Everyone is on a journey. We are constantly growing and adapting as we have new experiences. This happens at different rates, in different areas, in different directions, and as such there is a lot of variance between people. Depending on where you are on your personal journey, advice from people who have grown less than you will sound obvious, and advice from people who have grown more will sound absurd. Advice from a different area or direction will seem irrelevant to your life. But after you’ve journeyed a bit more, that absurd and irrelevant advice might start sounding quite practical.
This is happening to me every day. Personal growth used to be an ignored aspect of my life. Eating healthy was for girls who wanted to be thin. Ha! It wasn’t very long ago that I regarded meditation, living in the present, being in the here and now, oneness with everyone and everything in the universe, etc as very kooky things. I considered myself a very rational person and not in to spiritual hoo-ha with no basis. But now those are regarded as some of the most rational things ever. Even today such things as remembering past lives (if we have them), chakras, and channeling energies still seem kooky, but they very well may make a lot of sense to me in the years to come, so I keep an open mind to these things. Still, advice in those areas often fall on deaf ears because I don’t have any experiences to relate to. C’est la vie.
Lately, I’ve had a lot of free time to do whatever I want. It hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies though, because it has forced deep introspection into my life. What is the most meaningful way for me to spend my time? Who am I, and what do I want to do for the world? What would I passionately do for free, or if happiness was the currency? These are hard questions to answer. I’ve been thinking and meditating more – trying to find some answers. This has led me to some realizations that are helping me find clarity and give me some direction in life. There are aspects I feel are hard to articulate – but I’ll try my best to communicate them to you.
1. You don’t need to do anything.
Do you stress about your long list of stuff to do? Do you get self-aggressive, and feel down on yourself because you are procrastinating and not doing the things you they want to do? Days, weeks, months, seem to go by and you look back and feel horrible about all that ‘wasted time’?
Do you ever set goals for yourself? And then get self-aggressive when you fail those goals? And then you feel like shit and the chances of you doing anything productive go out the window?
I do all of the above.
For much of my life I felt I needed to ‘save the world’. I needed to fix all of our environmental problems, or help millions live a better life somehow. Maybe even prevent a war. What an ego, eh? I have put a lot pressure on myself to be a ‘top performer’ in everything I do, and this has become a source of unhappiness for me. I often feel stressed and overwhelmed because I have so many things I want to do, so many things I should be doing, and so many things I ‘need’ to do, but don’t want to do. It is hard for me to sit around being content not doing anything, yet the desire to do everything superbly makes it hard to do things. And then there are those difficult to answer questions that put me on a mental loop..
Fortunately, I recently realized how silly it is to let a self-created to-do list make you unhappy. This has been a boon for my life, and I want to share this with you.
One day, I was having an unhappy morning. As I often do, I was constantly chatting in my head and I did not feel at ease. I felt like something wasn’t right: as if I needed to figure out my life purpose in that moment, or I needed to earn more money, work on my website, read more stuff, drop everything and go travelling, exercise, or anything else on my checklist that I wasn’t doing. I tried to keep myself busy by doing things to make myself feel at ease. My mind wouldn’t be quiet though, and of course, this mental state killed my focus, productivity and motivation – causing everything I did to be done haphazardly and lots of wasted time lost in thought.
Later that day, I finally felt happy again. How? I stopped doing things. Let me ‘splain..
I remembered that all those things were not more important than being happy and living in the present.
Look at your to-do list. None of those things matter. Really.
If you completed everything on there right now, you would still largely be in the same position. You would still have the same internal issues. You would still have to live with yourself. You still give in to your emotions and your thoughts. If you are doing those things because you think they will bring happiness, you are wrong. If there are things you want to read, there will be more things to read after you’ve finished. If there are things you want, there will be more things to want after you’ve acquired them. No matter what you do, it is not going to bring everlasting happiness.
There will always be more to do, and you will never be happy – for as long as you have a mindset convinced that doing things is the solution to your state of unhappiness. Chasing those things will leave you empty, and you’ll chase more because that’s where you think happiness is. Happiness isn’t “just around the corner”, once you’ve completed some to-do or acquired some item. This is an incredibly easy trap to fall into – and it’s an endless cycle that will make happiness always feel like it is just around the corner. A corner you will never turn. You don’t need to satisfy every request that your mind conjures up; you don’t even need to satisfy any of them.
Clear your entire to-do list and shopping list if it is getting in the way of your happiness. If you live with a “happiness first” mindset, things to do will naturally follow and every day won’t be an internal battle.
Every day, your first priority should and foremost be trying to live in the present, and let everything else naturally follow from that. Be happy. Enjoy the day. That’s the only thing you ‘need’ to do. Everything else should come second. Instead of living in your thoughts, doing things while feeling uneasy, bring yourself into the present, and then continue to live with a more content, focused, and clear mindset. Maybe the clarity granted by that state will even guide you to do something more meaningful than you otherwise would have.
The world isn’t holding you up to anything. You can just live your life and do what you want. You will need to sleep regularly, and eat regularly. Both of those already take up a lot of time. And it’s near impossible to argue that we shouldn’t be doing those…because we require both for continual functioning of our body. So those are worthwhile things to do. And with the rest of the time? You have no responsibility to do anything. That’s right. You can die at any point, even before you finish this article. I’m sure someone has died while reading a blog post before (I really hope you don’t, though). So what if you place your happiness on a goal of doing something, and then die before it’s done? You’ve lived unhapply for no good reason.
Don’t let all those things you feel you need to do bring you down. Allowing yourself to be unhappy because you’re not doing them ruins a perfectly good present moment. Approach those things with a different mindset. They are all opportunities – opportunities for a better world that you actually know how to make happen. So think about those things and get excited about the possibility of doing them. If they worry you, remind yourself that they don’t need to be done. They CAN be done – if you want them done. But they don’t need to be done. Your to-do list is a list of possibilities.
If happiness isn’t acquired by doing things…then how? Focus, not on DOING things, but on BEING. Find your inner peace and happiness within this turbulence. Be present and fully aware of every moment.
I think this is a reason why yoga and meditation are always recommended as daily practices. They both help bring you into the present moment, and from there you can continue to live the rest of your day. You could very well end up doing the same things, but you’ll be in a much different state while doing them. If you do it a couple times a day, it will help readjust you throughout the day, and avoid that overwhelming feeling of having lots to do. Take 5 minutes right now to try!
Cultivate this habit and you will be happy, even with a giant to-do list that may be collecting dust! And you can have your cake and eat it too! I truly believe a person living like this has the best chance of actually ‘saving the world’.
If you can teach yourself to be happy in the present moment regardless of your circumstances (and huge to-do list), you’ve pretty much won at life.
2. If you think you have a problem, it’s because you think you do. There are no problems in the present moment.
If you think you have a problem, you do. If you don’t think you have a problem, you don’t. My mind, like others, is often very over active and the mental chatter can be exhausting.
Once you think you have a problem, you’ve left the present moment. And the problem you think you have is irrelevant. The problem you actually have at that point is that you’re not in the present moment. If you came back to the present moment, that problem you think you have vanishes. The problem only exists in your thoughts. If you stop thinking – there are no problems.
The only problem you EVER actually have is that you are not living in the present moment.
When you are in the present moment, everything falls into place and your next action becomes simple.
Every problem you’ve ever had has been created in your mind. There have never been external problems. Everything “out there” is exactly the way it should be, because that’s the way it is. The very fact that an external condition can be a problem to one person, but not to another makes it clear that the problem is not inherent in the external condition! The problem is in the person’s interpretation of the event. It’s created by their mind, and only exists there.
All of your problems are due to an internal rejection of the present moment. You have preferences for ‘how things should be’ and this gets in the way of your happiness. When you think something like “This can’t be happening!” – does that sound like an acceptance of the moment? It IS happening, and you need to accept the present moment for all it is, and then you can respond appropriately in that moment, just one step. When you injure yourself, say you cut off the tips of your fingers with a table saw, the rejection of that moment will make it a lot worse. Sometimes when I cut myself, I think “The worst is already happening…and what I’m feeling isn’t negative, and possibly not even ‘pain’ – I am feeling the sensation of my body now coping with this new injury; You could even flip it to the positive: it is healing it. You could think that this is what your body feels like when it is healing from losing your fingertips.
Everything external is exactly the way it needs to be in that moment. Fully embrace it and appreciate the fact that you can take action from this moment to do whatever you want, which could be an attempt at changing what you see.
I experienced a fleeting moment that I would describe as the most free I’ve ever felt – all responsibility I felt I had to do anything just dropped away. I just stopped thinking about it, and pedaled forward (I was on a bike). I realized that all of my problems are created in my head. Only I was holding myself to do these things, and I can just as easily stop holding myself to do these things. So I chose to stop. I decided the most important thing in the world in that moment was to enjoy my bike ride. Nothing else needed to be done or thought about.
I find my mood can change even without anything external changing. Like the example above, nothing changed except my thoughts. What does that say about happiness? It’s not somewhere ‘out there’. It’s in you, right now, as you read this! Try to observe yourself during those moments where you feel happy, and at peace. What is different about them? Do you have no wants or desires? Or perhaps you’re just relating to them differently? You can learn from these moments.
Self-consciousness also doesn’t exist in a no-thought, present moment state. I remember riding by some people and began to wonder what they thought about me. Since I was so clear-headed at the time, it was easy to notice the thoughts appear and that I began consciously thinking, and I stopped immediately. It felt freeing beyond words to not have the problem of what they thought about me anymore – and all I had to do was not think about it. When I stopped thinking about it, the problem went away. Completely. Other than my thoughts, there was no problem. The world remained the same – only my thoughts changed. The only problem you EVER actually have is that you are not living in the present moment. Because when you are in the present moment, everything falls into place and your next action becomes simple.
Leave your conscious mind out of things. It doesn’t need to be involved in most of your life. It’s slow at thinking and making decisions. And it’s ineffective. Imagine if you had to consciously process all of your incoming information? Your brain does massive amounts of work processing, interpreting, and storing huge amounts of information every moment of your life. The billions of photons that enter your eyes, the feeling of a breeze on your skin, the sound waves that enter your ear are interpreted for the moment, and also stored for recall, with highly accurate recall. Your conscious mind is a small part of your brain, and cannot work at the level the other parts do. I think it’s really good for overriding your brain’s automatic functions and changing deeply ingrained habits. But other than that, your subconscious does most things better and faster. So quiet your conscious stream of wordy-thoughts and allow it to do that. Your conscious mind always thinks with words. Your subconscious is beyond words. I noticed that when I meditate, I usually have a ‘jolt of feelings’ and then I try to intellectualize what I’m feeling in words, with my conscious mind. I think doing that is an ego related pursuit – so that my ego has good opinions, or things to say in a conversation that may or may not happen. But by the time I’ve felt that feeling, my subconscious has already processed it and moved on. Trust your subconscious, it has guided a lot of your growth so far. You can think ‘in feelings’, rather than in words. Words slow things down. Your conscious mind has a specific set of uses and it is great when used for those. But it has a habit of trying to take over and solve all of your problems, and even create artificial ones to solve. Let your subconscious mind do most of the work and you’ll be more efficient.
Just breathe, and let the world flow into you. Let your senses do some sensing, and focus on all of that input. That’s the present moment. You may hear birds, or cars – you may see a computer screen, a wall behind it, and perhaps a window to the outdoors. You’ll feel the air on your skin, the taste in your mouth, and the scent of the air. And a quiet mind. Isn’t it perfect?
3. You can only be yourself. So, just be the best you.
You can’t be anyone or anything else. Yourself is all you ever need to be! It’s all you ever can be, and all you ever will be.
Sometimes when I write, I feel I’m not writing to my best ability. Sometimes I have lots of clarity, and sometimes my mind feels muddled. More often than not, I have a difficult time finding the words to properly express myself. I’ll feel down about my writing, for several reasons, and not feel motivated to write. And I can’t think of anything good to write. I feel that way right now, and sometimes I stop writing because of this. This can be frustrating – but it shouldn’t be. So here I am, writing, even if I am not feeling my best. I convinced myself, because I am still being the best I can be in this moment, and I want to finish this post. I have more posts to write. As long as I focus on doing my best, everything else will fall into place.
Never reflect on the past and feel negatively about the way you may have been. If you behaved in a way you didn’t like, just live your present moment differently. You can’t change the past. You can only be you in your present moment.
You should never reject yourself. You may feel really tired, or angry and reject the state you’re in. Accept yourself. If you want something to change, you can take a present moment step towards that change, but you can’t be anything other than what you are in that moment. Maybe if you’re tired, you will go nap. Or if you’re angry, you could meditate and try to get some higher perspective.
Another advantage of accepting who you are in the moment is that jealously and envy disappear completely.
Suppose you are envious of an expert chess player You may think “I wish I was an excellent chess player!”. You may not actually want to play chess though. That expert player spent many of his moments improving his game by practicing, reading, and thinking about chess. It’s what he chose to do with his time. If you are living your life in the present – but get no urges to play chess…then you don’t actually want to be a chess player. This can be a hint that it is an ego-driven pursuit. Your ego just wants to be able to call itself an excellent chess player, and it wants others to think that. You just want to be an excellent chess player, but you do not actually want to play chess. It would take a lot of your time and energy that you are not willing to commit in the present. I’m sure it’d be nice to be an expert at things we don’t actually do, or even want to do – but it doesn’t work that way. So again, just be the best you. Follow your own personal desires, and don’t be envious of someone following theirs, especially if it’s different.
It can take a lot of introspection to figure out if you actually want to do something, or if you just want to be the guy who did it.
Maybe you just want to believe you do. Maybe you are trying to live up to expectations placed on you. Where is your motivation and inspiration for that goal coming from? The easiest way to clear your t0-do list is to decide it doesn’t need to be done anymore. Is everything on your list truly important? Or has it become a source of stress as you look at the same item months on end, but never have the initiative to do it? Do you actually want to do it?
Take this writing for example. I often feel a lot of resistance to writing in the present moment, but long-term it keeps surfacing as something I’d like to do. I tell myself not to worry about not writing – it shouldn’t be something I beat myself up over. See #1 – this is a self set goal and I can just as easily unset it. If I truly want to write – it will surface as a present moment desire to want to write, and then I will do it. If I don’t get those urges, I would just be forcing myself to do something I don’t want to be doing! And all for the satisfaction of my ego who wants to be known as a writer (it wants to HAVE written, but not to BE writing).
That doesn’t sound like a recipe for happiness to me. (thankfully – I really think I want to BE writing, which is why I got out of bed at 5 am this morning to work on this post)
Maybe you really do want to. And so you beat yourself up because you haven’t accomplished it. You start to feel down on yourself, like you’ve wasted a lot of time and negative words fly through your head directed at you, sourced from you. You are probably meaner to yourself than you are to others, and others are to you. Don’t be your own worst enemy. This is counter-productive.
I know first hand that when I start to feel like crap about not writing a blog post in awhile, the chances of me sitting down to write a good post pretty much drop to zero. I’m not in the proper mindset at that point, and I don’t even feel good about myself. I feel at that point I wouldn’t be able to write a good post. As long as you are living your life as you want in the moment, you should not feel this way for not achieving arbitrary goals your mind has created. My best chances of actually writing that blog post would be to accept the moment, clear my head of self-hating thoughts, and writing whatever I resonate with in that moment. I may not end up writing my best post ever, but I would write the best post I could in that moment.
Just follow what makes you happiest. Imagine a reality where the happier you were, the richer you are*. And then try to maximize your happiness. Follow a passion. Being happy will ensure you make money!
*Arguably, reality is like this. No imagining necessary. Instead, perhaps, imagine ‘happiness’ was the global currency and you want to earn as much as you can.
That’s all I have to say about that for now. (4000 words later…)
I almost broke this post into 2 parts but I felt cheap. I didn’t want to let you down with 1 realization today with a title like that.
Like all the best things in life, you must experience to truly understand. Words can only get so far (even 4000 of them), but once you have experienced it, you’ll light up and you’ll realize what all those things you’ve been reading actually meant. That’s what happened to me.
I hope you’ve gotten some insight from this. If this has helped you along your path, and reading this was at least worth your time, then it was worth my time. If I’ve changed your world, please let me know!