I was watching this short TED talk yesterday and I loved the three points made in it:
1. Don’t wait. The right time is now.
2. Eliminate negative energy: choose happy over right.
3. Remember what matters most.
I’ve been thinking about all three of these since I watched the talk. I feel like they are deeply profound and considerably harder than they sound. All of these appear obvious at first glance. It’s the kind of things we would tell other people. People who are not us.
If your best friend comes to you and tell you she wants to take a big step but is scared, and you know in your heart of hearts that she’s ready, you tell her to do it now. You tell your friend time is short and we should not postpone happiness. Don’t save your china. Don’t wait for the perfect day to wear that dress,etc etc. I think deep in our gut, we know that now is always the right time. And choosing to use the china or wear the dress is easy. (or easier.) But making a big change is hard. Walking away from a bad relationship. Quitting a job. Moving to a different town. These are big life shifts and even when they are the right thing to do, they are hard. There’s uncertainty and fear wrapped into the decision. Inextricably tied. When talking to others, we can separate the two, but when it’s us, not as easy to do so.
Same for the elimination of negative energy. Obvious. Something you would recommend without a doubt. But when it comes to doing it in the moment: extremely hard. Creating the space that allows you to step back from a moment of confrontation, anger, hurt, etc. takes monumental strength. It takes mindfulness. It takes awareness. And at that moment, your higher level thinking isn’t even functioning. Not easy to just let it go and choose happy.
And finally, remembering what matters most. At least this one should be doable, right? We all certainly know that we should be focusing our time, energy and love on what matters most. Again, it’s what you’d tell your friend to do. But life gets in the way. There are the millions of little and big things that happen every day. Things that take your attention away. Things that seem urgent. Or even important. They fill up all of our moments and then when we zoom out and look at the days, the weeks, the months, we notice that they are filled with moments and not chunks of time. So how we choose to fill the moments ends up being how we live our life. It’s hard to remember what matters most from moment to moment. Moments are filled with laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, etc etc.
So while I agree that these three things are fundamentally important and will likely lead to a more fulfilled life, I think they are hard. They require a lot of conscious awareness and strength of mind, heart and soul. And maybe once you come really close to dying, it becomes easier to let go of fear long term, but I’ve been trying to figure out how I can do it without some life threatening experience.
And here’s what I came up with: take baby steps.
I feel like the power of cumulative effect is often underestimated. Let’s say you’re really unhappy with your life. Your work is unrewarding and you don’t have as many friends as you’d like and you are not sure you like where you live. Most of the time, we think that this means we have to make a BIG SHIFT so things can change. If I can’t quit my job, it’s pointless to even try other things. IF I can’t move there’s no way to be happy. And while a fundamental shift can be the best cure sometimes, it is not always the answer and sometimes it’s not an option. So what do you do then?
I think the thing to do is to start doing other things now. If you could quit your job, what would you be doing with that time? Would you be making art? Ok, great, how about you start doing art now? Do it at night, do it during lunch, do it during the weekend. Get up an hour earlier and do it. Yes, it’s not perfect, but how badly do you want it? Or do 15 minutes of art every day. Take small steps. Buy an art book. Enroll into an art class once a week.
There are multi-layered benefits to this approach:
1. You see if you indeed like art. It might be that once you start doing it regularly, you don’t like it as much as you thought.
2. You start making art and growing and getting better because you’re doing it regularly.
3. You start getting braver. Being brave is not something we wake up to. It’s something we cultivate. The more steps you take, the more you feel you can take bigger steps. I am a firm believer that courage is something that requires practice.
So does mindfulness. By taking small steps, you are reprogramming your brain/heart/gut. You’re showing yourself that you can be brave. That you can create a moment between event and reaction. You can start by wearing your favorite dress. Using your favorite dishes or the paper you’ve been saving for the perfect layout. Each time you try something, you’re getting better at trying. You’re getting braver. You’re teaching yourself what it looks like to try. to be brave. to be mindful.
Life is not all or nothing. Little steps translate to big steps. They accumulate. Consistently.
So that’s what I decided I am going to do. I will take these three points and try to break them down to small actions for myself. In perfect synchronicity, the February OLW exercise is to set some actions for the year so let’s see how it all comes together.
How about you? What do you think of the three items and what makes them more doable for you?