“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
― Hans Hofmann
Simplifying your life should be exactly that — simple. Quite ironically, it’s anything but. In today’s age, especially, it seems to be an increasingly more difficult undertaking. Obligation after obligation rushes in and fills up all your various little mental cavities until you can barely even hear the voice of your own inner desire and wisdom. The one that knows what you really want your life to mean when all is said and done.
Or maybe you haven’t really quite figured it out yet but that’s exactly why the mechanical, fast-paced way of the modern world is so silently sinister. It’s a malicious thief because it steals the most irretrievable thing of all: time.
I was one of the lucky ones who graduated from Zoom University this past year (I say lucky but I didn’t feel especially lucky on the day of my graduation in my PJ’s in the living room). I have always been acutely aware of time — one would say too much, perhaps — but my college years flew by in the blink of an eye. It was as though time had ceased to exist. Or maybe I had.
My life had become so cluttered; I was always rushing to get the next thing done but it would never end and I grew so disconnected from myself. I would wake up every day at four in the morning to make it to the gym before my classes, after which I would go to work until late in the evening. By the time I’d get home, I would’ve long stopped being a human being.
The longer that went on, the more I lost touch with everything that had meant so much and had given my life the most meaning. I didn’t have a single ounce of energy left at the end of the day to think about what it all meant anyway and how the hell I was going to bridge the gap between me and my dreams. I had zero clarity and zero sense of fulfillment.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, everything changed (is that the understatement of the year, or what?). I stopped going to in-person classes, I stopped going to the gym and I stopped going to work. The thing I had been wishing for so long — simplification and TIME — was given to me on a platter. Granted, I didn’t know quite how to handle such a strange turn of events and I, like a lot of people, spent many days suspended in a dark cloud, not able to do much of anything. But man, when I got my shit together, I got my shit together. In the past six months, I’ve been able to tackle my goals and work towards my dreams in a way I’ve never been able to before. For the first time in my life, they aren’t buried at the back of my mind and they don’t seem so out of reach anymore.
As unimaginably terrible as the pandemic has been, and as much as I have cursed it in my heart, it did give me the space I needed to start growing into the person I wanted to be.
So here are three valuable things you will find when you slow down and declutter your life. As taught to me by a virus.
“The world belongs to the energetic.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The real name of the game in achievement is energy. Without it, nothing of real import or caliber is possible. In scientific terms, this means ATP; it’s literally the energy currency of our cells.
That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention to our nutrition, sleep, and exercise routine. But we also have to be just as careful about replenishing our mental and emotional energy reserves. This means being cognizant of our social circles, and the people, places, and activities that drain our mental energy. As much as you can, you should aim to put yourself in spaces that increase, instead of detract from, your fire for life.
Motivation, momentum and discipline — none of these mean anything if you lack vitality. If you want to level up, it’s essential to have that foundation of energy in place to see you through the amount of work needed to achieve anything extraordinary. When you have energy, everything’s in a brighter hue. All the doors of possibility open on you.
“When you are up against a wall, put down roots like a tree, until clarity comes from deeper sources to see over that wall and grow.”
― Carl Jung
The only way to achieve clarity and create a vision of your idealistic life and your idealistic self is to go deep into your own heart. That’s extremely difficult to do, if not downright impossible, when you’re being drowned in the constant demands of everyday life. If you really want to achieve greatness, however unique way you describe it, you have to press the slow-motion button for a little bit and observe your own inner life. Because how are you going to get to the place you want to go, if you don’t know where that place is?
There is no right or wrong vision. You don’t necessarily have to want to be the absolute best in the world in a given area. You don’t necessarily have to want an extraordinary life. But you do have to know exactly what it is that you want. Get really clear on that.
From there, what will happen is you will start to create a narrative about the kind of person you are and the kind of things you do. You will construct your identity, brick by brick. Then, it’s only a matter of execution.
“Have the winds of life pulled you off course? Watch for the Integrity Gap — the space between your values and behavior.”
― Robin Sharma
I think the most important thing in life is how you feel about yourself when you’re by yourself. If you’re living in alignment with your values, if you’re stepping up to the plate and taking action, if you’re doing the things you said you would do, then you’re building integrity with yourself. That’s why the clarity of vision and self-narrative I just mentioned is so important.
Robin Sharma talks about the Integrity Gap; quite simply, this is the discrepancy between what you say you’re going to do and what you actually do. There is no hope of ever feeling any sense of fulfillment if the two are misaligned. Every time we break a promise we had made to ourselves, we lose self-respect and it slowly chips away at our confidence and self-esteem.
Of course, it’s very difficult to do the things we don’t feel like doing but fulfillment is often borne of suffering. It will require hardship; it will require discomfort, fear and doubt. When you come across these emotions along the path to a goal, it’s not the time to turn back for fear you’re going in the wrong direction. In fact, those are signals that you are exactly where you need to be. Use your discomfort as a tailwind. It’s the only way to grow over the wall you’re up against.
The Navy Seals have this saying: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Sometimes you need to hit pause and slow down to be able to soar. That’s how you make the impactful, sound decisions that’ll create a life you’re proud of living.
I know how extremely difficult the pandemic has been — I’m not trying to downplay it by any means. And for some, their lives have become even more hectic than they once used to be. But in the general quiet and solitude that it has given me, I was able to gain some insights that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I hope that, by sharing them, they can be of some value to you, too.