We have to declutter our lives before we can focus on what is important to us.
When we live with so much abundance, it’s hard to imagine a better experience with fewer choices. For every product we buy in a store or online, there is literarily a sea of options. Do we need all the selections? How often do you stare at the packaging of various products, unable to tell which one is the best for you? People call this decision paralysis. Too many options equal no option.
I used to work out at this boxing gym on my way to work before I transferred to a different hospital in another city. One morning after sweating buckets in their signature Triple Threat Workout, I was starving. I stopped by a cafe for my favorite avocado, ham, and egg sandwich and a fresh-squeezed orange juice. It wasn’t until I took out my wallet that I realized I had only three dollars and some spare change left. The place only accepted cash. There wasn’t enough time to go to another restaurant for breakfast. I apologized to the cashier and studied the menu for the cheapest item that could fill me up. Eventually, I settled on a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese. Driving to work, I ate the toasted bagel like it was the most delicious food in the world. It was crunchy and creamy. I felt the texture in my mouth; I noticed the subtle sweetness on my tongue. I felt happier with each bite I took. When I finished the bagel, I felt even better than on the days I had my favorite breakfast. You see, when my choices were taken away from me, I learned to appreciate more.
The same applies to life.
If you want an uncluttered mind, clean up your room. Get rid of the things you think you need but never use. Give them away; let your junk be someone else’s treasure. If you can’t decide what to keep, ask yourself what is meaningful to your life. Does this object serve your purpose? If not, send it to someone who will enjoy it. Giving makes us happier and gives us more control of our lives.
If particular online messages upset you each time you read them, unsubscribe, unfriend, or quit the group. Have a digital detox every Friday to reset your mental focus. You’ve been working hard all week; it’s time to unwind with your life partner and kids. Don’t spend hours staring at a screen that doesn’t care if you’re there. Tell your kids that they earn a quarter every time they catch you checking the phone on Fridays. They’ll get the job done.
If you want a healthy and fit body, pay attention to what you eat and when you eat. Eat only when your body needs to refuel, not when you’re stressed, bored, or sleepy as I did before. Pay attention to the texture, smell, and taste of your food, and chew slowly for proper digestion. Research shows slow eating makes you feel full sooner and curbs emotional eating. Connect with your meal. It’s more intimate to you than your material possessions—you can’t stuff your favorite photo down your throat, but the food you take in gets absorbed and becomes a part of you.
The more quality items you consume, the fewer toxins accumulate inside your body. That applies to medications as well. I study medicine for a living, but I don’t take pills unless there’s a clear therapeutic indication. Don’t delay medical care because you don’t want chemicals in your body. Treat your body when it needs help. What I want to discourage you from is unnecessary self-medicating behavior. I’ve talked to many health enthusiasts who take an excessive amount of “miracle” supplements for energy and health. If you are interested in quality research studies on the safety and efficacy of various complementary and alternative medicines, Nutritionfacts.org is a good resource. Chaired by Dr. Michael Greger, this organization provides strictly noncommercial, science-based public service on the latest in nutrition research via bite-sized videos.
Some of you may have the tendency to seek help from medications when you feel sad, unsatisfied, or low in energy. For example, you could experience insomnia, headache, and anxiety because you worry about being laid off from work. Your doctor may prescribe medications for you to treat such conditions, but they do nothing to the cause of your symptoms. As long as you continue worrying about your job, you’ll experience these symptoms. So you go back to your doctor and get a higher dosage or more frequent treatment. Almost all medications carry adverse effects, ranging from mild gastrointestinal effects (such as nausea) to more serious central nervous system symptoms (such as memory loss). Mental stress often leads to physical pain, stiffness, and numbness. Relieving stress is the key to eliminate your symptoms, not pills.
Multiple research studies show physical activity improves mood and energy level, so go outside, take a walk, play basketball with your kids; take yourself out of that emotional dark corner. Once you calm down, evaluate if there’s any evidence supporting your worry. In the example of a potential layoff, if you believe the outcome is likely, take action by looking for other job options. If you can’t find anything within your field, try related work, or start your own business. Discuss with your life partner the possibilities of cutting back on spending. Teach your kids about the virtue of saving, and ask them to help you with the upcoming financial difficulty. It’s never too early to teach children money management skills. We don’t know who we are until we’re challenged. There are many successful examples where people found a new calling when the old life shut the door on them. Remember, changes are often opportunities in disguise.
Some people carry this notion that you get what you pay for. Yes, a cheaper product may be inferior to its pricier counterpart in quality or performance. Luxury cars have a stronger road presence. Dressing in brand names improves your perceived status. If you can afford them, good for you. If you can’t, there are things more meaningful to you than what meets the eyes. Price should not be the only criteria through which we measure our lives. Say you’re invited to two parties on the same day. One is at an expensive venue filled with wealthy, beautiful people you’ve never met; the other is at your kid’s school, where you get to see your son or daughter dressed up and put on a show for you. You’re likely to go to the school party because it makes you feel proud, while the other makes you feel like a failure. Stop comparing to others. Everyone has a different story. You’re the orange, and they’re the apples.
Many good things in life are free. Love, friendship, and nature are all free and stand the test of time.
I grew up a city girl. I disliked camping in the wilderness, sometimes without a shower or toilet. It felt dirty and inconvenient. Chu loves camping in the woods, where we cook our meals outdoors, clean up in the river, and dig a hole for our human needs.
In the beginning, I complained a lot about the primitive lifestyle, but gradually my perception changed. I realized the beauty of living simply. I watched the brilliant sunrises in the woods and felt giddy over seeing the Milky Way in the night sky. I appreciated the hot drinks we made in the morning to warm up my achy body after sleeping on the ground. We saw all kinds of animals, big and small. As long as we left them alone, none of them bothered us. It was so peaceful and full of life in the forest. We got to witness the balance of nature at work, from plants to insects. Ethan learned how to skip stones expertly in a river. He enjoyed swimming in the open water while minding the safety concerns. We rode horses deep into the mountains where cars can’t reach. We saw spectacular snow-capped mountains surrounding us in the peak of summer, where we were the only human to appreciate the view. These trips felt like a spiritual journey where my burden slowly fell away, and I was wholesome again.
Live simply. Make room for the magic moments in and around you.
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