When we were young life was easier, right? I know sometimes it seems that way. But the truth is life still is easy. It always will be. The only difference is we’re older, and the older we get, the harder we make things for ourselves.
You see, when we were young we saw the world through simple, hopeful eyes. We knew what we wanted and we had no biases or concealed agendas. We liked people who smiled. We avoided people who frowned. We ate when we were hungry, drank when we were thirsty, and slept when we were tired.
As we grew older our minds became gradually disillusioned by negative external influences. At some point we began to hesitate and question our instincts. When a new obstacle or growing pain arose, we stumbled and fell down. This happened several times. Eventually we decided we didn’t want to fall again, but rather than solving the problem that caused us to fall, we avoided it all together.
As a result, we ate comfort food and drank alcohol to numb our wounds and fill our voids. We worked late nights on purpose to avoid unresolved conflicts at home. We started holding grudges, playing mind games, and subtly deceiving others and ourselves to get ahead. And when it didn’t work out, we lived above our means, used lies to cover up lies, and ate and drank some more just to make ourselves feel better again.
Over the course of time, we made our lives harder and harder, and we started losing touch with who we really are and what we really need.
If you’re nodding your head, here are some ways you’re likely making your life harder than it has to be, and some ideas on simplifying things:
1. You look to everyone else for the answers only you can give yourself. – For much of our lives – especially at the beginning – we get told what do, how to think, what looks good, what “success” is, etc. You don’t have to buy into any of it anymore. Feel free to peel back the layers. Think for yourself. Listen to your Self. Break the mold. When you stop doing what everybody else wants you to do and start following your own intuition, you will find exactly what you are looking for.
2. You let others make you feel guilty for living your life. – As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, keep living your life YOUR way. Sometimes we get lost in trying to live for someone else, trying to meet their expectations, and doing things just to impress them. Take a moment and think about it. Are you doing things because you truly believe in them? Remember your own goals. Live, do and love so that you are happy, because when it comes down to it, relationships can end in an instant, but you will live with yourself for the rest of your life.
3. You allow toxic people to get the best of you. – You don’t ever have to feel guilty about removing toxic people from your life. It doesn’t matter whether someone is a relative, romantic interest, colleague, childhood friend or a new acquaintance. You don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain or make you feel small. It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior and makes an effort to change. But if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries and continues to treat you in a harmful way, they need to go.
4. You are part of the drama circle. – How would your life be different if you walked away from drama, gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day you speak only about the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same. Those that refuse to support you CAN be ignored by you. It’s as simple as that. Incredible things happen when you distance yourself from negativity and those who create it. Don’t get caught up in drama. Just walk on by.
5. You assign negative intent to other people’s actions. – Another driver cut you off in traffic. Your friend never texted you back. Your colleague went to lunch without you. Everyone can find a reason to be offended on a daily basis. So what caused you to be offended? You assigned negative intent to these otherwise innocent actions. You took it as a personal insult – a slap in the face. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t take things personally. Don’t assign negative intent to the unintentional actions of others. Let today be the day you look for the good in everyone you meet.
6. You are too worried that people will steal what you have. – Let this be your wake-up call, especially if you’re an artist, writer, entrepreneur or creative type: There is always more to be gained from sharing knowledge than from hoarding it. Don’t worry about people stealing your work; worry about the moment they stop. Be honest, helpful and undeniably good at what you do. No clever marketing scheme, social media buzzword, or competitor can be a substitute for that, ever. Whenever people want what you have, regardless of the circumstances, you’re doing it right.
7. You’re trying to compete with everyone else. – If you compete with everyone else, you will become bitter. If you compete with a previous version of yourself, you will become better. It’s as simple as that.
8. You have been too much of a taker. – One way to deal with stress and loss is to immerse yourself in doing good for others. Volunteer. Get involved in life. It doesn’t even have to be a big, structured event. Say a kind word. Encourage someone nearby. Pay a visit to someone who is alone. Get away from your self-preoccupation for a while. When it comes down to it, there are two types of people in this world. There are givers and there are takers. Givers are happy. Takers are still unhappily wondering what’s in it for them.
9. You focus on popularity over effectiveness. – Seek respect, not attention. It lasts longer and it’s far more useful in the end. Do things and build things that make a lasting difference. And above all, never confuse popularity with effectiveness. Being popular means you’re liked for a while. Being effective means you’ve made a difference.
10. You keep cutting corners and taking the easy way out. – DO what is right, not what is easy. And do the right thing even if no one else will ever know. Why? Because YOU will know.
11. You focus on every point in time other than now. – You can’t change yesterday, but you can ruin today by worrying about tomorrow. Be present. Tomorrow will reveal itself exactly as it should, just as yesterday already has.
12. You are stuck on your mistakes. – It’s important that we forgive ourselves for making mistakes. We need to learn from our errors and move forward. Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you learn from it. A happy, successful life, after all, is not a life absent of problems, but one that’s been able to rise above them. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
13. You have an “all or nothing” mentality. – There’s no such thing as perfect success, just as there’s no such thing as perfect failure. This is why labeling things in extremes – all or nothing – success or failure – is an exercise in futility. What does exist, however, is a continuous series of imperfect moments filled with infinite possibilities and opportunities. Appreciate the grey area between the extremes – the journey – the experiences. And above all, never let success get to your head or failure get to your heart.
14. You expect life to always be happy. – The world can be a difficult place. You may experience suffering, heartbreak and loss. These circumstances can take a toll on your happiness, but do not lose hope. Think about the Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy, which states that opposite forces are often interconnected. In suffering, you can find great strength, in heartbreak you can find resilience, and in loss you can find a renewed appreciation for life. Life is always Yin and Yang. Opposites are interdependent and interconnected. You can’t completely shield yourself from sadness without also shielding yourself from happiness.
15. You keep thinking about worst-case scenarios. – Sometimes your mind unnecessarily wrestles with events that aren’t even remotely likely. Your sore throat is life threatening. Your lost driver’s license fell into the hands of a miscreant looking to steal your identity. Negativity like this only breeds more negativity. It’s a happiness riptide. It will carry you away from shore, and if you don’t swim away it will pull you under. The bottom line is that you can see the world through a lens of doubt and despair or hope and excitement. It’s your choice. Either way, you will someday arrive at the same destination. The only question is: Do you want to arrive with a frown or a smile?
16. You’re letting loss devour you. – Sometimes you have to work at happiness. Some hurdles in life are too difficult to clear simply by adopting a positive mindset. Do you need to forgive someone? Do you need to let go of a failed relationship? Do you need to come to terms with the death of a loved one? Life is full of loss. But, in a sense, true happiness would not be possible without it. It helps us appreciate the good times. It helps us grow. If you’re struggling to see the light, you’re not alone. Find someone who understands and talk to them. Reach out for support. Don’t let loss devour you.
17. You avoid facing the truth. – The truth does not cease to exist when it is ignored. You cannot find peace by avoiding things. You have to feel it to heal it. Bring your fears and weaknesses front and center and shine a blazing spotlight on them. Because the only way out is through. The pain of facing the truth is SO worth it in the long run, I swear.
18. You put off making decisions. – Bad decisions are almost always better than no decisions at all. Indecisiveness just delays, while bad decisions teach us to yield better ones. In the end, we most often regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.