In this minimalism series, we’ve already chatted about stuff and people. Now onto experiences. Experiences can include anything we experience. From work to travel to hobbies to social events. The things that we do. Whatever it is that you do.
This is also an area I’ve struggled in. Boredom has always been a fascinating concept for me because I can’t remember ever really being bored. There’s always been so much more I want to do than I could ever fit into this lifetime. This has caused me far more issues than boredom ever has.
For those that are more on this end of the spectrum, the desire to experience it all can lead us to overbook our lives and then become overwhelmed and exhausted. Because we haven’t left any space to take in our experiences and process them.
Choosing one experience means giving up others. There’s a fear of missing out that can accompany this. There’s also confusion around the best use of time. Should I spend ten hours a day focused on my passion until I’m a recognized genius? Should I have more of a balance between my passions, responsibilities, and my family and friends? Perhaps it varies throughout life. There are all kinds of theories. Because different things work for different people.
So I don’t have any solid formula for how to streamline this area of life. But I have some guidance that will help you to do that for yourself:
Of course. I sound like a broken record. But everything starts with mindfulness. I can probably just leave that out of all writing from this point forward. But even for me the reminder is helpful.
Look at everything you have scheduled in your life. Create a visual. Whether it’s writing everything down (Time tracking is an extremely helpful tool.), looking at your calendar, making it into a pie chart. Get it out of your head and somewhere you can see it so that you can truly see how you’re spending your time.
Notice how you feel about the activities you’re engaging in, how you’re spending your time, who you’re spending it with. The sensations we experience in our body, from neutrality to invigoration to anxiety to sadness all give us clues. Pay attention to these clues and use that information to inform decisions about how you spend your time. There may be times you need to be all obsessive about a project. There may be times when you need more of a balance between your professional and personal life. There may be things you need to cut out. There may be things you need to add. Being in the moment, noticing what is will help you figure this out.
Be Aware of Your Values
Values are the absolute best in guiding us to make decisions that are most in line with what’s important to us. Often when we feel overwhelmed and anxious, it’s because we’re not acting in accordance to our values. If family is one of our highest values and we’re spending 12 hours a day at work, barely seeing our family, we’re not going to feel right. If a high level of mastery is an important value to us and we aren’t able to practice the guitar as often as we’d like, we’re not going to feel right.
Get clear on what’s truly important to you. Let me repeat that, what’s important to YOU! Not what society, your parents, friends, company, or anyone else wants to be important to you. A strong sense of our own personal values will make the clarity of choice easier.
This can also be tricky because sometimes our values conflict. We might highly value both achievement and family and encounter times in our lives when our career and family both require a lot of us at the same time. This is where the other suggestions come in handy.
Cut Out the Distractions
Overall, most of us waste a lot of time. Cutting out the distractions can add a lot of time and value back into our lives. Stop checking your phone so often. Place limits on your Internet use. Notice when you’re daydreaming and if it isn’t productive, bring your attention back to the task at hand. Excuse yourself from small talk that doesn’t feel worthwhile to you. Whatever it is, notice what’s wasting your time, and cut it out as much as you can. Set those boundaries.
Start Small and Get Creative
Say you’re working 80 hours a week and never see your family, but family is more (or equally) important to you than your job so you know you need to cut the hours down to a more manageable 40. Yet, you’re scared to do it, talk to your boss about it, or find a new job. Try working one less hour per week and see if anyone notices. Then keep decreasing until someone notices. You can start small and make more changes as you become more comfortable with it.
You know you need more time creating art. Right now you’re at 0 hours a week. Aim for one hour. Set that hour aside. Tell your family and friends that you’re busy then. Leave work one hour early. Skip something else that isn’t entirely necessary for survival. Sometimes as you add things that are actually important to you into your life, the excess will fall away. Notice what you find yourself cutting back on to make the room. Maybe it’s something you don’t actually need in your life at all.
Reading is really important to you, but you have a new baby and any extra time outside of work goes to their needs. Audiobooks will save your life. Or read “The 4-Hour Work Week” to your baby. They don’t care what they’re listening to as long as it’s your voice.
Working out. The number one excuse is here is, “I don’t have time.” Do five freaking pushups. Yes, that isn’t two hours at a gym, but it’s better than nothing. Especially if you can do that five times throughout the day. Do ten squats every time you go to the bathroom. Five minutes of HIIT in the morning. Park at the back of the parking lot. Take the stairs. Walk during your lunch break.
Think outside the box folks. There’s always a way to make room for what’s important if it’s truly important to you. And if you find yourself continually making excuses, maybe it isn’t actually important enough to you and it’s time to let it go. Or you need to face your fear.
Schedule time for nothing. And when I say nothing, you can use that time for nothing. Or for the unexpected. The idea is to have some cushion so you aren’t rushing around and creating unnecessary stress. Set aside an hour or an entire day without plans. Leave a half hour early. Meditate. Practice “the one breath.” Even tiny bits of space can go a long way to reducing stress and creating positive change in life.
And You Can Have It All (Kinda Sorta)
Even when you’re clear on your values and you’ve already cut out what truly isn’t important, you can still find yourself with too much to fit in. The ideal is to have a job you love, people you love, and fulfilling passions, but that all still requires time and the quest for balance will last for a lifetime.
This is where I struggle the most. On the daily I strive to balance running a business that involves a zillion different components, spending time with a bunch of people I love and a dog who thinks he’s a person, writing and performing poetry, reading, painting, running, surfing, yoga-ing, adventuring, traveling, volunteering, personal developmenting, etc., etc., etc. I don’t have a single thing in my life that I want to give up permanently. So I give things up temporarily.
That might mean not spending as much time as I’d like on certain (or every) activities. I’ve run quite a few marathons, but that takes a hefty time commitment that I’m not willing to make right now so I’m running shorter races for the time being. I’m currently taking shorter yoga classes so I can have room for other things. I’ve built volunteering into my business so that it’s something I can still do without much extra thought and energy.
I also have to take complete hiatuses at times. My business isn’t at the point yet where I can travel wherever and whenever I want to so sometimes I travel and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes travel looks like a day (or hours) trip to somewhere local to fuel that passion. I actually don’t even know the last time I painted, but I’ve made peace with that and have the supplies within arms reach for when I’m ready to resume that creative outlet.
It isn’t always ideal, but it’s as close as I can get at the moment and as I’ve already said several times, is always a work in progress. As my values and priorities shift and change, so will the experiences in my life. But with mindfulness, particularly the acceptance piece of it. I feel overall fulfilled in my life.