There’s been a lot of talk about unity lately. President Biden made it the theme of his Inaugural address, and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle have emphasized a need for the country to come together to bridge the growing schism that divides our society. Regardless of your political or societal views, you cannot deny that division and discord yield stress and anxiety...neither of which contribute to easy peasy living. So our theme for the month of February is Unity...because reaching out for healing, sharing abundantly, working together, and meeting each others’ needs is really the only path to true peace and easy peasy living.
There’s a common misconception that unity requires you to suppress your own views, to stifle your voice, or to sacrifice your principles on the altar of communion. But none of that will bring about true and lasting peace, only simmering resentment. Only balance will yield genuine unity. Indeed, we say something profoundly important when we listen to another point of view. We teach how to be respectful of differing opinions by learning to model respectful behavior. We receive grace by giving it. It’s not about giving in, but rather about simply giving. Enough of us on both sides must be willing to invest ourselves in the effort if we are to restore this broken bridge.
The greatest tools we have at our disposal are knowledge, history. and facts. Only by sharing these with each other, can we build bridges that last. Only when we each embrace our dual roles of teacher and student with equal fervor can we bring about real change. Most of us lecture enthusiastically, but fail to take substantive notes on what the other side is preaching, much less to study the roots of their concerns. A dearth of background information leads us to view our fellow citizens as the other side instead of as merely another side of the same multi-faceted jewel.
They say knowledge is power, so if you want to wield power, you must first learn. Real knowledge is fact-based. We live in a time where all our scuffling has blurred the line between fact and opinion. Any attempt at unifying that doesn’t begin with finding and sharpening that line will fail. Your quest for knowledge must include a quest for truth. Check your sources. Do your homework. There is no such thing as my truth and your truth, only the truth.
Lectures, learning and homework all sound a bit drab and boring though, don’t they? Well, not necessarily, especially if you start with the fun stuff! Explore the factual histories, traditions, and beliefs of cultures other than your own. Discover how other ethnic or religious groups observe holidays. Experiment with recipes for traditional foods, listen to unfamiliar music genres, or visit museums and read books to learn more about the contributions of another culture’s heroes and icons. One thing all humans share is a love of good food, beautiful music, historical heroes, and strong traditions. Who said you have to stay in the same boring lane your whole life long?
Basic values like freedom, justice, hard work, faith, and love of family and pets offer additional common ground. While your vision of exactly what each of those things looks like may differ from someone else’s, merely acknowledging a shared reverence for them brings greater understanding of what motivates each of us. Try to identify the fears of your counterparts, not for the purpose of exploiting them, but rather to find ways of allaying them. Chances are they look very much like your own or may even be based on misinformation that you can correct. Use humor to diffuse tense situations and remind everyone that no matter how our viewpoints may differ, sharing laughter always feels better than slinging insults. Connecting on the most basic human level is the first step in repairing the bridge we share.
There’s a funny fact about bridges: You can only cross them if both sides meet in the middle.
People say it all the time…”Live in the now”...”Practice being more present”...”Hold the moment”. But what does all that actually mean? How do you live in the moment? Aren’t you supposed to remember the past and plan for the future? How can you do that if all you ever think about is the present? Isn’t ignoring the past and future just plain irresponsible? These are all very valid questions that make living in the present feel so challenging to a lot of people. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Yes! And once you have the answers to these questions it will be.
First of all, let’s begin answering what it all means by talking about what it doesn’t mean. Living in the present does not mean never thinking about the past or the future. After all, they are equally important components of your life. Reflecting on the past helps you learn lessons you then carry forward with you to help you better navigate the challenges you find here in the present. Planning for the future gives you a sense of hope and provides you with goals that inspire your actions now in the present and begin your evolution into an ever better version of yourself. Both are essential ingredients to living a happy life. But there is a big difference between thinking about the past or future and dwelling in them. The goal should be to use your thoughts about the past and future to help guide your actions in the present. It’s important to realize that action can only take place in the present. You cannot act in the past...you can only learn from the actions you once took. You cannot act in the future...you can only plan the actions you hope to take when you get there.
Most of us have a natural tendency to spend way more time on reflecting and planning rather than we do on actually doing. Living in the present means flipping those proportions. It requires a continual, conscience decision in the present to change. That’s why it feels so hard sometimes. I don’t pretend to be past the hard part yet, but logic, experience and hope tell me that - just as with any other habit - living in the moment gets easier with practice. And guess what? Reflecting and planning are often solitary activities. If you want to connect more with the people around you, spend more time in the present.
Try some of these actions, or start with just one and gradually add more over time:
We are all living through an era of great uncertainty, where longing for the past can be a futile and depressing exercise and planning for the future is virtually impossible without more information. There is no time like the present to start living more in the present. With a little practice and a new perspective, even holding the moment can be easy peasy.
Could it be that it was only eight short months ago when we were ringing in the new year and ushering in a brand-new, shiny decade full of hope? The anticipation of the coming U.S. presidential election and Olympic Summer Games energized the country and the world. In our house, it was the beginning of the countdown to our first-born starting her senior year of high school in September and turning 18 in October. Our son was eagerly awaiting a summer of hard training for his next vigorous cross country season in the Fall. My organizing business was finally booming and my husband’s career humming along very nicely. 2020 promised to be a banner year for the Sheridan family.
Then BAM! Seemingly out of the blue, a pandemic of epic proportions, quarantines, school closures, sports cancellations, postponed primaries...followed by murder hornets, protests, wildfires, hurricanes, fire tornadoes…and worst of all, death--lots of it, job losses, endless bread lines, potential foreclosures, and financial ruin for many...all piled up in a big heap, bringing everything to a standstill. The old saying that the only things in this life that are a certainty are death and taxes never hit more close to home. So here we are: at the crossroads of hope and uncertainty. What now? How do we merge these two seemingly divergent paths into one? How do we maintain hope amid all this chaotic uncertainty?
First, let’s take a step back to consider just why confronting uncertainty is so uncomfortable for most of us. Perhaps it’s because it threatens our need to feel in control. If we can’t see a roadblock up ahead, we can’t take an alternate route or steer around it to our advantage. Right now, most of us are just wondering when...when schools and businesses will reopen; when we’ll get financial relief; when a vaccine will be available that can allow us to resume something resembling normalcy. It’s hard to keep up with all the unexpected twists, turns and detours on Rt. 2020. Nevertheless, there are still three very crucial things that do remain totally within our control, should we choose to exert it. Let’s start there:
Whether you are ill (from anything) or fit as a fiddle, the choices you make about caring for yourself will affect how you feel both physically and mentally. Tune in to your body, as well as your soul, and make changes in any of the following areas, if necessary, to improve your well-being:
Whether you are quarantining alone or with others, your overall attitude plays a major role in your ability to cope with your situation. Keeping your outlook positive despite your circumstances will not only boost your own spirits, it can become a beacon of hope for others who may need a reminder of all the goodness still surrounding us. Attitude is how your perspective and priorities dictate how you interface with the world around you.
Whether you are working multiple jobs as an essential worker, furloughed at home desperately seeking employment, or finding yourself in the unexpected role of homeschooling parent, your actions are always a matter of choice and thus totally under your control. How well are your actions reflecting the attitude you want to convey? Are you eating junk food on the sofa, yelling at the other side’s politicians on TV, wallowing in gloom, self-pity and self-loathing, or are you reaching out to make a positive impact, using your available time to engage in proper self-care, helping others, hopeful thinking, and positive self-talk? The choice is yours. Make a good one.
Let's face it: this has been a difficult year so far and the only thing we can be certain of is that yet more uncertainty surely lies around the next corner. But by staying focused on the things that are still within your control, even confronting uncertainty with hope intact can be easy peasy.
Today's adults are busier than ever…we are kids' chauffeurs, homework helpers, community volunteers, short order cooks, corporate slaves and marathon commuters. The demands on our time are never-ending. In a world of instant access, we keep trying to cram more and more into the same 24 hours. Then, we fill our homes with stuff we think will make life “easier”...time-saving gadgets in the kitchen, clever electronic devices in our pockets, anti-stress and anxiety medications in our cabinets. Our constant need to “keep up” with our friends and neighbors lures us into an endless quest for the latest fashions in clothing and decor, the newest video games, the best new this, that or the other. Before we know it, our cluttered homes, hectic schedules, stretched budgets, and frazzled nerves seem to conspire against us to withhold from us the one thing that most of us crave: simplicity.
Simplicity is the removal of the unnecessary to make room for peace and clarity. Less stuff, fewer commitments, efficient routines, clearer priorities all both lead to and result from simplicity. So how do we achieve simplicity?
It all begins with greater self-awareness. You cannot remove the unnecessary from your life until you identify what is truly necessary. To do that, answer these questions:
What are your priorities? What most fulfills your sense of purpose? What brings you joy? What activities do you truly need to have in your life to feel whole? If you want to live the simple life, you must build your life around these priorities, not the other way around. Do your career choices, hobbies and volunteer activities reflect your priorities, or arrived at the road you are on simply because it was the path of least resistance? Very often, what feels like the easier path at the beginning turns out to be the more difficult one in the long run. But do not confuse simplicity with ease. Achieving simplicity usually requires change, and change is rarely easy.
What are your strengths? Identifying your strengths enables you to play to them. It also highlights what are not your strengths. Find people with different strengths from your own to help you with your weaknesses. Life becomes simpler when we accept these realities and include them in the planning process. And when we cannot avoid performing tasks that are not among our strengths, modifying our expectations of ourselves...giving ourselves the patience and grace to be less than perfect...gives us the courage to try.
What is your plan for getting where you want to go? Be patient enough to plan. There are no shortcuts. Everything worthwhile takes effort, even simplifying. It’s where you invest your effort that makes the difference. Invest it in making a plan and then executing that plan. If you plan carefully and patiently, knowing your limitations and playing to your strengths while giving yourself the grace to stumble, fall and learn, follow-through becomes much simpler and more straight-forward.
What do you really need that you don’t already have to achieve your goals? You may be surprised at the answer to this question. It is likely not to be more physical belongings. Time. Space. Money. Energy. Confidence. Understanding. Moral support. Knowledge...none of these needs will be met by an Amazon delivery or trip to the store. If you truly want to simplify your life, remove those non-necessities.
What do you already have that you do not really need? Remove the unnecessary to make room for more peace and clarity. Make room in your home for more living. Make room in your head for more thinking and dreaming. Make room in your heart for more caring. Make room in your calendar for more planning.
Our lives are cluttered with extra steps because we don’t plan properly or are trying to be too perfect; with extra commitments because we don’t acknowledge our limitations; with extra effort because we are so rushed we mess up, having to do it all over again; with extra stuff because we haven’t taken the time to figure out what we actually need, versus what we want; and with extra stress and anxiety because we don’t know who we are or how to achieve simplicity.
But we can change all that. With a little planning, self-awareness and some resulting simplicity, even the most cluttered, frazzled life can become easy peasy.
Re-printing this oldie but goody from last year's EasyPeasy Living Newsletter. (Click here to subscribe to our FREE monthly newsletter.)
Be honest. How many New Year's resolutions have you actually kept? I mean kept long term...as in accomplishments you have maintained over the years since you made up your mind to change?
Most of us resolve on January 1 to get fit, lose weight, get organized, quit smoking, save money... We jump head first into it only to burn out and give up before Valentine's Day. Many of us keep making the same resolutions year after year...and fail at them year after year.
For it to work and to stick, it requires commitment to real change...life change...permanent change. That's not something to undertake on a whim or to jump into without a plan, especially since our self-esteem is usually the biggest casualty of non-success. Resolutions may be made overnight but are only truly achieved over a lifetime. They require personal evolution.
Anyone who has studied science knows that evolution takes time and patience...perseverance, adaptability and survival. To put the odds in your favor, set yourself up for success:
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.