I’m not sure when it happened.

When did I morph from a centered and present self to this frenzied and often grumpy woman, who’s at the mercy of a tyrannical impulse to do more with each moment? It began with a soulful desire to make the most of this one precious life. To squeeze in as much of it as possible. To take it seriously, to give it my all, to “die empty” as the author Todd Henry says.

But then this impulse took on a life of its own quite sneakily, much like an addiction. I started trying to fit in another this or another that. 

Now I find myself eating breakfast while answering emails, not even sure whether I’m full or have overfilled my belly. I notice how I mindlessly start scrolling my social feed or flipping through a magazine while my child is talking. Or failing to notice the energy in the room, the light flitting across the couch, or the expression on my husband’s face as he walks in the door.

All because I’m doing something. Always doing.

I’m being mindful of this as the year comes to an end and I’m thinking about how I want to live in the coming year. On the one hand, I have this desire for greater control over my time because we’re told it’ll help us make the most of it.

I think time management has become the collective focus of our day and age, because the tempo of life in general has accelerated. We’re also bombarded with so many options and opportunities of what we could be doing with our time that many of us feel we need to run faster to catch up. 

I certainly relate to that; most days I wake up feeling I’m already behind and the false promise of time management has me spend my day trapped in more doing. And this has given rise to the opposite desire: 

The longing for less, for starting to embrace radical simplicity.

For going fewer places, doing less, acquiring less, having fewer expectations of myself. As I’ve sat with these seemingly paradoxical desires, I’ve come to realize that they’re not in contradiction at all. In fact, they are the answer to my original longing to live life to its fullest. Mastering time by simplifying our lives allows us to stop reacting to the noise of the world and live our days with presence.

I read somewhere that almost every difficulty we come across asks us for a radical form of simplification toward something precious and deeply personal. Doing less of the world’s siren calls is ultimately about doing more of what makes us feel alive. It’s about living more.

In the brief moments when I don’t have the dark clouds of doing more hanging over me, I have felt time expand as I’ve sat to read a book or gone to bed early. I’ve felt the deep connection with my child or husband as I’ve looked into their eyes and listened to their joys or struggles, or even engaged in an argument without the need to find a solution this moment before I rush to do something else.

If like me, you’re committing to embrace radical simplicity in 2024, keep in mind that it won’t be easy. Like most of us, you live in the chaos and complexity of family life and work, honoring many roles, fulfilling numerous responsibilities, all with their constraints and frustrations. You likely don’t have the privilege to go sit by the pond for hours or take off to a meditation retreat for weeks.

The good news is that committing to radical simplicity includes committing to radically simple actions.

Choosing to ignore the call because your child is talking to you. Choosing to not check emails so you can go to bed 10 minutes early. Trust that these simple actions add up. The more you rest at a deeper level of connection, be it with yourself, with others, or with the universe, the closer you get to understanding what your life is all about, and where your time is best spent on a moment-to-moment basis. 

As the writer Annie Dillard says: How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. 

As we step into 2024, let’s all remember that time is not only at the heart of how we organize life, but how we experience it. And given that we cannot lengthen the time we get in this world, our only way to experience it fully is by being present in it, so we don’t get to the end and think we never lived at all.

That’s the lesson from 2023 I’m taking with me into 2024. This year, let’s embrace radical simplicity.

A version of this article originally appeared on Psychology Today.

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