We waste our lives waiting for ideal paths to appear in front of us. But they never do. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting.
There’s nothing more disheartening than a perfectly healthy, reasonably affluent human being with the whole world in her hands who’s chronically unhappy and unproductive. There’s really no excuse for it either, yet Marc and I see this phenomenon unfolding every single day—people who choose to be stuck in misery and refuse to admit it. This mindset often results from an extremely unbalanced life—one with too much expectation and not enough discipline and appreciation.
The bottom line is that when you have very little discipline for accomplishing new things, and very little gratitude for what you already have, you’ll never know the true joy of making progress in life, because nothing will ever change, and even when it does, it will never be good enough in your mind.
So, how do you cultivate balance in life when everything is already so far out of whack?
For a decade now, Marc and I have had the privilege of coaching hundreds of people from every walk of life, with various socioeconomic backgrounds, from dozens of countries around the world, including some extremely powerful and successful businesswomen and businessmen. Many of the happiest and most successful among them habitually uphold five key principles that dictate both the effectiveness of their daily decisions and the quality of their lives.
Today, I’ve turned these five key principles into five hard questions for you—hard, because following through with what they ask of you is far from easy. If you avoid these questions and make decisions unconsciously, there’s a good chance you’ll end up like the majority of people who tend to be out of shape physically, exhausted mentally, and personally and professionally regretful. But, if you ask yourself these questions on a regular basis, and make your daily decisions consciously, you can literally save yourself from a life filled with needless pain and frustration…
1. Are you focusing on what’s truly important?
At every moment, millions of little things compete for your attention. All these things fall into one of two categories: things that are important and things that are not.
People never get more done by blindly working more hours on everything that comes up. Instead, they get more done when they follow careful plans that measure and track key priorities and milestones. So if you want to be more successful and less stressed, don’t ask how to make something more efficient until you’ve first asked, “Do I need to do this at all?”
Simply being able to do something well does not make it the right thing to do. I think this is one of the most common problems with a lot of time-management advice; too often productivity gurus focus on how to do things quickly, but the vast majority of things people do quickly should not be done at all. (Read Getting Things Done.)
2. Are you focusing more on problems or solutions?
Where your mind goes, energy flows. Which area of your life do you tend to focus on: what you have or what’s missing from your life?
I’m sure you think about both sides of this equation. But if you scrutinize your habitual thoughts, what do you tend to spend more time dwelling on? The positives or the negatives?
Rather than focusing on what you don’t have and begrudging those who are better off than you, perhaps you should acknowledge that you have lots to be grateful for. Developing a habit of appreciating what you have can create a new level of emotional well-being and strength. But the real question is: do you take time to feel deeply grateful with your mind, body, heart and soul? That’s where the energy to take positive action comes from.
So don’t let negativity and drama get the best of you. Your brain is a radio transmitter. It broadcasts thoughts, directions and vibrations into your life—you get to choose the station it’s tuned to. Happy, successful people understand this and tune out negativity to make room for positivity. Be wise enough to follow in their footsteps. Walk away from the nonsense around you. Focus on the positives, and soon the negatives will be harder to see.
Also, along these same lines, accept the fact that there’s a lot you can’t control. And if you focus on what you can’t control, you’ll do nothing but create more stress for yourself. So remember, you can influence many aspects of your life but you can’t control them entirely. Once you fully accept and adopt this pattern of thinking, another important question must be asked:
3. What meaning are you assigning to your challenges?
Even when we’re being positive, we all have challenges; there’s no escaping that. But how you feel about your life has little to do with the events in it or what has (or hasn’t) happened to you. The meaning you assign to these things controls the quality of your life. Most of the time, however, you may be unaware of the effect of your unconscious mind in assigning meaning to life’s events. So check-in with yourself…
- When something happens that disrupts your life (an illness, an injury, a job loss, etc.), do you tend to think that this is the end or the beginning?
- If someone confronts you, is that person insulting you, coaching you or trying to care for you?
- Does a big problem mean that God is punishing you or challenging you? Or is it possible that this problem isn’t really a problem at all, but an opportunity?
Bottom line: When something negative happens, view this circumstance as a chance to learn something you didn’t know. Don’t wish it never happened. Don’t try to step back in time. Take the lessons learned and step forward. You have to tell yourself, “It’s OK. I’m doing OK.” You need to know that it’s better to cross new lines and suffer the consequences of a lesson learned from time to time, than to just stare at the lines for the rest of your life and always wonder.
Also keep in mind that the past, even when troubled, is invaluable to your present. It provides a solid foundation for everything you’re doing now. Learn from it—the mistakes and the successes—and then let it go. This process might seem easier said than done, but it depends on your focus. The past is just training; it doesn’t define you in this moment. Think about what went wrong, but only in terms of how it will help you make things right.
When we shift our habitual focus and meanings, there’s no limit on what life can become. A change of focus and a shift in meaning can literally alter our biochemistry and the trajectory of our lives in a couple minutes flat.
So take control and always remember: Meaning equals emotion and emotion equals power. Choose wisely. Find an empowering meaning in any event, and best will always be yours for the taking.
And that leads right in to the next question…
4. What will you do next to make progress?
While everyone else is talking about it, successful people are quietly doing it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It doesn’t matter if you have a genius IQ and a PhD in Quantum Physics, you can’t change anything or make any sort of real-world progress without taking action. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it. Knowledge and intelligence are both useless without action. It’s as simple as that.
Successful people know that a good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed someday. They don’t wait for the “right time” or the “right day” or the “right (impossible) circumstances”, because they know these reactions are based on a fear and nothing more. They take action here and now, today—because that’s where real progress happens. (Marc and I discuss this in detail in the “Goals and Success” chapter of the NEW edition of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. What tangible reminders do you need to see to stay motivated?
You want to lose weight, but when you’re tired, it’s easy to rationalize that you’ll start exercising and eating right tomorrow. You want to build a more profitable business, but when you’re caught up in the daily grind, it’s easy to just do what’s familiar instead of what’s required for growth. You want to nurture your closest relationships, but when you’re busy, it’s easy to rationalize that you really need to work on that client proposal instead.
Few good things come easy, and when the going gets tough we often take the easy way out—even though the easy way takes us the wrong way.
To combat this, many of the happiest and most successful people we know create tangible reminders that pull them back from the brink of their weak impulses. A friend of ours who has paid off almost $100K of debt in the past five years has a copy of his credit card balance taped to his computer monitor; it serves as a constant reminder of the debt he wants to pay off. Another friend keeps a photo of herself when she was 90 pounds heavier on her refrigerator as a reminder of the person she never wants to be again. And another fills his desk with family photos, both because he loves looking at them and because, when work gets really tough, these photos remind him of the people he is ultimately working for.
Think of moments when you are most likely to give in to impulses that take you farther away from your ultimate goals. Then use tangible reminders of those goals to interrupt the impulse and keep you on track.
Find a Good Example
Now that you’re aware of the power of these five questions and their subsequent decisions, start looking for role models who are experiencing what you want out of life. When we observe someone we want to learn from and we have a crystal clear idea of what we want to create for ourselves, it unlocks a tremendous amount of motivation. Human beings are socially inclined, and when we get the idea that we want to join some elite circle up above us, that is what really motivates us to reach our potential. “Look, they did it. I can do it too!”
And yes, you CAN do it too!
It may sound overly simplistic, but when you spend enough time asking yourself the right questions and studying people who have been where you want to go, you’ll gradually clear a pathway to create the positive changes you desire in life.
And now, it’s your turn…
Remember that you ultimately become what you repeatedly do. The acquisition of knowledge—everything you just read—doesn’t mean you’re growing. Growing happens only when what you know changes how you live on a daily basis. Most people miss the second part. Don’t be one of them today.
(Note: Marc and I take a deep dive into all of the aforementioned points with our students in the Getting Back to Happy Course & Coaching.)
So, which of the questions or points above resonated the most today?
Anything else to share?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
(Finally, 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.)
All of these questions are good questions to ask and think about, but my main issue lies with number 4 in taking action.
I am constantly coming up with ideas for investments, apps, websites, and more but have never sat down and taken the time to just start. I finally started blogging in the self improvement category myself about a year ago because I recognized many of the points you mention in this post and wanted to bring those along with me during my progression to hopefully success. But that comes easy to me and I enjoy helping others in any way I can.
The issue comes when there is a little bit greater risk of extra time needed or extra money needed in order to get going and just go for it. It’s a fear of losing and results in an unnecessary self-imposed limitation. I think another big question to ask is “What am I afraid of?”
Thanks for the post! And I’m looking forward to the next Think Better Live Better conference.
It looks like you’re afraid of the money and time issue. You’re right to have those concerns as ” time is money ” we’ve all heard it day. Starting your blog is a great start since your motivation for deeper self understanding helps you so well as others struggling w/ issues. There’s also the magic of “do what you love and the money might follow”.
It sounds like you’ve reached the crossroad that most of us reach. Do you back you skill set and everything you’ve learned that brought you here? Or do you turn back to something less fulfilling but safe; so safe it’s become comfortable, however unrewarding it may be.
I should have gone on to say… So your options are; turn back to the security of familiarity or Stride forward to uncertainty in the hope of reward. Or maybe use the security for support while you formulate a plan in order to stride forth.
Your emails always arrive when I need to read them. Thanks!
Although all these questions are worthy, the one that stands out foremost in my mind is, “Am I focusing on the right things.” I try to ask myself this question everyday and adjust accordingly. It’s so easy to get lost in the details and get burned out as a result. Often, we have deep-seated beliefs that trip us up and keep us wrapped up in the unimportant. So I think it’s equally important to ask ourselves, “What beliefs are holding me back?”
Marc and Angel, I tell ya, self-inquiry is likely the greatest emotional tool you and Angel have helped me with over the past year. I love the questions you ask on your blog, and the questions at the end of every chapter in your book. Great food for thought – really helps me look at life in a new light.
One of the questions from your book that truly helps me: What are you holding on to that you need to let go of? – I know I still need to let go of the idea that I’m not yet where I should be. I need to accept exactly where I am, because I know that there’s nowhere else I can be. This current step I’m taking and working through is necessary.
Ranjan Jena says
Thanks for sharing.
We often assign incorrect meaning to events in our life. I’ve had a really rough couple of years… Divorce after 20 years, a fire which consumed everything I thought I didnt want to lose, a predator who took me for everything that didnt burn, “friends” letting me down on a grand scale, etc. All of us are where we are due to choices weve made… I’m doing my best to enjoy this time on Earth, now, and move on positively. On my wall hangs a quote which survived the fire: ” Am I making meaningful use of this scarce and precious day?”
Your honesty and bravery dealing w/ difficult circumstances is very apparent. In terms of finding that empowering meaning in distruptive life events I think interpretation ( objective analysis) of what is most crucial in eliminating judgements against self and others. It helps to handle those expectations you had of others that didn’t pan out.
I am exactly one of those perfectly healthy, reasonably affluent human being with the whole world in her hands who’s chronically unhappy and unproductive. And right now I am sick and ashamed of myself because I wasn’t always. I made the mistake of heaping a bad marriage onto of years of childhood trauma. I saw and felt myself falling deeper and deeper into this psychological hole and I could not get a foothold so I stopped trying to find one. But I have a glimmer of hope and I am trying desperately to get up. I just don’t know how. Articles like these help to clear some of the fog so I can see if only a little further our in front of me. I am thankful for that because even small steps will get you to any destination.
This is an amazing article. And as someone stated above – these emails always seem to appear when needed the most.
I have written each question and posted the paper on my wall in my office. I need to ask each question to myself every day to stay motivated.
Angel, praised be God for your life! You and Marc are surely two of the wisest human beings on Earth. I feel very happy to see your altruism and empathy, by sharing such knowledge in order to help people you don’t even know.
May God bless you guys always!
Thank you, yet again, this is what I need to help a good friend of mine atm. Struggling with pain, alcohol and depression. I will certainly be aware of the things to say and ask of her now. HAPPY DAYS ?????
As someone else said.your e mails always seem to come at just the right time..I am stuck at the momment in my life .I have all these ideas to make my life better but I am stuck in fear and in the past way to much..as always you have inspired me not to this k as much and just do it ..you the saying……feel the fear and go it anyway! I will keep this e mail and look at it every day..thank you. ..
Jennifer Ford says
Just in time…feeling a certain way lately…how I’m stuck!
My only sibling passed away 5 yrs ago. My life hasn’t been the same….how could it be. However, it took me this long to realize something has to change in order for my life to have meaning. Thank you for this input…puts my mindset in a new perspective.
Agbara Michael says
Angel thank you so much. Awesome write up. I feel renewed each time I read them.. Thank you Marc.
Barb Lees says
I have a question for you. I suffer with generalized anxiety. Lately I have found that almost all of my anxiety is focused on my health. I am always worried that I have something wrong, It’s to the point that I am having trouble sleeping now. Do have any suggestions? I take medication for the anxiety, I have also taken a cognitive therapy course. I try but I can’t stop worrying about my health.
Hi Barb, sorry to here about your current situation. However there are a number of things you can do to improve this. Firstly if you’re currently undergoing CBT, then you’re almost certainly being taught mindfulness techniques. Implementing and practicing mindfulness should not be underestimated, it’s success is relevant to it’s application and engagement. If your not practising mindfulness it may be worth mentioning this to your councillor / Therapist. Secondly Marc and Angel suggested seeking out a role model. Look for someone to inspire you, maybe someone that exudes positivity in spite of their obstacles and set backs. I often see people overcoming difficulties which puts things into perspective for me. Maybe these could be the role models marc and Angel speak of. Worrying and losing sleep go hand in hand one fuels the other which causes our health issues to spiral out of control. My thoughts at bed time were like an annoying person. If someone kept you awake at night. You wouldn’t tolerate it. You would tell them to go away and let you sleep. This is what I do with my thoughts. I hope you don’t think it’s to simplistic. It worked for me. Best Wishes.
Thankyou very much for such a amazing, powerful & life changing guidance.
Courdney Marijoron says
I’ve read through this and what caught my attention is question 1, Are you truly focusing on what’s important?. So far in what i am doing I loose track on what truly important in my life that I should do first. Thank you very it open up my mind now to think and come up with plans as direction.
I like that you illustrated the importance of how we frame our perspective on life. Directing our focus on solutions rather than problems, looking at our challenges as opportunities. I’ve recently tried look at my life more as an adventure rather than this one big scary stressful thing. Great article.