I spoke with a man in dire straits recently. This man, let’s call him John, laid before me many of his problems: A crumbling marriage. Massive debt. Low income. An unhealthy lifestyle. John was unhappy, depressed, and frustrated with where he was in life, so he asked me for my advice: he wanted to know how I had changed so many things in such a short period of time.
I explained to John that I didn’t have any advice for him. I told him he knew his situation better than I ever could, and he likely knew what to do. Then I asked what advice he’d give himself if he were in my shoes.
John spent the next fifteen minutes explaining, detail after detail, exactly what he would say to himself to fix his marriage, get out of debt, increase his income, and regain control of his health.
I smiled and said, “All that sounds like great advice! Too bad our own advice is the hardest pill to swallow.”
But, of course, he didn’t like his own advice because it was too gradual. Plus, his advice wasn’t easy: he had recommended only small, incremental changes that wouldn’t likely make a huge difference right away.
Instead, he wanted the magic pill—something that would radically change his life immediately. He wanted instant gratification, but his advice seemed so basic—so intuitive—that it couldn’t be what I did to change my life. And I obviously had the short cut with this whole minimalism thing, and he wanted my secret.
I told John that while I had no advice for him, I could tell him how I changed my life, and he could see whether any of those changes were applicable to his situation, and if they were, he could use my life as recipe, tweezing out the relevant ingredients to apply them to his own recipe for living. Then, for the next fifteen minutes, I simply echoed his advice back to him, changing a few details to make them fit my life.
You see, I didn’t have a magic strategy, either. It took me two long years to change my life—one small change at a time.
Two years ago, I was also unhappy, in debt, out of shape, and stuck.
It took me two years to pay off most of my debt and establish a minimalist budget. I focused on paying off one creditor at a time. I allocated every extra dollar to pay off my car. I sold my house and moved into an apartment. I got rid of any superfluous bills like cable TV Internet, and satalite radio.
It took me two years to get into the best shape of my life, exercising every day and completely changing my diet over time.
It took me two years to give less meaning to my physical possessions, focusing instead on important relationships, personal growth, and contribution.
It took me two years to get away from Corporate America and pursue my passions.
None of it happened over night. And it certainly wasn’t easy, but a lot can change in a year or two. I changed my life by focusing on small changes each day. I focused on those small changes one at a time, not on everything I wanted to change. And then, one day, I looked in the rearview mirror and everything was different.