Less is more. Really.

Homeschooling Berrik continues to be full of learning for me.  Not only am I learning what it takes to be an effective teacher of Berrik (I’m not sure I would be an effective teacher of someone else, but darn it I’m getting really good at teaching this sweet boy that I love), I am learning so much about myself in the process.

Recently I was reflecting on our week, thinking about the frustrating moments, and the major successes.  I can say with honesty that ever single week has some of each.  As I was thinking about the frustrating moments, it occurred to me that almost every time I am feeling frustrated with Berrik, it is because I have created an environment to frustrate him.  Let me back up a bit to try to explain.

I read an article recently called Achieve More By Doing Less (Click here to read it).  The Myth below is what I have bought into most of my life, and the Truth is what I am coming to realize more and more.


Busyness = importance
We so often wear our busyness as a badge of honor. We see our ability to withstand mounting levels of stress as a sign of character.


Busyness = cognitive overload
An overloaded brain hinders performance. It impairs our ability to think creatively, plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions.

Berrik has made incredible gains over the past few months.  My reaction to his gains has been to try to add more practice, more knowledge, more reading, more math, more, more, more.  In my own life I do this to myself.  The more I succeed, the more I try to pile on.  More is more.  Faster is better.  Go, go, go.  But what I’ve noticed, is that the more I add to his plate, the slower his gains are.  He either doesn’t absorb, or shuts down completely when I’ve really crossed the line into crazy mom/teacher mode.  When I really think about the times he has made the most gains, with the least amount of work, it has always been when I did less, more effectively, and at the right times.  Hmmm.  Less is more.  I’m not a fan of using cliches.  But this time, it fits.


More is better
We live in a more is more culture. We want a more prestigious job, more likes on Facebook, more enrichment activities for our kids, more work so we can earn more money so we can buy more stuff.


Often, less is more
When we step back from the lie that more is going to be better, we often find that we already have enough.


Find the minimum effective dose
The “minimum effective dose” (MED) is the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being. Look for the MED in everything: work, sleep, meditation, blogging frequency, checking email, school volunteering, homework help, date nights.

I love the idea of Minimum Effective Dose.  This makes so much sense to me.  And the beauty is that it applies to everything.  I am so guilty of wearing my busyness like a badge of honor, and seeking more, for myself and for my kids.  I come by this honestly (anyone who knows my mom will see that it is likely a significant nature AND nurture situation). I’m quite sure that I’ll always be like this some degree as I believe it is in my genetic code.  I see it in my eldest daughter too.  And I see the effects of it in my younger two.  Neither of them are coded for a more, more, more life.  They become overwhelmed, anxious, and frustrated.


Doing nothing is a waste of time
We do not like standing in line waiting for things or staring out the window before everyone has shown up for a meeting. That’s wasting time and time is money…and the only thing worse than wasting time is wasting money.


Our brains benefit when we waste time
When we let our minds go…to daydream, to wander…an area of our brain turns on that’s responsible for creative insight. And our best work comes from those creative insights—the ones that happen in the shower!


Stare into space
We feel uncomfortable with stillness, with downtime, so we cancel it out by becoming busy again. Instead of just staring out the window on the bus, we read our Facebook feed. We check our email in line at the grocery store. Instead of enjoying our dinner, we shovel food in our mouths while staring at a screen. Give yourself the joy of just staring into space sometimes. What could possibly be easier to put into practice?

I was absolutely raised with the notion that doing nothing is a waste of time.  We were by no means overworked as children, but it was clear that we should be up in the morning getting our chores done.  Even so, the lack of technology and the significantly less intense focus on scheduled activities of my youth resulted in a lot of downtime.  I played with my cousins outside on the farm, played make believe at my Grandma’s house next door (tea towels on heads to resemble long hair, tummies full of raw cookie dough – raw eggs and all), read a ton of books.  These days we live in an instant gratification culture.  We want (and have) the world at our fingertips and we become incredibly impatient if things are not available the very second it occurs to us that we need it.  Waiting in line, face in phone the entire time, yet still feeling so impatient and annoyed that we have to wait.   Listening to podcasts while waiting in traffic, or making phone calls… because just sitting in your car thinking, or enjoying the break from work would be a waste of time. Need to know something?  Settle an argument?  Figure out who the emcee for the #FieldofCrossesyyc Remembrance Day ceremony is?  Google it.  Hungry?  Drive thru… or order in… favorite restaurant doesn’t deliver? Not to worry, there is an app for that too.  Is it any wonder that our kids become overwhelmed?

I’ve blogged about the importance of boredom before and this is a similar notion.  Human brains need time to just decompress, reflect, consider, and just rest.  Dreams are made in these moments.  The struggle for me is three-fold:

1. I need to fight my tendencies to push and schedule and add more to my life (and the lives of my family members).It’s a serious battle for me that requires a lot of conscious thought and intentional action.  I am one of the worst of the worst for checking my phone for texts/emails/social media/regular media/weather…. you name it, I likely check it.  Frequently.  And especially if I’m ‘wasting time’ waiting in line!  Sigh.

2.Everyone in my family has a different threshold for busyness.  I need to help the kids gain awareness of their own thresholds and self-regulate (while attempting to teach myself the same skills).  I need to model ‘wasting time’ by spending time away from technology and busyness and really being present at all times.

3.  I need to accept that this is an uphill battle for which small victories will be made, against large odds. Schools don’t promote a philosophy of waiting, boredom and less is more.  In fact, there may be badges of honor for busyness handed out regularly, metaphorically speaking (says the mom who put her kids in a bilingual program and encourages writing DELE exams, ballet exams, piano exams etc.)  However, I can and do implement strict technology rules inside my house.  Phones in the kitchen when we are home.  Limited TV, internet and video games, and only after chores are complete (perhaps I need to implement a scheduled ‘chore’ of staring into space?)  I might argue that folding laundry, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, or vacuuming are all therapeutic thinking time!  From what I’ve been told by my children, all such activities qualify in the ‘boredom’ category.

My reward for implementing a ‘less is more’ philosophy in my family comes swiftly when I am able to remember to do it.  The kids function better, learn more, feel happier, sleep more soundly, and enjoy life.  Berrik is particularly good at reminding me what happens if I lean too far towards ‘more is more’.  The key is to find the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) for all aspects of life, knowing that this dose will change and evolve.  I find it overwhelming to think about this in the bigger picture so perhaps best to find the MED for things in baby steps.

LATE ADDITION:  I was completely remiss in sharing a quote from one of the smartest ladies I know, a woman I met in Nursing school so many years ago, and who has taught and continues to teach me about strength and perseverance and being present.  Jean Dzubin has said before, and I suspect she’ll say it again (she’s kind of like the good angel on my shoulder, offering gentle reminders and support just when I need it),

“We are human beings, not human doings.”

At the end of the day, it really is as simple as that.

What strategies do you use to create an environment and culture of ‘less is more’ in your house, your life, the lives of your family?  What are your most exciting successes?  What barriers do you face?

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