If you misidentify a problem, your proposed solution probably won’t work.

Let’s say you have a headache, so you decide to amputate your leg. You’ll probably still have the headache, and then you’ll be missing a leg as well. For more effective treatment of headaches, consider a glass of water and perhaps an aspirin.

Many other treatment plans fail for the same reason. Something is wrong, and you think you know what it is, but that’s just because you’re looking at the obvious.

You may feel, for example, that you’re “overwhelmed.” And perhaps you are. Or you may feel generally anxious, and perhaps you are—or maybe it’s something else entirely. But before you dash off to treat the symptoms, declaring email bankruptcy or a digital sabbatical, promising to return with a 28-day series of themed Instagram photos, take a look at the bigger picture of your life.

Because while you think the issue is all those emails or notifications you’re getting, maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe the real problem isn’t too many inputs, it’s not enough purpose. Maybe you need to ask bigger questions of yourself:

  • If I accomplish only one thing today, what should it be?
  • Who is most important in my life?
  • What am I working toward?
  • How can I be happier?

When you get these things right, the rest of the decisions matter far less. You can spend your time online or not. You can rent a mansion or own a tiny home. The decisions are up to you, like they always are.

Don’t be misled by thinking that the answer is always to simplify. Living with purpose in the digital age isn’t any harder than it’s ever been.

That anxiety you’re feeling isn’t your phone. It’s your soul. It’s your inner voice saying, “Is this all there is?” @chrisguillebeau (Click to Tweet!)

Chris Guillebeau is the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness of PursuitThe $100 Startup, and other books. During a lifetime of self-employment, he visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of creative, remarkable people. His new book, Born for This, will help you find the work you were meant to do. Connect with Chris on Twitter, on his blog, or at your choice of worldwide airline lounge.

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