Life is a simplifying process. For any improvement to happen, it is good to make sure that we are able to simplify ourselves, our timetables and our activities.
This article examines a simple 4-step system for continuous improvement. It is useful as a mental map. Without some kind of system, we often find ourselves falling back into our old ways.
STEP 1 – MAKE SPACE
When we move into a house, it is empty. This enables us to set the house up how we want, to choose appropriate furniture, and to organise suitable decoration. If the house was full of all the previous occupant’s possessions, then it would be extremely hard to make an impact, since we would be constrained by their personality, lifestyle and actions.
It is the same when we try to improve ourselves – except that the ‘previous occupant’ is ourselves! We look around us, and we find the paraphernalia of our past life. We have cupboards and drawers full of the remnants of our past. Our minds are full of memories. And our days are full or habits and routines generated in times past.
If we want to move forward, the first thing we need to do is to make space in our current life for new things to happen. This includes:
- physical space (our accommodation, our transport, our storage spaces)
- mental space (our memory banks, our continuous thoughts, our obsessions, even our personal language)
- social space (our friends and contacts)
- our time (our routines and habits; also our working and leisure patterns)
Tip: We can begin to make space by dropping what we perceive is unnecessary in each of these 4 areas – physical, mental, social, and time.
STEP 2 – MAKE ROUTINE
If we want to do new things, we need to find them a place in our day. For many of us, our day is almost pre-scripted. We know when we will get up, when we will travel to work, what we will do when we get there, how tired we will be at the end of the day.
This daily routine is the core of our life. It strengthens us when we feel weak, and enables us to be active when our conscious mind is confused, anxious or demotivated. It keeps us going.
To build a good engine of routine, we can:
- notice what our usual day contains, and when
- simplify it to the bare minimum of content
- learn to live it cleanly and well
Tip: We can begin to make routine by becoming conscious of our daily schedule.
STEP 3 – ADAPT ROUTINE
New things will not get a look-in unless we deliberately build them into our schedule. Want to exercise? We’d better find a regular time for it. We had better treat our day as a sculpture that we improve on every single re-living.
If we want to enable ourselves, then we can:
- gradually build in new elements which help our new projects
- test them consciously to see if they really do help
- continuously amend and adjust them, until we have a new type of day which suits us
Professional athletes know this only too well. They don’t wake up and make up the day as they go along. Life and routines are quite regimented in order to align activity with goals. Moreover, timetables are adapted according to context. Coaches are always finding ways of adjusting schedules to tease out the best in the athlete.
Tip: We can best to adapt routine one amendment at a time.
STEP 4 – MEDITATE
I don’t care if we call it meditation. If we prefer, we can call it contemplation; observation; mental exploration; standing back; watching ourselves; learning; broadening our minds; repose; holiday. It can even take the form of conversation with a good friend, or counselling. But at some point we need to take a deep breath, and get some perspective, so that we have the fresh heart to appreciate whether the routine and life we are living is right for us.
During meditation time, we learn to extract ourselves from the fuss and fight of everyday life. We sit and learn to watch, to observe. We return to a very basic, spacious way of thinking. We are reminded of our basic character, our essential self. During meditation times, we will notice that we are allowing our minds and bodies to restore themselves.
A meditation practice has three parts.
- First, we still our mind, so that it it focuses on something simple. We reduce distraction until we are just a concentrated mind, focusing.
- Secondly, we bring our mind to a more general place. If we have been over-focusing on our trials and tribulations, then we draw our mind wider and wider, until, ideally, we are able to contemplate the whole universe, and our own small world of self-interest disappears.
- Thirdly, we sustain this wider view with the realisation that all of our thinking concepts and categories are illusory. We realise that our usual thinking is delusion born of a narrow view. We become able to park our thinking process in favour of just being.
Meditation can also take the form of play, doing things for others, or even watching a mind-widening film or play – or reading a book… anything that broadens our perspective, and makes us more mentally humble. This calms the arrogance of our anxious, selfish mind.
BACK TO STEP 1 – MAKE SPACE
This 4-step cycle then returns to ‘making space’. After meditation is a great time to create space in our lives, because we will find that our attachments are reduced.
Begin the 4-step process in a very simple way, just to get used to it.
- MAKE SPACE – Find a drawer or table top that is messy, and clear it completely. Notice the process and how it makes you feel.
- MAKE ROUTINE – Get your diary out, and make sure your core day is simple and manageable. Cut out unnecessary stuff.
- ADAPT ROUTINE – If you have an improvement in mind, then build one small activitity into today’s diary that furthers that improvement. Make sure you do it.
- MEDITATE – Make sure your day also has a set time or times when you take time out to meditate. Ideally this is a time when your focus is not directly on your personal worries and concerns. Let it be a time when you widen your perspective, and give your selfish mind a rest.
If you want to improve your life, then continuously improve your average day.
A good 4-step process for continuous improvement is:
- Make space
- Make routine
- Adapt routine
If your life is infused with this 4-step process, then self-improvement will be built into it.
If you wish to use counselling or coaching to make a self-improvement in your life, then please do make contact – see the contact page of this site. First session always free.