Over the next couple weeks, I’m going to write a series of 4 posts, including this one, on steps I’ve taken to get results in my life and feel happy doing it, two things that used to feel super elusive to me and maybe to other people, too.
Today’s post is on getting results in any area of your life. The next one will be on stillness and what that can do for learning to love yourself and find fulfillment within. The following two will be inspired by my engagement with Tara Mohr’s work: one on learning to understand the voice in your head that you might hear all the time, especially if you’re a woman–your inner critic–and another on learning to listen to the deep well of wisdom that Tara calls your inner mentor, but others may call your intuition or your heart or your gut. I’ll explain in these posts why Tara’s methods for characterizing these two voices have been so incredibly effective for me.
The funny thing about every self-help or personal development strategy I’ve read about in the past few months is that they all basically boil down to two major ideas. Each person addresses them differently, using unique language or mini-strategies to get to the two big ones, but they are ultimately the same, in my opinion. These two strategies will infuse all my writing about results, stillness, and relating to my inner critic and mentor. They are the two most major parts of my self-care. They are taking responsibility and love. The two secrets to a successful and fulfilled life? Take responsibility for everything in your life that’s in your control, including your reactions to what’s not in your control, and learn to love yourself, and I mean truly, unconditionally, fall in love with who you are right now, which in turn leads you to emit love outwards toward others.
Neither of these strategies is an overnight hit. I didn’t figure these steps out one day, go to sleep, wake up the next day, and just take responsibility for everything that I control and love myself. Far from that. Each is a practice, every day, every hour, every moment. Each is a choice. I think this is why it took me 31 years to get here. I didn’t like that kind of responsibility. I wanted quick, easy fixes that didn’t involve mental cartwheels. But, as Stephen Covey says, the choice you make in the space between stimulus and your response is what determines your character. Like anything, practice makes you better at it. The practice gets easier over time. Once you “master” one area, you can move on to another. Some things even become rote, like habits. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel if the idea of working for it scares or annoys you.
I could probably write two whole posts on those two concepts and how I’ve worked on them–let me know if that sounds interesting to you. But for now, I wanted to briefly explain them because I think they’re both foundational to what I’m going to write about in these next 4 posts.
There are a few major concepts I’ve learned in the pursuit of results.
- You have to almost detach from the result you’re after. You first envision it as your goal and then you decide you can be happy right now before you have it. Eckhart Tolle calls this nonattachment to fruit of action. This detachment will help you pursue the thing without the sort of unsmiling determination someone who thrives on achievement, like me, will harness to get to the end.
- You can’t render yourself inactive because you’re afraid you will fail. Classic perfectionist mistake and one I’ve made a billion times in my life. In this beautiful post for Tiny Buddha, Jenn explains that perfection is both impossible and inauthentic, which I’ve always sort of implicitly understood, but her third one really got me. Perfection is stagnation. If you’re not acting because you’re afraid you won’t be perfect, just remember that. You’re trying to progress, not stagnate. You’ll probably never be “perfect.” But you will progress if you keep at it.
- Also from Eckhart, you must derive your daily sense of self from being, not from becoming. I’ll talk more about this in the next post about stillness and self-love. But for now, know that your happiness and sense of worth must exist before the outcome you desire.
- This one comes from Tony Robbins: the meaning you give to an action is everything. Let’s say you’re trying to decide if you want to eat a cheeseburger for dinner, but you’re a little heavier than you’d like and weight loss is your goal. You could infuse the cheeseburger choice with the gratification you want right now: you had a long day, you’re too tired to rustle up something a little healthier, and damn it, it tastes so good. So you eat it and then the next day you feel like crap and beat yourself up, but when faced with the same choice, you do it again and again and again…until you’ve gained more weight. Alternatively, you could infuse the cheeseburger choice with the gratification your abstract, future self wants. Yes, you’re tired and it would taste good and you totally deserve it, but don’t you want to weight 10 pounds less in 3 months? Jump even further in the future: when you’re 55, don’t you want to be healthy and not be going to the hospital in the midst of a massive heart attack? Don’t you want to spend your money on vacations and other fun experiences with your future family rather than the cholesterol medication you have to take because you always chose cheeseburger?
- As Tony would say, these tiny decisions, made day in and day out, are what determine your destiny. Not your circumstances. Just you and your little decisions each day. Here’s a quote for you: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (People often attribute that to Aristotle, but I’m honestly not sure if that’s accurate. Help a girl out!) You’re not going to achieve greatness or results because of one heroic act. You have to do it every day. And what you do every day is what makes you. It’s what makes you today and it’s what makes you in a year.
We are the sum of our repeated thoughts and actions.
When I first started running, I didn’t know what would happen. I only knew that I needed to run. At the end of 3 months of running about 3 times a week (we’re talking 3 miles a day, 10-minute miles, nothing fancy), I had lost 25 pounds. When I weighed myself for the first time at the end of the 3 months, did it feel like the 25 pounds came off overnight? Yes. Did those pounds come off gradually because I made a decision to run 3 times a week no matter what? Absolutely.
- On time: If you try to prioritize what’s on your schedule, your schedule will own you. You must schedule your priorities. (That’s Stephen Covey.) In Fringe Hours, Jessica Turner quotes Charles Brixton, who said, “You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” Does this seem scary or impossible? I started waking up an hour earlier so I could journal, read a personal development book chapter, and meditate because I knew my days were already jam-packed. And it has made all the difference. I also schedule my workouts in my planner. If a student I tutor wants to meet on Monday at 5:30, I know to say that I can’t. That’s gym time. Every week, no questions asked. But also, do you know Parkinson’s Law? It’s that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. I apply this in my life in several ways. I try to stay fairly scheduled because I know I’m more productive when I have more to do. Simply put, if I have a whole Saturday to write a paper and I have nothing else on my schedule that day, guess what time I sit down to write the paper? Probably 4 or 5 pm. If I have no defined date on which I want to achieve something, guess when I start working toward it? Never. Some deadlines are imposed, like exams for me. I have to be ready by October. Some we can impose on ourselves. (Maybe sticking to self-imposed deadlines in another post?) But remember, if you’re not making great progress, as Tara reminds us, you might not need more discipline. You might need more self-love. You might also need rest. More on these next post.
- And finally, on doing the damn thing. I feel like the first six concepts were more mental cartwheel type concepts. This step might be the most difficult. It’s acting. It’s doing. Here are some sub-concepts for this most difficult concept:
- If you listen to Marie Forleo’s “How to Get Anything You Want,” she walks you through the first steps of doing something you’ve had trouble doing in the past. (Yes, you have to subscribe to listen, but her emails are great, and you can totally unsubscribe after you listen if more email is a nightmare for you. The audio is an hour long, but it was an amazing journaling practice and I refer to my notes from it at least once a week.) She takes you through fully committing to something, eliminating your excuses by naming 10 possible excuses you will make and why each is BS and what you will do instead, and finally, something called The Magic 20 to help you get on your way. Having a list of your excuses and your actions is invaluable.
- More than anything else, I keep in mind that the simple, productive, seemingly insignificant action I take today, repeated consistently over time, will produce the results (see Jeff Olson). Go back to my running example. It was totally mundane to run 3 miles 3 times a week. It seemed so small and ineffective. It seemed so easy and attainable. I couldn’t see my results. But they happened. We want our lives to be like training montages in movies: little snippets of action, sweat flying off our foreheads in slow motion, inspiring music in the background, tons of people cheering us on, results after what looks like 5 minutes. But we are more like the frog paddling in the bucket of cream who eventually churned it into butter and hopped out. Like the frog, I could not see that my little daily choice would lead to such powerful results. I was the only one cheering me on. But I counted each day that I ran as a success. The success, for me, wasn’t in the results. I rewrote the meaning of success to be running each day. I derived satisfaction from the mundane, from taking responsibility for myself, for loving myself enough to take care of myself. And August 2013 me thanked May 2013 me.
Jeff also says success is a process, not a destination. Because the results we want are so far in the future and so hard to visualize, we think eating the cheeseburger today has no effect. And we think that every time we eat one! We think it every time we skip the gym. Every time we Netflix instead of working on our very important project. Every time we hit the snooze button instead of getting up to work on a passion project. Every time we walk past our partner in the kitchen and don’t hug him or her and say, I love you. Every time someone important to us makes a bid for connection and we ignore it because it’s convenient to us.
Just today. Just today. Just today.
How many times have you said that? What’s the compound interest on all those withdrawals? What if they were deposits?
When will you reverse it? When will “just today” become 30 minutes at the gym, a quick run, leafy green vegetables, water instead of soda, an hour on your important project, an hour on your passion project, a hug, a kiss? Those deposits will add up. They will infuse you with purpose and worth and energy and some day you’re going to wake up and think it happened overnight. But you will remember the mundane, small steps and choices you made over the course of time. You will see your own montage. It might not be glamorous. But it will have been effective.
The cheeseburger won’t kill you today, as Jeff says. But it will some day. Conversely, the run won’t shed 10 pounds today. But it will soon. Apply this to any place in your life where you want to see results. Every time you say, it doesn’t matter, imagine multiplying that by a hundred days. What happens? Conversely, every time you say, it DOES matter today, imagine multiplying that by a hundred days. You might not be able to visualize the result, but you must know that it will be incredible.
A final consideration, from this article:
Imagine your last day on earth. The person you became meets the person you could have become.
What does that look like for you?
Have any of these strategies worked for you? Will you try any? Do you know others that work well? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Stay tuned for the other side of this equation: love and rest and stillness, and how sometimes I totally eat the cheeseburger.