“There must be more to life than this” I thought to myself one and a half years ago. This tiny thought is what got me and so many others started on our journey to create a life of happiness and meaning for ourselves. One of the first steps we take often has to do with visualizing our ideal life, the one we dream about having one day and that’s so different from the one we live now.
We dream about what it would feel like, what we would be doing everyday and where we would live. We yearn to make it a reality, and through our yearning we become incredibly aware of the gap between our current reality and our vision.
A lot of us already give up at this point, because we see little proof that we could reach our dream when we look at our current reality. Most of the time we need to grow and level up a bit (or a lot) to become the version of ourselves that fits into our vision. This can seem so daunting that a lot of us would rather retreat into our shell, and let the dream fade away than risk failure.
But some of us muster up the courage to dare trying. We realize it’s in our hands to close the gap,and that we’ll need to take massive action to make it possible. So we slowly, hesitantly start to search for a direction, for the first steps to take on this exciting new adventure of creating a life we love.
We put one foot in front of the other and start walking, in wiggly lines maybe, but we’re moving. Even though we don’t know exactly where the road will take us or what’s behind the next corner, we walk in the direction of our dreams, and knowing that gives us the faith we need to keep moving despite the uncertainty.
Then at some point, things start moving and shifting. We get the first whispers that gently affirm “this is possible”. The gap shrinks and that gives us fuel. We realize that what got us here is the actions we took, so we set out to become really good action takers. Some of us even turn into go-getters and hard workers with discipline that we never knew we had.
We pile up a massive amount of actions and crossed off to-do’s behind us, the steam engine is moving and pushing us forward. With a fierce smile on our face we rush through our days, obsessed with the thought of getting there, achieving our dream. Slowly and invisible to us in the beginning, our speed starts taking a toll at us. The steam engines start to tear down, we get tired and lose the excitement that kept us moving in the beginning. We keep pushing forward nonetheless. We knew this wouldn’t be easy.
Then one day we lift our head and realize that the sun is shining, and we smell the summer that has been in the air all along. We realize: This is exhausting. I want time for smelling flowers, and taking an unplanned road trip with friends. This doesn’t feel like the life I was yearning for.
Now we have reached another pivotal moment. Fear gives us two options and says: You can go back to your old life and settle for less. Or go after your dreams, but remember how exhausting it feels.
Then we hear another whisper, it’s love telling us that our instincts were right, that there is more to life. And that there is another way to walk our journey towards the life we’re yearning for. We can be gentle about it. We can walk slowly, with a smile on our face, and spontaneity around the corner. Yes, we will live our dreams, but not at the price of the present moment. It’s less about striving, pushing, achieving and more about flow, presence and self-love.
We realize that we can take a break when we need one, and that we can go on detours for a while if that’s what makes us happy. We understand that we can even run back and re-walk some of the passages we’ve been to before if we need to. We can slip and make mistakes and fall on our knees at times, but we know that our dream will happen as long as we keep showing up.
The journey is equally important as the destination.
I used to believe that something was wrong with me when my dreams scared me shitless. Sometimes just thinking about their boldness made me wanna curl up in bed. I thought this was something I needed to overcome in order to reach my dreams like the successful peeps.
What I’ve recently realized is that being scared out of your mind is a natural part of the journey. Everybody I admire regularly steps out of their comfort zone to reach for dreams that feel incredibly big and ambitious. I used to think that they had something figured out that I didn’t, that they knew a magic ingredient to living your dreams that is only shared in the successful dreamers VIP lounge over some felix felicis (yes, I’m a Harry Potter fan).
I thought they had a mystical step by step formula that would make the fear disappear so they could make stuff happen. There is no such thing. If any, here’s the one I’ve come to identify walking through my own life with my nerd scientist glasses on:
The oh so secret formula to reaching your dreams (aka a recipe in developing courage)
1. Acknowledge the fear. There’s no way around admitting that fear is there, and ignoring it won’t get you into the cool kids’ club. If you deny it, it’s likely going to find a way of sabotaging you in the form of procrastination or busyness.
2. Trust in your dream. You don’t need to be without self-doubt (!) to live your dreams. You can debate whether or not you’re a fraud numerous times per day and still move forward (although I wouldn’t recommend it, it’s not a lot of fun). All you need to do is find enough courage to trust that your dream is out there waiting for you, and that if you can just move towards it, it will eventually happen.
3. Listen to your fear. From time to time, listen to what fear tells you without taking it personally. Remember, fear might tell you you’re a complete slimeball for even trying, so don’t pay to much attention to its language. But do make an effort to understand why you’re scared and if there’s a limiting belief at it’s root that you need to address moving forward.
4. Show up consistently. Identify the #1 thing you need to do to reach your dream and do a little bit of it each day. Make it small enough so that fear won’t talk you out of it. Then just do it. Show up again and again. If fear wins and you miss a day, get back tomorrow. Remember, it’s consistency over intensity.
This is courage.
Courage doesn’t mean making fear and self-doubt disappear, but taking action in spite of it.
So if you have this big vision and it scares you shitless, that’s okay. Just make sure that fear doesn’t talk you out of taking action.
If you want to learn more about courage, I always turn to Kate Courageous when I feel I need some guidance. If you decide to hang out at her blog, tell her I sent you.
As we create lives of happiness and meaning for ourselves, we believe that failure and stumbling blocks are not an option. We don’t realize it’s part of the practice, and that falling down is just as much a sign of growth as is getting up again.
When we set out to make a change, whether that be a habit or a new way of life, we expect ourselves to get it right. We know how to do it, we’ve learned the theory. Sounds doable. So if we’re 100% committed we shouldn’t fail, right? But then we stumble, and get mad at ourselves for being such a failure.
Check this: No matter how sincere your commitment, you are going to make mistakes. It’s natural, and it’s okay.
Give Yourself the Permission to Practice
This includes giving yourself the permission to fail and feel like crap. Especially when it comes to practicing happiness, we often feel like total failures if we still don’t feel awesome all the time. Not being happy means we’re not doing this happiness thing right, doesn’t it?
Going through phases of unhappiness is actually part of our growth. We all stumble. What’s important is that we keep on practicing with an open mind, and do our best not to judge and beat ourselves up. Happiness doesn’t thrive when we try to force it.
Since I learned some of the core principles of happiness on my trip to Oslo in April, I have been feeling good more often than not. Things have developed in ways that I couldn’t even have imagined and I’m grateful for that. But I still have days or even weeks where I go back to old patterns of overwhelming myself (“I really need to do these 23489347 things on my to-do list”), putting pressure on myself (“I have to get it all done NOW”), procrastinating, beating myself up about it (“You should have gotten all these things done ages ago”) and then judging myself for feeling crappy (“Why do I feel like this again? Shouldn’t I be over that by now?”).
What I’m starting to understand is that happiness is a practice, just like anything else that’s worth pursuing. It takes time, but it’s well worth the effort. Right now I’m in a place where I can see that I’m growing and that things are happening at just the right time if I allow them to. I’m happy. And even if I go back to old patterns again, that’s okay because it’s part of the practice and I learn from it every time.
Have you given yourself the permission to practice and fail? If this resonates with you, please share some of your thoughts in the comments below.
Your desk is cluttered, you’re running out of things to eat and have a deadline tomorrow. Too much to do, too little time. How can you stay positive and maintain your happiness when life gets busy?
I’ve lately been in a situation where I had to find out. My new found theories on happiness were tested by real life. It was messy, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it out alive.
Theory vs. Reality: The crash
I had been following the core principle of my hot new happiness philosophy (greatly influence by Danielle Laporte): Focus on doing things that make you feel good. Ditch the rest as best as you can.
Alright. So I was flowing through life, had synchronicities piling up everywhere and felt invincible. “I got this!” I assured myself, “Living this theory is the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”
Everything was plain awesome. Until…well, until I woke up one morning and noticed myself repeating my to-do list to myself before I was even fully conscious. Oups. I realized I was feeling stressed. Old buddies like anxiety, pressure and overwhelm started to stop over at my place more and more regularly.
Under these circumstances I couldn’t help but should all over myself a few times per day. Note: “should”, “must” and “need to” have become my personal indicators of ill-being. These words are symptomatic for me putting too much pressure on myself.
Of course I did my best to ignore that. I thought it didn’t matter all that much and that I should really just focus on pushing through this and get some stuff done. I wasn’t that unhappy, after all. Right?
The problem is that it always starts out that way. We notice the to-dos piling up as we get behind on things. We panic a little, and decide that we just need to suck it up and get shit done faster. So we try that. We start feeling more and more stressed, and before you know we stop singing in the shower, or humming on our way to the grocery store. We realize that this might actually be worse than we thought it was. We play it down, because by this time, we’re convinced that the world will blow up if we don’t get everything done right now. Our life depends on our to-do list.
This is not a good situation to be in. And it’s the start of something that could turn into a big messy unhappiness crisis if we go on for too long.
How do we get ourselves back into a state of feeling good when we feel threatened by our to-do list?
One of my favorite lessons from the work I did with a former coach of mine, Sally Hope, was this: “You always have a choice.” She constantly reminded me of this one. And, funny enough, I often wanted to disagree with her. In my mind it went like this: ” I absolutely don’t have a choice! You don’t understand my situation, it’s different!”
Turns out, no situation is different. You always have a choice, in each and every moment. Even when it totally doesn’t feel like it. Even when you think the world is gonna blow up if you just start saying no to people so you can free up your time to destress every morning. Or when you feel like you need to have all this work done tomorrow (at the latest!), and then kill yourself over this deadline without realizing that it’s totally self-imposed and you have a choice to let it go.
Sometimes it’s hard to focus on creating positive feelings in your life, when all we wanna do is hide in bed and forget about those stupid obligations. Fear not, you awesome happiness seeker you, I’ve gone through this quite a few times now and here’s what I figured:
How to go from overwhelm to positivity
self-awareness. Most people have a pattern they fall back into when they go into stress mode. There are certain symptoms that come with being overly stressed. For me, these are mostly verbal cues. When I’m stressed I have a tendency to should all over myself using words like “need to”, “must” and”stressed” several times throughout the day, especially when someone asks me how I feel. Noticing these symptoms can help you become aware of your stress level, and awareness is the first step to any change.
choose to change. Once you grudgingly admit that you’ve maneuvered yourself into stress mode, it’s time to consciously make a decision to get yourself out of it again. Remember that you always have a choice. Now if your immediate reaction is to wanna start yelling at me, explaining how your situation is different and life just keeps throwing
shit penguins at you, take a deep breath. This is another sure sign of yourself being deep into stress mode, at least it is for me. Pay close attention to the next step as it might be helpful:
challenge your assumptions. “I have to do it all now.”, “Bob will hate me if I don’t hand this in tomorrow”, “Life is just being a bitch at the moment, nothing I can change about that”, “I just need to push through this right now”. These are all assumptions, even though they feel very real if you decide to believe them. Thing is, most of us don’t consciously decide to. Make an effort to challenge your assumptions. Most of the time, you’ll be surprised at how exaggerated your expectations and sense of urgency are.
get minimalist on your to-do list. Once you’ve taken a closer look at your assumptions, you’ll probably realize that you don’t necessarily need to, or want to do everything right now. Get minimalist on your to-do list. Cross out everything that doesn’t absolutely need to get done this week. Ideally, have only 1-3 Most Important Tasks on your list. This step is only possible after you’ve gone through the previous ones, as doing less is counter intuitive when you’re deep down into stress mode.
focus on feeling good. Remember that the primary intention is to feel good. Happiness is the bottom line in life (YES! it is). Do one thing that will make you feel good today, no matter how small it is. Make life a bit fun again. Rinse and repeat tomorrow, or in 5 minutes. Whatever feels right to you.
Going through these steps might take you a few days, or even several weeks, but I’d recommend that you give it a try anyway. If it works, it can feel like a miracle. And yes, these are in a particular order, because focusing on self-awareness makes it easier to eventually focus on feeling good. Got it? Cool.
I was able to go from crazy overwhelmed mess to happy and excited about life several times through following the steps we just discussed. I hope they will do the same for you.
Are you struggling with marrying your to-dos and your desire for happiness? If yes, anything you’ve figured so far?
You will go high, almost touch the sky and then -you will fall. You will crash onto the ground and feel every one of your bones shatter.
Your confidence, broken.
Self doubts at an all time high.
You were doing so well. You put in all your heart, you were willing to do what it takes.
But you weren’t prepared for the pain. You didn’t expect it to be so hard. You didn’t know shattered bones would be all-inclusive.
You’re loosing hope.
The dark is getting closer, and its cold foggy arms have almost reached you. You reach out your hand, longing to embrace it. You want to give up, you yearn for the relief the numbness of going back to your old life will give you. You want to forget.
Shame is burning inside you. Who are you to reach so high, dream so big? They will say they always knew you wouldn’t make it, nodding in comprehension and with a precocious look in their eyes. “You just got too big for your britches. Now come back to our side. We don’t have passion and fulfillment, but we can offer you flattened-out feelings, and comforting certainty. Your life will become predictable again.
You get up. You lift your head and look them in the eye, grasping the floating darkness behind them. You make a small step. They look at you, waiting. Nodding approval.
Your heart strikes. Your soul is aching.
You take a deep breath.
And you run.
You run away from the darkness, the approval, the certainty. Because you’ve heard your heart whisper “I believe in you”.
And that was enough for you to realize that there is a glimmer of hope waiting for you if you just turn around and open your eyes to it.
You’re here once again, at the starting line.
Plan B: Try again.
- How to Escape A Life That Bores You to Death
- "This Is Too Big for Me" – No, It's Not. Here's How to Beat the Odds
- Too Much to Do Too Little Time: How to Get Off The Hamster Wheel
- Unhappiness 101
- Why You Need to Live Your Dreams to Make Your Life Meaningful (spoiler alert: you will die)
- How to Do What You Love, Change the World & Get Paid to Do it
- 10 Life Lessons Learned on a Trip to the End of the World
- What to Do When Everything Plain Sucks: A Gentle Suck-Day Survival Kit
- The Beauty of a Morning Ritual: How it Can Help You Get Your Joy Back
- Burnout Is Not Cool. I Know You’re Serious About Your Dream, But Stop Killing Yourself Over It.
- Listen to your intuition. It trumps your rational mind.
- You can’t skip the fucking journey (& why I haven’t been blogging as much)