I’ve always loved reading books. When I was a kid I’d spend hours and hours dreaming myself away in novels, picturing myself as the star of a thrilling adventure. When I got older and started working, I swapped the novels for self-improvement books on productivity and efficiency with titles like: ‘7 habits of highly successful people’, ‘How to get shit done’ or ‘Nice girls don’t get the corner office’. For several years, my life evolved around trying to optimize myself and my surroundings to achieve more, make more money and excel in my career.
I’d read about startup guru’s who only slept for four hours per night and who optimized and planned their lives down to the tiniest minute to make the most out of their days. It got to a point where I’d get up at 05 AM to eat breakfast, shower and get dressed so that I could open my first email at 06.30 AM.
But the weird part was that no matter how much I planned my days, I’d never get to the end of my to-do list. No matter how much I achieved, I was never satisfied. For some reason, good enough was never good enough, and even if I did succeed at things, I was only briefly happy and proud of myself, then I moved on to wanting something else.
I took pride in being a highly ambitious person. Money was never the key motivator, but I wanted to reach the top of the career ladder. I dreamt about being the manager of a large company or running my own successful business, and I went to important conventions and after works where I could mingle with equally important and ambitious people. And it wasn’t only work related — I wanted to be socially on top, be liked by everyone, have many good friends, go to all the parties, go to all the after parties, have a nice apartment, live an interesting life that I could post on Instagram, be skinny, excercise, eat healthily, have a healthy body. An idiot could have told me that the equation just didn’t add up, but I never saw my life from a bigger perspective.
It’s no wonder we burn out. We live in a capitalist society that teaches us that what we have isn’t good enough and that if we only work a little harder our dreams will come true. But it’s just not true. How can we ever be happy and content if we’re constantly striving for something else? What makes us think that something else will make us happy when we can’t even be happy with what we have?
Every single self-improvement book I’ve read is written from a perspective of scarcity; what you have isn’t enough, how you look isn’t enough, what you do isn’t enough. But let me share a secret: they’re lying. That mindset is just a result of a toxic society that prioritizes economic growth before human rights. They don’t care about your health or your dreams — just blend in and don’t make too much noise, but please do work your ass of and make a ton of cash that you can spend on even more unnecessary things, thank you.
So what are we supposed to do when the self-help books only lead to burnouts and the society doesn’t seem to care? Change our mindsets!
Stop wanting and start feeling
How often do you say to yourself “I want this” or “I want that”? “I want to make more money”, “I want a relationship”, “I want a new bike”. Have you ever thought about that by doing so you only furter establish the fact that you don’t have it? You’re basically saying to yourself, over and over again: “I don’t have a relationship”, “I don’t have any money” and “I don’t have a bike”. And that might be the case, but once again, you’re living your life from a place of scarcity which isn’t helpful.
So what would happen if you changed your mindset and started focusing on something else, like your true, inner needs? Just try for a second to ignore all the materialistic and form based things and think about yourself when you’re genuinely happy. In a year from now, how do you want to feel? What emotions would you like to have when you get up in the morning? How do you want your body to feel? Strong? Flexible? Energized? How do you want to feel in your job? Empowered? Inspired? How do you want to feel at home? Safe? Relaxed? Comfortable?
All those feelings are already inside of yoju. You can feel literally any emotion you want, whenever you want. As an example, just think about an embarassing or stressful situation you’ve been in. How did it feel? Can you still feel that shame or pain in your body? If you close your eyes and picture yourself in that situation, does it stir up those same emotions? That’s because every single emotion rest within us at all times. Not only the bad ones, but also the good ones.
That’s why I love this following exercise–because it focuses on what you already have and not what you think you need in order to be happy. If you want to be rich, feel rich. If you want to be in a relationship and feel loved, feel loved. As soon as you start to live your life from a place of abundance rather than scarcity, you’ll notice how life gets easier and the things you strive for will slowly find their way into your life.
Ever heard about ‘the Law of Attraction’? It states that like attracts like and that whatever energy you put out will be reflected back. If you’re walking around feeling angry or unsatisfied, people around you will also get irritated and you’ll only push the things you want further away. The same applies to positive emotions: if you walk around feeling loved, you will attract that energy.
I use the following excercise whenever I feel a little lost or unsatisfied with my life. Instead of making grand plans about stuff I have to buy or things I need to achieve in order to be happy, I visualize the person I want to become, because that’s the only thing I can control right here and right now. When you’re clear on who you are, who you want to become and how you want to feel, it’s much easier to make decisions that will guide you towards your goals. Here’s how it works:
- Take out a blank paper and list all the feelings you would like to feel in a year from now. If you could be your most happy and satisfied self, how would that person feel? What emotions would he or she have? Write down as many adjectives you can, for example: satisfied, happy, peaceful, strong, healthy.
- When you’re finished, observe the words and see if you notice any patterns. Can you combine some of the words into one word that describes the feeling you’re after? Take your time. Feel the words and be true to yourself.
- Narrow the list down to the top 5-6 feelings that you would love to experience in your everyday life. Write them down on a new row.
- Now sit down comfortably and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and relax your body. Visualize yourself in a year (or however long you want) from now. Think about the person you are becoming (not the person you want to become, remember?). Start from the top and try to visualize that feeling. Feel the emotions in your body. If you struggle with visualizations, picture yourself in a situation when you felt that way and let the feeling arise. What happens in your body? Perhaps you feel light or heavy? Perhaps you feel a tingling sensation in your arms or your legs? There’s no right or wrong. You might even notice that a feeling that you think should be positive makes you feel sad or heavy — that’s OK, don’t put too much thought into it right now. Continue like this with every word on your list and take notes to remember how each word made you feel.
- When you’re done, look at the paper and take a moment to reflect upon your feelings. One of my words in this exercise was “motivated”, but as soon as I visualized that emotion, my body felt exhausted and super heavy — like when I was burned out. I realized that, to me, feeling motivated was so strongly connected with accomplishments and high expectations that it had turned into a negative emotion. So I changed it to “inspired” — because that’s more in line with how I want to feel when I work with something. When I visualized that feeling, it felt much better.
- Once you’ve found the words that are right for you, close your eyes again and visualize your future self with all those emotions. You are that person. There is literally nothing stopping you from being that person right now. All you have to do is make the decision. Take a couple of minutes and sit with the feeling of your future self. Notice how it makes you feel and take those emotions with you.
Now practice those emotions every day. Do you want to feel more creative? Then as soon as you wake up tomorrow, change your mindset and feel creative. Be creative! Draw something silly, bake a cake, write a song — explore what creativity means to you. How does it feel? Can you keep that feeling with you for the rest of your day? If you don’t feel it, take a few minutes to sit down and bring up those emotions you strive for. Change your mindset. Whatever worries or problems you have — they’re all in your head and you have the power to control how they should make you feel.
By changing your mindset and rewiring your brain into thinking that you already have everything you need, you become the master of your own reality and will soon notice that things around you start to change. Every time you decide to be the person you want to be, you’re creating a new path for yourself. Your actions and decisions will be guided by the feeling of your new self, and the universe knows exactly what that person need in his or her life to feel happy. Trust that it will come to you. Meanwhile, just sit back and enjoy the ride.