Do you know your balance point?
In my last post I made the point that minimalism and simplicity are about more than how things look. It is about changing our relationship with our personal environment. I would like to expand on this theme and look at why order, balance and simplicity are not merely lifestyle choices to have a more fun life, but for some are a means of managing stress and anxiety. Conversely, for others, order, balance and simplicity can be dull, unimaginative and boring.
When I feel anxious, stressed or overwhelmed I often find it soothing to organise. I take a great deal of pleasure in reorganising my personal possessions, clearing out those things that I no longer need. When I am in an environment that has the right level of stimulation for me and my schedule has enough on it to interest me and motivate me, I know I have the right balance. When I find myself in a situation that is chaotic, fast paced with lots of disorder I feel over stimulated. This leads to feelings of stress, anxiety and panic.
Some of you may be familiar with Yerkes Dodson Law that demonstrates an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. The simple graph below illustrates that performance increases with arousal, but only up to a point, as it then decreases with higher levels of arousal.
I think there is an important point to make here. We each have our own level of arousal that is right for our own temperament and personality type. I have worked with many people who have not realised that their personal environment, lifestyle and schedule are making them highly aroused and stimulated, leading to stress, anxiety and panic. Or, they do know what is the cause of the overwhelm and do not yet know how to simplify.
I have also worked with people who like the sound of minimalism, but love the creative mess of their possessions around them, and their spontaneous use of time, simply reacting as events unfold and not planning anything. For them they need a higher level of stimulation and arousal to perform well, or feel energised. I would suggest that a simpler, slower lifestyle will not bring out the best in them.
So where does this leave us on the slippery question of balance in our lives? Well, I think it shows that we have to be open to trial and error in finding out how much arousal is right for us and how much is too little. I have learnt over my life that I do not need much stimulation in terms of possessions, meetings, interactions etc. I take great pleasure paying attention to the smallest of things and can feel flattened by something that for someone else wouldn’t even register. I don’t place these ways of experiencing life on a hierarchy or say one is right or wrong. It is just how it is. The world is big enough for both.
Balance, therefore, is going to look quite different for each of us. Just as the idea of the white and grey empty living room is missing the point of minimalism, so is the idea that we should all work less and spend more time at home to achieve greater work life balance. The number of hours one person spends at work and gets satisfaction and enjoyment from is going to be different for another person who works the same hours but needs far less stimulation to feel aroused and as such feels burnt out. I think it might be more helpful to reflect on what works for you, rather than comparing yourself to the average working week.
(There is of course the question how much money a person feels they need to earn in order to live and this may dictate the number of hours a person feels they need to work. Whilst I am not going to presume to tell anyone how many hours they should work, it is interesting that for many it has not even occurred to them that there is some level of choice in the work they do and the hours they commit to it).