The pressure I put myself under sometimes cripples me.
Thinking about all my to-dos can make my mind go blank and my heart fall through my gut. I end up needing to sleep because I can barely function. Yet the rest is poor quality because I start remembering other things I haven’t done. I’ve spent far too much of my adult life in this toxic cycle.
Does this sound familiar?
The problem with ambition is we don’t know our own limits. Our views of success are warped by how we perceive others are doing.
Now through social media, we get to compare ourselves to role models who only show us their highlights. Rather than working out a sustainable pace of growth right for us, we use the most extreme examples as benchmarks. It can lead you to put yourself under the same intense pressure I have in the past.
You know this isn’t healthy. Here are four ways I use to stop myself from being my own worst enemy.
Earlier this week, my building was literally on fire.
We’ve been having false alarms because of construction work, so I took an extra half minute to finish writing an email when the siren started. By the time I made it all the way down the stairs, I could see a crowd outside. They were all pointing their phone cameras at something above my head. Thick black smoke poured out of one of the apartments.
Luckily, no one was hurt and the damage didn’t spread. Even with my short delay, I was one of the first ten people out of the building out of well over a hundred.
As we stood outside watching the fire service at work, I wasn’t worried about my possessions at all. Yes, if the fire spread, it would be a nightmare financially but at that moment it didn’t matter.
What I was thinking about was the stoic mantra of “memento mori”. It means “remember that you have to die”. Did I seriously just risk my life to finish writing an email?
So much of what we beat ourselves up about doesn’t matter. When I’m dead, will anyone remember my email? When you’re killing yourself to reach a goal, remind yourself of your mortality.
Remembering you are going to die is a great way to make sure you make the most of life. Value the little things that bring you joy and brush off the little things that bring you pain. Every day you decide how you want to spend your precious time on Earth.
Choose your battles
Whenever I’ve failed to meet my goals, the root cause is almost always because I set myself too many goals at once. I’m a serial offender of deluding myself into believing I will magic up the willpower to fight a dozen battles at once.
It hasn’t worked yet and I’ve accepted it probably never will. If you try to chase too many things at the same time in different directions, you’ll just end up running in circles.
Part of the solution is dropping your ego and admitting to yourself that you are incapable of being the best at everything simultaneously.
It’s hard when you’ve got many things you are passionate about but the trick is to choose a few to focus your energy toward and let the others be purely for fun. Despite what the motivational guru you follow says, you can have fun without there being an ulterior personal growth target.
I play soccer every week and I suck but enjoy it anyway. If I put pressure on myself to be the next Ronaldo then I’d only ruin my own mood.
Forget having a life purpose
If happiness is reality minus expectations then believing you need to have a mythical life purpose is a sure way to be miserable.
The idea of it is so seductive. It allows you to dream about finding the magic solution to all your problems. Yet when you don’t have it, you feel anxious because the internet says you should be doing something more with your life.
When I tell people I quit my consulting career to become a writer they confess they’re jealous of me because I’ve found my “life purpose”. This is nonsense. Writing gives me joy right now but if it ever stops doing so, I’ll abandon it in a heartbeat. Your passions should serve you, not the other way around.
Who you are in ten years’ time will be completely different from who you are today. The same will happen again in another ten years. This is how life works. We grow, we learn and what matters to us most will change all the time. I’m not a parent but when I am, being a good father will be more important to me than most of what I care about now.
Live in the present. What matters to you right now? What brings you the most joy? Ask yourself these questions throughout your life and let the answers guide your actions. You’ll be much happier than dedicating yourself to a single purpose for the sake of it. You don’t need to have the rest of your life worked out today.
Focus on energy
There are two ways you can look at your resources for the day. Time or energy.
Some people will say you have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce but neglect to mention you don’t have all the privileges that come with a billion in the bank and an army of loyal fans.
I don’t believe you can look at the hours in the day and squash in as many tasks as you can into it. Unless you want to be fast-tracked to burnout of course. What’s important is the combination and the flow of tasks and this is unique to how you work.
Let’s say I can write an article I’m proud of in two hours. I’m awake for 16 hours, take away a couple of hours for eating and exercise and in theory, I could write 7 high-quality articles a day.
I’ve tried that and failed miserably. It works for others but not me.
I enjoy writing but it’s a high-energy task for my mind and I can’t sustain such intensity for long periods. Instead, I mix in lower energy tasks to allow my mind to recover enough to go again.
We can get frustrated at ourselves for losing focus because we think too linearly. It makes us set unrealistic expectations force our zombified brains to run on empty.
Give. Yourself. A. Break.