If you are like me, sometimes life seems to move too fast. I have too much on my plate to handle with ease. I think that if I could just figure out how to balance work, parenting, homemaking, and leisure time differently life would be simpler. Yet life is not simple, and it won’t be. We live in a fast-paced society with many demands, too much stimulation, and an abundance of information to process. It is nearly impossible to balance our many commitments so that our days are truly simple.
This is not cause for discouragement though. There are small, sometimes seemingly silly, things we can do to create a greater feeling of simplicity. Simplicity is as much a state of mind as it is an outer manifestation.
The following suggestions offer ways to create that feeling of simplicity and help relieve some of the daily stresses many of us experience. All require a different mindset and practice. As we incorporate these ideas into our lives we feel better and serve as effective role models for our children.
During my driving years I’ve pushed the speed limit by five or ten miles. It’s a habit that I’ve worked hard to reverse. I’ve learned that driving the posted speed creates simplicity. I’m not keeping my eye out for the police person. I’m paying attention to what I’m seeing. My heart doesn’t beat hard when I see a police car behind me, fearful that the officer is after me. I get to my destination as quickly, or almost as quickly, as I would have by driving faster. I arrive feeling relaxed.
How often do you give yourself just enough time to get to an appointment or to pick up the kids? And then you arrive a few minutes late because of unforeseen circumstances. Leave five minutes earlier than necessary--more if you have little ones in tow. You may need to trick yourself into doing this by thinking the appointment is earlier than it actually is. It takes 21 days to integrate a new habit. Make the commitment to leave five minutes early for just 21 days. Mark your calendar with a star on the days you achieve this. Keep practicing even if you believe you’ve mastered the habit. Old habits creep in easily and destroy the sense of simplicity and serenity.
If you are a regular reader of THE INFORMED PARENT, you know that I’m a huge proponent of teaching kids how to organize. It’s time for us to practice the same skill. Just as it’s wise for children to put their backpack in the same place at the end of the day so they can easily retrieve it before leaving for school, we need to remember to put our keys, glasses, and other regularly used items in the same place when we’re finished with them. It saves countless minutes spent looking for that thing that we were sure was ”right there.” By having a consistent place for our things, we can find them when they’re needed and without stress.
I tend to scribble things I need to do or remember on little pieces of paper. Pretty soon the bits of paper are by the phone, on my desk, even on the kitchen sink. I’m constantly considering that I might be missing a deadline or other important bit of information. Recently I read about simplifying life by keeping a notebook on one’s desk and putting all the things in the notebook that ordinarily would go on scraps of paper. I have started doing this, and I love it. My desk is tidier. Everything I need to be reminded of is in one place, and there is no more worry that something might be neglected. The more important things are prioritized by circling them in red. I have realized that there is no need to do some of the tasks previously carried around in my mind or put on little scraps of paper. Life feels simpler.
This is hard to do. Monitoring our thinking is harder than monitoring our actions. We all have the same 24 hours each day. How we choose to use those hours determines our enjoyment of life and the degree of serenity we feel. If we are not acting on our priorities, life begins to feel overwhelming. There is always too much to do. What we want or need to do is put aside or left undone. Acting on our priorities means some things will be left undone; even things we might like to do. We may feel sad about this: however, we also will feel empowered because we know our actions are in alignment with what we say is important to us.
How we say things to ourselves plays a large role in simplifying or complicating life. If I say, “There is not enough time to do…(whatever it is),” I feel stressed. I feel like there will always be more than I can manage. If I preface what I’m doing by saying, “I want to do this. I choose to do this, or I’m putting this aside because I don’t really need to do it,” I’m creating space. I feel in control of my life instead of feeling like my activities or obligations are controlling me.
Okay. You may wonder how incorporating these practices into life will simplify it. Remember, in the beginning of the article I said that life is not simple but we can create greater feelings of simplicity. I guarantee that by practicing even one of these ideas, life will begin to feel a little slower, a little more manageable. If one idea works, try another. By creating the feeling of simplicity, we begin to see ways we might create greater simplicity in our outer world. If not, we are still living with more daily equanimity. We model for our children a healthy way to approach life.