Do Less, Be More

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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.

Inside Out

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?

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41 Responses to “Do Less, Be More”

  1. Emanuel says :

    15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

    • Allie says :

      Love this post, this year my mantra is to say no! Often I get sucked into saying ‘yes” to many things that pull me in 100 different directions and prevent me from truly living out my vision for the year. It’s not easy for me and has already proved to be a challenge but I’m working towards finding the balance I need each day. Thank you for the great pointers!

    • Kalie says :

      It’s so easy to yes too often. I’m realizing that just because I genuinely want to do something doesn’t always mean I should say yes to it!

  2. Amy says :

    Great post!

    On the surface, my goals for 2016 may seem more “self-improvement” oriented, but at they’re core, they really are about who I want to be. The ones I’m measuring on a daily basis – meditate, meet my steps goal, meet my stairs goal, and clean something, no matter how small – are really about making me a calmer, happier human being, wife, and mother. Exercise and meditation are good for my physical and mental health, which means I’m more emotionally and psychologically available to the people I care about (not to mention simply feeling better!). Cleaning something every day, no matter how small, means that I don’t have to go crazy making our home presentable when guests are coming over. (My daughter is so used to this old mindset of mine, that if she notices things have been cleaned up, she asks, “Are people coming over?”) Connecting with others is good for me, and I want to do more of it at my home this year. I also want to model a more consistent and relaxed approach to homekeeping for my daughter.

    • Kalie says :

      Sounds like your goals are coming straight from your deeper vision of the person you want to be. I especially like the ideas behind your “clean something” daily goal.

  3. Elise at Uphill To Easy Street says :

    I couldn’t agree with this more. I think it is so important to be able to say “no”, too. It’s like the old saying “A jack of all trades is a master of none”. I, personally, can’t do anything well if I’m trying to do it all.

    I also have found that I need down time every day…otherwise I’m a frazzled mess. I try to sit down, have a snack and watch a tv show or read for 25-30 minutes each afternoon. It really helps me just stop and refocus, too.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, that type of down time is invaluable. I’m constantly walking the line between recognizing my need for such time, and being flexible enough to sacrifice it when necessary.

  4. Mrs. Mad Money Monster says :

    I love this! I also read a post about listening to podcasts at double speed. Funny. I agree that resolutions are usually not realistic. That’s why I opted for a cultural enrichment regiment. This year I am listening to classic rock on my commute. Easy and fun and doesn’t take any time away from the people I cherish most. So far it’s been a joy 🙂

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Kalie says :

      My husband has been listening to podcasts at 1.5x for years. It is efficient! I love the idea of your cultural enrichment and especially that you chose classic rock and fit it into your existing schedule. Way to get creative!

  5. Jaime says :

    This year I’m focusing on losing weight. Had a checkup a few days before Christmas and my Dr told me it was time. You can only put it off for so long.

  6. Emily says :

    Beautiful! I’m an over-achiever and this is a great reminder to focus on being rather than doing. I noticed that my goals this year mostly consisted of doing less not more. I guess I’m making progress! I love what you mentioned about focusing on others rather than “me time.” That describes Josh perfectly and how he transformed in the past few years from an introvert, to a community-focused leader.

    • Kalie says :

      I’ve found having a second child has slowed me down in some really good ways. That’s wonderful to hear how your husband has been transformed in his own way.

  7. DC YAM says :

    I took a leadership course at work last year and they had a similar perspective, which is probably why we received a book by Stephen Covey. I think it’s smart to focus on who you want to become. It’s not productive to try to be the best at this or getting better at that if all it does is lead you to become someone you don’t want to be.

    • Kalie says :

      I think you were a great example of this when you delayed grad school to write your book. At some point we just have to admit we are mortals!

  8. Jim Wang says :

    I think social media has really pushed everyone into near insanity when it comes to resolutions and what we “should be doing.” You have a friend who wants to do one thing, shares it on Facebook. Now another person sees it and says “hey, that looks good… I’ll do that too.” Replicated this across a bunch of people and now everyone is going crazy trying to one-up each other and DO ALL THE THINGS. It’s nuts!

    • Kalie says :

      You’re absolutely right that all these goals and tips proliferate on social media to the point of insanity! Great point.

  9. Prudence Debtfree says :

    I’m fascinated by the whole “selfish” vs. “selfless” thing. I find that there are ways of giving that I find deeply fulfilling, and ways of giving that I find draining. I believe that our purpose is found in the former – though some of the latter is inevitable. As a mom with young youngsters (not 5 of them though : ) I’m so glad that you are finding “you” time – especially through writing. It serves not only you, but the people who read your posts, and ultimately, your children – who will be on the look-out for their own callings as they see Mom responding to hers.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s very encouraging, Ruth. I agree that navigating how to give of ourselves without becoming too drained is complicated.

  10. Harmony says :

    Excellent advice. I tried to use one word for 2015 to inspire me, it was “focus.” It felt like I was always doing a million things at once, but never getting anything done. This word helped me be more productive last year, but I still plan to use it as “my word” for 2016 because I have a long ways to go. Ultimately, I want to be able to give my full concentration to one thing at a time, whether it’s family, work, or something else.

    • Kalie says :

      Juggling family, work, and other commitments is not easy, but I think your word “focus” is a great reminder to give your best to the task (or person) at hand. I imagine that will be a lifelong challenge for all of us.

  11. Abigail says :

    Yep, it’s easy to take too many goals on, thereby managing to fall down on everything at once.

    I’m getting better at setting smaller, more reasonable goals. Small succes is far better than by failure. And it only took me more than 3 decades to figure that out.

    I’m not really taking on any new goals this year. It’s mostly just the goal to keep doing what I’m doing: exercising more or less regularly, finding ways to trim expenses, remembering to live a little more in the moment and not solely in the future.

    • Kalie says :

      Living in the moment is so hard for me! But it’s also so joyful when I do. It’s mini-goals for me this year, too. Good luck!

  12. Bobby (Millennial Money Man) says :

    Great post – I’m a little late getting to your blog but it’s awesome! I’ve had a hard time this year with slowing down like you mentioned. I work online and have a lot of free time now, but I always feel guilty or that I should be pushing harder to make more money or grow my business more. I could literally take 2-3 weeks off tomorrow, but there is some type of fear of being called lazy holding me back! I’d like to grow into a more relaxed person this year! 🙂

  13. Kristi with Femme Frugality says :

    After listening to a motivational speech by Grant Baldwin last year, I realized that I have too much going on. You can’t keep pouring things into an already full cup. My resolution this year is to slow down, say no to more things, and spend more quality time with my family.

  14. Holly says :

    Great post. The blogosphere is definitely chock full of overachievers, and it’s hard not to compare yourself all the time. Personally, I always strive for more and better. I have to balance that with being present in the moment and being a good mother and parent. It is a constant struggle.

  15. Cat says :

    Yes! I’m totally a Type A and I have a hard time relaxing and appreciating things in life. I always want to do more, more, more. I rarely take time to just be happy with where I am.

  16. fehmeen says :

    Well, I’ve noticed that it simply isn’t possible to bring about ‘lasting’ change if you don’t find the right motivation for change. You could make a goal and follow through on it, but if your reason for achieving the goal isn’t close to your heart, you could end up hitting the reverse gear. I know a lady who struggled with weight problems for years and one fine day, she decided to change her eating habits and exercise and she really did end up losing lots of weight, but her reason was more to do with looking acceptable. And after a few years, she gained that weight again. Perhaps if her motivation had been to keep her body healthy and fit, she may have managed to keep off the weight in the long run…

    • Kalie says :

      So true, and sometimes changing our internal motivation is even harder than changing our behavior initially, but it definitely lasts.

  17. Jen at Frugal Millennial says :

    This is great! I’m a Type A person, and I tend to be pretty hard on myself if I don’t hit my goals. I recently realized that I’m not meeting my goals because I’m overwhelmed – not because I’m lazy or don’t care about my goals.

    I needed to adjust my goals and make them more realistic – instead of trying to exercise for 2 hours/day (1 hour of cardio and 1 hour of strength training), I decided to try for 30-45 minutes daily instead. I’m working on making all of my goals more reasonable with the amount of time I have in a day (still challenging and consistent, but more realistic).

    • Kalie says :

      Realistic goals make all the difference. Seems obvious, but it’s hard for us Type A’s to accept what is realistic.

  18. Our Next Life says :

    “winding us all up for a meltdown” — YES. I feel this in a big way with work especially, and know that the pressure I’m under to do more and more is not sustainable. It’s why I want to retire so badly, and same goes for Mr. ONL. I’ve made a huge effort to drop things that weren’t energizing or relaxing, and now I’m down to very few things — work, blogging, a tiny bit of skiing. I miss other things that I used to do, and hope to do again in the future, but it’s worth it to avoid the panic attacks that would come from trying to do it all. Like you accepting that this season of life comes with not enough solitude, I’m accepting the loss of some activities with the knowledge that it will all be worth it when we can quit in two years. But it can’t come soon enough! 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      Simplifying now to reach a long-term goal is a great motivator for letting some things go. It can be so hard to say no to genuinely good endeavors, but I’m glad you’re nearing your goal & will be able to return to them soon.

  19. Kim Ely says :

    Wonderful post – and a reminder we all need, I think. The pressure on today’s young families is so intense – be the perfect parent, the perfect employee (or the perfect entrepreneur) make the perfect home, save money, make money, it never ends. As a wife and mother of 4, grandmother of 2 (with 2 more on the way) caregiver for elderly parents, working at home, it is easy to run out of time, and I must remember to slow down and BE with my loved ones – Facetime with 2 year old granddaughter who just wants to talk to her grandmother, sit and talk with husband after he comes home from work, listen to mother tell me about her bible study group, and listen to my father plan his next home improvement…I think taking time to BE with my loved ones is my biggest plan for 2016! Thanks for the great ideas!

  20. Sarah Noelle says :

    Oh gosh, I don’t know what to do with those “40 new goals you should have!” posts either. It’s just overwhelming. And it’s true: there are not enough hours in the day to do everything we might like to do, so we have to pick and choose. (Personally, I choose that I will never, ever listen to a podcast at anything other than 1x speed.) 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      Picking our goals can be hard when we’re hearing or reading lots of awesome ideas. But too many at once and I’m out entirely. I’m too naturally wound-up to listen to double-speed podcasts!

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