Hint: it doesn’t involve adding more to your life
It took me almost 34 years to realize how important it is to prioritize the things I do with my time.
You’d think this would be obvious, right? I mean, don’t we want to do the things that matter most to us?
Well, we’re complicated. We have conflicting wants and desires.
Imagine it’s Friday night after a long work week. You’re standing in your room looking down at your gym bag. Your mind is debating whether to work out. Part of you wants to. Another part of you just wants to relax. What do you choose?
We face these kinds of decisions all the time. For me, I found I made choices I regretted far too often.
My mind could make watching Netflix sound so alluring, especially after a long workday. But what I noticed over time is that my brain exaggerated — Netflix was seldom as satisfying as I thought it would be. On the other hand, I rarely regretted going to the gym.
What helps to make these decisions easier, is to prioritize. Because without giving purposeful thought to what you’d prefer to do, you’ll make decisions based on the whims of your mind, and you’ll likely regret them.
But, before you prioritize, there is something else you should do, a step that most people skip over. You need to simplify your life. You need to look at what you do and ask whether you need to do it, and whether something else wouldn’t bring more joy, purpose, or satisfaction into your life.
In other words, stop adding and start subtracting.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
I came upon a fantastic idea about a year ago: anti-resolutions. This simple concept has had a huge impact on my life.
Come January 1, don’t we all ask each other, What New Year’s resolutions have you chosen for this year? And every year don’t we feel obligated to add more to our already overflowing lives?
Of course, few or none of these resolutions ever make it past the first couple of months, weeks, or even days. There are surely many reasons for this, but one of them is that we are fixated on adding to our lives to the neglect of ever considering what we should get rid of.
These bad-boys don’t add stress and anxiety to your life. They take them away! How? By getting you to analyze the activities in your life and plucking out the ones that don’t add value, or add less value than something else would.
You might reconsider washing the floors three times a week. You might reconsider watching every game of your favourite sports team. You might reconsider who you spend your time with. You might reconsider the number of activities you put your kids into.
This concept helped me make a huge decision earlier this year: to quit playing soccer at a “competitive” level, and to decrease the number of other soccer teams I play on down to zero.
I’ve been loving and playing soccer for 31 years, but over this past summer, it wasn’t making me happy. It took a toll on my body, it took away time from my writing, and it took away some of my appreciation for the game. I knew that something needed to change.
The decision to cut soccer out of my life still wasn’t easy. I’ve been playing for so long it’s a part of my identity. So, while I was weighing the pros and cons, there was a nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me to keep playing. Thankfully, I ignored it, and am now soccer-free.
Will this decision last forever? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m relieved and I’m happy. This decision has freed up time for writing, as well as other things that are important to me. It’s one of the biggest changes I’ve ever purposefully made to my life. And it was by removing something, not adding something, that this positive change was possible.
What can you remove from your life? What do you do that has less value than something else you could do?
Be honest. And remind yourself that everything is a trade-off. There will always be cons to removing something, but those cons might be outweighed by the pros. Be fair in your assessment. Be fair to yourself. You won’t regret it.
A note on the mindset of change
Something we all need to come to terms with is that we don’t always make the best choices. You might have noticed this already!
But, what do you do with this knowledge? Do you use it? Or do you forget about it exactly when it would come in handy?
Whenever you’re making a choice, you need to remind yourself that your feelings can deceive you. What you feel like doing, isn’t always your best option.
This is especially true when you’re trying to build a new habit, because this is hard. Period. No one changes his behaviour at the flick of a switch. It might look like it sometimes, but you haven’t lived in his mind. Many intermediate steps led to that change.
This is important to remind yourself because if you’re making any change to your life, you’re going to experience setbacks, mistakes, inconsistencies, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, and failure, to name a few. These are all normal experiences for a human undergoing change. And you need to remember it!
If you forget, you might think it’s just you experiencing this mess. If you forget, you might think the change just isn’t within your ability to grasp.
So, remind yourself that change is hard. Remind yourself that your journey will contain shortcuts, setbacks, even pauses. And remind yourself that if you stick with it, you will change your habits and change your life.
Thanks for reading!