Essentialism, Minimalism & Mindfulness: How I built a less distracted life through each
Have you ever felt that urge? You know the one. The one that tells you to stay in bed all day. That says "you could just call in sick to work." Or the one that leaves you sitting on the couch watching Netflix for hours when your house is absolutely destroyed and in need of some simple maintenance. Really, these things are just simple day to day processes that require a little effort and motivation, depending on the circumstance. But what's really fueling that voice inside your head begging you to withdraw from responsibility? These are after all things you chose at one point or another. Things that bring you happiness when your plethora of things are neatly tidied and organized or you get that sliver of recognition you've been working for at your job. Or do they? Could your inner voice be trying to get through?
Could it be that it's been denied so many times that it's getting louder and louder with little impact? Although, there is always an impact when we don't listen. You might be unaware, but it's there, slowly causing feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Or perhaps you tend to experience paralysis when it comes to making even simple decisions in your day. Like what to wear for example. Or if you need that new scented candle that just came up on your Instagram feed.
You may be struggling to listen to your inner voice because it has been trying to get its point across for so long that it has too much to say, leaving things cloudy and uncertain. Leaving you with an endless subconscious chatter that you can't ease with doing the dishes or taking care of that bill you've been putting off. You may just be in need of a little reevaluation.
This world has put most of us on autopilot. Purchasing without question, consuming without satisfaction, even seeking out happiness while getting no closer to it.
The standard American dream now looks more like a burdened pocket book, with an overworked parent and a child that has little to no understanding of what will be expected of them as they age. Or even worse, no real skills to cope with the increasing pressure of keeping up with everyone around them. But most of us have never questioned what is to be expected of us, and whether or not it truly aligns with what we want.
Enter Essentialism, Minimalism, and the concept of Mindfulness. Just a few tools on the path to a more value-based existence. One that offers the individual a chance to seek out and practice living on their own terms. And that will and should look different for everyone. There is no one size fits all solution or picture book of success and a joy-filled life. It's completely dependent on...well, you! And all your quirks and desires and the values you've built upon on your journey through this life.
I know for a fact that these three tools have each taught me things about myself and my wants and needs in ways I had no concept of before embarking on a deep dive into my own habits and beliefs. Sometimes we numb ourselves to the nagging tendencies our subconscious defaults to when we have lost site of where our true north is. Or perhaps, we've never even seen it clearly or given it much thought. Here I want to share the ways these three concepts have allowed me to open up to myself and attune my life towards my true desires, as well as how they might do the same for you.
The idea of essentialism was brought to my attention by author and creator Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. A newer concept then that of minimalism, the essence of his method is less but better.
Where as minimalism is used as a tool to clear the clutter and seek out the things that "spark joy" by carving out space to do so, essentialism is your chance to do these things in daily practice. To hold true to the focuses that you find value in. To put your energy and efforts in the right place on an ongoing basis. This method has hit home with many larger corporations and leaders as it allows a business to hone in on their biggest assets, the offerings that most closely meet their clients needs and create the highest level of productivity for their teams. And like the business minded, you too can utilize essentialism to practice a more focused, less distracted life by asking "is this (item, relationship, activity, etc.) essential to the life I am actively building or would like to build?"
For me, this looks like carving out more time to find a writing practice in my everyday routine. It encourages me to spend time in nature on a regular basis and to follow a simple and slow way of living that suits my own personal energy. It allows me to put high value in the things I am consciously consuming and hold a meditation practice. These are the things I have found to be most valuable to my own life, and essentialism holds me accountable without the ongoing excuses of being too busy and distracted.
By now, most of us are familiar with the concept of minimalism. It's a growing focus on platforms like YouTube and self-help style books on this topic are plentiful. There are even popular new series on Netflix such as Marie Kondo's Tidying Up and now a second season with Sparking Joy. All of these emphasize the greatness that you could become if you just let go of "the stuff". Now letting go isn't always as surface as stuff. Most of us are even aware of the innate pull that many of our own belongings hold on us, saying "you'll need me some day" or "I was given to you by great Aunt so-and-so and she would be highly disappointed if you got rid of me now."
In fact, the stories these objects tell you on a daily basis can contribute to a greater sense of overwhelm and fatigue, such as the book Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism coined as the silent to-do list. And this overwhelm is something that many of us have experienced in abundance amidst the uncertainty and fear of the global pandemic that forced us into our homes and face to face with the clutter. Even though I have practiced the idea of minimalism for many years, which has gained momentum as a snowball effect on my life, possessions and choices, this past year caused me to reevaluate the things that I've chosen to hold onto and find the meaning behind the attachment.
So minimalism is actually an incredible tool to do just that. To create space, in a physical and mental capacity. Both around you and within you. It once again emphasizes the need to question the things we fill our lives with. Who set that limiting belief that we can't have a fully functioning, welcoming home without x, y, and z? Or that we need to have a different outfit for each new occasion that arises. God forbid we are seen in the same thing twice.
So I encourage you to read into the items you hold onto, as well as the things and people you give your time and attention to. Let go of the red flags that pop up along the way. And you might just find that you live a little lighter for it. That you breath a little deeper.
Like essentialism and minimalism, mindfulness is a powerful tool that can be used to hone in on the most important elements of your life and apply core values by consistently showing up through practice. Be that as it may, a mindfulness practice looks however you need it to and can shift throughout the chapters of your life. You may find that in the beginning stages, you need to put in constant effort to honor your practice and apply it to your life to create concrete mindset shifts that serve your needs. But over time, this may look differently as dependency lightens, and it becomes more natural or effortless. More enmeshed with your way of being and daily choices. Not to say that the other methods can't be fluid as well, but mindfulness really has little definition other than that which you put to it.
If you want a motivating starting point, I recommend taking a look at your consumption. This can look like multiple things. On the one hand, it can be more metaphorical, while we pay close attention to the media we consume, the purchases we make, and our desire for more. We can begin by simply becoming aware of the triggers that lead us to want to consume. Not trying to change or shift them immediately, but just finding awareness around them. Around the sensations that come up as we experience the need to consume more. Did it stem from a moment of low self-esteem? From a feeling of lack. Or perhaps, a continuous scroll through the lives of others on social media. Finding a sense of awareness and holding space for our purely human moments of desire and emotional reactions is a huge breaking point in understanding why we behave the way we do and helping to eliminate the mental clutter or confusion around our actions and needs vs. wants.
On a more literal note, we can begin to find awareness around the consumption of food. Food is meant to serve one purpose. To fulfill the need for live-giving nourishment (and to be enjoyed while doing so). As society, agriculture, and the definition of success has taken shape over the years, food has begun to take on a different role entirely in the western world. Many countries (and families all over the world) still experience sobering food insecurities and hunger. Yet in 2021, many of us are simply trying to control our urges for things we don't need. Trying to reposition the role food plays in our lives. Next time you sit down for a meal, take a moment to take a few slow breaths before beginning. This conscious choice to find stillness around your food will begin to shape how you perceive what you need in that moment as well as instill awareness around the desires we have. This can also be referred to as intuitive eating, which plays a huge role in how I personally care for my body. So many of us never leave enough negative space around meal time or physical consumption to know how our food makes us feel and to experience what true nourishment looks and feels like. Consumption should be enjoyable, both mentally and physically. What we often think creates pleasure and fulfillment really could be creating chaos for your body internally, even affecting our mentality and mood. In a world of fad diets and a constant intake of new facts and fiction, looking within (and truly listening) is often the best measure of what will serve you and your body over the course of your life.
Begin to shape a mindfulness practice around the moments and choices that could use some awareness. Take the messages that awareness sends you in any given moment and use it to reevaluate your actions while rewiring the thought patterns that have led you to go through life on autopilot. Over time, this should give you a newfound sense of ownership and autonomy over your time, your energy and the opportunities presented to you.
On a final note, I leave you with one of my favorite questions to hold in mind as you embark on your day: