At the beginning of the series, I wrote that most of us give little thought to where we are going in life and how we will get there. We let others around us set our goals for us, because that is how life starts out in childhood. With the coming of adulthood, we are supposedly prepared to know what we want and to do think for ourselves about how we will obtain it, and naturally, most people do want to forge their own path in life.
Human nature complicates this in various ways. First, for most of us, our lives go through predictable stages. We all need food, shelter, and clothing. Living in a developed society, it is necessary to become educated in a specialized skill, and about the larger world and its context, commonly thought of as history. We do what are supposed to do. Second, there is the element of risk. Bad things happen, so there is the tension of living for today vs. living for some unknown future. Our time is limited. Despite it all, third, we yearn to make something more of life, which was touched on earlier as the progression from “success” to “significance.” We are caught up in the business of life, with the idea of earning, having, and achieving, and begin to look for short cuts to success.
It is this impulse that can bring a person to lend an impression they are more successful than they are, or to look for clever solutions to things like weight loss or investment returns, fad diets and complex multi-factor theoretical models. It can ultimately lead to fraud and disaster. Thankfully, most of us can resist those wrong turns, though we might still search for shortcuts.
We listen attentively to those who tell us there is a better, easier way. Sometimes, there are better ways. This is the purpose of getting an education. More often, the right path is often the one that is most simple, yet not the easiest. Diet, exercise and saving more are never popular, but they always work.
We can become confused about what we want or need, and because we listen too much to those around us.
How do we cut through the clutter of life, to focus on what we really want, what is most important, and the best way to get it?
Simplicity. Simplicity may not be the easy way to live, but you can be more happy, more focused and waste less energy.
Here are some ways to simplify life:
- Set goals for a shorter time period (a week instead of a year). Keep the long-term goals but simplify them by paying the most attention to the next step. Break big goals into smaller, more manageable
- Set fewer goals. Limit yourself to work on a few at a time, no more than six.
- When you are working, work on one thing at a time.
- Have a written plan. Write things down, whether it is on paper or your mobile phone. This is equally true of a grocery list as well as your life plans. If your plan is written, you can check it and change it. If it is only in your mind, you can avoid thinking about it, or doing anything about it. Plans do change, and when they do, next steps change.
- Spend less screen time. This may seem impossible. If so, consider taking a block of time off each week. Call it a “digital fast.” That includes social media and old-fashioned TV.
- Pay bills and make savings deposits automatically wherever possible. Limit the number of accounts you use to pay bills. Make a single annual payment instead of monthly payments.
- Own fewer investments and have fewer accounts. Just make sure they are the right ones for you.
- Say “no” whenever possible. Make choices to slow down life. It is not always possible, but it will never happen unless we ask the question, “do I really need to do this? What is it leading me to?”
- Consider your circle of influence – the things you can actually control – vs. your circle of concern. Everyone is concerned about big events outside our control (think COVID-19). While there are some things we can do (wash hands, wear mask, social distance…we have all had this drilled into us by our betters), whether any one of us ultimately gets sick is largely beyond our complete control.
- Declutter or downsize. Ask yourself: would I buy this again? Would I keep it if I were moving to a new place?
At first, knowing what goals to choose as our own will be hard for most people. It is an iterative process, that begins with teaching ourselves to listen to the world around us, moves to thinking accurately, and then to repeating cycles of planning, falling short, and replanning. We will discuss these points in future posts.