Downshifting is a viable solution for those of us who find maintaining an externally imposed “standard of living” stressful and meaningless. It’s about finding a quality of life that transcends all of that and concentrates on living according to our core values. For some, it involves deliberately opting out of the career rat race, reducing their working hours, cutting back on purchasing and living a simpler, balanced and more fulfilled life than ever before. For others, downshifting may have been thrust upon them through redundancy or ill health. If this is the case for you, do not lose heart! I hope that, whatever your circumstances, you will find here some of the information and inspiration that you need to recognise your dilemma as the wonderful opportunity that it is!
Downshifting is also known as “voluntary simplicity”, particularly in the USA. It is not the same as poverty. To quote Duane Elgin:
“Voluntary simplicity is about living with balance. By embracing, either partially or totally, the tenets of voluntary simplicity – frugal consumption, ecological awareness and personal growth – people can change their lives. It is not about living in poverty. Poverty is involuntary and debilitating, whereas simplicity is voluntary and enabling.” (From “Voluntary Simplicity. Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich.”)
Many who embrace the idea of voluntary simplicity, also envisage living a more sustainable, as well as frugal, lifestyle. Sustainable living is all about reducing our negative impact on the planet. It can start at the most basic level with consuming less and reusing and recycling what we do have. From that point on, some progress to self-sufficiency by growing their own food, rearing animals, perhaps making some of their own clothes and other useful household items and even building their own home.
It’s important to note however, that, where downshifting and sustainable living is concerned, no-one sits in judgement. Whatever each of us can do individually to reduce our negative impact on the planet is worthy of support.
Through my work coaching downshifters and sustainable living enthusiasts, and having experienced the process myself, I have identified six clear stages in the downshifting process.
Step 1 : What’s bugging you?
Before we do anything to change our lifestyle we need to define what it is that’s causing the problem. Where is our stress coming from? What is it about being part of the rat race that doesn’t work for us? What will happen if we don’t change? What is the cost to our health and our relationships if we don’t modify how we are living?
In coaching sessions and teleclasses we find out how to go about accepting where we are now and why this attitude of acceptance is important. This in itself helps to reduce stress levels. Once we know what’s wrong with our current situation, then we can start to define what a “right” life for us would look like, how that would feel and the beliefs we need to have in place to make that happen.
Step 2: Contacting the real you.
The next step is to get in touch with our authentic selves. We do this through eliciting our core values. These are things such as honesty, openness, health, wealth, fun, family etc. We each have a unique combination of these core values which represent the essence of what matters most to us in life. Leading a life that is in conflict with one or more of these values is a major source of stress. In contrast, acting in a way that is in keeping with our core values leads to a life that is inwardly
Step 3: Overturning the Energy Drainers.
Now that we know what doesn’t work for us and what our core values are, we can pinpoint those areas in our lives that are draining our energy i.e those things that do not align with our core values and that we are therefore tolerating. We can decide how to deal with these and thus free up our energy for our downshifting tasks. I view this as “clearing the ground” ready to plant the seeds of our new lives. It’s a way of redirecting our energy towards fulfilling our dream.
Step 4: Escape to what?
This is where we define and research our dream. There are many ways of doing this, including talking with others, reading books, magazines, looking at website material, and participating in related courses. Having a clear definition of our dream, either visually or in writing, helps us to focus our efforts. Researching our dream helps to alleviate fears and to remain realistic about our objectives.
Step 5: Shining a light on the dark side.
In the fifth step we take a good, hard look at the fears we have surrounding downshifting and our change of lifestyle. We name them, face up to them and develop strategies for handling them.
Step 6: Your dream in action.
The final step involves pulling together all of the other steps into a downshifting plan and acting on that plan. We discuss goal setting as well as how we learn from the process of downshifting.
For many, downshifting is as much a journey in personal and spiritual growth as it is a series of actions steps. Although the six step solution is an overall guide, each person’s journey will be a unique adventure. I hope that this article will have provided some food for thought for those considering this exciting route.