The very fact that you’re reading this article makes me feel like you’ve run into the following problem: You always feel like you could be doing more.
I’ll bet that you’re constantly asking questions like:
- Am I being too lazy with my job?
- Should I be spending more time with my friends and family?
- Are the books I’m reading good enough?
- Am I progressing with my life fast enough?
- Should I be spending more time relaxing?
These questions used to surge through my mind on an hourly basis. Why? Because I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential. I was so obsessed with the idea that I had to be reaching my potential that I was forcing myself to relax when I didn’t want to. I was forcing myself to work harder. I was forcing myself to be stressed out about finding the answer to all these questions.
Then I started making some changes. And suddenly everything started getting incredible.
Let’s look at a few of the changes I made and explore the science behind why they are so potent.
1. Spend 15 minutes meditating daily.
Before I started meditating, I figured it was all a waste of time. Just sitting there, thinking. “I think all the time, why do I need to do it with my eyes closed and sitting down?” I wondered.
I was an idiot.
The most incredible change in my life thanks to meditation has been my newfound ability to focus. Not just concentrating on something, but truly being focused on a task and allowing that task to consume my very being.
Whenever my mind starts to wander, instead of getting lost in a daydream, I can “catch” my brain and bring it back to the task at hand. Interestingly, Giuseppe Pagnoni, Ph.D., conducted an experiment with 12 zen meditators and found that meditators had more stability in the ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC) compared to non-meditators.
The vPMC is a part of the brain with potential connections to the production of spontaneous thoughts (and therefore wandering minds). The meditators had more stability, which meant that they could more easily prevent their minds from disappearing into flights of fancy.
2. Keep a gratitude journal.
One of the most frustrating things about living up to your potential is how unaware we are of any progress that we’re making. Emotionally, we want our lives to change fast, and when we don’t get the results quickly, we get frustrated and fall back into old habits.
For example, I’m trying to push myself to be the best I can be, and I’m very critical of myself. I brush off my achievements as How can I do this better next time? and don’t celebrate the victory, killing my motivation.
To combat this, I started writing down things that I was grateful for each day. Every morning, I would write down a thing and a brief explanation of why I was grateful for it. For example, on April 4, I wrote, “Having a car gives me a lot of mobility options that would otherwise be very expensive.”
Focusing on what I’ve done well or what I’m grateful for keeps that motivation up and provides a record of great things in my life for when I’m feeling down. Gratitude has been proven to improve self-esteem, potentially help you sleep better and even improve your overall well-being.
3. Start exercising first thing in the morning.
As a regular gym-goer for two years now, I can categorically say that exercising three times a week will change your life. But I’ve also realized that when you exercise is almost as important as how you exercise.
I used to exercise after work, and it was a great way to unwind. But my evenings were taken up by repeatedly lifting heavy things, and I didn’t have time to go to extracurricular activities, networking or social events.
So, I made a tiny change. Instead of going to the gym in the evenings, I went in the mornings. Here’s what I found:
- I completed my workout faster, as I didn’t need to wait for equipment.
- It was easier to concentrate.
- I had more energy for the rest of the day.
The first point is anecdotal and may differ depending on where you like to work out. However, for the second two, Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer of the American Council on Exercise, told The Huffington Post, “Morning workouts result in better energy levels throughout the day and give you more mental alertness and sharpness.”
4. Live life slower.
I’ve spoken before about the anxiety of being an entrepreneur, and I realized that a huge part of my being so anxious was because I was living in the future. Not in a science fiction, flying cars and robots kind of way, but in my headspace.
I was always mentally rushing to complete things and constantly thinking about things that I needed to do that day, week and month. My head was so cluttered with tasks that I couldn’t function properly. I was working eight to 10 hours a day and rushing everywhere to make sure I could fit in everything (gym, social life, work). It was horrible.
So I slowed down.
Now, before I go to bed, I write down the tasks that I need to do the next day and focus only on completing those tasks. If I have any thoughts about what I need “future me” to do, I write them down on a piece of paper (or text file on my laptop) and push it out of my mind.
Once I’ve completed the tasks I’ve written down, I don’t write down more; I allow myself to focus on other things. If something doesn’t get finished, then it becomes something that needs to be done the next day. Simple as that.
Here’s how I made these changes in my life.
It’s fantastic that you’re feeding your mind with articles like this and spending time learning how to reach your potential. Here are four things that you can start doing today to start moving closer to your goal.
- Download Calm or Headspace for your phone and learn how to meditate (both come with a free beginner’s course on meditation).
- Buy a nice notebook and a fancy pen that you enjoy using, and write down three things that you’re grateful for each day. Use the formula of what you’re grateful for, then why you’re grateful for it.
- Train yourself to wake up earlier and do at least 15 minutes of exercise (even if it’s just a brisk walk).
- Make a list of three tasks that you have to do that day. Once they’re done, give yourself the freedom to do anything else (socializing, sitting in the sun, your hobby or even more work).
What are some changes you’ve made to your life that have completely changed the way you live?
This article was published in May 2017 and has been updated. Photo by hedgehog94/Shutterstock