Note: This is a guest post by Dan Millman of The Peaceful Warrior’s Way.
I’ve come to think of minimalism as a quest for efficiency over entropy, order over chaos, and economy over excess.
As Albert Einstein advised us, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.” The key is finding the balance between too much and too little.
What constitutes balance for you depends on your constitution, interests, and drives. For example, a balanced workout may range from a brisk 12-minute walk for some folks to six-hours or more for aspiring Olympians.
When I coached an elite gymnastics team at Stanford University, most of the athletes trained for three hours each day, but Steve Hug, the top U.S. Olympian, would walk in, do some warm-up exercises followed by two routines on each apparatus, completing his workout in just under one hour—enough to get the job done.
Each of us must find our own balance. In fact, a central tenet of the approach to life I call “the peaceful warrior’s way,” is that there is no best book, teacher, philosophy, religion, path, method, or routine of diet or exercise (or balance)—there’s only the best for each of us at a given time of our life. My own experiences awakened in me a desire for doing just enough.
Recognizing the reality that “a little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing,” in 1986 I created a 4-minute, “Peaceful Warrior Workout.” I’ve practiced this workout every day for more than three decades.
Simple is powerful because we benefit only from what we can sustain. A little bit every day reflects the core strength of a minimalist approach.
Similarly, in 2014 I devised a 4-minute “Peaceful Warrior Meditation” centered on the qualities of life that we will each surrender some day when we die.
The point of both the workout and meditation is that they’re nearly excuse-proof. After all, who can’t carve out four minutes to exercise or to meditate? Even busy people can integrate either or both into their daily routine. For me, this is practical minimalism.
My best minimalist advice to you, and to anyone who might ask, is, “Dream big, but start small—then connect the dots.”
As Robert Brault once wrote, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
I also apply minimalism in my written work. Guided by three questions — “Can it be written more briefly? Can it be written more aptly? Does it need to be written at all?” — over nine drafts, I cut my most recent book from an overgrown, 500-page hedgerow to a 220-page bonsai. As Jack London said, “It takes hard writing to make easy reading.”
Actress Lily Tomlin famously said, “I always wanted to be somebody—but maybe I should have been more specific.” So, in closing, I encourage you to translate your dreams and aspirations into a checklist of minimal steps. Let’s all organize and simplify our living quarters and do the same for the cluttered closet of our mind.
It was the philosopher Blaise Pascal who first quipped, “I would have written a shorter letter if I’d had the time.” To that I would add, “Ditto.”
Dan Millman is the author of Peaceful Heart, Warrior Spirit: The True Story of My Spiritual Quest. He is a former world trampoline champion, Stanford University gymnastics coach, martial arts instructor, and Oberlin college professor. His first book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, was adapted to film in 2006. You can find more of his work on his website: Peaceful Warrior.