Do more than just exist. We all exist. The question is: Are you living?
On a rainy Sunday morning 15 years ago, as Angel and I were struggling to cope with the recent, back-to-back deaths of two loved ones, I sat down at the kitchen table and had a full-blown intervention with myself. I read through hundreds of archived entries in five different journals I had kept over the years. Specifically, I was looking for all the unfulfilled goals, dreams and visions for the future I had jotted down along the way. And it didn’t take long before I realized the course my life had taken up to that point had been the product of other people’s ideas, opinions and decisions. I knew all too well that life was short, yet every day I was just going through the motions and doing what I was “supposed” to do, instead of what was right for ME.
I was in line.
I was comfortable.
And I was utterly distracted from what matters most in life.
But, fast forward to today, and as I awoke this morning I marveled at my life. Where once I awoke with inner resistance at the thought of a new day, now I wake up with excitement to begin, grateful to be doing what I’m doing on a daily basis, grateful I got my priorities straight and gave myself a fair shot.
I tell you this because I know life can get crazy. Sometimes it gets so busy and difficult that we forget how important it is to actually listen to ourselves. We fill our calendars, our social media feeds, and our days with various forms of distraction, just to avoid doing the little uncomfortable things required to get us from where we are to where we hope to be. The instant we feel a bit of discomfort, we run off in the direction of the nearest shiny object that catches our attention. And this habit gradually dismantles our best intentions and our true potential. Our dreams and priorities go by the wayside, and we’re left regretting another wasted year.
Yes, most of us suffer from a severe misalignment of our priorities, even though, deep down, we know our lives are quickly passing us by.
If you can relate in any way, I’m happy to tell you that things can change if you want them to, at any age.
Just as I have turned things around for myself, I know hundreds of other people who have done the same. Through a decade of coaching our students and our live seminar attendees, Angel and I have witnessed people reinventing themselves at all ages—48-year-olds starting families, 57-year-olds graduating from college for the first time, 71-year-olds starting successful businesses, and so forth.
How did we all do it?
Well, the first step is we stopped wasting so much time and energy on things that don’t matter. This transition, of course, takes practice. But if you’re ready to follow our lead and get started, here are four insanely popular ideas that ultimately rob us of the life we are capable of living…
1. We think we need all those text messages, social updates, memes, and perfect Instagram pics.
If it entertains you now but will hurt or bore you someday, it’s a distraction. Don’t settle. Don’t exchange what you want most for what you kind of want at the moment. Study your habits. Figure out where your time goes, and remove distractions. It’s time to focus on what matters.
A good place to start?
Learn to be more human again. Don’t avoid eye contact. Don’t hide behind gadgets. Smile often. Ask about people’s stories. Listen. You can’t connect with anyone, including yourself, unless you are undistracted and present. And you can’t be either of the two when you’re Facebooking, Instagramming or Snapchatting your life away. You just can’t!
If you are constantly attached to your smartphone and only listening with your ears as your eyes check for the next social update, you are ripping yourself off of actually experiencing real relationships and real life. The same is true for texting too. Yes, someday you will be slapped with the reality of a missed MEMORY being far more unsettling than a missed TEXT!
Let this be your wake-up call! Too often we choose to distract ourselves with gadgets and news and videos and music and memes, 24/7, just to stimulate ourselves. It’s like second nature to us—we’re so used to feeling like the present moment isn’t worthy of our full presence. And this mindset of dissatisfaction and distraction—of reality never being enough for us – trickles into every facet of our lives…
- We are continuously thinking about what’s to come, as if it’s not enough to appreciate what we have right now.
- We sit down to relax for a moment and then immediately feel the urge to read something on our phones, as if relaxing for a moment isn’t enough.
- We procrastinate when it’s time to work, choosing more distractions, as if the process of doing good work isn’t enough for us.
- We get annoyed with people when they fail to live up to our expectations, as if the reality of who they are isn’t enough for us.
- We resist changes in our lives, in our relationships, and in our careers, because the reality feels like it’s not enough.
- We reject situations, people, and even ourselves, because we feel like none of it is enough for us right now.
But what if we did the opposite?
What if we accepted this moment, and everything and everyone in it (including ourselves), as exactly enough?
What if we admitted that life is slipping away right now, and saw the fleeting time we have as enough, without needing to share it on social media or capture it or filter it in any way?
What if we accepted the “bad” with the good, the letdowns with the lessons, the annoying with the beautiful, the anxiety with the opportunity, as part of a package deal that this moment alone is offering us?
What if we paused right now, and saw everything with perfect clarity and no distractions?
Keep thinking about it…
Would we live more meaningful and memorable lives?
Would we have more beautiful stories to cherish and share?
I think we would.
And thus, I think now is the best time to pay attention.
Now is the best time to look around and be grateful—for our health, our homes, our families, our friends, and our momentary opportunities.
Nothing else will matter as much when we look back someday.
2. We think we need more approval from the masses.
We worry about what other people think of us. We worry about our appearance. We worry if she’ll like us. We worry if he likes that other woman. We worry that we’re not accomplishing all that we should be. We worry that we’ll fall flat on our faces. We worry that we’re not enough just the way we are. And of course, we worry about all those foolish, thoughtless things someone once said about us.
And social media—with its culture of getting us to seek constant approval with virtual likes and hearts—with its endless highlight reel of perfect bodies and epic travels—it only intensifies the problem. Realize this. You don’t need any of that social validation and distraction in your life!
It’s the strength of your conviction that determines your level of personal achievement in the long run, not the number of people who agree with every little thing you do. Ultimately, you will know that you’ve made the right decisions and followed the appropriate path when there is genuine peace in your heart, and when the few people who truly mean the world to you are the ones celebrating your success alongside you.
It’s nice to have acquaintances. It’s important to be involved in your community to an extent. But don’t get carried away and spread yourself too thin. Leave plenty of time for the people and projects that matter most to you. Your time is extremely limited, and sooner or later you just want more of it with the select few people and projects that make you smile for all the right reasons.
The ultimate goal is to never let some random person’s opinion become your reality. To never sacrifice who you are, or who you aspire to be, because someone on the internet has a problem with it. To love who you are inside and out as you push forward. And to realize once and for all that no one else has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power.
Of course, sometimes the pressure and dysfunctional judgements coming from peers, work, and society in general is enough to make us feel completely broken inside. If we do things differently, we’re looked down upon. If we dream big, we’re ridiculed. Or if we don’t have the “right” job, relationship, lifestyle, and so forth, by a certain age or time frame, we’re told that we’re not good enough. But that is just NOT true, and it’s your job to acknowledge it!
So, here’s a new mantra for you (say it, and then say it again): “This is my life, my choices, my mistakes and my lessons. As long as I’m not hurting people, I need not worry what they think of me.”
3. We think we need to engage in the daily drama that seems so significant.
99% of the drama in our lives isn’t significant in the long run, because it isn’t even real. It’s all in our heads. Just a momentary rise in our blood pressure for all the wrong reasons.
In a nutshell, most drama is simply the consequence of our inner resistance to outer incidents.
Thus, there’s a strong chance the drama you are going through at any given moment is not fueled by the words or deeds of others, or any external sources at all; it is fueled primarily by your mind that gives the drama importance.
And yes, we all do this to ourselves sometimes.
Why do we get so easily stressed out and sucked into needless drama?
It’s because the world isn’t the predictable, orderly, blissful place we’d like it to be. We want things to be easy, comfortable and well ordered 24/7. But, unfortunately, sometimes work is hectic, relationships are challenging, important people demand our time, we aren’t as prepared as we’d like to be, and there’s just too much to do and learn and process in our minds.
So our inner resistance begins to boil over.
The problem is that we’re holding on too tightly to ideals that don’t match reality. We have subconsciously set up expectations in our minds of what we want other people to be, what we want ourselves to be, and what our work and relationships and life “should” be like. Our attachment to our ideals—our resistance to accept things as they are—stirs stress in our minds and drama in our lives.
And we don’t want to be a part of this drama. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. So we blame others for it… and then we engage in even more of it!
But there’s good news: we can break the cycle, let go of drama, and find peace with reality.
I’m going to suggest a simple practice for whenever you feel stress, resistance, worry, and all the other draining mindsets that fuel drama in your life:
Focus, carefully, on what you’re feeling. Don’t numb it with distractions, but instead bring it further into your awareness.
Turn to it, and welcome it. Smile, and give what you feel your full presence.
Notice the feeling in your body. Where is the feeling situated, and what unique qualities does it have?
Notice the tension in your body, and also in your mind, that arises from this feeling.
Try relaxing the tense parts of your body. Then relax the tense parts of your mind. Do so by focusing on your breath: Close your eyes, breathe in and feel it, breathe out and feel it, again and again, until you feel more relaxed.
In this more relaxed state, find some quiet space within yourself. And in this space…
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness within you, that’s present in every moment.
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness of this very moment, that’s always available to you whenever you’re willing to focus on it.
Take time to just sit with the inner peace these two simple rediscoveries bring.
This is the practice of letting go of drama, and simply accepting this moment as it is, and yourself as you are.
You can build a healthy daily ritual of stopping the needless drama in your life, and rediscovering the peace and joy and love that are always just a few thoughts away. (Note: Angel and I build healthy, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
4. We think we need another comfortable, leisurely day.
A comfortable, leisurely day sounds nice, for a moment. But it’s not the kind of day you’ll look back on with gratitude for how far you’ve come.
Truth be told, the most common and destructive addiction in the world is the draw of comfort. Why pursue growth when you already have 400 television channels, YouTube and a recliner? Just pass the dip and lose yourself in a trance.
WRONG! That’s not living—that’s existing.
Living is about learning and growing through excitement and discomfort. It’s about asking questions and seeking answers. And life is filled with questions, many of which don’t have an obvious or immediate answer. It’s your willingness to ask these questions, and your courage to march boldly into the unknown in search of the answers on a daily basis, that gives life it’s meaning.
In the end, you can spend your life feeling sorry for yourself, cowering in the comfort of a recliner, wondering why there are so many problems out in the real world, or you can be thankful that you are strong enough to endure them. It just depends on your mindset. The obvious first step in this arena, though, is convincing yourself to get up and do the uncomfortable things that need to be done.
Think about it…
- How many times over the past year has the psychological draw of comfort plagued your best intentions?
- How many workouts have you missed because your mind, not your body, told you that you were too tired?
- How many workout reps have you skipped because your mind, not your body, said, “Nine reps is enough. Don’t worry about the tenth”?
In the past year alone the answer to all three questions is probably dozens for most people, including myself. And these questions can be easily reworked and applied to various areas of our lives too. The bottom line is that the draw of comfort—a common weakness of the mind—combined with lack of action, absolutely devastates our potential. When we avoid discomfort, nothing worthwhile gets done. And the only way to fix this predicament is daily practice.
Your mind needs to be exercised to gain strength. It needs to be worked on a daily basis to grow. If you haven’t pushed yourself in lots of small ways over time—if you always avoid doing the uncomfortable things—you’ll almost certainly crumble on the inevitable days that are harder than you expected. (Again, Angel and I build small, uncomfortable daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
So, my challenge to you starting today is this:
Choose to go to the gym when it would be more comfortable to sleep in. Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be more comfortable to quit at nine. Choose to create something special when it would be more comfortable to consume something mediocre. Choose to raise your hand and ask that extra question when it would be more comfortable to stay silent. Choose to stand your ground when it would be more comfortable to fit in. Just keep proving to yourself in lots of little ways, every day, that you have the guts to get up, get in the ring, and fight for the life you are capable of living.
It’s time to practice…
Just like you, Angel and I are not immune to any of the points discussed above. None of us are above this stuff. Sometimes we let our weak impulses get the best of us. And it takes practice just to realize this, and then even more practice, still, to get ourselves back on track.
I sincerely hope you will practice along with us.
And if you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU, too.
Which point mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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