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

Why Experiences Create The Most Amazing Memories

View from the Cliff House, San Francisco, CA

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” –Dr. Suess

Who doesn’t like a challenge? Here’s a very quick and exciting challenge for you. Take a moment to reflect on the greatest and most vivid memories of your life. Seriously, take a brief moment to slow down, stop, and think about it. Which memories comes to mind?

I recently did this challenge and realized the most joyful and vivid memories of my life involve spending time with family and friends, often engaging in activities costing no money at all.

As a child playing ping-pong with my brother on a heavy wooden table so rickety its fold-down metal legs could buckle at any second, and often did, comes to mind. One end of the table would come crashing to the cement floor with enough force to break your toes. An injury-trap waiting to happen, adding another level of suspense and challenge to the game. When we played ping-pong It was not about winning…it was about survival. It was fun.

Or taking memorable car rides through muddy cornfields in Canada’s corn belt with my father during summer breaks from school. He was a young teacher trying to feed a growing family on a young teacher’s salary, so he would take part time jobs inspecting corn crops to help make ends meet. We’d ride along dirt roads in the country for hours, sometimes he’d let me steer, do spin-outs in the fields, and take the car home covered in mud from top to bottom. Mom would ask what happened to the car. We’d look at each other and shrug our shoulders. Laughing. Joking. Bonding.

What memories came to your mind?  More likely than not, memories of fun times shared with people, places visited, and special experiences. Sure, there could have been some amazing birthday or holiday gifts, but even with those, the memories and experience shared with others as a result of the gifts, not the gifts themselves, probably feels most special.  Very few of life’s greatest memories are of material things themselves. Material things may help enhance experiences, but experiences are what creates the most vivid, powerful, and lasting memories.

Experiences can create a wealth of joy greater than riches.

Scientific research supports the idea that experiences bring people more happiness than do material things, and if spending time creating experiences is not an option, the mere anticipation of future experiences ranks a very close second. What does that mean? It means the anticipating of an upcoming trip, a night out with friends, concert tickets, or even a visit to the movies this weekend, gives us something to look forward to. An anticipated experience. The experiential beginning of a potentially wonderful memory.

The value any experience or memory begins the moment we begin thinking about it. We all possess the ability to create such memories and experiences with people we love and enjoy, and once such a positive idea is seeded, it is our responsibility to nurture and grow that seed into reality. We should set a conscious goal to create strong and positive memories that can be cherished and enjoyed forever, for ourselves and the people we like and love.

There is no amount of money that would tempt me to trade the precious memories and moments shared with my father and family, for so many reasons. But most importantly because those memories make me happy, bring me peace, and authentically resonate an irreplaceable quality of life worth living. If I ever have to choose between spending money on creature comforts vs. creating a positive lasting memory with my family or loved ones there is no question which direction I’ll be leaning.

While many memorable experiences unfold naturally, the creation of lasting memories can take planning and be intentional. It simply takes a little time and effort, and maybe a well-thought out expenditure of money, but it does not need to be a lot. If you struggle with planning ideas to create amazing experiences and lasting memories, here are five super suggestions that may help jump start your creative juices:

  • Throw a party – for any occasion. It doesn’t need to be a big party. Do it for someone you care about, or just to gather friends together for the sake of having a party. Use a theme, have a camera, food and beverages, games and fun.
  • Spend quality time – with your parents, spouse, children, friends, or others. Ask others about themselves, get them talking – people love to talk about themselves. This naturally builds rapport and relationship. Remember details and ask about irrelevant details next time you talk to them.
  • Gift experiences – instead of things. How about theater tickets or golf lessons instead of candy or a bottle of wine (though a bottle of wine my lead to some pretty interesting experiences too!). Think of an experience someone would normally not do. If it’s expensive and a mutual friend is involved, suggest others pitch in and make the experiential gift truly worthwhile.
  • Travel – it doesn’t need to be some far off, exotic location, though that’s certainly something to shoot for. Travel or holidays can be a day trip, or even an experience in your own city or area that you normally would not have
  • Spend time in nature – this has a number of tremendous health benefits, including calming .and focusing the mind and connecting us with the sense of a Higher Power. Being in nature can also contribute to well-being, creativity and happiness, along with providing a sense of simplicity and fulfillment.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of material wealth (even a lot of it) and attaining possessions, but we must remember that living a quality life is more about balance and perspective. At the end of the day the billion dollar CEO is buried in the same earth as the penniless pauper. In death we take no material possessions with us.

I’m not sure who said it first, but I believe they said it best, “Fill your life with experiences, not things.  Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.”

Be mindful and intentional about making great memories, then enjoy them for a life time. Experiences create the most amazing memories.

Wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J