Even if you’ve spent a ton of time in your life making the wrong choices and failing to live up to your potential, there can come a day when you just finally decide to change.
What’s different about that moment or those sets of moments that lead to a major turnaround? It’s difficult to pinpoint. Usually, you put your foot down when the pain of staying the same hurts more than the potential pain of trying to change. I’m all for inspiration and positive messages, but most of the times I’ve ‘put my foot down’ happened when I was thoroughly fed up with my situations.
When I was living in a ratty apartment with a 3 figure net worth, working a job I hated, I said “enough.”
When I looked in the mirror completely nude after eating several dozen cookies on Christmas day a few years back, realizing I was 40 pounds overweight, I said “enough.”
And pretty much every moment in my life where I decided it was time for a change, I realized I had to stop doing certain things to get where I wanted to go. The process involved getting rid of bad habits, believes, and behaviors, more so than adding positives. Changing your identity usually means letting go of who you were so you can become someone else.
This has been my self-improvement philosophy for years. Get fed up, not inspired. Stop doing dumb stuff, quit trying to be smart. Add to your life through removal. Once you cut out a lot of the cancerous elements of your life, you’re left with…a better life.
There’s a long list of things you can stop doing to show you’re finally ready to change your life, but here are some of my favorites.
Potentialville is the imaginary space in your mind where you fantasize about the person you could be. It feels so real to you because you do have what it takes to achieve your goals. We all do. You can picture yourself doing better in the future because you know you’re capable of it. But capability means nothing.
Eventually, you’re going to have to look at your life honestly. And, if you’re being honest with yourself, your potential starts to fade over time. Not saying that change is impossible at certain periods of your life, but it just gets more difficult.
You can tell yourself that you’ll start that business eventually. Most people do this when they get entry-level jobs to start their careers. They figure the big dreams will happen later. But, the entry-level job turns into a decade of a career, just like that. All of a sudden a bright-eyed idealistic young person becomes locked into their position, potential fading every year.
Deep down, we know this to be true, but we cling to the idea of our potential as a coping mechanism. If we can hold onto that feeling that maybe, just maybe, things will somehow magically get better on their own, we can cope with the slowly creeping reality that they won’t. Change happens when you can see the future clearly. It happens when you understand that, if you don’t do something about your situation, soon, you’re destined to go wherever the winds of circumstance push you.
When I was 25 years old, I realized that I had a life full of lackluster employment, unhappiness, and quiet desperation ahead of me if I didn’t make some drastic changes. Didn’t matter how smart I was or how much potential I had. I needed to make moves. And I made them. So can you.
Our ability to lie to ourselves and rationalize our situations is unparalleled. Again, this goes back to the idea of coping. You tell yourself lies to keep yourself from totally breaking down. The truth hurts. The truth that, perhaps, you’re in the situation you’re in because of you, hurts the most.
It hurts to know that you could be doing x, y, or z with your life but you’re the main obstacle to getting what you want. It hurts to know that you could have better outcomes in your life if you just worked harder, or smarter. Ultimately, it hurts to come to the realization that you’re not living the life you want simply because you’re deciding not to do the things required to change.
So, you tell yourself a bunch of convenient lies to avoid facing the truth.
You blame society. Yes, society doesn’t want you to succeed. I wrote an entire chapter about that fact in my book. But, so what? Even though society is rigged against the success of the individual, you can still escape the machine if you decide to. It’s just hard and you don’t want to do it. If you can admit that, maybe you stand a chance to change.
You can blame your upbringing, your parents, the environment you grew up in. Yes, statistically, these factors have an impact on your success. But, over a long enough period of time, you can outgrow your upbringing and the environment you came from.
You can tell yourself a negative narrative and it can be true to a degree. But your story isn’t so uniquely bad that you’re robbed of all agency and personal responsibility. That’s the biggest lie we tell ourselves — that there’s absolutely nothing we can do. That we’re stuck, destined, fate-sealed.
I don’t know you. But I do know that, because you’re a human being, you lie to yourself. You’ll never cure this permanently, but if you stop telling yourself these big, long-term, overarching lies about your life, you can accept the truth and change.
Have you ever made a mistake or an error so bad you’re just stuck thinking about it? Completely frozen. You just obsess over and over again about what could’ve happened vs what actually happened. You know that this ruminating does nothing, but you feel compelled to do it. During these moments, it’s hard to pivot because your emotions can just take control of you.
Maybe you can’t totally rid yourself of regret, but once it subsides, you have to let it go to the point where you can make better moves in the present moment. What’s done is done — one of the easiest mantras to understand logically but one of the most difficult ones to accept emotionally.
To get over past mistakes, regrets, things you’re ashamed of doing, you have to make it up in your mind that those behaviors don’t have to define who you are now and who you can be moving forward.
I’ve done a bunch of stupid things. I’ve been arrested. I got fired from jobs. I dropped out of school. So, when I was 25 years old, broke, and a convicted felon, I had two choices — waste time wishing I hadn’t messed up so bad or start from where I was. I chose the latter.
You have to deal with your mistakes and you have to deal with the weight of your past that influences your current decisions. Sometimes in life, you just have to cut bait. And it’s hard.
It’s hard because of our relationship to sunk costs:
Sunk costs are those costs that are beyond recovery the moment a decision is made.
The amount of time, money, or energy, you spend doing ‘x’ doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. How many people are stuck in marriages just because they’ve been in them for years? How many people won’t let go of a career they don’t enjoy just because they’ve built up some status and prestige? what are you personally holding onto that no longer serves you?
I know it’s hard to accept. But, what’s done is done. You either move on from it or let it continue to have a major influence over your life. Those are your only two choices.
Often, we carry this weird sense of ‘know it all’ energy even though we don’t have the results we want in life. We try to give off the impression that we have everything figured out, when, it’s clear that we don’t base on the results we’ve been getting.
If you want to change your life, you might have to stop thinking you’re above trying to get help. You have to stop thinking that your education stopped in school. You have more to learn and more to do.
Getting help could mean a lot of different things. You might need to see a therapist. Getting a mentor or a coach has served me well pretty much every time I’ve used one. When I wanted to write a book, I took a course on writing and publishing books. When I wanted to become a popular blogger, I took a blogging course.
I still have coaches, mentors, and guides for pretty much every area of my life. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know all that much. Also, I don’t try to figure out everything on my own. I realize there are shortcuts. I can seek guidance from people who’ve already done what I wanted to do.
Ask yourself, if you know how to live a better life and get what you want, why aren’t you doing it? If you knew so well how to manage your life on your own, why isn’t your life going the way you want it to?
I’m not encouraging you to spend a dime. There are plenty of resources you can use to improve your life, including free information on the internet. The point here? Humble yourself. Until you come from a place of humility and willingness to learn you’re always going to be stuck with a mindset that’s going to keep you from getting what you want.
All of these points have been about humility. Humility often comes from telling yourself the truth about your situation as it currently stands and seeing where you can go from there.
When you’re finally ready to change your life, you stop waiting. So profound, right? But it’s true. I remember the day I stopped waiting. I made a decision that I was going to change my life and I started changing it. There was a day one, then a day two, then a day three. Next thing you know I’ve built a week’s worth of momentum. Once momentum kicks in, the time goes by much faster.
It’s been more than a half-decade since I made a firm decision to change. And it honestly doesn’t even feel like I did all of that work, but I did. The time just went by. I got into a groove and then I started to rely on habits and discipline instead of having to constantly motivate myself. Now, I have many productive habits woven into the fabric of my being. This is how the process works.
There has to be a day one. And there has to be a streak. Once you get the streak going, you build a foundation that makes it easier to continue. But, you have to stop thinking that some outside force is going to force you to change. You have to change your relationship with time.
These days, I’m so acutely aware of time that it actually bugs me quite a bit if I waste a single day. If I few hours go by where I’m not living the way I want to live, I can feel it in a visceral way.
You don’t need to live like that, but it’s important to start to observe time slipping away as it slips away. You get older every day. You’re closer to your death every single day. You don’t know what events lie ahead of you that will make it harder to accomplish your goals. Maybe you have ample time, maybe not. Who knows?
Instead of fighting the uncertainty of your future and hiding from your inevitable death, use them to your advantage. As motivation sources. As fuel. Get on with it. Clock’s ticking.