The biggest obstacles in your life are the one's your mind creates. Think for a second about where you would be right now in life if you had stopped procrastinating, on big or little things you have been wanting to do. Maybe it's to lead a healthier and more fit lifestyle. Maybe it's getting or finishing a degree in something, learning another language, writing a book, asking that person you really like out, going on your first skydive....we all have things we really want to do with our lives. Yet we let our lives go by and get a day closer to death every single day...and we don't do them.
1. Waiting for the Perfect Moment
"I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions." –Stephen Covey
Here's a hint: There is and probably will never be a "perfect"moment for you to do whatever it is you want. There will always be some circumstance that could be a bit better, or make things easier. Waiting for the perfect circumstances is one of the main excuses people tell themselves that enables procrastination...because it shows you have the best intentions of doing something. The best intentions in the world don't mean anything if there is no action.
Good is better than perfect...and starting right now is better than waiting your whole life for circumstances that may or may not ever come. Take control of your own life and goal. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on procrastination was "Create a To-Do list. If there is anything that can be done now - do it." Sounds so simple, but it helped me a lot. Once you have what you need to do written down in front of you, at that point it's kind of like "Well why not just get it over with already?"
2. One more day won't be a big deal
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. –Chinese Proverb
We all don't even know if we are going to be here tomorrow. After a particularly scary incident on the last hike I went on, I was close to not being here anymore myself. Way too close for comfort. It puts things into perspective. Even though that is a bit extreme the point I'm making is that one day DOES matter. Once you get comfortable with talking yourself into "Doing it tomorrow" next thing you know you have 50 pounds to lose instead of 5...because you kept pushing off starting your healthy diet and lifestyle to "tomorrow"...which will always and forever be tomorrow. Especially if you are someone who easily gets distracted or has a lot going on, you will find yourself getting much more done if you just replace the word "tomorrow" with a date. What's the date today? Okay so instead of tomorrow, commit to doing what you supposedly will do tomorrow to doing it on that date instead. Congratulations, you just took a dream and turned it into a goal.
3. I Can't Decide Exactly What To Do
I have been guilty of this a lot. I will want to do something (I will use exercise as an example again) like do more cardio, or try yoga. But then feel flooded with options...what kind of cardio? Pilates? Zumba? Should I just run?...What kind of yoga? Should I take a class? Do videos at home? How long?...I sit there weighing my options, with the intention of actuaslly doing something....then realize an hour has gone by, then a day has gone by, and I haven't done anything to get closer that my goal. Sound familiar?
Especially in today's age of information being right at our fingertips, it is really easy to get sucked into researching as much information that you can get to weigh all of your options and make an educated choice. This is a trap that a lot of intellectual people can easy fall into....and then end up never getting anything useful actual done. Well, as Thomas Edison said "Knowledge without application is meaningless." The best way to get over this information overload is to realize that this is indeed a form of procrastination and isn't getting you anywhere if you keep putting off taking action. Give yourself a deadline to have a decision. You want to do more cardio, cool tomorrow at 8am do more cardio...you have until then to figure out what kind, but at 8am tomorrow your ass will be sweating in some kind of way. Be strict on the time deadlines you give yourself to start whatever you are weighing your options for. You will be amazed at how much you get done.
4. I'm not in the mood/ Have no motivation
"Either you run the day, or the day runs you." –Jim Rohn
Do you think you are adding anything good to your mood by putting off more things that you should / want to be doing? I used to use this excuse a lot when I didn't feel like exercising. Maybe I had a really crappy day at work or school, maybe I'm hungover from going way too hard at a party the night before. Doesn't matter...one thing that was true each and every time I skipped my workout was that I ended up feeling worse for the rest of the day. Not only feeling bad about what was bothering me in the first place, but on top of that I would have that cloud of regret tossed on top of the pile of bad feels.
Don't add to the pile of crap if you are already feeling under pressure. Take some action. Commit to doing just a bit, 10 minutes. You will probably find yourself motivated to do more once you have finished with that. Usually just a few minutes of action saves hours or even days of regret.
5. It's Overwhelming / Hard and I Don't Have the Energy to Complete it
"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life." - Theodore Roosevelt
A lot of big goals and things we want to accomplish are indeed not easy...so we don't do them. While it is true that some things are extremely overwhelming (this is how I felt about learning programming for a long time) you will never get anywhere if you don't start. So instead of letting yourself get pressured by how long/ much effort it will take to COMPLETE, instead just take one little step at a time. Focus on the step, finish the step, then move on to another step. Once something is started the steps to complete it come naturally, starting really is the most difficult part. Also, if you want to achieve great things in life your first mistake is expecting it to be easy. Mediocrity is easy. Greatness is not.
#1: Why you shouldn't give a fuck
We would all be happier if we simply gave less fucks about things that are bothering us. Trust me, I realize this is easier said than done, but once you get into the practice of realizing when you are giving a fuck about something that isn't worth your energy...it gets easier to let it go. I'm not talking complete apathy here, where you care about nothing at all. I'm saying recognize when something makes you feel bad in some kind of way, acknowledge it for what it is. If there is anything to learn from it..take that lesson. Then don't waste energy by giving a fuck about it anymore. Once you've learned what you can from it, it's futile to keep rehashing it.
I recently read online about a psychologist who explained why we should learn to drop stresses and worries. She likened them to a glass of water. If you hold a glass of water for a moment, it doesn't seem very heavy. Hold it for an hour and it will cause your arm to hurt. Hold it for an entire day and you will be paralyzed and in a lot of pain. In each case, the weight of the glass never changed. It's how long you hold on to it that determines how hurt you are. Same with stress and worry.
The same problem will be that problem no matter if you spend all day worrying and fretting about it, or if you acknowledge it for what it is and then let it go. The choice is yours how long you hold on to it. Just like you are hurting your own arm by holding up a glass of water for too long you are just hurting yourself by holding on to stress.
Next time you are mulling over problems and feeling like crap just remind yourself to put down the glass and relax.
After Reading "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer I was surprised at how much research has been done on what goes into being creative. One thing that really resonated with me was the likening of creativity to a muscle. Just like muscles weaken and shrink when we don't exercise, the same is true for creativity. The more you create, the easier it becomes. A recent Harvard study measured creativity as 85% a learned skill. We can all be inspired to tap into our creative sides, and here are a few tips on how you can do that right now.
1. The Color Blue. Specifically light blue, the color of the daytime sky, has been shown to double peoples creative output. From the study referenced at Science Daily "... blue environmental cues prompted participants to produce twice as many creative outputs as when under the red colour condition." Twice as much inspiration, and encouragement to think outside the box...just from being surround by the color blue. Whether that means going outside, or chilling in a blue room the next time you want to tap into your creativity...this is a really easy and shockingly effective thing to do.
2. Meditation. I cannot give enough reasons why meditation (purposeful mindfulness) is amazing and everyone should do it. This one practice alone has changed my life for the better in countless ways. Being able to be alone with your thoughts is such an awesome feeling. Clear your mind and let thoughts pass. Becoming aware of this is a huge part of understanding and being more comfortable with yourself. This also creates a fertile space for your mind to later be actively engaged in creating. It is giving yourself a fresh slate on which to paint new ideas.
3. Sleep. Sleep is a surprisingly essential part of the creative process. Studies show that our unconscious mind continues evaluating and problem solving while we sleep, without distractions from our conscious mind. From the wiki on creativity ... "Creativity involves the forming of associative elements into new combinations that are useful or meet some requirement. Sleep aids this process. REM rather than NREM sleep appears to be responsible" Getting enough (deep) sleep gives your brain the tools necessary to fuel creativity. Yet another reason not to deprive yourself of recharging your batteries.
4. Freewriting. Freewriting smooths the process of bringing your creative thoughts out and onto paper (or computer). It's simple; to freewrite is to write your stream-of-consciousness for a given amount of time. Even 5 minutes every day is effective. It gets you in the habit of translating your thoughts into literal ideas. Write everything that comes into your head, no matter what it is, just don't stop writing for the amount of time you specified. You will be surprised at what flows out.
5. Sensory Deprivation. Animals can teach us a lot. When I am out hiking I am aware sometimes of just how clumsy I (and other hikers) sound when I'm walking, compared to how quiet and sly many animals are. They cannot speak in the way that we do, and so their senses have to be sharp if they want to survive. They take each step quietly. They can smell the faintest scent of predators or food from far away. Same with people who lose one of their senses, like blind people with an amazing sense of hearing.
Try depriving yourself of one of your senses...wear a blindfold and pay attention to what you touch, hear, even taste. Wear earplugs outside and walk around. There will be nuances you notice that way that you never paid attention to before. Perk your other senses up and then use that as inspiration.
6. Go somewhere new. People learn things faster and easier when they are in a new place. I experienced this firsthand when I moved to Montreal and was speaking French conversationally within 2 months (admittedly nowhere near perfect, but my mind was still blown). I had been studying Spanish for 4 years in high school then college, and could just never quite get the hang of it. Yet the French came much easier, I was even dreaming and thinking in French while I was there. I did a bit of research on the subject and it turns out many people share a similar story to mine. Whether it be a language, or a new skill, or inspiration...studies have shown it is easier to flourish and learn new things when one is in a new environment.
One reason why is because when you are in a new place your brain has to be more vigilant. You are not able to be on "autopilot" like most of us tend to be for a lot of our daily activites. Our brains are essentially re-learning countless little things (how to navigate the new space, hearing different sounds, registering new faces). As a result when one attempts to learn or create something in a new space it comes easier because the brain is already in a state of absorbing and processing new information. You don't have to go as extreme as my example and move to another country, but even just a slight change of scenery...a park you have never been to, a new city, a different library or a botanical garden....can open your mind in amazing ways.
Our comfort zone is safe, familiar, and (obviously) comfortable. But most people get caught up in the rut of never leaving it...asking people why bother? Well...if you are comfortable dying at this point without ever growing as a person beyond what you are now, then cool...stay on that couch.
There is a huge world out there that you have seen probably less than 1% of...there are epic things out there. The only way to ever see them or ever know is to go get them. Remember that story about the guy who never did much? Yeah, nobody else does either.
So today was one of those days for me this afternoon. At least, me a few years ago would have considered it one of those days, AKA my day would have been ruined. I was late for an appointment this morning, got stuck riding my bike in the oppressive southern California heat, and got honked at by idiot drivers who don't understand how bicycle laws work. But you know what? Today was actually a great day. I switched over my thinking from being a victim, to taking control of how I reacted to the silly little inconveniences I was faced with. As a result I met some really cool people, and coasted out the rest of the day in a smooth, happy state of mind.
1. First and foremost, get over the whole "Bad Day" mentality. When you have mentally surrendered to "This just isn't my day." you are making a choice to notice more bad things that are going to happen to you. I can guarantee there were many good things about the day that you failed to notice because you were already too caught up in "having a bad day." You already let something have the power to ruin the rest of your day (which has infinite possibilities of awesomeness). Step one: get your head out of that cycle. So some shitty things happened today, and that sucks. Acknowledge them, then let 'em go. There is a Buddhist saying that I love: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." So let go of any pent up aggression or anger from things that made you upset today, and they won't have the power to bring you down any longer.
2. Be in the Present: Don't dwell on negative things any more. Shift your thinking by acknowledging 5 things that are going on around you Right This Instant that you like. Are you safe and warm at home? Are you healthy? Is the weather nice? Is your dog/cat/pet next to you? I'll give you one reason to happy right now: You're here. You're alive. You are the universe experiencing itself Right Now...we're all lucky to be able to say that! This Lao Tzu quote says it best: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Be in the present. Appreciate your eyes that can see right now, ears that can hear...skin that can feel. Be happy you have those things, many people don't. Let yourself get lost in appreciating those sensations.
3. Exercise: One of my main reasons for exercising is the mental and cognitive effects it has on me. When you exercise your body releases endorphins, which have been scientifically proven (many times, in study after study) to boost people's mood, help us sleep better, and be all around healthier. Exercise is actually been proven a more effective treatment for mild depression than anti-depressants. You don't have to kill yourself at the gym, just get your blood pumping! Go for a walk! If you can, go for a hike, enjoy nature. Just break a sweat...at the end of it I guarantee you will feel better than when you started. You'll look better too, a little tighter, a little fitter, which feeds the cycle of you feeling even better. The best thing about endorphins? We are all holding an infinite supply, if we so choose to tap into it. So go for it, take a few minutes and work off your stress...beautiful things always come to follow.
4. Smile: Yup. It is that simple. If you have yet to see/hear the TED talk about body language by Amy Cuddy, do yourself a favor and watch it here. She basically delves into why and how our mental state is directly affected in many ways by our physiological state. Basically our bodies act certain ways when we are in certain mental states. If we are in a submissive frame of mind our body language shows that, same as if we feel dominant. The amazing point of her talk, however, was that we can "Fake it till we make it" and trick our minds into feeling better. People who exhibit "power poses" and dominant body language cause their body to release more testosterone and in effect, feel and act more dominant. This was also proven in an experiment where researchers found that people who smiled (or even held a pencil between their teeth to mimic smiling) actually being in a better mood. Smiling causes the release of endorphins and serotonin, feel-good hormones that have a direct effect on your mood. It is one of the easiest ways to cheer up. Smile... even if you don't feel like it...and pretty soon you will feel like it indeed. This is just taking control of your emotions, instead of being on autopilot based on whatever happens to you any given moment. Making the choice to be happy is a beautiful feeling.
5. Gratitude: The fact of the matter is, we ALL have things we should be grateful for. Even if you had the worst day ever...do you still have legs that you can walk on? Can you imagine how much worse off your day would be if you couldn't see? Couldn't hear? Just got diagnosed with a terminal illness? All I'm saying is that we all have a lot that we could and should be grateful for, but it is so easy to lose sight of that when a few (or a lot) of obstacles come in our way. Being late to work, or getting a traffic ticket, or any of the millions of other little obstacles that come in our way sometimes can genuinely feel crappy when they happen. But never lose sight of what you have, and what you are grateful for. The beautiful thing about life is that how you feel is up to you. You ARE in control of your life and how you react to things. And there is so much to be grateful for, even if it's just the fact that you are alive and able to experience this wonderful universe right now. Make the most of the short time you have; don't waste it feeling like shit. One thing that really resonated with me when I read "The Secret" (a book I love but am a bit conflicted about) is that it is impossible to feel good when you are having bad thoughts, and it is impossible to feel bad when you are having good thoughts.
I will leave you with that challenge. Take control of your thoughts, let the bad ones pass, and acknowledge them, learn from them, then...let them go. The past is gone, it does not exist anymore, don't bring yourself down by dragging yourself through things you didn't like. A great way to start thinking positively is by thinking about and appreciating the things you are grateful for. Gratitude is one of the most powerful positive emotions any of us can ever have, and it's an easy way to switch your train of thought, and consequently your entire day, around to being awesome.
Bonus: One amazing, quick video that inspires me whenever I need a little boost, is "This is Water."...my words will do it no justice, but it will surely brighten you up, too...and change your frame of mind to just a bit more positivity.
As a solo female backpacker and hiker I definitely get a lot of quizzical looks on the trail, and a lot of questions off the trail. To be brutally honest, I know going it alone (male or female) isn't the brightest or safest thing to do, but it's really hard to find people who are into this sort of thing, with the same schedule as mine.
Many of my friends cannot fathom why I would want to spend so much of my free time in the wilderness, sometimes with a pack that weighs almost half of what I do strapped to my back, no showers, and among wild animals. Sometimes I'm not sure of an exact reason myself, either. All I can say is that I absolutely LOVE it. I can't get enough. There are some obvious reasons...the views, the Quiet that one can never fully experience in a city. But there is so much more to why it's awesome, why it's worth the suffering it takes to climb a mountain...but it's so hard to put into words.
Then I saw this quote:
"When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what the storm is all about" - Haruki Murakami
Even though there is a much broader meaning to this, the first thing that came to mind for me was hiking, climbing, and backpacking when I read this. Because it hurts, it is downright painful sometimes, and scary too. I just climbed and rappelled down waterfalls that people die on every year. Why risk it? ...Because you don't ever come off a mountain the same person you started as. You leave a part of you there, the weakest part. You come out stronger, more appreciative, and changed.