5 Basic Principles for More Mindful (and Sustainable) Living.
‘In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.’ Eleanor Roosevelt
The first step toward more mindful living is awareness. Know what you consume and why. So often, the number of micro decisions we make every day add up so quickly that we don’t even realize the static it has created in our lives. This background noise weighs us down and can impair our ability choose what we really want — in both the short and long-term. Technically, it’s called decision fatigue and it leads to instant gratification decisions. It means that that often all the small decisions you have to make in a day leads you to be overwhelmed, and you might not even realize that having to make all those micro-decisions is what is zapping your energy, stressing you out, or the culprit behind why you skipped yoga class, had one too many drinks after work, ate that third cupcake, or watched an entire series of Arrested Development even though you’ve already seen it twice.
Think about the number of decisions bombarding you the moment you get out of bed. What should I wear today, how should I do my hair, what shoes should I wear, what bag, what jewelry? What’s for breakfast, what should I pack for lunch? Who’s taking the kids to school?Did someone feed the dog? Wrapped up in those decisions are also little mental checklists. I need to clean out the fridge, those presents need to be wrapped, I should pick up more milk after work, that plant needs water. By the time you leave for work you’ve already spent a great deal of mental energy —and you haven’t even gotten to the important decisions of your day.
With all of these decisions to make, It’s no wonder that we often move through our day on auto-pilot. We end up choosing what’s convenient instead of what is better for us -mentally, emotionally, or financial. Often we end up buying more than we need and that only adds to the clutter in our homes and our minds.
Basically, small decisions wear us down. They leave us unable respond to important decisions the way we really want. They affect the way we live day to day, the state of our health, and our financial position. Being aware of our environment and our consumptions habits is the first step in living more mindfully. With awareness come the immediately choice to start making changes.
“Cleaning is the act of confronting nature, tidying is the act of confronting ourselves.” Marie Kondo
Now that you’re aware of how you’re spending your time and money you are better able to evaluate if your current choices reflect your ideal lifestyle. In the book, the Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, author Marie Kondo says, “Cleaning is the act of confronting nature, tidying is the act of confronting ourselves.”
I love this quote because awareness is the most important part about living mindfully. Being aware of how we spend our time and money, what we consume and why, brings us face to face with ourselves. It helps us understand our habits and decidedly switch off auto-pilot for long enough to create new habits that are better for us, our families, and our environment. Knowing what we’re choosing is what will make all the difference.
So focus on what truly makes you happy. Life is short and you don’t want to wait until there’s a health or life crisis to make a change. Life the life you want - even if you have to take small steps toward the goal — it is possible.
For some people, visualizing their ideal lifestyle includes spending more time with friends and family. For others it’s finding the time to exercise, hike, bike, kayak, learning to play a musical instrument, or going to concerts. Or maybe it’s finally working on a passion project, not being rushed, eating home-made meals, going for walks, or playing games with your kids. For others, it might be dedicating themselves to their profession or volunteering for a cause they’re passionate about.
Whatever your ideal lifestyle is, it’s important to refocus your attention on making that lifestyle a reality, which might mean giving something else up.
Clutter is like inviting people you don’t like to your birthday party. Instead of having fun, you’re constantly dodging the people you don’t like to get to the ones you do.
You’re aware. You’ve refocused your attention and decided to make some changes. The third principle of living more mindfully is to actively choose what (and who) you surround yourself with.
It’s incredible how much stuff can pile up when weren’t thinking about it. This extra stuff weighs us down and hinders our ability to make the choices we want. Keeping stuff for hobbies that we’ve lost interest in can make us feel guilty for spending the money on it in the first place, or can make us feel bad because we haven’t finished it. Duplicates take up space and make it difficult to store things properly, because there isn’t enough room in our drawers and closets. Clothing that doesn’t fit or we’ve never worn makes it harder to choose what to wear, because we have to first establish what we like, if it fits, and if its appropriate for whatever event we’re headed to. Holding onto toys our kids have grown out of might mean we’re holding onto the past instead of living in the present. There is luxury in less. Downsizing is the the new upsizing. So donate the stuff you don’t need anymore and give everything else a home. This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything and live a mininalist lifestyle, it just means that you’re actively choosing what serves you and your lifestyle goals, and saying goodby to the rest. Trust me, it’s going to feel so good.
‘The folly of endless consumerism sends us on a wild goose-chase for happiness through materialism. Bryant H. McGill’
The latest isn’t always the greatest. Quality not quantity is the name of the game. It makes a difference where you shop, what you purchase, and how happy you are with the results. We’ve all been there. How did I end up with the wrong brand/type ‘insert food item’ in my cart. How did I not notice the small hole or the crappy seam on this shirt? Why didn’t I realize I already had 3 of these? Why am I throwing away unused produce, again? Why can’t I ever seem to find enough money to go on vacation?
When you seek to live more mindfully, you start to become more and more aware of how and why’s of your consumption habits. When you choose to consciously consume, you’re mentally asking yourself questions like, ‘Do I have something else that would work the same as this?’, ‘Could I repurpose something I already own?’, ‘Could I borrow this from a friend?’, ‘How many times will I wear this?’, ‘Where was this made?’, ‘Who made it?’, ‘Will it last?’
When you decide to be more thoughtful about what consume you’re more likely to love what you buy (or borrow) and more likely to keep it for longer, which ends up being so much better for you and the environment. You’ll have more time to focus on the things that make you happy, you’ll spend less money, you’ll spend less time having to clean and organize your stuff because you’ve already paired down to the essentials. You’ll have the mental clarity to make better choices for your mental and physical health.
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‘Each step you take reveals a new horizon. You have taken the first step today. Now I challenge you to take another.’ Dan Poynter
Mindful living is essentially being aware of how you spend your days (they become your weeks and years!) and more intentional about what you consume. When we switch off auto-pilot we may find that the choices we make are radically different than how we have been living. Shifting habits takes time. At some point, you may slip back into auto-pilot. It’s okay. You haven’t failed. Just take a moment to redirect your attention and your choices back to the lifestyle that you want. Baby steps.