It’s time to find my zen. I’m not Buddhist, so I am not chasing what the word actually means, but I am searching for some relative calm amid the storm that is my everyday life. Late last year, I discovered Zen Habits, a blog with a premise of living simpler, and being more productive in all facets of life as a result. I was immediately drawn to it: I waste time, despise clutter but find myself constantly battling it, and am in desperate need of focus. So I’ve decided to see how I fare with Leo’s advice: in addition to reading his blog, I’m challenging myself to adapt as many of his 52 changes as I possibly can into my everyday life, in an attempt to see if they will cure this lacklustre attitude I seem to have to everything at the moment.

To the outsider, I might seem crazy. What lacklustre attitude? What lack of focus? After all, I am a girl whose instagram is a show reel of lovely outings and pretty purchases, and my CV boasts a decent set of achievements including a published book and a past job teaching at University level. It’s not my intention to sound conceited: if I want to make a change, I have to look at myself with honest – good and bad bits included. But no matter how things look on the show reel, they’re not as shiny on the inside. We’re told that we are the sum of our own stories, so, after some significant reflection, I’ve decided it’s time I steer my story in a different direction.

After some significant reflection, I’ve decided it’s time I steer my story in a different direction.

I didn’t always feel this way. I was 21 years old when I finished my Masters degree with Merit at my dream University, graduating on my 22nd Birthday with a Distinction average on my transcript and a ticket to Europe in my travel wallet. I had a decent job that I’d planned to come back to, a gorgeous boyfriend who had also just graduated, and I was saving up to buy an investment property. Things were sweet, and I was happy. Life was complete bliss.

When I returned from my trip however, I was a little depressed. And as time went on, I realised it wasn’t just post-travel blues. I quit my job because I wasn’t challenged by it, and decided to freelance while starting an online mag with my friend Liv. But I never gave either pursuit the attention it deserved – I just could not focus. So I tried something else: I got another job, and decided to pursue further education as a research student. I enrolled in a doctoral program, and started working on a thesis. But I couldn’t focus on that either.

Then I got made redundant. I was glad. My job drove me insane. I was bored by it, and by then, I was officially diagnosed as clinically depressed. ‘It’s common in creatives,’ I was told, but knowing my condition wasn’t a rarity certainly didn’t help when I had thoughts of ending it all. To top it off, I came from a Middle-Eastern culture, where people still thought mental illness was taboo. I was told that I had nothing to be ‘sad’ about, I needed to just get over it. So I trudged along.

Over the next couple of years, the depression went away. I got married a few months shy of my 25th birthday. I travelled some more. Things got better. But nothing was ever the same again. I wasn’t the same person anymore. It was like the depression had taken my focus away completely. It took years to write my book, I never focused on my blog, and I would treat every other project I started with gross abandon – no matter the time or money invested into it, no matter how successful it was getting. I eventually dropped out of my research degree and thought I was fine with it, and I didn’t pursue the grand marketing ideas I had to promote my first book. If things weren’t going right, it’s because I made a half-arsed attempt at them.

It was like the depression had taken my focus away completely.

After having my baby, I realised I am not fine with a lot of the stuff that has happened over the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am incredibly blessed. I have a decent perspective on things. But that perspective has also given me the opportunity to acknowledge that things could get better if I actively try to improve them. That I could probably focus on those things that I want to achieve if I put some effort in.

Now that I am a mother, I might not go back to uni for a long time, if ever. But I can do other things. I could implement a routine for my mornings, exercise more, learn to meditate, make something of my blog, learn a new skill, tick more things off my bucket list. But to do all that, I have to stop myself from sinking into the quick sand that is modern life. Filling my life with both tangible and digital stuff. It’s no secret that there are a billion things competing for our attention, but are those things worth it?

It’s no secret that there are a billion things competing for our attention, but are those things worth it?

In my early months of instagramming, I took a photo of a page in Kerrie Hess’ book Shoe String Chic: 101 ways to life the fashionably luxe life for less. I was already an investment shopper, but I was really impressed that she outlined that Parisian women have enviable closets because they buy less, choosing instead to spend more money per item. That passage transformed my thinking – first towards my closet, and then towards my entire life. I wanted to pare back my lifestyle, because I wanted to make sure that the things that I did have in my life were the most important, and more importantly, that I was giving them adequate attention. I didn’t want any more half-arsed attitudes to anything.

Which brings me back to Leo’s advice: I’ve decided to set myself a challenge. I’m going to try make some changes in my life over the course of this year. I’ve purchased Leo’s e-book, 52 changes*, and have slowly set about amalgamating them for the sake of brevity, relevance to my life, and potential for change. My aim is to use the 52 Changes book, as well as the general inspiration behind his blog and others to break my resolutions down into 12 achievable blocks of change for the coming year, which I will blog about here.

As I write this, I am decidedly focused. I hope that focus doesn’t waver, but by sharing my journey here, there’s some accountability to it all. If I lose, I’m the only one to suffer, but if I manage to do at least some of it, I might one day have hope of re-experiencing the bliss of that 22 year old girl, proud as punch on her graduation day, the world at her feet and a whole lot of sparkle in her eye – confident of her direction and steadfast in her dreams.


Feel like joining me in the challenge?

I’d love to share this journey with you, as I feel like we could all learn from one another and how we have fared with our changes. You can pick some or all the changes, and follow along right here on the blog (I’d love your suggestions and feedback in the comments). If you want to take it to social media, tag me and use the hashtag #12stepswithSarah to keep me (and anyone else) updated on how you’re faring. I’ve pasted my 12 changes below – please remember that they are personal adaptations of my own goals as well as some inspired by Leo’s 52 Changes. 

  1. Movement
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Hydration
  4. Unprocrastination
  5. Finance
  6. Nutrition
  7. Appearance
  8. Minimalism
  9. Challenges
  10. Resilience
  11. Routine
  12. Temperament

* This blog series did start out as 52 changes. Four weeks into January I realised it was too big a challenge for me to take on (the realities of things tend to dawn on me much later than they do on everyone else) and I decided 12, do-able chunks of change were far more realistic for me in my currently time-poor routine.This way, I could at least spend long enough each change to transition it to a habit (as per the 21-days to make a habit rule).  I’ve since amended my post to reflect the above.