Do you have these moments where you doubt everything?
I mean everything, from your choice in shoelaces to the thing you said to your grandmother three weeks ago. Moments like these happen for me all the time.
But whenever I want to stick my head into the sand and just wait this lifetime out, a friend usually comes around and signs me up for the non-sucky-life boot camp. Which is what I want to do for you now.
So, welcome. You are officially a member of the program.
Step 1: Success vs. Significance.
Aspiring to become successful? First of all, we all need to trade the term successful for significant. Being successful means being profitable and being ahead of others.
But how much profit does one have to make in order to get the bumper sticker “I’m successful”? Success cannot be measured and even worse, it loses its momentum in an environment of other profitable beings. One might be considered successful in a community where the majority does not have high materialistic goals and thus, does not possess as many iPads as the alleged “successful” individual.
Also, have you ever recognized that you are only successful when someone tells you so? What if you never find someone to tell you that? Or what if they suddenly stop validating your achievements because of jealousy? Success requires affirmation, people you can be better than and success is mostly expressed by showing materialistic wealth.
It is a pretty shaky concept, I dare to think.
Instead of striving for success, I recommend striving for significance.
In comparison to successful individuals, significant ones are being remembered. Their accomplishments last and actually have an impact over a longer course of time. You can even say that they leave a dent in the universe. No matter how significant people are being compared, it is impossible to deny that they made a difference and therefore deserve any kind of fame and fortune.
The majority of significant people act from a place of love and service. They strive, because they believe that what they have to offer is actually needed, no matter the public response and no matter the recognition or affirmation of their work.
Some of them do not even finish their work, nor are they profitable, but the mere act of inspiring growth and daring to make use of their power is enough to remember and honor those people.
Step 2: Surrender to the current moment.
Finish this sentence: Life will be awesome when…
Alright, now here’s the truth: Life will never get any better than this.
If you think that your life will be better when you get that new haircut, when you finally get a real job or when you meet your soul mate, you might as well be living in fairyland riding unicorns and puking rainbows. None of us knows what will happen in the future and it is useless to spend our time worrying about it.
Life is now.
Life is this very moment and this very moment is the most perfect and complete thing we will ever possess. After this moment comes another moment that is just as perfect and complete as this one. And then another one, and so on. The only thing that makes this moment awesome is us actually being in it.
If we constantly dwell on the past or think about the future, we miss out on all of the amazingness that holds this very instant. So, look around you, feel your body, experience your breathing, listen and linger. Try this: smile!
Connecting to where we are at and recognizing our surroundings will help us become more realistic and more aware of what is exactly going on.
Is it realistic to think about the exam period next year and how much you will suck at it? No! Is it realistic to recognize that you are pretty fortunate and full of potential? Hell yes! So let’s stop living in pink clouds and allow ourselves to be here right now. This is it.
Step 3: extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation
What inspires your actions?
Do you mostly do things that you should do? Or do you just do what everybody does, because you believe that at some point there must be some sort of sense in doing it?
How many of the things you do every day, do you actually enjoy? Is there always a purpose behind every action? What is this purpose? What would you do if all of a sudden, all of these external impulses vanished?
No more To-do lists, no more nagging parents wanting you do to stuff, no more classes to attend, no more people to impress and to pacify… You know where I’m going.
If it was only you being here, with nothing to do, what would you want to do, just for the sake of it> What is it that gives you pleasure and that you enjoy doing, rather that completing?
What I am trying to steer you towards is the concept of trading extrinsic motivation for intrinsic motivation. Our actions become easy, purposeful and the outcomes are of higher quality when we enjoy the process and when you act just for the sake of having fun.
As kids, during playtime, oftentimes we dropped into some sort of a flow, when everything becomes fun and light and time flies by. And at the end, unexpectedly, we had the most amazing product. The product in this case can be a pretty painting or a vivid star wars storyline that you made up playing with LEGO figures.
Now, as adults, we get “should-ed” a lot. We even “should” ourselves. Every sentence containing the word “should” is keeping us from being awesome at life. It is a waste of time, energy and resources. Of course, in order to finish your studies, it is inevitable to get a set of certain things done. But if you do it because you should, don’t.
As an example, ask yourself this: Do you even want to finish you studies? Do you choose to take this exam because it will bring you closer to the thing that you want? Do you do it because you feel like this is important and significant?
By finding intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation, we reclaim the driver’s seat of our lives. We don’t just drag ourselves through life trying to be adequate, we live a great life doing things that actually matter.
Step 4: Being bold.
This step is about accepting that our minds are full of sh*t. The chatter that is in our heads is nothing but information that we have taken up with our senses and historical information that is being processed and thrown around messily.
None of this is really true and we cannot really rely on the thoughts in our brains. It is like broken or incomplete data that we downloaded for free along with some virus that tries to convince us that we should start playing online poker.
It is the nature of the mind to take up whatever it can and then to try and catch our attention to show us what it just found.
It is a primal concept that used to be very useful, but in our modern days, it tends to confuse us into believing that whatever we think, is actually real.
If you start observing the thoughts that come up like you’re a scientist as opposed to simply believing the stories of your mind without questioning it at all, you might recognize that the content of your brain is complete bullsh*t.
It is simply unrealistic! “I can’t do that. That person is ugly. I need more money. That was his fault. If only I had a guinea pig, I would be so much happier. We are all mentally screwed up, there is no saving the world. I should get my nipples pierced.”
None of this is truly realistic and none of this actually matters.
You are here and you are perfect. Re-read step two if necessary.
At this point, it might be useful to point out that if you would like to pierce your nipples, go ahead. But don’t let the mind trick you into thinking that this is huge and important information. It is insignificant and you might as well let it go.
The point I am trying to get across here is that everyone has this nonsense in their heads. And most importantly, whenever we get advice from someone or when someone tells you their opinion, this usually comes from their very own mind-monkey!
Nobody’s opinion is any better than your own. It is just as likely to be wrong and easy to contradict as your own.
If I haven’t lost you yet, here’s the gem:
Decisions are best made by listening to our own intuition and not by making lists of pros and cons in our minds. Also, there is no one out there who knows anything any better than you, yourself. Your intuition is there for this exact purpose: to guide you and to be your mentor.
Allow yourself to let go of the idea that you can solve problems in your mind and go out and do whatever your gut feeling tells you to do.
This might result in a lot of craziness because it means stepping out of your comfort zone and ignore all of the should-ing. It takes a lot of bravery to allow your intuition to guide you, but believe me, it will be worth the chaos.
Here’s one more exercise:
Let’s observe our thoughts and ask ourselves: Is this realistic? Rephrase the thoughts until they ring true. Let’s illustrate this using an example. “I am too poor to buy organic produce.” Not true. It is a choice not to buy organic produce, because the choice to buy other things, that are a priority to the produce, has already been made.
Let’s stand in our own truths.
Step 5: Get real.
You are worthy of love. You are worthy of your dreams. You are worthy of belonging.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: JC Vogt/Flickr