When did life become so complicated? With every new meeting request, Facebook notification, bill payment, car service reminder and marketing email that is thrown at us, our lives become more and more complex. We all seem to be in a constant rush to get somewhere - but the question is, why?
If you take a closer look at your life, you'll find that it needn't be so difficult. Perhaps now, with the calming, spiritual reminder of the slower pace of Ramadan fresh in our memories, it's time to eliminate what isn't necessary, to slow down and enjoy the things that really matter. Ready to take the first few steps? Then read on.
From overflowing work schedules to school runs, fitness regimes and various other extra-curricular activities, it's surprising that any of us have time to breathe. In his much-discussed New York Times essay The Busy Trap, Tim Kreider recently argued that everyone in the US thinks they're always "busy", and it is commonly believed that it is good to be stretched for time. However, in short, it's not. Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and the director of The LightHouse Arabia: Community Psychology Clinic in Dubai, says that we are not infinite beings - we are limited and so are our internal resources, including energy and mind space.
"If you clutter your schedule with meaningless activities, you are taking away energy and time from the things that are important to you," she says. "Make your priorities and put them in your schedule, while ensuring you leave some time to do nothing and reboot."
Yoga offers a world of benefits, but the most important of them all is its ability to show us how to connect with our true selves in the simplest possible way. "Yoga is for anyone who is willing to learn how to live a healthier, stress-free and more balanced life using stretching, toning muscles and strengthening the spine and the entire skeletal system," says Livia Anzaldo, a Dubai-based lifestyle coach and yoga alliance instructor. "Yoga encourages you to reflect on yourself and to find your inner peace, exercising not just your body, but your mind, too. This science proves that with a healthy body and mind, you are closer to a more fulfilling life."
Anzaldo explains how the integration of yoga poses and breathing techniques helps the yogi build a steady, quiet mind, as well as a strong, open body, resilience in the face of stress and worry, internal strength and a feeling of peace, which are all crucial when trying to simplify your life.
Those who are looking to try the healing powers of yoga don't need to search far; there are numerous studios in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Anzaldo offers weekly lessons in the Jumeirah Lake Towers area of Dubai (see www.liv2lead.com for details), while Body Tree Studio in Abu Dhabi offers an extensive timetable of lessons for all levels (see www.bodytreestudio.com).
Do more of what you love and enjoy
How much time do you spend doing what you truly love and enjoy? The key to leading a simpler life is to fill it with activities that enrich your life and make you happy, yet many of us overlook this. Dee Ford, the founder of BlueCamperVan, a company that shares positive news and inspiration on the mind, body and soul via social media (Twitter @BlueCamperVan), says that you should create a "shopping list" of things you love and do them regularly.
"An hour alone? An afternoon pottering in the garden? Playing your favourite music? A long bubble bath? Watching an uplifting movie? An aromatherapy massage? A visit to your spiritual home or a spot in nature that inspires you? Whatever it is, make a commitment to yourself to do at least one of these a week. It is important to feed your spirit as well as your body in order to feel balanced," she advises.
Ban yourself from going to the mall for a month
We're all guilty of purchasing things that we don't actually need. The accumulation of these physical belongings, however, only serves to weigh us down and clog up our homes. Dr Afridi says that most of us try to fill a void and/or find pleasure in retail therapy, and although it is effective, the "retail high" lasts only momentarily and you find yourself back in the mall again.
"The cycle is endless and the end result is that you are no happier than when you started," she says. "By banning yourself from the mall you will be able to think creatively and spiritually. You start to access different parts of you that are usually numbed by shopping and buying. You also realise that it is not things that make us happiest in life, but experiences with those we love."
Spend time alone
Most people are afraid of spending time alone; after all, who wants to dine solo in Nobu when you can enjoy the experience with a group of great friends, instead? However, according to Beth Buelow, the founder and chief executive of The Introvert Entrepreneur (www.bethbuelow.com), spending time alone is one of the best ways to declutter your mind.
"Spending time alone slows things down, helps us to see people and situations as they really are and get in touch with how we feel," she says. "It peels back the layers and reveals simple truths. This is more likely to happen if we don't fill up that solitude with the internet, television and other energy-sapping distractions."
Buelow explains that while introverts are naturally attracted to solitude, extroverts can find the whole idea of spending time alone unappealing. "It doesn't have to be, though; listening to your favourite music, walking in nature, journaling or even cleaning can all be nurturing activities done in solitude that still allow you time and space to decompress," she says.
Because of the gifts solitude brings, Buelow recommends that everyone should have at least a few minutes of intentional alone time every day. And how does this help us simplify? "Often in those moments, when we have a chance to step back and be alone with our thoughts, we realise that we have overcomplicated things," she says. "We emerge calmer and clearer, which to me is the essence of simplicity."
Simplifying also involves learning how to find inner simplicity. Meditation was once just the territory of a handful of New Age hippies and Indian yogis. However, with research increasingly highlighting its many benefits, this age-old practice is now making its way to the mainstream, and is the perfect way to achieve simplicity.
"Meditation quietens the mind and brings so many benefits; reduced stress, better health, control of your thoughts, detachment, happiness, peace of mind, concentration, spontaneity, creativity and discovering the purpose of life," says Ford.
Get rid of the things you don't use
Every time we get around to spring-cleaning, most of us are shocked at the amount of stuff we have accumulated over a very short period of time. What is more shocking is how little of it we actually use on a daily basis. Afridi says that if we are constantly buying and cluttering our environment, our hearts and minds are going to be as blocked as our closets.
"Figure out why you have a hard time letting go of things," she advises. "Hoarding unnecessary personal belongings has a psychological component, including insecurity, attaching sentimental values to things and being indecisive."
Have a clear-out and give away the items that you do not use. TakeMyJunk collects unwanted items from people around the UAE and then sells or distributes these at a low cost to those in need (see www.takemyjunkuae.com). Alternatively, you can head to the Dubai Flea Market, which is hosted once a month (go to www.dubai-fleamarket.com).
Automate your finances
If you are not careful, paying the bills can literally take over your life. There is the rent, bills for electricity and water, internet, television, Salik, car loans, school fees, loan payments abroad and goodness knows how many other bills to pay, every single month. By signing up for internet banking and automating as many payments as possible, you will save yourself hours of queuing and heartache.
Shez Kay, a consultant working for a Dubai-based company, used to spend more than an hour just to pay off one credit card bill. "The closest branch to me at the time was in Ibn Battuta Mall, so heading there, filling in the forms, queuing, paying and then returning home took more than an hour - an hour I could have used doing something far more useful. So I decided to let go of all banking products that don't allow online payments or other simplified ways of paying, such as kiosks."
Simplify your eating
The link between eating and simplifying may not be apparent at first, but, as we all know, planning is everything - and by doing so with your weekly meals, you are saving the valuable time that you usually spend on heading to the supermarket every day.
"When we are serious about health and fitness, our lifestyles need to be reorganised and reprioritised," explains Hanan Wehbi, a fitness and Pilates trainer and nutritionist. "If we know what to eat, then it's super easy. We don't need to shop more than once a week. So it's all about planning and making fast meals in advance. What people don't know is that it's OK to eat the same meals everyday. We just crave different foods because we're bored, but all our meals should almost be similar. This will make us feel light, healthy and lose weight, and most importantly make our lives easy," she says.
Arts & Life on Twitter
to keep up with all the latest news and events