It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
And so often, against our better judgment, we accidentally make the wrong choices.
Our pride has us holding on when we need to let go.
Pressure from peers sways us left when we mean to go right.
Negative thoughts provoke frowning on otherwise beautiful days.
And so it goes…
One choice at a time, one moment at a time, we ruin the most promising days of our lives.
If you can relate at all, it’s time to answer your wake-up call.
How many times have you thought “this isn’t working” or “something is not right” or “things have to change”? Those thoughts are coming from your intuitive inner voice. It’s your wake-up call calling.
You don’t need a major life crisis to wake you up, either. And no one needs to tell you what needs to change, because you already know. Your inner voice has been trying to tell you, but in case it’s been a challenge to find time and space to listen through the chaos, maybe you’ll resonate with one of these situations.
- If your life is on autopilot heading in the wrong direction, this is your wake-up call.
- If you’ve become someone you don’t recognize simply to please others or to chase some version of success that doesn’t resonate with you, this is your wake-up call.
- If you never make your own needs and goals a priority, this is your wake-up call.
- If you are constantly numbing out with food, shopping, booze, TV, or other distractions, this is your wake-up call.
- If you are worn down, beat up, stressed out, and completely exhausted, this is your wake-up call.
Getting your wake-up call is not the hard part, answering the call is. Choosing to answer the call instead of ignoring it is the hard part. Right now, it may feel easier to keep going, and going, and going without making a change. But you know if you don’t find a way out of the endless cycle you’re in, it’s going to ruin you.
No doubt, a big part of your life is a result of the choices you make. And if you don’t like your life it’s time to start making changes and better choices.
Based on over a decade of one-on-one coaching sessions with hundreds of students from around the world, and hearing dozens of personal stories every year from attendees at our live annual events, here are 20 ways we as human beings gradually ruin decades of our own lives, and some ideas on how to make better choices going forward:
- Be who everyone else wants you to be. – Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? As kids, we are seldom told that we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others – that we should find our happiness exactly as they have found theirs. Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are trained to ask others for permission. We are, in effect, schooled to live other people’s versions of our lives. Every day is designed and developed as told to us by someone else. And then one day when we break free to survey our dreams, seeking to fulfill ourselves, we see that most of our dreams have gone unfulfilled because we believed, and those around us believed, that what we wanted for ourselves was somehow beyond our reach.
- Avoid all discomfort at all costs. – Many of us don’t want to be uncomfortable, so we run from discomfort constantly. The problem with this is that, by running from discomfort, we are constrained to partake in only the activities and opportunities within our comfort zones. And since our comfort zones are relativity small, we miss out on most of life’s greatest and healthiest experiences, and we get stuck in a debilitating cycle. Let’s use diet and exercise as an example… First, we become unhealthy because eating healthy food and exercising feels uncomfortable, so we opt for comfort food and mindless TV watching instead. But then, being unhealthy is also uncomfortable, so we seek to distract ourselves from the reality of our unhealthy bodies by eating more unhealthy food and watching more unhealthy entertainment and going to the mall to shop for things we don’t really want or need. And our discomfort just gets worse.
- Wait and wait, and wait some more for a miracle. – Inspiration exists, but it must be met by dedicated daily action. Often the difference between a successful person who is satisfied with life’s outcomes and a person who struggles to make progress is not one’s superior abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take calculated risks, and to take small consistent steps forward. In other words, unproductive people sit and wait for the magic beans to arrive while the rest of us just get up and get to work. Remember this. We so often create a state of suffering while we wait, when we should be stepping forward. Stop waiting for someone to call your name and tell you it’s time. It is time! Stop waiting for someone to show up and give you all the answers. You have all the answers you need to take the next smallest step!
- Decide that you can’t do it. – Think about ONE self-limiting belief you have – one area of your life where you believe you absolutely CANNOT do it. It can be about any part of your life you hope to change – your health, your weight, your career, your relationships – anything at all. What’s one thing you’ve essentially decided is a fact about your place on Earth? And then I want you to shift gears and think about ONE time, one fleeting moment, in which the opposite of that ‘fact’ was true for you. I don’t care how tiny of a victory it was, or even if it was a partial victory. What’s one moment in time you can look back on and say, “Hey, that was totally unlike ‘me’ – but I did it!”? Once you identify the cracks in the wall of a self-limiting belief, you can start attacking it. You can start taking steps forward every day that go against it – positive daily rituals that create tiny victories, more confidence, gradual momentum, bigger victories, even more confidence, and so on. (Angel and I build positive daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- Avoid being wrong at all costs. – If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. To make mistakes or be wrong is to be human. To admit those mistakes shows that you have the ability to learn, and are growing stronger and wiser. Truth be told, being wrong and not getting what you expected is oftentimes a wonderful stroke of good luck, because it forces you to reevaluate things and open new doors to opportunities and information you would have otherwise overlooked. Some things in life undoubtedly fall apart so better things can fall together in their place.
- Stop learning new things. – As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Life is a book and those who do not gradually educate themselves read only a few pages. Truly, life’s richness does not come from always residing within familiar territory. It’s when you venture out, away from the familiar, that you grow stronger and more capable. You must hold tightly to your core values while at the same time opening your heart and mind to new ideas, challenges, and experiences. Your own perspective will grow stronger when you look at things from different perspectives. Find ways to provide a healthy challenge to your current understanding of life, and you will discover and experience far more of life’s magic throughout your lifetime.
- Never speak up. – You have every right to speak up and let your thoughts be heard. People will never know how you feel unless you tell them. Your boss? Yeah, he doesn’t know you’re hoping for a promotion because you haven’t told him yet. That cute guy you haven’t talked to because you’re too shy? Yeah, you guessed it; he hasn’t given you the time of day because you haven’t given him the time of day either. In life, you have to communicate. And oftentimes, you have to open your mouth and speak the first words. You have to tell people what you’re thinking. And you will likely be pleasantly surprised when you do, because most people love straightforward people – it makes life ten times easier.
- Resist the past and deny the truth. – There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away. But I also know that if I somehow could roll it back, all the joy I’ve experienced would be gone as well. And the reality is, I can’t change the past anyway. No one can. The past must be accepted. When you accept the past, regardless of how painful, you allow yourself to grow and heal. For example, if someone breaks your heart, it’s not easy to deal with. But you can heal, as long as you’re willing to accept the circumstances and then gradually let them go. You may catch yourself thinking, “Why did I ever love him? I should never have given him my heart!” But that’s not a helpful thought. If you didn’t love him, your heartbreak never would have happened. But you did love him. That’s reality. And accepting that reality, and everything that followed, is part of letting it go and growing from it. You don’t get to choose what is true. You only get to choose what you do about it.
- Let one failed relationship convince you to not give anyone else a chance. – Every wrong relationship leads to the right one. If you can love the wrong person so much, imagine how much you’ll love the right one. Every heartbreak presents an opportunity to grow into an improved version of yourself. Great love shakes us up, excites and terrifies us simultaneously, while making us feel so desperate and out of control that we have no choice but to transform our lives. When it leaves us, we can choose to become bitter or to become better. Will you become stronger and wiser with an increased ability to love? Or will you miss the gift? One day someone will come into your life and make you see why it didn’t work out with anyone else. Until then, use every chance you get to grow into the kind of person they couldn’t imagine living without.
- Don’t forgive yourself. – Is it possible that all the “bad” or “foolish” things you’ve done have been forgiven and forgotten by everyone who matters in your life, except you? Think about that for a moment. And if you can’t reconcile things with yourself, or you don’t feel ready to talk it out with someone else, write it down. Write your heart out! So often when we’re feeling guilty we’re in a state of denial. We’ve denied, trivialized or distorted our own experiences and feelings. Writing is an important path for healing because it gives you the opportunity to sort out your thoughts and define your own reality. You can say: “This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was a terrible mistake. I’ve grown from it. I was – and am – worthy of my own love and forgiveness.”
- Let someone convince you that you don’t deserve another chance. – Some people like passing guilt and blame on to others for no reason at all. Beware of this phenomenon. Because it’s strange the way someone who wants to play the blame game and find you guilty can pass judgments, tell fake stories, and actually make you believe in your own guilt, even when you know you’re innocent (or deserve forgiveness). So whatever you do, don’t condemn yourself just to satisfy other people’s drama. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Take everything personally. – What people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds and experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re the worst, again, is more about them. I’m not suggesting we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback. I am saying that so much hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from our taking things personally. In most cases it’s far more effective and healthy to let go of other people’s good or bad opinion of you, and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
- Seek support from the wrong sources. – Think for a moment… If you were craving pizza, would you go to a Japanese sushi bar? No! Because you know they don’t serve pizza at a Japanese sushi bar. In fact, they wouldn’t even have the right ingredients to make a pizza even if they were willing to customize a special order for you. If you really wanted pizza, you would simply go to an Italian restaurant that serves it, right? Now think about the people you go to when you’re craving support, reassurance, guidance, healthy feedback, or simply a loving, listening ear. Do you go to people who are consistently able to dish out what you are hungry for? Or do you go to people who don’t have what you need on their menu, and thus find yourself endlessly discouraged and disappointed? Bottom line: It’s time to align your hunger with where you dine.
- Passionately hate people. – Everyone you hate rents permanent space in both your head and heart. So if you want to eliminate someone from your mind, don’t hate. Instead, forgive, disconnect yourself and move forward. And remember that getting even doesn’t help you get ahead. You will never get ahead of anyone as long as you try to get even with them. Sometimes we don’t forgive people because they deserve it – we forgive them because they need it, because we need it, and because we can’t move forward without it. To forgive is to rediscover the inner peace and purpose that at first you thought someone took away when they mistreated you.
- Completely neglect yourself in the process of loving others. – You are always your best long-term investment. Taking care of yourself is not a selfish act, it is a self-honoring one. You can exhaust yourself looking for someone else who is more deserving of your love and respect than yourself and you will not find that person anywhere. If you’ve been neglecting yourself lately, take a vow of self-love today and say, “I do” to YOU! And remember, there is also incredible selflessness in your self-love. Because you can’t give what you don’t have – enrich your life and you’ll be life-giving to others.
- Put yourself at the center of the universe 24/7. – The point above on self-love is vital, but it must be balanced with giving back to others too. This is an important reminder, because we all have the tendency to put ourselves at the center of the universe, and see everything from the viewpoint of how it affects us. And this can have all kinds of adverse effects if we do it too frequently – from feeling sorry for ourselves when things aren’t going exactly as planned, to doubting ourselves when we aren’t perfect. So be sure to shift your focus onto others when it makes sense. When times get tough and you need a breath of fresh air, think about other people you might help. Finding little ways to help others can snap us out of our self-centered thinking, and then we’re not wallowing in self-pity anymore – we’re starting to think about what others need. We’re not doubting ourselves, because the question of whether we’re good enough or not is no longer the central question. The central question now is about what others need. Thus, thinking about others instead of ourselves can actually help us step forward when times get tough.
- Attempt to do it ALL. – Another major issue that keeps so many of us stuck in a debilitating cycle of chaos and regret is the fantasy in our minds that we can be everything to everyone, everywhere at once, and a hero on all fronts. But, of course, that’s not reality. The reality is we’re not Superman or Wonder Woman – we’re human, and we have limits. We have to let go of this idea of doing everything and pleasing everyone and being everywhere at once. You’re either going to do a few things well, or do everything poorly. That’s the truth. Overcommitting is the single biggest mistake most people make that makes life stressful and overwhelming. It’s tempting to fill in every waking moment of the day with to-do list tasks, events, obligations and distractions. Don’t do this to yourself. You CANNOT do it all. You have to let some things GO!
- Pay no attention to the present. – Too often our minds are set on getting somewhere else. Another beautiful day comes to an end with hundreds of unnoticed moments behind us – we didn’t notice them because they were insignificant to us. And over time our entire lives become a massive pile of unnoticed and insignificant moments on our way to more important things. Then the important things get rushed through too… to get to the next one, and the next, until our time is up and we’re left questioning where it all went. But it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. This moment is your life, and you can make the best of it. The key is to realize that you are not on your way somewhere else. Right now is not just a stepping-stone to another place – it is the ultimate destination, and you are already here.
- Be too busy to appreciate the little things. – Life’s dynamic nature continually renews the possibilities before you; you honestly never can be certain when the next gust of wind will arrive and what it will blow in your direction. Open yourself to these surprises and pay attention. Many of them will bring goodness you never knew you were missing. You are never too old, too young, too busy, or too educated to find value and joy in new, unexpected moments. So stay on the lookout, and keep track of these pleasant surprises. Be sure not to lose them in the haste of your weekly routines. For example, there are little, random moments – the silence just before the sun peaks over the horizon, coming up the driveway to the house after a long day, the smell of a home-cooked meal in the kitchen, standing at the back window and looking out at the greenery, hearing a burst of laughter coming from my son’s room, the hush of the neighborhood at midnight – when I feel an unplanned and unexpected wavelike rush of peace and joy. This is a big part of my faith as a spiritual being: little moments of nearly tear-jerking happiness for a life I feel privileged to live. Can you relate in any way? I sincerely hope you can.
- Expect (and NEED) everything in life to always go as planned. – As mentioned in the point above, life is often unpredictable. Some of the greatest moments in your life won’t necessarily be the things you do – they’ll be things that happen to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t take action to affect the outcome of your life. You have to take action, and you will. But don’t forget that on any day, you can step out the front door and your whole life can change in an instant, for better or worse. To an extent, the universe has a plan that’s always in motion. A butterfly flaps its wings and it starts pouring rain – it’s a scary thought, but it’s part of life’s cycle. All these little parts of the big machine, constantly working – sometimes forcing you to struggle, and sometimes making sure you end up exactly in the right place at the right time.
Afterthoughts… On Making Better Choices
If you’ve been struggling with any of the above points…
Don’t be afraid to get back up. Don’t be afraid to love again. Find the strength to laugh again. Find the courage to feel different, yet beautiful. Find it in your heart to make others smile too. Remember that you don’t need many people in your life, just a few great ones, so don’t lower yourself to have more “friends.” Be strong when things get tough. Remember that the universe is always doing what’s right. Recognize when you’re wrong and learn from it. Don’t hold on too tightly. Always look back and see how much you’ve grown, and be proud of your progress. Don’t change for anyone, unless you want to. Give more. Give the things you love so others can love them too. Write stories. Take photos. Remember the little moments and the way your loved ones look at you.
Inspire yourself to make better choices going forward!
Change your habits!
The truth is, it’s just as easy to create positive habits as it is to create negative ones. It’s just a matter of how you spend your time. You can spend it doing things that bring you closer to your goals, or you can spend it seeking immediate comfort. For example, some people complain, “It’s too hard to exercise every day!” But exercise and movement are joyful, natural conditions that make us feel incredible. It’s not hard – it’s just that people get in the habit of not exercising. If this sounds like you, break the habit. Realize that you are where you are because of the choices you’ve made in the past, and your future depends on the choices you make today. You can choose to sit, or you can choose to run. You can choose to watch another sitcom, or you can choose to read another chapter in a great book. You can choose to act on an opportunity, or you can choose to sleep in. There’s nothing hard or complicated about it, other than the way you’re thinking about it.
Think better, live better! 🙂
If you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU.
Which point mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
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