It’s that time of year again. The time of year when we all post our goals and state that this year will be a ‘New Year New Me’.
I used to make lists of things I wanted to achieve in the new year, then I’d wait for my life to reset as if by magic on the final chime of Big Ben. But now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. It’s not that I don’t want to change anything in my life. It’s that whenever I want to change anything, I start right here, right now.
When you’re serious about your goals nothing kills them faster than waiting for that perfect time to make a start, especially on New Years. Once the celebrations fizzle out, often so do most people’s resolutions. And when you see others around you giving up, it’s even more of a perfect excuse to quit when things get challenging.
If there’s something you’ve been meaning to change in your life, remember this: There’s no need to wait for the New Year to ring in when every day is a new tomorrow.
So, don’t wait for the fireworks, start now. Your future self will thank you.
Yet there’s this expectation in society that if you don’t have a high-profile job and don’t own the latest and greatest stuff, you’re no good.
Marketers constantly try to convince you you’re lacking in life if you don’t own the latest phone, celebrity endorsed cologne, or the sexiest sofa.
You’re not a good parent
You’re not a good runner
You’re not beautiful enough
Not smart enough
Not cool enough
Not happy with your life
But that’s OK because if you buy today, you can rest assured that you’ll be the envy of your friends, and you’ll be so much more interesting.
We rarely realise it, but after a while, those messages add up into an essay about how much we lack, and life starts to feel intensely unsatisfying. Depressing, even.
While embracing minimalism definitely made me see that happiness doesn’t come from a delivery van, it certainly hasn’t made me immune to slipping up and making bad decisions.
On this blog, I talk about achieving goals a lot and simplifying your life so that you can discover what’s really important to you. I even share my successes so that you can hopefully start to realise the potential in you.
But what I don’t talk about often enough are my failures along the way. The times where I take five steps up the ladder but fall down ten.
Let’s face it, even though we need failure to grow, it’s embarrassing to talk about and even scarier to experience.
First off, here’s a little bit about me so that you get a little bit of context: I’m generally happy and cheerful (sometimes to an annoying degree according to my husband), I have several obsessions including writing, reading, gaming, minimalism, and self-growth.
Come into my living room, and you will see that everything is a calming white and pastel green with loads of empty space. I’ve got my future planned out, an incredible family, and quality friends.
But it wasn’t always like that, and sometimes I fall into the same quicksand I had escaped before, slowly sinking back into old habits and ways of thinking.
I used to be a hoarder. Not the kind of hoarder you see on those TV shows, but an organised hoarder. I was in serious denial about how much I owned. It caused arguments with my fiance, and allowed me to carry on hiding behind my stuff.
You can read the story here, but basically, I was keeping it all because I was deeply unhappy, didn’t believe in myself, and identified strongly with my past.
It took my mum bringing it all down to my house and my husband threatening to bin the lot, for me to finally confront the lonely memories and dusty old beliefs that kept me clinging on.
You see, minimalism will make your life a hell of a lot calmer and easier, and it will help you to discover yourself, but it won’t solve every problem for you. Especially those that are nestled deep inside.
It also won’t cure bad habits because they won’t go straight in the trash with your physical clutter. Rather, they get recycled into new, useful habits.
Sometimes, when things get me down like an argument, symptoms of chronic illness, or even writer’s block, I will find myself clicking over to Amazon and Ebay. Other times, I just feel stale in myself, like a mouldy piece of bread.
Suddenly, the bag I bought just months before has a fault and I need a new one. I need a new game despite having a mile long list of unplayed titles. I could really do with that lovely looking lunch box as it will ensure my food doesn’t leak in my backpack (despite never having that issue).
Of course, those are all elaborate stories I weave in my mind which will lead to me buying the product of interest.
As I click ‘buy’ I feel the anticipation of the item’s arrival and start getting rid of things that are relatively new. The dopamine rushes through me, even though I know deep down that two clicks and a parcel won’t bring me satisfaction.
But my brain doesn’t care about that fact because of the temporary feelings of elation.
Days later, the package comes, and as the packaging goes in the bin, so does my excitement. I realise I didn’t really need it, that I could have saved the money, invested in more skills, or gone on a day trip.
‘Call yourself a minimalist? Ha! You’re a phoney, you’re weak’, my brain chatters.
Just to be clear, I don’t have a shopping addiction, because these slips ups don’t happen very often. But the shame is no less intense, and the bad decisions can lead to me making other bad choices such as eating a luxurious helping of Nutella on toast when I know I’m gluten intolerant, or having a second glass of wine even though I know I’ve had enough.
However, unlike in the past, I find that I can get back up from the fall much faster than before. The injury doesn’t go as deep.
I know that I’m not a phony because I strongly believe in what I practise and what I say. As sickening as it sometimes feels, I acknowledge my mistakes, and that makes me self-aware.
Experiencing failure makes you feel like masking the feelings that come with it, and all the mean things the gremlin in your brain might be hissing at you.
But here’s the thing: the more failures you have, the more wise and resilient you become. You grow. You learn. You start to become aware of why you made those bad choices.
I’ve discovered that, generally, when I’m craving something new and making up stories of validation, it’s not the stuff I’m craving but experiences.
It’s not a new outfit I’m after, but love and acceptance.
I don’t want to own new stuff, I want to see new places, learn new skills, walk a new path, blossom into who I know I can be.
However, even though I’ve taken action and forged a new path for myself, the path is long, sometimes a forest gets in the way, and you know how excruciating it can be when what you want is just a little bit further, and a little bit further.
But what we often forget is to enjoy that journey. We can get so focused on hacking through that forest that we don’t see the beauty, or notice the undergrowth teeming with life.
The trick is, to not lurk in that beautiful forest for too long, and if you fall, get right back up.
Remember who you are and what you stand for, and walk hand-in-hand with failure no matter how scary, because it is your best teacher, and your greatest friend.
“Get a move on!” my husband raged at the car in front. “You’re already halfway out so you may as well go the whole way!” He was complaining about a car to his left which had half pulled out into the road we were on, but then decided not to go any further.
And this is exactly what happens to so many of us chasing success. We want the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We want to go where the grass is greener. To join that exclusive party of awesomeness where people are living their dreams while living it up.
But as soon as things get challenging, we come to a stop or retreat altogether.
I know how great and how easy it is to start something feeling so energised and motivated that the people around you wonder why the hell you’re smiling so much. Whatever project you take on, whether it’s a business idea, a book, or a habit you want to change, starts off easy. It’s new and exciting.
The real challenge is staying committed and keeping that level of motivation, even when the drive has deserted you. Because there will be so many days you want to do anything but what you know you should be doing.
You’ll have a bad day at work, cure it with a Netflix or gaming binge, and miss out on writing the five hundred words you intended for your book.
There will be days where life’s responsibilities have buried you, and all you can think of is that enticing bottle of wine you were trying to quit.
Or perhaps your kids have worn down the last thread of your patience and that course you started has suddenly fallen to the bottom of your priority list.
You think: I’ll write the chapter tomorrow. I’ll just study an extra two hours next week. I’ll go to the gym again when things have calmed down. I know I was trying to quit, but I’ve worked so hard and surely one drink/donut won’t hurt.
But tomorrow never comes. Tomorrow becomes the dreaded ‘I’ll get to it one day’. Things never quite calm down enough. Before you know it, you’re back to before you even started. What an exhausting cycle!
To achieve anything in life, you can’t just go at it with a hammer one day and a plastic sword the next. You need to stay consistent. It helps if you have a strong ‘why’. Why is it you want to become a world-class football player, a prolific author, or a famous chef? Why is it you want to declutter your home? Why are you trying to quit drinking? Why are you trying to lose weight?
Once you know your reasons, you’ll want to identify the true culprit behind the never-ending cycle of starting, stopping, and retreating. Quite often, if you look deep enough, you’ll find that it wasn’t your boss, your kids or your house chores that was the problem, but fear.
And fear is a master of disguise, often masquerading as busyness or distraction.
Becoming successful with anything takes dedication, consistent hard work, and winning habits, and even then, you might fail and look stupid. It’s so much safer and easier to hit snooze one more time on the alarm clock when you could be learning a new skill, or to binge Netflix with pizza when you could be breaking a sweat and losing the pounds you wanted.
For years, my whole life was governed by fear and inaction – and those two things got together, had a party, got wild, and smashed my vision. I stayed stagnant for a whole decade, dreaming without doing.
It took years to pick the pieces back up and arrange them into something new. Years to change my mindset and transform a lifetime of negative beliefs and self-defeating attitudes.
But fear hates it when you take action, and the more you act, the easier it will become. Fear’s influence weakens and it will sit in the corner of that party, as soon as you unleash your power and take control of the music.
You can’t half-ass any of this. Like the car at the start of this post, you’re either in or you’re out.
Arnold Schwarzenegger said, in his book ‘Total Recall’, “I was only wild when I was wild. When it was time to train, I never missed a session.” In other words, his free time was scheduled and not an endless, all-consuming loop. He took himself seriously and went for his dreams at a blistering speed, never dropping his vision. To him, time was treated as the precious and limited thing that it is.
I’m going to tell you one more crucial thing about keeping your motivation. The despair of staying where you are has to be torturous compared to the initial pain of committing yourself.
Staying in your 9-5 job must be infinitely more painful than the discomfort you would feel from getting up at 5am every morning to study for a new career.
Putting on five more pounds from eating pizza and donuts must be a hundred times more agonising compared to the initial pain of changing your diet.
You need to decide that enough is enough. You can’t and won’t tolerate more of the same.
I take online courses and study almost every day. I read every day. I write every day. Because I am dedicated, because it’s exciting, because I’m obsessed, and because just one more year of waking up to the same old me is, quite frankly, unthinkable.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that dreams and goals can change and that’s completely normal. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, it just means you’re a living, breathing, human.
Some people (like me) have always known what they wanted to do, but also stumble upon something else along the way which ignites their soul. That’s also completely normal.
Everyone has their own definition of success so just go for whatever your heart tells you to do, and if you haven’t found your calling yet, don’t worry. Just take the time to be still, carry on living, try new things, and one day you will find it.
Once you find it, don’t let go. Don’t half-ass it. You have endless potential! The question is, are you in or out?
This week, I’m talking about daring to be different and letting go of the fear that stops so many of us from reaching our potential. I will refer to video games again because they’ve taught me some valuable lessons, so if you’re not a gamer, bear with me – what I’ve learned could help you, too.
I’ve been playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; a massive game about exploration. It’s been in my backlog for years, mainly because I couldn’t stand that you can go wherever you want in any order, and there’s no real structure on how you do things. Just as there are so many ways to progress, there’s so many ways to fail.
I feared playing it. What if I go wrong? What if I fail? What if I get stuck? How will I know what to do next? Will I have wasted my time?
It’s a hugely limiting mindset that’s not just stopped me from experiencing award-winning video games, but living life to the fullest.
Anyway, I decided to give the game another try, and overcome this way of thinking.
Surprisingly, I’ve found myself addicted (not unhealthily) and actively exploring the environment, even when the main quest is blinking on the humongous map. There’s always something to see, and always a reward or two for exploring an area.
There were times I’ve felt overwhelmed, but I kept playing anyway, determined to see all it has to offer. And I made tonnes of progress. That gave me the confidence to try another exploration type game called Hollow Knight. It’s popular with gamers, but I’ve shied away from it in the past because of the game not holding your hand and telling you where to go next.
“Let go of that mindset and just explore,” my husband said when I started. And I did. I went against everything inside me that was screaming with the anxiety of not being guided down a specific path, and before I knew it, I was immersed and finding something new with every direction I went.
Yes, I got my ass handed to me several times, but it was such an enjoyable experience that I found myself trying again and again until I beat certain enemies.
I stopped worrying about whether I was going in the right direction and started wondering what I would find in the next area. I was enjoying myself without being directed.
What’s your enemy in life? Fear? Procrastination? Being a master of weaving excuse stories rather than the story you want to tell? Go ahead and beat it! There’s joy and excitement on the other side.
In real life, I’ve always struggled and become very anxious when there’s no clear path or no guidance saying “do this/go here next.” Playing video games that took me out of that comfort zone has been a big stepping stone for me.
Overcoming that anxiety and learning to guide myself is vital because I’m on the path to becoming a counsellor and want to own my own practice in the future. I want to feel more relaxed and confident in situations where nothing is certain.
Because life isn’t certain.
I’m not saying that you should play video games if you want to change your mindset, I’m saying that taking action and facing your fears has more power than you could imagine.
Since playing those games and fighting through that mindset, I’ve also had a revelation about my writing. A lot of the writers block I get is down to feeling creatively blocked because with writing there are no rules per se.
Just like with Hollow Knight, and Breath of the Wild, it’s about exploring and finding what works. It’s about letting go of fear of the unknown and turning it into excitement and curiosity. It’s about exploring off the beaten path. Trying something different.
As Albert Einstein once said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
It’s like boarding a plane to America, even though you’re trying to get to Japan.
Straying from the beaten path is crucial if you want to escape mediocrity and discover your true potential, yet so many of us stay stuck in jobs we hate, in toxic relationships, and with habits that no longer serve us.
Most of society would have you believe that life is all about survival. Keeping your head down and not taking any risks. After all, staying on the well-worn path is ‘safe’. It’s far less scary than going off to explore that sparkling river of opportunity in the distance.
It’s also the path to forgotten and lost dreams. Staying on that path can lead to you forgetting who you are, what you have to offer to the world, and what you truly find fulfillment in. By staying on the linear, worn path, you don’t get to see the sparkling river, the lush forest, or find the hidden treasure.
So, don’t hesitate. Let go of your fear. Be adventurous. Leave the beaten path and follow the river instead. Who knows where it could take you?