What we truly need to do is often what we most feel like avoiding.
If we don’t go after what we want, we will never get it. If we don’t ask the right questions, we will always get the wrong answers. If we don’t take a step forward, we are always going to be standing in the same exact place. Life is a journey comprised of small steps. The key is to take these steps, every single day.
We know this already, right?
But how often are we stuck in a cycle of worry, fear, and other forms of overthinking? How often are we aimlessly distracted? And how often do we procrastinate?
After consistently working on my mindfulness and time management habits, I’ve become reasonably proficient at getting things done with minimal distraction and procrastination.
Today, for example, I wrote a 1000-word email newsletter, proof-read and cleaned up a chapter in a new book Angel and I are co-writing, coached one of our Getting Back to Happy students, responded to comments and emails from dozens of students and readers, worked on business planning and strategizing for a few active side-projects, spent a quality evening with my family, and of course now I’m writing this post.
It might seem like a lot, but it happens one step at a time, with presence and focus.
With that said, however, I’ll be the first to admit that I still struggle with some detrimental habits that sneak up on me and get in the way of my effectiveness. And these are super common habits among my friends, family, acquaintances, and students alike – these are the things we all do that end up wasting our lives, one precious moment at a time. The word “waste” may sound overly dramatic, but it’s really not. After spending the past decade coaching thousands of people, and working through my own personal issues, there’s little doubt that these are the most popular ways we all collectively waste our lives:
1. We waste our lives with meaningless distractions.
Distractions are both more damaging and more tempting than we realize. When we fill our lives with distractions, it’s often because we’re scared of what life might really be like without constant social media, video games, television, snacks, music, etc. Don’t numb yourself with relentless noise. Don’t let distractions hold you back. Control your distractions before your distractions control you.
As an internet entrepreneur, online distractions are a huge one for me. I can be in the middle of working on something important, get distracted by an email notification that leads to a new article from one of my favorite websites (which likely links out to some other website), and POOF… an hour of my time is gone!
To overcome this, I do my best to eliminate distractions, but sometimes they still pop up. So I have a ritual where I pause once every 30 minutes to take a deep breath and stretch for 10 seconds. By taking this break I’m able to catch myself when I’ve gotten lost again. Then I’ll clear the distraction, close any unnecessary computer windows (noise), and just have one small task in front of me… and try to stick with it until it’s finished.
2. We waste our lives in a state of overwhelm.
If you have a too many things on your plate, it can make you feel hopeless and helpless. “How can I possibly get it all done?” you think to yourself. You have no clue… so you don’t even try.
We’ve all been overwhelmed like this a time or two (or ten).
What has worked for me is this: Instead of thinking, “Oh my goodness, there’s too much on my plate!” … I ask, “What if I started over again with a clean plate?” I consciously think about what I would put back on my plate if I could wipe it clean right now.
I challenge you to do the same…
Think about it: What would you do if your schedule were empty? If your plate were completely clean, with limited space, what would you put on it today?
In my case, I often do just one thing at a time with full focus. So when I’m overwhelmed, I’ll clear everything off my plate, and make a list of just one to three key tasks I absolutely need to complete today. And yes, sometimes this list is just one thing long, because it helps me focus on what’s truly important and not feel overwhelmed.
3. We waste our lives with constant indecision.
What if you simply can’t figure out what to do next? Often, this kind of indecision leads to doing nothing. I remind myself that not deciding leads to stagnation, and while I don’t believe you need to move at a million miles an hour, I don’t like myself held stagnant either.
What I’ve learned is that indecision is often predicated by a fear of not knowing the perfect decision… because we can’t possibly know exactly what the future will hold. Is it better to take that new job or keep this one? Is it better to work on this project or that one? It’s impossible to know, because the future is uncertain.
So I try to just pick one based on the information I have available to me, combined with what my intuition is telling me. Then I take immediate action to see how it goes. The outcome is always the same: either I make progress or I make a mistake that teaches me what I need to know to make progress. Win-win. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Goals and Success” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
4. We waste our lives fearing failure.
The fear of failure can really mess with our minds. When we don’t feel good enough to succeed, it’s confusing – it feels like we’ll almost certainly embarrass ourselves regardless of what we do. Of course, this isn’t true, but this feeling comes on strong – especially when we’re working outside our zones of comfort – and it can be debilitating. So what can be done?
Here’s what I do:
- I remind myself that if I am too afraid of failure, I can’t possibly do what needs to be done to be successful.
- I remind myself that failure is actually not the worst outcome – succeeding in life at the wrong things, or not even trying, are both far worse.
The truth is, the right thing to do and the easy thing to do are rarely the same thing. You have to push yourself. You have to be willing to fail forward. Because if you try something and fail, you’ve learned a lesson, you’ve got some priceless practice, and next time you’ll be one step ahead. But if you don’t even try, out of empty fear, you have learned nothing, and you’ll likely continue procrastinating because you’re stuck in the habit of running from fear. And this running is just as exhausting as actually pushing through and doing it anyway.
Remember, there’s a big difference between empty fatigue and gratifying exhaustion. Life is short. Invest in activities that move you forward. The value of doing is so much greater than the value of being safe and doing nothing for the rest of your life.
5. We waste our lives being busy (but not productive).
There’s a BIG difference between being busy and being productive. Don’t confuse motion with progress. For instance, a rocking horse keeps moving but never makes any forward progress.
Oftentimes we feel productive when we’re taking care of lots of menial tasks (errands, paperwork, emails, etc.), and while these tasks might need to get addressed at some point, they aren’t the truly important ones, and they should NOT fill our days. When they do, we’re very busy, but we’re not productive.
Admittedly, I still fall into this trap sometimes, so when I catch myself busily working on the wrong things, I stop and ask myself what my most important tasks are for the day – I go back to wiping my plate clean of everything but the essential. Sometimes there’s just one key task/project, and sometimes there are a few, but in any case I ask myself: “Am I working on it?” If the answer is no, I know it’s time to begin again on the right track.
6. We waste our lives with a lack of self-discipline.
Self-discipline is a skill. It is the ability to focus and overcome distractions. It involves acting according to what you know is right instead of how you feel in the moment (perhaps tired or lazy). It typically requires sacrificing immediate pleasure and excitement for what matters most in life.
A lack of self-discipline for most of us is often the result of a lack of focus (see the previous five points). In other words, we tell ourselves we are going to work on something, but then we don’t. When this happens to me, first and foremost, I forgive myself for messing up, and then I strive to be mindful about what’s really going on. Am I procrastinating for some reason? Am I distracted? Instead of telling myself that I’m “bad” or “undisciplined,” I try to productively uncover a more specific, solvable problem, and then address it.
What do you do if your life is in complete disarray, you have hardly any self-discipline or consistent routines, can’t stick to anything, procrastinate constantly, and feel completely out of control?
How do you get started with building a healthy ritual of self-discipline when you have so many changes to make?
You start small. Very small.
If you don’t know where to start, let me suggest that you start by simply washing your dishes. Yes, I mean literally washing your dishes. It’s just one small step forward: When you eat your oatmeal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking your morning coffee, rinse the coffee pot and your mug. Don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter for later. Wash them immediately.
Form this ritual one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this consistently for a couple weeks, you can start making sure the sink has been wiped clean too. Then the counter. Then put your clothes where they belong when you take them off. Then start doing a few sit-ups every morning. Eat a few vegetables for dinner. And so forth.
Do one of these at a time, and you’ll start to build a healthy ritual of self-discipline, and finally know yourself to be capable of doing what must be done… and finishing what you start.
But, again, for right now, just wash your dishes. Mindfully, with a smile. (Angel and I build tiny, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Which point above resonated with you the most? What other habits drain your energy and waste precious moments of your life? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with the community.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Photo by: AndrewJAA