Give your complicated life an overhaul

May 19 2017 09:25
Amanda Visser

Most people are rushing and racing through each day trying to survive. To do this, they have to make money – and more money. Ultimately, they endeavour to reach a point where they can live a simple life.  

However, consumed by this mad rush, they find that they themselves – their lives, relationships, finance and health – have become so darn complicated. Simplicity seems like a luxury.  

The authors of How to Simplify your Life, Tiki Kustenmacher and Lothar J. Seiwert, reckon the way of simplification triggers a sort of “a-ha effect”. 

“The biggest stress factor for your mind is multiple tasks. This applies to everything we do. If you do not know where to start, you cannot make progress.”  

The authors compare the way of simplification to a pyramid. The pyramid is made up of seven steps to get to the top – each one representing the various areas of life.   

Step 1: Simplify your things

Apparently each person, on average, owns over 10 000 “things”. These items are part of the lowest step on the pyramid. Simplifying this part of your life does not mean that you have to become a minimalist or that you have to have your office or house in perfect order. It simply means to declutter.  

Imagine clearing your office or a room in your house by dividing the floor or an additional table into four areas. 

Area for throwing away: Earmark the biggest space for this. Get rid of those old Christmas cards, or those maps or old presentations.

Area for “forwarding”: Everything that you can pass on to others to deal with. Include everyone in this process – family members, colleagues or even a charity organisation.

Area for important stuff: Make sure there is a clear plan for each of the items that lands in this area.

Area for immediate action: These are objects that should be cleared the minute the decluttering process starts.  

Step 2: Simplify your finances

The authors refer to a Tibetan saying about the proper measure of wealth: a person is rich when they know that they have enough. People have a few mental barriers that prevent them from simplifying their finances. These include worrying about the “what ifs”, dreaming of winning the lottery, and having the word “but” in their minds and when they have conversations. 

Step 3: Simplify your time

The authors ask an extremely pertinent question – how is it that some people have no time while others get bored easily? When someone has no time, the disorder is not in their time, but in their tasks. There are simply too many things to do. “Simplification does not mean ‘saving time’ but rather ‘saving tasks’.”

According to the authors this notion that perfection is achievable is a myth of modern industrial society. It has been hammered into our unconscious minds millions of times by advertising, which is trying to convince us that we could have the perfect house, a stunning body or complete financial plan for retirement.  

Their advice is to prioritise tasks and keep to them, to realise that not everything is possible and that you need to be able to say no and mean it. 

Step 4: Simplify your health

The authors stress that being healthy means more than just not being ill: “But being healthy also means being allowed to be ill.  

“There is hardly any other level of your life pyramid where making a positive start is as important as it is here.” 

And there are truly simple ways of simplification. Physical exercise causes beta-endorphins to be released in the body. Kustenmacher says the ideal activity would be dancing, which combines the positive effect of music with social contact.  

However, taking the stairs, walking, gardening or jogging will also do the trick. 

Your diet can also have a huge impact on how you feel. If you have a specific issue to address, try the following foods:

Improve concentration: avocadoes, asparagus, carrots, grapefruit

Enhance memory: milk, nuts, rice

Reduce stress: cottage cheese, almonds, brewer’s yeast

Enhance well-being: beans, peas, tofu

Improve your mood: orange juice, paprika, soybeans, bananas 

You also need to ensure that you get enough sleep. “Do not try to compensate for a period when you sleep much too little by sleeping a lot; that can cause depression and apathy,” the authors warn. 

Step 5: Simplify your relationships 

A life without good relationships is poor and complicated; a life with friends and acquaintances is rich and simple.  

One idea of simplifying relationships is to untangle family ties. The relationship with one’s parents is the most important one. Be aware of their age and that they will not be able to talk openly about everything as you can. Listen to them, cutting them short by saying you have heard a particular story a thousand times is more hurtful than they will let on. 

According to Kustenmacher and Seiwert, one of the biggest factors preventing you from creating lasting relationships is the urge to judge others. Some people just have to criticise: “Clear out your box of judgments and prejudices.”  

Some people also see it as their duty to find solutions to other people’s problems. Realise that you can make your life so much easier and simpler if you restrict yourself to matters that only you can change. 

Step 6: Simplify your life partnership 

The American psychologist John Gray wrote the highly acclaimed book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus in which he illustrates that men and women are fundamentally different in the way they solve problems. 

Men want to solve problems, alone if possible, almost like a handyman. Women see problems as an occasion for communication.

The authors say that many people are frustrated in marriages and partnerships because the other person does not perceive their wants and needs. It is important to make requests properly and to accept “no” as an answer. And, stop nagging. Really.

Start making joint decisions about your old age now. Make that will, decide when you will move into a smaller place and reconcile with whomever you need to. 

“The way of simplification has become more and more serious… this is about final matters,” they add.  

Step 7: Simplify yourself

“Every person – even someone with the most unspectacular, chaotic, or miserable life – has a goal.” According to Kustenmacher and Seiwert this goal is fed from four sources: life itself, your parents’ wishes, your talents and weaknesses and your life’s dream.

Simplify yourself by relieving your conscience of “exaggerated, unhealthy feelings of guilt”. Identify the issues (those little judges sitting on your shoulder) which make you feel guilty. Give them time off. Look for someone to whom you can introduce them, and do not be afraid to reveal more about yourself.

Keep a diary and make sure it is uncensored. Be honest with yourself and make time to write.

Even if you take these steps, it is not to say that your life will be free of stress or problems – i.e. financial worries and stress at work or in your relationships. But at least your life will no longer be a “chaotic entity governed by pure chance”.

This article originally appeared in the 18 May edition of finweekBuy and download the magazine here.

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