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How Cleaning the Closet Can Change Your Life

How Cleaning the Closet Can Change Your Life

I’m spending my birthday cleaning my closet. Again. Why have I done this for the past three years, and why is it even necessary? Allow me to explain how a 20-minute exercise can change your life.

There is a difference between living life driven to get things done, marking off each task as it’s finished, and a life that leaves its mark on the world.

Socrates reminds us that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” asking us to look within to understand the true value of life. When we live with the end in mind, reflecting on what we might leave behind, our purpose is revealed from a Soul perspective rather than a list of meaningless tasks.

An examined life is one willing to seek out those barely perceptible places of the soul; an often tangled and undeveloped part of ourself that is very much like a pantry or linen closet. The doors are kept closed to hide the mess, but until you know what’s hidden inside, you’ll never know what you have to work with.

Souls are like closets–full of potential.

Not sure what is actually in there or how to find it, we’re afraid to even open the door in case everything tumbles out.

And sometimes life feels just that way: overcrowded and overwhelming. There’s no shortage of things to do, but it always feels like something is missing.

So where do we start? Let’s continue with the closet analogy to create a masterful plan, composed out of purposeful, meaningful reflection, based on where you want to end up and what you hope to leave behind.

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1. Empty the closet–start with a clean slate

If you were cleaning out an actual closet, you would first take everything out. An empty closet is a manageable closet. In the same way, clearing your mind of endless tasks, the “hurries and worries,” will allow you to inspect and systematically decide how to reorganize your life. You can then determine what’s currently working, as well as what isn’t.

Find time for quiet reflection. Schedule a minimum of 20 minutes of solitude without any distractions. Use a pen and paper to do this, not a tech device that requires tapping or typing. This is important: there’s something about writing things out by hand that accesses the more creative, soul-chasing part of your brain.

Set a timer. For 20 minutes write down everything that comes to mind that you would like to do, be, have or experience. Include relationships, finances, health, career, creative aspirations and personal growth.

Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do and experience? How would you like your relationships to grow? What would you like to learn?

Ask yourself what you want more (or less of) in your life. Give yourself a five-year window and brainstorm within this limit of time. Don’t think too hard, and allow yourself to dream. Focus especially on experiences and whom you want to share those experiences with.

2. Putting the closet back together–your priorities

Your previously cluttered, disorganized and unusable “closet” is now clean, freshly painted and ready to be put to good use. Next step? It’s time to put it back together, but NOT by stuffing everything back inside.

To restructure how we live, just like reorganizing a closet, will require letting go of what no longer “fits.”

The number 1 thing to let go of? The unrealistic expectations you have for yourself and others.

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Let go of the idea that it’s your job to save people from the consequences of their own choices. Allow them the grace to grow by learning from their mistakes. In turn, you will gain valuable time to pursue your own personal growth.

Let’s keep going.

Now take another look at that mindful and reflective inventory you have assembled and pare it down to your top 20 things. Sort them according to the following categories: Personal, Family/Relationships, Health, Career/Work, and Spiritual/Creative. I like to use different colored highlighters for each category. Under each heading, rank the items with Most Important at the top, and Least Important at the bottom.

Within each category, notice what catches your eye first; what makes your heart beat faster? What do you feel an irresistible pull to passionately pursue?

3. Master list vs. master plan–write yourself a story.

After you have ranked each item, turn your list into a narrative.

Write yourself a story, as if it is five years from now and you have done everything on your list. For example, you could write: “It is 2019 and this is what I have experienced/accomplished in the past five years…”

I am… I have…I live…I make…I do…

This narrative becomes your vision for all that you hope to do and be; it contains those secret longings that may have been squashed and hidden away for years, unrevealed and unexpressed until now.

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This will become your story–a story that will allow you to live on purpose. You will be focused, not simply driven; aware of what you are doing and even more important, why you are doing it. No longer are you checking off boxes on an ever-growing, meaningless list of things to do.

There are some things you need to hold on to indefinitely.

What to keep:

Projects that embody “process.” The process has to do with the entire journey of a project. It focuses on making memories and savoring moments. An example might be a family history project. If you are interested in genealogy, you could spend time alone and online, looking for records on Ancestry.com. From the process perspective, it could include spending time with family elders and recording the stories that embodied their lives. Yes, it will probably take more time, but you will ultimately have both a fuller, richer family history and have built stronger relationships.

Hold on to your legacy. Remember that what you create is what you leave behind. Photographs and images, letters written, meals infused with time and care, traditions kept and memories that result from them…the many savored moments carried in our hearts as a legacy of love, encouragement, inspiration and wisdom.

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

Habits that nourish. The behaviors that build health, nurture the spirit, and warm our hearts are the activities that grow relationships with friends, family and community.

Room to breathe. Create space within these lofty aspirations of yours! Just as towels begin to smell musty if they are crowded, we also need breathing room. Lists rarely get shorter. There is always more than enough to do, but we also need down time to just be.

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And finally: Hold tightly to things that will slow you down. Children. Pets. Crock pots. Children are especially wonderful teachers as to what is truly essential in our lives. Eating yummy food, playing with friends, and plenty of sleep. They are also great at noticing the small, subtle flavors that adults so often miss.

To view the world through a child’s eyes is to pay attention. And when we do this, as Henry Miller pointed out, our world becomes “mysterious, awesome, and indescribably magnificent.”

It can be life changing, for there are some alleyways and doors that are meant for us alone, and we will miss them if we run too fast.

Joseph Campbell wrote,

“If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

In other words, they are your doors.

So slow down and enjoy the journey. And you can start by cleaning the closet.

Featured photo credit: Gretchen Rubin One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself/BK via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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