There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
Deep down you know this is true.
You have to do hard things to be happy in life. The things most people are avoiding. The things that frighten you and make you uncomfortable. The things others can’t do for you. The things that make you question how much longer you can hold on and push forward.
Because those are the things that ultimately define you. Those are the things that make the difference between existing and living – between knowing the path and walking the path – between a life of mediocrity and a life filled with progress and fulfillment.
Of course, the hard things are often the easiest things to avoid. To distract yourself. To procrastinate. To make excuses. To pretend like they somehow don’t apply to you and your life situation.
But reality always rears its head in the end. And the truth about how ordinary people achieve immense happiness and incredible feats of success is that they step out of their comfort zones and do the hard things that their more privileged, talented and qualified peers don’t have the courage, drive or determination to do.
So for your own sake, start doing the hard things TODAY. I guarantee, you will be blown away at just how remarkable you really are and just how amazing your life can be, both personally and professionally.
Angel and I recorded this quick candid conversation for you, to give you an idea of how we’re presently applying the concept of “doing the hard things to be happy” in our daily lives:
The Hard Things that Will Lead You to Happiness
As you can tell from the video, how you apply the concept of “doing the hard things to be happy” can vary greatly. But if you’re looking for a place to start, let me make two simple (but not easy) recommendations…
1. Exercise your self-discipline in small daily doses.
Think about the most common problems we deal with in our lives – from lack of presence to lack of exercise to unhealthy diets to procrastination, and so forth. In most cases, problems like these are not caused not by a physical ailment, but by a weakness of the mind – a weakness of our self-discipline.
Just like every muscle in the body, the mind needs to be exercised to gain strength. It needs to be worked consistently to grow and develop over time. If you haven’t pushed yourself in hundreds of little ways over time, of course you’ll crumble on the one day that things get slightly challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You have a choice…
You can choose to pay attention when it would be easier to pick up your phone. You can choose to go to the gym when it would be more comfortable to sleep in. You can choose to create something special when it would be quicker to consume something mediocre. You can choose to raise your hand and ask that question when it would take less nerve to stay silent. You can prove to yourself, in hundreds of little ways, that you have the guts to get in the ring and wrestle with life.
Mental strength is built through lots of small, daily victories. It’s the individual choices we make day-to-day that build our “mental strength” muscles. We all want this kind of strength, but we can’t wish our way to it. If you want it, you have to create positive daily rituals in your life that reinforce what you desire. And that means you must learn to consistently exercise your self-discipline accordingly.
Self-discipline is a skill to be honed. It is the ability to overcome distractions and get the right things done. It involves acting according to what you know is right instead of how you feel in the moment (perhaps tired or lazy). And it typically requires sacrificing immediate pleasure and excitement for what matters most in life.
A lack of self-discipline for most of us is simply the result of a lack of focus. In other words, we tell ourselves we are going to do 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 daily rituals, 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 few 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.
(Note: Angel and I build small, life-changing daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
2. Let go and just be a witness of the thoughts that are troubling you.
Over the past decade, as Angel and I have gradually worked with hundreds of our course students, coaching clients, and live event attendees, we’ve come to understand that the root cause of most human stress is simply our stubborn propensity to hold on to stressful thoughts. In a nutshell, we hold on tight to the hope that things will go exactly as we imagine, and then we complicate our lives to no end when our imagination doesn’t represent reality.
So how can we let go and live better?
By realizing that there’s nothing to hold on to in the first place.
Most of the things – situations, problems, worries, ideals, expectations, etc. – we desperately try to hold on to, as if they’re real, solid, everlasting fixtures in our lives, aren’t really there. Or if they are there in some form, they’re changing, fluid, impermanent, or mostly created in our minds.
Life gets significantly easier to deal with when we understand this.
Imagine you’re blindfolded and treading water in the center of a large swimming pool, and you’re struggling desperately to grab the edge of the pool that you think is nearby, but really it’s not – it’s far away. Trying to grab that imaginary edge is stressing you out, and tiring you out, as you splash around aimlessly trying to hold on to something that isn’t there.
Now imagine you pause, take a deep breath, and realize that there’s nothing nearby to hold on to. Just water around you. You can continue to struggle with grabbing at something that doesn’t exist… or you can accept that there’s only water around you, and relax, and float.
This is the art of letting go. And it starts with your thinking…
What you have to remember is that just because the world around you is confusing and chaotic, doesn’t mean the world within you has to be too.
You can get rid of all the confusion and chaos inside you created by others, the past, uncontrollable events, or your general frame of mind…
Just by being a simple witness of your thoughts.
It’s about being silent, and witnessing the thoughts passing through you. Just witnessing at first, not interfering and not even judging, because by judging too rapidly you have lost the pure witness. The moment you rush to say, “this is good” or “this is bad,” you have already grabbed ahold of the chaos.
It takes a little time to create a gap between the witnessing of thoughts and your reaction to them. Once the gap is there, though, you are in for a great surprise – that you are not the thoughts themselves, nor the chaos influencing them. You are the witness, a watcher, who’s capable of letting go, changing your mind, and rising above the turmoil.
And this process of thought-watching is the very alchemy of true mindfulness. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, the confusing, chaotic thoughts start disappearing.
You are thinking, but the mind is empty of senseless chatter.
You are floating, with no extra weight and a lot less effort.
It’s a moment of enlightenment – a moment that you become, perhaps for the first time, an unconditioned, sane, truly free human being.
So today, let this be your reminder to let all the small annoyances go. Move through your day consciously. Make an effort to notice at least one insignificant little frustration that you would normally get frustrated about. Then do yourself a favor and simply let it go. Experience, in this little way, the freedom of being in control of the way you feel. And realize that you can extend this same level of control to every situation you encounter in life.
At almost any given moment, the way you feel is the way you choose to feel, and the way you react is the way you choose to react.
When you think better, you live better.
And life gets happier.
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?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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