How to Gain More Joy and Success with Less Stuff

Miriam Zacharias PhotoHow to Gain More Joy and Success with Less Stuff by Miriam Zacharias

Walt Whitman wrote that he thought he could live among the animals.

He once was quoted as saying:

“They do not sweat and whine about their condition, they do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, they do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”

In other words, animals don’t concern themselves with the idea of happiness, nor do they fill their lives with activities and things that aren’t vital to their survival.

Unless, of course, the animal is one of us.

In fact, we are so consumed by chasing happiness these days that books on subject are flooding the market. We have added many of them to our personal library at home, including my current favorite written by Professor Raj Raghunathan, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?”

All my reading has led me to this conclusion: there is no one straight path to happiness, just as there is no one primary driver of unhappiness and negative stress. But there is something that I see all too often with my practitioner pals which fuels the stress side of the equation: we are struggling from the consequences of a condition that I call TMS, otherwise known as “too much stuff.”

My friend Monica shared a story with me about a recent round of golf that explains this well.

While out on the course, the golf pro stopped Monica and asked her how her game was going; she told him that it was going OK but she was feeling a little stressed out. He told her to stop by the pro shop before going home because he could take care of her problem in about 30 seconds.

She wondered if there was a super good (and super-fast) massage therapist on staff she didn’t know about. Or, was he just going to make her drink a special wheatgrass potion or give her a lecture on mindful meditation?

It was none of the above.

Instead, he dumped Monica’s clubs out of her bag and onto the grass off the 18th green. Then he asked her to pick her favorite seven clubs. Which she did. He then added two clubs to that pile and told her to take the rest of the golf clubs home and store them in her garage.

When she looked at her nine remaining clubs, she realized that the five clubs he had banished from her bag had been stressing her out! She was never sure when to play them, which meant that she didn’t play them often enough to be confident of the outcome when she did use them. Plus, they were always getting in the way.

Monica’s next round was her best of the year.

That story got me thinking about just how well this translates to many areas of our work and our lives.

For example, we have limited time. Yet we still cram every minute with client commitments, research, workouts, and chores.

Then we compound matters by piling on more things to our already overloaded schedules. Our weekends get crushed beneath the weight of doing “just a little work,” more errands, and more commitments.

And we have goals. Boatloads of them! Career goals, health goals, bucket list dreams, goals for our kids, relationship goals, and multiple checklists with to-dos to help us achieve our goals. OK, maybe that last one is just me.

But the science on this is very clear. Taking on more things doesn’t lead to success; in fact, it’s making us less productive and more anxious. And it’s taking a serious toll on our happiness and well-being.

People often talk about there simply not being enough time to fit everything in. But the problem isn’t a lack of time, it’s a lack of priorities.

I recently read a story about Warren Buffett – the multibillionaire – who had a simple three-step process for prioritizing. He used this method for setting goals which I believe is at the heart of the remedy for TMS.

First, you write down a list of your top twenty-five goals.

Second, do some soul-searching and circle the 5 highest priority goals.

Third, take a hard look at the 20 goals that you didn’t circle, and avoid them at all costs! Just like the 5 clubs the pro removed from Monica’s bag, Buffett claims that they’re the things that distract you; they eat away time and energy and take your eye off the goals that matter most to you.

Of course, the trick is to ignore, avoid, or otherwise throw out those 20 low-priority items on your list. That’s the hard part. But I’ve done a similar exercise like this myself and I can tell you, without a doubt, that this exercise has made me freer, happier, and more confident that I will achieve the things that matter most to me in my time on this planet.

If you suspect that TMS is impacting your ability to do your best work, is whacking your happiness and creating unnecessary stress, give this exercise a try. If you’re like me, you’ll be shocked and empowered by the results.

Given Mr. Buffett’s track record of self-made success, it’s worth a shot.

To your health,

Miriam G. Zacharias, MS NTC, BCHNTM
NANP President

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