I used to trudge through the day. I’d get up, go to work, take care of the chores, pay the bills, and go to bed, waking up to do it all over again.
I was getting by, going through the motions. Life worked – sort of. But I wasn’t really happy. I didn’t feel any sense of freedom or control, and I certainly wasn’t energized or excited by much.
Sadly, this mechanical existence is so common that we think it’s normal. Some people seem to feel a sense of purpose, but our own early years of achievement and goal setting seem far behind.
If we have any goals left, they involve making more money, buying a new car or a bigger house, taking an Instagram-worthy vacation, or prepping our kids for a top university so they can get a good career, make good money – and end up just like us.
WE’RE USING THE WRONG KIND OF THERAPY.
This is a soul-deadening reality to face, so we don’t face it. Our way of dealing with it is not to deal with it. How do we make it through another day? I chose several of these behaviors:
• We pick up our phones and scroll, click, post, like, etc.
• We turn on whatever TV series we’re currently binging.
• We enter the world of our favorite video game, creating or fighting to defend something that only exists in pixels on a screen.
• We shop for the latest trends and deals.
• We dream about the weekend.
• We consume junk food.
• We eat something sweet or drink something alcoholic.
We emerge from any of these activities surprised by how much time has passed, how much money we’ve spent, or how ill and wasted we feel because of what we’ve consumed. We’ve successfully distracted ourselves from our boring, interminable lives, but at what cost?
It seems we would rather escape than wake up and live.
The good news is that it’s possible to create a life from which you don’t want to escape! It’s possible to find a sense of purpose and direction every day. It’s possible to find a life of meaning and joy.
STOP ESCAPING AND START LIVING.
1. Turn off auto-pilot.
Life seems dull and monotonous because we never pay attention to what we’re doing while we’re doing it. Time slips past unnoticed and days blur together. Mindlessness and distraction actually waste our lives.
When I began paying more attention, I was able to see that each day is distinct. Instead of feeling dragged down by tasks and stressors, I started to gain hope and energy as I savored the pleasant things I’d been missing.
Increased focus also makes it possible to deal more effectively with the problems that arise – in fact, your sharpened attention may help you to anticipate and avoid some of them. You’ll feel less anxiety when you’re able to give your best efforts to the things that matter.
I had plenty of blessings, but I was used to ignoring them. Instead, I spent my time thinking about all of the things I didn’t have and wanted to acquire. This unsatisfied mindset fostered greed and envy, which made me miserable.
When we practice gratitude, we start to pay attention to the good things in our lives. As we continue to look for things to appreciate, our brains will naturally notice more and more of them (this is a phenomenon called confirmation bias). We become more positive, more confident, more content, and a great deal happier.
3. Control consumption.
We’re more than cogs in a capitalist machine, more than viewers of news and entertainment, more than followers. We’re meant to be more than mindless, passive consumers.
There are several ways to start breaking consumption habits:
• Decide that you won’t shop unless you have a purpose.
• Set time limits for social media and other apps.
• Consider choosing one trusted news source that you check once a day.
• Make binge-watching for entertainment a rare indulgence.
• Simplify meal planning so you eat more intentionally
• Set limits on drinks or desserts or whatever usually tempts you to overindulge.
When I replaced consumer habits with activities like reading a book, taking a walk, listening to music, working at a hobby, or talking with a friend, I found myself with more ideas, more energy, more creativity, and the joys of intimacy and connection.
4. Make plans.
No matter what we do with it, today will pass. A week will go by. A month, a year, a lifetime. We can passively waste the time, energy, opportunities, and talents God has given us, or we can make plans to use them.
You don’t have to decide everything at once. In fact, by starting with small plans you’re able to be more adaptable, changing direction as you see more options.
Let’s say you start saving for a trip to Spain, as did a friend of mine. As you learn more about the possibilities, your interest is piqued by the Camino de Santiago, the time-honored pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela. In the case of my friend, his plan gradually expanded to a 45-day odyssey. He has spent the last two years in preparation, walking (eventually up to 12 miles per day), doing yoga, and studying Spanish. Today he’s in northern Spain, walking the 500-mile French Way with his brother. What an unexpected life adventure!
I started blogging in 2018 with the plan of writing more regularly. At that time, I had no idea my blog would develop as it has – with well over 400 posts and thousands of subscribers, the inspiration for twelve published books! I started small, and step by step have arrived where I am. You can do the same.
Every time I visit my grandsons they have learned something new. New vocabulary, new physical and cognitive skills, new ideas, and tons of new questions! But somewhere along the line, a lot of us stop trying to learn new things. We may grudgingly accommodate a new computer system at work, or passively absorb the words of a new popular song or the storyline of a trending TV show, but we rarely seek out knowledge for its own sake.
When you decide you don’t need to (or can’t) learn anymore, your brain becomes less plastic – that is, less able to change and create new mental connections. But you can reverse this trend and remain vibrant and energetic by embracing new challenges.
When you take your child to music class, art class, or karate, don’t just sit in the car answering emails or playing with your phone – pay attention to the lesson or even practice with your child. Take up a new hobby, sample a new cuisine, learn a new board game, try – or watch – a new sport. Read a book on a subject you know nothing about; watch a foreign-language movie. Don’t get stuck in one point of view, but test your assumptions by considering the merits of a different opinion.
It’s not important to become highly skilled in these new areas. As adults, we tend to put pressure on ourselves with goals. We fear looking incompetent. But the point isn’t mastery – it’s resilience, creativity, and joy. As author Tom Vanderbilt writes, “It seems that the jack of all trades – the perpetual beginner – may have a sharper brain than the master of one single ability. Each time you begin to learn a new skill, you’re reshaping. You’re training your brain again to be more efficient.”
And you’re making yourself, and your life, more interesting, meaningful, and full of purpose and satisfaction!
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother who has been choosing a simpler life for over 20 years. She is the author of several books about minimalism, and blogs at Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff.