Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.
I often get caught up in the hectic nature of life. I get bogged down with things to do and the drive to be productive. It’s hard not to get sucked into the routine of living and take life for granted. Sometimes it’s hard to stay excited about life.
This is especially true when you’re working toward long term goals that might not be realized for a few months or even years. I’ve been working on building my blog for the past seven months. I eventually want to turn this into the main source of my income, so I can quit my job and stop selling my time to someone else. While I feel very passionate about this goal, it probably won’t be realized for a few months or a year (at the most). It’s difficult for me sometimes to stay excited about my goals, when I’m currently working toward someone else’s to pay the bills (see this article).
It’s time like these when I get bored with work. I get bored with routines and monotony. The opposite of happiness after all isn’t sadness or depression.
I recurrently have to keep myself in check. I have to balance my goals that will be realized in the future, with being happy now. After all, isn’t now all we’ve got?
So how can we stay excited about life? How can we remain passionate about living, and not get trapped in the cycle of routines?
Here are some things that I personally do to help keep me stay excited about life.
- Return to simplicity. Simplification is about de-cluttering your life. It’s not just de-cluttering our homes and spaces though, it’s simplifying our mental and emotional realms. It’s shedding the baggage of self-limiting beliefs and constant mental chatter. It’s finding some quietude in your life.
- Stop labeling. It’s amazing how much we think we’re experiencing life, but we’re really just thinking about it. I want you to try a little exercise with me. Take a look at something around you. Maybe it’s a photo, a plant, or your keyboard. Our normal state of mind is to think about the object we’re looking at, to conceptualize it in our mind and place labels on it. Now look at the same object and don’t think about it. If this is difficult for you, that’s okay. Relax and just look. Let go. Notice a difference? That’s because when you’re not thinking about what you’re things, you’re actually experiencing life directly. The labels in our mind are simply abstractions, they’re not reality itself. Try doing this more often: when you’re in line at the grocery store, walking your dog, listening to music, etc. You’ll start to enjoy your experience much more.
- Enjoy the simple things in life. This goes along with quieting our minds as well. The next time you eat a piece of fruit or enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, simply enjoy it. Sounds like a pretty obvious suggestion right? Well it is, but most of the time we do exactly the opposite. We’re not just eating or drinking, we’re thinking about all sorts of things. We’re thinking about the next item of action; taking out the dog to use the bathroom, the mail we need to take to the post office, etc. The next time you eat or drink, just do that. You will experience the flavors and tastes at if it were the first time.
- Change things up. Try something new. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, but have never gotten around to. If you’ve always wanted to learn to play tennis, go out and buy a tennis racket and a ball. If you don’t have a partner, you can always play the wall. =)
- Make time for what you love. We often get burnt out because we’re busy working and attending to obligations. If we are not doing anything we’re excited about, we’ll likely start resenting our lives. It’s important to make time every day doing things you really enjoy.
- Drop unwanted commitments. Just as we need to make time for doing things we love, we also need to prune the things we aren’t passionate about. Some things aren’t really negotiable. If you don’t pay your electricity bill, you will be eating by candlelight. But other so-called obligations aren’t really necessary. A good test is to ask yourself if your commitment is something that’s really adding to your life. Is it enhancing your life, or is it just adding more stress? Sometimes quitting is the best answer when simplifying your life.
- Focus on what matters. I have a tendency to want everything to be perfect. I want to edit every article I write until I can’t tell whether or not it’s good anymore. Then I edit it some more. I later realize that even when I don’t get as good of a response as I hoped for, no one really care. Except me. You have the option to not care about things being less than perfect too. Realize that your return on investment decreases rapidly. Studying for 8 hours a week might get you a 3.8 GPA, while studying for 20 hours might earn you a 4.0. Is that extra .2 really worth it? Focus on what matters and stop stressing so much that you’re no longer enjoying life.
- Let go. Relaxation is possible. I know, it scares me too. The thought of not obsessing over all the things I didn’t get done today is often terrifying. But it’s okay. There will always be tomorrow. On your deathbed do you really think you’re going to be thinking about the to-do list you didn’t complete? I don’t think so. You’ll probably be thinking about how you wished you would have had more fun, spent more time with your family and enjoyed life more.
- Embrace your inner geek. We’re all geeky about certain things. I admit that I’m a design geek. I can sit for hours obsessing over typefaces, color palates and white space. I seriously live for this stuff though, so it’s okay to obsess a little. The point is, when I design, draw, and write, I lose track of time. I embrace my inner geek and all I’m thinking about is what I’m doing. I’m not worrying about how it will turn out, I’m not thinking about the phone bill I need to pay. I’m just there. Think about what really makes you geek out. A good indicator is that it’s something you get super excited about that makes other people give you strange looks.
- Be grateful. I’m certainly not the first one to say this. But it bears repeating. Every time I am in a rut or feeling sorry for myself, I try to remember to be grateful. Just being grateful to be alive is a powerful thing. You never know when you’re going to leave this world. You never know if you’ll have another chance to write that novel you have been meaning to, run that marathon or tell your lover how you feel about her.
- Reassess your priorities. Are you living for today, or solely for the achievement of your next project? Do you stress out about what’s on your to-do list more than living in the moment? If you’re at all like me, you occasionally fall into this rut as well. We have to find a balance in achievement and contentment. Sometimes it’s not about getting what you want, but wanting what you have. It’s not about achieving the completion of a project, but enjoying the process of creativity.
When striving for personal growth, it’s easy to get caught up in living for our next achievement. Our next success and the next mountain that we aim to conquer. But if we’re not living for today, what’s the point? If we’re never able to enjoy life now, it’s probably time we reassess our priorities.
Milestones and achievements —graduations, promotions, etc.— make up a small fraction of life.
If the majority of our days are “normal day” then maybe we should spend more time trying to find everyday bliss.
This article was written by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead of the Illuminated Mind blog. For more ways to experience everyday bliss subscribe to his blog.
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