There are a number of buzzwords on the internet: Minimalism, Essentialism and Intentionalism. Mindfulness is what they all have in common. When practicing minimalism we are being mindful with the focus on our surroundings, when practicing essentialism, we are focusing on how we spend our time. Mindfulness can make us very happy. And I would go as far as saying many people are unhappy, because they are not being mindful.
But what does being mindful really mean? A minimalist, does not have less stuff, because he or she hates stuff. An essentialist, does not carefully choose what he will work on next, because he is lazy. We practice minimalism, because we want to appreciate the things we own. And we want to only own things that add value. And we focus on the essential 20% that produce 80% of the result, because we want to be effective rather than efficient. We want to do the right thing, rather than a lot of thing. It is the difference between being productive and being busy. It really is about value.
Why are things related to mindfulness such buzzwords? Truth is: we now need it more than ever. In today’s day and age it is so incredibly easy to not be mindful. To go shopping and impulse buy all the things that we think are awesome, but we really don’t need them. It is so easy to just spend hours on the couch watching TV and being genuinely bored. We do it because it is the path of least resistance. And then when it gets real bad, we get addicted to shopping and watching TV. Our brains get stimulated by pretty colors and release feel good hormones, why would we ever do anything else? Because we are unhappy.
We often wonder why we are unhappy. But are not even mindful enough to notice why it is we are unhappy. Or perhaps, we are just not willing to admit why it is we are feeling unhappy. We may even have a vision of who we want to be and it might even literally include “I am not someone who spends all day binging TV.”, and yet we turn a blind eye to what could actually make us feel happier and more fulfilled.
But how can we become more mindful? It is all about value and realizing our own limitations. The space we have in our homes is limited. Our time, attention and emotional capacity are limited. So we must learn to spend those resources on “things” that add value to our lives. That can mean different things. Some things make life easier, those are mostly tools, but if we don’t use them, there is really no point in keeping them. Some things add value by making us smile. If we are excited to read that novel that is on our shelf, we should read it. Otherwise, we don’t need that pile of paper. And if that TV show that we are watching is making us smile or ponder deep philosophical topics, go for it!
Maybe one of the most stigmatized thing is to “get rid” of people who don’t add value to your life. Yes, I know this sound very harsh. And no, “getting rid” of those people does not mean killing them. But it means to spend significantly less or better yet no time with them.
So for being mindful about possessions I recommend reading Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying up. But in essence it is about questioning whether an item “sparks joy” or is useful. And useful means we have used it in the last few months.
For being mindful how we spend our time, consider this: “Priorities are what we spend your time on.” And “We are what we do on a regular basis.” Let’s think about who we want to be. Figure out our goals and your vision. Because unless we do, we don’t know what it means to spend time on something that adds value. I am not saying to never ever do the dishes again. But quit that emotional shopping habit and get a dishwasher. And once we know who we want to be, we will know what we want to be spending our time on. No worries, it’s okay if that changes. But we have to start somewhere. Then every time we go to do something, whatever that may be, we must ask ourselves: is this who I want to be? Do I really want to spend my precious time on this? This also means that we will not be multitasking. I have mad a whole post about this, so I will not be elaborating on it.
There is one more category that we have not yet addressed. And that is our mindsets. We have to be mindful about those as well. The mindset is the sum of our thinking habits. That includes anything from how we think about ourselves to our attitude towards the world and our work. The way we think reveals a lot about who we are. Therefore curating our thoughts will impact who we are. This one might be the most difficult one because we often don’t catch what we are thinking in each given moment and often we have multiple thoughts at the same time. Once we also have our emotions mix in with our thoughts, it becomes even more complex. And yet, being aware of how we tend to think has a huge impact on our mood, our image of ourselves and therefore also our confidence. I hence recommend trying to be mindful about our thoughts and curate them.
One more thing we need to talk about: Being mindful of our emotions. Our emotions are very strong. And is alright. But we need to learn to express them. We are unable to deal with emotions, if we are not capable of explaining them at least to some degree. I am currently doing a simple exercise that helps with identifying emotions: It is a bullet point journal (no, not a bullet journal). Each bullet point refers to one thing that happened and how it made me feel. I keep it in two columns one for negative and one for positive emotions. I will write 1-3 bullets in each column each night. This is of course very customizable and allows us to learn to identify emotions, but also is a nice journal to look back at and design your life around. Of course more traditional journaling as in: writing down what happened, how it made you feel and how to proceed in more detail is also a great way to become more mindful of our emotions.
In summary we need mindfulness to allocate our limited resources in the way that will create the most value. This is why I think that making a significant difference between the buzzwords I mentioned in the beginning makes no sense. Of course minimalism has as lightly different focus than essentialism, but they come from the same place. And that really is not a mindset of scarcity. It is about being grateful and fully present in the moment. It is about choosing and curating the life we want, rather than going the unhappy path of least resistance. It is about building your happiness.