In my last post, I introduced my 2021 theme, “less.” I shared my reasons for selecting this theme and highlighted how it’s already helping my husband and me to declutter our home. Last week, we completed “The 30-Day Minimalism Game,” created by The Minimalists, which enabled us to purge over 500 of our extraneous possessions.
In part one of this series, I also introduced the concept of “open goals,” which are focused on progress rather than perfection. Such goals are phrased as aiming to “see how well you can do” in a particular area of your life. I decided to set a few open goals related to my wardrobe and my “less” theme, including seeing how few clothing pieces I can purchase this year and how much I can reduce the size of my “out-and-about” wardrobe.
In today’s essay, I conclude the introduction of my 2021 “less” theme. While part one addressed the more tangible areas of my life – my home and my wardrobe, part two centers around more intangible topics, including my relationships with myself, others, and time. Included below are some of the other ways I’d like the concept of “less” to impact my life experience throughout this year.
I have long been what one might consider a “worrywart” (or alternatively, a “worryhorse” – my father-in-law mistakenly used that word in Scrabble once, and it was added to the family lexicon). I worry about what might happen in the future, what might go wrong, and especially about what other people think. I live far too much of my life inside the minds of others, which robs me of my peace.
An old saying goes, “What you think of me is none of my business” (which I just learned is the title of a book by Terry Cole-Whittaker, which I should probably read!). Yet I continually make it my business, even though I have little control over whether others will like me or approve of me. I even worry about whether those who I don’t like will like me, which is just plain crazy!
I want to live my life more for myself. If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that life is short. No one really knows when things will get back to some semblance of “normal,” and I regret that I squandered so much of my precious pre-pandemic time being overly concerned with what other people think. No matter who we are or what we do, there will always be those who won’t like us. It’s really out of our control! So I want to devote much less time and energy toward trying to please other people, including the members of my family. I have to do what’s right for me and own it.
It also makes little sense to worry about what might happen in the future or what might go wrong, because who could have predicted the events of 2020?! We would all be well-served to take life as it comes, spend more time on what brings us happiness, and live our precious and one and only lives in the present moment, as that is where peace and joy reside. I am reminded of the wonderful quote below from Mary Oliver, which is actually a question that is worth pondering for all of us, not with guilt, but with a sense of embracing that which makes our hearts sing.
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I wrote about this topic in my recap of my “enough” theme, as it was something that I started working on last year. I took some steps in the right direction in 2020, but I need to continue placing focus on having fewer “shoulds” in my life this year. I do myself a disservice when I create overly long to-do lists or set unrealistic expectations for what I can get done in a given day, week, month, or year. Not only am I creating very few goals for myself in 2021, I’m also going to keep my to-do lists short. I realized that I placed too much pressure on myself to accomplish a lot of tasks, which led me to feeling overwhelmed and ultimately defeated.
I do have a master to-do list on my computer (a Google sheet), but I don’t have dates attached to any of the items. I still use a paper planner, but the version I bought for 2021 only has spaces for each week’s “top three” items. While each day’s section includes a “to-do” section, I have crossed out the words “to-do” and replaced them with “what I did.” This keeps the focus on celebrating what I accomplish, instead of on lamenting what I didn’t get done. I still use the “just one thing” approach most days, but sometimes I choose to take things as they come and trust that I’ll devote time and energy to what is most important to me on that given day.
I’m really working on being less of a “human doing” and more of a human being, because who we are inside matters so much more than what we do and accomplish. I’m also trying to focus more on doing things that make me happy each day, including spending time outdoors, going for walks, being creative, learning new things, relaxing with my husband and my cats, baking, watching my favorite television shows and movies, listening to podcasts, and getting in a few good laughs. I hope to add back in activities like getting together with friends and going to restaurants, the theater, the gym, and the mall before too long as well. Fingers crossed that this will happen in 2021, but I’m grateful for the other activities that I mentioned that I’m able to safely do during the pandemic.
I still struggle with over-consuming news and information. This has been especially true during the past few months, with the election and its aftermath, the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, and the worsening political and social strife in the country and the world. But I’ve noticed that I have a sort of “tipping point,” beyond which the news that I read or watch doesn’t add to my life and instead brings me intense anxiety and a lack of inner peace. The news can be so addictive, particularly during scary times when we want to know what’s going on and are looking for reassurance that things will be okay. Sadly, we usually don’t get that type of reassurance from the news and instead feel a deeper sense of doom.
Early on in the pandemic, I suggested that my mother (who’s a senior and lives alone) limit her news intake to thirty minutes per day or less (which she says she has done). At the time, I was heeding my own advice, but I let that slip over the past few months. I mostly read news rather than watch it, but that takes a toll as well. So as part of my “less” theme for 2021, I plan to consume less news. I like to stay informed, but I can easily do that within the parameter that I recommended to my mother. For the sake of my mental health and well-being, I’m going to read and watch less news this year. This will also help with another goal of experiencing less anxiety, as will my intentions for fewer “shoulds” and less worrying about the future and what other people think.
Procrastination is another big problem for me. I tend to put off things that I both need and want to do, often blowing them way out of proportion for how difficult they truly are. I’ve realized that my perfectionism is partly to blame for my procrastination, as the things I tend to postpone are generally tasks that I either don’t know how to do or fear that I won’t do well. Interestingly, some of these dreaded tasks take thirty minutes or less to complete, so I’m making proverbial mountains out of molehills! Even for the lengthier tasks, if I take small steps on a daily or semi-daily basis, I’ll eventually complete them – and usually in less time and with less effort than I anticipated.
My objective for less procrastination may seem at odds with my parallel desire for fewer (less) “shoulds,” but I think I can find a way around that. If I stick to the “just one thing” approach and designate one of my “frogs” as that item (from Brian Tracy’s, Eat That Frog, a “frog” is an important task that we procrastinate about getting done), I can minimize my “shoulds” and procrastination at the same time.
I think procrastination is a way that I’m mean to myself. Not only does it stop me from doing things that matter to me, it also leads to my beating myself up and believing that I’m incompetent. I don’t want to beat myself up anymore and I don’t want to keep putting things off that will potentially increase my happiness, including my creative pursuits (like this blog). So I’m going to start small…
I remember reading about a decluttering technique for people who want to pare down their possessions but keep putting it off. The recommendation was to set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that time clearing out a drawer, shelf, or whatever. When the timer goes off, you have fulfilled your commitment for that day and can stop – without guilt. Of course, people often get into a sort of “rhythm” and carry on at that point, but the key is that they don’t have to. I’ve learned that I can be a “slow starter” and need to get over a sort of “hump” before it becomes easy to keep going. This is definitely true with writing these blog posts! But if I push myself to start, it often doesn’t take long before I actually want to keep going.
Part of why I want to start writing shorter posts (I know I’m not really doing this yet!) is that I can build the act of writing a blog post into a monumental task in my mind. This makes sense because it often takes me a number of hours to complete, edit, and publish a typical blog post. So I don’t even get started because the process feels so overwhelming. My hope is that the combination of starting small (with the 15 minutes on the timer) and my plan to write shorter posts will lead to my publishing more posts this year. This approach will hopefully help me with other creative and personal pursuits as well.
Less Self-Criticism and Comparison
This is a big one and was also part of my “enough” focus last year. I’m pleased with the progress I made in 2020 toward believing I am enough and cutting myself down less often, but there is still work to be done here. A big part of why I criticize myself so much is that I compare myself too often to others. These comparisons are often not at all fair to myself, either. For instance, I will compare my appearance to that of women who are either much younger than I am or to celebrities in my age range (both Halle Berry and Salma Hayak are within a month of my age, for example, but as my husband says, “they have people”). I also compare myself to more “successful” writers and bloggers. In both instances, I come out sorely lacking, which compounds my negative feelings toward myself. This is a big reason for the wise saying:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I even compare myself to myself at a younger age, which also isn’t fair to me! We’re all evolving and changing as we go through life. While I might not look as good as I did when I was younger, I am definitely better in some ways, but I don’t even need to go there because it’s still comparison. We are all on our own journeys and, as I wrote earlier, peace and joy reside in the present moment. When I’m comparing myself to others or to myself at an earlier stage of life, that takes me out of now and into a space that is not present and peaceful. I don’t need to do that – and I don’t want to do that anymore.
I’ve lived over half a century beating myself up and feeling less than. This is not something I want to do anymore, not with my one and only precious life! So I’m going to work on doing less self-criticism – and less comparison – this year. It won’t be easy for me because old habits die hard, but I made some good progress last year and I believe that I can continue moving in a positive direction this year in terms of self-compassion, being true to myself, and living in the now.
And Then There’s More…
Now that I’ve told you what I want less of in 2021, I want to close by highlighting the things that I want more of this year. Since I’ll be cutting down on worry, “shoulds,” news, procrastination, self-criticism, and comparison, I’ll have more space in my life and my heart for the things I want more of, including:
- More love – for self, others, and life
- More inner peace
- More joy
- More presence
- More creativity
- More productivity (but from a place of joy rather than a place of obligation and “should”)
- More time spent in nature
- More time spent doing things I enjoy
- More gratitude for what I have
- More trying and experiencing new things
- More health and vitality (I sincerely hope!)
- More connection with like-minded people
- More LIFE!
That was just some brainstorming on “more,” but I’m sure I’ll come up with other things to add to this positive and life-affirming list during my year of less. Yes, I know it sounds ironic, but less is more! As less of the “bad” things permeate my life, there will more space for the good things to naturally creep in, without a ton of effort on my part.
This concludes my two-part series introducing my “less” theme for 2021. I feel really good about this theme and how it will potentially impact my life over the course of the next eleven months. I’ll check in from time to time on some of the topics I introduced in this post and the last one.
I welcome any thoughts you have on what I’ve written here, and if you didn’t share your 2021 word/theme last time, please feel free to do so now. Also, if you don’t have a word for this year, but you have goals or intentions you’d like to share, I’d love to read about those, too. I always enjoy reading your comments, whether you’re a regular commenter or are weighing in for the first time. The more the merrier!