In therapy, most clients say, “I want to live a simple life.” But when you ask them how they ended up living a complicated life—they’d have no answer.
How do we really complicate our own lives?
Often, we fail to see our own patterns that are contributing to everything we’re experiencing. And by patterns I mean:
- Hoping people would change.
- Saying ‘yes’ even when you don’t want to.
- Making big decisions based on guilt or internal fear
- Taking up more work, when clearly you can delegate.
And even when most of us realize that saying “NO” is the key—we mess up by:
- Telling others what they should and shouldn’t do.
- Trying to get others to admit their mistakes.
- Overexplaining yourself
- Convincing others that you were right.
- Failing to draw your limits.
Life indeed gets complicated with all this. There’s always something on the plate that’s weighing heavy and we run out of balance.
TerriMKozlowski on Reddit had a similar explanation on why life can get complex. The person suggests our need to balance it all—from family, a job, paying bills, to accomplishing personal goals in life.
With all of this occupying your mind, it’s easier to get distracted in day-to-day stressors. “How great would it be if only we had a stop button to slow things down and catch our breaths,” says the reddit user.
I encourage you to take a pause and check-in with yourself—“What does my life look like on a daily basis?” “Am I finding time for things that are meaningful for me?” “What aspects of my life are currently heavier to carry?”
- Check-In with Yourself Questions to Ask Yourself Daily
- 100 Questions to Check-In with Yourself & Cultivate Your Wellbeing
Most of you may already be aware how messed up life is and thus, hesitate to do anything about it. But the good news is—returning from complex to a simple is truly a no-brainer!
All you have to do is redefine how would you live a simple life. But how?
- By stopping to worry about yourself, your bills, and other problems.
- Taking accountability for yourself instead of others’ feelings.
- Worrying about things you CAN control, instead of things you cant.
- Not having to please others out of fear or shame.
- Reframing your expectations towards others.
- Not expecting immediate results.
3 Ways to Live a Simple Life
#1. Make Space for What You Value
If you want to live a simple life but don’t know where to get started—then start with making room for things that really matter. That is what you really value. Think of the moments that have been most meaningful to you in the past week. In contract, think of times when you felt least satisfied with your behavior.
I often play this exercise when I’m at work, doing the routine 9 to 5 and come home dissatisfied and exhausted. It’s a sign that I must prioritize things that align with my values.
There has been a long debate on having a work-life balance and self care. But it doesn’t mean that you have to keep hours separate just to have a life. It means prioritizing time for pursuing what you value, or what brings you satisfaction. Does that make sense now?
- How to Improve Yourself in 10 Minutes
- 7 Self Care Tips to Take Care of Yourself
- 10 Gratitude Prompts to Practise Daily in 2024
One way to know if you’re living by your values is asking yourself—“How do I feel about this?”
- Mismatched values and behavior will leave you unsatisfied.
- You’d feel as if something weighs heavily on you.
- You’d be unfulfilled, waking up and going to bed.
- You’d feel that life is meaningless.
- Unable to create and meet a to-do list.
These days I’m starting to take this seriously. And what I realized is—for me to get ‘there,’ I have to overcome my internal fear that stops me from pursuing my values. I have learnt to replace the fear of ‘What if they fire me?’ to set boundaries—“Does this job respect my personal space beyond the tasks assigned to me?” “Does the manager let me pursue other activities like reading beyond my set tasks?”
When these things begin to weigh heavy on me—I’d turn to the Values in Daily Living exercise from my ebook.This helps me reframe my priorities, and re-list things that I value and my goals for the month.
For instance, in the month of July this year, my goal was to pursue a job that will help me find time for writing this blog.
- Flexibility in my daily work tasks.
- Being able to work from anywhere
- Personal sense of independence (i.e., being able to get paid more if I put in more work).
My goals aligned to these values:
- Negotiating with potential managers about my daily tasks.
- Learning about their expectations towards me.
- Saying NO to jobs that didn’t allow work from home.
But doing all this required me to address barriers like time frame, internal fear, and my ability to meet the task requirement. The whole process involved making room for difficult thoughts and taking action regardless. And I did. Now I’m able to work from home, spend time with my husband, while also get paid aligned to the number of tasks completed. I managed to live a simple life, here.
With this exercise—you’ll be able to not only align your values with goals, but also:
- List down behaviors essential to pursue your values.
- Identify barriers that keep you from pursuing your goals
- Reframe your negative thoughts and pursue values anyway.
#2. Worry About Things You CAN Control
Pursuing your values go hand-in-hand with having boundaries. You must know: “What should I be worrying about?” “Things that I should not be taking responsibility for.” “Things that I can do something about.”
This worry chart is pretty helpful to keep by the desk or room wall. Just the picture of a divided circle lets my brain realize that I have boundaries too. I’m allowed to take something in and keep others outside of the boundary. At the end of the day, that’s all it takes to make your life simpler, isn’t it?
I’m a heavy worrier. I worry about the future, the past, and every little thing that you can imagine. That in itself makes life complicated as I forget to enjoy the simple, slow things daily.
How to Use the Worry Chart from my Ebook?
- List down things that you worry about in your journal or simply in the blank area around the chart.
- Put these items one by one in the “CAN” or “CAN’T ”control sections
- Decide to focus on the Can’s for the week, and get back to the can’t’s later on.
The other day I went out for a coffee with my husband. I had made up my mind to only worry about whether the coffee tasted great.
Everything else was out of the circle. That made our moment even more special. The coffee tasted great. There was a feeling of warmth and peace that made me capture it in my camera. Do you get the point now? That’s what it takes to live a simple life.
#3. Let Go of Negative Thoughts
To make room for things in life that really matter, and live a simple life—you must declutter your negative thoughts out of your head. Now, someone suggesting—“Just let go of negative thoughts” is really bad advice. Because although we know it, it’s not that easy to simply let them go. We all are balancing several things, day-in and day-out. From family, to kids, finances, laundry, personal interests, and work. That’s a lot to carry and letting go isn’t a smart move.
So an alternative way to simplify your negative thoughts is to categorize them. I use this exercise all the time, in addition to the worry circle, as it helps me feel empowered and in control of thoughts I must work on and let go of.
In this Not-So-Helpful exercise, you’ll have six categories according to which you can throw in your negative thoughts. It is greatly useful to help you live a simple life. These six categories are as follows:
- Thoughts that distract me. This is really important as oftentimes I’m simply just distracted when in reality there’s no need to be.
- Thoughts that make me feel anxious/stressed. I’m a great worrier and full of anxious thoughts. So don’t be suprised if you find this category weighting more than others.
- Thoughts that aren’t helpful in problem solving. This category is one step ahead in letting you know that since your thoughts are unhelpful—either let go, or replace them with something else.
- Thoughts that I enjoy overthinking about but shouldn’t. Again, this one is my favourite as I pretty much overthink about everything that exists in this world.
- Thoughts that actually don’t need my attention.
- Thoughts that aren’t my responsibility.
Remember, to live a simple life is to take out your mental clutter, and make space. These worksheets are designed for just that. To help YOU make space, so that you can focus on moments that actually matter.
Sally George is a Psychologist & the Editor of Gentle Meanings. She shares thought-provoking tools, asks insightful questions, and encourages her readers to be gentle with themselves.