Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.
I used to spend a lot of time shopping because I’d been told stuff would make me happy. I used to drink because I’d heard it would turn every event into a party and was a good way to make friends. I used to watch a lot of television because I was under the impression it was relaxing. I used to be busy and stressed at work because it was clear that overwhelm was the way to prove you were good at your job. I used to diet and work out in order to lose weight because it had been suggested that something was wrong with my body. I used to numb my feelings because I thought they were a sign of weakness.
In my efforts to be happy, loved, relaxed, successful, healthy and strong, I only managed to make myself miserable. I was smashing myself to bits.
I opted out. I got clear about what I wanted, what I needed, how I wanted my life to be. I stopped shopping for fun. I decluttered my home, getting rid of anything that I didn’t love or use, everything that was no longer serving me. When I needed something new, I shopped with intention, knowing what I wanted. I stopped drinking. I canceled my cable and started reading more. I renegotiated my job so that I only worked nine months out of the year instead of 12. I stopped dieting, no longer weigh myself or use that as a measure of how I’m doing, as an indicator of my health. I eat what I want when I am hungry and I stop when I am full. I move my body the way it wants to move, for the sake of moving and how good it feels. I get more sleep, going to bed early and getting up early. I started practicing yoga and meditation. I have a daily writing practice, have a blog. My dogs and I take long walks together, twice a day. I took enough ecourses – subjects like creativity and mindfulness and courage – to have earned a graduate degree, a curriculum of my own design. I keep my heart open.
This didn’t happen all at once, or even quickly, and my path was not a straight line. It’s taken many years of effort. Some things I’ve done once, only to have to start again. Some things I’ve had to repeat, over and over. The clutter of my life creeps up on me when I’m distracted. I still get overwhelmed, and even without cable I can manage to watch too much television. And yet, when I consider how I rehabbed my life, the steps were simple.
1. Know what you want. What do you want from your life? What do you want it to feel like? How do you want to spend your days? What do you value? What are you most interested in, curious about, in love with? Be clear about what you desire, what you dream of, what you want. It will make the steps you need to take to get “there” so much clearer.
2. Learn to say no. At first this is much more difficult, and you might lose friends and irritate people. They’ll be confused why you don’t like to do the things you used to, the stuff they like. You’ll also have to say no to yourself sometimes. This gets easier once you understand that by saying no to something, you are actually saying yes to something else.
3. Clear a space. This relates to environments both internal and external. Clear out any clutter that might block you or act as an obstacle – in your home, your schedule, your heart, your mind, your relationships. Get quiet, be still. Keep your heart open.
4. See your life as practice. It is regular, ritualized, and disciplined, a commitment. And yet, as practice you can let go of perfection. You accept that you are “just practicing,” coming back again and again in order to develop and deepen. At any time, you can take a fresh start, begin again.
5. Find a community. Somewhere there are other people who are weird like you. Seek them out. Request their support, gain their friendship, and offer the same to them. Be accountable, show up and be seen.
6. Don’t judge your success using external standards. How someone else measures your happiness or success doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you think. You are the one who has to live it.
7. Start where you are. You could ignore everything else, the whole rest of the list and just do this. Waiting for the perfect time, when you are less busy or confused, or more sane or inspired is a waste of time. Begin where you are, as you are.
Read more from Jill at Thousand Shades of Gray.