The power of elegance as an organizing concept will support you to create a sustainable life as a highly sensitive person.

Math has never been my strong suit. I feel lucky that I remember enough of it to balance my checkbook and calculate a percentage when needed. Nonetheless, one of my guiding principles as a highly sensitive person 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 this principle of elegance apply to me? It provides a powerful framework of awareness that has helped me create a sustainable life. Elegance manifests on the practical level as skillful time management. But the principle runs deeper than that.

To live elegantly, you must—

—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, elegance is not an abstract concept. It is a practical necessity. In the 24 hours I’m given each day, I need to eat, sleep, and exercise; earn an income; engage in self-care, including spiritual practice and recreation; spend time with and care for children, family, and friends (you may have pets, as well); keep up with chores, bills; an and much more. I also need time to simply be.

Those 24 hours are the only constant in the elegance equation. Everything else is variable. You get to choose how you use your time. However, if your values and priorities aren’t crystal clear to you, that time can easily be eaten up.

What happens next? Consider what you skimp on first, when you are short on time. If you are like me, self-care is typically the first thing to be compromised. You sleep less, push harder, skip exercising or meditating, to try to fit everything else in.

Why do we do this? Because HSPs as a rule are highly conscientious and responsive to others. We will short ourselves before we short other people. When we run out of time, our self-care is the only thing we can sacrifice without letting anyone else down.

This is not a sustainable solution, however. For that reason, if you are highly sensitive, you can’t realistically achieve sustainability unless you also have elegance. In other words, for you, a sustainable life is necessarily an elegantly structured life.

You will continually tweak the details of that structure to fit your evolving needs and circumstances, and the end results may vary wildly from one HSP to another. But elegance will always be the guiding principle. Here are three steps to help you live more elegantly.

1—Clarify your values and your priorities

Only you know what matters most to you. 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. You may do each of these things at different times in your life, or neither.

The content doesn’t matter: what matters is your own clarity. Clarity will give you the self-discipline required to resist the constant pull of the many activities Stephen Covey called “urgent and unimportant.”

For example, one of my values is “people before things.” This 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, in a way that also supports a sustainable life for me?”

Creating a sustainable sensitive life is itself one of my top values. This includes my physical and spiritual self-care, which in turn supports my value for “people over things:” if I want to be present to other people, I need to be well-rested and connected to my spiritual intuition. It also includes contributing financially to our household. I’ve designed my work life to leave me ample time for self-care. I can’t do all that without a high level 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 to find elegant ways to serve my evolving needs and values. I used to get up quite early; now I stay up a bit later and get up a bit later, which allows me more “beingness time” before bed. This, in turn, improves the quality of my sleep.

I’ve hit a sweet spot with the morning order, too, which has lasted for a couple years now. I used to wake up and meditate immediately. It didn’t work. I’d sleep the time away. Now, I start the day with a mix of qigong and tai chi and coherent breathing. The effect on my meditation is dramatic: I’m awake, yet calm—a welcome change from the past, when I’d often wake up anxious. After sitting, I set my intent for the day. Then I exercise and eat my breakfast.

Each of these practices complements the others. I feel better after doing them. I’m more present and I have better stamina and resilience, so I can serve others more effectively. When I’m drawn to learn new practices, my experiences with them often end up being helpful to clients as well. This kind of elegance is deeply satisfying.

3—Follow your spiritual intuition

Now we come to the most wonderful aspect of elegance—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 of that is math-speak for the awe and wonder you feel when an unexpected, elegant truth bubbles up from your spiritual intuition.

But…isn’t a burst of creative elegance akin to a butterfly landing on your shoulder? Lovely, but out of your control? In one sense, yes. These intuitive insights are a form of grace. However, you can set the stage for elegant insights, truths, and solutions to come to you.

Start by doing everything you can think of to create elegance in a chosen area of your life. Like Einstein did with his theory of relativity, immerse yourself in the problem. Think about it. Write about it. Play with it. Let it percolate, and you will create the conditions in which elegant solutions are more likely to bubble up from your spiritual intuition.

Beyond the Einstein approach, though, you can most effectively open to the wonder-full quality of elegance by simply asking for what you need. This is a form of prayer. As such, it 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 you are sure this will mean giving up much-needed income. Perhaps you need a more peaceful living space, but you are sure you’ll never find such a thing. Even if you can’t see how it could happen, allow yourself to imagine how an elegant solution might look, if it could happen.

Allow the divine to surprise you

Remember that in mathematics, elegant proofs are, by definition, novel and unexpected. The same holds true for your life problems of all sizes. Don’t be afraid to ask for an elegant solution that fulfills all your needs and values, even if such a solution appears impossible to you at the moment.

Because I work for myself, I use principles of elegance in my work life as well as my home life. Even if you aren’t a business person, though, you are still engaged in the business of managing your sensitive life. In this ongoing process, elegance is an indispensable framework for your creative imagination.

No doubt, elegance requires patient self-observation, self-knowledge, and self-discipline. But I guarantee you will not regret the time you dedicate to creating more elegance in your life, because it will keep you aligned with your highest values. In such a life, everything fits together. Everything has its place. Like the tea plantation fields in the photo, the result is harmonious, beautiful—and elegant.

Image: ©2024 Emily Agnew

Note: This article first appeared here on Dec 18, 2018. It is substantially updated.