“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a person does not keep pace with their companions, perhaps it is because they hear a different drummer. Let them step to the music which they hear, however measured or far away.” Henry David Thoreau
I made my writing debut in Healthy Thoughts in 1998 with an article I co- wrote with my friend Tom Triatik titled “Voluntary Simplicity.” In the article we were announcing the start of a Simplicity Circle that we were starting in January of 1999. The first meeting of that group was in the basement of Earthheart Deli/Café—we were taken aback by the level of the response to the group—23 people attended that first meeting!
Even though the group hasn’t met for a few years -we simplified our lives so much we didn’t need to meet anymore! I still get calls asking about the group. I wish I could say that the art of simplifying ones life to what is most nourishing and important has been mastered by most people, but the reality is it seems to be even more challenging to do than ever. We all need to develop skills to handle all of the information, requests of our time, opportunities that come our way. It is so easy to get side-tracked and lose our focus as to what is truly important and a priority in our life. This idea hit home for me recently when a business coach that I work with gave me the feedback “Your getting scattered, you’re losing your focus.” That statement was so helpful to me, it jarred me out of a pattern of getting so captivated and interested in all of the different opportunities that come my way that I was getting off track with my original intentions. It also reminded me of a recent trip to Home Depot with my Mom to pick up stuff to re-do my bathroom. Instead of staying focused on what we needed to get for the bathroom we began looking at all the things we could do to renovate my kitchen and other areas of my home. A trip that should have taken about an hour, turned into a four hour excursion. Does this sound familiar to you?
For many people this scenario at Home Depot can be an analogy for getting off track in one’s life in larger ways. Examples like: “I was clear and focused on going to school for art and than my husband wanted to move to another area and they didn’t have the kind of school I was looking for, so I just got a job and forgot about art school.” Or “I have always wanted to have my own business, but I am so busy doing my work projects and pleasing my employer that I just don’t have any extra time.” Or “I have always wanted to travel but my husband hates it, he likes golfing instead, so I have tried to like golfing and forget about travel because he wants us to be together.”
All the possibilities of our modern day life can be exciting, but also can pull us off track from what we truly want in our deepest self. All of the information, activities, projects of all kinds, other people’s requests can shift us in one moment into a different direction that may not be in alignment with where we truly want to go. Why is it challenging to stay focused on our deepest self and our true path? It’s important to understand the underlying reasons why staying focused can be so challenging. By gaining a deeper understanding about your own inner dynamics, you are better able to make conscious choices about what you want to do and make changes. The following are reasons for lack of focus that I have discovered over the years in working with clients around this issue of focus and simplicity. After each reason I have included solutions
1. A Disconnection from Your True Self: What do you really want in your life? What is your main priority for how you want to spend your time? Do you have clarity about this or does it feel all jumbled and unclear? Are you too busy just handling what is going on in your life to even contemplate these questions? Your true self, your authentic self is always crystal clear about what is most important and what would make you happiest. SOLUTION: Take time to get to know your true self, your true desires. Time together with your true self is what builds the connection. The more you tune into this deeper part of you, the stronger and clearer the information becomes. Take a day to spend with yourself—journal, walk in the woods, go somewhere uplifting and inspirational—reflect on what is most important to you at this time of your life. Plan for what you can you do to adjust your life to make these things top priority. In this moment, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, ask your true self “What is most important to me to focus on right now in my life, the top 4 priorities?” and now just listen. Write these 4 things down on index cards and place them around your house and in your car so you can see these all the time to help you stay focused. When requests of your time come in you can check to see if doing what is requested fits in with your priorities right now.
2. Difficulty Saying NO: How comfortable are you saying No to those around you? If it is really impossible for you to say no, than it is a given that you will routinely be pulled off track from what is most important for you. What are the fears in saying No? Many people fear that others will get mad, withdraw from them or end the relationship. If it is an employer, there may be a fear that you won’t be considered a good, dedicated worker. You may fear others judgments of you if you say No—judgments like “Who does she think she is?” or “He is selfish” or “She is mean”. In order to stay on track in your life you have to be willing to let go of what others think of you and even risk upsetting them. If you are unwilling to do this it is a guarantee that you will get off track in staying focused on the desires of your authentic self. SOLUTION: Give yourself permission to say NO and have it be OK—you are not intentionally trying to hurt someone else, just trying to stay on track with your own life. This is not a bad thing to do. If you know there are situations where you have a hard time time saying NO, practice what to say with a friend. Having the words, and how to say it, can make it easier when the time comes to say No. Examples could be: “Sam, I would really love to help you out with that project, but I have another project that is taking up all of my time, so I have to say No.” or “Thank you for the invitation, but I’m going to have to pass.” The more simple and direct you communicate your “No”, the better. You don’t need to offer elaborate explanations or justifications for your NO, we all have the right to say No simply because we just don’t want to. The more you develop the skill of saying No, the more focused and clear you will feel in your life.
3. Addiction to being Busy: There can be many reasons why people get addicted to being busy. For some people who grew up in a chaotic household, busy-ness and chaos feels “normal” to them and living in a more relaxed and balanced way can feel awkward and uncomfortable. When it is calm and quiet, there is no distraction from the feelings on the inner level, which they never learned how to deal with when they were young. The interesting thing with this dynamic is that the creation of the chaos in their current life can be unconscious, so they aren’t aware that they are the one creating the busy-ness by their choices over and over. Many people stuck in this pattern are convinced that this busy-ness is inevitable because of their unique life situation “I have kids, life is just chaotic when you have kids.” Or “I have to work this many hours at work, they expect this from me at work, I have no choice.” SOLUTION: If this is a pattern for you, it is important for you to see it clearly- make the unconscious, conscious by getting clear that it is the pattern of your choices that has led to the current situation and that you can make different choices to create something different. Make the shift from a victim stance “This is just how it is, I am helpless to make it different” to a more empowered stance “I have the power to change this and create a loving balance for myself.” The other piece of making this shift from chaos to more balance is to also address ways to cope with the underlying feelings that you have been avoiding. You will keep creating chaos if there is no plan to deal effectively with the old painful feelings from your childhood and also to deal with feelings in general in your life. Seeing a therapist to work with these underlying feelings can be very helpful in shifting this pattern.
4. Desire for Excitement: For some people their authentic self loves excitement and adventure. They like to travel, explore and experience life in a larger way—as a grand adventure. It is important to know if this is who you are in your deepest self and to make sure you are consciously meeting this need for exciting experiences. What can happen if these people aren’t meeting this need is that they can create the excitement in an unhealthy way by creating chaos in their lives and than trying to manage it—it gives a similar adrenalin rush as an exciting adventure. This can also be created by engaging in addictions of various sorts as well. It is important to notice the difference in this vs. the previous addiction to busy-ness—rather than the excitement being an avoidance of feelings it is actually a true desire of the authentic self that needs to be expressed—but in a healthy, safe way. Clients who I have worked with feel a sense of relief when they discover this is what they have been doing in their life. Once they consciously start meeting this need in healthy ways, like planning regular adventures, their unhealthy patterns of getting excitement fall away. SOLUTION: If you know this is true for you, start planning exciting adventures for yourself—whether it is a trip to South America or a planning an exciting day long adventure. Infusing excitement and adventure in healthy ways will help your authentic self feel satisfied and you will be able to stay more focused and clear in your day to day life.
5. Not Feeling “Good Enough”-If you are not clear about your intrinsic worth and lovability you will try to get approval from others through doing things to please them. This will have a big effect on how you manage your time by causing you to stretch beyond your limits of available time, in order to please others to get their approval. You will watch your friend’s kids even though you don’t have time that day. You will agree to do a project at work to please your co-workers and boss, even though you don’t have time. You will stay talking on the phone with a friend longer than you want to so they won’t get upset and disapprove of you. You aren’t able to be honest with them because it is more important to get them to approve of you, so you feel “good enough”, than it is to honor your own time. SOLUTION: At the deepest part of you, what you truly long for is a deep connection with who you truly are and to have a deep knowing that you are a wonderful, amazing, loveable and loving being who is perfect just as you are. Your worth is not contingent on; how much you work, if your house is clean, how much money you make, if your kids get good grades, who you are pleasing, what you are doing for others—you are worthy just for being you. You have intrinsic worth that does not fluctuate with others’ opinions of you. Getting real clear on your lovability by starting to be the loving parent to yourself — letting yourself know in this very moment you are ”good enough”–will make it easier to slow down and make loving choices about your time.
6. Lack of Simplifying Skills-If the above underlying emotional issues are addressed and you are still challenged with not being able to be focused, it may be due to a lack of simplifying skills. Simplifying skills are: being able to declutter and organize the areas around you—at home and at work—so you can easily focus when you are in them. For most people, if there is lots of clutter and things are disorganized around them, it is easily to get distracted and off track. What I have found is some people have more developed skills in this area than others. For example, my brother and sister are very organized and this comes fairly naturally for them. I, on the other hand did not inherit this natural ability, and so for me it is a process of learning the skills of simplifying and organizing and then putting them into practice. One of the ways to develop these skills is to learn from those people who are naturally organized and then adapt it to what will be workable for you. I have done this by hiring a professional organizer(Jackie Kleinschmidt from Everyday Organizing) to assist me with organizing by paperwork and business materials. As she is assisting me, I am also learning because she is teaching me a method of organizing that I can replicate on my own. I’m learning those skills that are not innate for me. This has made a world of difference for me in functioning more effectively and efficiently in my life. An example for me was that shortly after we had organized all of my business paperwork I needed to plan for an upcoming Workshop. It took me half the time to prepare because with my papers being organized I could easily get to all of the different materials I needed. I called Jackie that day and exclaimed “I’m so happy, it was so much fun preparing for the Workshop because I wasn’t spending all of my time looking for things!” SOLUTION: If you realize you are lacking in simplifying skills find ways to learn those skills. There are wonderful books, tapes and other materials that have wonderful simplifying information. Ask for assistance from someone in your life who is naturally organized. Either pick their brain for tips on how to organize or have them come to your home or office and go through things with you. Sometimes getting support when it feels overwhelming can make a world of difference in making these changes. If you are learning the skills and have read a lot of organizing materials for tips and things have not changed for you, it means you have an underlying emotional issue that needs to be addressed before you can move forward. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need years of therapy, it may be an issue that can be resolved in one session. Once you address this, implementing new simplifying skills will be much easier and effective. Take steps to give yourself the gift of a Simple life, one that is filled with all of the things that are most meaningful to you and also enough time to enjoy them.
Shelley Riutta MSE, LPC is a pioneer in the Holistic Psychotherapy field. She specializes in Transformational individual counseling, Presentations and Workshops. For her free Workbook “What Do You REALLY Want: Finding Purpose and Passion” and free monthly tele-classes visit her web-site at http://www.RadiantLifeCounseling.com/