Last night I watched Bawarchi, a 1972 Hindi movie. A movie created from the time before I was born! I was planning to watch it just for a little bit – long enough to slow my mind down and go to sleep. But it was so gripping that before I knew it the end credits were flashing on the screen. My preconceived notion that a movie this old couldn’t possibly hold any charm for me today had gone for a toss. And then it hit me.
I realized that ideas that speak to human values, human nature and the things that make a human being happy are really universal truths and can stand the test of time. Not just decades but perhaps also centuries.
Which got me to ponder – what are the ideas that reign over my mind every day? Will these questions be worthy of consideration a few months, a year, a decade or a century from today ? If the answer is no is it possible that this trivial thought does not deserve undue focus from my mind as it has limited importance in the context of my life?
Unfortunately, this is the nature of the larger population of our thoughts. Minuscule trivia rules at least 90% of our brain power leaving precious little for the type of quality thinking that can impact our lives and really impact our planet. This means at best we spend 10% of our time and mental energy on things that have a lasting impact on our lives.
How can we flip the switch on this statistic? It is not like we don’t need to think about what’s for dinner – we do. We do need to buy grocery, cook, clean and organize, check and respond to emails, get dressed for work, drive to work, make small talk and in the middle of all this, find that one thought that will change our lives forever and also, most likely, that of those around us.
One way to declutter our mind is to automate some of the day to day decisions of our lives. Pair down some of the decisions we need to make and reduce the number of options for the decisions we can’t pair down. In addition, evaluate all the things we do on a daily basis and eliminate the time wasters.
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not dispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
“I make myself rich by making my wants fewer“
I have realized that time is my most precious resource in addition to mental energy. We have limited portions of each and therefore we must eliminate anything that does not serve our overarching objectives in life. What to eliminate from your life is a very personal decision. What may be trivial for me might be the most valuable thing you do. So whereas I have provided a list below, I hope you will use this as an indication of what is possible and look at it from the perspective of your own values. Here are some things I have begun to do and some that are on my list to enhance the quality of my life:
- Reduce the number of pots and pans in your kitchen to the bare minimum – no more than one of each size and shape. Move the rest to the garage and bring them in only if you really find the compelling need to do so. If something stays in the garage for 10 weeks, it goes into a donation pile.
- Reduce the number of plates, bowls, spoons, cups and glasses in your kitchen to one for each family member and a couple spare. Move the rest to the garage and bring them in only if you really find a compelling need to do so. If something stays in the garage for 10 weeks, it goes into a donation pile.
- Be careful about portioning your meals. Cook as much as you need. No leftovers means easy clean up after meals and a clean slate to start your next meal with. I am not in favor of batch cooking even though it can save time. That’s because I believe in eating fresh albeit simple food. But if freshly cooked meals is not a priority for you I can see that batch cooking can be a tremendous time saving tool.
- Reduce the variety of dishes you cook on week days to a standard menu of dishes from Monday to Friday. All creative cooking can happen on weekends or a designated day you pick for this purpose
- Reduce daily skincare, hair and make up routine to one look every day. One that I am considering is hair tied back, moisturizer, eye liner and nude toned lipstick.
- Reduce the number of clothes options in your work wardrobe. Since my current employer is casual – my outfit could be skirt/jeans, top (as appropriate for weather) and a light cardigan/jacket. Shoes should be fairly neutral and interchangeable among different outfit choices.
- Perhaps consider a summer and winter wardrobe so that in the off season you can pack and put away those clothes so as not to distract yourself as you pick you daily outfits. I already do this for lounge wear, pajamas and such but would like to consider extending this to my entire wardrobe.
- Be diligent to NOT buy anything that is non perishable for your home unless you are absolutely certain it has long term value. The only object to purchase is one you can see yourself using regularly and for a long time. The more general purpose and less specific an object is, the better. highly specific appliances and tools see very little use and occupy precious real estate in your life and your home. Resist the urge to indulge in impulsive purchases.
- Even perishable foods – vegetables, dairy, produce should all be consciously purchased. Each time we throw away food, think about all the effort that went into growing, transporting, selling, storing, purchasing and again storing, perhaps cooking, moving it around in the fridge, etc. All for nothing because at the end of it all, that item went into trash creating more work for you to discard and trash collectors to pick up and take to a landfill! This cycle will certainly help to improve our conscientiousness on food decisions we make.
- One big change is reducing the amount of TV you watch. There is nothing that can add more hours to your day than this one simple practice of really being mindful about the kind of digital medial you consume and limiting your exposure to mediocre shows and movies. Of course there are those shows that are not really profound but help you relax in the most positive of ways – make sure to watch one episode of such a show daily. It will be your daily pill of relaxation and entertainment. Most important try to stay away from the current trend of binge watching. Glazed eyes watching episode after episode of a show traps your mind and thinking. Needless to say, this is not really conducive to the goals we set for ourselves.
- Keep looking. This above list is just a starting point to show us how much we can eliminate from our lives that is meaningless. If we look carefully, there will be several more items to add to this list. So my goal is to be ever vigilant for any time drainers.
Ok now assume you have made progress in limiting the unnecessary and non value add type of work your brain needs to do daily to get through the day – thereby opening up more time and brain power.
Now how do we mine the gems? How do we come up with thoughts and ideas that are impactful and life changing. Unfortunately, this part is not as straightforward as the first list. Still here are a few ways I have worked to adjust my life to enable these thoughts and creative ideas. Again this list is what I have experimented with myself and is by no means set in stone. Each of us have to find what works best for us and our lifestyle.
- Wake up early – There is nothing like waking up earlier than you need to, by at least 30 to 45 minutes. This will give you some precious ‘me-time’ before you head out to tackle the challenges of the day. This time can be used for a number of different self care activities like drinking lemon tea, practicing yoga, a brief morning meditation, journal writing or whatever it is that makes you feel closest to yourself. The book The Miracle Morning proposes a most wonderful combination of activities that when all done in the morning will have you charged and energetic all day long.
- Create a personal sanctuary. Any part of your home where you know you will not be interrupted or disturbed as you spend time with the most important person in your life – your Self! If space is a constraint consider leaving the home and heading for a nearby park, your back yard, the terrace of your apartment building, a coffee shop… There is no dearth of options for the determined mind.
- First drink of the day – after a night long fast what you first put into your body is important. Several different concoctions/teas are recommended perhaps the most common among them is warm water with lime and honey. I add a bit of dried ginger powder to this to help with digestion.
- Daily solitary walks. There is no denying that walking is one of the best forms of exercise and it works on us on a physical, mental and spiritual level. But it is important for one to be truly present to that walk. Not distract oneself with music, podcasts, meaningless conversation or even a drifting mind that jumps from topic to topic in moments. A good practice to follow is the Buddhist practice of mindful walking. Check out this link to get and idea as to what it is and how one may start.
- Daily pranayam – simple breathing exercises when done slowly and mindfully can help calm and focus the mind. Accordingly these can be a great transition into meditation. Yogic pranayam, particularly the advanced forms are best learned from a trained teacher. However, simple pranayams such as equal in breath and out breath, alternate nostril breathing, can be self taught and have tremendous impact on your mental clarify despite their simplicity. Again, let your body be your guide and proceed mindfully.
- Plan your day – I am a big believer in planning my day, week and year. Perhaps even have some plan for coming years. I have used a bullet journal for the past 3 years to chronicle appointments, deadlines, tasks, meetings and more both for work and personal life. This one tool has had such a tremendous impact on my life.
- Daily journals. Journals, I like to think of as different from planners. Journals are more introspective in nature and planners are more task and event focused. So I tend to keep the two separate even though the two terms are often used interchangeably. I have found that an open ended writing session really helps your inner thoughts to surface. Instead of trying to make your journal entry a narrative of what happened or what you need to do, try to express how you are feeling by simply letting go. Morning pages is a great way to get those ideas flowing.
- Read your journals. Reading your own journal posts is perhaps the most valuable and often overlooked part of the journaling process. If you look back at entries in the recent or distant past you will see how your thought process emerged or changed. You might even pick up an unfinished thought from many years ago and notice how you have found the answer over the elapsed time. It is also impressive how prophetic our journal posts can be. For most items, you will find that you will have achieved all you noted to be your goals as a point in your life. This is the power of attraction at work. That is why it is so important to understand what you want and give it your attention even if you feel like you can’t have it right away, note it in your journal. Perhaps someday in the future you will find yourself reading this journal post, and having already accomplished what might once seemed to be a distant goal.
- Read good books. A plethora of great ideas, thoughts and concepts is available to us if we read good books. There are so many books on meditation, yoga, planning and organizing, self care, self inquiry and so many more topics of lasting value. Ideas that deserve our time and attention. Ideas that can change our perspective. Be careful though and be selective. The overarching objective should always be to find your own truths, your own timeless ideas. If you spend too much energy on someone else’s ideas, when will your own thoughts surface? So use this tool carefully and selectively.
It is not about 3 years since I started this journey of minimalism, introspection and self inquiry. All efforts to create that relationship to the Self which puts me on the path to discoveries that are truly timeless. And I am reaping benefits everyday! I have seen changes in my life that I could never have contemplated before. I have increased courage, confidence and joy. I find myself more deliberate in more areas of my life. Before life was on some kind of autopilot mode where things happened to me and I reacted to them. I walked down this beautiful path without even noticing all the beauty, grace and power that surround me. Now I plan and work for things that I want to happen in my life. Whereas I don’t always get what I want, it is never for want of planning, contemplation and effort on my part. That way, whatever happens, I know I gave my life the best possible shot by being the best version of myself!
I hope theses suggestions help you to create space to become the brilliant humans you were meant to be! At the very minimum, these practices will give you control over your space and time and set you on the path to true happiness!
Dear readers, I would love to hear of your journeys and the tools and suggestions that helped you get to where you wanted to be. So please share them in comments section below. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog.