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  • It is well understood by good parents that life should only ever get so exciting for a baby:

  • After friends have come around and brought presents and made animated faces, after there has been some cake and some cuddles, after there have been a lot of bright lights and perhaps some songs too.

  • Enough is enough.

  • The baby will start to look stern and then burst into tears.

  • And the wise parent knows that nothing is particularly wrong, though the baby may by now be wailing.

  • It is just time for a nap.

  • The brain needs to process, digest and divide up the welter of experiences that have been ingested.

  • And so the curtains are drawn.

  • Baby is laid down next to the soft toys, and soon it's asleep, and calm descends.

  • Everyone knows that life is going to be a lot more manageable again in an hour.

  • Sadly, we exercise no such caution with ourselves.

  • We schedule a week in which we will see friends every night, in which we'll do 12 meetings (three of them requiring a lot of preparation)...

  • ... where we'll make a quick overnight dash to another country on the Wednesday, where we'll watch three films, read 14 newspapers, change six pairs of sheets, have five heavy meals after 8pm and drink 30 cups of coffees.

  • And then we lament that our lives are not as calm as they might be and that we are close to mental collapse.

  • We refuse to take seriously how much of our babyhood is left inside our adult selves and, therefore, how much care we have to take to keep things simple and very very calm.

  • What registers as anxiety is typically no freakish phenomenon.

  • It is our mind's logical enraged plea not to be continuously and exhaustingly overstimulated.

  • These are some of the things we may need to do to simplify our lives:

  • Fewer People; fewer commitments.

  • It is theoretically a privilege to have a lot of people to see and things to do.

  • It is also, psychologically speaking, exhausting and ultimately therefore rather dangerous.

  • The manner of expression is a little dated and brutal.

  • And one might want to quibble over the exact timings, but this point from Friedrich Nietzsche remains acute:

  • "Today as always, men fall into two groups: slaves and free men."

  • "Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever else he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.”

  • We need to recognise that what is physically possible for us to achieve in a day is not, for that matter, psychologically wise or plausible.

  • It may well be feasible to nip over to a foreign capital or two in a day and run a company alongside managing a household.

  • But nor should we be surprised if such routines ultimately contribute to a breakdown.

  • Sleep.

  • Plenty of it of course; at least seven hours.

  • Or if we can't manage it, we need, at a minimum, fully to recognise how much we are deprived, so that we won't aggravate our sorrows by searching for abstruse explanations for them.

  • We don't necessarily have to get divorced, retrain in a completely different profession or move country.

  • We may just need to get some more rest.

  • Media.

  • What we're taking in when we check our phones is perhaps the single greatest contributor to our mental ill-health.

  • For most of history, it was inconceivable that there could ever be such a thing as 'too much news'.

  • Information from political circles or foreign countries was rare, prized and expensive.

  • But since the middle of the twentieth century, news has been commodified.

  • And, in the process, it has become a major, though still too little known, risk to our mental survival.

  • Every minute of every day presents us with untold options for filling our minds with the mania, exploits, disasters, furies, reversals, triumphs, insanity and cataclysms of complete strangers around our benighted planet.

  • Always, news organisations speak of our 'need to know' and 'need to know right now'.

  • But what they've left out is our equally great, and often even greater 'need not to know'.

  • Because we cannot change anything.

  • Because the stories are too violent, dispiriting and sad.

  • Because our minds are fragile.

  • Because we have responsibilities closer to home.

  • Because we need to lead our own lives rather than be torn apart by stories of the lives of others who are ultimately as remote from and irrelevant to us as the inhabitants of the Egyptian court of King Sneferu in late 2,613 BC.

  • Thinking.

  • Insomnia and anxiety are the mind's revenge for all the thoughts we refuse to have consciously during the day.

  • In order to be able to find rest, we need to carve off chunks of time where we have nothing to do other than lie in bed with a pad and paper in order to think.

  • We need to consider three topics in particular:

  • Firstly, what's making me anxious?

  • Secondly, what's caused me pain and how?

  • And thirdly, what's exciting me?

  • We need to sift through the chaotic contents of our minds.

  • Every hour of living requires at least ten minutes of sifting.

  • Expectations.

  • Of course, it might be pleasant to be extraordinary, famous and world-beating, but maybe it will be an even greater achievement to stay sane and kind.

  • We might opt not to conquer the world in favour of living a longer, and more serene life.

  • We are not backing away from a challenge, we're simply shifting our sense of what the real challenge might be, and more importantly where the real rewards may lie.

  • A quiet life isn't necessarily one of resignation or flight.

  • It may constitute a supremely wise recognition that the truly satisfying things are available away from the spotlight and the big cities, on modest salaries and as far as possible from the manic, sleepless competition to 'win' the professional status race.

  • As we're discovering, excitement can be fun for a time; but it also kills.

  • Simplicity is true wisdom.

  • We may need a lot more naps.

  • Do you need a detox from your devices?

  • Our phone detox is designed to help give you a well-deserved break from your phone.

It is well understood by good parents that life should only ever get so exciting for a baby:

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How To Simplify Your Life

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    Estelle posted on 2019/10/19
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