7 Little Mistakes that Steal Your Happiness

7 Little Mistakes that Steal Your Happiness

by Peter Shallard

As the Shrink for Entrepreneurs I work with people who are notorious seekers of freedom and happiness.  They march to the beat of their own drum and have figured out ingenious strategies for being the masters of their own destinies.

The poem Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, best sums up the tenacious spirit and unquenchable thirst for freedom and happiness that inspires humans to reach for self mastery:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Even if you don’t run your own business (yet), you can adopt an entrepreneurial mindset to help you become more intentional, more focused, and ultimately happier and free of unwanted constraints.  Yes, you can be “the captain of your soul.”

The first step, though, is to fix the little mistakes that have been holding you back and stealing your energy and happiness for far too long.  Let’s take a look at seven such mistakes and some ways to get back on track…

1.  Ignoring what you CAN control.

Enormous freedom and power will be yours the minute you start seeing yourself on the cause side of the “cause and effect” equation.  Your thoughts and behaviors are creating your reality.  Every move you make matters.  You are in charge of your thinking, which also means you are in charge of your actions and results.

What you focus on and put energy into every day will determine the results you produce in life.  Embracing this philosophy is the secret to being in control of your destiny.  Yes, occasionally something will happen that’s outside your control, but rolling with it, rather than against it, will produce the best possible results.  In other words, it is not always what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens to you that matters most.

So no matter what happens, be intentional and do your best.  You won’t enjoy your life if you don’t enjoy your challenges.  When things go wrong, instead of blaming the world, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” and “What’s the next best step I can take from here?”

Think this way and your personal growth is guaranteed.

2.  Worrying about what you CAN’T control.

You can control a lot in your life, but sometimes finding true freedom means knowing what you absolutely can’t change, or understanding what constraints you have to work within to build the life you want.

Entrepreneurs are widely known for being innovative, which is all about finding creative ways to bust through constraints.  When this happens, it appears as though the impossible becomes possible.

“Constraints inspire creativity” is the credo of Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey.  Finding freedom through constraints is all about accepting the things you can’t change, and then finding creative ways around these obstacles.

You might have an absolute need to make money to pay your bills – let’s call that a “constraint” – but you can be creative about the way you make that money.  If you’re going to be totally free and happy with your chosen life path, you have to worry less about the things you have no control over (the need for money), so you can focus your creative efforts on what you CAN control (the source of income you choose to create).

3.  Believing someone else’s definition of success.

Define success for yourself.  You don’t need to measure up to other people’s benchmarks.  The psychological root of most unhappiness lies in external validation, which happens when you try to measure your self-worth based on the opinions of others.

It’s not what others think, it’s what you think about yourself that counts.  You, and only you, get to decide what kind of life you want to live.  Other people’s goals and expectations don’t matter that much in the long-run.  Never forget that.

When you become “the master of your own fate,” you get to choose what that fate is.  You might want a jet-set glamorous lifestyle, or you may just crave peace, quiet and security.  In any case, it’s a good thing that the seven billion humans on this planet all don’t want precisely the same thing in life.  So decide what your heart really yearns for and commit to living for that, and little else.  Let your intuition guide you.  (Read The Millionaire Fastlane.)

4.  Assuming you have to accept everything just the way it is.

People and situations often look to YOU to set the example of what is and isn’t acceptable to you.  Be crystal clear.  And be ruthless about what you won’t accept in your life.

I meet a lot of super successful entrepreneurs.  The happiest and most enlightened all have one thing in common: They know what they DON’T want, and they don’t tolerate any of it if they don’t have to.

It’s time for you to start being decisive about what you want in your life.  Who do you want to spend time with?  What type of information do you want to fill your mind with?  What type of environment do you want to be in?

You need to decide what standards you are going to set for yourself.  Then, you need to enforce them.  If you settle for just anything, you will never know what you’re truly worthy of.  Love and respect yourself enough to never lower your standards for the wrong reasons.

5.  Giving up as soon as the going gets tough.

When you listen to intuition and commit to a life path that is unique to your desires, you’re likely choosing the path less traveled.  This means there are going to be substantial obstacles in your way at times, and sometimes it’ll seem almost impossible to continue.

You must persevere!  Always take another step.

Life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to push forward even when times are tough.

What you do when the going gets tough matters far more than what you do when everything is going smoothly.  It’s how you respond to the hard times that wins you true, untethered freedom and happiness.  So keep your head up and remember, your soul is “unconquerable.”

6.  Taking yourself, other people, and life too seriously every second.

Ever meet someone who seemed so uptight they were about to burst – as if every little thing happening to them was a huge concern?  Don’t be that person.  Don’t take yourself and everything you encounter so seriously.  A few things in life – like your personal freedom, safety, and your loved ones – truly matter.  But most life circumstances (especially problems) are fleeting and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Not sweating the small stuff is an important step on the path to freedom and happiness.  Life is just an experiment – an experience.  Get too attached to the seriousness of it all, and even after you’ve conquered your goals, you won’t even enjoy them.

As Marc said in one of his recent posts, “Live simply.  Love generously.  Speak truthfully.  Work diligently.  Then let go and let what’s meant to be, BE.”

7.  Defaulting to friendships that aren’t lifting you higher.

Find other people who “get it” – people who truly get YOU.  You may be the captain of your own ship, but the ocean doesn’t have to be a lonely place.

It’s almost impossible to succeed, or find freedom and happiness, when you’re totally isolated.  The smartest entrepreneurs and lifestyle renegades always surround themselves with the right people.  You should do the same.

Instead of connecting with people by default simply because they live next door, or work in the same office, or whatever, start looking for friends that connect with YOU at a deeper level of ideology.  Do they have the same values as you?  Do they embrace the same philosophies you do?  Do they value freedom, love and fulfillment?  And, above all, make sure they read Marc and Angel Hack Life… right?

Bottom line:  Saying “no” to the wrong (or default) people gives you the time and resources required to say “yes” to right people and the right opportunities in life.  (Read Never Eat Alone.)


The solutions to these seven common mistakes provide a rough overview of what it takes to be a freethinker – a happier, enlightened soul.  Many entrepreneurs embody these values, but my real point is that no matter who you are and what you currently do for a living, you can think this way too.

When you’re “the master of your fate” and “the captain of your soul,” you can live the life you have always imagined for yourself.

Your turn…

What’s been holding you back?  What little mistakes often steal your happiness?  How have you coped?  Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Author Bio:  Peter Shallard is The Shrink for Entrepreneurs and founder of the procrastination busting startup Commit Action.  Check out his business psychology blog and follow him on Twitter.

Photo by: Reuben Stanton


  1. Alexander Emeka says

    Just what I needed to read as a motivational speaker and aspiring entrepreneur. It’s so true that nearly all the issues that steal our happiness are within us – mistakes with our way of thinking. These are our attitudes, opinions, world-views, perspectives, etc. The change has to come from inside-out.

  2. Dev says

    Great read, as always. Excellent guest contribution. What’s been holding me back is my perpetual thinking without acting, which is somewhat related to both #1 and #2 in this post. I know I do this, but still I often catch myself spinning in a cycle of lots of thought and little action.

    “Thinking only produces more thinking until thinking is converted into action. And only action produces results.”

    “‘I wish’ must become ‘I will’ to bring about a change and transformation in one’s life.”

    I learned these two tips from the productivity chapter of Marc and Angel’s book, and they have helped me tremendously.

  3. says

    I am really thankful for everything you share on this blog, and this post is no exception. You have taught me many things and one is to never ever lose the courage to face our problems. Be thankful for the worst life situations because they will help us grow – they will make us stronger. And the most important thing is to have self-discipline. It is not enough that we dream about things, we also have to work for them.

    Currently, I’m still struggling with #6 though. I often find myself sweating the small stuff. But I’m getting better at recognizing this behavior in myself.

    Also, Marc and Angel, I found your blog from your book. One of my close friends gave me your book for Christmas last year. Love it! So I just wanted to let you know what amazing work you two do. I truly enjoy and appreciate what you two write and create together.

  4. says

    One thing that used to hold me back was thinking if I couldn’t change something immediately (or at least soon), it would never happen and I should just give up. Since then, I’ve learned that I just happen to have a personality that works best with gradual changes. Now I use that to my advantage, and make changes in my life all the time with much less stress by doing just a little at a time.

  5. Melissa Webster says

    Oh wow. Great advice and so needed right now. Thank you for this.

    I’ve made all of these mistakes at one time or another, but I hope I’ve finally got a handle on it. I’d add a couple of other mistakes I’m currently making a point to avoid:

    1) Don’t let your emotions dominate your speech. Passion and truth in your communication is crucial, but maintain a cool head.

    2) Don’t gossip. Even when you’re defending yourself or just trying to heal from a painful experience, it’s never the right thing to do and causes more harm than good.

    P.S. I concur with @JoannaL. I truly enjoy and appreciate what you two write and create together as well. :)

  6. Lee-Ann Berman says

    Amazing timing… sometimes I feel like I have labor pains when my mind is torn between what I can and can’t control. Deep breaths is all I am taking now… refocusing gradually.

    Thank you.

  7. says

    Excellent article by a guest, as always Marc and Angel! Where I find that I make mistakes is as Peter has laid out in #’s 1 and 2 and my failure to act in both cases have been a source of some of the pain that I have experienced over time.

    I am learning more and more what it means to surrender not to defeat, but to prayer and to allow God to have more control of everything. Nothing happens by chance, our experiences is the classroom in which we learn each lesson so that we are made stronger and wiser and better individuals than we were before.

  8. says

    Fantastic tips I especially liked #3: Believing someone else’s definition of success.

    Our society has a very single minded definition of success. Is it to make a lot of money? To become famous? To build a business like Apple or Microsoft? Imagine for a second, you become a multi-millionaire in your early twenties, you are world famous, you can buy whatever you want… but you are deeply depressed your entire life. At the end of your life, can you say that you were successful?

    What about a simple, peaceful, joy filled life, a small car and a small apartment, enough to eat… is this success?

    Before you set out to become successful in this world, clearly define what it really means for YOU (without caring what society or anyone else thinks about it). Play all your ideas through to the very end – how does it feel? Does it get boring or even annoying somewhere down the line? Is there really any point to make all the required effort and sell your present happiness in order to get what you think will give you all the happiness somewhere in the future?

    What people think will make them happy in the future, will never make them happy, because happiness can only be experienced in the NOW and as long as you are focused on the future, you will always miss the Now and therefore, you will always miss happiness.

  9. Michelle says

    Great post. I have an ex-spouse actively undercutting me with the children and financially. Putting up with him is another mistake that’s been stealing my happiness. Need a top ten ways list for living zen-like in the vicinity of an avowed enemy.

  10. says

    This was great and helped me see areas in my mind that I need to re-examine. If I could be so brash as to add an eighth:

    #8. Sticking to your plan so much that you miss out on opportunities. All successful journeys contain course-correction.

  11. Mohammed Abubakari says

    I am an aspiring entrepreneur too and I have to own my own thinking issues with success. It’s time to be clear about what success means to ME. Thank you for the reminder.

  12. says

    Number 5 has been really important to me. Not quitting when things are tough has changed my ability to succeed. I now focus on the positive and know that something good will always come out of those tough times. Great article.

  13. Melissa Webster says

    #4 & #7 especially spoke to me. As a writer I naturally enjoy and find value in interacting with all walks of life, and pretty much take it all in stride. The diversity in people makes life interesting, gives color and depth to my writing, and makes it all an adventure. Because of this, I’ve allowed myself to be accepting and non-judgmental of pretty much anything, to the point of hurting myself and holding myself back. That ends now. In all walks of life, there are amazing, wonderful people of good character, and it isn’t defined by their careers, zip codes and bank accounts. These are the people I want to spend my time with.

    This list helps me finally pinpoint my limits in order to move forward. I won’t tolerate bullshit. That’s first and foremost. I won’t tolerate passive-aggressive power games, controlling behavior that takes away my choice and free will, people who are inconsiderate of my own needs and feelings, the ‘silent treatment’ out of spite or to teach me a lesson or to punish me, secrecy and withholding information from me that directly affects me, my career and my business, and again, bullshit and drama. I won’t tolerate emotional abuse or bullying, or people who don’t treat me with respect or take responsibility for their own actions and words. Beware of people who never apologize for anything, no matter how blatantly wrong they are, when you both know they are in the wrong. That’s a big indication of their lack of character. I won’t tolerate people who live in lies, excuses and are completely un-self-aware. I’m not wasting any more time jumping through hoops and extending the olive branch to people who don’t meet me half-way.

    And from now on, if I do need to deal with people like this, I’ll just let my lawyer handle it and keep the bad juju away from me personally.

    But instead of focusing on what I won’t tolerate, I’ll focus my energy on what I want in my life, which will automatically remove the undesirables from my life anyway. The number one thing I want in my life are people who are direct, open and honest with me. I function best and make decisions much better when I know exactly what I’m dealing with and what and where the problem is. And I’m surrounding myself with requited love, respect and acceptance, from business associates, family and friends, where I know exactly where I stand, they know where they stand and communication is productive. I’m surrounding myself with people who lift me up and work with me to move us forward and upward. I’m surrounding myself with people who totally “get it” and understand that cooperation and positive energy combined yields positive results. No more circular arguments that go nowhere. No more misunderstandings. No more lies, drama and manipulation.

    And from now on, if I feel insecure with an unrelenting gut feeling something’s “off” then I’m removing myself from the situation and moving on immediately, instead of wasting time trying to figure out the problem alone or work through it. Alone. I’m surrounding myself with people who don’t inspire feelings of mistrust and unease.

    I woke up with these thoughts in my head. Thank you for this. It’s helped me focus more as I move forward.


  14. Val says

    Thank you, Peter, for this wonderful post! It is so spot on…

    It makes me realize that sometimes I am my own worst enemy. I don’t know how I do it – or why…but I think it is a subconscious thing. I am filled with self-doubt and it’s an awful way to live. I have spent years in therapy trying to right myself but it always seems like I go one step forward and two steps back!

    Your post helps to inspire me to keep moving forward and for that…and for you…I am grateful.

  15. says

    Thanks for more excellent reminders to live a happy and successful life! Numbers 1 and 2 remind me of the work of Byron Katie which I also find helpful…she says to “stay in your own business” –in other words, things you can control. And equally as important she says, “stay out of other people’s business” which of course is something we CAN’T control.

  16. Val says

    Just want to thank Melissa for her post! She stated exactly what I have been feeling and I’m copying and pasting her post to hang on my bathroom mirror as a healthy reminder of what I also want and need in my life.

    Best to you, Melissa. xoxo

  17. Melissa Webster says

    Another thing I won’t tolerate, and never tolerated in high school, are mean girls who passive-aggressively veil insults in the form of compliments.

    Open, honest, truthful and direct communication. That is the key to healthy relationships. Everything else is just bullshit.

  18. says

    @AlexanderEmeka – lead the change from inside out! That’s what it’s all about.

    @Dev – thanks for the kind words! Focusing on action will serve you well.

    @Joanna – just being conscious of the problem is the first step… where attention goes, energy flows.

    @Christy – slow and steady wins the race!

  19. says

    @MelissaWebster keeping the gossip to a minimum is a great addition to this list! Thanks…

    @Lee-AnnBerman You’re welcome! You’ve got this.

    @YvonneI.Wilson Thanks Yvonne – glad this piece resonated with you

    @Robert I think one of the most exciting areas of personal development right now is the new and creative ways people are defining success. It’s time to play by our own rules!

    @Michelle Sounds like you’re going through a tough time. Remember, you’re in charge of your life.

  20. says

    This very much reminds me of a training I heard years ago…maybe by Tony Robbins. The things that we experience are things we either can control, cannot control, or can influence, but not directly control. It’s that sweet spot where things are challenging and abundant with growth opportunities.

    To me, that’s where most of our happiness lies. :)

  21. says

    Super post Peter, all of these points will rob us of happiness and success… one of the major points I’ve had to overcome was thinking I had to do “it” all on my own. As an entrepreneur, not having an office environment as a support system can be a bit daunting but I’ve learned that help is available. As long as I reach out when I need it!

  22. says

    Thanks for this article. I especially like the point about worrying about things you can’t control. I used to be like this. I was always worrying about things that were beyond my control.

    Things started to change when I wrote down the things I was worrying about. After a while I read the list and realized that almost none of these worries came true. Most things we worry about never come true (research shows it’s about 95%). That is such a waste of time and it really holds you back from focussing on what’s important.

    Something else that was holding me back was that I was trying to be friends with everybody. I would never be assertive because I was afraid of conflicts. This was really holding me back from happiness. Now I’ve learned that is unhealthy to try being everybody’s friend. Have your own opinion and don’t be afraid if people don’t like your opinion.

    Thanks for this article. Me and my girlfriend just started a self development website and we really love your site. It’s a great inspiration for us. If you want you can a have a look at it!

  23. Riley says

    This is sort of what I needed right now as I’m struggling with living in a new place, working a dream job, which isn’t the dream I had imagined. With so many choices, it would be easy to walk away for another career opportunity but I have pushed through for almost five months now in hopes that it will get better; maybe I will learn to cope with it because I’m wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. More importantly, I’m not directly surrounded by people who inspire me here. The lifestyle I live is foreign to majority of people I have met here for religious purposes or my vegan diet. I try to live a truly healthy lifestyle inside and out. Almost everyday, regardless of how much I try to change, I find myself reverting back to wishing I wasn’t in this city. I can go anywhere I choose, but they question is have I given this place my best opportunity at success? I suppose I have something’s to consider. Thank you.

  24. Miriam says

    I tend to focus on the negative as opposed to valuing all of the wonderful things I have in my life, and constantly compare myself to others, which always sets you up for a fall. Lovely post!

  25. says

    Hi Marc and Angel and Hi Peter,

    Great post! I love the poem you include at the start of the article. I’ve never come across this before, but it is very powerful. The last two lines are wonderful. I found points 2 and 3 resonated strongly with me. Too much time spent worrying about things over which you have no control is such a waste. Just forget about it. Too much time spent worrying about things you can influence is such a waste too. Just get on with it!!

    And your own definition of success is certainly the only one that should count for you. I’m currently enjoying a level of success that is adding to my happiness, and am very grateful for that. But I know that it is the decisions I have made and the hard work I have put in to get us to this point that have created this success.

    Life really is what you make it, isn’t it?
    Once again, great article.
    Ian Usher

  26. Melissa Webster says

    @Lorna, where is this help, what help do you ask for and who do you ask? How did you do it?

    Thank you so much!


  27. says

    Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-to-be should heed the wisdom of @PeterShallard. You can be successful to become happy. You must be happy to become successful.

    Thanks for another great post, @marcandangel!

  28. says

    @M.Catlett – I love number eight! Always stay open to good things that come your way!

    @MohammedAbubakari – Define the way you want to live! Clarity is the first step.

    @RhydianFairfax Thanks Rhydian. Glad #5 resonated.

    @MelissaWebster I think it’s helpful to identify what you dont want… and then put it behind you. As you say, it’s important to focus on what you DO WANT – move towards the positive. Where attention goes, energy flows.

    Really glad the article hit you powerfully and thanks for the detailed comment.

    @Val You’re so welcome! It’s crucial that you define what you want to be filled with INSTEAD OF SELF DOUBT. Working towards whatever that is, is the work you’re here to do.

  29. says

    @Val You’re so welcome! It’s crucial that you define what you want to be filled with INSTEAD OF SELF DOUBT. Working towards whatever that is, is the work you’re here to do.

    @Kathy – Byron Katie said it more eloquently than I could!

    @LarryHochman You nailed it Larry! Thanks for commenting.

    @Alana – Noted for next time! Thank you :)

    @Lorna – Thanks! Hey… I still don’t have an office and I’m not daunted! In fact, I look at it as an opportunity for even greater freedom.. and less unnecessary overhead. Try that reframe on for size :)

    @Bastiaan You’re so welcome. You’ve really *got* it – worrying about things you can’t control is so pointless.

    @Riley Every place we find ourselves on this planet contains a valuable lesson and step in our evolution… if we can just find it. So go hunting… and we’ve you’ve found it, start preparing to move – the next adventure awaits!

    @Miriam It’s important we don’t take the best parts of our lives for granted. Gratitude is the best attitude! Aaaand I’m a poet!

    @Parsoi You’re welcome!

    @IanUsher The poem is one of my all time favorites. Glad it resonated. Thanks for the kind comment :)

    @Shreya Marc’s post is a great place to start. Sometimes it’s just a matter of connecting with MORE PEOPLE period. If you’re feeling disconnected, focus on volume… once you’ve suffused your life with human connection you can start to be discriminating about who you choose to go deep with. Connect!

  30. says

    Constant worry of making mistakes is natural. The best way to learn is through the mistakes that we make.

    Life can throw obstacles in your way but it’s important to find productive and creative ways of overcoming these. Sometimes it is necessary to break the rules in order to achieve success.

  31. Srinivas says

    What a nice job, Right on the spot. The desire to become entrepreneur is just got bolder now. Well said, when things are not going in your way , instead of getting in to self destructive mode, take another step forward and eventually you see things happening for you!

  32. says

    That poem is my favorite. I particularly like the last line:
    “It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.”

  33. mimi says

    I loved Melissa’s comment as much as the article. Very inspirational. Great job everyone. Thank you Marc and Angel for everything, as always.

  34. says

    Number 6, “taking yourself, other people, and life too seriously every second,” is a mistake that I used to be guilty of all of the time, and I have since made a concentrated effort to move away from such an approach from life. My emphasis used to be work, work, work, even when I came home, but what resulted was constant stress and ignoring the other parts of my life that were so much more important. I now realize that at the end of my life, I’ll be more satisfied knowing that I spent more time with my family and on creating special moments with the people I care about rather than how much I got done in my career.

    My career is important, but it is tiny, a fraction of the importance of my family. Recognizing and making this a focus of my life has allowed me to not take things so seriously and to be in the present moment in my life.

  35. Charles says

    looking for happiness is like trying to catch a butterfly ..The more you chase it and chase it directly ..The more it will just avoid you..But if you sit quietly and turn your thoughts to other things… The butterfly will come and gently land on your shoulder.

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