(Work in Progress – I mean I’d be Buddha if already done, right?)
Am I an expert? No. But I’m someone who has problems and seeks to better my life. I read extensively, try out old and new-age edicts when they make sense to me and also land up counseling a lot for some weird reason (Writer=empathy?). Anyway, do I think my pointers will help solve your problems? Actually no. I’m going to go contrarian here and say that problems, unhappiness, worry… they remain. One transmogrifies into another, and there will never actually be a time when you won’t have them. Therefore, you’ve got to learn to live with them… or the idea of them.
So what do you do?
Make them your friend, do as much as you can to make them go away or make them hurt less and if nothing can be done, live harmoniously with those fiends. Because hey, if you can’t beat them….
I give you three ways, if practiced every day (discipline is very important), can make you a calmer, wiser and more successful person. These are not new, and various self-help gurus propound at-least one among them. The difference is, I’ve tried them myself and seen results as have some of my skeptic-turned-believer pals (and not a teeny-weeny change, but transformational). And hey, no charge!
But the bottom line is, all (and any) advice needs to be put in action, DAILY. The idea is not to take up a monumental goal for yourself. Break it up into tiny goals, to be executed for say 15 minutes daily and increase it as you progress. Reward yourself for achievements at the end of every week. All far-sweeping ambitions fail ─ losing 20 kilos, learning a new language, running a marathon, writing a book (that one’s for me) ─ but just do one thing every day, and like a building a muscle, you grow a habit.
Learn more about building habits here. Read it before you read the rest of the article.
Commit to being disciplined. Honestly, without discipline (and intent) nothing can be achieved. NOTHING. Do not scoff at discipline, people! It’s not for the oldies alone. It’ll benefit your life immensely.
Okay, so here goes. There are three Ds that will help transform your life. (Four if you consider DISCIPLINE too, but that’s not really a question and upsets my carefully concocted system.
You are three tricks away from living your DREAM life, my friend! (Oh, how I love the corniness of CAPITALs)
And now… I present to you…. (Claps and drum rolls)… the three D questions
1. DECLUTTER ─ Do I really need that?
Like what, you ask? Here are a few usual and unusual ones
- Your wardrobe: Do you really need five different styles of the same white blouse? Or five belts when one would do? After a word of compliment and one wear, it goes back to being the same old mundane right? The newness rubs off. We give in to glossy advertisements and covetous envy far too much. But if you look inside your cupboard, it’d be just that handful of clothes you wear every day and those two odd party ones. Why do we need so much of the rest? Throw them away. It’d make you feel sad for a day, but you’ll see what the empty space would do to your mind (not an excuse to buy more, and stuff it right back in, though)
- Your upholstery and furniture: Do you need those heavy curtains? Get light, white ones instead. Do you need six of them? Get only one. You don’t need to ‘change it up’. Is that ‘side table’ for the ‘side table’ really necessary? Keep only what you absolutely use. Throw out everything else. Donate to orphanages if they were once expensive – let the more needy enjoy them. Meanwhile, let your mind absorb and reflect the emptiness of the space you created.
- The food on your plate (!): Choose one type of each – protein, carbohydrate, fat or better still get a nutritionist to draw up a specific food plan and eat the same thing, at the same time, every day. No cheating, no eating anything in between. Do this for a few weeks and there’s no need to even exercise to lose weight. Religions around the world recommend fasting which I think is a wonderful idea. It teaches self-control and declutters the plate, in turn, cleansing the palate. Less is more, but get a bit of everything.
- Your lifestyle: Do you need to talk to everyone who calls? Does taking work calls during dinner in front of your family make you feel important? Let go. Make rules and stick to them. Keep phone calls to the minimum. Keep partying to the minimum. Do things which make your and your family’s life better and not just to fill a vacuum. Even so, do not go overboard. Make rules. Stick to them. Do the same thing every day. Occasionally, shake it up. But only occasionally
- Social Media: Being social and connected (Facebook, Twitter, chat) may make you feel updated and entertained, but restrict usage. Choose the media you want to frequent and set time for yourself. The bombardment of our friends’ ideal lives does no one any good. And you know, their lives are not really ideal… but we still get sucked in
- Just all stuff: Multi-tasking? Please don’t. Do one thing at a time. Yes, everyone says women excel at it, but while a great learned skill to have, it’s not exactly a desirable one. Focus on what you are doing and do it well. Apps on your phone – really, you need that many? Delete the ones you haven’t used for over a month. Keep clearing out.
The bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo proposes something similar; I haven’t really read the book but I’ve decluttered in recent years and have seen incredible improvements in my life. I’ve noticed in other people too: those who lead spartan lives are calmer, more focused and happier. Those who seek and accrue too much are jumpy, always looking for external stimulus (i.e. crutches) to save them and easily upset.
2. DELVE INSIDE ─ Am I looking for crutches?
You have everything you need to live a better life already with you. Yes, already! So, it’s not going to be… I need to travel more, I need to earn more or let me do that and I will be happy or let me buy that and it will make my life better. Don’t go looking for crutches, we all make that mistake. When such thoughts pop in your head, go inside, connect with your body and mind, and take a deep breath. At any point in the day (even now, when you are reading this), take a pause and do two things:
- Listen to your body: How does it feel? Are the limbs hurting, is my stomach fine, are the shoulders slumped, is my breathing normal? Feel your heartbeat slow down and the breathing slow along with it. Be slow. Be slow. Be slow. Anything you do, be slow. Feel your body move in action. Connect with it. Exercise often helps in building a close relationship with the body. Thus, experts recommend taking up sports which will make your body ache and help you acknowledge its worth. Heave-ho!
- Listen to your mind: Be a witness. What am I thinking now? Just hear yourself as if playing the role of an empathetic friend giving advice to yourself. Take a breath and let your mind talk. Hear her out. Be an observer, not a participant
This is akin to being Mindful. Look up resources like Mindful, UCLA, Mindfulexperience. The Jon Kabat Zinn mindfulness meditation is especially recommended. Do it every day (remember D0? The one before everything – Discipline!)
Also, I’ve found Yoga incredibly helpful in achieving a mind and body balance. It’s not a quick fix, and it takes months and sometimes years to realize full benefits… but while the changes are slow and subtle they are transformative and long-lasting.
3. DESTROY THE SELF ─ If everything ends, what’s the point?
Sounds fatalistic? But it’s amazing how it can calm you down in the most difficult of situations. The Buddhists believe we need to accept the eventuality of death and prepare for it when we are living. Yes, it helps that they believe in rebirth, but even so, adopting this thought-process is contrary to what we learn pretty early on – fear death, do not talk about it. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche gives fantastic insight on this. Knowing everything ends takes away the obsession and anxiety from life, and helps one get balance. And that’s the crux of everything: Balance.
So, know that everything is going to end. Let go.
How to put this in practice? When the world is falling apart around you, or nothing seems to be working out, just say to yourself – everything is impermanent. One day I’m going to die. Everything dies. Nothing stays the same. I don’t matter. Once you detach yourself from the idea of your own importance, it becomes easier to live because then you have no expectations. And more importantly, don’t be afraid to let go of hope, of expectations. That, truth be told, has been my biggest challenge. Still is.
Lastly, know this: You are okay. You are enough. This too shall pass. Life is a learning process. You’ll live.