This article fisrt appeared on Happify
Author Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. Yet few of us think much about the time we spend in our moment-to-moment interactions—with ourselves, with others, and with life itself.
We may while away an hour, or many. We may engage in needless resentment and rumination. We may avoid the things we care about and wait yet another day to start living our true lives—a drifting journey that never gets to its goal.
We may rush around ticking items off our to-do lists, catering to other people’s demands and expectations, or saying yes to every bright and creative idea that comes our way. As Warren Buffet puts it, “Busy is the new stupid.”
As a women’s well-being and leadership coach, I’ve seen so many people overwhelmed by thoughts and pursuits that don’t always make them feel alive. Instead of grounding themselves in their priorities and being strategic about how they spend their days, they give their time away as though it were the most disposable item they have. Rarely do they think that time is perhaps the only thing they can never, ever get back.
If you’d like to take back your days—and thus your life—here are four areas that may need a refresh:
We live in an age of opportunity where there are a hundred good ideas everywhere we look. While this has been great for progress in general, it can also stall us when we let our ideas get ahead of us. We can set too many goals, commit to too many ideas, get involved in too many projects. This leads to either passive engagement or overwhelm (when you try to give more of yourself), especially if you’re also a perfectionist. Identify the two to four opportunities that truly light you up and are aligned with your values and strengths, and let go of the rest. Good is the enemy of great—wouldn’t you rather be great?
One of the most important predictors of success and fulfillment is the company we keep. Ande yet, few of us are strategic about the people we let into our lives, or careful about nurturing the relationships that are important to us. We either give too much and feel unappreciated, resentful, and angry; or, we try and become everything to everyone and feel unhappy about not spending enough time with the people we truly care about. Spend some time thinking of the relationships you will nurture, the boundaries you will set where needed and the habits of engagement you will develop (such as listening, appreciating, helping) where possible. Remember, when you engage with others from a place of self-worth, you feel happier, more confident, and more fulfilled.
Believe it or not, the one person you speak to most is yourself—in an endless internal monologue from the voice in your head. “This is so unfair”, “I don’t think I can do this”, “They don’t like me”—stories we spun very early in our lives, before we had developed the ability for conscious thought. These raw and rigid stories live on until the end of our lives, unless we step in and analyze them with our adult minds. Think of the areas of your life where you feel you’re playing it safe and small, where you feel disconnected or unhappy, hopeless or angry, and ask yourself, “What am I saying to myself about it?” Once you’ve listened to your thoughts, ask yourself, “Are they true? Are they logical? Are they helpful?” And if not, be relentless in plucking them out as if they were weeds that have no place in the beautiful garden of your mind.
I felt compelled to add this one to the list because most of us live in societies of abundance. Having too much “stuff” is largely an ailment of progress, something I’ve rarely seen in the less-developed countries in which I’ve lived. We conflate wants and needs, we buy more than can fit our budget, our wardrobes, our appetites. We expect more of ourselves, of other people, of life itself, constantly feeding the pathways of the emotional brain that want better and more. No wonder life feels like a treadmill where our pursuits rarely bring us lasting joy and contentment. The antidote is simplicity. Its minimalism. It’s about taking away everything that isn’t a “must-have” so you can enjoy what you find pleasure in. Because when you live with simplicity, you’ve bought yourself the joy that money never can.
Author Seth Godin says it beautifully: “The frenzied search for more is a distraction and a place to hide, all in one. Pick the right stones and cherish them as you turn them over. That’s enough.”