Markets tumbling, businesses stretched, jobs questioned, income threatened, all with commitments promised. Whether financial or personal – your mortgage, rent, bills, kids, family, or pets – it all adds to the pressure cooker when your ability to meet your obligations is compromised.
The tips in this article, based on my own experience and interviews with those that have transformed their lives, will give you perspective, choice and permission to adapt. And in doing so, you will lay strong foundations for a happier future, even if your material wealth seems to be crumbling during these unprecedented times of Covid-19.
Self-awareness creates choice
At a self-awareness retreat I attended in Goa a few years ago, the trainers observed my behavioral patterns over the course of a week. Three words stuck with me in their feedback:
Tip 1: Less is more
At that time, I was trying to do too many things in my life. I was losing focus, wasn’t being particularly effective at any one given thing. I also realized later that doing more was not fulfilling either.
I was also reminded of this concept when I completed a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in Northern Thailand. For Vipassana retreats, participants are not permitted phones or entertainment, and stay in basic accommodations (with a pretty hard mattress, I might add). No one was allowed to speak or make contact (including eye contact) with anyone for 10 whole days. The main activities that could occupy my time were meditation, meals and rest. I had very few possessions here too.
However, when I came out, I felt happier than I had been in a while. I had a beaming smile that I couldn’t wipe away for weeks. I was so grateful for everything I had in my life.
Another time that I felt the embodiment of the “less is more” principle is when I met the villagers of a small Indian mountain village within Spiti Valley. I was teaching at a self-awareness retreat (a Neuro Linguistic Programming certification program) to a group of highly successful individuals, many of whom were used to working in big cities.
When I saw the faces of the villagers who lived with us, they had the most genuine, authentic smiles I had ever seen. Not just one. All of them. I couldn’t believe it. Being brought up in a Western society instills a belief within you that the more things you have and the more money you earn, the happier you can be. It’s the cornerstone of the American dream.
Yet here I was staying in a small modest house, where villagers didn’t shower for days to save water, where there were no shopping malls, internet, entertainment, vehicles, fashion, gyms — nothing familiar from my world. They had almost no money to their names. Yet, they were truly happy.
One of the key principles taught in Buddhism is non-attachment and stopping the accumulation of material possessions, and they were living proof that less really is more.
Tip 2: To create freedom, strip your possessions down to the bare essentials
This second tip is about simplifying your life by prioritizing and identifying what is necessary. For those worrying about commitments you have to meet, particularly financial commitments, now is the time to sell or donate your possessions and reduce your responsibilities to only what you need.
You’ll find that the financial strain will become more manageable and perhaps even fade away. It may take time to do this, but it will pay dividends in your happiness and mental health. For more insight into the concept of minimalism, I would recommend checking out the movie and also podcast ‘The Minimalists’ by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus on Netflix. They have started a movement to live more meaningful lives with less after leaving their six-figure salaries to be happier.
I interviewed a truly inspirational man named Barton Brent as part of a series of interviews I’m doing for an upcoming podcast and book called ‘Burn From Within’. The series shares real stories of people who have gone through major career or life transitions and end up with more passion for life, greater meaning in their work and a more balanced lifestyle. But in this case, the transition was sudden.
Barton lived the American dream. A successful career in commercial real estate afforded him many lovely possessions including two huge houses, cars, boats and motorcycles, all while happily married to a beautiful wife for over twenty years. In one moment, everything changed. A tragic motorcycle accident crippled Barton for life, and sadly his wife passed away. All of the possessions and career he had were useless to him in just a few short seconds.
I won’t tell you the whole story here as I’m saving it for its own article. Safe to say that after years of surgery, physio and disciplined practice of yoga, Barton went on to make a full recovery and is now happier than he has ever been before. Everything he has fits into one backpack and he lives freely across India and other parts of the world teaching yoga and running adventure motorbike tours.
There is so much we can all learn from Barton’s story, but it really highlights what is important in life that makes you happy, and that most possessions you have are not needed and provide such short-lived happiness.
As Barton eloquently notes: What do you actually need to be happy? I have determined that I like a toothbrush and I like clean underwear.”
The more possessions you accumulate, the more you have to pay to store and maintain them!
If Barton can get rid of a six-bedroom house, a lake house, boats, cars, and exchange it for one backpack, then you can get rid of the sh*t you don’t need.
Unless you have kids, being able to be without a permanent address and live anywhere is the best for your happiness, according to Barton. He is homeless because he chooses to be. For him, and for me living a nomad lifestyle, it’s easier, it’s simpler, and it frees you up mentally, emotionally, physically as well as spiritually.
How to retire early
Barton shared a sobering thought about how many approach retirement:
“We are doing nothing [about our happiness now] and saving money until we’re 65 and then we can retire. That money doesn’t go very far. It just buys us time to sit in front of the television. It’s not the life.”
So if you feel like your retirement date is out of your hands, Barton shares some straight forward advice. Retiring early is actually pretty straight forward: eliminate what you don’t need, find something you’re passionate about, and keep the only the essential things you need for this. For example, if you love music, a guitar and your living essentials may be all you need.
Tip 3: Prioritize your resources around doing what you love
Do you know what your passions are? What about your living essentials? If you don’t know, set a plan to work it out and go ahead and retire early! If retiring early isn’t feasible yet, you’ll be able to start enjoying life more now before your pension or social security kicks in (which might not be as much as you think).
If you are not doing what you love now, how can you prioritize your time and energy to doing more of what you love today, not when you retire?
Tip 4: Know that tough times in your mind will pass and nothing is permanent
“I’ve really come to realize the reality that we see isn’t reality at all,” Barton says. “Everything is a perception in our mind. And so if we want to change the perception, then we have to change our mind and how we perceive it.” He powerfully developed this point by sharing this:
“Everyone has trauma. Everyone has a story. Everyone. When we focus on pain, we pull our vital energy into worrying about it… What hurts you today will be your pleasure tomorrow. Everything is a pendulum; everything changes and nothing is permanent.”
This is one of the most important principles and practices of Vipassana: impermanence. Barton went from wanting to die, to having a goal to wipe his own ass for two years, to becoming a yoga retreat leader and being happier than he ever was.
Holding onto the belief that nothing is permanent, particularly during the current coronavirus / Covid-19 outbreak is crucial. It will pass, so focus on a brighter future and the positive opportunities in your present reality.
Tip 5: Accept what you can’t control and change what you can control
Just because everything is impermanent does not mean you should sit on your hands and do nothing. Far from it. You have to deal with what you’ve got. Take control and don’t play the victim.
Focus on what you are grateful for, no matter how tough life seems now. Refer back to tip 4 on the belief of impermanence, and then be aware of opportunities around you in your current reality, there are plenty. So how can you become more aware of the opportunities all around us, even during tough times globally?
Tip 6: Practice mindfulness and being totally present regularly
Mindfulness has many benefits, but how can you master living in the moment?
Becoming present and mindful comes in many different forms. You can start by tackling activities that you normally perform on autopilot in a new way. For example, you can start to brush your teeth with your other hand. Any time you do something you are unconsciously incompetent in, your brain requires more focus to coordinate your muscles and thinking to unfamiliar tasks. As a result, there is less room to daydream about your fears or cravings for chocolate, and as a result you become more present with your experience.
I remember how much I enjoyed horse riding and scuba diving, not just because I was surrounded by nature and wildlife, but also because in both situations I was forced to be present, as my life depended on it! I’m not so experienced in either, and appreciated it afterwards — my brain switched off from its usual chatter and I was just living in that moment, nothing else.
Even with a busy work schedule, there are well-established mindfulness methods that only take a few minutes. Yoga, meditation and breathwork are especially helpful for connecting with your present self.
In fact, most forms of exercise can be helpful in changing your state to become less reactive. Having an adrenaline rush or oxygenated blood from e.g. yoga and breathwork changes how our minds work. These practices change our mindset, preventing emotions from taking control.
Barton highlights why you become happier for free just by being present:
“Colors become brighter, food tastier and conversations [more] fascinating just by being aware and focused in this present moment, not the next one.”
And when you are tuned into to the radio station of the present, you are acutely more aware of opportunities even in times of crisis.
Tip 7: Act from good intentions, serve others and keep healthy
I asked the Head Monk of Key Monastery in Spiti Valley, an institution over one thousand years old hidden deep in the Indian Himalayan mountains, what his purpose was. As a leader of Buddhism, his teachings had spread to the villagers I mentioned earlier, and it influenced their behaviour. Perhaps this was the source of their happiness and fulfilment?
His answer to his purpose was simple:
“Do good in the world and serve others.”
There were three key ingredients in this life recipe:
- Serve your community: help others and you will never be alone.
- Believe in karma: do things with good intentions and the world will be better.
- Be well: meditate, practice gratitude, keep a clear mind and healthy body.
Because the villagers shared, looked out for one another and believed in karma and Buddhist principles, they were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. The smiles on their faces showed pure authentic joy and peace.
Barton seconds this point by saying:
“Just do the next right thing. Make this a habit. You won’t second guess yourself anymore and you’ll just live in the moment.”
He also adds that when you act from good intentions, you need to have the courage to persevere when people disagreed with you.
“Opinion is the lowest form of knowledge,” Barton explains. “It’s not reality. Have the courage to be disliked. People that dislike you have something unhealed in themselves, so don’t worry about their opinion!
Lead your life (this includes your personal life, career and business) with decisions made from good intentions. In good times and tough times like now. Others will support you when they know you are acting from a good intention. This is real leadership.
Tip 8: Set your own agenda in life, don’t let others run it for you
One thing I tell all my career and lifestyle transition clients to do is write down their perfect day. When they compare their perfect day to their current typical day, often the differences are explained by other people setting their agenda routinely. By starting to take back control, little by little, they transition towards their perfect day.
By having clarity and self-awareness on how you would spend your time if the agenda was only set by you, not your boss, your family or what society expects from you, you realize what elements of life make you authentically happy.
By going through all of the other tips in this article, you have stripped down resources to the bare essentials, focused on doing what you love and are keeping healthy mentally and physically. Using a template of setting your agenda for a perfect day brings all this together to set a plan to actually live life on your terms, with the resources you have. And if you are doing more of what you love, chances are that you will get good at it and be paid more over time.
It’s a tough transition to go from your current reality to your perfect day. It may not be perfect at all, but progress is key however gradual your journey is. Many things will be outside of your comfort zone, at times you will not have the belief to make the changes and sacrifices that are needed. Some days the motivation will not be there. So it’s super important to have the right support around you, whether that is from your family, friends, mentors, or coaches.
So there you have it. Eight solid tips to live by to move you to an even happier life, even if your material wealth might be declining right now.
If you want to discuss how you can manage a transition to a simpler, happier and more meaningful life than you have today, even with what is going on that is out of your control, do get in touch.
You can reserve a free 30 minute strategy call with me this week below:
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