On slowing down, working with purpose, and fixing the way we live

Arguably, we took a wrong turn somewhere along the never-ending path to success. Despite the current Covid crisis, we’ve never had a more comfortable life, yet humanity has never felt more depressed. Could it be the elusive holy grail of perfection, thinking about the “should be-s”, and trying to do it all? Are we all just spoilt and unable to cherish the opportunities of this age? 

While there certainly isn’t one conclusive answer, the demands of modern life can be daunting. As Barry Schwartz highlighted in his TED talk, The Paradox of Choice, our very identity has become a matter of choice, and every single day, we get to decide who we are going to be. The rules of modern society are no longer set in stone: you get to be free, forge your own path, wear what you want, live anywhere, build a family – or not, explore the fluidity of your sexuality, and you can try out any career you set your mind to. And more often than not, we want to cram as much as we can into our short lives. 

Freedom is precious, and the doors it opens are still a relatively new gift. But how could we ever be confident in our decisions when there are hundreds of paths not taken? Schwartz mentions that instead of liberation, we feel unable to choose at all.

“Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from. It’s easy to imagine that you could’ve made a different choice that would’ve been better. And what happens is, this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction you get out of the decision you made, even if it was a good decision. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose,” he says. 

The beauty of minimalism

Back in 2019, the word minimalism blew up because of Marie Kondo – a Japanese organizing consultant teaching people how to organize their homes and only keep things that “spark joy”. While Marie disagrees with the minimalist label, the world was suddenly full of organized drawers, clean surfaces, and decluttered households. Suddenly, a part of heavily consumerist society seemed to throw out everything we’ve grown accustomed to hoard in our homes. And what’s more, it felt liberating to let go of all of these objects we poured our money into. 

Overall, the concept of freedom and minimalism may seem counterintuitive, but manically trying to fill your emotions, your personal space, your work, and your relationships with more and more could be the real prison instead. 

Sometimes saying “no” to people equals saying “yes” to yourself and freedom. Letting other people’s needs and long to-do lists pressure us leads to increased anxiety, which eventually drives us away from our real priorities. Perhaps there’s a lesson in Warren Buffett’s words: “the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

Simplicity and business

If you need proof that simplicity is the key, take a look at the world’s biggest brands. Complicated business models are rarely a way to go. Keeping it simple does not imply avoiding going deep enough. It’s about being focused, identifying the main goals, outlining the right tasks, and tailoring your offer to your audience. As outlined in the book Repeatability, successful companies “make a cult of simplicity”. Look at Ikea’s flat-packed furniture, Lego’s little plastic bricks, Apple’s clean designs, or McDonald’s most consumed hamburger.

As Steve Jobs once said: “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Well-being first, at home or work, should shape our future

Christiaan Maats is the Sustainability Director at DNFS and the Brand & Product Developer  at Noorderwind. His vision is clear: to help people reorganize their lives because the way we exist now is so unsustainable that we end up depressed and burnt out. On a different but related note: we are also killing our planet. He advises his clients a simple but powerful thought: slowing down and rethinking our lives to enjoy what we do. 

“The idea that if you work hard enough, you get the results is deeply ingrained in our culture. If you don’t sin, you go to heaven. If you study hard enough, you get good grades, then you go to a good university, and then you get a good job. This created a society where we try to be perfect,” he explains. “When you get that good job, it should also make your parents proud, and you also want your kids to be happy, and hopefully, it will also look nice on Instagram. It’s a desperate attempt to show people we are enough,” Christiaan adds. As he explained in his talk at Reflect Festival, we tend to measure quantitative growth: take stocks, for example, where all you care about is maximizing your investment as quickly as possible. 

We spend so much time hitting all these goals, but ironically, as Christiaan points out, people who are dying don’t look back on their university achievements, KPIs, and square footage of their house. “If you think about what people who are dying find the most important, it’s to do what they really want to do, connect with their friends and family, and just to be happy and silly every now and then,” he describes. 

All in all, Christiaan says people just want to feel free to follow their inspiration and feel that they’re growing and learning. That means that if we shifted our minds to become more self-empathetic and listened to our feelings when they tell us to slow down, change direction, connect to others, perhaps we could do things that we enjoy even if that means less hard work and more happiness. 

If well-being was of utmost priority within the bigger picture, much more than our personal life could look different, Christiaan thinks. Imagine work, for instance. “When your well-being, intrinsic motivation, and your perspective to grow grow, your commitment and need to collaborate with great colleagues will improve as well, which improves creativity, and that improves the products that you make,” he explains. Many entrepreneurs that listened to their heart ended up developing solutions that serve the society and the planet – you can get inspired by them in Christiaan’s Reflect talk. 

All in all, when you improve your own well-being, according to Christiaan, you can create more mind space. In the end, you’ll work better, you’ll contribute more, you’ll connect more with people, and you’ll enjoy doing it. 

Isn’t it about time to take a breath, slow down and de-clutter our lives and homes? 

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