As I’ve worked to fine tune my ideas about happiness and “designing life” over the years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to talk to many different people about the things they love about their lives—and the things they wish were different.
When I ask people what they want to change about their lives, I often get answers like:
“I wish I had more time to spend with my family.”
“I’d like to figure out how to find the success I want at work.”
“I need to rediscover my purpose; I feel like I’ve lost it.”
There’s at least one answer, however, that I can honestly say I’ve never gotten. I’ve never had anyone say:
“My life is too simple.”
It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Simplicity is like a lost art. Most of the world today is anything but simple. Rather, it’s pinging, blinging, ringing, and dinging us all into notification junkies. We’re just waiting for that next exciting “something” to come along that will give us something to talk about (or at least, tweet about). We thrive on constant change, on new developments, on complexity. Some people even seem to survive on it.
Smartphone addiction isn’t just a real thing—it’s a common thing. 60% of college students consider themselves “addicted” to their smartphone. 35% of people think of their smartphone right when they wake up (as opposed to the 10% who think of their significant others).
It seems as though we’ve become addicted to complexity, and we’re paying the price for it.
The quest for simplicity
Where has this attachment to complexity gotten us? Take a look at some of the symptoms of smartphone addiction:
- Fuels anxiety and depression
- Increases stress
- Harms relationships
- Stunts creativity
- Disrupts sleep
These, along with other consequences of complexity, are things that the vast majority of people are trying to avoid. We spend thousands of dollars on medications, therapy, continuing education, spa days, fancy mattresses, and more—all trying to cure symptoms without addressing the root cause.
What we’re really doing is searching for simplicity; we just don’t know it yet.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with any of those things (who doesn’t need a nice mattress?) but as we add more to our schedules, spend more money, and become reliant on things that don’t really get to the heart of the problem, you have to wonder: are we decreasing complexity, or just adding to it?
So then, we find ourselves facing a dilemma. The modern world trends toward chaos and complexity, and the tools we think we have to fix it are really just skimming the surface of the problem.
Which leads us to the ultimate question: how do we simplify our lives?
How to simplify your life
Here’s a fact for you: simplicity is simple. I’m not going to give you a complicated 21-step program to follow that will guarantee a simpler life. What I will do is present you with simple behaviors that can, if put into practice, help you simplify your life.
When you do this, you distill your life down to what is most important so that your focus is always on what matters most to you (and not to Twitter).
Living your truth, on your terms? That’s a simple life.
Here are some tips for getting you there.
Step away from the phone.
Do I really need to say more than I’ve already said about this? Here’s the bottom line: your phone is a tool. Use it like one. You should be controlling it to do your bidding—not the other way around.
Here are some quick fixes to help you simplify your life as a cell phone owner:
- Turn off notifications.
- Set “do not disturb” hours (when your phone won’t bother you, no matter what. And yes, you can program in exceptions, if you need to.).
- Delete that game. You know the one.
- Install or use a built-in app that tracks your screen time, and/or one that locks you out of an app after a certain amount of time.
- Do not sleep with your phone right by your bed. Charge it in another room at night.
- Turn your phone OFF (all the way off) during social events.
These changes may not be easy—but they are simple. And simple steps to break free of phone addiction can, as we’ve discussed, only lead to good things.
Material possessions come at a cost (the cost of buying them), but they also come with a cost—the cost of storage space, of mental space, of the time spent picking them up or otherwise taking care of them. “Things” invite complexity; and more “things” invite more complexity.
We often trick ourselves into thinking that we need more. Sometimes, we even buy “more” in the name of organization (more boxes, bins, crates, and baskets). But ultimately, the best way to create a home that we love and that fosters simplicity isn’t by organizing more things, but by having fewer things.
You don’t need more. I promise. Simplify your life by having less.
Make (simple) healthy choices.
Taking care of your body, physically, can get really complicated, really fast. In my recent experience with weight loss (lost 50 pounds!), I read a lot of material about what to eat, what not to eat, how to exercise, what supplements to take, and so on. Of course, a lot of this material contradicted each other, so I was left with a metaphorical mountain of information, and zero answers.
When it comes down to it, the answers are simple: eat well, eat less and exercise regularly. Ideally, this philosophy would be practiced long-term, on a daily basis. But if that’s not realistic for you right now, you can at least make small adjustments that could turn into healthy habits. Walk when you can, take the stairs, carry a water bottle with you, skip the french fries (even if only once in a while).
Healthy choices don’t have to be complex. It’s great if you can make a sweeping, lifestyle change, but some healthy choices are better than none. Don’t make it any more complicated than it has to be.
Identify what you love.
A simple life is full of things you love. And everyone knows what they love, right?
Actually, wrong. Sure, most of us have some idea of the kinds of things we enjoy. But are we really aware of the things that recharge us, or that make us feel fulfilled? Do you recognize the peaceful feeling that comes when you know you’re spending your time exactly the way you want to?
Recently, I’ve found something I really love. I focus on it each day and it’s so fulfilling that many of the things I used to do aren’t needed in my life. Just one simple thing can replace the complexity of many less fulfilling things taking up mental space. What’s that one thing for you?
If you can identify and embrace the things that help make your life worth living, your priorities and path will be clearer. Your choices will be easier, your confidence in those choices will increase, and your life will be less complicated overall.
Want a little help identifying what you love? Ask yourself these questions:
- What do you never procrastinate doing?
- When do you feel most at peace?
- What did you enjoy doing when you were a child?
- What do you wish you could do every day?
Distance yourself from toxic people.
Difficult people complicate our lives. Sometimes it’s a physical complication, when they demand too much of your time unfairly. More often than not, it’s a mental and emotional complication, demanding our attention to the point of stress.
Toxic relationships don’t add to life; they only subtract from it. Setting healthy boundaries for such relationships is important for your wellbeing. Even if those boundaries require cutting someone out of your life entirely, that is sometimes what’s best for everyone involved. Be honest with yourself about the relationships in your life that drag you down, and be deliberate about how you handle them from here on out.
Don’t overthink it.
While many of these things can help create simplicity in your life, the fact is that ultimately, simplicity and complexity are things that we choose and create for ourselves.
When we overthink things, we create complexity. We read too deeply into things, we see signals that aren’t there, and we struggle to make decisions or take action.
By choosing not to overthink things, however, we’re allowing simplicity to take the wheel. We trust our instincts and try, even if it means risking failure.
When you’re faced with a situation or decision, trust yourself to move forward without overthinking it. Whatever decision you make will be the right one, no matter the outcome.
In today’s world, simplicity often feels out of reach, or even downright nonexistent. But it is always within your power to simplify your life. In fact, you can design whatever kind of life you want.
Designing a simple life you love is about visualizing what you want, starting with the end in mind, and drawing backwards until you connect the dots to where you are now. It’s possible for everyone—even you.
Design.org is here to help. Our assessment will get you started with free coaching messages that tie into your own needs, goals, and area of focus. Start today, and start changing tomorrow. It’s that simple.
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