The more I learn about self-improvement, the more I understand that much of the process involves subtraction. Instead of focusing on what to do, focus on what not to do, and avoid it. Figure what’s weighing you down so that you can let go of it and move more freely. No need to be hyper-focused all the time, but be mindful of the distractions in your life that suck up all of your energy.
2020 was the year of distractions, weight, and mistakes. A bunch of things went wrong. Our situation hasn’t magically changed just because of an arbitrary date, but I’m a big believer in the power of symbolism. I’ve successfully completed many new years resolutions. While the symbolism isn’t foolproof, it has worked for me and it can work for you.
So, keep your positive resolutions, but also think of some things you can let go of, things you can stop doing, distractions you can pay less attention to, etc. Yes, this is going to be a gimmicky post where I list “21 things” because of the year, but I’ll promise they’ll still be worthwhile recommendations.
- Obsession with the news – I get it. You had no choice but to pay attention to the news. With the pandemic and the presidential election, there was just too much at stake not to watch it. Now? The election is over and, although we’re not close to being done with co-vid, there are promising signs. Stay informed, but try dialing it down several notches from last year.
- Arguing with people on social media – Social media removed that face to face element that keeps people in check when talking to each other. When you can hide behind a screen, you can say all sorts of things you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s not just that arguing is in poor taste, but spewing vitriol compromises your character and brings you down.
- The idea that a savior is coming – I’m bearish on the power of politicians to save us not because I’m a pessimist, but because it seems extremely obvious and self-evident. Everyone knows this deep down, too, but they cling to the illusion because it’s tough to realize you’re mostly on your own. But you are. Fair or not, it’s optimal to operate from that perspective.
- Self-judgment over how you “handled” 2020 – The first few months of the pandemic hit me like an emotional brick. The isolation was tough and stressful. I pushed through it and still accomplished my goals, but I don’t feel better than anyone else for doing so. It was a rough year. If you didn’t use it to start a business, learn 12 languages, or become an expert chef, oh well. Move on and start fresh.
- Self-judgement in general – It’s weird. You want to pursue goals that make you feel more accomplished, but you don’t need to do anything to feel good about yourself. We tie so much meaning to our actions, like every move means something about our identity. It doesn’t. It’s not possible to fully operate without negatively judging yourself, but try to stop beating yourself up for every little mistake.
- Excuses – On the other hand, just because you don’t need to do anything to feel good about yourself, that doesn’t mean you should make excuses for not doing what you want to do with your life. Excuses are another form of tying way too much into your identity. You make them because you don’t want to face the fact that you’re not taking actions you know would benefit your life. Self-awareness and honesty create a painful yet useful path to an examined, and thus well-lived life.
- Constant comparison – Notice I said “constant.” Again, I doubt it’s possible to fully stop comparing yourself to others because it happens in such an innate and immediate way. When you feel envy the pang of emotions just hits you. But then it’s up to you to decide what to do next. Naval Ravikant says when you feel envy, ask yourself if you’d be willing to trade your entire life with the person you envy. Often, you wouldn’t.
- Putting on a persona – Ryan Holiday has a quote: “Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” It’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know.” Like all of these recommendations, it’s tricky. There are benefits to promoting your best-self. You should accentuate the positive things in your life. But this can quickly turn into a caricature. People will come to like the caricature instead of you, which will increase your feelings of impostor syndrome.
- Saying “this is just the way I am” – On the other hand, you don’t want to use the idea of “being yourself” as an excuse. You can change your personality, re-invent, and evolve. Benjamin Hardy puts it well in his book Personality Isn’t Permanent
“Personality is not stable but changes regardless of whether you’re purposeful about that change or not.”
- Your sense of obligation to those who don’t deserve it – Why is it so hard to say “no”? I don’t know, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. You have to understand that people are designed to take what you give them. If you’re not firm with your boundaries, they’ll cross over them. They can’t help it. You don’t have to become ruthless about it, just be mindful of feeling like you have to say yes to something and be honest with people that you can’t make their requests a priority because you have other ones to tend to.
- Relationships that don’t serve you – Again, relationships are not about perfect states of bliss, but you don’t owe anyone your companionship. This is especially true with romantic partners. Cheryl Strayed had this to say
Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay. Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough
Every time I stayed in a failed relationship for too long, it only made the separation process more difficult.
- “Karen” behavior – This growing culture of taddle telling, tantrum-throwing, and weaponizing of authority needs to stop. It’s gross and it’s beneath grown adults to do. Karen behavior can happen from a person of any gender or race and it’s equally pathetic.
- Cancel culture – Raise your hand if you did something stupid when you were young. Exactly. I feel for the young people of Gen Z who will have every single mistake they’ve made documented online permanently. Digging up a social media post from a teenager is, again, gross. Even with adults, we’re not allowing each other to evolve and grow. We’re losing the notion of redemption and forgiveness. Yes, there are some egregious behaviors that deserve punishment, but that fits a small portion of the canceling that’s been going on.
- The coddling of the American mind – Much of political correctness has its place. We should be kind to one another and avoid offending each other on purpose. But an overly politically correct environment creates a fragile mind. You’re not supposed to feel good all the time. A sincere life does come with elements of confrontation and discomfort that help you grow. Jonathan Haidt, the author of The Coddling of the American Mind, had this to say:
“A culture that allows the concept of “safety” to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”
- Tribalist “us vs. them” thinking – I have fans on both sides of the aisle because I talk about the things we have in common. We want love, a happy family, enough money to not stress out all the damn time, a sense of meaning, affordable healthcare, and time to do things we enjoy. That’s pretty much it. Take about a half-dozen hot button issues off the table and we’re alike. The culture war is a distraction. The elites keep us fighting against each other when they’re all on the same team. As long as we’re distracted by each other, we can never make meaningful changes.
- Mediocrity memes – I know most of them are in jest, but mediocrity memes can damage your psyche. What am I talking about? Memes like “LOL adulting is so hard.” We’re in this strange culture where we’re starting to celebrate living subpar lives. Adulting isn’t hard. Storming the beaches of Normandy is hard. Living in an impoverished village in Africa is hard. Surviving a concentration camp like Viktor Frankl is hard.
- Self-sabotaging behavior – Those memes are examples of self-sabotage. We’re scared of the possibility of trying hard and still falling, which can happen, so we defeat ourselves before we even start. It’s a protection mechanism that helps us preserve our identity. even if we don’t like our identity, it gives us a sense of certainty. When you rid yourself of these behaviors, you’ll definitely go through trials and tribulations, but you’ll be better off for having actually tried, regardless of the results.
- An apologetic attitude – Be upfront about what you want in your life, go get it, and do it without shame. As Marianne Williamson said:
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
.Again, this goes against our current cultural trend of fake humility, fake modesty, and fake politeness — all of which come with a deep underlying passive-aggressive energy. Speak your mind. Don’t kowtow to the mob. Embrace your inner weirdo. Do whatever the hell you feel like doing as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
- Expectations of what others can do for you – It’s counterintuitive, but you get more out of life when you have giving energy instead of taking energy. You get what you want not by wanting it, per se, but by giving so much value that you inevitably end up getting it. It’s a bit hard to explain, but people can tell when you’re just trying to get something from them vs giving value without some ‘tit for tat’ expectations of them.
- Complaining – To be honest, complaining is often justified. You don’t have to cease doing it all together, but just notice the effect it has on your life. How often do your complaints change the things you complained about? How often do you feel better after complaining? What kind of perception of reality do you create from constant complaining? What does it solve? Use the answers to those questions to guide your behavior.
- Whatever toxic energy you gave or received in 2020 – 2020 will go down as one of the most toxic years of all time. But if you let that bitterness and toxicity carry into this year, and the next, and the next, it will just compound and make things worse. I know it’s hard, but try to be lighter, freer, less judgmental of yourself and others. Try to stay more present instead of letting the chaos of the world yank your emotions every which way. We all had our moments. I dove into the political nonsense just as much as anyone, but ultimately it left me feeling like shit and I don’t want to do it anymore. Do you?