Radical Simplification: Three Practices for a Fulfilling Life

July 30, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Surgeon General’s Warning: Living a busy and complex life causes heart disease and has been found to be dangerous to the health of your soul and will distract you from what needs attention in your life.

You live in a culture that encourages success, not fulfillment. If you really want fulfillment you’ll have to work for it and risk feeling like the odd duck sometimes.

You’re not short on opportunities. That’s both the good news and the bad. The information, money and options you have come at a price. Our competition, comparing ourselves to one another, idealizing independence, and spending a lot of time working have made America great in many ways. Yet these norms fragment us and distract us from what we value most.

To avoid assimilation in this culture, practice radical simplification, real conversation and stillness.

Radical Simplification

Radical simplification is based on the principle that less is more. It requires setting boundaries and simplifying areas of your life to the point that you change on the inside, such as:

  • Selling the condo or boat you seldom use
  • Limiting social engagements to once a week or once a month
  • Simplifying your investment programs and management
  • Replacing an elaborate vacation with a “staycation” that includes hikes, bike rides, cookouts, and movie nights
  • Dropping a sport from the kids’ schedules (one vs. two or two vs. three or local vs. travel)

You’ve accumulated tangible and intangible assets. When assets start to clutter your mind and your life they’ve become liabilities. Radical simplification involves purging these liabilities from your calendar, inbox and basement.

Radical simplification takes commitment because it’s hard to say no. Saying “no” is admitting that you have a limitation; that you’re over-loaded or can’t do it all.

I have a friend whose wife gets anxious whenever there’s no a major vacation on the books for her to look forward to. Without a trip on the near horizon, she feels trapped and exhausted. To calm the storm, my friend plans a trip to an exotic resort where his family can escape to a lounge chair by a pool.

I love to travel and be spoiled and there is value in resting away from home. Yet many of the needs you attempt to meet by taking a vacation can be met more simply and sustainably in your own backyard. Vacations are great escapes but they provide only short term benefits and distract your from what really needs to be addressed, all at the cost of complex logistics and money. In fact, most of the time when you think you need a vacation, what you’re in real need of is a greater challenge (we’ll save that for another Musing).

A walk in your neighborhood may serve you better—especially if it’s with someone you care about and with whom you can express what you care about. Walking is just one example of a simple practice that brings you present to your life and never grows old.

What area of your life needs radical simplification? What one radically simple thing can you do each week?

Real Conversation

It takes discipline to increase the passion and feeling of connection you get from your relationships.

A client recently shared his disappointment over losing a piece of new business. I appreciated his honesty when he told me that what really hurt was that he was looking forward to building a personal relationship with the prospect company’s CEO.

As he surveyed his life, he noticed that long hours at the office and an intense focus on business development over the past six months left him feeling disconnected from co-workers and his wife. He had not seen his YPO Forum mates for three months and had no time to spend with friends. His connection tank was empty. He didn’t want more business, he wanted a friend.

How full is your connection tank? It’s easy for me to walk around my own home and stay at a superficial level with my wife and two teens. In fact, I can do this for days on end. After a while, though, I feel lonely and as if I need a vacation with my family to get to know them again.

It requires intention and risk to truly know someone (especially if you’ve known the person for a long time). It takes work and vulnerability to move a conversation off the topics of the national debt ceiling and your new kitchen to more vulnerable topics like the health of your marriage, how you’re going to pay college tuition, successful empty nesting, and your sadness or frustration about your aging parents. Yet this fills your connection tank and is essential in leading a fulfilling life and rebuilding lost community.

Who are the three to five people in your life you can really invest in getting to know?

Stillness

Simple activities and authentic conversation allow you to make a more honest assessment of your life. Without stillness there’s no opportunity to listen to your inner life. The ability to discern what’s working and what’s not, and to notice what’s alive (or not so alive) inside you is vital for fulfillment and growth.

Consider a daily practice of taking ten to twenty minutes to slow down, quiet down and be still. And, no, you can’t do this in front of a television or martini glass—these are ways to slow down but they are also ways to check out.

You’re constantly presented with opportunities to move away from your life. Your mind will try to convince you that it’s better to move away from the stress and pain of the moment.

Don’t be fooled. The way to fulfillment is moving toward what’s painful so you can change things, either circumstances or your relationship to them. Doing things to numb out perpetuates what’s not working.

What does your stillness practice look like? Sitting for ten minutes after your morning workout? Spending ten minutes on a bench in the backyard every evening? Being fully present for ten minutes while sitting quietly in seat 6D on a United flight to New York?

Who thought transforming your life would be so simple? These practices aren’t difficult to do. Yet it takes discipline and commitment to live in a vortex that tries to pull you toward success at the cost of fulfillment.

Be an odd duck for a month—you as well as your co-workers and loved ones will be grateful.

Filed in: Musings, Work/Life Balance | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author (Author Profile)

Executive coach, top team facilitator, author and speaker. I work with individual leaders and their teams to help navigate personal and professional transitions and to increase leadership capacity and improve communication and relationship skills. I founded my coaching firm in 2001 following 12 years asa CEO. Check out more on me and my coaching process in my book "The Business of Wanting More: Why Some Executives Move from Success to Fulfillment and Others Don't"

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