A Timeless Guide to Simplifying Your Life

by Henrik Edberg


Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/notsogoodphotography/ / CC BY 2.0

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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify.”
Henry Thoreau

One of the most important things I have done to improve my life over the last few years is to focus on letting go of many things and to simplify.

Simplifying one’s life is as I have understood via emails and surveys also one of the most common aspirations of readers of this website. So for the past few months I have been working hard on a course called Simplicity.

This is by far my most in-depth product so far and will help you to practically simplify and improve the most important areas in life such as your productivity & effectiveness, your thinking, your social skills & relationships, your health, your money habits and more. Be on the lookout for more information about this in the next few days.

But for today I would like to share a couple of great ideas about simplifying that have been with us for a long time. These are a few of my own favorite thoughts about simplifying your life from the last 2500 years or so.

Focus on what is most important for you. Let go of the rest.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Hans Hofmann

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
Lin Yutang

“The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed – it is a process of elimination.”
Elbert Hubbard

There are many things you can let go of. Both on the inside and the outside. I have for example let go of some busy work on the outside. I have greatly decreased the number of times I check email etc. each day and I have learned to use very short to-do lists with only 2-3 of the most important items instead of a dozen items or more.

On the inside I do my best to let go of trivial and petty stuff. I let go of negative stuff. I let go of trying to control the results of my actions. I let go of information and old self-images that don’t serve me anymore. I always remember – or remind myself via the white board on my wall – to keep things extremely simple.

You can read quite a bit more about letting go in the last chapter of my free ebook, The 7 Timeless Habits of Happiness. But I’ll mention a small and effective tip for letting go right here. First accept that you are for example stuck in focusing on something trivial. Then let it go. Don’t try to just reject what you are thinking or feeling because that will only make it harder to let it go.

By doing all this elimination on the inside and outside there is more room, time and energy for me to use for the most important things. And that makes life so much more interesting and fun.

Express yourself in a simple way.

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”
Ernest Hemingway

One of the trickier things about social skills is to get your message across. One reason why people have difficulty with this is because they use more words than needed.

Now, sometimes that can be a good and enjoyable thing. Sometimes it’s just a way to feed your own ego and keep the spotlight on yourself for as long as possible. A lot of the time I think it can be useful to simplify and try to use fewer words.

Why? Well, it makes your message clearer and makes it more powerful emotionally because it’s focused. Keeping it shorter and more focused also makes it less likely that people will simply become bored with what you are saying.

So, how do you keep your word count down?

  • Be aware and alert. Just being aware of your problem can help you to stop the talking before it becomes excessive rambling.
  • Focus outward. Babbling on too much is also, at least in my opinion, something that often comes from being too focused inward and on yourself in a conversation. If you instead focus more outward you’ll be less self-conscious. This reduces nervous and slightly nonsensical babbling. And if you focus more outward, on the people you are talking to and less on your own glorious voice and golden words you’ll be more aware of what you are saying and how the conversation is going. If you focus on the other people you’ll be more focused on getting through and more attentive to the reactions you bring out.

A simpler life is one way to a happier life.

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.”
Edwin Way Teale

Society is to a large degree built on getting more.

To a degree this can be useful. But it may not be the thing that will solve all your problems.

You may not find your answer or happiness in more. It may just alter your troubles and problems. And/or give you more of them. What is already there inside of you perhaps gets highlighted and magnified when you get more. Instead of getting whatever you want when finally making all that money your wanted you may find that greed, jealousy and selfishness within you and in your world increases.

You may have thought that when you finally arrived at that place your problems would just disappear. But the ego wants more and is never satisfied.

So trying to fill your life and yourself up with more – money, stuff, power, smartness, prettiness, a feeling of being more enlightened than others – and then finally becoming happy may become like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom.

By simplifying and letting of a craving for more you can make your life happier and easier.

Get a life to create a simpler life.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Confucius

“Simplicity is an acquired taste. Mankind, left free, instinctively complicates life.”
Katherine F. Gerould

Why do people make life more complicated than it is? Well, one answer may be old habits that you need to let go of and replace.

Another answer is that your life isn’t really that exciting. So you add drama and complications to make it more interesting and stimulating. That’s at least what I used to do in the past.

But instead of doing that you can take the more difficult path and actually get a life.

If you find yourself sitting around too much and not having enough to do then it’s very easy to get stuck in thought loops and go into a downward spiral. Simply by filling your life with more fun activities and people you become a lot more relaxed and have little time or patience for complications or drama from yourself or others.

So spend less time analyzing life and more time living and exploring it in whatever way you’d like. By doing so you are also often confronted with having to expand your comfort zones and perhaps face a fear. This leads to better self confidence and less fretting about if you can handle things that may come up.

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{ 21 comments }

jeff noel April 21, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Henrik, you always have great, profound quotes. Keep sharing them.

The friction in this particular post is how long it is.

Nacho Jordi April 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Very interesting post, you play a lot of important cords. Regarding the issue with word count, I’ve struggled with both problems: I used to ‘bare bone’ the thing so much that people did not get my point. Then I became too verbose, treating my audience as dumb. My process now (but it can change now in half an hour) is writing in a flow, to avoid self-censorship, and then cut, cut, cut…
Regarding the lust for accumulation, I think it is a great problem in our society. I recently read in authors as different as Emerson and Peter Brook that what is interesting in life is the process of doing something, of being on for something; the result is not that important (once you arrive, you have to set another goal). And, definitely, physical possessions have a very modest contribution to our happiness, in my view at last. :)
Thank you for rising such interesting issues. The struggle for simplicity is something we can learn a lot from.

Justin | Mazzastick April 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Henrik,

I too am on a path to simplicity. Especially clearing out the inner stuff that no longer serves me. Less is more in my opinion.

I have seen people that have way too much in their lives like material things and inner stuff that they hold onto. Yet they continue on this path of unhappiness.

Mary April 22, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I think it’s important to fill your life with things you enjoy. Whether it’s simplifying to get rid of the negative or adding activities to make your life more positive – Enjoy it!

Please help me April 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm

That’s awesome. I try that.

Lucie April 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Henrik, I just love this site. I have been a reader for over a year, and with every post I keep on being amazing by constant quality of your content. I have both of your ebooks, too, and they’re just great.
Thank you.

Henrik Edberg April 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Thank you for the continued support! I’m glad to hear that you have followed the blog for that long and that you found the ebooks helpful too. Hope you’ll stick around for another year or more. :)

Jussi April 24, 2011 at 11:00 am

And once again you had found some excellent points. I enjoyed reading.
I try to simplify my life , but sometimes it’s a bit hard, so your post just
gave me new energy and I can go on the way I’ve chosen. Thanks Henrik

Guru Eduardo April 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm

“the simpler we create things, the more room we create for what really matters”

Henrik Edberg April 24, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Thanks for the comments, some good insights and I was reminded to keep in mind that I should keep my writing simple.

Monica Rafiq April 25, 2011 at 7:28 am

Hi Henrik, Like the simplicity message, it’s just so important. It’s a useful reminder to be aware of that us humans do like to confuse the heck out of our lives when all we really need to do is to simplify what we ‘think’ we want and lead a more simpler, purer existence. Thanks for the reminder – appreciate it. :-)

eft tapping points April 25, 2011 at 10:06 am

Absolutely eye opening, I think what we need to keep in mind is that we only live once, so we must live our dear life for the good. Thank you for your time in sharing this.

What Causes Anxiety April 25, 2011 at 10:09 am

This post certainly made me reflect on whats going on in my life. In todays world I think everything is superficial, and your right. We’ll just have to let go of the things that are not important to us and focus on the things that gives us happiness from within or self fulfillment if you will.

Jay Monteclaro April 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Great article!

Limit worrying. It changes little but uses up an enormous reserve of energy and complicates things unnecessarily. Instead, be proactive. Draw up action lists and just get active dealing with it.

Thanks for sharing!

Black Market April 26, 2011 at 6:36 am

Another great post, Henrik. Looking forward to your next course. Simplifying my life, or cutting out unnecessary things, is something that I could really use.

neo April 26, 2011 at 6:44 am

great blog!

shadi April 26, 2011 at 11:22 am

thank you for this book…

Silver Strands April 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm

So glad I found you … I want all my readers to know about you, so I’ve linked to your blog on my post today.

JERAD TAN April 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

Hello Henrik,

Great article. Simple yet meaningful and blissful. Life is so simple, but human forget their actual happiness and LIFE! I will do practice your words.

Poul Andreassen April 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Thanks for the kind words. Another golden article : )

ariana May 3, 2011 at 8:12 am

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”

that quote reads so true. how many times do we preoccupy ourselves with the clutter in our mind instead of focusing on what really has to be done.

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