How to get more out of your life by doing lessIMAGE: MOTOKI TONN | UNSPLASHMy cancer diagnosis gave me permission to do less. This transformed my life from constant turmoil to a life with intention and clarity.by Abby ZenseaA busy life can be a sign of a life without a clear sense of direction. Being mindful on how you spend your time will allow you to do less and focus on what you truly value. Inspiration and productivity require a certain state of calmness, which can only be achieved when you are fully in control of how you spend your time.Living in a reactive mode

More than two years have now passed and, as a stage 4 cancer working mum, my life is peaceful and purposeful. The cancer gave me permission to do what I should have always done: I prioritised myself.

I have a very strict and nourishing routine, which has kept me sustained and alive for two years: I go for a long walk in the bush, I meditate on the beach and juice fresh fruit and vegetables every day. I stepped into my purpose and I am running a coaching business from home. When I pick the kids up from the school, I feel fulfilled and energised.

In When The Body Says No, Dr Gabor Maté shows that disease is the hidden cost of stress. For instance, he makes the connection between cancer and the resentment that people with poor boundaries accumulate internally over years. Imagine if aligning your daily life with what you truly value could not only save you time, but also your mental and physical health.

As we are emerging from lockdown, you may have set some goals for yourself. Do you have too many things in your life that are likely to distract you from achieving them?

Pay attention to how you spend your time – make a list I invite you to make a list of what you fill your days with. If you haven’t given much thought on how you spend your time, your day may not reflect your priorities.

Consider all the things your life includes: which ones haven’t you consciously chosen? In my case, being often late was a sign that I was not totally committed to the activities I had planned. I have never been late to a coaching call with my clients. If you are not enthusiastic about something you have planned, should it be on your calendar at all?
People commit time to doing things that are not aligned with who they want to be for different reasons. Some have difficulty saying no, others a compulsion to fill their days, or the fear of missing out.

Regardless of your motivation, having your days filled with things that don’t matter enough to you is taking time away from what you truly value and want to achieve.

Define what is most important to you – make another list

Now list what you value the most and what you would like to create or achieve in your life. You should only have a few items on your list, roughly between three and six. Think of what really energises you and makes you feel most alive. This is not a bucket list. It is what would make your life a true expression of who you are and your unique abilities.

Living my purpose

As a stay-at-home mum, my life was often hectic and reactive to circumstances. I had no clear sense of direction. I did not know how to say ‘no’. So I ended up agreeing to doing things that I did not want to do but did not want to say ‘no’ to. I never even thought of prioritising what was important to me. I used to drive the kids to numerous activities, I had catch-ups with friends, choir, the crochet club, etc. There was endless food preparation and housekeeping activities. I was always late and feeling stressed.
One day, all this manic activity came to an abrupt stop. I got a phone call from my GP and a few weeks and tests later, I had the final diagnosis: stage four blood cancer. I was also told it was not considered curable.

IMAGE: MOTOKI TONN | UNSPLASHCompare the two lists. If your lists are radically different from each other, your life is not in alignment.

Time for change: how can you pivot towards the true you?

Living with intention will require you to make some adjustments. This can only happen if you start saying ‘no’ to what is not aligned with your purpose: if it doesn’t make it in the list of what you value the most, it should be avoided, as it distracts you from achieving your life goals.
Reshape your week to include more and more what you want to create or bring into the world. Eventually, if you keep saying ‘no’, you will find yourself exclusively focused on your goals.
Once you have clearly defined what is most important to you, the fear of missing out will become irrelevant: what is not aligned with your purpose should be avoided, as it distracts you from achieving your life goals. If it is not a ‘hell yes’, it is a no.
Beyond goal setting: follow your inspiration
Use goals to get you started in one direction but remain flexible; don’t be too attached to them. Another goal will soon appear, and then another one, and you will keep readjusting your trajectory, not necessarily in reaction to circumstances but in response to inspiration.
Once everything is in alignment, you will be less busy and more focused. There will be time for pauses and self-–care. This is the most important time because a hectic life does not leave you with time to feel inspired. Most great ideas were born in the shower or during a walk. Dr Alice Flaherty in her book, The Midnight Disease, showed that dopamine is an essential ingredient of creativity. Therefore you need to be relaxed to be inspired. You are less creative and productive when you are always rushing.

As my life is less ‘full’, I feel I have time

I get a lot more done of what truly matters to me. The many pauses have actually become my most productive times. This is where I get most of my ideas and inspiration from: my walks in nature and those moments sitting on the beach. Doing less made me more productive.
My cancer diagnosis gave me permission to say ‘no’ more and do less. Now, everything I do has a purpose. This may shock you: I just don’t do things I don’t want to do any more. I choose to do things that energise me. I am selective with friends and, since my time is my greatest resource, I am extremely mindful of the way I spend it.
Making myself my first priority is paying off. To paraphrase Dr Gabor Maté, my body is clearly saying yes to my new way of life. My cancer markers are now at an all-time low since I got diagnosed.
Resources:1. Flaherty, Alice W. The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.2. Maté, Gabor. When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, A.A. Knopf Canada, 2003.Abby Zensea is healing herself from cancer naturally. She empowers women with cancer and other chronic conditions to take control of their healing journey and create a life worth fighting for. She lives in Newcastle with her husband and her two children.
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