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Productivity & Organizing Myth #9 – We need a lot of stuff!

Productivity & Organizing Myth #9 – We need a lot of stuff!
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    Myth: We need a lot of material things.
    Reality: We can succeed and be happy with very little stuff.

    When we productivity pros hear a few phrases we pay attention because you are giving clues to your mindset. Do you say a version of any of these things?

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    • I need another ______ (fill in the blank- pair of shoes, suit, house, car, computer, tech toy, etc.)
    • It would be nice to pay off those credit cards!
    • If we lived in a bigger house we’d be tidy because we’d have a place to put things.
    • I spend all weekend cutting the grass, washing the car, and maintaining the house.
    • Put the car in the garage – ha!

    Here are some downsides to having too much stuff:

    • You have to pay for it
    • You have to insure it
    • You have to maintain it
    • You have to walk and work around it
    • You have to store it
    • You won’t have room for new stuff to come into your life

    In a few chapters of my life I got rid of almost everything. I stopped my job and resigned from all my volunteer positions. We sold the house. We put half of everything in recycle or the dumpster. The rest of our stuff went into storage. And, I lived very happily for years! This was extreme but illustrates how little I needed. For example, I was in Europe for 4 months with:

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    • 1 backpack
    • 1 pair of pants
    • 1 pair of shorts
    • 1 skirt
    • 3 shirts
    • 1 sweater
    • 1 jacket
    • 1 pair of shoes (2 pr socks)

    TJ is experiencing a similar revelation as he is getting divorced and living in a rented 2-bedroom townhouse. This weekend he said to me, “It’s amazing how little you really need. A couple of carloads of stuff and a dozen pieces of furniture and I am all set up here. I have the kids every other weekend and visitors now and then and really do have all I need. I got used to the 3 car garage and filled that with all kinds of things but I sure do fine without them.” TJ now has a one-car garage.

    Linda’s revelation came when she moved to New York City (NYC). Her new place is 1/5th the size of her suburban home. Forced by space limitations Linda scaled to having what she needs and no more. Multiple pair of black shoes are now represented by just 2 pair – and that’s the only color she wears with her traditional corporate/banking wardrobe. Still, she’s content with her living quarters and the abundance of little neighborhood restaurants that she frequents rather than cook daily. And, she’s since moving to the coop, she’s added two little ones (kids) to the ‘limited’ space.

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    When circumstances push these real-life people to consider what they really need they have adjusted and lived rich lives with much less stuff. They also focus a lot more on the experiences in their life and are free from things that consume loads of money, time and energy.

    Previous Myths:

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    Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be out of the country for months at a time. She’s visited South & Central America, Europe, Asia, ‘Down Under” and traveled across North America. Susan writes at www.productivitycafe.com, consults with professionals on improving their personal productivity and presents motivating productivity programs & tips (such as how to get ready for the busy season) to groups.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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