring clients in 2011.

3) Find a Mentor.

“Stay steady…there is no secret.”
~Steve Fischman

We are not always the best guide for ourselves: We get distracted. We forget where we’re going. We don’t know how to approach the next step.

Find a credible mentor in your field or the passion that you’re trying to pursue, and invite that person to help with keeping you accountable. Share with your mentor the ambitions you have and pave a path—come up with a manageable plan with dates—to get there.  Check in with your mentor on a bi-weekly basis, and, most of all build the relationship by staying committed.

My mentor, Steve Fischman, doesn’t offer earthshaking advice, but reminds me to stay steady and committed when I feel I’ve began to stray. Sometimes, a simple, gentle reminder is all we need to get back on track.

4) Sit in silence. Ponder Quietly. Just be with yourself.


“Ask yourself questions in meditation.”
~Sarah Mclean

Perhaps we move around so much because we’re not comfortable with sitting still and honestly identifying with who we are. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have a sense of purpose, so we distract ourselves with doing.

It’s okay to not always have the answers. Our meditation teacher said it best: “Ask yourself these questions in silence: Who Am I? What does my heart desire? What is my purpose?

You will be surprised at how many answers already exist inside of you. It’s not magical—the answers may not show themselves right away—but if you stay committed to a daily practice (30 minutes a day of quiet time), the benefits will come.

Parting Words

The more I begin to identify with my true values and sit in silence to reflect, the more I learn about who I am— both the flaws and the talents.

The conversations, meetings, social events, and interactions that are not organic in my day—the red lights, the stops, the interruptions—have become very apparent.

The awareness of seeing these, I believe, is the first step towards the shedding of multiple outfits and detoxifying of time towards the singleness of purpose.

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About the author

Cat is a recent corporate escapee, now practicing as a full-time Zen Student. Her home, for the next year or so, is on various meditation cushions in the world.

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24 thoughts on The Art of Simplifying

  1. I can definitely vouch for the power of having a mentor. It’s usually when I’m focused, recommitting to my goals, and being cheered on by a mentor that I get my most amazing breakthroughs and creativity. Go figure, it’s that easy. :)

  2. Tiffany

    I really need a simpler life

    XOXO,

    http://outfitidentifier.com/

  3. Hi Cat,
    I love your post. I really resonated with # 4. It’s true we distract ourself with doing because we have no purpose. I’ve never wanted to be one of those who run the hamster wheel, going nowhere. Living with purpose is everything. Thanks Cat!

    ~Dandy

  4. “Complicated life” should be my middle name LOL
    I have so much mental clutter in my life it’s insane. For me it comes from wanting everything to be perfect….having the perfect life so I am always trying to do a million and one things just to keep up with trying to be perfect.

    That drains you after awhile. I like the point where you said “Sit in silence. Ponder Quietly. Just be with yourself” because that is actually something I do. Sometimes I get so burnt out and overwhelm I literally shut down….I call it my…”talking to source” time. I literally turn of the TV, computer, phone and just lie or sit there and just be. I let go of anything I should be doing and just let go.

    Strangely it’s really the only time where I know I have things figured out….it’s when things become crystal clear for me.

  5. Great article. My website is designed around identifying your personal values. They are your motivation and moral compass towards the life you really want to lead. It’s not enough to want to be rich…you need to figure out why you want to be rich and what values that will affect. Being rich may mean having freedom. And perhaps freedom is a value that can truly drive you intrinsically.

  6. Bff, this is probably one of my most favorite pieces that you’ve written–maybe just because it resonates so loudly with where I’m at right now and my struggle between fighting for accomplishment or surrendering to just being in the moment. I’m seeing a slightly different shade of your writing style here…descriptive, colorful, but still spot on. Totally digging it!! xoxo.

  7. Wonderful post!

    When we know WHO we are, we know HOW to live.

    For those who want a “simplicity mentor,” I suggest Elaine St. James:

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/simplify-your-life/

    Namaste.

  8. Great post, thank you. I became a mentor at the Center for Women’s Leadership at Babson College. I can not say enough good things about this experience. Many of the mentors have thanked their mentees for actually helping them. So it’s a two-way relationship. I’m excited because my mentee graduates this year. :) :)

  9. To me, simplifying is an important key to happiness. Thanks so much for the practical advice.
    Warm wishes,
    Mia Rose

  10. GinaMarie & Dandy~ It’s so amazing what we can find out about ourselves during quiet time. Truly, I feel that #4–meditation–is the most powerful tool we have towards simplicity and moving away from “doing”: Silence shows us the way towards uncluttering and enjoying.

    Thank you, so much, for the comments–it’s appreciated. Happy Silence :)

  11. Nathalie, nrhatch & Leah~ Grateful for each of you sharing your experience as a Mentor/Mentee. You’re so right, Leah, about the two-way relationship: the giving and teaching is just as powerful (if not more at times) as the receiving and learning.

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