- Michael Thompson
When things aren’t adding up in your life, start subtracting
“Most people spend the first half of their lives collecting and the second half determining what to keep. Now that you’re approaching the top of the hill, I’d love to know what lessons you plan to keep with you?”
On my 39th birthday, a friend of mine asked me the question above. I can’t remember what I said in response. It probably wasn’t anything clever. Hence why I write — I get time to think.
Over the last two and a half years, however, not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about his words.
Today, if he were to ask me again, I’d be better prepared to answer him.
I’d begin by stressing the fact that the secret to happiness isn’t found in addition, but rather in getting rid of the things that make us miserable.
It took me too long to learn that what we chose not to do matters more than what we chose to do.
I have my bad days. But overall, I feel pretty good about myself. This wasn’t always the case. I grew up with a speech impediment and extreme social anxiety. It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin and learn to smile without having to fake it.
Taking the time to identify the 9 behaviors below that has played a big role in that.
Some of the behaviors below may resonate with you. Others may not.
When it comes to our happiness, like most things in life, our job is to be like Bruce Lee, and, “adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically our own.”
1. Giving more power to the opinions of others over our own inner voice
Shortly after I began writing three years ago, an old high school friend was kind enough to send me a message letting me know how much I was embarrassing myself.
For once, instead of spending the rest of the day wallowing in self-doubt, convinced the whole world was laughing at me, I sat down at my desk and published another article.
It didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. But regardless, I felt incredible.
I wish I could say that I don’t have any regrets, but I’ve made some stupid mistakes in my life. However, most of them have one thing in common — I prioritized the opinions of others over my own inner voice.
We get one shot at life. The moment you let the words of others hold you back from chasing your dreams is the day you can kiss your dreams goodbye.
You don’t want to be kicking yourself on your deathbed for not doing the things you wanted to do because Randy from accounting thought it was a dumb idea.
When you don’t treat your curiosity like a responsibility, you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re also robbing the world of your talents.
2. Packing your days too tightly
Busyness is not a sign of success or importance. It is a sign of a lack of clarity. This is not only true in our careers, but more importantly, also in our relationships.
It’s hard to be a good listener if we are always in a rush. It’s hard not to complain if we are always answering someone else’s call. It’s hard to be positive when we don’t have time to sink into our own skin.
Too little time to ourselves makes us bitter in the long-run and annoyed in the short-run.
One of the best decisions you can make is to follow the lead of executive coach, Dan Sullivan, and prioritize your free time over your scheduled time.
Pull out your calendar each morning and circle two hours of white space that is just for you before getting to work.
Reserving time for self-reflection, to tinker, or to simply do nothing is soup for our souls. Sometimes the most beautiful things can be found in boredom.
Plus, it’s hard to spot the opportunities around you if you are only looking at what is in front of you.
The happiest people I know spend their time on activities that matter to them. It’s hard to identify these things if your days are jammed packed.
3. Allowing your fears to paralyze you from asking for what you want
One of the characteristics that stand out from the happy and successful people I know is they don’t sit around building castles in the sky. If they want something, they ask for it.
Boldness is a seriously attractive quality. It’s hard not to admire someone who has the guts to go after what they want.
Opening yourself up to rejection isn’t easy. But it sure beats the heck out of sitting around second-guessing yourself.
Asking for what you want teaches you the power of action. It allows you to learn where people stand while providing you with clues about how to get it right in the future. Not only that, but it teaches you that a lot of people are kinder than you think. According to my friend Brian Pennie, however, you’ll never learn these things if you don’t allow yourself to dare greatly.
Plus, the more time you spend going after what you want, the less time you’ll have to sit around thinking about what other people have.
Put all of these benefits together and you are seriously hamstringing your happiness if you don’t develop the courage to ask for what you want.
4. Thinking of only yourself instead of doing what you can to help others
“Stop complaining and go do something nice for someone.” I can’t count the number of times my parents said variations of these words when I still lived under their shade. I completely ignored them.
I now believe they were handing me a major ingredient to happiness on a silver platter, and I simply refused to eat.
The fastest way to improve our own lives is by doing something to improve someone else’s.
One of the best things you can do for your happiness is to write down what you can do for the people you care about before making your own to-do list each morning.
Start your day by telling your partner they’re beautiful. Send an old friend an uplifting message. Tell a young writer who shows promise to keep at it.
It becomes much easier to start the day off on the right foot if you are doing what you can to be helpful.
One smile at a time. One compliment at a time. One kind gesture at a time.
That’s how you change your world.
It’s hard to complain about your own life if you have your baseline set on giving.
5. Blaming other people for your own shortcomings
The fastest way to ensure you never win is by blaming other people when you lose. I wish I had learned this fact of life earlier. I used to point my finger at everyone else but myself. It didn’t do me an ounce of good.
Besides making you look bad, and making other people feel worse, blaming other people when things go south jeopardizes trust.
Would you ever respect someone who doesn’t have the gumption to accept their own shortcomings and own up to their mistakes?
Despite what people say, at our core, we’re not all that different.
You’ll never be taken seriously if you don’t learn how to correctly respond when things go wrong. It reveals much more about our character to people than how we act when things go right.
When you screw up — even if it wasn’t entirely your fault — own it, apologize, do what you can to make it right if the situation allows, then bury the worry.
Everyone makes mistakes. Taking responsibility when you make one will help you sleep well at night.
6. Arguing about things that aren’t important
My wife and I were running late. On the way out the door, I said a variation of the words that no one deserves or enjoys hearing— “You’re wrong.”
As I write this, I can’t remember what we were arguing about. That should give you an idea of how important it was.
When’s the last time you changed your mind because someone said you were wrong? Again, as human beings, we aren’t all that different.
The next time you find yourself nipping at something that shouldn’t be bitten, ask yourself if the words you are about to say, are the very ones the person you are speaking with is looking to hear.
If they aren’t. Do yourself a favor and be quiet.
Our first response is rarely the best response. We’re much better at communicating our feelings when we’re not steaming.
Not arguing about meaningless stuff saves so much time and energy. Few phrases create more happiness in our lives than learning to say “You’re probably right.”
7. Holding grudges
A few months ago a friend of mine did something that really pissed me off. It ended up costing me thousands of dollars.
That same day I called my mom to complain about it and before I could get on a roll she cut me off by saying the following:
“I get that you are upset, but despite what you may think, most people don’t wake up and plot and scheme about how they can ruin your day. Good people do stupid things. You don’t have to leave your door wide-open, but keep it a little bit ajar. Life is long. One of the best parts about getting older is seeing people come in and out of our lives.”
Take a moment and think about the last time you ended a friendship with someone you cared about because they did something you didn’t agree with.
Now imagine they were still in your life.
Would you like that?
If so, then make the effort.
Author, Paul Boese summed it up best when saying, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
8. Telling yourself you’ll begin to take your health seriously…tomorrow
I rang in my 30th birthday in the back room of a dive bar in Central America surrounded by enough “things” to wake up Donald Trump.
Despite a life that looked great on paper, I had serious bouts with depression and frequent anxiety attacks.
I was miserable.
I had allowed a job I wasn’t meant to do run me into the ground. In the process, I gained 60 pounds, pushed away a lot of people who cared about me, and turned to drugs and alcohol to fall asleep most nights.
It took some time and a big commitment on my part, but I turned myself around. Today I can run a 10K without breaking a sweat, go head-to-head with my two young children, and outwork most people in their twenties.
Most importantly, when I exercise regularly, I’m kinder to myself and the people around me. After all, it’s hard to be angry with your kid for spilling his milk after going for a long run.
Motivating yourself to exercise every day isn’t easy. But there is real value in doing things that don’t make you feel worse.
9. Ignoring the good that’s right in front of you
You will never be happy if you are always chasing more instead of appreciating what you already have.
Make a point to try to write down the beautiful things you see each day. Keep track of the nice things people do for you. Focus on what you have, instead of pining over what you don’t. Start a “Holy Shit Jar” if it makes this easier.
Everywhere we turn we are reminded about the importance of practicing gratitude. This is for a reason: it works.
Positivity is a choice and it’s one worth making. It’s another seriously attractive quality.
Laia, my wife, said it best — “There isn’t a lack of beauty in the world, just a lack of people who take the time to look for it.”
Close to three years have passed since my friend asked me which lessons I’ve collected that are worth keeping.
This question has changed my life more than any other.
I’d be lying if I said I’m completely done with all the behaviors above. Some of them aren’t easy to cut and others are downright hard.
But I’m more conscious of them today and I’m making an effort.
As a result, my life is simpler and I feel lighter.
It’s nice. I smile more often.
If adding more things to your life is making your life feel heavy, it may be time to start subtracting.