The Art of Doing Less and Simplifying Life

Our outer life is a reflection of our inner life.

We might disagree and have different opinions about what the modern day world stands for, but I’m sure we would agree on one thing – it’s complex. In other words we are also agreeing that we are living in an increasingly complex social world and that we need to start significantly simplifying it. Our time, health, and most of all our attention, is eaten away every minute of the day by a multitude of duties, plans, conflicting roles, demands, needs, and false desires among many other things. There is a war on attention and consciousness going on, where everything is calling out to you in order to keep you from being authentically yourself while letting you slip unconsciously into the subliminal demands of the over-consumerist society – ‘Buy this’, ‘do this’, ‘have this’, ‘want this’, and so on.

We collectively feel that we have to do more, to produce and consume more, rather than create more, and this is keeping us in a state of overwhelm and stupor, not to mention the maladies coming out from stress and anxiety. Some people have started to awaken from this collective nightmare by recognizing that they need to free themselves from the shackles of mind control and reclaim their sovereignty as free individuals able to have responsibility and control over their own consciousness. One of the most effective ways to do this is through simplifying life and appreciating the art of doing less.

To be More you have to do Less

You must have heard the cliché that it’s not what you do but who you are. Like any perennial wisdom, the statement holds a good ounce of truth, not the less in practical day to day life. We over burden ourselves with tasks, goals, overlapping projects and demands we either put on ourselves or slip unconsciously into. It’s no secret that we live in a culture of doing, where we superficially assign value to doing more in every aspect of our life. Naturally, doing is also peer to having. In fact we strive or struggle to do more in order to achieve more and have more. There is no end to it. It’s an endless rat race with no finishing line in sight.

In times when we overwork ourselves and the stress is off the roof, we finally ask ourselves whether it is all worth it or how much it would be better to have less yet live happier by not over stretching ourselves so much. This may or may not be the moment when you realize that to be more of yourself – meaning to live life more fully in line with who you really are – it’s about time you start doing less. Quite frankly, most of us do not fully understand what it means to do less or it’s an option that isn’t even considered remotely.

Doing less is pretty much an art. This is in fact why I had named an eBook I wrote ’The Art of Simple Living’ (you can download freely – see note at the end of the article). It’s an art because it requires a certain amount of thinking outside of the box we were confined into through our social conditioning. To do less is not about giving up on things or sitting pretty on a couch all day. You have to first break free from the urge to think it is so. Doing less is essentially about refraining from those things that you can effectively do without, even though you believe you can’t do without or that your world would stop to a halt if you had to stop doing. It’s about doing less of those things that are not authentically yours but seem to be doing because everyone else is doing or because they bring in some sort of short-lived self-gratification. 

When I look back into my life, I often recognize times when I thought that it was impossible not to do a certain thing. I was over burdened but didn’t realize that I could actually say no to some things without affecting my life as I had supposed or feared. Some things could have been dropped off there and then and life would have continued without a pending doom. It takes some perspective and a shot of courage but I assure you that you would later realize that it wasn’t half as bad as you feared.

Paradoxically doing less things that are inconsequential to your life is actually about creating more because you free up more time, focus and energy to your creative energy, not to mention freedom of expression.

Maintain your needs but redefine your wants

One of the blunders in our consumerist society is that we blur the distinction between needs and wants. We think that we need something when in truth we only desire it. This is of course the main weapon in the arsenal of mind-manipulating capitalist media that hypnotizes us into pushing what are essentially wants into the realm of needs. You are led to believe by the media and eventually peer pressure that you ‘need’ that particular thing, that look, that status, or to be part of that latest trend in order to be accepted and approved of. There is an underlying fear of rejection or of being left out and cast away. And so this social pressure plays with our wants and lifts them up to the status of needs. But you see, your needs are pretty basic and simple. Why? Because life is really simple if we aren’t so busy trying to make it complicated and complex. I am not talking just about the basic human need to survive such as having a roof over your head, food and water. You can live way beyond basic survival and still live a very simple life once you discern more clearly between the noise of your wants and the clear signs of your needs. 

In short you can essentially maintain clearly what your needs are and see that they are met but also be honest with yourself and redefine your wants, quite simply by seeing them for what they are – wants. Do you really need that next generation gadget or outfit? No but you may want it, and that’s ok as long as it doesn’t blind you or distract you from living simpler in line with your true needs.

Time is a lock. Priority is the key.

I must admit that time has always been a bit of my demon, like it is for so many others. Time, or the perceived lack of it, is a constraint that puts up a lot of pressure on us and creates frustration. We feel we have so much more things to do, create and experience, yet time is getting shorter. We wish we had more time, which in truth means we need more time to experiment and fail at trying different sort of things and experiences until we learn which ones ultimately make us happy and are in tune with our real selves. Well, there is a short cut to that actually which can really buy you a lot of time – and as you’ve probably guessed – it’s simplicity or simplifying your life.

Simplifying your life means among other things, sorting out your priorities by sifting through your real needs and your wants as mentioned earlier on. Sometimes it’s difficult to prioritize when so many things are calling your attention at the same time or too much is on your schedule or agenda. That’s a sign that you are doing too much and certainly that at least some of it is not truly in line with your real aspirations. You need to simplify through clarity and prioritizing.

Prioritizing involves some active management of your time and work but as you become more confident and especially clear what are the things you should be doing first according to your life goals, then it becomes increasingly easier. Most importantly you learn to say no to some things or people. If you are like me, you might find out that this is one of the hardest things to learn because you are used to accommodating people as much as possible. Well, once you get past the bump and learn how to apply it as needed, you realise that it is not half as difficult as you thought. 

Free up your mind to free up your time and spaces

Most of our constraints are not physical or social, but mental. It is only natural to suppose then that to simplify your life and free up your time and clear your spaces, you first need to free up your mind. Now I understand that to say ‘free up your mind’ is too broad, ambiguous or wishy-washy. Let’s get more specific and focus on the most important aspect of it.

Some call it self-observation, self-enquiry or self-awareness. Others call it inner work or shadow work. What it essentially means is that you become more aware of your own patterns of thought and behavior. I’m not saying you have to go into a long period of seclusion and solitude. Not at all. It’s about keeping present in mind as you go about your daily things, to take note once in a while of why you are doing or thinking something. It will get easier and deeper by time. What everyone will definitely realize is how many things we think and do are basically useless distractions if not outright self-sabotaging. It might be something as futile as doing a simple task in a certain way, or observing resistance to do a certain thing perhaps in the form of procrastination, anxiety or falling for distractions such as binging on social media, eating or fantasizing and day dreaming. You might observe how some thoughts are self-critical and meant to discourage you from doing or achieving something. Maybe worries, fears, anxious feelings about something. It could also be seeing yourself doing the same thing over and over for many years but without really knowing why and without any clear benefit from it. You might also observe doing some things in an unconscious and inefficient way.

Whatever the case may be, applying more attention inwards through soft but constant self-observation, will bring to your awareness so many unconscious patterns that were clogging your mind and life with over-complications, distractions and, well, useless junk. This is another point about simplifying life in that we accumulate clutter not only in our physical spaces but also, and especially, in our mental life. More importantly, the clutter in our outer life is a result of the clutter in our inner life. Our outer life is a reflection of our inner life and in turn it affects it in a closed feedback loop. So it is useless doing some extraordinary effort to free up our time and spaces when we haven’t yet tackled our inner mental life through sustained self-observation.

You can get the eBook ‘The Art of Simple Living’ by Gilbert Ross. Please note that the link will open the Facebook Messenger app on your device where you can then download the PDF.

Gilbert Ross

Gilbert has been writing about personal growth topics for a number of years on his blog SoulHiker and on various other media.

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