More With Less: The Importance of Strengthening What Matters

Fishing Boat

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” –Socrates


Have you ever shared the the experience of frantically searching for something that, ironically when you find it, has been right in front of you the entire time? Perhaps a set of keys? Glasses?  A favorite hat?

There’s a name for this phenomenon. It’s called a schotoma – a fancy sounding term for a mental blind spot. Subconsciously, we all build mental blind spots in our lives. The causes are varied, most often innocent and harmless. Most schotomas are rooted in pre-existing beliefs or triggered by our penchant of moving too fast to recognize the simplicity of a solution at hand.

A couple of weeks back, I experienced a friendship schotoma with a small group of old friends. It was perfect timing. Nearly the end of 2016. Year end. Inevitably, a time for reflection on the joys, difficulties, triumphs, and most meaningful events of the past year. This moment was no exception.

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for literally everyone I know. Perhaps it’s just my peer group, and the stage of life we’re in, but everyone seemed overwhelmingly busy with work obligations, family matters, caught up in a frenzied fuss of community and world affairs.

In the United States, we’re coming off a toxic election year, responsible for draining the positive energy from many. Post-election attitudes continue to fuel feelings of fear, resentment, anger, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, nurture prejudicial surges of boldness and entitlement. Our country is more divided and dangerous than it has existed in generations.

So many people seem constantly stressed. Not just stressed. Overstressed. Struggling through and from crisis to crisis. Searching for the next clear sunrise and stretch of calm waters that will signify everything will be okay. A recent study showed 1 in 5 American adults regularly use anti-anxiety medications. That statistic is not okay!

Amidst all the busyness (or business) of life, the simplicity of what really matters is too often being lost.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” –Mahatma Gandhi

A couple week’s back, in casual conversation, I shared the frustration of ‘being busy being busy’ with an old friend. We soon realized our schedules were mirror images, and neither of us had spent in-person time with our core group of friends for way too long. We agreed it was time to get a small group of friends together…for simply no reason at all.

The next weekend we made it a point to connect at one of our homes. Five friends. Simple fellowship. Fresh food, authentic conversations, liberating libations, and a whole lot of trash talking over the pool table. It was fun, fulfilling, healing. It was human.

The experience reminded me of a story I first heard many years ago, originally written by Heinrich Boll. It’s a fable about the interaction between a humble Mexican fisherman and a driving American businessman. This quick parable is an absolute gem of one-minute-wisdom.

The Mexican Fisherman & the Harvard MBA

A vacationing American businessman standing on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village in southern Mexico watched as a small boat with just one young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American casually asked.

“Oh, a few hours,” the Mexican fisherman replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American businessman then asked.

The Mexican warmly replied, “With this I have more than enough to meet my family’s needs.”

The businessman then became serious, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

Responding with a smile, the Mexican fisherman answered, “I sleep late, play with my children, watch ball games, and take siesta with my wife. Sometimes in the evenings I take a stroll into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, sing a few songs…”

The American businessman impatiently interrupted, “Look, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you to be more profitable. You can start by fishing several hours longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the additional income that larger boat will bring, before long you can buy a second boat, then a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats.”

Proud of his own sharp thinking, he excitedly elaborated a grand scheme which could bring even bigger profits, “Then, instead of selling your catch to a middleman you’ll be able to sell your fish directly to the processor, or even open your own cannery. Eventually, you could control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this tiny coastal village and move to Mexico City, or possibly even Los Angeles or New York City, where you could even further expand your enterprise.”

Having never thought of such things, the Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will all this take?”

After a rapid mental calculation, the Harvard MBA pronounced, “Probably about 15-20 years, maybe less if you work really hard.”

“And then what, señor?” asked the fisherman.

“Why, that’s the best part!” answered the businessman with a laugh. “When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions? Really? What would I do with it all?” asked the young fisherman in disbelief.

The businessman boasted, “Then you could happily retire with all the money you’ve made. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your grandchildren, watch ball games, and take siesta with your wife. You could stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play the guitar and sing with your friends all you want.”

This lesson of this tall tale is powerful: What really matters may be simpler and closer than what we think. Or, in schotoma thinking, it may be existing right in front of us the entire time.

For the sake of our collective mental health, we should seek to identify and claim our happiness-hampering schotomas on a regular basis, while perhaps simultaneously re-thinking society-ingrained beliefs that bigger is always better, more is necessary, and faster is the best way.

Sometimes simplicity, and our ability to recognize what is most important in the simplest manner possible, is the most important thing of all.

What really matters to you? What is of paramount importance in your life? Is it family? Friendships? An evolving relationship with Creator? Money or career? Happiness? Joy? Physical fitness?  Mental health? Love and relationships?

After identifying aspects of life that are most important, a great next step will be to prioritize these items from most important to least important. Then proceed to live life forward with greater simplicity and focus on top priorities…or, what really matters.

While it may seem contradictory, having a lot of everything is about as fulfilling as having nothing at all. It’s better to go deep than go wide. We must seek to recognize and solidify the simple strengths in our lives.

For however tall and wide a tree grows, its roots and underground support system grow equally deep and wide. This is what allows that tree to stand strong, weather storms, and grow to even greater heights. This is an amazing image to visualize as we seek to recognize, simplify, and strengthen what is most important in our lives.

In some small way, I hope this article has sparked a desire within someone to better seek and recognize the most important ingredients in life, and strengthen what truly matters.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”


“Action expresses priorities.” –Mahatma Gandhi

It’s Super Bowl weekend.  My 5-year old son and I are downstairs playing in the carpeted rec room of our home.  He’s clad in a miniature-size game-day jersey, pretending he’s the superstar quarterback of the winning team, excited to be romping around, full of energy, playing and interacting with Daddy.

We’ve been tossing around a mini Nerf football, soft enough not to damage the walls or windows as a result of its erratic episodes of flight. He pretends to snap the ball to himself, drops back in the pretend pocket, pump fakes his right arm one time, then throws the football across the room in my direction. A surprisingly perfect spiral.

Half-heartedly I reach upward to catch the ball with my left hand, glancing away from my smart phone where I had been checking emails, or text messages, or social media updates, or something else I deemed urgent at the time.  Then I recall hearing the most pleading, sincere, and wanting tone a 5-year old could ever muster…

“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”

Boom. A eureka-moment reality check. A life-changing, priority-altering realization. Not only did I hear my son’s pleading tone…I listened.

Through his pleading tone, dejected body language, and despaired facial expression, my son renewed an already known realization in my mind. The realization that all things seemingly urgent are not necessarily important, and what is important needs to be prioritized. At that specific second, I silently vowed to re-assess and re-focus my priorities, not only toward my child, but in all aspects of my life.

We live in a furious-paced time, in a culture making constant unabashed attempts to demand our attention right now. The expectation of being constantly on and accessible via smart phones, instant messaging, urgent-sounding chimes, alerts and notifications…its madness. But how much of that culturally-ingrained sense of urgency is really important? What about in your life? That’s the question of today. The easy (and correct) answer is really pretty simple. Not much.

The offering to mindfully differentiate that which is urgent from that which is important is strong advice. Good advice. Perhaps most importantly, it is advice that can and should be applied to every aspect of our lives.  If you’re like most everyone I know, your days are increasingly becoming filled with obligations, commitments, and responsibilities. We must force ourselves to stop and ask, “How much of what I’m doing is really important?”

To prioritize what is important in our lives we must stop and think about everything biding for our time. Our work, health, family, friends, community, faith, finances, leisure, and more. Stopping to take stock is the first step, then we must identify what is seemingly urgent from what is truly important (if it’s neither urgent nor important it shouldn’t be on our “must do” radar anyway). Only then can we begin an uncompromising exercise of elimination and prioritization. An eliminectomy.

That which seems urgent will get in the way of what is important, just like the seeming urgency of checking my smart phone got in the way of the important experience I was spending with my son during Super Bowl Weekend.

How do we decide what is urgent vs. what is important? I like the statement by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Or, if a task or activity can be put off without dire consequence, it’s probably more urgent than important. If it’s something that contributes to long term happiness, close relationships, personal growth or goals, it’s probably important.

Here are 5 Action Steps I used to re-prioritize my priorities:

  1. Stop Everything. It’s impossible to think when your mind is cluttered with a million-and-one thoughts. Too many thoughts, can’t think. How’s that for irony? So stop, calm the mind, and give yourself a chance to authentically think.
  1. Write down values in priority order. Not tasks, but values. For example – Creator, Family, Finances, Community, Fun, etc.  These are items of personal value that contribute to long term happiness and fulfillment. Values must be known before they can be consciously pursued. Refer back to this list often – the things we see most frequently become ingrained in our subconscious, and will most likely become our reality.
  1. Write down tasks being done on a regular basis. Then identify items to reduce or eliminate that are unnecessary. Time is our most precious commodity, one that is so easily wasted. Reducing the unnecessary will create more time for what truly matters (that which is important).
  1. Group like activities and use technology for efficiency. For example, prepare multiple meals at the same time to avoid a tedious routine every meal, or have a set time for laundry, or checking e-mails or paying bills. When like activities are grouped together they are accomplished more efficiently. Offerings like auto pay to manage monthly bills helps avoid the hassle of opening envelopes, addressing checks, stamping envelopes, etc.
  1. Practice “Present Time Consciousness”. A fancy-sounding term that simply means “focus on what is in front of you with full attention”, one thing at a time with full presence. Make the task at hand the number one priority while it is being done. Avoid multi-tasking whenever possible…it really doesn’t save time, quality is compromised, and it creates stress!

By identifying what is most important in our lives, and prioritizing our actions to align with what is most important, it simply means we are becoming truer to ourselves. It’s an excellent process for everyone to undergo. A task we should pursue with knowledge and courage, helping us reach for our higher potential. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks along the way…we all have them. After all, we’re all just humans trying to become better version of ourselves.

Wishing Wellness & Empowerment Your Way,

-Dr. J