What do you imagine when you hear the word "simplicity"? I picture a minimalist home (uncluttered, not stark), sunshine, a warm-ish breeze flowing through clean, open windows, and myself reading in a comfy chair. Sounds dreamy, right?
But, it's not the visual components of my vision that are the most appealing, it's the sense, or experience, of that vision--the lack of urgency for anything other than being here, now.
What is your picture perfect simple life?
If you're anything like me, this life seems like a dream. You know it's attainable, but oftentimes, it feels beyond your reach--beyond real life.
I regularly read about simplicity from the perspective of a minimalist lifestyle, mindfulness, and organization. There are so many ideas--other people's ideas--floating around about what it means to live a simple life. What matters is what it means to you.
It's likely even more daunting to think of a simple therapist life. What does that look like?
I'm not an expert on simple living (if that's what you need, then I can send you some recommendations). But, I have learned over the years that the key to living a simpler therapist life is one thing: Your schedule.
Today, I have a few tips for ways in which you can prioritize simplicity by crafting the moments that are in your control:
1 | Set your mind by welcoming the day with purpose
Welcoming the day with purpose involves spending some time mentally and emotionally preparing for the day. Five to ten minutes at the start of your day is all you need to make an impact on your mindset, and it helps you be alert and mindful as the day's events unfold. You begin the day with a proactive, rather than reactive stance.
To begin your day with purpose, pick a location where you want to focus on your morning routine, and keep all supplies you'll need within arm's reach (for example, a pen, journal, book, etc.). This keeps you from grabbing your phone, or the TV remote, before you have a chance to settle into your practice. You can also do this "on the go" while taking a walk, or completing a morning exercise routine. You are the only one who knows what will work for you. But, if you try something, and it doesn't work--keep tweaking!
2 | Pay attention to your thoughts
There are lots of daily moments when you can tune in to yourself; they include, when you're driving, standing in line, taking a shower, cooking, cleaning, among others. Tuning in to yourself requires that you tune out distractions in these moments by turning off ambient noise, putting down your device, telling others you need 5 minutes (if necessary). Ask yourself:
- How do I feel right now? What worries am I carrying?
- What do I want to feel/create/let go right now?
Stay in the moment with whatever emerges as an answer; try not to move from answers to solutions. Tune in for five to ten minutes. When the time is over, feel free to write down anything you deem important.
A good time for many of us to tune in with our work is between therapy sessions, or during no-show or canceled appointments. During this time, listen to your thoughts and feelings regarding the previous session, or the cancellation. By noticing the effects of your work during the work day, you are less likely to take the effects home with you, or carry them in unwanted ways.
3 | Release the day with intention
Often, evenings and nighttime can become a hurried process to prepare for the next day and get to bed at a decent hour. Many of us miss our goals for evening rest and relaxation. A routine for clearing our minds is as important for closing the day as it is for opening it. Releasing the day with intention requires strict boundaries around your time--including setting a time to begin your winding down, as well as structuring your evening so that you are free to make this routine a habit. .
There are benefits to having a nighttime routine, including better (and often, more) sleep, and less mental stress. It also sets the stage for an intentional morning practice.
Of course, life happens. We make choices about what to prioritize in the moment, all day long. But remember, your new practice needs time to blossom in order for you to notice its benefits. And, yes, you absolutely deserve to be your own priority.
4 | Honor the challenges
Simplifying your day will take effort and practice, and it will require ongoing vigilance. In the commitment toward living more intentionally, there are ups and downs and these are necessary, so that you can cultivate new habits. As with most changes, choosing to tune in and simplify will take time. The only predictability is found in the process of trying and tweaking. Along the way, make sure to notice and accept the challenges that come your way.
One obvious challenge is that as therapists, our work/life blend and overlap is a great responsibility. We are bound by confidentiality, ethics, and state laws and rules that keep us from being able to talk about our work with our loved ones, as well as in most social circumstances. This makes our work a very personal experience for us.
Of course, intentional "tuning in" practices yield benefits for everyone, but I believe that they are even more essential for those in the helping professions. The emotional focus of our work can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma (you've heard the terms), depending on our chosen specialties. Learning to separate your work from your life, and understanding when investing more in others is and isn't appropriate, can make a difference in not only the longevity of your career, but your daily effectiveness and energy.
If you're interested on the topic of intentional living as a therapist, you may also enjoy this post.
The main content of this blog post was originally published as an issue of News + Notes, the Family Therapy Basics e-letter. The newsletter is full of personal and professional development tips for the therapist life. Learn more, or sign up to receive the newsletter, here:
Let me know, in the comments below:
- What one thing makes it difficult for you to have a "tuning in" practice?
- If you're a pro at tuning in, what is your #1 tip for making this a habit throughout your day?