How many potential opportunities have you said no to? Introducing yourself to someone new, taking a stab at that creative project or business, random experiences you could’ve had if you said yes to those invitations from your friends. How many things do you say yes to even though you know you shouldn’t? Requests you didn’t want to fulfill but did so out of obligation and guilt, vices you know you need to drop, or continuing to allow people in your life that you know you shouldn’t be there.
We spend so much time avoiding what’s beneficial and indulging in what harms us, but why? Somewhere inside of us is this feeling that we’re not worthy of saying ‘yes’ to the right things. We also don’t always have enough self-respect to say ‘no’ to the wrong things. So what’s the answer? Self-acceptance and self-respect. Accept yourself both for the good and bad. Understand that both are necessary and you can still be worthy of what you want, right now, regardless of what you’ve done. Respect yourself enough to set boundaries and know that people or situations in your life that don’t honor those boundaries don’t deserve to be there in the first place.
Theoretically, you could start every day with a fresh slate, brand new. You could decide that you’re going to start living the life you want, today, even though you haven’t been doing so for a long time. You could look at the behaviors you exhibited in the past as nothing more than ‘things you did.’ You could look at the things that happened to you in the past as nothing more than ‘things that happened.’
But, what do we tend to do? We let our past behaviors define who we are right now and we let the things that happened to us define the way we interact with the world and other people. Everything aside from the present moment is a fictional and often warped, construct in your mind. The past and the future are not real.
It’s not easy to do this, but this three-step process for dealing with the past can allow you to live a better life right now. First, accept what has happened. It is set in stone and there’s nothing you can do to change it. Instead of trying to bury your past transgressions and traumas, feel them fully so you can let them go.
Next, forgive yourself and forgive others (to the extent you can). To forgive yourself, understand that you were doing the best you could at the moment with the mental paradigm you were in. For others, understand that bitterness towards them does nothing but make you feel bad. Last, re-frame the past. You can’t change what happened, but you can change what it means to you. A useful frame? Look at everything that has happened so far as something that happened for you instead of something that happened to you.
This is both a literal and metaphorical piece of advice. Stop walking around with your shoulders hunched over. Some studies show this has a positive effect on your mood and confidence. Even if the science isn’t settled. It seems to be true. Standing up straight with your shoulders back exposes you to the world. It’s a vulnerable and powerful position.
And real strength comes from vulnerability — the willingness to expose yourself even if that means attacks come your way. In a metaphorical sense, this is what people are afraid of. They’re afraid of putting their best selves out there, proudly, and still getting shut down. ‘Hunching’ is both a literal and symbolic method of trying to soften the blow.
If you remain hunched, you can hide and you can avoid some pain, but then you’ll never get to experience the world fully. It’s a coping mechanism that feels safe but ultimately destroys your confidence. Remember, you can’t have one without the other. Confidence and vulnerability are inexplicably tied to each other.
One thing you’ll also notice, standing and sitting up straight all the time is uncomfortable to start with. But just like exercise, short-term discomfort can cause long-term benefits. No need to spell out the exact science, but obviously having better posture for long periods of time is good for you.
In the book The Way of The Superior Man, the author suggests trying to do what you’d do in your dream life, right now, even if you only have a small amount of time to do it. Ask yourself, what would you do during the day if someone waved a magic wand and gave you the life you dreamed of? Maybe you’d spend a bunch of time in nature, focus on a creative project, try some fun hobbies, or just spend time enjoying leisure and doing nothing.
With whatever time and resources you have right now, try getting as close to that experience as possible to see what it feels like. Doing this shows you that you’re capable of having it. Sure, right now you might have some things in your life that get in the way of that — a job you don’t like, lack of money, lack of time —but don’t get fooled into thinking that every single thing in your life needs to be perfect and that you need all the time in the world to experience joy. We spend so much time running around in the rat race that we forget we can carve our little moments of time to live the way we want to.
Steve Jobs has a famous quote:
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
I’m sure you’d change a lot of things in your life if you knew it’d be over soon. All of a sudden you wouldn’t care about grinding and stressing for money. You’d be less afraid to take risks. You’d start doing all of those items on your list that you’ve continued to put in the ‘eventually’ pile. None of the ‘five regrets of the dying’ had anything to do with career success. Often, they regretted working too hard on their careers and not spending enough time with the people they loved. Most of the regrets were about the way they interact with others — not expressing their true feelings enough, not being brave enough to be their authentic selves around others, not staying in touch with the people that mattered.
All of the regrets boiled down to wasting too much time on the wrong things. Time—the most valuable asset that gets squandered the most. You think you have more time, but you don’t know how much time you really have. We all logically know this, but living as if you know you are going to die is hard to do. The whirlwind of life sweeps you away through the sea of time to the point you lose massive chunks of it. It happens. But try to make it happen less often and start doing the things that matter to you now.
Instead, focus on who you are. Remember, you attract who you are not what you want. Most people focus too directly on their desires and it creates needy energy that keeps them from getting it. If instead, you just focused on becoming the type of person who deserves what you want, you’d attract it into your life. All success is a byproduct. If you had the attitude that what you want would come to you eventually if you just lived the right way, it would come. This indirect method works much better than coveting success.
If wanting something bad enough helped you get it, then pretty much everyone would have what they wanted. The harder, yet more effective, road involves working on yourself. You have to be honest with yourself about whether or not you’re even deserving of what you want at this point in your life. You want more money, but why should you have it? Do you embody the traits of a person who makes a lot of money? You want an amazing partner to share your life with. But are you an amazing person? Why should someone want to be with you? You want to find your purpose, but are you living in a purposeful way right now? Good things tend to happen to people who work on themselves and let the chips fall where they may.
First off, walking is an easy way to start exercising that pretty much anyone can do. Second, walking just seems to have this magical effect on your disposition and mental clarity. If you’re struggling with something, you’ll gain some sort of insight into the situation by going for a really long walk. Or even if you don’t have something on your mind, you can enjoy being in the present moment and experiencing nature.
I don’t go on my phone or listen to music when I go for a walk. I just walk in silence and see what happens. Sometimes I think. Other times I’m awe-struck by my surroundings because I’m actually taking the time to observe them. There’s so much going on around you that you don’t notice because you’re too plugged in.
There’s a piece of you that you never get to access if you don’t take time to both enjoy the present moment and be in motion. The motion part is key. Walking creates a different effect than sitting still in meditation. There’s something about the mind-body connection and movement that elicits something that meditation can’t. Many great artists have credited long walks to bringing them breakthrough ideas. Most people who go for walks, in general, will tell you that there’s something deeply therapeutic about it. For health reasons, daily movement is vital. There are zero downsides to doing it.
It doesn’t matter what medium you choose: books, podcasts, YouTube videos, whatever. Start learning about things that are interesting to Iyou. You don’t need a specific reason to do so. You don’t need to do it for the sake of self-improvement. Just do it for the sake of doing it. If that means you watch random videos about World War II, read the biographies of 90’s grunge bands, or start learning about how to plant tomatoes in your backyard, exploring what fascinates you helps you rediscover that love for learning that may have been beaten out of you during your schooling years.
These curiosities don’t have to lead to a career, but they certainly can. I hated learning in school, but a few years back I started to learn about things that interested me — self-improvement, business, psychology, science, art—and I also started writing, which was something I’d been curious about doing for as long as I can remember. Now? I write about the things that fascinate me and make a full-time living doing it. I didn’t set out with that goal in mind at first but my curiosity landed me in a spot I’m grateful to be in today.
Jordan Peterson helped transform the lives of thousands of people with a simple piece of advice: clean your room. Admiral William McRaven wrote a best-selling book about…making your bed. Why would such simple practices resonate with people so much? Sometimes, where your life seems totally out of control, it feels overwhelming to find something to tackle and work on.
That’s where setting the bar really really really low comes in. If you hate your job, have a bunch of anxiety, are out of shape, feel lost, and feel like your life is spinning out of control, it might be hard to just turn everything around in a snap. But, you can clean your room. You can have one tiny area of your life that you have totally dialed in.
Once you have one thing dialed in, you can start to focus on others. Take control of that tiny area of your life day after day after day and all of a sudden you have this tiny modicum of discipline and confidence that can be translated into other areas. Speaking specifically about tasks like cleaning your room and making your bed, there does seem to be some sort of subconscious connection between the way you treat your living space and the way you feel about yourself. Whatever area of your life you choose, find something extremely achievable and master it.
Being overly preoccupied with yourself can cause anxiety. Focusing on others can alleviate your anxiety and help you become more confident, useful, and better at interacting with the world as a whole. If you have social anxiety, focus on how other people feel instead of how you feel. Stop worrying about what to say and listen intently. Get curious about others and they’ll think you’re interesting.
Instead of worrying about how you can become successful, focus on making the lives of other people better and you’ll become successful. Even if you’re totally self-interested, this is still the best way to get what you want. Most problems come from an overinflated sense of self. Brash arrogance and excess self-loathing both come from feeling like you’re more important than you are.
If you stepped out of the door every day and focused on how you could make others feel better, how you could make every situation better off than the way you found it, and how you could make an impact on others instead of worrying how they’d impact you, the self-confidence you’ve been searching for would come to you just like that.