5 Little Shifts that Will Make Your “Stressful” Life 5 Times Easier
The little things define you.
All the results in your life come from the little things.
Regardless of your unique life circumstances, or how you define success, you don’t suddenly become successful. You become successful over time from all the little things you do every day.
Failure occurs in the same way. All your little daily failures (that you don’t learn and grow from) come together and cause you to fail…
- You fail to check the books.
- You fail to make the call.
- You fail to listen to your customers.
- You fail to innovate.
- You fail to make necessary shifts…
And then one day you wake up and your business has failed, and you’re stressed out beyond belief. It was all the little things you did or didn’t do along the way, not just one inexplicable, catastrophic event.
Think about how this example relates to your life.
Your life is your business!
And all the little things — if not corrected — become big things, over time.
Even the seemingly insignificant aspects of your life can produce ripples of consequence — for better or worse.
So, how are you managing your life?
Are the little things you’re doing every day working for you or against you?
If you think the answer might be the latter, you will find incredible value in the five strategies below. These strategies gradually strengthen common weak points we’ve seen plaguing thousands of our course students, coaching clients, and live event attendees over the past decade — little things people do every day that stress them out and stop them from moving forward with their lives.
And remember, this article is about making little, sustainable shifts in your behavior. That means practicing each one of these strategies gradually — one at time, one day at a time, and then letting them build on one another. Go from zero to five over the course of several months, not all at once.
1. Focus inward for a few minutes every day to find clarity.
The best time to take a deep breath is when you don’t have time for it. Period!
Too often, however, we’re told the exact opposite.
Hustling is a celebrated state of being in our modern culture.
Hustle, hustle, and get things done — get to the top of the ladder as fast as possible!
And while hustling can help you fail forward at a faster pace, too many of us spend the vast majority of our lives climbing the ladder of success only reach the top and discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. This happens primarily because we’re always hustling around and rushing so fast that we’re utterly exhausted when it comes time to make some of life’s most important decisions. So we end up selecting the ladder that’s closest and easiest to climb, which also happens the one we don’t really need or want to climb.
Ultimately, many of us eventually realize that it’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than the top of the one you don’t. Do you best to take this to heart right now. There’s absolutely no reason to be in such a mad rush that you end up at the top of the wrong ladder — pursuing someone else’s agenda instead of your own.
Dedicate time every day to focus inward — mindfulness rituals, mantras, journaling, prayer, gratitude reflection, etc. — and bring clarity to your daily circumstances and decisions. By doing so you will undoubtedly open your mind to important ideas and opportunities you simply can’t comprehend in the midst of mindless hustle.
Just this morning, for example, I took a break from hustling and spent 30 minutes journaling about the recent events in my life that I’m grateful for, and some recent events that are still troubling me. As I was wrapping up, the idea for the blog post you’re reading now came to me, which was a pleasant surprise since I hadn’t yet decided what I was going to write about and share with you today.
I also unearthed some incredibly healthy insights regarding an important relationship that I had been neglecting, which motivated me to immediately send out a text message to someone I care about who I’ve been meaning to reconnect with for nearly six months. We now have a brunch date scheduled for next Sunday.
So, as you can tell, your time spent focusing inward and finding clarity doesn’t just help you — your mind is powerful and your thoughts create ripples in the world around you. When you bring clarity into your life, you bring the best of yourself into everything you do — you tend to treat yourself and others better, communicate more constructively, do things for the right reasons, and ultimately improve the world you’re living in. This is why praying, or just meditating on some positive mantras, on a daily basis can actually make a real-world difference in your life.
The bottom line is that a slower pace and a heightened level of your conscious awareness — mental clarity — instantly elevates you in countless ways. And then interesting things begin happening — good things that are outside of your immediate purview — good things you haven’t even thought of yet.
2. Gradually eliminate the excess.
As they say, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. But before you can begin this process of transformation you have to stop doing the things that have been holding you back.
When you stop chasing the wrong things, you give the right things a chance to catch you.
It’s all about getting organized and conscious of how you are allocating your limited time and energy, so you can put yourself in a position to build the future you want.
Think about your own life and the lives of those close to you. Most of us have a tendency to do as much as we possibly can — cramming every waking minute with events, extravagances, tasks and obligations. And we just keep running in place.
We think doing more will get us more satisfaction, success, etc. When oftentimes the exact opposite is true.
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains that some things in life are important, and some things are just urgent. Most people spend the vast majority of their lives working on urgent, unimportant activities.
Very few people have focused their time and energy in a way that exclusively prioritizes truly important and meaningful objectives over everything else that pops up.
Less is indeed more!
Thus, the smartest and most effective way to move forward in life is not doing more, but instead doing less by stopping the behaviors that are holding you back.
- If you want to get your body in better physical shape, you’ll only make sustainable progress by first reducing your unhealthy behaviors before you rush to start a bunch of new, healthy ones. So, for example, before you start forcing yourself to hit the gym every morning at 5 AM, first eliminate the excess sugar and junk food from your diet. Slapping a healthy workout on top of an unhealthy diet is like building a house on top of quicksand — it doesn’t work out in the long run. Unless you stop the ongoing damage, you’ll always be stuck in a cycle of taking one step forward and another one backward.
- If you want to become more financially stable, don’t focus on earning more money until you’ve reduced your excess spending. Live a comfortable life, not a wasteful one. Do not spend to impress others. Do not live trying to fool yourself into thinking wealth is measured in material objects. Manage your money wisely so your money does not manage you. Break yourself out of the cycle of needing more and become content with what you have. Until you do so, it doesn’t matter how much money you make. You’ll always spend every cent you have on things you don’t need.
Obviously, this principle can be universally applied in your life, and it’s all a matter of getting crystal clear about what matters, and what’s just getting in the way.
Rise above the needless excess trying to draw you in.
Where attention goes, energy flows. Where energy flows, things grow.
Focus on what matters.
And get rid of everything else.
Do less… and make the less you do count for even more.
3. Allow most things to simply be the way they are.
Some things are worth changing. Most things aren’t.
Let this be your wake-up call!
“If you want to control your animals, give them a larger pasture.” That’s a quote I heard at a meditation retreat several years ago in a group discussion focused on the power of changing your attitude about the things you can’t change or don’t need to change.
I see “the animals” and their “larger pasture” as a form of letting go and allowing things to be the way they are — instead of trying to tightly control something, you’re loosening up, giving it more space, a larger pasture. The animals will be happier — they will roam around and do what they naturally do. And yet your needs will be met too — you will have more space to be at peace with the way the animals are.
This same philosophy holds true for many aspects of life — stepping back and allowing certain things to happen means these things will take care of themselves, and your needs will also be met. You will have less stress (and less to do), and more time and energy to work on the things that truly matter — the things you actually can control — like your attitude about everything.
This form of letting go is not giving up. It’s about surrendering any obsessive attachment to particular people, outcomes and situations. It means showing up every day in your life with the intention to be your best self, and to do the best you know how, without expecting life to go a certain way. Have goals, have dreams, aspire and take purposeful action, and build great relationships, but detach from what every aspect of your life must absolutely look like to be “good enough” for you.
The energy of someone aspiring to create something wonderful, teamed with this kind of surrender, is far more powerful and rewarding than someone determined to create outcomes with a desperate ‘must have’ mentality. Surrender brings inner peace and joy, and lest we forget that our outer lives are a reflection of our inner state of being. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Simplicity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
4. Forget your big goals for a while and just focus on the small daily rituals that support them.
Our big goals are important. But too often we spend our time and energy thinking about the desired end results of a big goal, instead of actually doing the little things that need to be done today.
How many days go by where you have nothing to show it — where not even the slightest bit of progress was made toward any of your goals?
Probably too many to count.
Let this be another wake-up call for you. If you don’t intentionally carve out time every day to make progress, you won’t — without question, your time will get lost in the vacuum of excessive overthinking and distraction. Before you know it, you’ll be tired and withered, wondering where all your time went, and wishing you could have another chance.
Today is your chance!
And all you have to do is take one small step today, and then another one tomorrow.
It’s all about turning your big goals into small, actionable daily rituals.
If you’re not willing to make it a daily ritual — and actually work on it a little bit every day — you don’t really want to improve your life as much as you say you do. You only like the idea of learning to be fit/writing a book/building a business/selling your art/etc. You don’t actually want to DO it.
But, if you DO want it as much as you say you do, here’s how to make it a daily ritual:
Let’s look at a few super common goals we typically have as human beings in the modern age:
- Lose weight
- Write a book
- Stop procrastinating
- Fall in love with the right person
- Be happier
- Learn a new language
- Travel the world
- Save more money
- Read more books
How do you turn those big goals into small daily rituals? Think about what you could do every day that would get you closer to your desired outcome, even if it were only the tiniest imaginable step forward. Of course, this is not always easy to figure out, but let’s look at some ideas:
- Lose weight — Start walking every evening before you eat dinner, for 10 minutes at first, then increase to 15 minutes after you’ve completed a month, then 20 minutes after another month passes, and so forth. Once you are walking for 45+ minutes a day, make another change — drink water instead of soda/sugary juice.
- Write a book — Write for 10 minutes a day for a month straight, then step it up to 15 minutes a day, etc. Eventually settle into a daily ritual of 1–2 hours of uninterrupted writing a day.
- Stop procrastinating — For most of us, our minds operate at peak performance in the morning hours when we’re well rested. So obviously it would be foolish to use this time for a trivial task like checking Facebook. These peak performance hours should be 100% dedicated to working on rituals that bring you closer to your goals. A possible daily ritual: Set a ‘most important task’ each morning, then work on it for 10–30 minutes before opening your web browser/smart phone/etc.
- Fall in love with the right person — You have to put yourself out there. Go somewhere each day and meet and socialize with like-minded people. Here’s a good read on meeting the right people.
- Be happier — do something small each day to make the world better, to help people, and to love yourself.
- Learn a new language — Study your chosen foreign language using Rosetta Stone or listen to Pimsleur audio for 10–30 minutes a day.
- Travel the world — Save money (see the next point). Or start selling your unnecessary belongings, so you can carry your needed belongings in a backpack. Learn to live with less. Then book budget-conscious travel arrangements with the money you made from selling the non-essentials.
- Save money — Begin by cutting out smaller expenses (like $8 Starbucks lattes). Start cooking and eating at home. Sell your car and bike/walk/take the train. Downsize to a smaller (or less expensive) home. Enjoy simple pleasures and free activities, instead of buying stuff.
- Read more books — Read every morning for 10–15 minutes and every evening again for another 10–15 minutes before you go to bed.
You get the idea. Not all of these specific rituals will work for you and your unique situation, but you could come up with something similar that works better for you. In any case, the principle applies: Create a small, actionable ritual and live by it daily.
(Note: Angel and I build small, actionable, life-changing daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
5. Track what’s going well and give thanks before bedtime.
Overlooking everything that’s wonderful is a tragedy — a very stressful one. So, as mentioned in point #3 above, do your best and surrender the rest. When you get lost in worried thoughts about a life situation you think you “should” have, you end up missing the beauty of what you do have. And you will have a hard time ever being happy if you aren’t thankful for the good things in your life right now.
Here’s a super simple, five-minute daily gratitude exercise that has worked wonders for thousands of our course students and coaching clients over the past decade:
Every evening before you go to bed, write down three things that went well during the day and their causes. Simply provide a short, causal explanation for each good thing.
That’s it. We spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive electronics, big homes, fancy cars and lavish vacations hoping for a boost of happiness. This is a free alternative, and it works.
In a study of this gratitude exercise’s effectiveness by the famed psychologist Martin Seligman, participants were asked to follow those exact instructions for just one week. After one week the participants were measurably 2% happier than before, but in follow-up tests their happiness kept on increasing, from 5% at one month, to 9% at six months. Even more interestingly, the participants were only required to keep this gratitude journal for one week, but the majority of them continued journaling on their own because they enjoyed it.
I tried it for myself many years ago — I set a goal of doing it for just one week, and I’m still doing it today. So I can assure you, it’s addictively effective.
Afterthoughts… On Life’s Twists and Turns
Does the walker choose the path, or does the path choose the walker? Believe it or not, in the end quite often it’s the latter.
In fact, that’s one of the most valuable aspects of the strategies discussed above — by focusing inward, dropping excess baggage, letting go of the uncontrollable, building sustainable daily rituals, and appreciating what’s going well, you give yourself the perspective and momentum needed to cope with the unexpected twists and turns on the path in front of you. And yes, oftentimes the immediate path chooses you, not the other way around. And that’s not a bad thing either.
Some of the greatest outcomes that transpire in your life will be the ones you never even knew you wanted. As long as you keep your mind open to new perspectives and yourself moving forward, there really are no wrong turns in life, only paths you didn’t know you were meant to walk. And you never can be certain what’s around the corner. It could be everything, or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you realize you’ve come a long way from where you started.
All details aside, someday all the pieces will come together. Unimaginably good outcomes will likely transpire in your life, even if everything doesn’t turn out exactly the way you had anticipated. And you will look back at the times that have passed, smile widely, and ask yourself…
“How in the world did I get through all of that?”
Originally published at www.marcandangel.com on July 9, 2017./Marc Chernoff