It’s funny how when everything is going well in life (goals are being met, dreams are coming true) rarely do we stop we stop to consider the habits behind our state of contentment. We walk around on top of the world thinking, “This is just how I am. This whole ‘life’ thing is cake.”
It’s only once the walls start closing in do we stop and ask, “Why is this happening!? What am I doing wrong!? How do I get back to where I was!?”
There’s a reason the phrase “ebb and flow” has cemented its way into our culture’s lexicon. Life is not a cake walk through and through. Those days of feeling untouchable are usually followed by waves of doubt, depression, and an overall sense of malaise.
Maybe one day I’ll figure out seven habits for creating a rainbow bridge to a magical field of permanent elation. For now, I hope you join me in keeping this not-to-do-list close by for when the emotional waters get dicey.
These seven habits are highly effective for making ourselves and those around us absolutely miserable.
1. Never giving up
I worked hard on a different article I wanted to share, except it didn’t turn out very good. But the more energy I spent on it, the more difficult abandoning it became. With each hour I worked, the article’s perceived importance grew in my mind.
If you were reading it right now, it would only be because of my ego. It would be me saying, “I worked really hard on this so it must be important and you had better enjoy it.”
Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” But knowing when to quit, when ego overshadows quality, is just as important as knowing when to stick it out.
2. Feeling sorry for yourself
Last week my dentist said I need an expensive and painful procedure. On the way home my car broke down. “Well, cancel everything! Hopes, dreams, just forget it. The universe is against me!”
I have pity parties for myself and they consume all my energy. I go home and close the blinds and shut out the world. This is a highly effective way to miss beautiful sunsets.
Feeling sorry for ourselves bleeds into all areas of our lives until, instead of one problem, everything is unbearable. We waste time that could be used creating, laughing, or cheering up others.
Marcus Aurelius wrote, “It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed.”
3. Going into “story mode”
A small doubt floats into my head and the storyboards lights up. It’s as if there’s an entire room of writers in my brain who sit around projecting doomsday scenarios onto my imagination.
Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
We often suffer more in our minds than in reality. We worry most about what could happen. Most of which, of course, never do.
We need imaginations to create. But spending too much time up there is a destructive habit.
4. Not sleeping
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” I’ve always been jealous of people who can operate at a high level with little to no sleep. When I don’t get enough sleep (seven-eight hours), simple tasks require twice as much brain power and I get half the quality of work.
Plus, I get cranky, both with others and myself. I walk around like a little boy who needs a nap.
Same goes for not eating right or not exercising. If you’re feeling miserable, I’ll bet you’re ignoring one of these three pillars of health.
Health is the foundation of everything else. When we ignore health, we always lose.
5. Being jealous
Sometimes, jealousy can be good. I use jealousy as one metric to measure quality work. When I say to myself, “Man, I wish I’d written/painted/cooked/built that,” it’s an indicator that something is high quality (because I have great taste).
However, jealousy usually just takes us off our path. We see what comes with other people’s success and think, “That’s what I need to do!”
Jealousy is a distraction that blinds our eyes from our own big picture. It distracts us from playing the long game.
6. Doing, doing, doing
Productivity porn is everywhere. Hide your children’s eyes!
I understand that getting things done is important, but doing, doing, doing when we shouldn’t is one of the deadliest habits on the list. When we force ourselves to “accomplish” when we’re feeling down, tired, or jealous, the results are almost always less than our best.
When we’re riding a wave of negative emotions, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. We need to recharge and let those feelings pass rather than trying to “do” our way past them.
7. Not being grateful
I still hear my Dad yelling at me from the front seat of the car back when I was a kid, “Don’t be ungrateful!” But only in the last few years have I learned that’s not enough. We must be actively grateful each day.
Meditation is a great tool for keeping life balance, yet it can take seven-10 days (at least for me) of consistent work before noticing a shift in mood. Gratitude practice, however, is one thing I’ve seen create an immediate shift in mindset for myself and others.
Simply writing down three things you’re grateful for can be a silver bullet for turning a bad day upside down on its head.