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.
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.
I absolutely love your point about being a watcher of your thoughts. This is something I’ve been learning to do slowly over the past few weeks with your help. After I joined your Back To Happy course I really committed myself to letting go of the uncontrollable circumstances that have been stressing me out. My life may never be the way I thought it was going to be, but by letting go of some of my ideals I’ve been able to take significant steps forward despite my somewhat tragic circumstances. Like you alluded to in this post, I’m floating more and struggling less, and that’s really making a world of difference.
Anyway, thanks of the continued direct and indirect support. And I love the casual conversation in the video you embedded in this post. Not scripted. About family. Incredibly sincere.
Ben Pruett says
M&A, this post as a whole is a wonderful reminder of some key principles for working to be happier. I’m so glad it arrived in my inbox today. And I couldn’t agree more that you have to do the hard things to be happier in life, especially in the long term. The seeds we plant today grow over time.
For me, the point that jumped out the most at this moment was the presence and lack of presence with your son that you mentioned in the video. I have a young daughter, and I work from home, and I know I’m guilty of not being present enough with her when I’m home. I do exactly what you said — I often mix business tine and family time, and I end up doing a poor job on both fronts. It’s hard to stay organized and focused and present, so I really appreciate the reminder.
I love that you ended this article with “when you think better, you live better.” I actually attended your most recent (i think) Think Better seminar in S. Florida and this article brought me back to a few of the incredibly helpful principles I learned from you and your guest speakers. I have honestly done my best to live by these principles ever since.
Oh, and “Just wash your dishes!” So simple, and yet such a profound reminder to do the little hard things that need to be done to live a happier and more sane life. Thanks for that!
#2 – When calm, I can do it. When in a situation that arouses strong emotions it is difficult. I need to build a string of cues to create the breath, witness, let go sequence. Hard to shift the mind from the building fire of emotions/reactions and switch to the witness role separating self from the spiral. Good article. Thank you!
I feel the same way it’s like my adrenaline kicks in & keeps acelerating & I can’t stop it 0-100 & boom panic attacks/ Aniexty- I’m a mess.
WOW, thank you for yet another wonderful read. I recognized myself here: “the root cause of most human stress is simply our stubborn propensity to hold on to stressful thoughts.” When stressful or negative thoughts creep in and they often do, I talk to myself, I say “STOP right here” to stop the old record from playing….. I find that I can catch myself right away, I have gained awareness, that is a first step!
This talked directly to me as if it was written for me.i like people who know and have firsthand experience about the advise they are contributing towards the people they sincerly want to help.Everything that was said is in my view high light points.I like the point where you metioned that i must become a witness about my thoughs and not to act so quicly upon it.think this is one of my major things i face.Thanks
Magdy Doze says
I like how your posts correlate every time I read them in my current situation in life
I’m in deep situation of (letting go)…this simple fact that my life is what I think not what it is..is really phenomenal!!
Because there is no (is) there is (me)…& life happens (through) me not (to) me
I love you
God bless you 🙂
What if (in the case of my son) he isn’t motivated to make changes or see a need? He Thinks he is OK – “it is what it is” he is too easy going n doesn’t recognize how over burdened he is. Any advice anyone?
As a parent it’s difficult to watch your children, especially grown children, make choices that you think aren’t the best for them. But if they are over 15 or so, the choices and consequences are theirs to own, and you are able to have minimal influence. My advice is to put the focus on yourself, and make your life the best and happiest it can be. Pay attention to what lights you up and do more of it. Share your journey with him if you feel it fits into the conversation, but don’t force it. Maybe he will get inspired to do the same, but learn to be okay with it if he doesn’t. Live your life and let him live his. Simple, but not easy.
I NEEDED TO READ THIS!! I keep reading articles and blogs about not judging and letting go of the thoughts, letting them flow thru you, but I am SO stuck on what that looks like. I’m a thinker and I have always thought in flow charts and now that I know this is not a beneficial way to process life, I NEED assistance on what letting the thoughts pass looks like.
Thank you so much for what you guys are doing!
Also, a little bit of advice is needed because I always go for stepping outside the box, but when things seem to drag along or since I’m a single parent I get work down, or I can’t see the good I want or thought would happen in a time I feel is adequate, I FREAK OUT! My thoughts are damaging, my outlook on life gets dim, I feel like I just should be listened to others and NOT tried to accomplish what I want… basically I become weak during the wait for the outcome…. Like I am now, I hope you guys can assist me because my 2 young men are looking at me and how I process things. The old ways that i am used to are NOT an acceptable option for them. Trying to change my thinking alone, (from Baptist to spiritual awareness) in the midst of stepping out of comfort zone with old friends and family who encourage you from the space you USED to be is difficult and I simply need help. New help. New ways of thinking.
Okay I apologize for bugging you guys afain, just had to get that out! Be blessed and much love to you and your family.
Thank you for today’s post. Great. Specialy the floating story. Been reading you for some time now and there is always a good advise but today’s realy resonates with me. Thank you and look forward for new post
Charles McHugh says
You guys have taught me a lot at 61 years old. I love your posts and videos. Thank You.
I love the advice you give about being in the middle of a pool and trying to find something to hold onto. Sometimes we need to let go and relax and then we ate able to think more clearly. I am in an awkward situation at work now and need to make a choice to leave or stay. It is really making me feel uncomfortable. Making up my mind is really difficult but I think if use clear thoughts I will make the best decision
I really do enjoy reading all your posts. They give a more accurate truth to the way I see my life some days. I have had a lot of setbacks, such as being bullied, divorce, miscarriages, marriage & separation, burnt myself out from a lousy job I stayed at way too long & obtained a neck disability, lost my hubby to cancer last year but my daughter was saved the year prior to same…some days I can laugh hard at stupid jokes & other days I cry. Yesterday I pondered the ‘what to do next with my life’ while out on my little hot sunny patio & then did my dishes to cool off indoors. Right now, watching my tomato plants growing & looking beautiful. Watching my daughter move on with her life, for which I am eternally grateful. What’s next? Ummm I ponder. Thanks for the glimpse into self. I recently went from dyed blond hair to maple brown. Treated myself to a pretty dress & fake nails. L0L. Finding me with smiles. Kind regards for you.
Thank you M&A for yet another Wonderful read. Your write-ups always comes at the right time for me. What stood out for me, is, just because the world around me is confusing and chaotic, doesn’t mean the world within me has to be too.. I can get rid of all the confusion and chaos inside me created by others, the past, uncontrollable events or my general frame of mind. Most times I work on impulse. But I have learned to let this be a reminder to me today, to let the small annoyances go. Move through my day consciously. Make an effort to notice at least one insignificant little frustration that I would normally get frustrated about. Then do myself a favor and simply let it go.. Thank you so much for sharing your gifts with us. How do I join your classes? Magdalene
One of the best articles that I have come across so far. It works when you put the points mentioned above into actual practice. The same thoughts that bother you start feeling insignificant and something that do t really exist. Just like the swimming pool example. Just float and you will be fine. Being a witness of thoughts though hard, will definitely work and make one a very strong individual. Thanks guys.
Do the dishes…wow exactly! Its like taking a tiny bit of control in small bite size actions, that’s achievable without it overwhelming us. Something happened today at work and usually i can’t seem to switch off from that internal dialogue–its almost like when a song gets into your head and you can’t stop singing it. But today i said to myself, “I did the best i could with today” and that seemed to help me. I used to let work take over and consume me. I used to say to myself, “are you at work” and because i wasn’t i would say stop thinking about work then, the thing is this took time and i had to do it for a while but it really worked for me. Sometimes its hard when you overthink and you don’t often realise it’s a problem till you’re exhausted or ill. I really wish i had you guys around when i was younger, but now I’m having to learn your valuable advice at my age.
thank you so much
Carrie-Ann Orser says
The one thing I have struggled with mostly is Being Present! My last relationship was a nightmare and I had to…. or thought I had to ….zone out! My ex would not even let me make my own tea, oatmeal, dinner, dishes, laundry or anything and now I am so afraid I can not do it anymore which is the ego! f I done everything all on my own. At 6 years old I remember my mother sick and I pulled a chair up to the stove and made her chicken noodle soup and brought it to her in her room. I still remember her face, “Thank-you Carrie!” You don’t realize how things can be taken away so softly! I am going to come back if it is the last thing I ever do on this earth! For me and the people I love!
Excellent reminders. Your emails and posts always move my life forward.
Indeed, happiness isn’t always easy. Love the floating analogy. I’ve been holding on to too much lately–struggling to no end, for no good reason.
Sandy Zingrich says
The idea to start with small steps like washing your dishes resonated with me. I have also found focusing my attention, for 5 minutes, on a task helps me stay on top of routine tasks. I set a timer & concentrate on bringing order to a “zone”; a bathroom sink, kitchen counter, or messy dresser. When the timer is up, I quit. I admire what I accomplished. Then I take time do something fun.
Again, it was the perfect moment for me to open my computer. The house is silent and I am alone other than my little dog in bed. I get stuck, depressed, and going to the garbage can, or even folding the clothes today were not easy and certainly not a thrill. For over three years now there has been event after event regarding my birth family, my adult children, and my marriage, that has created a deep pain within myself. I have not a clue as to why there is havoc intentionally created causing division and distrust amongst everyone. My husband in absent in our marriage. He is totally absent as there is no conversation, no going anywhere together, no vacation, no plans for life/retirement etc. I ask lots of questions regarding his reasons for this and I don’t get an answer. Last night he just got up from his chair around 6:30p.m. and went TO HIS ROOM and closed the door and didn’t return all night. I write a list each morning of what I want or need to do that day and then get scattered, or decide it can all just wait, or am overwhelmed at what he feels I should do alone. ( paint the entire house inside and out, climb on the roof and blow the leaves off, mow, trim, laundry, clean house, take care of cars, and this list goes on and on) I would love to be paid for what I do. I am 63 years young and he is 65 years old. I am tired of the nothingness of this life/marriage, and I want to do things. We have never gone to this huge lake that is a recreational place in 18 years that is only 20 miles away. When I’ve stepped out of the prison and taken a class or taken up a challenge, or totally succeeded in a project, or read things he would never read that may be technical/medical/legal, he gets upset and at times furious and I actually believe he is jealous. And, the birth family saga beats this one as it is most cruel, planned dissension, radically huge amounts of money or cars, trips, or a house given to others but these things always come with a price. I don’t play and don’t get and though that is a good thing it is not good or fun to see or hear as I would enjoy as well especially since my home life is as it is. However, let me say, that I thank God everyday for everything and I do mean everything. In a few weeks my husband has to have an operation. He has had his tests with more to come prior to his operation and then the bills will come, or even more and larger ones, So, I think I am numb, but I do end up having a couple of days each week that are awesome in my “accomplishments” that would virtually rock any man. I call myself one in fact!! I am grateful that you are out there somewhere and glad to have seen this e-mail tonight. And, I know what that silent pause is and what it feels like and it is awesome. I am Nationally Certified in Yoga and Meditation Training, and Cardiac Yoga and taught for over 10 years. I have thought about doing it for persons my age , but I am not into the term Senior as it is stereotypical and I do not fit that mold. I have been trying to let lose of much emotional pain and seek what to do next.
Is it possible to get away for a few weeks or even the whole summer? Even a working vacation at a National Park where you can hike and swim in your off time. (often times housing is provided, or you can live in an RV). Or a job on a cruise ship teaching yoga or just working a cash register? And inform only NEED to know people of contact/forwarding address and your disposable cell phone number, (a cell phone you leave turned off, except to check messages). A total change of scenery can do wonders, even just a week vacation, or a weekend hiking in the Sierras, etc..
Also, maybe consider joining a hiking club, or a kayaking club, or a book club. Something YOU enjoy that can be like a mini-vacation in your weekly life. Or taking a ritual daily walk OUTDOORS, can be very helpful to peace of mind, well-being when everything else seems like haywire…the routine, the walk, something for you everyday.
Not knowing your obligations in life, not sure what would be do-able, but a get-away of some sort might really be helpful to you.
This post literally reached out to me in my exasperation for an answer to my current pain and struggle. Thank you for being…
Vinny Wong says
Thank you, Marc and Angel, for this article, which once again, is on point.. While a lot of your articles resonate with me, I haven’t commented before, but felt I wanted to this time.
I’m currently trying to deal with one of those “difficult things in life”.. I’m a 37 year old who doesn’t have his shit together because of a dysfunction childhood and only now trying to create a more stable life and future. I’m still very much in the process and don’t know if I’ll be successful, but reading your articles certainly helps to calm the anxiety, and keep things in context and petspective. You see, I’m basically starting from the bottom since I didn’t even graduate from high school, and that thought scares the shit out of me and what that means for my future.
I am a lot better at practicing gratitude though, I’ve eliminated my bad habits, started exercising and eating more healthy and balanced, made it through anxiety, depression and sleep apnea without help from friends, family, doctors or medications and now trying to build on that. I’m thinking about going back to school to become a paramedic..
Which brings is back to doing the “hard things” in life.. It is finding what is meaningful and what had purpose to you that will in part make you happy and fulfilled.. Along with practicing gratitude, not comparing yourself to others, doing what you can to live healthy, physically, emotionally and psychologically. Nurturing and building whatever relationships you already have because they can easily fall apart. Not dwelling on the past and not worrying about the future as much, but concentrating to live in the present.
There’s a whole lot more, but I just wanted to express my gratitude for stumbling upon your FB page and being able to resonate with all the work you have done.. I don’t think you have can really grasp the amount of impact you have in others lives..!! Keep going, doing what you do.. Creating positive, tangible differences in the lives of others while growing that as your business..
Thanks once again.
Thanks for the great reminders!
Thanks for sharing Marc and Angel. Awesome words!!!
Mayank Gahlot says
Great words of wisdom !!
Marc and Angel, you people are doing such a phenomenal work.This world really needs the teaching of such kind of words.
“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.”
I have so much going on in my head right now, I really needed to read this guys so thank-you. I need to start letting go of the smaller stuff.