Minimalism is the constant art of editing your life.
Minimalism is a reminder that the Cave exists, but it is not an assault on the Cave itself or the people who live in it.
Counter-intuitively, minimalism isn’t about minimizing, instead it is about maximizing what really matters in life.
It Starts with a Story
Real life is not like a Disney movie. Adults have many responsibilities (including but not limited to time and money), many difficulties (time and money) and many limitations (again, time and money).
Like life itself, the journey from depression to happiness is not a straight line. There isn’t a formula or clever acronym that magically solves problems. There isn’t a seminar you can attend to become immediately successful or a blog post you can read to attain fulfillment. Instead it is a lot of hard work and a lot of trial and error.
Notice that the end isn’t happiness itself. Happiness isn’t a destination. It isn’t a place you end up after leveling-up, or a checkbox that you check off after accomplishing even your most well-intentioned dream.
Happiness is the result of a life well lived.
Addition Isn’t Possible Without Subtraction
Like you and I, Benjamin Franklin had a constant barrage of things (including the bad habits of others and himself) trying to add to his already full daily routine. He was successful and lived life well because he actively focused on the subtraction of what was not vital.
This idea — addition isn’t possible without subtraction — is the root cause of all failed good intentions and ambitious goals. To most—the goals they set are worthwhile—but the required subtractions are not. Without the focus on subtraction, the shackles of the Cave keep their hold.
It appeared that the trick to living life well was to focus on what could be subtracted in a world full of needless additions.
Start Your Day off Right…the Night Before
By far, the best strategy you can use for maximizing your effectiveness is to prioritize your actions. As you likely already know, not all actions are created equally. They need to be prioritized so that you don’t fall into the trap of being busy with endless minutia.
In order to accomplish this, finish each day by prioritizing your actions for the following day.
An Action Must Be Simple
As a base unit, it is imperative that individual actions remain actually individual. For example, when adding a to-do list action to your list, you may be tempted to add something like “call neighbor and discuss overgrown tree.” If this is a task that you are dreading, your mind is going to work hard to prevent you from doing this. One of the mind’s most utilized tricks is to come up with blockers. In the example before, this may be your mind telling you that you don’t actually know the neighbor’s phone number, which means you can’t complete the task.
Modern societies love the idea of multitasking. The idea goes that by multitasking you can accomplish two or three as many tasks in a day if you simply do them concurrently. The problem is, for the vast majority of people, multitasking simply doesn’t work. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that interruptions as brief as two seconds were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task.
Focus is hard enough to maintain as it is. Trying to split focus two or even three ways inevitably dilutes your effectiveness at any given task.
Work the Right Way
With smartphones and laptops, it is incredibly easy to work while in your bed. Unfortunately, this habit forms a mental trap. Once you associate your bed with the parts of your brain that allow you to concentrate on work, it becomes very hard to break this association.
At night in your bed, a time and place where you had previously trained yourself to sleep, your brain now associates it with work and you are left unable to get the sleep you need.
Break this habit by making a strict ”no working in bed” policy. (One of my editors uses the strict rule that beds are only for sleeping and sex, no exceptions!) Instead of checking your phone while still tucked under the covers, form the habit of moving to what you have declared a “work only location” (maybe a specific chair or home desk) and start your phone-checking there.
Starting New Habits
There is not a ”one size fits all” plan for implementing habits. While the formula is simple (start with a cue, do the same action or series of actions many times, always end with a reward), the context of previously existing habits is extremely complex and personal. That said, there are different tools that work for different situations. In my experience, the most useful methods for creating new habits are as follows:
The Reward Method
This is the most popular method for creating new habits. The idea is simple. To implement this method, simply reward yourself with something each time you successfully complete the desired action or series of actions. The rewards don’t need to be big, a simple piece of candy or a cheerful high five can be enough. A common example of this is people who reward themselves by listening to their favorite song after completing a predetermined amount of steps during the day.
The Shame Method
This method is the exact opposite of the reward method. Rather than rewarding yourself for completing a desired series of actions, this method has you punish or shame yourself for not completing the desired goal. In many cases this method can be more effective than the reward based method, as humans tend to react more strongly to negative social stimuli than they do to positive social stimuli. (e.g., insults tend to hurt more than compliments feel good). A common example of this method is by giving a friend or charity a large sum of money if you do not complete a series of actions daily for a set period of time.
The Discipline Method
For most people, this is the least successful method of the group. This method requires no external stimuli and instead requires you to be strong headed and push your habit into existence. A common example of this is weightlifters who develop habits simply by pushing themselves to work hard every time they go to the gym.
The method that will work best for you will vary depending on which habits you already have in place and how positive and negative stimuli affect you individually. The trick is to experiment and figure out your most successful method.