Minimalism: An Update
On New Year’s Day I wrote a post on my focus word for the year. My focus word this year is the word minimal. As the end of the first quarter of this year is upon us, I thought it was an opportune time to hold myself accountable on my focus for increased minimalism. By way of background, my goal for increased minimalism was not a ritualistic asceticism, rather a desire to avoid squeezing the most important things out of my life by indulging in or being ruled by what matters least.
This practice, of choosing a focus word for the year, has been very helpful for me. Periodic reviews, like this first quarter review, give me the impetus to reflect and take stock of any progress towards minimalism or not. I think my progress has been mixed to be honest. Old habits die hard. However, one example of something I have undertaken to increase minimalism is a no book buying policy for 2016. Generally, books are a good thing in my opinion, a necessity I would even say. However, we can do too much of any good thing. Books are something I have perhaps gone overboard with. So, recognizing that, and acknowledging I have the books I need to progress against my intellectual goals, one thing I have decided to minimize is books. So far so good. I think it has created some mental space for me that was once used to fend off the pangs of guilt as I looked at a stack of unread books that mocked my ambition.
Stepping back from the tactics I have employed to foster minimalism, I have seen some big themes too. First, it is clear to me that our capacity to want far outstrips our ability to truly enjoy things we acquire. To take that a step further, we reach a point where each additional thing we acquire starts to take away from our happiness rather quickly. For me, that was an important insight.
Another big theme for me is the idea of putting energy into things that are not of most importance for us, or our highest priorities. I think of it as a three dimensional function, which governs our happiness, consisting of these elements: (1) Effort, (2) Getting/Achieving, and (3) Priorities. In essence, we can get more of just about anything by applying greater time and effort, but the “heights” of fulfillment and real happiness are determined by how much these activities are in line with our true priorities. The following picture depicts this relationship.
Basically, we can get to point “A” through more time and effort, but point “A” can never give us the fulfillment we would receive from focusing on reaching point “B” because point “B” is a real priority for us. So, the question to me is why do I spend time on the ascent to point “A” at all? Yes, it results in “more,” but more of what? Another reality I have confronted within this context is that we have a finite set of resources at our disposal. We can run out of energy, motivation, and desire to accomplish things. That’s when we get all Netflix-y and go into the cave of binging a whole series of soul-sucking nonsense. We ran ourselves too hard and we did not fill the reservoirs back up, and so we bonked. First, if I truly have finite resources, which I believe I do, then I want them applied to ascending to point “B.” Second, I have started to seek ways to mindfully refill my reservoirs periodically. I have started to take note where I bleed mental and physical energy and I plan around that. I also look for sources of refilling and I try to ensure I strategically use those to refuel. But, at the end of the day, life is too short, too precious, for summiting minor peaks, like point “A,” over and over at the risk of missing our personal Everests (see point “B”).
So, that’s my update on my focus word, minimal. I am pleased to say I’ve made progress towards minimalism. But, as is often the case, I have noted the enormity of truly unwinding so much of the complexity and distraction inherent in our world and my life. But, I have also been blessed with a really clear reminder of just how precious life is, and more clarity around where my true happiness lies. That is what this whole minimalism goal is about: more real and less artificial; more fulfillment and less hollow achievement; more peace less noise.
Separately, I have appreciated the comments of people who have been reading “Cogitatively.” It means a lot to me those of you who have reached out to say you’ve found something of value. That said, it has surprised me how many of these same folks don’t subscribe to my blog. I’ll just finish up with a plea that if you have found some value on Cogitatively that you subscribe and pass links along to your friends and invite them to subscribe. At the end of the day, I do not have a stated goal other than I would like to share what I hope is some thinking on living a thoughtful, purposeful life. But, perhaps, I also rather subjectively wonder what it would take to get to 100 subscribers. Help me along towards that if you feel so inclined.