“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.”
– W Clement Stone
In 2010 I had the best year of my life. By far.
And then in 2011, I had the worst year of my life. By far.
I was living abroad in China, living the life I had always dreamed about – full of adventure, variety, and spontaneity. I had friends from 20+ countries all over the world. I learned to speak another language. I was constantly traveling. I had the closest friends I’d ever had since childhood.
In other words, life was the way it was supposed to be.
And then I moved back to my home country.
I had no friends.
I moved back into my childhood home because I couldn’t figure out “what next?”
And then, for the first time in my life, I got really depressed.
It’s a funny thing being depressed if you’ve never been depressed before – suddenly, there’s a wall of resistance around everything in your life.
Everything is so difficult. It takes so much effort. Every day is a struggle.
It overwhelmed my thoughts, and every waking moment I found myself driving around town thinking, “meaningless – all this stuff is totally meaningless.
I would apply to jobs but find myself thinking, “this is all pointless. Why am I doing this?” I sabotaged every action of mine.
Naturally, when you view everything in life as meaningless, it becomes that way, and I was really struggling. And that’s when I decided I was tired of being worn out by this constant feeling of hopelessness.
It took me more than a year to piece this together, but I found 3 things that successfully flipped the coin for me – three things that saved me.
1. Create a happiness ritual
When you’re rebuilding life from the ground up, every day is filled with chaos.
So one of the key things I did for myself was create a “happiness” ritual. It added predictability and stability to my life.
I wrote down a list of all my favorite things throughout the day, and here’s what I found I enjoyed most:
- Sitting in coffee shops reading with an afternoon espresso.
- Exercising. It turned off my mind and made me feel good.
- Kayaking in the ocean. It was a peaceful afternoon session where I could enjoy the outdoors and peace and quiet.
So I had three key activities as part of my happiness ritual, and I made myself do them every day.
The key for me was to figure out how to fill the day with the stuff you love.
Even if it’s just a few things that take an hour, create your own daily happiness ritual and do it every day.
2. Do a 30 day experiment
The second thing I did was try to figure out when I was in flow throughout the day.
Flow is an experience we’re all familiar with – time evaporates, the activity is enjoyable, and we’re learning and growing – but many people don’t know that in studies it’s been shown that Flow producing activities are often the highest highs of the day for many people.
So I did a 30-day experiment – I set a timer on my phone to go off every 2 hours.
When the timer went off, I had to write down two things:
- What was I doing?
- Did I feel like I was in “flow” with whatever I was doing? Was it enjoyable, was time passing effortlessly, was my mind turned off?
At the end of 30 days, I had tons of information about activities that I naturally was engaged in and super happy without even knowing it.
For example, I learned that freelancing with some clients was actually a high point during my day. I left our meetings with energy and excitement.
I also learned that talking with people was flow producing. As an introvert this was a bit surprising, but just casually talking with people about life consistently put me in flow and was a high.
These were all things I didn’t know 30 days before.
Once I found out which activities naturally made me happy, I began filling my days with more of them.
3. 80/20 Your Problems
The last thing I did was fix the “nagging” issues that bothered me.
In other words, what things were making me the most unhappy throughout the day? What were the main things affecting my mood?
I nailed it down to a few things:
- Loneliness. I had no social ties.
- Work I disliked
- Certain time periods – weekends, and late nights
I then viewed each thing as a problem that needed creative solving.
So for example, I found myself constantly craving social interaction.
Rather than staying at home, I started hanging out in a café in the mornings. Over time, the people began to recognize me, and friendships naturally developed from there.
Since I was relaxing (or sometimes working) in the café, if I wanted to take a break from reading I could find people to talk with. Even if it was quiet, I was surrounded by people.
My work was also un-enjoyable and I wasn’t feeling engaged. I had way too much time to be thinking. Over the coming months I gradually shifted jobs to a startup with a more relaxed atmosphere filled with people I got along with.
Last, my flow test taught me that certain periods of the day were really low for me. Late nights after work at home alone and the weekends (when I had a lot of free time) were the lowest lows.
So I scheduled activities that filled those gaps – I started taking Judo in the evenings. I started a meetup.com group on the weekends and started taking day trips into New York City to see museums.
I viewed everything in my life making me miserable simply as a puzzle piece – it was something I could creatively fix, rather than just something I had to deal with.
As time went on, one day someone came up to me and mentioned how “happy” I seemed. I hadn’t really thought of it, but it was true. The pieces had all started coming together.
What about you?
At some point, many of us end up at the lowest low in our life. Nothing seems to work. Nothing is enjoyable. There’s resistance everywhere.
Just remember that there’s always a creative way to get back on path. And maybe these three ways – having a happiness ritual, doing a 30 day flow experiment, and doing an 80/20 of your nagging problems – will help you get one step closer back to a life you love.
And don’t ever forget – we are far more resilient than we think. Just because last year might have been the worst year of your life, doesn’t mean this year can’t be the best.
Alexander runs Modern Health Monk, which helps people reverse health problems caused by 21st century life. Check out his free 8-part weight loss mini course, or start with his free insider’s health kit.