Category Archives: purpose & meaning

Clearing Out the Non-Essentials

About a week before Christmas, I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix. The film features Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, known as The Minimalists, and other minimalist thought leaders discussing how life could be better with less.

Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important — so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” – Millburn and Nicodemus.

As the new year approaches, I’ve been contemplating ways in which I can practice more minimalism.

I spent a few hours, one December day, clearing out non-essentials from my home office. Old files, bills, knick knacks and the like. The task wasn’t hard; I run an (almost) paperless law firm and (usually) keep a clean desk.

As I scanned the rest of my home, and the personal possessions and family property in it, I found it much harder to decide on which other stuff to let go.

I didn’t choose a single toy, from my child’s pile, to give away or donate. And there were more goodies to be shared on Christmas Day.

I didn’t resolve to get rid of my car. Even though I no longer commute to work, I still need it to run errands, meet friends, etc. And I think it’s an overall bad idea for my husband and I to share his.

I didn’t talk to my hubby about selling our house and moving back to a smaller place. We have a toddler after all, and being spoiled suburbanites, we enjoy having ample physical space.

But I do stick with educational and creativity-inspiring toys that stand the test of time. I avoid trendy, heavily-branded, mass-marketed products. I choose quality and playability over quantity.

I will not replace my 2004 Toyota Corolla – which I bought while I was still in law school – with a newer and cooler car, any time soon. (Millburn and Nicodemus have the same car model and drove it around on their book tour across the U.S., which you’ll see in the documentary.)

I will not bring more things into my home unless they serve a real purpose or truly add value to my life or my family’s well being.

Side Note: In January 2016, after many years of resistance, I finally got rid of my old-school LG flip phone in favor of the then-latest IPhone. My IPhone turned out to be a useful tool in emailing clients and snapping photos of my kid. I consider it an intentional purchase and won’t be buying a new version when the current one works fine.

“There’s nothing wrong with consumption; the problem is compulsory consumption.” – Millburn

Minimalism involves more than just your material possessions. It also means saying no to unhealthy relationships and life-draining obligations to make way for positive, energizing ones.

Clearing out the non-essentials is consistent with having an internally-oriented approach to creating success. You can read more about this in my article, How to create success without setting goals.

Cheers to you and the new year,
Dyan Williams
Productivity & Purpose Coach

P.S. The car in the photo is a 1972 Valiant Ranger. My father, a natural minimalist, drove this car model for decades and, after it finally went kaput, never owned any other vehicle. The Ranger was essential. Another car was not. 

Photo by: sicnag

How to create success without setting goals

Making resolutions and setting big goals are expected when the year comes to a close and a new one is set to begin. Nearly half of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. But less than 10 percent actually achieve them. And goal-setting, at any time of the year, often involves lofty aspirations and ambitious to-dos that don’t necessarily serve you well.

While goal-setting is meant to move you in the desired direction, it can do the opposite. It frequently fuels anxiety and heightens stress in a way that interferes with real progress. An outcome-based goal is a milestone, benchmark or metric that is not always met and, even when met, doesn’t always provide a deep sense of meaning.

If you hate setting goals or don’t find them particularly helpful, try a different approach that focuses on what you control and what drives you in the present.

This internally-oriented approach involves three main components:

1. Clarify your purpose 

Start by determining your top priorities, core values, and BIG WHY behind what you do and want to do.

Ask yourself what positive feelings you want to derive from the life you lead and create. Pick one to three defining words or themes to shape your year (or a shorter time period, such as 3 months or 6 months, if you prefer).

In 2006, my word was Adventure. It led me to jump out of an airplane and tandem skydive, say yes to more social events, and go rock climbing on a cliff.

In 2016, my word was Fluidity. I honed a work-life mix that involved doing extended work in the morning; playing/chatting with my toddler, responding to phone calls and emails, running errands, and working in short bursts during the day; enjoying family time over dinner; doing focused work after my kid went to bed; and then reflecting, planning and winding down.

When you define how you want to act in life and relate to others, you can make conscious choices and take deliberate action that align with your heartfelt wishes. You keep what’s vital to you and your environment and clear out the non-essentials.

“Success is a feeling; it’s not necessarily an accumulation.” – Simon Senek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

“Stay anchored to the desired feeling, and open to the form in which it manifests.” – Danielle La Porte in The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul.

2. Focus on the process

Develop systems that do not rely on willpower to get the right things done. Be curious about what works and what doesn’t, build healthy habits, and develop routines and schedules that keep you on track no matter what. Concentrate on daily progress, instead of accomplishing the big goal.

Let go of limiting beliefs about what you should do and not do. I would not have started my own law firm, at the time that I did, if I held on to the belief that being successful meant having a brick-and-mortar office, hiring a full-time staff, and having more clients than I could personally handle. By building a remotely-run law practice from the ground up, I have a profitable business that gives me the freedom and flexibility to set my agenda, carefully choose clients and turn down cases, and work only on issues that interest me.

If you own a business, you cannot control how many products you sell or how many new clients you get in a month. But you can control how you engage with your community, treat existing customers, deliver and design a work product, respond to inquiries, and market your business.

Realize there are many paths to get to an ideal state. There’s no shame in choosing the easiest and quickest path (although taking a tough and long one is okay, too.)

If you’re a chronic multitasker who wants to develop mindfulness, you may start with mindful eating, instead of a formal meditation practice. Chew your food 30 times before you swallow. Pay attention to the taste, smell, look and texture. Notice when you get hungry and how full you feel before, during and after you eat. Think about the origins of what you ingest and digest.

It’s rare to achieve life-changing goals in the time frame and in the way that you plan. Commit to an effective process and take deliberate actions that naturally lead to positive, long-term results. Drop your fixation on specific outcomes and stay open to exploring new opportunities and shifting gears.

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.” – Scott Adams, creator of the syndicated Dilbert cartoons and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

3. Be kind to yourself

Above all, practice self-compassion. An internally-oriented approach to creating success doesn’t mean you will experience magical bliss and no anxiety or stress.

You will face shifting priorities, conflicting values and competing commitments that generate a sense of incompleteness and even guilt. You come back to the present, stop punishing yourself for things left undone, and acknowledge the actions you did take.

When your intentions fall through, don’t just throw up your hands and call yourself a failure. Decide whether you really want to do or create this thing. And if you do, roll up your sleeves. And. GET. TO. WORK.

Know that whether the important step is taken or the end goal is achieved, you are enough. Completing the marathon, building a sustainable business, launching your podcast, and raising a self-reliant child are all spectacular objectives. But failure to achieve them does not take away from your personal worth and individual contributions.

Radical self-acceptance is more effective than grand self-loathing. Acceptance is not the same as tolerating and putting up with crap. It is being aware of what is within your control and what is not. Acceptance doesn’t mean you will never change or change things for the better, but rather that the change comes from a healthier, stronger, and more grounded place.

“As you learn self-acceptance, realize that it is always available to you, and you can have it no matter what you do. You can learn, create interesting things, make connections with others, with self-acceptance at the center of that.” – Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits. 

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Goal-setting can be a very useful planning tool for achieving what you seek. But an outcome-based mindset is not necessary to creating success. When you can be with yourself unconditionally and fully appreciate where you’re at, you’re more likely to make choices and act in accordance with what you truly want. Only then do you have genuine success.

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Photo by: Andrew Stawarz

Dealing with Overwhelm When There’s So Much to Do

We have just one month left in 2016.

How have you fared in meeting your big goals, keeping resolutions and achieving milestones – while getting enough sleep, maintaining your health and loving life?

Chances are, if you’re like me or any other human being, you’ve had hits and misses. This is totally normal. And yet you can still feel like a failure when you’re not getting things done, especially the ones that are important and meaningful to you.

Our perfectionist attitude, competitiveness, and obsession with results – when left unchecked – can cut down our ability to deal with overwhelm.

Yesterday I woke up dreading all the projects and tasks I set out to complete in the next one to two weeks. I was overwhelmed by a long list of to-dos that all seemed nonnegotiable.

Instead of allowing anxiety to ruin my day, I began my morning with 30 minutes of yoga and meditation. Instead of checking social media and going through emails, I chipped away at a top-priority project and delivered the results to a client within a few hours. Instead of canceling my meetup, I went out to a Thai restaurant and shared a spicy meal and engaging conversation with a dear friend. And I enjoyed my evening with my husband and toddler daughter.

Then after dealing with frustration caused by my 3-year old struggling to fall asleep and repeatedly waking up and walking into my home office, I finally found a solution to facilitate bedtime. It involved a concession that we could both live with, at least temporarily.

I ended up with far less time than I had hoped for to complete another task for another client. But in the end, I had a purposeful and productive day.

As part of my nighttime ritual, I reflected on what I had done and what I had accomplished that day. Had I taken care of at least two top priorities? Check. Had I experienced moments of gratitude? Check. Had I dealt with challenges as they arose? Check.

Were there important things that didn’t get done? Check. Were there moments of self-absorption? Check. Were there situations that completely overwhelmed me? Check.

There are still many days left to make up for these shortcomings and to face more of them.

When you’re being pulled in different directions, choose one thing deliberately. You have no choice but to focus and get back to the rest later.

Ask for a deadline extension. Get help. Drop or delay the less important stuff. Hire a personal assistant.

Just know that – as this year comes to a close and a new one is set to begin (again and again) – you’re not a failure when you can’t and don’t do it all.

Cheers,
Dyan Williams
Productivity & Purpose Coach

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Photo by: Dave Austria