Photo Credit: Edmundas Stundzius

20 ways to take control of your life

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. -Charles R. Swindoll

Most of us go through life feeling like we’re not in control.

Our time is filled with things we have to do, while our dreams are filled with things we assume we can’t do. Social and financial obligations dictate most of our behavior, while the remainder of our choices are constrained by fear.

Life becomes a series of things that happen to us.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can systematically conquer your anxieties and eliminate the external obstacles holding you back. You can take back control. Your life can be yours. Here’s how.

1. Do something that scares you at least once a week

All too often, fear holds us back from doing what we want to do in life. When you build the habit of facing your fears, you become inured to fear. And then, you start breaking free of the artificial self-imposed constraints that fear creates.

2. Sleep on a regular schedule

Get 7–8 hours of sleep a night. Go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day. The exact time isn’t terribly important- you could sleep from 10–5, or 12–8, or even 3–10. What’s important is keeping a regular schedule so your brain can maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. This regularity, in turn, makes it easier to provide structure and order to your life.

3. Save your money

When you have some extra money saved up, a few great things happen. You can afford to treat yourself to something nice every so often without worrying about the cost. A big part of your life stress vanishes. But perhaps most importantly, when you live beneath your means, you no longer have to make life choices with the goal of maximizing your income- you can choose to prioritize other things, like work-life balance, or following your passions.

However, don’t try to save money by cutting out a cup of coffee every day, or heaven forbid, avocado toast. The easiest, most effective way to save money is to set up a savings account and set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to that savings account every payday. You won’t even notice the money is gone when you don’t see it in the first place.

4. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol

They both have their uses- alcohol for relaxing and socializing, caffeine for staying alert in the mornings. But most people who consume them, consume too much. Try cutting your consumption in half- most likely, you’ll get all the same benefits, if not more. Better yet, you’ll stop being dependent on caffeine and alcohol to feel good.

5. Rent, don’t own

Renting has several advantages over owning. You know exactly what your monthly cost is- you’re not on the hook for unexpected repair and maintenance costs. You’re free to move on much shorter notice than a homeowner. You can also diversify your investments, rather than owning one asset that equals 500% of your net worth.

Bottom line: when you own a home, you own a set of obligations.

6. Stop spending time on social media

Social media is by far the number one way that people waste time when they should be doing something else. Worse, it usually isn’t even fun- social media has become a cesspit of pointless arguments, unhealthy social comparison, and painstaking image management.

Social media is a useful tool for keeping in touch with people and planning events, but you shouldn’t be hanging out there. Check Facebook once a day and focus on living your real life.

7. Start a side business

Having a second income provides the same benefits as saving money: less stress, more financial freedom. But it goes further: with a side business, there’s no limit to how much you can make, and you know that if you ever lose your job- or quit it- you can spend more time on your business and scale it up. The flexibility this gives you is tremendous.

8. Keep your home and workspace clean and organized

Remove the physical clutter, and you remove the mental clutter, helping you to focus on what you’re doing rather than how messy your environment is.

9. Build your network

Stay in touch with people in your industry. Go to events with them where you can meet other people. Focus on giving value to people, and don’t worry about what you’ll get out of it for now. You’ll need your network someday, and it’s important to build that network before you need it.

10. Fast once a week

Once a week, refrain from consuming any calories for 24 hours. This is an easy way to lose fat, since it reduces the amount of time you’re eating for each week by 6/7. But more importantly, by learning not to give into hunger, you transform your relationship with food. Eating becomes a decision rather than something you’re forced to do as soon as you feel hungry.

11. Practice poverty

I’ll just quote Seneca on this one:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs maneuvers, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.

12. Lose some fat, or gain some muscle

Most people could benefit from this health-wise. But there’s an equally important psychological reason to gain or lose weight even if you’re already at a healthy weight: to prove to yourself that you can. If you’ve never intentionally gained or lose weight before, doing so once in your life will give you an incredible sense of mastery over your own body.

13. Prepare for the worst

Figure out what you’re most afraid of happening- such as losing your job, or your house burning down, or contracting a serious illness. Come up with simple plans to a) reduce the probability of each of those things, and b) respond if and when they do happen.

Our fear is greatest when the thing we’re afraid of is unknown or poorly defined. Once you’ve thought through how you’d deal with the thing you fear, you’ll find the anxiety you feel greatly diminished.

14. Make a short to-do list for every day

Three items maximum, and the fewer the better. Many of the world’s most productive people only give themselves one big to-do for each day. Focus on what’s most important, and refuse to fill your schedule with busywork.

15. Cut things out of your life

Throw out objects you don’t use. Stop doing activities that don’t add value to your life. Stop hanging out with people whose company you don’t enjoy. Make room in your life- not just time, but also physical and emotional energy- for the things that are important to you.

16. Say no to almost everything

For the same reason you should cut things out of your life, you also need to resist the urge to add things that will suck up your time and energy. Understand that anything you add to your life is potentially displacing other things you could be spending your time and energy on. Before taking on a new obligation, ask yourself- Does this earn it’s way into my life? Most often the answer will be no.

17. Change your wardrobe

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from the head of my major program in college. She told my class to always dress well for interviews, even phone interviews. The way you dress is an outward projection of your self-image. When you change your clothes, you change the way you behave, and even the way you see yourself. Dress like the person you want to be.

18. Make new friends

Meet new people who share some of your interests- particularly interests you don’t share with any of your current friends. This can be done by finding activities on local news sites, Facebook, or Meetup.com.

Too many people feel that they can’t do things their friends aren’t into, or have to do things because everyone else is. Once you know you have the ability to make new friends, your social circle becomes a source of freedom rather than constraint.

19. Go on a trip by yourself

Choose a part of the world you’d like to explore- or even another part of your home country- and spend at least a week exploring it by yourself. Not only is this fun, but it builds a sense of independence that will carry over to the rest of your life.

20. Think of everything as a choice

Stop saying you can’t do things unless they’re physically impossible. Instead, say that you won’t, or that you have other priorities, or you’re not willing to make the effort.

Reflexively saying can’t all the time trains us to immediately dismiss every possible course of action that isn’t obvious and easy. By removing that word from your dictionary, you’ll train yourself to genuinely think about whether something can be done, rather than immediately discarding it as impossible.

Call to Action

This may seem like a tall order, but don’t try to do all 20 of these things at once. You can radically transform your life by focusing on one or two habits at a time. That’s why I wrote The Habit Change Cheat Sheet- to gives you the tools you ned to change anything about your life.

One last thing…

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