Sometimes, You Just Wanna Simplify

I was a “yes person” for most of my life. Help with a project? Sure! Work over weekends and holidays to get it done? You bet! Start a department the company has never had before? Absolutely. Be class mom? I’m your gal. Burn myself out? Yup, but give me more anyway.

It was only when serious illness laid me flat on my back (literally) that I let a whole bunch of important things go. I closed my coaching business, stopped writing my newsletter, told everyone I was on health hiatus and focused on myself—and virtually nothing else—for the first time in my adult life.

It was a scary time, but when I look back on it, I also see that it gave me the chance to strip down my responsibilities to the bare bones. As I began healing, I only added back the things and people that truly mattered and ‘filled my bucket.’

After three years of this, I could never go back to being over-scheduled or spending time with people who drain me. Life is too precious.

I’m so grateful I had coaching tools to help me manage this transition. As a positive psychology practitioner, I was very familiar with what researchers say are the most important life-buckets we should be filling on a regular basis. (I call them buckets, they call them “pillars of well-being.”)

I’ve tinkered with them a little over the years until they capture the essence of what makes life special, and I share the framework here in the hope that it gives you a couple of ideas for focusing on what matters most to you, too. The acronym is SIMPLE.

Success

Success used to mean just work to me, and there’s a phase of life when that’s true for most people. But that is NOT all there is to life. Success to me is now a broader concept that encompasses all the goals I have, including travel, writing in a way that helps people instead of just selling coaching programs, feeling like I use my time wisely, learning to cook more healthfully, and more.

What does success mean to you?

Interests

Fun is important! I find so much more pleasure—and less guilt—in my hobbies these days. I consider it responsible to be irresponsible; to let loose and read for pleasure, do the New York Times crossword puzzle (I’m up to over 1,600 in a row) and get immersed in a craft project or jigsaw puzzle.

What do you find fun? What do you like to do so much that you choose to spend your free time doing it? What makes you lose track of time?

Meaning

Our connection to others and something larger than ourselves is what gives life meaning. Overcoming challenges and then helping others through similar experiences gives us purpose. I had a very-near-death experience at age 10 that convinced me there is a spiritual dimension we are part of and will return to when we leave this life, and that gives me comfort even though I’m in no hurry to go. I write and coach to offer my experience to others, and it’s so meaningful to me.

What makes you feel connected to something bigger? Is there a cause you donate time or money to? Do you have a spiritual side? Are there people you could help by sharing your personal or professional experience? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family or the world?

People

I believe this is the most important category of all. If you ask someone who’s just been through a harrowing experience, like the guy who got swallowed and spit out by a whale this week, they will probably tell you something like he did about what he cared about most: “I thought about my kids and my wife.”

This bucket is so important that the quality of our relationships is directly related to our quality of life overall. If our relationships are good, we feel good; if they suck, we think life sucks.

Who are the most important people in your life? Who would you like to spend more time with? Is there anyone you like or love but have lost touch with? Is there anyone you want to forgive, or ask to forgive you?

Living

This one is super obvious, but it’s one I took for granted for a long time. I made the common error of thinking that I had decades more time and that I could wait until some other day to devote more time to my physical, emotional and spiritual health. Not any more.

What would make you feel healthier and more alive in your body, mind and spirit?

Emotions

Life is made up of individual, temporary moments like this one. And this one. And this one. The more moments we enjoy, the more we enjoy our lives overall. I’ve gotten really good at this and can vouch for how nice life is when I’m continually appreciative of the beauty around me, the love in my life, food to eat and the roof over my head. There is so much to be grateful for every day.

What makes you smile? Feel excited? Joyful? Calm and contented? What activities, people, places, and things make you feel good?