As I work to refine and finalize my new book, and so often to simplify and true what I had written previously, I would like to offer a simplifying, truing, and quite powerful tool for personal and group development. The tool is called The Three Rings.
If the name conjures thoughts of a circus or carnival, I would say the idea is not wholly misplaced, though in an ironic way and even one invoking pathos, as you will see.
Notably, the Three Rings tool has its roots not only in months of editing on my part, but also a number of years of minimalism, or what is sometimes called essentialism, and also health-centered life, or what I frequently describe as renaturalized modern living.
The Three Rings – Drives Focus On What Aids & Does Not Aid Us (Click to Enlarge)
The term minimalism of course is well-known today, though it is variably defined or interpreted. For some, it is a practice of consciously or astutely living with less, paring down to what is required for life, and often feeling freer and less stressed via reduced consumption and work demands.
As suggested, another, more probing, and often more propelling sense of minimalism is instead as essentialism, or the exploration of what we need most to be at our best, or to express our potential or essence. But even here, this often wider and more seeking sense of minimalism normally understands that things away from our core focus can be unhelpful and even inhibiting – obscuring or impeding our personal or collective potential and the pursuit of flourishing life. However, in either sense, the idea of minimalism is in contrast to more common modes of modern functioning, which are often decidedly maximalist and less than attentive.
By contrast, the idea and opportunity of health-centered life remains substantially overlooked and unexamined, in concept and practice, even as the words health and healthy are widely employed. As with so many concepts, even important ones, the idea of health has variable meanings and levels of depth. For some, and whether as respects people or groups, health is the capacity for longevity, enduring, or surviving, which is accurate to some extent or in basic terms. But the idea of health can have larger or richer meanings than this first sense. In these cases, our understanding of health is often more akin to the idea of thriving, vitality, robustness, or readiness – whether for natural change, challenge, novelty, or uncertainty.
In the first, more survivalist sense of health, the idea of healthy life involves a minimalism of sorts. Focus may be on avoiding risk and pairing down behavior, and perhaps reducing effort and expectation, all of which may be wise as a means to endure in time. But this basic view of health also frequently takes the world and its health demands and opportunities simplistically, as given, or as relatively fixed and predetermined. But a more thriving or robust sense of health, as with a more thriving and robust sense of minimalism, sees health-centered living as more than doing what is safe and required, more than a life of caution and self-defense. Instead, emphasis again is on vitality, the potential for change, curiosity, adaptiveness, and probing for new and superior modes of life and health – if always astutely or wisely.
My Three Rings tool uses these latter, richer senses of minimalism and healthy life, and seeks to make each clearer, more tangible, and more actionable in our lives and groups. Owing to its simplicity, and the natural power of both essentialist and health-seeking life, you likely can use the approach right away and beneficially.
As you can see in my graphic, The Three Rings tool is just that:
> The First Ring – things, including people and relationships, that aid us, our vitality, or healthy progressivity, if always at present and in our current understanding. You will note that I have intentionally drawn this ring quite small in size, suggesting it may contain comparatively few elements and thus benefit from a seeking and health-minded essentialism, especially amid maximalist and health-indifferent social norms.
> The Second Ring – things that have no effect on our health and vitality. Again, I have drawn this ring small in size, since most seemingly inconsequential things in our lives, or within our sphere of attention, use our resources, make demands on us, distract us, and thus occlude or inhibit our vitality to some extent. The effect of any one item may be trivial, but is additive. As such, we all risk significant reductions in our vitality, purpose, and focus by having too many peripheral things in our lives, or by thinking that they have no impact on or cost to us.
> The Third Ring – things that reduce our health and progress, whether we understand them as such or not. This ring is by far the largest of the three in my graphic, though its size relative to the other rings – in a world full of possibilities and distractions – still may be too small, especially when we first begin to live in more essentialist and health-seeking ways
As I said, you can begin to use this developmental tool immediately, and perhaps quite powerfully too. Simply start by making lists of items or uses of your time, in your life or group, that appear to fall plainly into each of the three rings. Likely, you quickly will assemble a basic list of items in each category, and then notice missed items over time. In all cases, you can and should add to and adjust your lists as needed. You also should expect your judgments of the health, vitality, or impact of items to change in time and with learning.
As your lists become richer and clearer, probe or test your thinking by discussing them with others, especially people whose judgments you value, or other group members when using the tool to assess group health. When your lists feel relatively complete, at least for the moment, next try removing or limiting one or more seemingly unaiding things from your life or group, while also perhaps redirecting your time and energies toward one or more items that seem aiding and vital. This change can be temporary or permanent, but will nearly always provide learning about your life or group. And with this learning, you will be ready to repeat this process, as often as you want, and perhaps more boldly, thrivingly, essentially, and healthfully each time.
Before concluding our discussion, let me add three perhaps helpful points. First, you will notice I included a horizontal time axis through the graphic. This is to emphasize that our objective health enablers or opportunities naturally occur and will change in time, owing both to change in the world and change in us and our groups.
Second, I have similarly included a vertical health axis. This is to remind that all health or vitality assessments, and all health aids or opportunities, inevitably occur amid a particular state or level of health, just as they do in a particular place and time. As our health changes, upwardly or downwardly, our objective health needs and potentials generally change as well. Third, and as touched on before, it is essential to keep in mind that all of our subjective health judgments are just that. They are naturally imperfect, less than complete, sometimes incorrect, and thus best approached with care and curiosity.
With these ideas in mind, I will end by again encouraging a repeating, probing, learning, engaged, energetic, and thus vital or progressive approach, when using the Three Rings tool and in your life and groups more generally.
Health & best wishes,
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