About a year ago I wrote an exhaustive list of goals or milestones that I wanted to accomplish before I die. It’s been my phone’s background since, but I have rarely (if at all) looked at this exhaustive list.
Today, I looked at it. Some of the highlights:
- Write a New York Times Best Seller
- Create a million dollar technology startup
- Get paid to do standup comedy
- Sky Dive (real original)
- Travel to every continent
- Buy my parents retirement
- Write a screenplay that is used in a Hollywood movie
There are quite a few more, but I won’t bore you too much with that. Of this list of 30ish goals, I have accomplished one of them: write a book and publish it.
I should be proud but instead I’m focused on the lack of return on my investment. And I keep thinking that anyone could type lasdflkjasdflkj into Microsoft word, format it for Kindle, use Amazon’s cover designer, set the price at $9 and claim the same thing.
I write goals because for some illogical reason, I believe the end result will change me for the better. My worries and concerns about life will disappear as long as I accomplish these particular things, but it doesn’t work that way.
We are programmed to look ahead, back, left, right and never at what is right in front of us. Whether it’s cultural or something written in our DNA, I don’t know. The programming exists.
I write a book, I worry about the sales. Sales pick up, I worry about more sales. I get more sales, I worry about writing another one. I write another one and another one and another one, and I worry if this is what I want to be doing with my life? So I try something different. I find success in my new endeavor, but the feeling persists.
And the cycle goes on.
We’re always looking at “what’s next?” That elusive “next” that will fill that need for more. We think it can be filled by more but it can’t.
The Beliefs that Undermine
In order to break this cyclic way of thinking, two ways thought patterns must be understood:
- Things can’t get any worse.
- Things can’t get any better.
These are false. Things can always be worse and things can always be better.
1. Things can’t get any worse. This frame of mind is supposed to be reassuring but it’s not. When people have this belief, it’s not a way of reassuring themselves, it’s the “poor me” attitude — my life is just so awful that if Hemingway were still alive, he wouldn’t be able to find the words for how awful this situation is.
I bet he could.
Solution: Know that things CAN get worse. In fact they could get a lot worse, so appreciate what you have.
2. Things can’t get any better. Believing that things can’t get any better would not be all that bad, if it was a sustainable frame of mind, but it’s not. Eventually you will see something that you want and realize that things in fact can be better, and the focus will be on the thing that will make your life supposedly better. Consequently you will be focused on what you don’t have, rather than what you do have. You know this. Don’t try to fool yourself.
Solution: Recognize your inherent need for more. The “what’s next?” attitude. Take steps to achieve more, but appreciate the process and what you have accomplished.
Commercials and media in general do a great job of discovering new shit that we don’t have. Beer commercials show us that we don’t have Coors Light and two busty blonde chicks at our disposal.
Makeup commercials show us that we don’t have synthetically large breasts or perfect anorexic induced curves, or a muscular man named Javior who rescues puppies and gives orgasmic massages.
Teachers, parents, pro athletes, actors, and friends tell us that we can accomplish anything if we work hard, so when we don’t have what we want, we deride ourselves for not working hard enough.
It’s in our nature to strive for what we don’t have, so we either work hard or feel guilty about not working hard.
What can you do?
There is a lot of information about happiness and all that, but sometimes the advice is unrealistic or too abstract. It’s best to keep it simple, so instead of leaving you with some abstract quote from the Dalei Lama or Tony Robbins that makes you feel better but doesn’t give you anything practical, below are the five things to do to rewire your brain to focus on the good in your life. I derived these from Positive Psychology, but I’m going to save you from all the jargon and research behind it.
The research says, “do these things and you will appreciate what you do have more.” Not really, I’m paraphrasing using my own words.
- Write 3 Gratitudes. Simply list three things that you have today (a roof over your head, the ability to breath, loving parents, a good friend, safety from war, the freedom to read blog posts like this). Do this everyday for a month without repeating yourself. Make a word document or write it by hand on a piece of paper. Refer to this list to remind you of what you do have.
- Journal. I don’t care if you don’t like to write or you think you suck at writing, or you don’t have the time. Find the time to journal daily. When I say “journal” I don’t mean journal in the way a stereotypical teenage girl journals about the hot guy sitting in the back of Geometry class. Journal in this context means writing about one positive experience you had today. Write about it. This writing isn’t for anyone to read but you, if you choose. So just write it out. Start typing. Write in fragments. Make grammatical errors. Spell words wrong. Ignore the green or red squiggly line underneath sentences and words. Just write. Trust me you’ll feel better.
- Exercise. Run, play tennis, basketball, bike, Eliptigo (look it up… it looks ridiculous doesn’t it?) or whatever. Do something. Check out this on developing a running habit.
- Meditate. There is no such thing as being good or bad at meditation. There are two levels: 1) The meditaters and 2) The non-meditaters. Meditation helps you focus on the present rather than every other thing that is going on. Start by sitting on a pillow for two minutes. That’s it. Focus on the cool air as you inhale and the warm air as you exhale. If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to your breathing. After a few weeks, if you are consistent, add a minute to your meditation.
- Random Act of Kindness. Look for opportunities when you’re walking around town or in your neighborhood to do something nice. Maybe it’s helping someone with his or her groceries, or buying a co-worker lunch that you rarely talk to. If you can’t find opportunities like the one’s above, email someone in your social network thanking them for something they did. I prefer to buy some cheesy thank you card with snoopy on it and hand-write it, but you do your own thing (DISCLOSURE: I need to work on this one a lot).
So there you go. If you don’t do any of these, that’s fine. I suggest focusing on one at a time. Establish one of the five into your daily routine for two weeks and then add another. The order doesn’t matter. Doing them does.
Leave a comment with advice, criticism, personal experience or just say “what up?” so I can see you as more than just a data point on my Google Analytics account. Thank you! I appreciate you reading regardless!