Simplifying an Overloaded Life

I found a web site today that inspires me, Zen Habits by Leo Babauta.  Babauta claims to have found a key to successful living by making one small change at a time, and over time these small changes have led to major changes in his life.  Since he is succeeding at things I have longed to attain, his web site made me sit up and take notice.

zenstones

I have been trying to make dozens of changes in my life for years, and although I succeed in small ways, it’s always with one step forward and two steps back inefficiency.  Babauta’s breakthrough insight is to pick one goal, focus on it exclusively, and stick to it until it becomes a habit before attempting any other changes.  He even created The Sea Change Program that focused on 12 monthly goals, many of which matched mine.  Unfortunately, his study group seems to have been designed for 2013, so I’m 12 months late.  His goals were:  stop procrastinating, eat healthier, meditate, exercise, write daily, simplify your day, get organized, declutter, be grateful, reduce/eliminate debt, read more and let go – are almost a perfect fit to my goals, if I had the sense to organize my thoughts, which is why they resonate so strongly.

Procrastination

My life has been one long act of procrastination.  I have so many things that I try to do, that I want to do, that I feel required to do, that I do very little at all. Also my sense of decisiveness makes Hamlet look like General Douglas MacArthur.  Babauta’s idea of picking one goal and sticking to it exclusively until it’s attain scares me on many levels.  First, I have to pick the one and only goal, two I have to ignore all the others, and three I have to act.  That requires both decisiveness and commitment, two traits that aren’t in my genetic makeup.

Health

Interestingly, Babauta’s second goal is to eat healthier.  Because my arteries got clogged enough to require getting a heart stent this year, plus discovering that I’m gluten intolerant, and finally having my GP and cardiologist both freak out over my cholesterol just weeks apart causes outside forces to make a decisive decision for me – eat healthier.  So my goal for December 2013 is to studying my diet and health books and solve once and for all what my eating habits should be.  I have books by five different doctors each claiming their diet will restore my health – unfortunately they don’t completely agree.  Strangely enough, they do agree on enough to make certain eating decisions obvious – eat more vegetables and fruits, and stop eating junk food, that I can commit to the basics right away.

My goal for December will be to study all my health and diet books, decide what is good to eat, to stop eating what is bad, to develop a repertoire of meals to regularly cook, research menus at local restaurants that will support my healthy diet, study how to buy and store fresh healthy produce, learn techniques to cook all the meals I need to eat, and then stick to my diet so I can give away all my health and diet books and stop thinking about food.

Discovering that I’m gluten intolerant has been interesting.  I’ve had stomach problems for years which I’ve attributed to many causes, but now that I’ve gone several weeks without Pepcid and Tums,  and my stomach is quiet, the chest pains have faded away, the pains in my knee have disappeared, and my hip pain has been reduced so much that on some days I don’t even notice it, I’ve come to believe that what I eat does affect my health.  Now I just need to learn what to eat or not eat to reduce the clogging in my arteries.  My cardiologist doesn’t seem to believe that diet can reverse plague in arteries, but I have books by other doctors who claim it can.  I need to follow what they say to test their theory.

Meditate

Mediating has always been a mystery to me, but I keep coming across people who claim it works.  It shall be a future goal.  I wonder why Babauta ranks it third though.  Obviously he considers it very important.

Exercise

I already routinely do physical therapy exercises for my spinal stenosis related back problems.  My next goal is to commit to additional daily exercises that are more aerobic, strength and stamina building.  I don’t see why I can’t combine this with my December health goal, but I’ll follow Babauta’s advice and make it a separate goal for January.

Write Daily

I already write daily, but it’s blogging.  My ultimate goal once I get my health related goals accomplished is to write fiction daily.

Simplify

Now this goal is one I ache to achieve.  Years ago when I got my debt under control it was by focusing on paying off one debt at a time until I had only one credit card which I charged everything and paid off each month.  This mirrors Babauta’s ideas about goals.  I haven’t worried about paying bills since.  My daily life is so full of distractions that I feel like I have a thousand bill collectors after me.  The major cause of this is I want to do too many things.  I need to simplify my goals and ambitions.  I’d like to get up in the morning and only think about writing my novel.

Organize

Three of Babauta’s goals simplify, organize and declutter seem to be closely related.  Maybe as I work on them their individual distinctiveness will emerge.

Declutter

I’m constantly trying to declutter.  I’ve been doing this my whole life.  But fighting the battle of endless crap accumulation is an endless war.  I would think decluttering would come before simplify and organize.  I could write a million words about mental and physical clutter.  I don’t know how I’m ever going to accomplish this goal.  For example, I have over 1,000 books, audiobooks and ebooks that I own hoping to read.  I have a book shopping habit where I buy more books to read in one year than I could read in ten.  And I figure there’s easily 10,000 books I would love to read.  I think I already own more unread books than I have time to read for the rest of my life.  Reading is my life – so how could I possibly declutter all the books in my life?  How do I organize my reading when I want to master all the major literature of history.  When you add music, movies and television shows, you can imagine how cluttered my mind is when it comes my pop culture addiction.

Gratefulness

I’ve always been grateful my whole life.  One of my core hopes is that I have a moment before I die where I can contemplate how grateful I am for this chance to exist before I cease to exist.  This is one goal I have down.  All the time I spend with my friends and family, all books I read, the songs I hear, the shows I watch on television, all remind me how grateful I am to be here. 

Eliminate Debt

I’ve already conquered this goal too except for my mortgage.  Now that I’ve retired I’ve got to learn to spend less, and on that too.

Read More

Another goal I don’t have to worry about.  I should probably study how to read less, but I won’t.  My life is reading.  With audio books, ebooks, tablet computers, the world wide web, I’ve become more and more efficient at reading.

Letting Go

Now this one is complex.  I’m not sure what Babauta plans to say, but I went through a Buddhist phase in my early twenties and it has stuck to me my whole life.  Mentally, I’ve let go of so much over the decades that even though my mind is starting to fail, I like my headspace so much now that I never wish to be younger.  Oh sure, I’d love a younger, healthier body, but I would never trade if it meant I had to go back to a younger mental self.  I’m like a Hindu who has done a lot of work to get off the wheel of life and death, and I wouldn’t want to undo all that effort.  That’s how I define letting go.  But I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe we get multiple lifetimes to work on letting go.  We have to do it all in this lifetime.

But what are we letting go of?  Now that’s the interesting part.  If you’re Buddhist or Hindu, then it’s desire.  If you are Zen Buddhist its illusions.  But if you’re a westerner with heavy Christian heritage, it’s sin.  If you’re an atheist, it’s all three and more.  It’s a complete deprogramming of the past, and the twelve goals Babauta has selected is great start.

JWH – 12/2/13

5 Responses

  1. Hi James,

    I have followed your posts and this has become my favorite. Congratulations!

    BugalloTI

  2. Have you read “The happiness project”? It covers similar themes… http://www.happiness-project.com/

    • No, I haven’t read The Happiness Project, but the web site looks interesting because its become a movement. I don’t read books about happiness because I’ve always been a happy person. I wonder if I’m naturally doing what she recommends in her book. I have always thought of happiness as a genetic condition.

  3. […] Simplifying an Overloaded Life (jameswharris.wordpress.com) […]

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