No one is holding you back except yourself. In that same way, no one sets a finish line for you other than yourself.
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
These are the attitudinal changes an individual must make if they want to be both productive and happy.
Want, Willingness, Adherence, Need, and Happiness
Want, and the willingness and discipline to get the object of your desire are not directly related. (Though it may be easier to believe so.) Wanting to learn how to swim and doing what it takes to swim are not equivalent. Increasing want does not automatically grow all the other parameters needed to attain your objective (nor create lasting change). Increasing want beyond a certain point will not increase the likelihood of success; it may, however, increase desperation, fear, shame, stress, expectations, and guilt.
If your ultimate aim/ objective is in conflict with your general happiness, it will be an uphill battle, where achievements will be short-lived — or you doom yourself to despair. Happiness has a holistic relationship with our desires. Our desires will influence happiness and happiness will influence our desires. The battle is with yourself.
Reconsider Your Perspective
For a second, let's move away from the clichés of motivation, goals, intentions, and productivity. The accomplishments of your aims are no one's concerns but yours. If today, you no longer cared about any arbitrary goal and accepted yourself as is, then forget about this article (or any self-help literature). Whether your weight fluctuates or you do not make a million dollars, no one will be angry or disappointed — other than yourself. What matters is the quality and strength of your character, your conscience and your kindness. What you look like or what you've checked off your bucket list says nothing of these qualities. (Otherwise supermodels and Wall Street bankers would be the pillars of societal virtues.)
Your biggest obstacle is self-judgment and self-bias. No one is holding you back except yourself. In that same way, no one sets a finish line for you other than yourself.
Education or Tricks for Treats
There is a reason dogs have trainers and people have teachers. We require education. Action requires drivers, and weak drivers create poor actions. This demands a change in the driver, a mental change. Just as lifting a heavy object may require an improvement in intellect to create a better system, and an improvement in physical capacity to facilitate higher demands of the new system. Then we must concern ourselves with promoting change and managing productivity. Solutions not shame. Objective feedback not judgment. Completing tasks off of to-do lists are not the same as changing the inherent value of an individual. Motivation does not work; it merely increases desire, not follow-through. What is needed are strategies and perspective.
Want: Have a Desire to Possess or Do (Something); Wish For
An individual may want to lose weight and be unwilling to change. Accept who you are or change. When want of a goal is high, but the ability to obtain the goal is low, misery is the only possible outcome. Change can bring about happiness, but so can self-acceptance. Change your wants or change your behavior. Whatever you want, comes with certain sacrifices; coming in the forms of time, money, effort, discomfort, and social isolation (to name a few). If it were without sacrifice, it would no longer be a want or a goal, but something that you already have (like air or a respiratory system).
It is a trade-off, and the benefits should outweigh the sacrifices; otherwise there will be severe mental and physical tolls. In a society of extremes, one must find balance.
Wanting is easy because it requires little; all that is needed is a mind with free time. A teenage boy in high school may want to date a particular classmate, but that is not to say, he will get or should get what he wants. This classmate may meet the teen's qualifications for dating, but does the teen meet his classmate's? Even courtship involves a myriad of factors and variables, which may include developing those areas the teen finds so attractive in others.
Imagine how easy life would be if the only qualifier for getting something is want, and overcoming any barrier is as easy as wanting more. If this were true, everyone would be tall, beautiful, thin, wealthy, and immortal.
When we run out of wants, we can manufacture more. (As manufactured goods or manufactured mental constructs.) Whether they are achievable or sustainable are another matter.
The difficulty lies in discipline. Not only in achieving our aims but also the discipline of not wanting more. It is a two-way street. Discipline is difficult because it requires a changing of the self, rather than a changing of the act.
We want high output for a little input. Something ideal for minor sacrifice. It is better to think of the process as a transfer of assets. A high volume of time for a high volume of money. A high volume of effort for a high volume of results. If you want more, put in more. If you do not want to put in more, appreciate what you already have. Unfortunately, want is free and transfers to only those things that are already free. (You want to breathe, well air is free.)
Willingness: Free Choice or Consent of the Will; Freedom From Reluctance; Readiness of the Mind to Do or Forbear
It is easy to feel guilty if you are not successful; you begin to doubt your desire. "You must not have wanted it bad enough." The mistake is thinking if you want something you will do all the things needed to get it done. We are fallible. That makes us human, and that makes us amazing.
If you want change, make changes. If you cannot or will not, embrace what you have. Your mind will play the biggest role in any improvement. Want and willingness do not come hand in hand. Maybe it is not the right time in your life; perhaps you are not in the right state. Maybe your outlook on life is bleak, and you are unwilling. Then change your perspective before you try to change your performance. Lacking self-acceptance and willingness negate any paths for happiness.
The level of difficulty, not want, shapes willingness. Want tells us nothing of ability, and ability is a better determiner of finish over want. If you do not have the will, you do not have the ability.
We hear inspirational stories, and they make it seem like it is only about want. (Because everyone listening has that ability, to want.) We love hearing these stories because it confirms our bias: We truly can be successful on the sole merit that we genuinely want to be successful. However, that is not what makes success stories. There are those lucky, those with privileges in the form of money and connections, but for everyone else, success comes to those who have an extraordinary capacity to endure. We were all born with an unlimited ability to want; we can make an infinitely long goals list. (This is nothing special. Anyone can write down goals or intents.) We all vary in capacity. Desire does not make us special, yet our capacity does.
What can you go through? If you can go through more, you will get more.
If you asked a fitness class to raise their hands if they wanted to lose weight, every hand might go up. If you took an hour to outline and explain all the facts of losing and maintaining weight loss, without sugarcoating difficulty or the level of monotony, and then asked them only to raise their hands if they are 100% willing, far fewer hands will go up. Perhaps no hands. They may leave and go to another class that promises everything they want to hear.
"Do you want change," is not the same as, "Do you want to change?" "Can you set a goal," is not the same as, "Are you willing to fulfill your goal."
Our attitudes are our settled ways of thinking and feeling. Our behaviors reflect our attitudes. Ask yourself then, can you change your attitude? Can you improve willingness? Attitude not only sounds like aptitude, but it also influences aptitude. You may not always be able to change your circumstances; you can, however, change your beliefs. Your beliefs affect what you can accomplish in your given circumstances. Results are the conclusions to our behaviors.
Your attitude and ability are self-contained. Circumstances are external. What you can control is your interactions with your surroundings (circumstances). Your attitude and ability determine the results of those interactions.
A tutor once relayed this story to me regarding one of her former students. The tutor told her student that he needed to change his habits and his attitudes toward studying; to become more disciplined. The student, along with his parents, did not think it was fair that he needed to change to see better results and said they would find a tutor who would not need him to change to get him the grades they desired.
Many years ago, as a personal trainer in a health club, I outlined all the lifestyle changes a client would need to make to lose weight. My client said to me, "It's unfair for you to ask me to change for me to see change." I paused to reflect on her words. She concisely put into simple terms a profound struggle we all face. Wanting change without changing. It is completely unreasonable, yet we all struggle with this in one form or another, daily.
To be consistent and productive, one must be reasonable.
Change happens internally. If you do not change as a person, who will maintain all your external changes? Whose lifestyle will manage your health? Whose mindset will keep your grades? Whose work ethic will lead workplace accomplishments? What habits will make this second nature? You cannot solve your problems with the same attitudes that created them.
Best practices result in the best outcomes. This is not an absolute; it is practical wisdom. The transfer is not always just; sometimes extra work is needed to get standard results.
There are sacrifices even with shortcuts. When you take a shortcut, it sacrifices your systematic ability to repeat and improve results. It also weakens mindset.
Even Venus Must Reconcile Who She Is With How She Wants to Look
Reconcile who you are with what you want. Are they on the same page? Perhaps you want to start a business, but you are lazy. Are you and your goals on the same page? If you would rather watch a five-minute inspirational video rather than put in the tedious work of learning how to bookkeep; are you and your goals in agreement? Balance must be reached. A balance will be reached, whether we like it or not. Either you will change to be on the same page as your desires or your results will drop to be on the same page as your character.
Adherence: To Stay Attached; Stick Fast, to Be Devoted in Support of Allegiance, Be Attached, as a Follower or Upholder, to Hold Closely or Firmly
You want it; you are willing, but now you need to adhere to the plan — actually doing it. No more worksheets, seminars, nor self-help books. Start and stick to it. You have to be a bit stubborn to get what you want.
Only you can predict how well you can adhere. You need to take a leap of faith; you need trust in yourself and the process, and you need courage. No one provides these essential elements other than you.
If you never pick a process, only testing and retesting the waters, you will fall into a cycle of always looking for a dance partner but never dancing. Sometimes it is more important to dance than it is to dance perfectly.
Let's say what you want is on the other side of a giant tree. You are the lumberjack; you will always be the lumberjack. No one other than you can bear that responsibility. We can help sharpen your axe, teach you better ways to swing your axe, and encourage you to swing. However, only you can dictate the level of strength, dedication, frequency, and commitment. You will chop down that tree, or you will not. The outcome is uncertain; the only certainty is you will be the one to do either.
(Imagine the legend of John Henry if he needed someone to do the work for him? If he feared work? How would he have beaten the steam engine?)
It will always be on you. You can address this fact, making informed decisions, and creating an ideal plan of attack that works within your capacity, or you can keep pretending.
Resources will tell you it will be easy and to leave it up to them. Put another way, that you are incapable of becoming mentally stronger — you will perpetually need to rely on them. This is the opposite of empowerment.
The wrong question to ask is: "How long will it take to get what I want?" It is better to ask: "What are the things I can do to be more effective?" What changes can I make to be more consistent? To build on progress incrementally without sacrificing anything gained? Rather than a shortcut, become more efficient. In practical terms, the methods will never be as important as the mindset and attitudes applying the methods. (You need the right mindset just to find the right method.)
Venture capitalists do not invest in startup ideas; they invest on the strength of the founder.
The longer the journey, the greater the need for adherence. The length of the duration allows for more time to quit. The course for the first three steps will be different than the final course. Difficulty will vary from person to person.
You will not gain strength using others as reference points.
We all have varying aptitudes for adherence. As we progress, we must continuously develop our ability to adhere. Adherence is a skill; it increases with practice.
Rather than bypassing discipline, cultivate it, make it your strongest trait. Often the difference between a strong and weak investor is discipline. This is true for most things. The traditional definition of weakness is, lacking in discipline.
When character is strong, getting things done will no longer be a mystery. Doing reflects strong character.
We often think, if told what to do, we will do it. Then all that was stopping us was a lack of information, or perhaps we were waiting for a command.
Telling us what to do does not change behavior just as telling us smoking is bad does not make us quit smoking. Being told the dangers of riding a car without a seatbelt did not change behavior. It took decades to get compliance; the primary factors were penalties, and for new drivers only ever knowing to wear seatbelts.
We like to believe we are like machines ready for programming. We only need the right information, and we will execute without flaw. Part of failure is not accounting for failure in the planning. If the process is long, plan for that. If you have 40 miles to go, it is a mistake to think you can finish as quickly as someone with only 4 miles left. Take your weaknesses, your humanity into account. Do not plan for perfect scenarios, plan for what is practical and plan to do it for the long haul.
It is not just about being given the right information; it is about changing behaviors and attitudes. You cannot change while at the same time remaining comfortable. Human development has never been comfortable.
Adherence is about doing your part. If you do your part, you get results. If you try to get results without doing your part, it will show. Objective reality will always catch up to you.
Equity: Progress Is Inherently Unfair
In martial arts, the student must be twice as good as the master before the public recognizes the student to be the equal of the master. In boot camp, an overweight soldier must work twice as hard as his slimmer counterpart, to be his equal in work ethic. A student who comes from poor immigrant parents, with limited English, will have to study harder than her peers just to catch up to the same starting line. This is equity; if life deals you a bad hand, greater effort is needed just to break even. When you see the long course, perhaps you think maybe you made an error, but your path may be just that long — and it is unfair. Period. That is an objective observation. We cannot change what has already happened; we can only decide what we do from here.
What makes me cringe is when someone who only had a small obstacle to overcome, judges the efforts of someone trying to overcome a tremendous obstacle. (I also cringe when someone who has a much harder road ahead compares their efforts to someone who had an easy road; it is tantamount to self-loathing.)
Raising 10 million from wealthy family members is not the same as raising 10 million from strangers. Losing 10lbs is not the same as losing a 100lbs. Losing 10lbs would still mean they have 90lbs to go. That is not an excuse; that is reality.
Increased difficulty does not mean impossibility; to create better plans and make better decisions, we must take truth into account.
If we do the proper work and embrace the grind, the grind becomes easier because we become better than when we started. Iron will sharpen iron. The grinding stone will sharpen our axe. We look for ways to bypass the process, to skip ahead to the rewards, and we never develop robust qualities.
If I get a black belt in a year, I will be a terrible black belt. I would rather it take me 10 years, because when I get it, I will be that good. (And if it took me 10 years because I was that lousy, imagine how lousy I would be if I got my black belt after a year?)
It is possible to learn how to make a paper crane without learning origami. How to shoot a basketball without learning basketball. How to punch without learning boxing. It depends on how far you need to take things. Through practice, we can learn and develop skill. We can also develop an allergy to learning; it depends on where we put our efforts.
Shortcuts will always be on offer, and it is tempting. Sometimes it will make sense to take a shortcut, but the things we struggle in are those things where shortcuts did not help.
Imagine flight schools if they offered the quick, simple, and easy plan. "You can fly without having to get any better at flying!" Flight schools would get rich and planes would crash. (Like a crash diet.) Failure is unavoidable, but we can avoid failures caused by convenience.
Need: Circumstances in Which Something Is Necessary, or That Require Some Course of Action; Necessity
Sheila makes a New Year's resolution to lose weight. Sheila, however, is in a poor financial situation, bad relationship, a toxic career, and has a negative self-image.
Weight loss is not what Sheila needs, and it will not resolve all the other conditions of her life. What Sheila wants and needs are not in sync. Sheila would be better off handling more pressing matters; then she would have less reason to cope with food and less cause for weight gain. Sheila's overall life would benefit more.
The leading cause of overeating, smoking, procrastinating, overspending, is not a lack of knowledge. We are aware of the drawbacks. We are products of our environment; patterns of our behaviors reflect our inner-self. No one has ever said, "I was in the worst time in my life, but somehow I got in the best shape of my life." One feeds the other. An individual trying to lose weight may lose weight as a matter of course, when they leave a toxic environment, get a new job, end a bad relationship, improve a bad relationship, get counseling, self-accept, decompress, make amends, forgive, yield, and let go.
I stopped smoking once I left my sales job. Many Vietnam veterans, who developed heroin habits during the war, stopped when they came back home.
Diet and exercise works if the problem was a lack of exercise and dietary knowledge. Motivation works for procrastination if the cause is a lack of motivation. If the cause is rooted elsewhere, perhaps in fear or shame, then motivation, diet, and exercise will not produce significant results. (Especially not long-term.)
We are naturally good at understanding what we want; our emotions tell us. We are not as good at knowing what we need; our logic must tell us. A business owner in debt will borrow money or use a credit card to attend a motivational seminar or buy information products, when what they should do is pay off debt. If you are barely making ends meet, it makes little sense to get plastic surgery. However, if one would rather spend money and time on wants over needs, there are people who will gladly take their money.
Some may believe everything will get better if they look better than their current self-image. (Though self-image is not objective and is a construct of the mind, so no matter what they look like, they can tell themselves it is not sufficient.) Alternatively, perhaps if a motivator (a stranger) tells them how great they are, their lives will change for the better. (However, if they need an external source to validate their worth, then what does that say about the intrinsic value of their self-worth?)
What we need is to value ourselves more, and if we value ourselves, we will be in a better position to take care of our needs. Our wants may be misguided attempts to fulfill needs. We only want validation and/ or to look better so we can feel worthy — to be happy. If those needs are lacking, they express themselves in how we look and feel. If so, then improving the root need will also improve how we look and feel. Needs are not visible; it requires introspection. When was the last time you checked what was going on under your mental hood? Most of us will avoid it because we are afraid to look.
If the focus is on health rather than beauty, beauty will become the effect of health. Focusing on beauty may not improve beauty (internal or external) and may worsen health (physical and mental).
If the focus is on learning rather than grades, grades become the effect of learning. Focusing on grades may not improve learning and may worsen grades.
Improving your mindset and behavior is holistic, all things will improve. Isolating focus to only the results is like productivity in a vacuum. It will not exist.
If you are already in a good place, is there a need to be in a better place? If it is not necessary, how will you get there and stay there?
Steve Jobs did not want to be a billionaire; he believed the world needed an intuitive computing system. Money was a byproduct of Steve Jobs fulfilling a need. A hedge fund manager may need to make billions; then she will serve that need.
You may want six-pack abs, but if you do not need them, why would your body keep them? A professional athlete may need to be the best player possible, the byproduct of that could be six-pack abs. A model may need six-pack abs; then he will serve that need.
J.K. Rowling was not trying to become a famous writer, she had a story she needed to tell. If the purpose is great enough, those things we want become milestones for need.
If what we want, our goal, is not a byproduct of greater need, or a need itself, why would we reasonably think we could achieve and/ or sustain it?
Want what you need. If we ignore needs, life will quickly remind us why they were necessities in the first place. If misaligned, needs will become obstructions to your wants, a burden. The opposite is also true, wants will obstruct and burden needs.
Problems you want to solve, things you want to overcome may merely be symptoms. Do not mistake the victim for the culprit. What is causing your problems? If work has piled up, what caused work to pile up?
A severe neck injury plagued a star hockey player. Specialist after specialist and nothing helped; the pain only worsened. Finally deciding to make holistic improvements, the hockey star ended his tumultuous and toxic relationship with his wife. The pain in his neck went away, and he played better than he ever had. Sometimes things will work themselves out if given the right environment. Only when the hockey player could breathe a sigh of relief did his neck finally relax.
Look at your priorities, where is need on that list? How many things on your to-do list are wants, and how many are needs? Moreover, how many overlap? Goals related purely to wants are luxuries. Your priorities represent your values. Your values reflect your character. Are you more meaningful or are you more trivial? Do we want to be strong or weak-minded? And what are the sacrifices? Does need match or surpass the sacrifice?
Pyrrhic victory is a victory that comes at such a great cost; it is no different than defeat.
What do unruly teenagers say when we tell them what to do? "Why do I have to?" or "I'm not doing it unless I have to", "Unless it's fun." There is a lesson to be learned. Our brains resist doing things that are unnecessary — unless it is fun. The design for humans is one of efficiency and play. Why do what we do not have to do? Especially when it is not fun? It would be a careless use of energy.
Happiness: Delight, Contentment, Joy, a State of Being at Peace
Philosophers say desire is the quickest path to misery. (Then a society that loves quick and easy will be miserable.) Wanting and not getting is not the same as unfairness and cruelty. It is when want and willingness oppose each other that causes self-inflicted cruelty.
Wanting things, in and of itself, is fine. It is when we hate ourselves for not getting what we want that causes suffering. People with the most insatiable amount of desire are the least happy and most obsessive. If we are unwilling to be content, we are also choosing to be unhappy. We have not reconciled our desire and our reality.
If critical thinking says, desire is the path to misery, materialism says, your desires and goals define who you are. "If you want it bad enough, the universe will answer your call, think and you'll grow rich, this is the secret."
Set more goals, goals after goals, endless goals, want, want, and more want. It is the commodification of personal achievement.
If you look ahead, after this goal, there are just more goals and expectations. Then why bother with your initial goal? It is a pie eating contest, when you are done with one pie, here is another, then another — not until ad nauseam, but forever.
It is why seemingly successful people can be so unhappy. They have achieved so much, yet relative to what is left to accomplish, they are only spinning their wheels. More goals, more expectations, more problems to solve. At the top of the mountain, there are only steeper mountains. Grow your business, take over your town, then the country, then the world — then after the world, there is nothing left except your investors do not want to hear that, they still want more because want is infinite, even though the earth is finite. Then you will have to manufacture wants in the consumers, manufacture results, and be creative with numbers.
If you keep chasing desire, you will not only be miserable, you will also become a terrible person.
Why are we lazy? Because we are paralyzed. We are paralyzed by the prospect of an endless marathon.
Do not base happiness on attainment. Learn to be happy and see what naturally comes from it. Most people have no idea what happiness can do, what it naturally accomplishes as a matter of course. How it reflects in behaviors and actions. How it affects others around them.
Develop happiness like any skill. Focus on it, make it the aim, then practice. Create challenges, create rituals and habits, reflect. Often. Less materialism more minimalism. Put happiness in your inner citadel and let nothing disturb your equanimity. Happiness needs you to toughen up.
Ambition is not a bad thing; it is about balancing desires with resilience. Desire is what you can bite; resilience is what you can chew. Capacity is the stomach, and willingness is the stomach juice. If all are aligned, everything will digest. When desire is high, and resilience is low, you are in trouble.
Change your outlook. Perhaps what is needed is fewer expectations and more appreciation. Build the mindset, then make external changes.
Do all the things — make all the daily choices that are most effective in making you sustainably happy. Do not mistake fleeting pleasure with happiness. Think about the whys behind your wants. Get to the root. Forget the obvious, the superficial. What is meaningful?
Wanting, goal-setting, planning, are all future tenses. Unrealized abstract wishful ideas. What we already have is certain and tangible and real. Do not lose gratitude for what is already real; they are what make wishful thoughts an eventuality.
Resilience is like a muscle and like any other muscle, it needs to be exercised, built up, and developed. Resilience is the platform in which we build happiness. A significant life requires a resilient participant.
We Respond to Melancholia, Happiness Seems Fake
When I think of the ubiquitous pose and facial expression of a model, I think of unhappiness. Nothing about their gestures or facial expressions are recognizably happy. That is the point. That is an authentic look. One we recognize. One we want to appease with purchases. Whatever the model is selling. Changing the external does not mean it will change how we feel. If the model, in all her beauty, looked happy, it would appear disingenuous. (What do cynics call happy people? Fakes.) Perhaps unconsciously we know, what she is selling is not happiness, she is selling temporary pleasure. Happiness blooms from within.
Why do you want to be productive? Why do you want to get things done? Is it ultimately to increase happiness? You better position yourself for happy productivity if you first figure out what are the things that add meaning to your life, and what activities make you happy.
If your aim is simply to do things off of an arbitrary list you never deeply reflected upon, accomplishments may be short-lived. What you may develop long-term are more neuroticism and self-judgment. This creates a negative feedback loop, where you become less productive. Happiness is much more than a quantifiable number.
Someone losing weight, no matter how much weight they lose, may never see themselves as thin. It is not automatic. Change yourself. Otherwise, you may sabotage yourself to match the low self-image you have maintained.
Fortitude, discipline, and a healthy mindset are not the products of a goal. Often it is the other way around: A good result is the product of fortitude, discipline, and a healthy mindset.
You can be stationary where you are, or you can grow. The difference is attitude.
You cannot be weak and still create big change. It takes a strong character to turn diet into a lifestyle, to commit to learning, to avoid harmful situations.
It takes strength to be happy. It takes a keen mind to accomplish great things. That is something you can develop. But only if you know to develop it.
The Mental Roadmap
- Want - Looking at a map and figuring out where you want to go.
- Willingness - Figuring out the best course to take and how far you are willing to go.
- Adherence - Staying the course.
- Need - There is no other place you should be.
- Happiness - No matter what happens, whether you end up there or someplace else altogether, be happy in the journey. Then wherever you go, that is where you needed to be, and you are happier for it.
The majority of the time, the only roadblock is you.
Useful Companions to This Article:
- Rising Strong - Brené Brown
- The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Pierre Hadot
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance - Angela Duckworth
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success - Carol Dweck
- Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success - Matthew Syed
- The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life - Michael Puett
- F*ck Feelings: One Shrink's Practical Advice for Managing All Life's Impossible Problems - Michael Bennett, Sarah Bennett
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do - Amy Morin
- Mastery - George Leonard
- Getting Things Done - David Allen
- Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs - Johann Hari