It’s interesting that when everything is going well in life—goals are being met, dreams are coming true, laughter is abundant—I rarely stop to consider what’s causing it. Rather than recognizing the habits leading me to happiness, I let my ego take the credit. I walk around on top of the world thinking, “This is just me. It’s who I am. This life thing is cake.”
It isn’t until the walls start closing in that I stop and ask, “Why is this happening? What am I doing wrong? What can I do to get back to where I was?”
There’s a reason the term “ebb and flow” has cemented its way into the English lexicon. Life is not a cake walk through and through. Days of feeling untouchable are usually met with waves of doubt, depression, and an overall sense of malaise.
Now, I’ve never been one to fight against my own weaknesses. I’ve always believed focusing on my strengths would be enough to overshadow those areas in which I fall short. But during a recent bout of, “woe-is-me” I had to stop and take a hard look at the behaviors taking me off the path of being a human capable of making it through the day.
I don’t know all the tips and tricks or life hacks needed for sustained “walking on sunshine.” All I can share is my current not-to-do list. These are the habits that guarantee unhappiness for myself and those around me.
1 Never Giving Up
I had a different article to share today, but it didn’t turn out very good. However, the longer I worked on it the idea of abandoning it became more difficult to accept. Every hour I spent trying to get it right, the more its perceived importance grew in my mind.
If you were reading that article right now it would only be because of my ego. It would be me sending you something and saying, “I worked really hard on this so it must be important and you had better enjoy it.”
Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” But knowing when to quit—when it becomes about ego over quality—is just as important as knowing when to stick.
2 Feeling Sorry For Myself
Last week my dentist said I may need an expensive and painful procedure. On the way home my car broke down. “Well, cancel everything! Hopes, dreams—just forget it. The universe is against me!”
I have pity parties for myself and they consume all my energy. I go home and close the blinds and shut out the world. This is a highly effective way to miss beautiful sunsets.
Feeling sorry for myself bleeds into all areas of my life until, instead of one problem, everything becomes unbearable. I waste time that could be used creating, laughing, and cheering up others.
Marcus Aurelius wrote, “It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed.”
3 Going into “Story Mode”
A small doubt will float into my head and the storyboards light up. It’s like there’s an entire room of writers in my brain that sit around projecting doomsday scenarios into my imagination.
Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Most of us suffer more in our minds than in reality. We worry the most about things that could happen. Most of which, of course, never do.
I need my imagination to create. But spending too much time up there is one of my most destructive habits.
4 Not Sleeping
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” I’ve always been jealous of the people who can operate at a high level with little to no sleep. When I don’t get enough sleep (7-8 hours) simple tasks require twice as much brain power and I only get half the quality of work.
When I don’t get enough sleep I get cranky—both with others and myself. I walk around like a little boy who needs a nap.
Same goes for not eating right or exercising. In fact, when I’m feeling miserable it’s almost always because I’m not taking care of one of these three things.
Health is the foundation of everything else. When I ignore health I always lose.
5 Being Jealous
Sometimes jealousy can be good. I use jealousy as one metric to measure quality work. When I say to myself, “Man, I wish I’d written/painted/cooked/built that,” it’s an indicator that something is high quality (because I have great taste).
However, jealousy mostly just takes me off my path. I see other people’s success and what comes with it and I think I need to compete. I think I need to put myself on their path instead of staying on my own.
Jealousy takes my eye off the big picture—off the long game.
6 Doing, Doing, Doing
Productivity porn is everywhere, hide your children’s eyes. Getting things done is important—I’ve written about productivity before and I’ll write about it again.
But doing, doing, doing when I shouldn’t is one of the deadliest habits on the list. When I force myself to “accomplish” when I’m feeling down, tired, or jealous—I’m always unhappy with the results.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing. There’s time when we just need to recharge and let the wave of emotions pass rather than trying to “do” your way out of it.
7 Not Being Grateful
I can remember my Dad yelling at me from the front seat of the car as a kid, “Don’t be ungrateful!” But only in the last few years have I learned that that’s not enough. We must be actively grateful each day.
Meditation is an important practice that can help anyone keep life balance in the long run, yet it can take 7-10 days (for me at least) of consistent work before noticing a major shift in mood. A gratitude practice, however, is one thing that I’ve seen create an immediate shift in mindset for myself and others.
Practicing gratitude is a silver bullet for turning a bad day upside down on its head.
My girlfriend, Ava just put together this free gratitude ebook to help people stay on track with a daily gratitude practice. But please don’t spend too much time on her site, because like I said before—I can get jealous.
Please, let me know what unhelpful habits you’re trying to break in the comments below.