In 2007 when I began my personal journey toward creating a peaceful, balanced life aligned with my priorities, I realized authentic success required quitting many things. This included not only cutting back on activities but also quitting attitudes that kept me bound to a life driven by production instead of connection.
- I quit trying to maximize the quantity of activities and relationships in my life, and instead, I focused on cultivating quality and depth.
- I quit focusing solely on the quality of work I was doing and started to more deeply value the quality of life I was experiencing.
- I quit attempting to please everyone and began to discover what it meant to please the people who matter most to me, including myself.
If you are on this journey already or have tried to travel it in the past, you may have been quite surprised when you realized that the first sensation following these sorts of changes typically isn't peace but anxiety or fear. I know that most people giving advice on how to make your life better conveniently omit that fact... but it's true.
All of these changes do lead to more peace in the end. But in the process of change and of letting go of what you're used to and what's felt comfortable to you, you'll first experience mental and emotional resistance. This includes having to face some unsightly truths about the motivations that have driven your decisions which may include one or more of the following:
- I derive my sense of self worth from how many appointments I have in a day or how many people want to communicate with me.
- Because I lack a strong internal sense of self acceptance, I rely on others' acceptance to help me feel secure.
- I feel uncomfortable when I'm not fueled by adrenaline and energized by excitement.
The fact that you're uncovering these truths about yourself and feeling discomfort in the process of behavioral change doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong or that you need to stop. Instead, it's a positive signal that you're going through withdrawal, and it's time to add replacement behaviors and aligned thoughts to your life.
In this Zen Habits article on Living the Quiet Life, Leo Babauta offers some excellent suggestions for actions that can draw you away from busyness to tranquility. His ideas include:
Create a little quiet space in the morning.
Meditate for two minutes a day (to start with). Just sit and put your attention on your breath, returning when your thoughts distract you.
When you feel the urge to socialize online, pause. Give yourself a little quiet instead.
When you feel the automatic urge to say "yes" to an invitation, consider saying "no" instead, unless it's something that will truly enrich your life.
Don't take music on a run or walk. Instead, give yourself space with your thoughts.
When someone talks to you, instead of jumping in with something about yourself, just listen. Absorb. Reflect their thoughts back to them. Appreciate their beauty.
Make time for the people closest to you. One-on-one time is best. Really pay attention to them.
Make time for creating, with no distractions.
Spend some time decluttering and creating peaceful space.
Create space between your automatic reaction and your actions (or words). Even one second is enough. In that space, consider whether your reaction is appropriate.
Instead of rushing, take a breath and slow down.
Pay attention to sensations of whatever you're eating, drinking, doing.
Have a daily time for reflection.
Leo's wise advice to end this list: "You don't have to do all of these, and certainly not all at once. A slow, happy progression is best. In the quiet space that you create, in this world of noise and rushing and distraction, is a new world of reflection, peacefulness and beauty. It's a world of your own, and it's worth living in."
My add-on as your time coach is that as you change your actions to ones of more peace and tranquility, to also take a posture of peace and self acceptance toward yourself. This will help you get over the initial anxiety surrounding the change and become a more peaceful, calm person. For example:
- When you start to feel anxious about saying "no" to doing something for someone that would make them happy, but isn't right for you, tell yourself: "My priorities matter too. It's OK for me to choose to do what's right for me and aligned with my priorities."
- When you feel antsy because no one has sent you an e-mail or text in the past few hours -- or minutes -- and you find yourself compulsively checking your inbox for new input (even when you have lots of unanswered messages!), tell yourself: "Is there a certain activity that I'm avoiding that I need to focus on doing right now? If so, I am going to take a step away from my computer and think through what are the next small steps I need to do to move me forward. Or am I looking for validation thatI'm needed and noticed through new messages? If so, I first of all can accept the fact that my value is not tied to the number of communications I receive in a day. Then I can choose to respond to what's already waiting for my reply or if those are taken care of, I can choose to reach out to others in a meaningful way.
- When you feel guilty that you have free time and choose to use it to sleep, to read, or to just do nothing -- even though you have gotten quite a bit done in the day -- tell yourself: "It's OK to rest, to be and to choose to do or not do what I feel like doing at the time. Life is to be enjoyed."
Even after many years on my journey of living a peaceful and balanced life, I can notice myself slipping into the habit of organizing my life around doing instead of being. One helpful reminder that I've put in place is a weekly goal to "Watch the Sky." What that means to me is that I consciously give myself space to go to a park and stare into the vastness and beauty of infinity on a regular basis. Something about those moments of watching the sky puts life in perspective for me and gives me great peace.
I encourage you as you approach this coming week and your life in general to consider:
- What would I like to quit doing? thinking?
- What would I like to put in place to live a life of peace and authentic connection with myself and others?
About Real Life E®
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished through an exclusive Schedule Makeover™ process. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through custom training programs.
McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Lifehacker, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals. She was selected as one of the Top 25 Amazing Women of the Year by Stiletto Woman.