“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
— Abraham Lincoln
As you age you will learn to value your time, genuine relationships, meaningful work, and peace of mind, much more. Little else will matter.
Deep down you know that already, right?
Yet today, just like the majority of us, you are distracted by so many others things. You give your time to lots of meaningless time-wasters. You take your important relationships for granted. You get to work skeptically with inner resistance. And you let everyday stress get the best of you…
Because you’re human, and human beings are imperfect creatures. We get overwhelmed and caught up in our own heads, and sometimes we don’t know our lives to be any better than the few things that aren’t going our way. We scrutinize and dramatize the insignificant, and then we sit back scratching our heads in bewilderment of how blah life feels. And as we continue to dwell on these things, we try to distract ourselves to numb the tension we feel. But by doing so, we also continue to distract ourselves from what matters most in life.
So today, let’s discuss three super-common daily habits Angel and I have seen distracting hundreds of our course students and conference attendees over the past 15 years — some default patterns far too many of us engage in on a daily basis, draining us of our true potential…
1. Treating every day as though it’s “just another day.”
A good life always begins now, when you stop waiting for a better one. Yet so many people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness. Don’t be one of them. Don’t wait until your life is almost over to realize how good it has been, or just how much potential you’ve had waiting for you every single day.
Over the couple decades, Angel and I have personally learned to pay more attention to the beauty and practicality of living a simpler and more intentional life. A life uncluttered by most of the meaningless drama, distraction, and busyness people fill their lives with, leaving us with space for what’s truly meaningful. A life that isn’t constant rushing, worrying and stress, but instead contemplation, creation, and connection with the people, projects, and work that matters most to us. By redefining our priorities, and building healthy habits to back them up, we’ve literally been able to change our lives.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and stressed out a lot lately, I highly recommend you rethink how you’re spending your time, and replace the meaningless with the meaningful.
Start by being honest about the distraction and busyness in your life…
- How often do you engage in the exchange of valueless gossip?
- How often are you thinking about other things when someone is talking to you?
- Do you check social media apps on your phone when you’re working, or when you’re spending time with loved ones?
- Do you send text messages while driving?
The biggest cost of filling your life with needless distraction and busyness (assuming you don’t crash from the texting and driving), is a gradual long-term decline of your effectiveness and happiness. When you get in the habit of persistently dividing your attention, you’re partially engaged in every activity, but rarely focused on any one. And this dizzying lack of focus eventually trips you up and brings you down.
The solution? More presence and focus on what matters most — getting rid of the excess. The efficiency and effectiveness of your life relies heavily on the elimination of non-essentials, so you can focus more on your true priorities. And while plenty of full-length books have been written on this topic, let me give you the very basics of what Angel and I have been practicing:
- Identify what’s most important to you, and eliminate as much as you possibly can of everything else. In other words, be ruthless about putting first things first. Say “no” to unnecessary commitments that do not support your priorities.
- When you start an important activity, turn to it with your full attention and set a conscious intention to be fully present with the act — to do nothing but this one activity for a set time. You might think, “Just write” or “Just run” or “Just be here with this amazing child of mine.”
- When you notice your mind drifting and thinking about something else, or if something happens and your attention momentarily gets pulled elsewhere… just notice. Then take a deep breath and return to being fully present with the activity.
- Do your best to empty your mind of any preconceived notions about the activity — like judging the moment against some ideal — and just be curious about how the activity is truly unfolding right now. Allow yourself to be moved and surprised by it.
- Treat each moment with reverence, as if you are one with what’s happening.
- See the brilliance of the activity you’re focused on — the brilliance of the present moment — that underlies everything else happening in your life.
The bottom line here is that too often our minds are set on getting somewhere else or doing something else. Too often another beautiful day comes to an end with hundreds of unnoticed moments behind us — we didn’t notice them because they were insignificant to us, and because we were too distracted. And over time our entire lives become a massive pile of unnoticed and insignificant moments on our way to more important things. Then the important things get rushed through too… to get to the next one, and the next, until our time is up and we’re left questioning where it all went.
But it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. This moment is the beginning of the rest of your life, and you can make the best of it! The underlying key is to realize that you are not on your way somewhere else. Right now is not just a stepping-stone to another place — it is the ultimate destination, and you have arrived!
2. Waiting and hoping to “find” something to be passionate about.
Passion is powerful. Your inner passion will likely become a key source of your greatest achievements and your finest moments. The fevering excitement of love. The joy of getting in flow. The clarity of a purpose. The ecstasy of letting go and being one with the present moment. In a nutshell, this is what passion gradually does for you. Without it there is less potential in all walks of life.
Truth be told, if your life is going to mean anything to you down the road, you have to actively and passionately engage in it. You have to deeply invest yourself in activities that move you. But the key thing to realize is that almost any activity can move you if you let it. You don’t need some massive, life-engulfing passion to suddenly appear in your life. Because real passion comes from within, and the source of passion in your life may be as simple as having a job to do — a job that feeds your family, for example — and feeling really good about doing it right.
Of course, many of us are still hopelessly trying to “find our passion” — something we believe will ultimately lead us closer to happiness, success, or the life situation we ultimately want. And I say “hopelessly” primarily because, again, passion can’t really be found. When we say we’re trying to find our passion, it implies that our passion is somehow hiding behind a tree or under a rock somewhere. But that’s far from the truth. And if you’re waiting to somehow “find your passion” somewhere outside yourself, so you finally have a reason to put your whole heart and soul into your life and the things you’re working on, you’ll likely be waiting around for an eternity.
On the other hand, if you’re tired of waiting, and you’d rather live more passionately starting today, and experience more joy and meaning in your life in the long run, it’s time to proactively inject passion into the very next thing you work on. Think about it:
- When was the last time you sat down to work on something, with zero distractions and 100% focus?
- When was the last time you exercised, and literally put every bit of effort you could muster into it?
- When was the last time you truly tried — TRULY tried — to do your very best with what’s in front of you?
Like most of us, you’re likely putting a half-hearted effort into most of the things you do on a daily basis. Because you’re still waiting. You’re still waiting to “find” something to be passionate about — some magical reason to step into the life you want to create for yourself. But what you need to do is the exact opposite!
When I was a kid my grandmother used to tell me, “Stop waiting for better opportunities. The one you have in front of you is the best opportunity.” She also said, “We spend too much time making it perfect in our heads before we ever even do it. Stop waiting for perfection and just do your best with what you have today, and then improve upon it tomorrow.”
Believe it or not, recent psychological research indirectly reinforces my grandmother’s sentiments. For many years, psychologists believed our minds could directly affect our physical state of being, but never the other way around. Nowadays however, it is widely documented that our bodies — for example, our momentary facial expressions and body posture — can directly affect our mental state of being too. So while it’s true that we change from the inside out, we also change from the outside in. And you can make this reality work for you.
If you want more passion in your life right now, act accordingly right now.
Put your whole heart and soul into something…
Not into tomorrow’s opportunities, but the opportunity right in front of you.
Not into tomorrow’s tasks, but today’s tasks.
Not into tomorrow’s run, but today’s run.
Not into tomorrow’s conversations, but today’s conversations.
I’m absolutely certain you have plenty in your life right now that’s worth your time, energy, and passionate focus. You have people and circumstances in your life that need you as much as you need them. You have a massive reservoir of passionate potential within you, just waiting. So stop waiting! Put your heart and soul into the small things you’ve got right in front of you. Do so, and your long-lost passion will show up to greet you. And almost everything you do will start to feel more meaningful and memorable.
So my challenge to you is this: Live your life not as a bystander. Live in this world, on this day, and every day going forward as an active, passionate participant! (Note: Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the Passion chapter of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”.)
3. Being too close and controlling every step of the way.
Henry Wadsworth once said, “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that line, and it’s mostly about acceptance…
Acceptance is letting go and allowing certain things to be the way they truly are. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about improving the reality of your life; it’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself and your thoughts about everything else. This simple understanding is the foundation, and only with this foundation can there be peace of mind and growth in the long run.
But how? How do you let go and change your inner state to one of acceptance?
There are many methods, but let’s start with some distance and breathing…
Everything seems simpler from a distance. Sometimes you simply need to distance yourself to see things more clearly. You are more than whatever is troubling you. A very real part of you exists beyond your worries, beyond your doubts, independent from the troubles and frustrations of the present moment. Step back and observe this reality.
Be present. Watch yourself as you think, as you take action, as you experience emotions. Your body may experience pain, and yet that pain is not you. Your mind may encounter troubles, and yet you are not those troubles.
Think of the most difficult challenge you face right now. Imagine that it’s not you, but a close friend who is facing this challenge. What advice would you give her? If you could step back and, instead of being the subject, look at your situation as an objective observer, would you look at it any differently? Think of the advice you would give your friend if she were in your shoes. Are you following your own best advice right now?
Don’t allow your current troubles to cloud your thinking. Take a few steps back and give yourself the benefit of this distance, and then give yourself some great advice.
Perhaps this advice is to simply breathe…
As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath.
You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it.
Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe — like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them. Just let them breathe.
Now look around the room you’re in, and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe.
There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.
When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are.
Practice this. Make it a daily habit. And see how doing so gradually changes your life.
An Exercise and Reminders for Keeping Your Habits on Track
If you feel a like you’ve mishandled one or more of the points above — or if you’ve just been lacking in the success and joy departments lately — this is for YOU…
Choose any area in your life that you want to improve, and then:
- Write down the specific details about your current circumstances. (What’s bothering you? Where are you stuck? What do you want to change?)
- Write down your answer to this question: What are the daily habits that have contributed to your current circumstances? (Be honest with yourself. What are you doing regularly that actually contributes to the situation you’re in?)
- Write down a few specific details about the “better circumstances” you’d like to create for yourself. (What would make you happy? What’s the goal? What does an improved situation look like for you?)
- Write down your answer to this question: What are the daily habits that will get you from where you are to where you want to be? (Think about it. What small, daily steps will help you gradually move forward from point A to point B?)
And as you’re working on actually implementing the necessary life changes, remind yourself: Your goal (#3 in the exercise above) is a good general guidepost. But your goal won’t make changes happen, your daily habits will. Too often we obsess ourselves with a goal — an end result — but we’re mostly unfocused when it comes to the habits — the recurring steps — that ultimately make that goal a possibility. In other words, too often we overestimate the significance of one big defining moment and underestimate the value of making a little bit of progress every single day…
So consider this: If you completely ignored one of your goals for the next few weeks and instead focused solely on the daily habits that reinforce this goal, would you still get positive results? For example, if you were trying to lose weight and you ignored your goal to lose 10 pounds, and instead focused only on eating healthy and exercising each day, would you still get results? YES you would! Gradually you would get closer and closer to your goal without even thinking about it. So use this knowledge to your advantage starting today!
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to not fall back into your old habits and patterns of living simply because they’re more comfortable and easier to access. It’s your turn to remember that you’re leaving certain habits and routines behind for a reason: to improve your life — because you can’t move forward if you keep going back. And, it’s undoubtedly your turn to reclaim your full potential and make every day count going forward!
But before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which one of the points above resonated the most today?
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