I was in a funk for a very long time around my “Quarter-life crisis” period and like most people, I turned to the Internet for advice before asking someone for it.
I kept running into much of the same “visualize, affirm and be grateful” stuff – but it really didn’t do much for me. I felt like it was almost like telling someone to visualize that they were skinnier – and then actually expecting to see it happen without doing any work.
Eventually, I found a few key principles that make a massive difference.
Here are five things that worked for me.
- Be 100% honest with yourself
Sometimes, many of the decisions we make on a daily basis aren’t even our own decisions – we think they are, but they’re really society’s decisions.
We tell ourselves we want to be successful, or want to be a doctor, or want to spend the summers in Paris and learn French.
I mean, who doesn’t want to do those things, right?
One of the big things I found myself wanting was to be perceived as a success – I wanted to be successful, even though I had no idea why I wanted to be successful.
When I dug deeper and asked myself why, I realized it was just for respect. I didn’t actually care about becoming successful; I just wanted the respect from other people.
So did I really want it? I guess not. I guess it was something I picked up that society “told” me I should want.
It’s harder than it seems. We often live based on the outside – not the inside.
The hardest question in the world is this: “What do I really want?”
And while we’re on it, think about it: how do you really define success?
Is success the nice car, the trophy spouse, the big house with the white picket fence?
Does it mean waking up and doing what you enjoy?
Does it mean traveling multiple times a year, or maybe just traveling year round?
What is success to you? You might find that you’re not far off.
- Do a brain dump
The daily rush of confusing, back and forth emotions is one of those things that can drive you insane if you’re in a period of life where there’s lots happening between the ears.
We don’t want to wake up, and then we don’t want to go to sleep.
We’re thinking about the past and wondering about all the mistakes we made, then we’re projecting into the future and feeling anxious about what may come next.
Here’s what worked wonders for me to silence that monkey mind:
Vent… on paper. Just write all the stuff that frustrates you, confuses you, and makes you want to scream.
If it’s frustration about the present, write it down.
If it’s depression thinking about the past, write it down.
If it’s anxiety thinking about the future, write it down.
And it’s miraculous – it’s almost like as soon as we voice these frustrations, they get quieter. And sometimes, they get silent. But all of them get more stuck on the page the more we write them down. Suddenly, we go from having a hundred negative thoughts in our mind to having just a few. And then the more we write things down, the more they rest on the page.
- Create positive snowballs
When we feel like we’re a sinking ship, it can feel like everything has massive resistance surrounding it.
Go to the gym? No thanks.
Get up and take a shower? I’ll pass.
Get out of the house and meet someone for coffee? Not happening.
After a while, pretty much any and all motivation and desire to do stuff has gone out the window.
And then we find ourselves sitting on the sofa, endlessly watching TV really struggling to do much at all.
One thing that can work dramatically here is what positive psychology calls positive snowballs. Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you wanted to develop the daily routine of meditating thirty minutes a day.
The average person will just jump right in to meditation full-force, go for a few days, and in less than a month will be back to the exact same routine of not meditating at all. That’s what happens to me a few times a year.
It’s tough to go from zero to one hundred in a week, but it’s also even tougher because mentally we’re not in the routine of doing this. And once we get discouraged, it’s tough to get back on track.
So rather, what we do is simple:
Rather than trying thirty minutes of meditation, we just do ONE minute.
Yes, one minute.
It seems pointless and it seems like it won’t do anything, but it’s not the time that matters: it’s that we develop the psychological positive snowball – we begin associating meditation practice (achieving the one minute goal) with being happy.
And when the bar is set so low that you continually hit the goal, you develop a positive snowball that’s easy to maintain, rather than a huge goal we fail to achieve which constantly discourages us.
So whatever we’re struggling with doing, even if it’s just getting up off the couch, what can we do for just one minute to begin building that positive motivation again?
It’s not about the time at the start – it’s about associating the activity (like meditation) with being easy. And if we bite off too much at the start, that won’t happen.
- Just quit… and do whatever YOU want
I’ll never forget, I had a conversation with my mom a few years back when I was in the midst of working to build my own business and I was putting in agonizing hours with a full time job.
She said, “You’re always so serious… you try too hard.”
A massive light bulb went off.
I guiltily admitted that half of the time, I felt like I should be working 12-14 hours a day – even though I didn’t necessarily even want to.
I felt like that’s what new business owners just do. It was such a ridiculous idea, and I was fully caught up in the myth without even realizing it, but I got sucked into someone else’s dream.
In fact, I thought about my average daily routine and the things I did every single day, and you know what I found?
Most of the time, I wasn’t even doing stuff I wanted to do. I had all these lists of things I should do:
“I should do Judo because it’s pretty cool, it helps me defend myself, and it’s fun to talk about.”
“I should volunteer on the weekend because that’s what a good person does.”
“I should work more hours in my business if I want to get ahead.”
I had all these “shoulds,” but you know what?
I asked myself if I actually liked doing any of these things – if I considered them play, fun, and the answer was a very clear no.
So why did I keep doing them?
I made a promise to myself: I’m just going to quit doing all the stuff I “should” do for ANY reason other than enjoyment and fun… and do whatever I want.
I also removed the stress that comes with forcing myself to use all my time “achieving goals.”
Once I filled my afternoons with stuff I wanted – reading in coffee shops, going for walks, working on fun projects – my happiness and playfulness came back.
- Do a life 180
Sometimes we hear people say, “Just quit your job, move across the world, and start over again!” as if it’s the magical cure for depression.
For those of us that can’t “escape” our lives, there’s something else we can do to feel a lot better.
When we’re feeling depressed, it feels like there’s something missing. It feels like we’re in this supreme state of lack.
And it’s paradoxical that when we feel the most lack, like we need something, that’s often the best time to do something awesome for someone else.
So I gave myself a new rule: on the days where I felt the absolute worst – especially when I didn’t feel like doing anything for anyone else – I had to do one awesome thing for someone else.
Sometimes it was as simple as going to the coffee shop during the morning rush and buying the person behind me coffee.
Sometimes it was as simple as volunteering at a local pet shelter.
And sometimes it was just volunteering at a soup kitchen.
The paradox is that often service is what leads to completion.
When we’re in an extreme state of lack the last thing on our mind is wanting to help someone else (how can I help someone else if I can’t help myself?) but it’s fool proof.
Whenever I was my worst, I simply made myself forget about myself – and helped someone else live the life they wanted.
These five daily changes dramatically pulled me out of my funk. What about you? What else has helped you get through a tough time?
About Alex: Alexander Heyne runs Modern Health Monk, a site that helps busy professionals get the body, health and life they want through the power of tiny habits. You can get his free guide, 5 daily habits to double your energy & get your dream body here.