If there’s anything I’ve learned in my brief 21 years on Earth, it’s that vague and generic advice articles are as useless and frustrating as cutting a steak with a spoon.
I’ve learned a few schnazzy things in my brief stint of life though.
For example, I’ve noticed people sometimes comment on how “chill” or “satisfied” I am with my life and accomplishments. While I’m by no means a singing lark 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and while I suffer from insecurity as much as the next quarter-life-crisis sufferer, I do like sharing ideas on being happy, feeling satisfied, and eliminating barriers to your goals.
Do you want to suck less and win more? Much of it is rooted in paradigm (your outlook on life) and habits (actions).
1. Walk. Sleep. Drink water.
Guess what? I hate to break it to you, but no matter how intellectual your ambitions are, you’re going to have to work for them in the casing known as your body. So why don’t people take better goddamn care of their bodies?
No, I’m not going to wag a finger at you to exercise. I’m not even going to say “eat vegetables.” All I ask is you do three simple things:
- Walk to places.
- Sleep a reasonable amount.
- Drink water.
That’s it. Even if you’re disabled, you can still be an all-star at #2 and #3 no problem and live well.
These are the fundamental, stripped-down, bare basics that ensure a reasonably healthy life; I guarantee. And they’re not huge commitments either: take the stairs instead of the elevator or get off a few stops early; sleep, like, at least 6 hours a day; and for golly’s sake drink some water so it doesn’t look like your skin’s going to peel off.
Do these three things (ACTUALLY) and you will feel better.
2. Have this epiphany: that people really don’t care
Humans are social animals. We care what other humans think of us. We care a lot. We think everyone is judging us, based on everything, from the colour of our skin to the colour of our jeans, to our accomplishment, our grades…EVERYTHING.
But since everyone’s so busy worrying about themselves being judged, why should I worry about myself being judged?
We’re social animals, but we’re also indulgent, self-obsessed narcissists. Granted they’re not racial-profiling CIA, people are too busy worrying about themselves to judge you. You have better things to worry about than external judgment, my friend.
3. Accept you probably won’t accomplish everything, and prioritize accordingly
So you want to write a book, run a marathon, sail across the Atlantic on a hot air balloon, get a doctorate in quantum physics, and make some money as a veterinarian. Well, good on you for having big ambitions, but I’m gonna lay it on you, champ: you probably won’t do it all.
It’s great that you think highly of yourself, but it’s very rare to have the time, manpower, resources, and finances to accomplish every single thing you want to accomplish—at least to the degree you want them to be.
Say you want to learn the oboe and the violin. Both are quite challenging instruments that utilize very different parts of your body. You can attempt to be an expert at both, learn both, and be a mediocre oboist and a mediocre violinist. Or, you can focus on one and be a virtuosic violinist or a virtuosic oboist.
The point is, you can’t be good at everything. You can be ok at lots of things, or you can be great at one or two things. It’s up to you to decide what you’d rather do, but you can’t have everything. That’s not the way the world works.
4. Accept that people are not worth comparing yourself to
This relates to #2. Comparing yourself to other people is flirtatiously tempting. You grow up with Jill, and throughout the years, Jill seems to be doing so much better than you are. She wins science trophies every year. She’s an all-star on the varsity soccer team. She knows how to navigate on a sailing boat by the stars, and she’s on her way to getting a PhD in astronomy and physics while same-age you has a an undergraduate liberal arts degree and three kids that are just as mediocre as you are.
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel,” says Steve Furtick. You saw all the science trophies Jill won but you missed that time she failed a math test; she just never told you because you got an A on the very same test. You saw her play that one game and kill it when usually she’s more of an average player, you just never saw her.
And there’s no use comparing her academic achievements with yours. She just happens to love astronomy and physics while you honestly don’t give a damn. She’s traveling the world lecturing about telescopes but that lifestyle keeps her from having the kids she honestly would like. And hey, she always tells you how much she admires people who can churn out term papers every semester. Lab reports are no big deal to her, but essay writing makes her crazy.
People come from different circumstances, have different values, and hold different priorities. I stopped comparing myself to my all-star med school friends a long time ago after recognizing that there isn’t any use comparing myself with someone whose interests and priorities are so far removed from mine. Not being in med school doesn’t mean I’m stupid, it just means I didn’t invest in the passion, time, and work necessary.
5. Accept that things don’t happen instantly
If you started eating 100 calories less on Monday, would you have abs by Friday? Probably not, you only ran a defecit of 500 calories. But check back in a year, and you’ll probably see results (if you stick to it) after losing 36,500 calories!
We often want to Change Ourselves. We recognize a Major Character Flaw and we go into a panic mode of Oh My God I Have To Improve Myself. It’s great that you actively want to change yourself for the better, but you have to recognize that even a habit like time management will take months, if not years, if not decades, to fully change.
And to change, you need discipline…
6. Live a disciplined lifestyle…but plan to be spontaneous
The majority of my childhood not-at-school time has been spent studying classical piano. If it has taught me anything at all, it is the value of discipline.
Now, different people have different ideas about discipline. One person might think practicing a musical instrument thirty minutes a session three times week is good discipline. Another person might think practicing two hours a day every day including weekends all year round is a minimum amount of discipline. During my last year of playing (at around age 15/16), I was practicing three hours a day, minimum, every day of the week, spring, summer, fall, and winter. Entirely self-motivated; overbearing nagging parents and teachers exempted.
It’s up to you to define what is discipline. But the bottom line is, you have to stick to it. (Not your mother.)
Ask anyone who has become successful at something through their own blood and sweat. They will tell you the value of discipline. As my dad has taught me, discipline means respect. Respect for your job, your project, your instrument, or whatever it is you want to succeed at. Discipline means prioritizing, say, doing well on that chemistry exam over Tinder drama and ad hoc ski trips.
So if you’re struggling with accomplishing something, ask yourself: am I prioritizing this at a level I am satisfied with? What is the minimum level of discipline I should invest in? Define that level, and stick to it like a law.
This blog, for example, requires what I’d say is a moderate amount of discipline. I define my blog-commitment as posting two times a week, and I try my best to follow that.
Now all your hippies are going to start whining and accusing me of wasting my youth on classical music and not having fun and being a Debbie Downer. To that, I have two things: 1) when you commit to doing something you truly love—even with back-breaking discipline—that’s living life to the fullest, man; and 2) plan to be spontaneous.
7. Plan to be spontaneous?
Hey, I like creativity. I like writing and poetry and drawing and music and goofing off after a few bottles of beer. I don’t believe in sticking to humdrum routine all the time. In fact, I think routines kill brain cells.
A lot of us, though, simply have too much responsibility and not enough time to partake in this thing called “fun,” despite its obvious, oft-touted health benefits.
That’s where time management and planning to be spontaneous happens.
Set aside a time of the week: a Saturday morning? A Sunday night? Or even just an hour. During this time, you will do no work. You will be spontaneous. You will place yourself in the middle of downtown, pick a direction, and just walk straight until your feet hit an ocean, stopping at whatever on the way tickles your fancy.
Guys, for the sake of preventing cardiac arrest at a young age, let your mind go bonkers once in a while.
And you won’t feel bad. Because this is good for you, damn it, and because you planned for it (thus working around the time slot to get serious shit done 😉 ).
8. Have a ______ Day Off
On this note of creativity, have a Writing Day Off. Or a Painting Day Off, Hiking Day Off, Staring Creepily At People In Malls Day Off. Pick something you really really really love doing, that you never have enough time doing, and just dedicate a day once a month or something to do it.
Quoting my dad again: people can steal your money and your possessions, but people can never steal your knowledge.
Knowledge is money that will never deplete and money comes free in the form of books (at least library books!). Read books and grow your mind, grow your intellect. Read everything: Freudian critique, post-modern surrealist war poetry, nineteenth-century erotica, The Hunger Games. All literature has value. You’d be surprised at how many academic essays are on Twilight.
If you absolutely hate reading, watch television. I’m serious. But don’t watch television for the hot actor that plays the lead character. Watch a critically-acclaimed series and read articles people have written about its themes. Television is the new novel. My university has held an academic symposium on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example; sadly, I wasn’t even enrolled when they did that.
Pssst. By the way, gentlemen, the ladies love a man who reads. We really don’t care about your muscles; reading is sexy.
10. Eat bananas.
I don’t know how true this one is but some science has linked bananas to happiness. I don’t know if this is correlation or causation but I can honestly say I’m a happy person and I’ve eaten at least a banana every day for my entire life—or at least since I’ve had teeth.