Many years ago, I reached a tipping point in my life. My days seemed increasingly darker, and I didn’t understand what was happening. That’s when my body complained, and I got a health condition that made me re-evaluate my choices. I looked at many aspects of my life that I wanted to improve for good, and I built a plan. In today’s post, I want to describe the guiding principles that governed my plan and the challenges I faced.
The Need for Change
In my life, trauma has been almost always the precursor for change. People call this post-traumatic growth. I knew I had to change much earlier because of my good friend’s tragic death, but I then realized a fundamental error in the approach; I redefined my happiness in terms of what made me unhappy. As confusing as this sounds, I decided to become more ambitious and pursue 10X goals without realizing I was in the wrong race. I wasn’t ‘successful’ enough, or I didn’t have enough ‘influence,’ or my love life sucked, etc. So I decided I would put more effort and do better. As a result, I spent most of my thirties in this rat race without questioning why I was in it.
It wasn’t until I read books about happiness and human behavior that I discovered that my ambitions came from a preconceived social script I was made to believe I had to follow and the projections of my parents’ insecurities. So, without realizing it, I had been over-indulging in sensual pleasures (booze, dates, over-socializing) to feel numb and forget the suffering I was putting myself through for the vague promise of a happier tomorrow.
The Life Improvement Plan
My favorite book about happiness is “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt. In that book, he highlights how many environmental factors, things like the place you live, how clean, quiet, and bright it is, etc., make a sizable difference in daily contentment. There are also internal factors, like accepting your feelings for what they are and finding a sense of purpose, that are crucial to happiness. So I decided to take a look and work on the areas that didn’t satisfy me.
To uncover my focus areas, I built a list where I outlined the current state, and how I wish it were different and why. One tool I love to use to unveil the source of my desires is to ask “why” repeatedly five times to challenge each objective. So, for example, if I aimed to look better, and after the fifth ‘why’ I answered that I feel insecure when going on dates, I know that I have to look deeper into what makes me insecure and not jump into a quest that derails me from my purpose.
Finally, I didn’t set goals in terms of specific milestones but goals in terms of habits I had to build to get where I wanted to go, at least for the initial stage. I.E., it’s very different to set a weight goal and work very hard to get it just to drop all the effort right after; than to set an intention to work out five times a week. The latter intention is what will support and sustain the first one.
The Role Of Mindfulness and Therapy
Navigating my life from the perspective of someone wanting to grow was daunting. I had to absorb and understand many psychological concepts and apply them to myself without believing I suffer from everything. At the time, I didn’t know what help was available to me, and in many cases, I thought something was wrong with me. Therefore a natural step was to reach out to a therapist, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to get guidance to make sense of all the information I had in my head. Finally, with the help of an external view I began practicing mindfulness as a way to obserb my own feelings and self-sustain my mental health.
Therapy, in my mind, is a great way to navigate the inner depths of yourself and become mentally healthy, but after that pursuit is over, it’s essential to build the habits to sustain that mental health. I still reach out to my therapist when I find things to work on, but I’m not a regular.
The first edition of my life improvement plan was only the beginning, and it empowered me to go through the exercise over and over as I gained more self-awareness. This insight was indeed a breakthrough. Wanting to be and feel better always was not a goal but a habit I had to build; I had to become someone who is always doing better instead of just driving change for a period, incorporating all practices as a habit. I guess that’s what means the cliche of a “growth mindset.”
I apologize if I was vague with this. The journey was so long that I could (and perhaps one day I will) write an entire book about it. But if you connect with my statements and feel the itch to make a significant change in your life, I’d love to be a part of that and give you practical advise, so please reach out. I can share more about my journey and help you implement your very own life improvement plan.
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