Habits

The Greatest American Lie Ever Told That Keeps You From Happiness

I can’t tell you the number of times I would excuse myself from working out in the morning, swearing oaths that I would hit the gym after work. I’m sure you know what happened, every time: The postponement of exercise until the end of the day results in yet another day of no exercise — a widespread phenomenon. The problem is not that we ceaselessly have unforeseen higher priorities at 5pm. It is not so much a priority problem as it is a will power problem.

Generally speaking, each morning we awake with a finite supply of will power, and when that “bucket o’ will power” is gone, it becomes exceptionally difficult to make any decisions that do not provide immediate satisfaction or that do not offer us a path of least resistance. Myriad are the times I have explained this fact to clients and seen shock on their faces.

The Greatest American Life Ever Told Is...

One of the greatest American lies ever told to the public is that will power is a static reality that simply requires strength to maintain. Some of the most significant American disasters can be linked to the lack of concentration (will power) due to sleep deprivation (eg. Three Mile Island, The Challenger Explosion, The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, American Airlines Flight 1420 Crash). The average adult needs between six and ten hours of sleep a night and that number is determined by nature, not nurture. Some adults are able to live with six hours quite well and others need ten. Science has shown that we do not have the capacity to change our number without sacrificing our mental and physical health. If we want to harness the greatest amount of will power for the things in our life that matter most, we need to take a strong look at the energy wasters in our lives and renounce them with something of religious zeal.

The most common energy wasters include:

Sleep Deprivation

Research has shown that if we fall below six hours of sleep even for one night, our mental and physical energy is compromised. If that isn’t bad enough, just one night of a sub-six hour night takes weeks of six plus hour nights to recover from the loss of that one bad night. This contradicts the common perception that by sleeping more the next night, everything will be fine.

To obtain the energy we need to live life to it’s fullest, we must be grounded in routinely getting adequate sleep. Staying up late to “get more done” defeats the purpose it sets out to do. The first step to living an essential life is to regularly get adequate sleep.

Bad Habits

If will power is limited, habit formation can be our greatest advocate or greatest assassin. Can you imagine a life without habits? Every step we would make would require great focus, and every breath would have to be an activity of great concentration. In the end, we would have no energy left to do anything else but survive.

Thankfully, that is not the case. Cultivating good habits is foundational for in essential life in that it frees us to use our mind for “higher functioning” realities. Rather than allocating the majority of our energy toward getting ourselves to the gym or saying no to that doughnut (or second doughnut) we can use our reallocated energy toward being there for a friend in need, or developing a skill we have always wanted to develop but for which we’ve never had the energy. Ridding ourselves of the bad habits in our life is paramount. The good news is that it only takes one new good habit for groundbreaking improvement.

  • If you had to develop one good habit over the course of the next ninety-days, what would it be?

Mindset

One of the most insidious and toxic bad habits can be routed in our mindset. Mindset is the pigeonhole into which we place ourselves into when it comes to identity formation.

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has spent decades researching achievement and success. In her study, she concludes there are two fundamental mindsets by which we approach any potential for achievement and success: fixed and growth. The growth mindset is grounded in the belief that adversity and failure are simply opportunities for self-growth. The fixed mindset, however, deems adversity and failure as a threat to one’s own identity. The result is often a life lived in an emotional (and even physical) bunker, fending off anything that may expose or reject one’s own image. This image is considered static so any failure would expose the constructed image as being false. Typically, the threat is too unbearable so any opportunity that includes risk would be quickly dismissed.

The energy drain from a fixed mindset mentality is obvious. Spending large amounts of one’s own life defending an identity is exhausting. This may come in the form of constant people-pleasing at the expense of self-expression, constantly worrying about everything that does not meet one’s own expectations, and never feeling truly satisfied with anything due to the continuous pressure to invest immense amounts of energy in chasing the illusory belief of the perfect thing, experience and/or relationship.

We can begin to change our mindset simply by shifting our vocabulary. Instead of calling someone smart, beautiful, or athletic which are fixed adjectives, we can choose more growth mindset words like telling someone they must work very hard for such great grades, or train night and day to be the athlete they are, or must take very good care of themselves by proper nutrition and a rigid workout regimen. These descriptors place the control of own’s own identity firmly within the person being identified.

  • How might you begin to look at yourself with a more growth minded perspective, freeing yourself from the mental drain of constantly trying to defend an ideal image of yourself that can never be lived out?

Social Circles

Our mindset does not come from a vacuum but is largely a consequence of our time with friends and family. We are a summation of who we hang out with, so who we choose as friends is very important for living an essential life. While we should avoid negative and critical people for our own well being, this is not an excuse to avoid helping people in need. A fundamental difference exists between someone in need of help and someone who is simply, unjustifiably critical and negative.

Part of living an essential life is being free to help those around you who need assistance. On the other hand, we ought to try to avoid engaging in a serious relationship with chronically critical and negative people less we get sucked into that life-draining vortex. Of course, relationships aren’t as black and white. Creating distance is much more difficult when it comes to family members. In these situations, we simply help those who are closest to us by offering encouragement while maintaining enough boundaries so that we do not become too emotionally involved and thus becoming responsible for the other’s emotions. We are always responsible to someone’s emotions but never responsible for someone’s emotions.

  • What is one thing you can do this month to surround yourself with better hard working, motivated, inspiring and joyful people?

Physical Clutter

So the saying goes, a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. Research has shown that clutter increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol just be having the clutter within eyesight. Increased cortisol levels decrease the ability to concentrate thus reducing effectiveness in productivity.

In addition to the mental fatigue of living amidst clutter, an unorganized home creates time wasting games like “hide and seek” with the First Aid Kit when you desperately need it. The average American household has 300,000 items and spends nearly a half year looking for those items over the course of a lifetime. I don’t know about you but I would rather be spending that half year sipping a Mai Tai in Maui.

If we are going to begin creating the proper framework for the pursuit of an essential life, we must rid ourselves of the physical clutter in our lives by both purging and processing our stuff, filing away the stuff we need so that it is easily accessible, thus freeing the mind from the stress of not knowing where “it” is. Perfection is not the goal here. Eighty percent organized is sufficient for freeing the mind of stress.

  • What is one thing you can do this week to free your mind by allowing it to rest in the assurance that the items in your home are easily accessible?

Join me next week as we tackle one of the most difficult words in the English vocabulary: No! Find out why saying no is so important for the essential life, and how saying yes to everything jeopardizes all that is important to you. See you next Wednesday!

I would love to hear from you all so please feel free to leave comments to the questions I propose. We are all in this together!