Gaining clarity

gain clarity

One of the things I love about January is I get to start anew. Of course, I bring my old 2018 self into the mix, but I have twelve new months to create just about anything.

In order to decide what I want to do or give or try or travel to, I need to take time beforehand to gain clarity. There are almost limitless opportunities, so it helps if you can stop for a second and get really clear about what’s next for you in the upcoming year.

Here are five of my favorite ways to gain clarity.

Writing. Journalling is the single best way for me to figure out what I think and feel and, consequently, want for the year ahead. It so happens I’m in good company.

Joan Didion said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Stephen King said, “I write to find out what I think.” And, just in case you’re not convinced, Flannery O’Connor said it too, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

Granted all of these people are famous writers, but the spirit of their words is true for all of us. And if you’re not into writing or journalling, read on.

Decluttering. Decluttering is a wonderful cathartic practice that allows us to see what remains as a way to understand what’s important. In Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she implores readers to keep only what sparks joy and let go of the rest. How lovely. She also has a killer method for folding clothing that has changed my drawers forever.

There have been dozens of books and hundreds of articles written on decluttering. Any of them can help, so I won’t spend time on detailing out all the methods. My favorite is to take everything you own and put it into four piles – keep, donate, sell, and toss. Then go for it. Start with the easy stuff like clothing and work your way up to tougher things like gifts or heirlooms.

In my experience going minimalist, every time I give, donate, sell or toss something, a little space opens up in my mind. In this space, I have more freedom for creativity and, you guessed it, clarity to focus on the meaningful stuff.

Praying. I pray a lot. Before meals, before a big meeting or work call, before I buy or sell something expensive and sometimes something cheap. If you ask, you shall receive. And I believe it. Ask for clarity in your prayers. Ask for guidance and perspective. Not in an oh, God, whoa is me, please help me, boo hoo hoo. Or as Wayne and Garth might say, We’re not worthy.

In all seriousness, ask in earnest and humility, as if you expect a response. Keep at it until it becomes clear.

Meditating. Some people say praying is talking to God and meditating is listening. I’m not sure about that exactly, but meditating is wonderful. The stillness and presence of being in meditation is special.

When I first started, a laundry list of to do’s would flood my brain. I’d think, wow, this is great, look how productive I’m going to be with all these things I need to do. Little did I know that it was my brain trying to bolster its importance (and you are important, brain) and sabotage my meditation. Thoughts will come, just let them come and let them go. No judgments.

The goal of meditation is to be present, watch (so to speak) your breath, and commune with all that is in the present moment. That is all. If you hear God, lucky you.

Reading. I’m not talking about picking up a good Stephen King book, but I wouldn’t begrudge or fault anyone for such an enjoyment. He’s the master of storytelling and I love his books.

But, today I’m talking about reading a couple, or even one, really good self help or inspirational (nonfiction) book. Whatever you might be drawn to or want to improve in yourself, pick up a book or three and get to work.

Read to understand and learn and to (most importantly) take action based on what you learned. A good book will give us ideas that might have been swirling in the ether above our heads, but once we read them – bam! – one lands on us. Hopefully gently.

Those are my five favorite ways of getting clear about what I want for the year ahead and beyond.


Hello, 2019

This morning I woke at 5:50am, pulled on a hoody, rolled out my yoga mat, and did about six minutes of morning yoga. Yep, starting slowly. I followed that up with 15 minutes of meditation. So far, so good.

Then I brewed a pot of bulletproof coffee. It wasn’t until I took my first sip did I realize it’s not really for brewing. It’s supposed to be pressed. Whoops. That’s what I get for not reading directions.

My trainer had mentioned he loved it, so when I saw it on sale I picked it up and thought I could just brew it like I would any other ground coffee. Um, not so. Well, I did, but it was awful. I didn’t bother popping in a lump of coconut oil or butter because I can only handle a little bit of change at a time. And I’m glad I didn’t. That lump of fat would have forfeited my intermittent fasting, which I had planned on doing until 8:30am. After a few sips of drinking the not so good stuff, I tossed it and made my usual americano. Oh, how familiarity feels so good.

That there is a lesson on why we have so much strength at the beginning of the year – or morning – to keep a newly made resolution and almost none after a few days, weeks, or months. We make mistakes and look and feel foolish. Plus, it’s easier and more comfortable to go back the way we were. Even though the changes were better for us, we lose the willpower or drive or whatever it is that keeps us moving in a new direction even though it’s uncomfortable. The good news is even when we try new things unsuccessfully we learn new stuff. Bulletproof coffee is not meant to be brewed. Okay, got it.

Last year, I resolved to become minimalist. For the most part, I did. I reduced my possessions by over sixty percent. I didn’t buy anything that wasn’t consumable all year. That is, until the end of the year in mid-October, when my willpower was exhausted and I bought all the things. I utterly failed.

When I had my shopping breakdown, I bought, among other things, $120 trail shoes, a $150 SmartWool sweater, and a new Jeep. A couple of months later, I returned (or in the case of the Jeep resold) them all.

This year, I want to continue down the minimalist path, but more moderately. I have less stuff so it’s not about reducing so much as it is about not buying stuff just to buy stuff. Lesson learned. No more unnecessary purchases because no more depriving myself. I’m taking the middle way.

Hello, 2019. This year will usher in a few exciting things for me, namely the half marathon in Antarctica. During that trip, I’ll visit Argentina, Ushuaia, and sail the Drake Passage – all of which are on my bucket list.

I’m also excited to get back to developing a yoga practice. Adding that into my morning routine, before meditation, will be interesting. When I had a proper practice, I did it in the evening. I’m not opposed to going back to evening, but I thought mornings would help me with my meditation practice. It’ll be a bit of a challenge, but I’m excited to see what I can do and, in return, what it can do for me.

Of course I have other goals around finances, career, contribution, and community, and they’re just as important to me. But making it to Antarctica would be the pinnacle of the year. Completing the half marathon would be the cherry on top.

Come to think of it, I better hit the trails today. Training has begun. 💪


A minimalist three weeks in

My New Year’s resolution is to go minimalist. I know what you’re thinking resolutions are silly, senseless, and seriously ineffective. But I’m not trying to be a minimalist forever, you know, just for a year. Forever seems impossible, but a year is finite. I mean I can do anything for a year.

Over the past few months, I’ve read several books on minimalism and started decluttering as a way to test the waters. I put a few possessions on three resale websites: letgo.com, eBay and Craigslist and wrote about it. The short story is if you price it right, it’ll sell. I also recalled a terribly vivid dream I had many years ago, and now I can’t shake it.

Three weeks ago as part of my New Years resolution kickoff, I started an inventory of my possessions. And I’m still working on it. The amount of stuff I’ve accumulated and stored in various drawers, closets, shelves, nooks, crannies, plastic bins, and storage boxes is staggering. It’s not simply the number of like items I own – how many pairs of running socks or Saucony shoes or copies of Into the Wild does a person really need. But also the sheer quantity of total possessions. I must have thousands and thousands of things.

Overall, I’m a fairly non-materialistic person. Expensive cars, clothes, and shoes don’t really do it for me. I wear almost the same getup every day. I put on the same Arc’teryx hoody, same Levi’s jeans, same puffy vest, and same SmartWool shirt only in a different color most days. When I feel like really mixing it up, I sport a button down shirt under a Uniqlo sweater. I don’t think there is a person more boring than I am when it comes to clothing. Even though I don’t wear a ton of variety, I still have a lot of clothing, shoes, belts, hoodies, etc. taking up space.

Let’s talk about books. I love them. All of them. When we moved from Chicago to San Francisco, I gave away or sold over three hundred books I had collected since college. All of my hardback copies of Stephen King and first editions. All of my dog-eared paperbacks. Even the small collection of spiritual books that I read and reread almost annually. I took with me only a few of my absolute favorites and a couple of cookbooks that were too expensive (and never sold) for me to be able to part with them in good conscience. In the five years since, I’ve accumulated another hundred or so books. And another hundred plus live somewhere on Amazon’s cloud or downloaded to my iPad.

Little did I know back then in Chicago that selling or donating those old books would be my first taste of what it feels like to embrace minimalism. I recall feeling good to see people dropping a few bucks on my coffee table while smiling ear-to-ear in anticipation of reading the story inside the book tucked under an arm or placed in a bag. I don’t really know if that’s minimalism exactly, but I want to keep exploring it.

During my initial inventory sweep, I picked out and sold or donated over fifty of my possessions ranging from books (again) to fitness gear to shirts, shoes, and suits. And it’s felt good.

In fact, every time I remove an item that I no longer need or use, the physical space that opens up on a shelf or inside a closet also opens up a figurative space inside my head, heart, and lungs. Space in my head to organize my thoughts, space in my heart to be more open to others, and space in my lungs to take in life a little more fully. It’s the strangest thing, but I can’t complain about feeling better.

Experts say the third week in January is just about the time when New Years resolutions usually go to pot and old habits come roaring back. But I feel even more driven to stick with it. 2018 is my year of minimalism. Let’s see if I’m this optimistic when I have to declutter my camping gear.

In the meantime, onward and upward with a lot less stuff and clutter.