In a way, life can be like a marathon with different checkpoints spread all around: cool teenage years, crazy college, fulfilling twenties, crazy relationships etc. etc.
Sometimes however, you’ll hate this marathon because you’ll feel stuck on a treadmill while everyone else is running away into the distance.
On the other hand, it’s possible you’re a demotivated vegetable. You want your life to more forward but somehow can’t put in the work.
The problem is keeping it all together long enough to find and use the strength to take yourself where you want to be.
Another legitimate cause for your unhappiness is feeling you’re trapped. You want to live your life to look a certain way, to do stuff you’ve always craved for.
You can’t though, because there are too many restrictions that limit your freedom and hold you back.
The circumstances are different from person to person. You could have too many obligations towards too many people and have no time, energy and resources left for you. Other times, persistent poverty can hold you down.
Health issues, abusive families and countless others can you make feel as though you don’t have a free will. Important life decisions are made for you, without you having a say in it.
Most of these problems don’t really have a quick fix.
However, there is one particular method that will work in almost all cases.
The only major downside, is that it will take some time before the weight of your problems becomes lighter to carry.
Why living to become a better you will make life happy and satisfying.
When you’re caught in a difficult moment in life, it’s easy to think that you can pull yourself out of a slump if you only have what you desire most.
It can be money, a better job, a better relationship, more friends.
Think of what you desire most, as your Personal Holy Grail.
In old legends, the Holy Grail was said to give its owner eternal youth and happiness. In the life of an average human, the Personal Holy Grail is that one thing they believe will solve all their problems and give them meaningful life.
And so, we structure our lives as a quest, where everything we do is focused around attaining a distant, far off goal that will make us happy.
On the face of it, it sounds very fair. Do the work, the hustle, the sleepless nights, endure the pain today, tomorrow, this year, the year after that.
As a reward you’re guaranteed to be happy 5 to 10 years from now.
There are however, two very big problems with this approach:
Problem number 1: You win. Your hands are on the Holy Grail. But once you have the Grail, you realize it doesn’t actually make you happy.
It’s as if you finally land your dream job, only to discover that you like the idea of the job, but not the work itself. Or like getting together with the guy / girl you’ve had a crush on for ages, only to discover they’re kind of terrible people once you get to know them better.
So much effort wasted on something you don’t actually like in the end.
Problem number 2. Finding your Personal Holy Grail can take a very, very, very long time. As in years, or maybe even a decade or more.
Taking this into account, are you willing to invest years of your life into something that may not even make you happy in the end?
That’s a risky move. But there is a way around this:
The journey is the most important part in the quest for the Holy Grail, because that’s where you learn all of the skills and abilities required to obtain the Grail and use it wisely.
It’s a “give a fish” vs “teach to fish” situation
From a practical point of view, hard and soft skills are far more profitable than the benefits they provide.
The benefits can come and go, but the skills will always be there to save you in one way or another.
But growth and self-improvement will give you the most important gift of all: freedom to choose.
If you’re capable enough to get your dream job but don’t like it, then you can just as easily get another awesome job if you put your mind to it.
Likewise, you won’t be afraid of breaking up bad relationships out of fear of being alone. For you, the loneliness is at most temporary, because you know that creating a healthy relationship with a compatible person is worth the effort, and something you are ready for.
Too often we get stuck in a bad situation, because we feel we have no better alternatives. Or that we’re not good enough for those alternatives.
A growth mindset will set you free by giving you options and making you strong enough to overcome all obstacles, big or small.
In many ways, being growth oriented can feel like you have a huge sum of money in the bank. You can’t be blackmailed by life to do something you don’t want, because you always have the freedom to say no.
This freedom is mentally liberating, and allows you to transition from a stressful survival mentality, into a growth mentality.
The tips below are a few practical tips you can follow and stick to, in order to get used to a growth mentality and beat your problems down to the point where they say “Uncle!”
No more zero days
No more zero days means you will do something every day that brings you closer to your goals. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you do, as long as you just do something.
Want to learn a foreign language? Spend 10 minutes per day to learn a few more words or a grammar rule.
Want to become better at your job? Read a page or two every day on any subject you feel is relevant.
Want to lose weight? Do a 5 or 10 minute jog and skip that candy bar.
The point of “no more zero days” isn’t to turn your life around from one day to the next. Like Newton said “an object at rest stays at rest”.
If you’ve been a vegetable all your life, then you can’t hope to do in a week what you haven’t done in years. It’s unrealistic.
“No more zero days” doesn’t seek to obtain fast results. It’s about deciding on a goal and working towards it constantly. Even if the start is slow, you build up momentum over time and gradually accelerate.
The only thing you need to do, is work towards your mission, every single day, even if it’s just 10 minutes.
Imagine that no more zero days is the skeleton behind your process of gradual self-improvement. Do it long enough, and the results will come.
To use an example from maths, if you improve yourself by just 0.10% every day, for 365 continuous days, you’ll grow from 100% (meaning baseline you) to 140%.
In just a single year, you’ve become 40% better. If you do it for 2 years straight, the figure will be 200%.
The past you, the present you, the future you
Imagine your life is divided among three people: Past You, Present You and Future You.
Present You is who it is because of the actions of Past You. For whatever reason, Past You wasn’t able to give Present You a life that is enjoyable and fulfilling.
There’s no point in regretting that now, or being bitter about it. Past You is dead. It’s gone and will never come back.
But what you can control is whether or not Future You has the same problems and pains as Present You.
Look at yourself a year or two from now. Does the thought of being stuck in the same situation make you fly into a panic?
If yes, do your best to solve at least a few of your current problems, so that Future You can worry about other things, or be free to chase other passions and opportunities.
Most of the things you worry about, never happen
In one well known study, a group of researchers discovered that 85% of the stuff people worry about, never happens.
And of the 15% of worries that do become actual problems, the vast majority of people found the problems to be manageable, or even educational and helpful for growth.
It turns out that 97% of the stuff you worry about either doesn’t happen, or if it does, it’s not that big of a deal.
In his memoirs, Civil War General and US President Ulysses S. Grant recalls how during one journey, his war party was stopped for a brief moment by the howls of what seemed to be a large pack of wolves.
Noticing Grant was unsettled, one of his companions asked how many wolves he thought there were. Judging by the intensity and frequency of the howls, Grant assumed there were 20 or more.
The companion smiled, and rode straight towards the pack. He had grown up in a part of the country where the wolves still roamed, and knew what to expect.
A few minutes later, Grant and his party got to see just how many wolves there were: two.
In Grant’s words: “There are always more of them before they are counted”
The answer is always no, unless you try or ask
The psychologist Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize for economics by showing that humans are far more afraid of losing, than they are excited of winning.
As an example: in a 50/50 bet, an average person would risk 100 dollars only if they won $400. If the bet gave back 300 dollars, the average person wouldn’t take it because they would be too scared to lose the money.
This intense fear of losing has huge implications on our behavior. As a general rule, we hold ourselves back simply because we are afraid to fail. Even if you won’t lose anything, the simple thought that you probably won’t succeed is enough to stop you from even trying to achieve your ambitions.
As examples: fear of starting a small business in case it doesn’t work out. Fear of applying to a job you feel unqualified for. Fear of approaching an attractive person at a party.
For good or bad, the best things in life demand you first risk a little something in order to win.
And one of the first steps in living a growth life is to be comfortable experiencing sensations of fear and uncertainty, but doing it anyway.
Fortunately, most of the things we worry about never really happen. So the only thing we need to fear, is fear itself.
The cool thing is that the more you pass through the fear clouds, the smaller they become each time. They never really disappear, but they do become much more manageable.
Psychologists call the process exposure therapy, and it’s simple enough that you can do it by yourself when it comes to simple fears or situations that make you feel uneasy.
If your anxieties run deeper though, consider consulting a psychologist to help you navigate through them.
From an evolutionary standpoint, fear is a reaction that’s meant to protect us from things our brain assumes might be a threat.
However, it often does this by trapping the mind inside mental walls that lock you in an empty, but safe comfort zone, while all the good things in life are outside of it.
As a bonus, to make sure you stay inside the comfort zone, fear will make problems and threats seem much bigger and dangerous than they really are.
The fastest way to break the wall, is to just do whatever it is you are afraid of. Even if you do fail, most of the time the consequences are 1) not nearly as bad as you imagine and 2) even if they are, you can handle them easily.
That being said, there’s always that 3% chance that things might go very wrong, and end up over your head. Keep this risk in mind, and always try to be as prepared as possible.
Exercise is such a potent mood booster, it can sometimes be as good as drugs and medication in helping people treat their depression.
In a now famous study, scientists discovered that exercise alone had an almost 90% recovery rate for people who suffered from depression, compared to 50%-60% for control groups on medication and a combination of medication + exercise.
Exercise offers a ridiculous amount of benefits for the time you put in. Cardio will greatly increase your energy levels by strengthening your heart and circulatory system in order to cope with the strain of exercise. People who don’t exercise are only as fit enough to handle everyday life. Anything more and it tires them out.
Someone who exercises however is built to cope with efforts at much higher levels. For them, everyday life is like being on easy mode.
But it’s not just energy levels. Exercise also releases tons of chemicals that boost your mental wellbeing such as endorphins (reduces pain, stress, anxiety and improves sleep) and serotonin (mood booster, relaxation, and combating headaches).
If you’re saying to yourself “I hate myself”, then you’re in a tough spot to be in. But it’s just a temporary situation. Things will improve. The things you’ll do to pull yourself out of this situation, will also help you prosper in the long run.
Maybe it was fate. Maybe it wasn’t. Yet for some reason, your life had to take a sharp detour through a dark place, before you reach the fun parts again.
But you will pull out of it, in time. And then you can look back and say “Man, what a ride. Sure glad I’m out of there. I didn’t like those times, and I probably didn’t need them. But for sure, they made the better person I am today.”