Ask Colin: Change & Simplicity

Dear Colin,

I’m trying hard to cope with some pretty big changes, and I think that becoming more minimalistic will help me with that.

What’s the best way to get started as a minimalist, and how do I not feel so worried about change?

Sincerely, Michelle

Hey Michelle-

Let’s tackle the minimalism question, first.

The best way to get started as a minimalist is to ask yourself what’s most important to you, and then spend more of your time, energy, and resources (including money) on those most vital things.

It’s really as simple (and complicated) as that, and pausing to think about this—what’s truly important to you—is time well-spent. Far better to figure out which direction you want to go before you take off running, and far better to figure out what you’re optimizing for before you begin to chuck your belongings in the trash (and actually: donate and give things away rather than throwing them in the trash, whenever possible).

I would also say that minimalism unto itself isn’t really a solution, it’s just a way of living that puts you in a good position to do more of what you enjoy; to build a life that’s more you-shaped.

What that means in practice is that you’ll have more time, energy, and resources to apply to the things that matter most, because fewer of these things will be expended where they’re not doing as much good.

We’re targeted by marketing messages all day, every day, from the day we’re born, and well-meaning people in our lives—and arguably, society as a whole—prepares many of us for the real world by handing us templated aspirations and life goals that may be good for some people, but not necessarily for us.

Thus, realigning in this way is as much about unlearning as it is about learning, and as much about gaining new insights as it is about discarding old and no-longer-applicable beliefs, habits, and desires.

So while minimalism can help you get to a good place where many things become a bit more attainable, it probably won’t give you those things, directly.

Regarding change, consider that stasis—holding still and keeping things exactly the way they are—is almost always an illusion. It may seem, at times, like you’ve managed to keep things anchored, but that’ll almost always be the consequence of not noticing the shifts and modifications swirling around you, rather than true, objective immutability.

Rather than fearing or trying to stop change, then, it’s often more prudent to decide that you’re going to make it your own.

Every new iteration of anything—the stock market, technology, your lifestyle and relationships, the place you call home—is an opportunity to try new things, implement what you’ve learned thus far, shake up the existing system for the better, and experiment with things you’ve yet to try.

As such, even changes that seem primed to disrupt something you love and to upend a status quo that you’d prefer to maintain in its current form could in fact be a chance to make things even better; “better” by just about any metric, from personal development to education to lifestyle-personality fit to making the world as a whole more wonderful in some way.

Change can be painful, can be a headache, can feel like an oncoming train rumbling straight for you and your life, and there’s no way to ensure that any given change will be a positive one, for you or for anyone else.

What you can do is recalibrate your thinking so that you’re more likely to focus on change-related opportunities, rather than change-embedded threats. See such moments as your chance to make things even better, rather than fixating on the possibility that everything you care about might be thrown into disarray.

And things very much can be thrown into disarray. No matter how we attempt to stack the deck in our favor, there’s no avoiding the possibility of a negative outcome. So it’s also important to prepare yourself, psychologically, in case things go sideways.

Being able to make the most of whatever happens is an immensely powerful and valuable skill to hone.

“You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it,” as the Stoics say, and Stoic or not, this is a policy any of us can apply to our lives to regain time that would have otherwise been spent wallowing in perhaps-justified, but still-unnecessary post-change sadness.

Of course, developing that kind of mental reflex isn’t easy, either. If you can make it work 50% of the time, that’s a fantastic accomplishment. That’s an abundance of bonus hours salvaged from grief, which you can instead spend exploring the new reality in which you find yourself.

None of this is obvious or straightforward, and it’s not something you should be expected to just know how to grapple with. Few of us are brought up thinking about change in this way, and it’s somewhat understandable that we wouldn’t be: change is scary and tumultuous and can be not a lot of fun, at times.

A change in perspective regarding the subject of change, though, can make a very scary potentiality seem not-so-scary, potentially freeing us to embrace changes as the opportunities to grow and learn they often prove to be.

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