One of the things that made it possible for me
to keep going at high speed until I simplified
my life was an innate ability to race through my
day on automatic pilot. I think this is
true for a lot of us.
We're used to rolling out of bed in the morning,
moving quickly through our ablutions, grabbing a
bite to eat while we read the paper or watch the
morning news, packing the kids off to school or
day care, putting the finishing touches on a
report for the boss, having a final swig of
coffee, then flying out the door to start our
workday, without reflecting on what we're doing.
We take the same route to work, so we don't have
to think about it, and our minds easily fill
with a million other things--worries,
responsibilities, obligations--on the way to the
While some of our daily work procedures are less
automatic than others, there's still a certain
predictability about a lot of the tasks we take
on. Mostly we don't have to analyze it
much. We just get through the day so we
can hop in the car, and go back home, on
Then we fall immediately into our evening
schedule, whatever that might be for us:
exercise, on automatic; dinner, on automatic;
cleanup, on automatic; meetings, on automatic;
watching television, on automatic.
The weekends are frequently the same, though
they usually allow for a little more latitude in
terms of the routine. But most of us
tend to do the same things over and over again,
week in and week out.
Yes, we may vary the specifics somewhat.
We may have social or cultural or recreational
outings on a regular basis. But those can
easily become automatic as well. We tend
to go to the same places, see the same people,
discuss the same issues.
There's a certain comfort in moving through our
lives this way. The world sometimes seems
unpredictable, and the grooves we establish give
us a feeling of order and of being in
control. That's fine as long as the things
we're doing on automatic are the things we
really want to be doing. Often they're
not--or maybe they were once but aren't now--and
we haven't stopped long enough to realize it.
And paradoxically, living on automatic
complicates our lives. Living on automatic
is often what makes it possible for us to do all
the things we feel we have to do. We
squeeze into our days new chores or commitments,
adding another errand here, another lunch date
there, without considering whether we really
have the time to do them, let alone the
desire. We just take a deep breath, put
our nose back to the grindstone, and add one
more item to our list of things to do.
This is where building some air into our
schedules pays off. We can create the time
to have a leisurely breakfast with our family,
or take the scenic route to the office and enjoy
the ride. We can create daily and weekly
variations that will make it possible for us to
savor special moments throughout our days,
throughout our weeks, and throughout our lives.
Changing gears from time to time makes it
possible for us to get into the habit of being
aware and alive each moment, or at least for a
lot more of our moments. And the more
aware we are, the easier it is to get back in
control of our lives.
The process then builds on itself. Each
time we become conscious of the fact that we're
doing something we'd rather not be doing, we can
make adjustments in our schedule.
Gradually we can learn to eliminate those
activities and substitute more appealing
a brief testimony
to the rewards of
her own simplified
life, St. James discusses
100 areas, from household
chores to e-mail, where
action may be effectively
taken to remove the
clutter from everyday life.