Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

I Can't Do Without ...

It all starts with that simple phrase. The idea that something in your life is so essential, so integral that you can’t live without it.

But is that really true? Are there things in life that you really can’t do without? I mean, beyond oxygen and food and water and shelter.

I’ve found that’s rarely, if ever, the case.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been (in a few small ways) challenging the assumption that I can’t do without something. The results of doing that have not only tweaked my lifestyle, but also made me think about aspects of my life in other ways.

Undertaking lifestyle experiments

That’s what I call them. They’re little tweaks to the way I live my life, and I generally do those experiments just because I can. Admittedly, my recent experiments haven’t been as extreme as some of the ones I’ve done in the past. Hey, I’m heading into my declining years and my body really can’t take that kind of abuse anymore …

So what did I do? I gave up a few of things that I enjoyed but didn’t really need. If you’ve been reading this space for any length of time, you might remember me mentioning how I ditched my smartphone with no regrets.

Before Christmas 2012, I suddenly decided to stop drinking. Not that I was an alcoholic (or anywhere near that state), but I liked a pint of ale or lager or a glass of scotch or vodka now and again. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I have to admit, though, that there were days when I thought Hmmm … a cold beer would be nice right now.

Much to the shock of a former co-worker and my wife, I stopped eating chocolate. Chocolate has always been a favourite food of mine. In fact, I (tongue firmly in cheek) considered chocolate one of the four basic food groups, and jokingly called it Vitamin C. But it was more of a comfort food than anything else. I ate chocolate when I was stressed or worried, then just out of habit. I stopped eating chocolate pretty much cold turkey in September, 2012 and haven’t looked back.

I don’t miss chocolate or alcohol. They were nice to consume, but they definitely weren’t an essential part of my life.

Doing without

It is possible. It’s not always easy. And it takes time. Don’t do what I did and just jump in. That worked for me in two cases, but who’s to say I won’t stumble if I try that with another lifestyle experiment?

The key is to take things slowly and build a habit. Phase the unnecessary out of your life gradually. For example, let’s say you want to decrease and (perhaps) eventually eliminate coffee from your lifestyle. Start by cutting back to two cups a day, then only drink coffee five days a week. After that, cut back to one cup three days a week. Eventually, you’ll get to where you want to be. Just be patient.

Doing this works with any kind of habit that you want to form. For example:

  • Exercising regularly.
  • Reducing the time you spend on social media.
  • Eating healthier meals.
  • Spending more time with friends and family.

And more.

Expect to backslide

About a week after I stopped eating chocolate, I was at my favourite cafe with my wife and daughter. Out of habit, I ordered a mug of hot chocolate and a chocolate brownie with cream (both very delicious). After I’d taken my first sip and first bite, I remembered what I was trying to do. Or, in this case, do without.

Yes, I did kick myself. But what was done was done. I just got back on the horse the next day and things proceeded as I’d planned.

So, if you do find yourself backsliding don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, reset. Refocus. Redouble your efforts.

When you succeed, look back at what you did. Think about expanding your experiment into other areas of your life. Pretty soon, you’ll find that you can live without those things you though you couldn’t live without.

Believe me, it’s a very liberating feeling.

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