Week One: Slow Down And Do Less

What is Simplicity?
Simplicity is the attempt to see clearly -- to know what's important and what matters most. It's taking stock of your life and stripping away the inessential. At the heart of simplicity is the process of self-examination and self-discovery -- deciding what you need to be happy. Simplicity is the age-old search for happiness. It is the art of living fully and being fully alive.

No two people will take exactly the same path to living simply. For instance, some of you, as you begin to simplify, will cook more meals at home. Others will avoid cooking as much as possible. Simplicity is living consciously and deliberately, so you must choose what works for you.

Simplifying Together
Group support is a key element of simplifying your life. Many people have realized that just reading a book or going to a one-time class isn't enough to bring about real change in their lives. They get fired up for a few weeks and then slip back into their old habits. The truth is that making any big life change is not easy to do alone. To make lasting changes, you need support.

Which is why thousands of people across the country have formed support groups called simplicity circles. Simplicity circles are groups of people gathering together to lend encouragement and exchange ideas on ways to simplify their lives. For the next five weeks, I want you to consider the Simplify Your Life message board your own simplicity circle. Together, you are going to help each other simplify your lives.

Now that we've established why we're here, you're ready to take the first step in the process. Our focus this week is on slowing down and cutting back.

A lot of people tell me that they regularly feel rushed, frenzied and stressed. They have no time for their friends; they snap at their family; they're not laughing very much. This is no surprise, considering these facts about life in America today:

  • Couples spend an average of 12 minutes a day talking to each other
  • Parents spend 40 minutes a week playing with their children
  • Half of Americans don't get enough sleep

This week I want to help you slow down, so you can start savoring your time, linger over meals, converse with friends, get some rest and listen to what your kids have to say. Why is slowing down an important first step? When you rush, your life just flashes by -- you don't really experience it. Rushing is like gulping down food: you taste nothing. You have no time to look around and connect with your friends or family, or appreciate a sunny afternoon. As you begin to slow down and make more time for yourself, you will be able to focus on what really matters.

Move more slowly through life and you enjoy it more. Why? Because you'll notice what's happening around you and have time to savor and appreciate the good stuff in life.

Rushing Can Be a Waste of Time
When you rush, things inevitably go wrong and you end up wasting time. I remember one time when I was rushing to make lunch for my son, and the jar of mayonnaise slipped out of my hands and splattered all over the tile floor. In the end, it took me twice as long to prepare his lunch and the whole experience put me in a bad mood. Moving slowly would have avoided all of that. Yes, this is a small example, but in our daily life these small mishaps stop us from enjoying life to the fullest and steal time away from what's important.

I understand that you cannot always avoid rushing. If you're late for work and the kids are about to miss their bus, your morning is sure to involve some hurried behavior. But if you can at least make this scenario the exception and not the rule, you will have made progress.

One way to help yourself slow down and stop rushing is, of course, to do less. Again, this isn't easy -- you have responsibilities to fulfill, I know. But it's impossible to slow down and simplify your life if you continue to do too much.

Only you can decide what actually wastes your time, but there are a few things -- like making too many phone calls or watching too much TV -- that I'll bet are on everyone's list. You have to decide what is it that you want to cut down on. If it's watching television, make it hard to watch by putting the TV in an out-of-the-way place. One woman I know put her television in the closet and it was such a chore to get it out that the family hardly watched it at all.

Once again, you must evaluate your own schedule and decide which time-wasters you should cut out of your day, even if they seem incredibly small or insignificant.

Learning How To Say No
Another aspect of cutting back is learning how to say "no." Now I know this a difficult topic for many women. You feel guilty. You don't want to disappoint family, friends or kids. You want to do it all. And mostly, it's much easier to say "yes!" But learning to say no at appropriate times will simplify your life. Period. We all want to be responsible citizens, to be involved in community activities and so on, but we need to get out of some activities and responsibilities that drain our energy.

When people ask me to do something, I try never to give an answer immediately, because my impulse is always to say yes -- so many things sound interesting. I've learned to tell people that I will get back to them. Then I ask myself, realistically, if I want to do what was asked of me. I also consider: What will be the consequences if I say no? What will be the consequences if I say yes?

If find myself trying to talk myself into doing something, I have learned that is a sign to say no, because in the end I know I won't be happy doing it. So I say that I won't be available, that I will be busy, or just that I have other plans. None of those excuses is a lie. I do have plans, even if they are only to sit and do nothing and enjoy my slowed-down day.

Three components of working towards simplicity are: thinking, talking to others and taking action. As a simplicity circle, we'll discuss all three aspects through journal entries, weekly exercises and talking on line to other members of the Simplify Your Life message board. Here's where to start:

Thinking/ Journal Entry:
The first step in any kind of change is getting a realistic picture of what is really going on in your life. Writing in a journal has been a proven method of tracking your feelings, moods, ideas, experiences and struggles. For the next five weeks, I'd like you to explore these questions in a journal, or online. In the true Simplicity Circle fashion, I also encourage you to discuss your answers on the Simplify Your Life message board. Remember that we can all learn from each other's experiences and struggles -- that's what this challenge is about.

1. When and why are you rushing? Think through your day and ask yourself at what particular times you are rushing. Getting the kids ready for school? Fixing dinner? Try to figure out what factors contribute to your rushing at these times.

Realistically, when do you think you can slow down? Are you interested in slowing down your morning? Your weekends? In the evenings when you get home from work? Be specific.

2. Describe some of the negative things that happen as you are rushing. For instance, think about how you drive when you're late. Are you swearing at the other drivers? Do you snap at your kids in the car? Do you arrive at your destination angry?

Taking Action/Weekly Exercise:
This is only the first week of the Community Challenge. I do not want you to try and change your whole life in one week by trying to do everything more slowly. As you attempt to slow down a little this week, keep in mind there are three basic ways to slow down: You can move slowly in everything you do (which will help you become aware of your actions), reduce multitasking or cut a few of your to-dos.

Exercise 1: Choose one thing you will do more slowly this week. Share your one thing with the members of your simplicity circle on the Simplify Your Life board. Here are some examples of what other people have done to start slowing down and doing less:

Slowing down:
Though some of these slow down examples might seem trite, they are really true exercises in how you can become more aware of your actions. For instance, one of the suggestions I've listed is to walk slower. Now, walking slowly will not simplify your life. But it can help slow down your mind set which is exactly what we want to accomplish this week.

  • Walk more slowly
  • Talk more slowly
  • Do your grocery shopping more slowly.

Reduce multitasking:

  • When you drive: no cell phones, no putting on your makeup
  • When you talk on the phone, no doing email at the same time
  • When someone comes into your office or approaches you at home, put down or stop what you are doing and listen.

Exercise 2. Cut down on one time-waster. Time-wasters are only making your efforts at slowing down more difficult. This should be something small, such as: watch one less television show, let the answering machine pick up the phone one time if you're busy doing something else.

Talking/On line:
Share the one time-waster you're cutting out of your schedule, as well as how you plan on slowing down this week on the Simplify Your Life message board. Remember, the members of your simplicity circle are here to support you and give you feedback -- so share!

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