“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” ~ Stephen Covey
I used to be a zombie.
I don’t mean that I died and was brought back to life; I mean I used to live on autopilot. Diligently doing the right thing.
Following one opportunity to the next, onward and upward.
Until I found myself boxed into a cubicle, earning a six-figure income while my soul slowly died.
I didn’t even realize it. I just thought this was what people did.
Everyone around me was the same. They weren’t happy, but like me, they stayed because of the money and conditions. I didn’t grasp it at the time, but we were all taking the easy path. We were all bottling up our dreams, too scared to change.
We were all selling ourselves short and living our lives on autopilot.
Many of my previous colleagues still do. But not me.
For years, I’d ached to do something different. I envied those who made a living by helping others. But I thought that life hadn’t chosen me, that it wasn’t my path.
I didn’t comprehend that I was choosing my path every day. I didn’t realize that by not making a conscious choice to do something better, to be something better, I was following a path to unhappiness.
Every day you choose how you live your life, whether you’re conscious of it or not. And choosing to live an amazing life doesn’t have to be complicated.
Today I live more consciously. I’ve chosen a new path, and I’m working doggedly toward it.
I’m not there yet, but my life is already more amazing. I’m living out some of my dreams while working toward others.
I make choices that align with my values and goals, and I don’t settle for second best.
I’ve discovered five simple ways to make life more amazing.
1. Focus on connection, not perfection.
You have a lot of pressure on you to be perfect.
You try to live a perfectly healthy life, or be the perfect parent, the perfect employee, or the perfect partner.
I used to get up at 5:30 every morning so I could exercise, meditate, tidy up, and get to work early. I pushed aside quality time with my family so I could do it all.
All of that takes time and effort, and it doesn’t make you happier. It makes your life less enjoyable, and less amazing because it robs you of time you could have spent with the people you love.
I now sleep in a little, and I wake up when my kids climb into bed for a cuddle.
Life is more amazing when you focus less on perfection and more on connections. People and relationships bring us happiness and enrich our lives.
Stop listening to the little voice of should. The one that says you should be exercising or working more when you’re already putting in a good effort.
You need to spend time with your favorite people because time is limited, and relationships are the most important thing in the world.
2. Live by your values.
Do you ever feel like something is not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on what it is?
Maybe you’ve been for a job interview, and it seems good, but something is off. Or you’ve met someone new, and they seem nice, but something isn’t right. Something you can’t articulate.
Most of the time, that feeling is a flag that something is not in line with your values.
If you sit down and list your core values and then list the values of the person or thing that doesn’t seem to fit, you’ll see a mismatch.
That not quite right feeling is a signal that something needs to change. It’s a signal I didn’t listen to for a long time, and it led to problems.
When I took my high-paying job, I did so because the organization focused on helping people, and that’s what I wanted to do, too.
Over time, I realized that the way they helped people was not in line with my values. Writing and implementing policy did not satisfy me.
I want to write directly to people so I can inspire and motivate them.
I value connections with people, but the organization valued structure and governance. Had I realized this mismatch sooner, and acted on it, I would have been happier.
Living by your values gets you into flow. Everything becomes easier from there.
3. Let fear be your motivator.
Some years ago, I read an article written by a senior executive retiring from a large organization.
He wrote something like, “I’ve worked hard here for over forty years. I’ve put in long hours and sacrificed time from my friends and family. And you know what? It wasn’t worth it.”
How sad. He’d lived his life on autopilot, and it was too late to change.
I keep his story in mind whenever I’m tempted to take the easy option. I question my motivation.
Am I slipping into autopilot, or is it what I want? If what I want is difficult and scary, what is the cost of not being courageous?
Let the fear of not trying, the fear of regret, and the fear of wasting your life be your motivator.
4. Don’t believe in signs.
Do you ever ask yourself if something is a sign from the universe?
Here is the cold hard truth about signs from the universe. They don’t exist. The universe doesn’t send you signs.
When someone thinks there’s a sign that supports or discourages a certain path, it’s just meaning that they’ve added to a situation or event.
And you only wonder if it’s a sign when you’re already in self-doubt.
If you go to the grocery store to buy chicken for dinner, and they’re out of chicken, you don’t wonder if it’s a sign from the universe that you should give up eating.
You just change your plans and make something else for dinner. You stick with your goals and keep going.
If Edison had listened to signs, he would have given up years before, and we’d all be sitting here in the dark.
His teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs because of his lack of productivity.
His first 1,000 attempts at inventing the light bulb failed. One thousand!
His interpretation of the situation? The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.
Keep working toward your dreams. Even if they take 1,000 steps.
5. Keep visiting the dream room.
Walt Disney used to have a series of rooms to help him and his team brainstorm their best ideas.
The first one was the Dream Room, where all ideas were possible, and no evaluation took place. Pure fantasy was encouraged, no matter how fantastic or absurd.
The second room was the Realist Room, where Walt and his team planned how to put the ideas into place.
Lastly, there was the Critic Room. This is where they’d look for problems and openly criticize. They’d think of what could go wrong, how they could prevent problems, and what the project might cost.
Walt’s system encouraged people to dream, but also to plan so they could achieve their wildest fantasy.
Can I be painfully honest with you? The I’m-shocked-anyone-would-say-that kind of honesty. The brutal truth. No holds barred (brace yourself).
Your problem is that you’re stuck in the Critic Room.
You get the flicker of a good idea, but before you can flesh it out and establish how it might work, you’ve shot it down in flames. It’s too hard, or too expensive, or too difficult. Or just too scary.
You jump straight into criticizing things you haven’t had the opportunity to plan. So you don’t dare to dream.
You feel the fear before you’ve started entertaining the reality of what might be.
You let all the criticisms you’ve ever heard in your life gang up on you and whisper, “You’re not good enough,” in your ear.
Here’s The Real Truth
The truth is that you’re just as good as anyone else.
You’re just as good as anyone who is living the dream life you wish was yours.
The only difference is determination. Because having an amazing life starts with dreaming up the life you want.
But that’s only the beginning. People who create an amazing life work to achieve it.
You can’t just sit around waiting for your dreams to happen. You must strive toward them. You must have determination.
So the real truth is that you have a choice.
You can choose to live an amazing life. Or you can choose to be a zombie, take the easy path, and sit there on autopilot. Which one will you choose?
Happy, free couple image via Shutterstock
About Cate Scolnik
Cate Scolnik is on a mission to help parents stop yelling and create families that listen to each other. She does this while imperfectly parenting two boisterous girls of her own, and occasionally hanging out on Facebook. Download her free Cheat Sheet to Get Your Kids from "No" to "Yes" in Three Simple Steps and reduce your yelling today.
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