In theory, it sounds simple: To do less, simply do less. In practice, however, it’s not that simple. In fact, it’s actually pretty difficult. Many aspects of our modern culture encourage chasing after more. More money, more material possessions, more status, more of everything. Everywhere you turn, the message of limitlessness abounds. And although for a split second it may sound like freedom, it can be just the opposite—shackles with a chaser of stress. It’s one big reason the self-help industry dominates in the U.S. and is predicted to be worth $13 billion dollars by 2022.
All of that more-chasing can lead you to do too much. You may do it to attain or maintain a certain lifestyle. And sometimes there’s also the element of “I want to feel like I’m enough.” But combating insecurities and finding contentment doesn’t work like that. Those bigger topics call for deeper, mindful work, and fewer to-dos. These eight tips aim to help so you can continue on a path to happiness.
1. Determine the Nonnegotiables
Traditionally, minimalism has been linked to art and design concepts—using limited materials to create the desired effect. In recent times, minimalism has also come to focus on the intentional promotion of the things you value most in life. As bestselling author and self-described minimalist Joshua Becker writes, “The first step in crafting a life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” One of his websites—No Sidebar—focuses on the thoughtful removal of anything that distracts you from your nonnegotiables. When you focus on and do the things that sit high on your importance list, you naturally start to do less of what doesn’t.
Do you know what your nonnegotiables are? If not, take time to think about what you care about most. Write those things down. Then, determine what needs to go so the important stuff can rise to the top.
2. Remind Yourself You’re the Only One Keeping Score … Unnecessarily
You may operate as if there’s some kind of life scorekeeper out there who follows you around, adding a one every time you do something and subtracting two every time you don’t.
In reality, you’re your own scorekeeper and, oftentimes, you may not be very fair. Rather than focusing on all of the things you’ve done—and done well, for that matter—you may focus on the .001 percent that you didn’t do or messed up. You may be so hard on yourself, and all that self-criticism can harm your mind and body. Find ways to reduce these habits of self-criticism. When you focus on flaws, you may activate your body’s stress response and inflammatory functions, which can lead to accelerated aging and chronic illness. Stop subtracting two. In fact, stop keeping score altogether. It’s an unnecessary competition with yourself.
While you’re at it, go ahead release things like guilt, shame, overthinking, and expectations. Emotions, thoughts, and desires are valid, but attachment to them adds suffering to your life, according to ancient wisdom traditions such as Buddhism.
3. Play the Long Game
The phrase “play the long game” comes from sports. In football, it’s a strategy to advance downfield by throwing the ball to a receiving player. In life, the phrase means to have a long-term strategy. It’s generally lauded as being a good strategy.
Minutia can distract you from what matters in the long run. Think about the seemingly endless things that pop up in a day. They can send you spinning in directions you oftentimes don’t need to go in. When you keep your focus forward and on the bigger picture, you spend less time on the small stuff.
4. Be Strategic with Time
Although a big picture is important to creating a meaningful life, the fact is that there are daily tasks that you have to get done: chores, errands, projects, and commutes to and from work. If you’re not thoughtful about how you approach these tasks, you either lose time doing them or you perceive you have less time because of them.
Take my weekday commute as an example. It’s 25 minutes in and out of the city by train every day. And although commuting can feel like a time-suck, I’m determined to make those 50 minutes a day some of my best-spent minutes. Sometimes I use the time to write, read, listen to music, or get important work done. But more often than not, I use the time to simply be and do nothing. This non-doing time creates more space in my mind and in my day.
5. Proof Everything
Whether it’s a line item in the budget, a contract, or even a text to a friend, the more you get into the habit of proofing everything, the less you have to do later. You may spend a few extra minutes up front, but it means catching errors that will save you from having to redo or correct things.
6. Don’t Let Great Stand in the Way of Good
At first glance, this might sound like a slight contradiction to tip No. 5. However, the idea here is not to cease trying to do things well; it’s to watch perfectionistic tendencies. As a recovering perfectionist, I can assure you from years of firsthand experience that I created mounds of unnecessary work for myself. I overdid everything and spent countless hours climbing a false summit, even on things that didn’t require it.
The result? Stress, anxiety, and ultimately burnout. It was a terrible way to exist and it definitely wasn’t living.
Life eventually taught me that it’s OK to strive for greatness in some areas of life, namely the things you deem most meaningful and important, but not everything has to be great. Good is good enough when it comes to many things. It’s up to you to determine your nonnegotiables (see above) or those life matters that sit atop your life’s true summit. Once you identify those, your to-dos naturally begin to fall off or into their appropriate importance columns.
According to some researchers, approximately 98 percent of the population are not good at multitasking. Others believe that multitasking is a myth because the conscious brain can’t actually focus on two cognitive tasks at a time. What looks like multitasking is actually “task switching,” moving quickly between two or more tasks. The constant task switching creates distraction, and diminishes the quality and creativity of your work.
Single-tasking, on the other hand, keeps you focused. Leo Babauta, the author of the Zen Habits blog, recommends single-tasking tactics like only having one internet browser or app open at a time, or going completely digital-free for a set block of time while only doing what’s most important.
8. Know That You’re Deeply Loveable and Enough
So often, you may look to family or friends to feel like you’re loveable, to feel like you’re enough. When someone suggests otherwise or rejects you in some way, you may think that maybe you didn’t do enough or you question your own worthiness. The result of putting your self-worth into the hands of other human beings can leave you wanting, clinging, chasing, dissatisfied, and ultimately heartbroken like nothing else.
It’s not that others aren’t capable of loving or that they’re bad people. The problem lies in this simple truth: You cannot expect from others what you cannot give yourself.
Remember: You are worthy of love and you have the ability to love yourself. In fact, you need to love yourself first and foremost. It’s not selfish; it’s essential.
When you grant yourself permission to be vulnerable with yourself, you finally meet yourself and understand you are the love you’ve been searching for. It’s been there all along. Sit with it. Feel it. Project it outward. And, then, watch as your family, friends, and even coworkers reflect it back with ease. You don’t have to do anything more. It’s enough.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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