January 10th, 2021

How living with less leads to gratitude and happiness, in all aspects of life.

The current global pandemic and social distancing procedures has forced us all to confront one of life’s most difficult questions: what is our purpose?

When we pull back common luxuries such as social gatherings, travel/vacations, or (more simply) a “normally” functioning society, we’re left with ourselves and our possessions. Over the past year, I’ve realized how much more there is to life when the distractions of our ordinary lives are taken away. I’ve also acquired a greater appreciation for the things and people that I have in my life, through decluttering and keeping only the essential items that bring profound value.

My proposal is that we begin to adopt the concept of minimalism in all areas of our lives. To demonstrate how I’ve integrated this notion into my own life; I’ll describe my approach to minimalism regarding my outlook on running, social media, material possessions, and environmental impact. These methods support progress as opposed to perfection (my approach to everything in life).

Running (minimalism)

“Less is more” may seem counterintuitive in terms of running, but I’ve realized that this concept can have an exceptional impact on health, and subsequently, performance.

After developing an injury in 2020, I was forced to take time off running. My coach built my mileage back up very gradually, to the point that is optimal for performance. During this time, my outlook on training changed. I realized, by taking time away and coming back patiently and consistently, my body has adapted to gain more from the essential workouts by eliminating unnecessary mileage. Together, we have discovered the point at which my body operates at its best.

I’ve also benefited mentally from a minimalistic approach to running. I no longer feel the need to have constant reinforcement that I am on track to running a personal best performance. I show up to key workouts with the mindset of seizing the opportunity and for this reason, I value these moments all the more.

Taking action #1

To adopt this approach I recommend ensuring a strong coach-athlete relationship and getting rid of the GPS watch — forcing you to run purposefully and based on “feel”.

“The idea that the harder you work, the better you’re going to be is garbage. The greatest improvement is made by the man or woman who works most intelligently.”

Bill Bowerman

Social media (minimalism)

Over the past several months, my opinion as to how social media should be used in our lives has changed drastically. This began after taking a 100-day break from my personal social platforms. What I discovered during this time away is that social media affects our behaviours and actions, no matter how responsible we claim to be engaging with these platforms. That being said, there are advantages to social media that have the potential to enhance our lives.

The manner that we use and derive value from social media is very individualistic. Because of this, the key is to commit to a process of self-discovery. This means being receptive to messages about the impact that social media has and experimenting with the ways in which we can flip the equation so that the benefits outweigh the harms. No matter how different this may look for each person, the end goal will always be to spend less time online and more time living.

Taking action #2

I recommend starting with a detox, as does Cal Newport in the book Digital Minimalism. By doing so, I found it much more effective to permanently change my habits and identify the real sources of value that the platforms provide in my life.

“Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value — not as sources of value themselves.”

Cal Newport

Material possessions (minimalism)

After watching the documentary The Minimalists: Less is Now, that was just released to Netflix at the beginning of 2021, I was inspired to declutter my own life. I hadn’t realized just how invigorating the process of getting rid of unnecessary material possessions could be. Much like how my minimalist approach to running and social media shifted my mindset and improved my mental and physical health, so too did the process of getting rid of unessential items. When I was able to let go, I gained freedom. I also felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards the privileges that I have in my life.

I said this at the beginning and I’ll say it again — my methods are not perfect. I still possess a large amount of items that do not provide much (if any) real value in my life and are severely under-utilized. However, I am committed to the process of living as a minimalist and I am discovering, slowly but surely, the benefits of such a lifestyle. It’s about living with greater intention and purpose.

Taking action #3

The Minimalists advise most people to start simple, such as getting rid of one possession each day. They also propose a more extreme approach of doing a “packing party”, whereby, you pack up all of your things into boxes (as if you are moving) and over a few weeks, you track the amount of possessions that are actually being used on a regular basis. This method helps to distinguish the essentials from the non-essentials. I decided to begin with an approach that falls somewhere in between both extremes. Over the past few days, I’ve been tackling one project at a time. These “projects” can be as small as a desk drawer to as large as my entire wardrobe — depending on the amount of time that my day allows. It’s about taking small steps that accumulate overtime.

“Our memories are within us, not within our things.”

Joshua Fields Millburn

Environmental impact (minimalism)

The last area that I will touch on is the positive impact that minimalism can have on the environment. This is a topic that I have become very passionate about over the past couple of months and it was only by stepping away from the noise and the competing for attention that social media platforms facilitate — I was able to develop a more in-depth understanding of important issues going on in our world.

The Global Carbon Project has indicated that carbon emissions fell 7% in 2020, due primarily to the impact of the global pandemic. This demonstrates how individual sacrifices can positively impact the greater good. When the world recovers from the pandemic and inches towards normalcy, I do not expect such sacrifices to persist. However, I do believe that this tangible data should encourage consumers and businesses to act intentionally, with sustainability at the forefront.

Taking action #4

One of the most difficult obstacles that I see towards public opinion regarding environmental sustainability, is that personal sacrifices will not produce immediate and identifiable results. The solutions require collective action on a global scale, as the actions of the minority are insufficient. In other words, each of us has to commit to doing good for the sake of doing good, without the need for constant reinforcement. At the beginning of this post, I proposed a similar concept — action towards environmental sustainability requires a process/progress-oriented mindset.

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

David Attenborough

What is our purpose?

As for the question of “what is our purpose” — I believe that the best way of finding this out is through a life of intention, gratitude, and happiness; a life of minimalism.

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