Math was never a strength of mine: I consider it a victory if I manage to balance my checkbook each month. Nonetheless, a key guiding principle for my life—as a sensitive person and as a solo entrepreneur —comes directly from the world of mathematics. It is called elegance.
According to Wikipedia, mathematicians use the word “elegant” to describe a proof that has five prized qualities:
1—It is clean, clear, and uncluttered, using “a minimum of additional assumptions or previous results”
2—It is unusually succinct
3—It derives a result in a surprising way, “from an apparently unrelated theorem or collection of theorems”
4—It is based on new and original insights
5—It is widely useful and applicable and “can be easily generalized to solve a family of similar problems”
How does the principle of elegance apply to the creation of a sustainable life or a sustainable business? Elegance manifests on the practical level as skillful time management. But the principle runs much deeper than that. On the deepest level, to live elegantly requires you to—
—Know what you value
—Spend your time, money, and energy on what you value
—Minimize the time, money, and energy you spend on anything you don’t value
If you are built sensitive, as I am, and if you run a solo business, as I do, then elegance is not an abstract concept: it is a practical necessity. Maintaining elegance requires ongoing adjustments and calculations, with the details subject to change as your life changes. But there is one constant in the elegance equation: there are only 24 hours in a day. If you are not clear on your priorities, what little discretionary time you have will be eaten up. So for sensitive people, it is a top priority to live and work elegantly.
Three steps to increase elegance in your life
1—Get clear on your values and your priorities
Only you know what you value most. If financial security is your top value, you may choose to work seven days a week. If you have children, you may choose to arrange your life to be available to spend time with them. The content doesn’t matter: what matters is your own clarity. Only this clarity will give you the self-discipline required to resist the constant pull of the many activities Stephen Covey called “urgent and unimportant”: most emails and texts, video games, news apps, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter…the list goes on.
For example, one of my highest values is “people over things.” This value directly informs the order in which I respond to daily tasks: I put the people on my list first. This value also directs my business decisions, which focus around the question, “How can I best serve my clients?”
Another high value for me is to live a sustainably sensitive life. This includes my physical and spiritual self-care, which in turn serves to directly support my “people over things” value, because if I want to be present to other people, I need to be well-rested and connected to my spiritual intuition. This value also includes supporting my household financially. The interlocking, complementary nature of these values is an example of elegance.
2—Create Structures and systems that support your priorities
As you get clear on your values, the next step is to consciously employ these values in your daily approach to your life and business. To do this, you need systems and routines. You also need patience, energy, and creativity to maximize the elegance of your systems.
Take my morning routine, for example. I’ve tweaked it countless times in search of the most elegant solution to serve my current needs and my deeper values. Currently, I get up at 5:15 AM to stretch and meditate, then I walk for 35 minutes. The rhythm of walking stimulates my creativity, so I carry a small tape recorder to capture ideas, and as soon as I get home and sit down to write, ideas flow. Then I do an aerobic and strengthening DVD, eat, shower, and am ready for my first client at 9 AM.
Given the writing I’m working on now, this routine, born of much experimentation, is indeed elegant. The walking, which I need to do for my physical health, also supports my writing. The aerobic exercise gets me away from my desk so I can return to the office mentally refreshed for my first session of the day. The early writing primes the pump of my creative mind, enabling me to pick up the thread and continue writing any time I get a break during the day, even if only for ten minutes. And the whole morning routine of meditation, exercise, walking, and writing supports the sturdy presence that is my highest priority with clients and colleagues.
3—Follow your spiritual intuition
Now we come to the most wonderful aspect of elegance—and it is literally full of wonder. Remember the mathematical definition of elegance? It spoke of proofs “based on new and original insights” and derived “from an apparently unrelated theorem or collection of theorems”. All this is math-speak for the awe and wonder you feel when an unexpected, elegant truth bubbles up from your spiritual intuition.
Asking for a burst of creative elegance might sound like asking a butterfly to land on your shoulder. And in one sense, that is accurate: these insights are a form of grace. However, there are two ways you can set the stage for elegant solutions to appear.
One way is to do everything you can consciously think of to create elegance in a certain area of endeavor. Like Einstein with his theory of relativity, you think about it, write about it, play with it, discuss it, and let it percolate. All this effort creates the conditions in which elegant solutions are more likely to bubble up from your spiritual intuition.
Or, you can open to the wonder-full aspect of elegance by simply asking for what you need. This is a form of prayer, and is most effective when you first have quieted your mind with meditation, with the intent to connect to your spiritual intuition. Perhaps you seek a more sustainable work schedule, but are sure this will mean giving up much-needed income. Perhaps you want time to write, but are sure it will mean giving up much-needed sleep. Remember that elegant proofs are, by definition, novel and unexpected. And don’t be afraid to ask for an elegant solution that fulfills all your needs and values, even if such a solution appears impossible.
Whether you are a business person or not, you are in the business of managing your sensitive life. Elegance requires dispassionate self-observation, self-knowledge, and self-discipline. But every moment you dedicate to creating more elegance in your life is superbly well spent, because it results in a life lived consciously in alignment with your values. Everything fits together, everything has its place, and like the tea plantation fields in the photo, the result is harmonious, beautiful—and elegant.
Update on the new Sustainably Sensitive website and e-zine…
Luminos Listening will become Sustainably Sensitive early in the new year! The new website is rapidly taking shape, and I’m on track to send out the first Sustainably Sensitive e-zine in early January. I will let you know the exact date in advance.
In the meantime, here’s a preview of my favorite new feature from the new website: this is the icon for one of eight similar pages. Each page focuses on a challenge creative, sensitive, anxious people face, and features a video about that challenge and a collection of my best blog posts on that topic.
I’m particularly delighted by elegance of this new feature: it makes the many articles into which I’ve put much care and effort, more accessible to you, my readers, and also clarifies how Sustainably Sensitive sessions, classes and programs can help with these challenges.