“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be…I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” — Eric Roth, Screenwriter
How many of you know someone who doesn’t seem to live up to their potential? Someone who is extremely smart, perhaps a super freak of an athlete, a creative genius, or an imaginative wizard with a guitar, but lives a mediocre life with plenty left on the table.
How many of you are that way?
Most people live their lives waiting for something to happen. They lack the drive to be a go-getter and change their situation for the better, so they sit and wait for their “big break”.
They float through the years like zombies until one day, if they’re lucky, they retire and do everything they’ve ever wanted. Except by that point, forty-plus years of their lives have gone by — wasted — and it seems easier to just keep doing nothing than try anything else at all.
Going after the things you want, learning new skills, and chasing your desires is hard, which is why most people don’t bother. But with the right attitude and a little bit of guidance, you can put yourself on a path to becoming who you truly want to be.
You can get off your ass and transform your life into anything you want, here’s how:
“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” — Leo Babauta
Before you can change yourself, you have to get out of your own way.
Most importantly, you have to become aware that you are in your own way. Many people go through their entire lives holding themselves back without realizing it.
I know because I see it every day, and I used to be like this myself.
For years, I was my own problem. I suffered from terrible anxiety, jumping from doctor to doctor praying for some sort of miracle cure. It wasn’t until I discovered meditation that I realized the error of my ways. I had made my own body an anxious wreck by sleeping erratically, eating poorly, and drinking myself into oblivion.
Once I woke up and started living healthier, my anxiety faded over time.
Meditation can do a lot of good for you, but the absolute best benefit is the self-awareness that it develops. When you become truly aware of how you’re living, then you can focus on changing it.
Meditating isn’t as weird or cheesy as it sounds. In fact, you can start your own meditation practice right now. Simply start by taking one deep breath in and then out. Focus on nothing but the breath.
The misconception about meditation is that it has to be deeply rooted in some sort of spiritual belief, when it is actually nothing more than breathing and focus.
As you focus on your breath, your mind wanders, then you gently bring it back. Over time, these reps strengthen your mind. It might seem strange that breathing can change your life, but when you stick with it, you’ll understand.
Every good habit I’ve developed, every bad habit I’ve kicked…mindfulness has been the root of all change for me, and it can be for you too.
“A man’s bookcase will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about him.” ― Walter Mosley
If you want to take a good dive into someone’s thoughts, start with their bookshelf, or more realistically, their Kindle.
Your thoughts are shaped by the inputs you give your mind.
When I walk out at the end of a movie like Thor: Ragnarok, I feel like I can take on the world. Just the same, I feel at ease after reading a book about minimalism. Usually, I want to throw 90% of my belongings into a dumpster right then and there.
We like to think we’re not influenced by our environment, and that we’re strong enough to stick to our own values and thoughts no matter what, but in reality, we’re extremely malleable. That’s why books, and all other content you consume, have the power to completely change your life, for better or for worse.
Let’s say you’ve been meditating and realize that you’ve done a poor job taking care of your health. Now, you want to become a healthier person. You start by reading a few books on dieting, exercise, and the importance of sleep.
Consuming this information over time — being submersed in it — changes the structure of your brain. It carves new neuropathways, reshaping the way you think, and planting seeds of new ideas into your mind.
Without doing anything more than reading, you start to value new things.
Sticking with our health example, fast food doesn’t seem so appealing now that you know what it’s made from and how many empty calories it contains. You want to exercise. You want to get better sleep.
All from reading words on a page.
This works for just about anything, from building a business to becoming a healthier person, and everything in-between. What you read shapes your thoughts, so read things that bring you closer to who you really want to be.
Be careful though, because as I alluded to earlier, this works in reverse too.
If all you consume on a daily basis is the news and shows like Two Broke Girls, you might find yourself at a bar boring someone over shitty small talk and corny jokes (with no laugh track to help you out).
Every day on my early morning commute to work, I like to listen to different podcasts, mostly dependent on whatever mood I’m in that day.
Listening to podcasts has a similar effect on your brain as reading books. Podcasts have been on the rise in the last ten years, and it’s been awesome for everyone.
Traditional radio shows chat about the latest celebrity gossip, regurgitate CNN news, or prank call supposedly un-expecting victims. There’s nothing wrong listening to that stuff. It can be entertaining at times and make us feel happy, but it has little to no benefit for improving our long-term situation.
There is a whole slew of incredible podcasts out there, and there are certainly some that can help you with whatever your goals are.
Podcasts are one of the easiest ways to reshape yourself into the type of person you want to be. Plus, there’s no better way to turn a boring commute into a highly valuable use of your time.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to embark on this journey alone. Community has been proven to be one of the most powerful assets for creating change.
Think about a night out with your friends. You’re sitting around a bar table, eating fried mozzarella sticks, slamming beers, and talking about how working out “just seems stupid” and how “you should be comfortable in your own skin, no matter what.”
Can you imagine how hard it might be to wake up the next morning and drag yourself to the gym?
Belonging to the right community makes a world of difference. If you want to get in shape, start hanging around others who value their health. If you want to build a business, meet up with others who share that same passion.
Your family, friends, and even strangers can be a huge advantage to you and in becoming the type of person you want to be. Find the right crowd and use them as a crutch to lean on as needed. Even when you think you don’t, it’s almost always easier going through things with other people.
Training for a marathon likely sucks if you’ve never been much of a runner, but it sucks a lot less when you have three other friends who’ve committed to doing it with you.
“Don’t just sit there. Do something. The answers will follow.” — Mark Manson
Of course, if you want to become a different person and do spectacular things with your life, at some point you actually have to do something.
This is usually the hardest step of all. Reading books and listening to podcasts doesn’t take much extra effort. Just a few minor tweaks in your daily routine. Getting out there and doing something takes work.
Don’t be the guy who talks 24/7 about building a business, maybe even tries to coach others with their vast knowledge, yet doesn’t actually own a business. Don’t be the chubby friend lecturing a buddy about diet and weight loss if you’re the size of an elephant.
The biggest piece of advice I have for you here is to just do, don’t wait.
You don’t have to be fully prepared before jumping in. Here’s a little secret: no one is (I certainly wasn’t). Everyone starts from the same place at some point in their lives, just like everyone has to put their pants on one leg at a time.
Let’s suppose you’ve been interested in taking up bungee jumping as a hobby. You’ve been reading all sorts of books, listening to podcasts, and even a few documentaries about the rush of bungee jumping.
Listen buddy, you can learn all you want from words on a page, but nothing will teach you more than that first jump barreling 100 feet face-first towards the ground.
Taking action is hard, but it’s much less painful than a lifetime of regret for choosing the easy way out and doing nothing.
No one wants to be the person who reads a book, becomes inspired to change, then falls back into old habits two days later. Eventually, you have to make things happen for yourself.
6. Start small
As you make the transition from being a lazy bum to someone who takes action, don’t feel obligated to “go big or go home”. If there’s anything humanity has learned about habits, it’s that starting small is the secret to lasting change.
Behavioral psychology 101: focus on the first step.
If you want to start meditating more, and want to be a do-er instead of a don’t-er, slowly introduce the new habit into your life. Begin with thirty seconds of breath-work, just once per day. When you get into the groove and feel comfortable, bump it up to a full minute or two minutes.
Apps like Headspace are designed to introduce new habits into your life in small increments. They want you to be a practitioner (and a customer) for life, not for a few weeks.
You don’t need to overwhelm yourself all at once, or you’ll be sure to quit.
Want to start a blog? Write a 100-word outline for a blog post.
Want to start meditating? Focus on your breath for thirty seconds.
Want to become a runner? Commit to running up and down your street once a night, every day.
Don’t sit around and wait for something magical to happen to you, or for inspiration and motivation to strike, catapulting your workout, writing session, or whatever to new heights.
7. Lastly, do something drastic
This might sound in direct conflict with what I just wrote above, but I actually mean it in a totally different way.
Yes, you should always take new habits and activities slow. What I’m talking about here is doing something drastic to shake things up in your life — to scare the shit out of yourself, so-to-speak.
Last year was hands down the worst financial year of my life. I threw away my career in nuclear engineering to go traveling with my then fiancé, now wife. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast, but it certainly hit me deep in the pockets. The couple of gigs I tried, including one as an insurance salesman, turned out to be a mega waste of time.
When I first quit, I thought I could dive into online entrepreneurship with no experience — one of the dangers of too much reading and not enough doing. I hadn’t even having made a blog, website, or anything of substantial value. What a dumbass I was.
I ended up driving for Uber. I drove for Lyft. I also did a bunch of other weird online shit for money. Washington DC was an expensive city, and I was a nervous wreck every day, doing what I could to pay the bills and not feel like a total failure.
A full year later, I ended up making a return to engineering, landing a job in a new industry, and loving it more than I ever thought possible, marking the end of the craziest thing I’d ever done in my life.
It’s funny — if you asked me if I would ever make the same choice again, I’m not sure what I would say. Last year drained most of my savings, but some seriously incredible things happened too.
This might not be a surprise, but I’m better than ever at managing money.
I learned how to be a freelance writer, earning myself a $4,800 client on Upwork.
I built my own blog.
I learned email marketing, content marketing, and how to write semi-respectably.
I don’t think I would’ve ever done any of this without taking that leap of faith.
I took a chance on myself with almost nothing to fall back on. And you know what? I’m still here. And god damn am I a much wiser person than I was before.
I’m not saying you need to do the same thing I did, in fact, I’d probably advise against it. But if you’re in a rut, and not sure how your life could ever change, then you may want to consider doing something drastic.
Move from your hometown to a new city. Take a trip to a foreign country with no agenda or detailed plan. Do something worth talking about a few years down the road. Anything’s got to be better than living a life you so desperately want to escape, but don’t have the guts to change.
After reading this article, what kind of life are you living? Are you on the path you want to be on? If not, try starting with #1 above. Taking the first step is certainly better than the alternative, as long as it moves you closer in the right direction.
Best of luck, my friend. I’m rooting for you.
Before you go…
I’m Jason Gutierrez. I write about mindfulness, self-improvement, and other interesting things to help make your life better.
If you enjoyed this article, you might love my free 7-day mindfulness email course to learn the basics, reduce stress, and improve happiness. It’s one small habit with some seriously massive results. Get started here.