Resolution for the New Year: Simplify Yourself in 5 Steps
This text is about “less” as opposed to “more”. For the starters, let me briefly talk about two popular terms: “minimalism” and “growth”.
Cleaning your room or cleaning your head?
There are dozens of blogs all over the web dealing with minimalist lifestyle. Still, for some reason, most of them predominantly talk about getting rid of “things”. The popular imagery includes photos of well-chosen personal items next to one nice piece of luggage.
For many people, minimalists are individuals who throw away clothes and need to fret about every extra purchase they might wish to do.
Since spring last year, I’ve been touring the globe with a backpack of around 20 kg, yet when I think about simplifying myself, my sartorial limitations are the least of my concerns. Maybe because it’s been always quite natural to me, not to possess too much stuff. My mom, with her deep-rooted post-socialist syndrome of storing anything that may come useful one day, would pull her hair out over the regular cleansing frenzies happening in my room. Even as a child, I would be proud that in case of my sudden death, my family would have less work to do.
At the moment, except for my company, the only serious property I own is my MacBook. If it got damaged or stolen, I would be sad for a tiny while, as I’ve just replaced my 5 years old one. Yet, it would certainly not be the end of the world. However, I also don’t think one needs a tormenting corporate job or some sort of minimalist epiphany to realize that living with fewer items is healthier. Just try to travel — which is advisable in any age or life phase — and you will learn naturally how little you actually need.
For me, being able to move from place to place, across countries and continents, without hesitation and restraints, has been truly liberating.
So yes, having to take care of too many possessions does make me nervous. But dealing with negative people, excessive amount of unproductive thoughts, or harming emotions, that’s what worries me much more. When you get rid of material things, you a) save space, b) save money, and most importantly c) enhance your sense of freedom, since they have remarkable innate ability to make us attached to them. When you start eliminating other significant elements in your life, such as stress, futile working hours, or nerve-wrenching meetings, you save: energy.
The more you succeed in simplifying your life, the more energy you can invest into your creativity, personal growth, or eventually the healing of your body.
Fast and victorious or slow and generous?
Interestingly, in parallel with popular trends such as minimalist lifestyle and alternative work models (like remote work or flexible contracts), the number one mantra for entrepreneurs of my generation is growth. More users, more clicks, more sales, more funding, new hires, bigger space, more spending, more users, more funding… All for the prospect of one successful acquisition or IPO and the possibility to pack up your stuff into one nice piece of luggage and finally travel the world.
This is over-simplification, of course, but you get my point. As an ambitious entrepreneur, you believe that your very existence depends on delivering the right numbers, and delivering them pretty fast. You’ve made a huge leap of faith, and against all odds, often also against disapproval of those closest to you, you do your best to prove yourself. While you may have the purest intentions to build something you truly believe in, you’re constantly under tremendous pressure. There are moments when you feel like you would rather prostitute your skills and time for the sake of a shortcut, which could relieve the burden of showing the world that your efforts are noteworthy.
True entrepreneurs aim at delivering value in the first place. They build sustainable businesses that solve problems, address needs, bring positive social impact. While having this in mind, the imperative of “more” and “bigger” certainly doesn’t always lead to greater satisfaction of yours, your colleagues, or your target customers.
During my first company’s first year of existence, I would occasionally imagine what would happen if the whole project ultimately failed. It made me think of how much effort, time, money, and opportunity cost would be lost. In my mind, the failure of my business was linked to a failure of me as a person.
At this time, neither I, nor my co-founders are taking any salary and we have spent several past months organizing free workshops for entrepreneurs in developing and emerging countries. Instead of focusing all our efforts on raising external funding, we have multiplied our activities in delivering value. It has been an enormously challenging experience, full of financial insecurity, but I can honestly tell that if the startup ceases to exist tomorrow, I will not regret a second of it.
Money makes you happy only if you have it. The car you owned last year has no meaning for your life now. The business you’ve been building for pure profit or a sense of self-importance is worthless to you if it falls. The value you have brought to others, your community, or yourself in the process of self-improvement, perseveres for a long time after, likely forever.
Simplicity is the means of saving priceless energy and using it for what really matters. Here are a couple of points where most of us could locate some easily addressable reserves.
#1 LESS FOOD
The chances are that you deal with big amounts of stress on a daily basis. As a result you’ve probably developed some acute or chronic diseases and health problems.
Sick body is a bad instrument.
Likewise, sick body has its own ways to heal itself. Except that we rarely give it a chance to activate them.
Most of us eat more food than we actually need. Many people are convinced that if they don’t chew something every 2–3 hours, they will go into some sort of starvation shock.
We burden our body with excessive eating. The moment we let it relax from the strenuous job of incessant digestion and waste disposal, it can use the extra energy for cleaning, regeneration of internal organs, and restoration of essential functions.
Explore the benefits of occasional fasting, or at least of intermittent fasting, and help your body trigger its natural healing mechanisms.
Last winter, I started to suffer from chronic cystitis. For a few following months, the excruciatingly painful symptoms kept coming back until I ended up in a hospital, losing a considerable amount of blood. The doctor told me that such issues were “normal” for women and that I should simply keep taking strong antibiotics.
Three weeks after, I fasted for the first time in my life. The first day on vegetable/fruit juices, two next days only on water. The infection never returned afterwards. Actually, I haven’t been sick with anything else since then either.
I’ve learned to practice a simple one-day fasting once or twice per month and to increase the number of no-food hours every day. It’s very easy and incredibly effective. If you wish to assist your body in self-recovery, learn to give it a break now and then.
#2 LESS THOUGHTS
Too many of our thoughts are futile and damaging.
That’s a fact.
We spend a lot of time thinking about others — what they told us, how it made us feel. We masochistically revive painful memories. We keep replaying bygone conversations. We tend to brood about things we can’t change. We’re experts in painting the gloomiest plots in our heads.
Negative thinking: self-depreciation, imagining failure, self-judgment, judging others, blaming, developing catastrophic scenarios, bringing back unhappy memories, self-pity, doubts, worries, complaints and so on.
If you think food addiction is hard to kick, then try to clear your mind of destructive thoughts. You obviously wish to do so very hard, as negative thinking brings about harmful emotions. But in fact you’re pretty addicted.
Why? Because you firmly believe in re-processing, re-analyzing and re-evaluating what has been said or what has been done. You’re bound by your hard-wired conviction that in the end you’ll feel better. You can’t resist but pick up the fight.
The truth is you can’t win. Negative thinking does only one thing: it sucks your energy. And the more you try to fight it, the more you lose. The best you can do is simply ignore it.
The easiest way to begin is to practice no thinking at all. When you start feeling your head is like a noisy circus full of berserk animals, creepy clowns, and scary monsters, take a couple of deep breaths. Calm breathing equals calm mind.
Then draw your attention away. Listen to the sounds coming to you, observe details around you that usually slip your attention, calculate passing cars… Do whatever will help you empty the room.
When the storm is over, use the huge energy you have saved for solving relevant problems, for building, or learning.
#3 LESS PEOPLE
There are exactly two types of people: those that give you energy, and those that take your energy. Reducing the number of the latter will make a gargantuan difference to your mental and physical well-being.
Energy suckers are often hard to diagnose. And we aren’t talking only about annoying colleagues, rude neighbors, or irritating relatives. It can be your good friend; it can be your beloved fiancé.
Often even they themselves are not aware of their effect on other people. Many of them have the best intentions of helping you. They love you, they sincerely care. However, they repeatedly demand something back, even if unwittingly.
Often we have a choice. It’s up to us if we remove such people from our lives. Sometimes we don’t have a choice at all.
In such case we can do at least some of these:
a) Reduce the mutual contact to a bearable level,
b) Learn not to give their words and acts too much importance.
The same goes to business meetings. Only small percentage of them brings us substantial value.
If you’re just starting out, it seems that you need to be everywhere and that you should talk to everyone. What if!
Recapitulate a few past weeks of your schedule. Was the time spent with those people worth it? Did you learn anything? Did you mutually exchange anything valuable? Or did they just take your time, or pick your brain, without giving anything back?
Make smart choices. Learn to value your time above all.
#4 LESS INTERNET
There’s one thing I really want to teach myself — and that is not to check my phone right after I wake up. So far, I have failed miserably on this front.
It’s the classic “fear of missing out” syndrome. I’m not on Facebook and I mostly don’t use social networks to connect with my friends. But I run a startup and I “need” to check my emails, team messages, reader comments, website/email marketing/social media analytics and so on.
When you work in technology like me, it’s quite daring to make a resolution in terms of reducing time spent with your smartphone or a computer (which often sums up higher than that spent with any living being).
The key is to keep kicking procrastination in her ugly ass. She is very adept at insidiously sneaking in, grasping at you with her hairy claws and dragging your attention away from anything purposeful.
So far, I have taken a series of small steps. I canceled some of my fairly unnecessary social profiles, unsubscribed from many newsletters, and deleted scores of apps from my phone. I also use task manager, time tracking app, and distraction blocker to maximize my productivity when working on my laptop. I try to motivate myself by visualizing the time saved and all the meaningful activities I can spend it on instead.
Behind every “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy”, there is at least one hour of browsing news, checking social updates, reading negligible emails, or watching dumb videos. And we can only blame ourselves.
#5 LESS PRETENSE
How often do we do things because we really want to do them, not because we want to please someone?
The ability to say “no” is a magnificent energy-saver.
Again, there are many social and professional situations where we need to be adaptable. There’s also nothing wrong with taking your mom shopping, or watching sports with your boyfriend. That’s about sharing and bonding.
But if we start losing our own self and our behavior, plans, and needs are driven mostly by demands of others, it’s time for intervention. Especially if we firmly believe that we need to wear a permanent mask to be appreciated and accepted.
Playing a specific role requires a great deal of energy. Playing multiple roles is drudgery.
If you aim to be an entrepreneur, your mission is to deliver value to others by focusing on their needs and problems. However, without being able to identify and assert your own, you will never gather enough physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to fulfill your purpose.
The resolution-making season seems to be long over. And now here we are, each of us falling into one of these three major groups of people. Those who have never bothered to make any kind of promises to themselves. Those who have already given up, and often even forgotten. And those, including myself, who keep struggling not to fail in improving their imperfect selves.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for us.