Do Less, Be More
As expected, January has been replete with inspiring lists of habits or resolutions to improve one’s life. But about a quarter of the way through a list of 50 Habits for Better Living, I quickly deflate from inspired to defeated. Despite how reasonable and valuable any of these suggestions might be, no one can do them all. And no one should.
It’s easy to walk away from January’s motivational posts thinking you just need some new habits to finally become a successful person. But let’s be honest. This advice isn’t humanly possible. If you added all these tips together, you’d need about 6 hours extra hours a day. One recent post suggested we: cut caffeine, get up 30 minutes early, and sleep at least 7 hours a night, while also spending more time reading, meditating, exercising, decluttering your entire home, adding income streams, relaxing?!, and 40 other ideas, all while limiting our to-do lists to 3 items per day. This article made many great points and unselfish suggestions, but….does anyone see the mathematical difficulty here? It doesn’t add up.
The real problem isn’t even whether it’s possible. Maybe some super-humans out there are rocking all 50 ideas. For the rest of us, we’re probably left overwhelmed and less focused than before.
This year I suggest we all focus less on what we should do, and more on who you want to become. I propose giving more attention to others-improvement than self-improvement.
For example, I’ve been itching to write this post for over a week, I’ve just finally gotten this far, and my son is begging me to play with him, at Duplo-creation gunpoint (see, not having toy guns doesn’t preclude shooting games). Though I don’t negotiate with terrorists, I do need to take my own advice, sacrifice my desire to post more often, and go be more Mom.
Goals Roll Out of Roles
Why do you want to do more? In First Things First, Stephen Covey suggests starting with a vision statement for yourself or your family, then defining your 7 main roles. Mine currently are: wife, mom, friend, home church leader, blogger, daughter, sister. I can tell you right now I’m not being a very good sister.
Out of your roles roll your goals. Covey suggests setting weekly goals pertaining to each role. I’ve never seen “talk to your siblings more often” on a list post, but I need to prioritize it, even though it will in some ways detract from my productivity–I have four sibs!
I also know that waking up earlier and going to bed earlier would have a negative impact on my marriage and some friendships, as well. If I got up at 5 am after hosting till 11 am and being up with my teething toddler once or twice, I am going to be a pathetic mess by dinnertime, and basically useless thereafter. That means I’d be less of the wife and mom I want to be as a result of putting doing before being.
I have set a “blogger” goal to read two books about the history of work. I’m not calling us to forsake all enrichment or activity, but to do more from a place of knowing who you want to become, and why.
“But you gotta make time for yourself.”
Yeah, I know. I “make time for myself” all the time, by studying the Bible, listening to podcasts, writing this blog, sometimes reading, enjoying friendships, and dating my spouse. I’m an introvert who could probably use a little more alone time, but I also chose to have two children and stay at home with them, so I’m going to weather this season of life with less-than-ideal portions of solitude.
I actually spent high school indulging my inner introvert, holed up in my room reading and writing, or practicing music and the solo sport of gymnastics. I even spent every spare moment of school with my nose in a book and rarely spent time with my “friends” outside of lunch period. And I was miserable.
Only since deciding to spend my life serving others have I found true joy and happiness. Trust me, I’m still super selfish in many ways, but to the degree that I’ve allowed my focus to shift to others, I’ve found great contentment. Of course my high school extremes were misguided, but any type of lifestyle devoted above all to one’s own interests, pursuits, and improvement is fundamentally off-track. We are social beings, designed to feel loved when we sacrificially love others. (This of course is distinct from enabling others or abandoning all self-care.) For this reason’ we’ve set out to inflate our usefulness in the world, instead of inflating our lifestyle.
Bottom line: what we do results from who we are, and not the other way around. Behavior change doesn’t last long unless it’s coming from changed thinking and motives. This is why New Year’s resolutions don’t usually stick unless we’re already internally motivated to keep them. New habits can be awesome and the reinforcement of repeated behavior can help you persist, but external change alone won’t make us the better person we all want to be.
In a blogosphere crowded with Type A over-achievers, we probably need to encourage one another to do less and be more. To relax. To slow down. To date your spouse. To play with our kids. To laugh and cry with friends. Listening to podcasts on 2x speed is a nifty idea but when coupled with 49 other to-dos and the frenetic pace of life so common today, it might be winding us all up for a meltdown. I’m the speed-read-on-the-treadmill type. I should know.
So next time you read a motivating self-improvement post about how to do more, first take a moment to consider who you want to be. Then act only upon those suggestions that serve your vision for being more.
Have you experienced the principle that deep change comes from within? What roles do you want to grow in this year?