A Coaching Power Tool Created by Wiebke Kleine
(Life Coach, GERMANY)
Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away. Antoine de Saint Exupéry
We often come across the saying “Less is more”. It was probably first used in 1855 in Robert Browning’s poem “Andrea del Sarto”.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used this expression to explain the new minimalistic form of architecture, which he created in the 20th century. He wanted his architecture to be a reduction to just the essential.
How does this relate to coaching or life in general?
In a coaching session, where the client often expresses that they have “too much on their plate” or “there is just so much going on right now” or “I just feel there is so much to do, I do not even know where to start”. This often results in a feeling of being overwhelmed or feeling paralyzed. When there is so much “stuff” in our life, we can easily feel like we want to walk away from it, we want to turn our backs on it. Whether it be physical stuff, like
- an overflowing wardrobe (- but I still feel I do not have anything to wear),
- too much clutter in a house (- despite my big house, I feel I do not have enough rooms or space),
- a messy desk with piles of papers and books everywhere (– I know that the document I am looking for is somewhere beneath that chaos, but I just cannot find it)
or emotional stuff, like
- too many worries circulating in my head (- which can lead to feeling anxious)
- a constant chit chat in my mind that keeps me from being present or
- too many commitments that keep me busy and occupied all the time (- without feeling I am getting anywhere or without any time for me to recharge my batteries).
“More” can be good and can give us a feeling of abundance, but in certain circumstances it can also be disempowering.
It can mean:
- a lot to choose from à this can take a lot of time and therefore we can use up a lot of your precious time
- too much distraction à therefore less focus
- more quantity à can lead to a decline in quality
- more stuff à less space
- lots of things to do à less time
“Less” on the other hand can be perceived as scarce and under certain circumstance is not what we are striving for.
But working in opposites of the examples above it can also mean:
- less distraction à more focus
- less quantity à more quality
- less stuff à more space
- less things to do à more time
Jo lived in a nice 2-bedroom house with her husband. Over the years, she had accumulated quite a bit of “stuff”. Along came their first child. Now, while Jo had always planned on organizing her “stuff” before the arrival of her baby, she was too scared to get rid of much, just in case she might need it (again). Also, they were planning to move at some stage, so why throw out anything when they might be able to use it in a bigger house at some point in the future. Plus, you never know what you need when the baby comes along. Those old pants and shirts that she had not worn in ages, might be useful once she stays at home with the baby. Jo happily accepted any hand me downs from family and friends, as she was not sure what might come in useful once the baby had arrived. Soon, the house was getting quite “stuffy” with all the extra things. But, she thought, there will be time to get rid of stuff once she has settled into a routine with the baby. And by then, she will know what she needs and what she does not.
To cut a long story short, Jo never got around to declutter and organize her stuff. There was never enough time and she had become an expert at finding new storage solutions for all the things that she was just not prepared to throw out – because one day, she might need it (again) or a good friend had given it to her and she did not want to appear ungrateful by throwing it out or she had paid good money for it and might never find such a good bargain again.
Once all the space in the cupboards, shelves and wardrobes was taken up, clothes, books, baby toys started to pile up in any free space in her house.
Over time, Jo noticed how tiring it was, just looking for things, as she never seemed to find what she was looking for. She also noticed that it was hard to make a decision, when she had so much stuff to chose from; i.e. she had bought more clothes after her pregnancy, because her normal clothes did not fit. She bought cheap items, because she did not want to spend a lot of money on this “interim clothes”, because one day (soon) she will fit into her pre-pregnancy clothes again. So, her wardrobe was full of clothes that fit her, but she never felt she had anything to wear; therefore, she bought more clothing, to make up for the items she did not like.
She still had the intention to declutter, but by now, the thought of attending to so much stuff was exhausting. She felt overwhelmed just by the thought of it. But she started to feel a shift in herself, though. She started to feel all the stuff was weighing her down. She felt, she was not effective, because it was always messy in her house and it was very tiring to just stay on top of things. No matter how much she tidied and cleaned up, no matter how many more storage boxes she bought, she just felt like she was never organized and always felt overwhelmed. She liked to socialize, but had stopped inviting people over, because there was not enough room and she started to feel a little bit ashamed of having such a cramped home and not being able to do something about it.
So, she ended up spending a lot of time outside her home, visiting other people or taking the baby to the park. This too, started to get tiring, as she was yearning to feel comfortable at home, to have more space and not feel weighed down by all the things that were in her home. So, slowly Jo started to realize: “Maybe having all this stuff is not helping me? Maybe having more is actually stopping me from living the life I really want to live and to its full potential? ”
Mimi was in her early 30s. She was single and enjoying her high-flying corporate job as well as a very active social life. She has always been an “on-the-go-person”. Ever since she can remember, she has been very busy. She would always have different circle of friends that she liked to catch up with on a regular basis, she wanted to get to know her work colleagues outside work and there was also her family that she wanted to see.
Mimi was always doing stuff. Her normal week would look like this: She would work an average of 9 hours per day and schedule in 5 vigorous workouts per week. She needed this to relax and free her mind from her job. As she was single and no one was waiting for her at home, she would go out three to four evenings during the week. Some nights, she would schedule a dinner with work colleagues and then end the night catching up with friends, going to a concert or to see a movie. Often, she would be exhausted from the week, but because she did not want to miss out on anything, because she wanted to have a life outside work, she usually did not cancel any arrangements. Plus, there was no one waiting for her at home and she felt empty and weird and lonely, if she was allowing herself too much down time or time on her own.
Her weekends looked similarly busy. She tried to pack in as much as she could, because she wanted to make the most of it. She accepted every breakfast, lunch or dinner invitation. She would sometimes double book herself, because she did not want to miss out on the opportunity of seeing a friend or miss an exciting event. This often left her jumping from one engagement to the next; already thinking of her next appointment to go to and what time she would have to leave in order to make it there on time. She always felt hurried, but she loved the constant change and diversity of things she was able to experience. On the other hand, she also felt unfulfilled and hoped to find fulfillment in some of the things she was doing outside work.
One Saturday, before Christmas, it all got too much for her. She had packed in 3 events, as always not wanting to miss out on any of them. So, she carefully planned how to be able to do all three. She managed to get to all three, but at the end of the night, she was extremely frustrated. She had not felt present at any of the events, had to keep or cut conversations with people short, so she would have enough time to work the room before disappearing to the next thing. She was more occupied trying to work out how to make an appearance and still find a way to exit on time, than enjoying the company and the event itself. Two of the events had not met her expectation and she regretted not being able to stay longer at one party.
After that weekend, Mimi started to question herself whether it actually serves her to pack as much into her free time as possible and at what cost it is to her that she does not want to miss out and say no when certain opportunities present herself. She felt she was always on the go and never relaxed. Even her weekends were not relaxing as she tried to pack in as much as she could. So she started Mondays already exhausted, and because she did not allow herself much down time after work either, she was caught in a vicious circle of tiredness that was hard for her to stop.
How to raise awareness of Less vs. More
Questions that could help Jo and Mimi shift their perspective whether “less is actually more” could be:
- What does “less vs. more” mean to you?
- What area(s) in your life can benefit from applying the “less is more” principle?
- What do you want more of in your life?
- What do you want less of in your life?
- What is the cost of having more (social) clutter in your life?
- What is the benefit of having less (social) clutter in your life?
- I am hearing that you feel overwhelmed. How would you like to feel? What are some strategies that can make you feel less overwhelmed?
- What is the opposite of overwhelmed for you?
- Who or what can support you in creating less (social) clutter in your life?
- What would less (social) clutter bring you more of?
Less vs. More is really about simplifying our busy lives. Being happy with less and focusing on the essential “stuff” in our life. And as mentioned above, with “stuff” I mean physical stuff, which clutters our home as well as the relationships, commitments, thoughts and behaviours we have that drain our energy and make us feel overwhelmed. This could mean we have to say less “YES” and more “NO” to things in our lives that do not serve us. The challenge here is to find out what serves us and what does not serve us in life. Questions like the ones above can help to raise our awareness in this matter. I could go on in writing about and explaining this power tool, but to stay true with the concept of less vs. more, I am going to close here. This power tool has not reached perfectionism yet. I could take more information away to make it more succinct. However, my priority at the moment is to spend more time with my children and less time worrying about perfection.