It’s so easy to identify what you need to do to change your life. It’s so hard to accept what you need to let go of, what weeds you need to uproot so the soil of your life is free and fertile again.
People analogize time and energy and mental space to a lot of things, but you can think of them as a box. They are finite. As much as you want it to be different, there is only so much space. There is only so much you can do in one life. You cannot fit everything in.
It is our duty to carefully choose which we want to give our energy to. Most people externalize their locus of control, fearing that circumstances or other people’s actions will define their lives when in reality, it depends on the quality of their character. Not what happens, but how you respond. Not what is, but what you make of it.
If you want to change your life––to become the person you know you want and need to be––you don’t only need to master, cultivate, and perfect. You have to choose. You have to let go. You have to be willing to lose…
1. Your pride
“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune. ” ― C.G. Jung
To change your life, you have to admit what’s not working. You have to humble yourself. You have to ask for help. You have to learn, and you have to accept. Your ego will defend your current circumstances, but you cannot allow a fleeting feeling of shame to eclipse reason. You cannot live the rest of your life as you are just because you are too prideful to admit something isn’t right.
2. Your emotional crutches
"Courage is feeling fear, not getting rid of fear, and taking action in the face of fear.” — Roy T. Bennett
Do you know why you haven’t yet changed your life, why you’re stuck, stagnant, and still making excuses? Because you are leaning on emotional crutches. Staying small, being afraid, remaining controlled, and refusing to take action are all symptomatic of not wanting to lose that which is familiar, known, and dependable.
3. Your avoidance techniques
“Me with nothing left to lose, plotting my big revenge in the spotlight. Give me violent revenge fantasies as a coping mechanism.” — Chuck Palahniuk
Whatever you are doing to numb the nagging feeling that something isn’t right––whether it’s eating, drinking, sexing, whatever––you cannot push that feeling away any longer. It is not here to torture you needlessly, it is here to inform you. It is here to instruct. The first step is to remove the coping mechanisms. The second is to listen.
4. Your hedonism
“Pleasures will never make us whole.” –– Eric Greitens
It’s counterintuitive, but living the life of your dreams very infrequently involves responding to your impulse desires. In fact, deeply fulfilled and wildly successful individuals understand that pursuing pleasure is a dead end, a road that leads to confusion, sickness, and laziness.
5. Your comfort zone
“The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” — Roy T. Bennett
Leaving your comfort zone is not as simple as challenging yourself to feel a little uncomfortable now and again. In reality, it’s more like stepping into a new life wherein everything is unknown and anything is possible and all of it is terrifying. When you truly step out of your comfort zone, you step into a new life, and with repetition and time, that becomes your new sense of familiarity. Always be aware of what you are conditioning yourself to be comfortable with.
6. Your 5-year plan
“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” –– John Green
If you know where your path leads, it’s probably because you’re following somebody else’s. When you’re truly living on your own terms, you can project, but can’t assume to know, what the next few years will bring. You might not even know what the next 6 months will bring. But thinking you could possibly know exactly where life will lead you in a handful of years is an illusion anyway. Do yourself a favor and shatter it while you can.
7. Your composure
“Composure is the ruler of instability.” — Lao Tzu
If you want to change your life, you are going to need to cry. A lot. You are going to need to show your emotions. You are going to need to head out of the house at 7 AM in the same flannel you slept in because a lightning rod of creativity struck and there’s a message you need to get out. You’re going to need to be uncertain. You’re going to need to be authentic. You’re going to have to exchange the expectation that you should always be composed for the realization that you need to be honest.
8. Needing recognition
“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
What you are willing to do even if nobody claps is what you need to be doing. It is the true litmus test: if you are willing to do it without applause, you are doing it for the right reasons. One day, recognition may come. It won’t matter. It isn’t the end goal.
9. Needing revenge
“Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.” — Criss Jami
It’s time to set to rest the idea that your life could be a source of envy and pride, a way to stick it to the kids who bullied you and the peers who underestimated you. It is time to stop building your life around the hope that it would enact revenge on all who wronged you. When this is your mindset, you make choices based on what you imagine other people would perceive. It’s just an illusion upon illusion. Plus, living happily and well is actually the best revenge, in no small part because you’re no longer trying to prove anything.
10. Obeying your inner demons
“Your demons are just parts of yourself you have not yet learned to love.”
The interesting thing about how our inner demons haunt us is that when we do what they ask, they shut up. When we do that which we feel an itch for, and yet know will ultimately ruin us, we are satisfied for a blink of time. And yet, we realize eventually, that if we continue to obey these impulses, our worst fears will come true because we will make them true. We will become shells of the people we intended to be. Overcoming our darkest impulses is not a matter of just resisting them, it’s a matter of being able to hear them loudly, and choose otherwise.
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” — Francis Bacon
There are no certain choices in life, there are only paths that have been walked down so many times those who have made it to the end can return and say: this is the way––the only way. What they don’t realize is that living someone else’s life in exchange for not ever feeling “afraid” is not living at all. Certainty is an illusion of the highest form: there is nothing guaranteed in life, so it’s in our best interest to do that which is not least risky, but most worthwhile.
12. The old idea you had about what your life would be like
“Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”
— Haruki Murakami
You thought you knew what your grown-up life would be like. You fantasized about it, waited for it, depended on it turning out just as you had imagined. And then you got there, and you weren’t happy. That’s because the ideas you had about your future life were coming from a young, naive, underdeveloped person. Trying to make them come true now is backtracking. You have to let them go.
13. Your attachments to becoming who you thought you were supposed to be
“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” — Henry Ward Beecher
Just like the ideas you had about your future life, everyone has images of what they think their future selves will be like: how they will look, the age at which they will have accomplished such-and-such a thing. But you don’t owe anything to your past self. You only owe it to yourself now to become who you most essentially are. That first requires letting go of constantly trying to be someone you aren’t, not because someone else wants it for you, but because you thought it was the only way to live.