Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness.
These are abstract, often subjective words. Up until 6 years ago I didn’t fully grasp how closely they were related.
You see, for a while I was happily collecting stuff: 100+ DVDs (including multiple versions of the same movies!) to make sure my collection was complete, plenty of bookshelves to fit all of the books I acquired (even if I didn’t have time to read them all), and tons of video games and new clothes just in case I needed them.
Many people, like myself for a while, equate freedom with more success, money, and stuff. When we do that, we often add complexity, stress, and obligations in our lives – racing to what we think will give us freedom. We spend more money on more stuff and then need to find more space to fit all that stuff, and the cycle can get out of control.
Eight years ago, things started to shift for me. I dumped my unfulfilling career, sold the majority of my possessions, lowered my overhead, hit “restart,” and simplified my approach to health and time management. And the result has been a whirlwind journey of leveling up my life one day at a time. I’ve been able to do things I never really dreamed possible by simplifying 4 key areas of my life.
If you’ve decided this is the year you’re going to improve your life, here are the areas that had the biggest impact on my journey. Pick one or two to focus on and really start to dig in.
Remember: by removing the unimportant, you will free yourself up for important.
1) Simplify Your Health: Over the past few years, I’ve become healthier and happier than ever by simplifying my workouts and nutrition. I follow the same routine week after week, and just focus on getting stronger with a few key exercises: squats, deadlifts, presses, pull-ups and push ups.
By getting rid of the extraneous exercises that provide minimal value, and focusing on getting really strong with these select exercises, your body gets the stress it needs to adapt and build a strong body (without spending hours and hours in the gym). Less time invested for far greater results.
The same is true with your diet.
Stop obsessively counting calories, weighing food, and loading up your brain with mental clutter. Don’t worry about cleanses and diets and supplements. Instead, stick to a few key rules:
- Eat mostly vegetables and some protein with each meal
- Minimize sugar (it’s in everything these days).
- Don’t consume liquid calories.
- Minimize processed food and carbohydrates.
When you build a healthy body, it gives you freedom to stay off medication, spend less on health care, and fewer hours at the doctor or in hospitals, giving you more time to grow with new activities like swing dancing or rock climbing.
2) Free Yourself from Distraction: Like many people, I make my living at my computer. If I can become more productive with my time, I can do better at my job. It’s tough to be free when you struggle to focus thanks to the wonderfully intoxicating pull of useless internet sites. So remove the need to use willpower to save yourself from distraction:
- Install Facebook News Feed Eradicator, and remove Facebook from your phone. Twitter and instagram too. Life still goes on.
- Install freedom.to on your computer, and block time wasting websites during work hours.
- Turn off notifications or uninstall all apps on your phone that cause you to waste time.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work, followed by 5 minutes of break. Repeat until done.
When you remove clutter, it gives you a chance to do less AND BETTER work.
Pick three big tasks to complete each day that will make the most impact in your business or job. Start the first task, and work on it until it’s complete. Then, do tasks 2, followed by task 3. In other words, stop multitasking.
The unimportant but seemingly urgent tasks will continue to get in the way unless you give yourself permission to cut them from your most productive time at work to focus on the important.
3) Stop Clogging Your Life with Stuff: In 2011 I got rid of most of my possessions and set off a multi-year trip around the world where I lived in 20 different countries. About a month after I began my trip, I threw away half of the things I had packed and brought with me.
I had thought I had already dumped so much of my crap before I left! But I realized even going through that process I packed over double what I truly needed. Shedding possessions like this often work in layers. And much of the time, each new layer we peel grants us flexibility and freedom.
By traveling light and wearing versatile, high quality clothing, I could change plans on a whim and move quickly. On top of that, when you spend less money on things, it frees up your money for experiences.
The same is true now even though I’m settled. Six months ago I decided to relocate to New York City, and two weeks later I had my few possessions loaded into my small car and made it to the Big Apple. Because I had lived below my means for many years, having rented an apartment with a few things rather than owning a big house I didn’t need, I had the freedom to choose my next step.
You may not want to travel the world and live in various countries. You may not want to make a big move anytime soon. But I challenge you to peel back a layer of stuff in your own life, whatever that looks like, and unlock the benefits of removing the excess.
4) Become Free to Grow: We all say we wish we had more time to do a fun or enriching activity, be it learning a musical instrument, learning a language, reading more, painting, taking a class, or exercising. If you’re a parent, your activity might be something that enriches your child’s life as well.
Why don’t many of us follow through on these new, fun and challenging hobbies that help us grow? Because we don’t “have time.” Because we are “busy.” Because we don’t “have the energy” to pursue them after a long day.
We are trapped under the burden of our commitments and the false importance we put on things that don’t matter to us. We’ve bought into the cult of busy – and place more value on that than we do growth.
Start small. Cancel your cable and choose to watch fewer TV shows (or get rid of your TV). Choose to stop reading and watching depressing news articles and stories and know that the world will go on regardless.
Instead, choose deliberately how you spend your time. When you viciously cut things from your life that don’t make you happy or provide value, it gives you the freedom to pursue a hobby that interests you and makes life worth living.
Over the past year, I started taking violin lessons simply because I thought it looked challenging and I love how it sounds. I only started improving when I cleared my free time of more news and clutter and noise and make practice a focal point.
Freedom is out there… answer the call.
Adventure, growth, and happiness are available to us. But most of us bury it by complicating our health, giving into distractions, filling our life with stuff we don’t value, failing to ruthlessly prioritize where we spend our time.
But there’s another way!
When you can deliberately choose to stop spending your resources – time, attention, and money – on the unimportant, it frees up your resources to be spent aggressively on the things that matter.
Again, my challenge to you is to pick 1 or 2 of these areas to start, and make tweaks today to simplify that aspect of your life.
Here’s to an amazing (and more simple) 2016!
Steve Kamb is the author of Level Up Your Life, a step-by-step blueprint for life that teaches you to eliminate the unimportant and start prioritizing growth, adventure, and happiness.