I have a deeply held conviction that we are far more capable than we think we are.
That includes both what we do and the joy and wonder we can feel in life. Both are far more attainable than we realize. I have pursued that belief to the ends of the goddamn earth.
In that pursuit, I’ve discovered that 95% of what’s out there in this domain is just flat out bad ideas that sound good but aren’t real world applicable. It sounds great in theory and sounds nice on a plaque on the wall but is actually useless when it comes to making a real difference in your life. Not only is it useless, but it distracts you from the tools that do help. The problem with all these things is that you beat yourself up for it not working and it costs momentum and time better spent elsewhere.
If you’re interested in this and want to save that inordinate amount of effort to find what’s helpful or not, I’m sharing two things that will help you in your life and help you make the journey towards living the life that YOU want, that YOU desire.
These are battle tested ideas that you can apply to your life knowing that they’re based on sound scientific research and not just platitudes.
Before I get into this, some back story.
A while ago, I read that cold showers have incredible health benefits. And I thought, no way. They’re terrible. Can’t be true. But the research shows that cold showers actually reduce stress levels. They make you more alert, which means they get you ready for the day. I’m all about starting the day right and boosting productivity, so I decided to give cold showers a try.
I was right. They fucking suck.
But here’s the thing: just because something sucks doesn’t mean it’s not good for you.
Which brings me to my first point, which comes from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I hope you’ll read it and get as much out of it as I have. The idea is that we do all we can every day to avoid challenges, pain, and suffering…and by doing so, we deprive ourselves of the greatest joys.
For example, exercising is a pain (literally). It’s physically taxing. But when we don’t exercise, we’re depriving ourselves of years of life, of the energy and vitality that comes from finishing a great workout.
So what Holiday says is that obstacles aren’t things you happen on along the path. Obstacles ARE the path. They’re the paving stones you’re building towards your desired future. You can’t avoid obstacles…you NEED them to pave the way. Think of it this way: if you want something, then that’s a thing you don’t have. So something is in your way. So the only way to get that thing is to deal with the obstacles. And embracing those challenges as a constant in life is what lets you grow.
Think of it like that cold shower. I want to feel more focused during the day, and I want to be more productive, and the cold shower is going to get me there. It’s an obstacle, and getting past my internal resistance to it is what’s going to get me to my desired outcome. So here’s what I’m going to do.
Acknowledge: First, you have to acknowledge that the thing is hard. “I know this is going to be hard. It’s going to suck.”
Decide: Decide why you’re doing it. “I’m taking this cold shower because it’s going to make me feel more alert and ready to start my day.”
Decide (but differently this time): Decide you’re going to enjoy it. “I’m going to enjoy this shower because it’s going to get me to my desired result.”
By deciding you’re going to enjoy something, you can actually train your brain to release dopamine. You can actually enjoy that cold shower knowing it’s going to suck.
But here’s the thing…Acknowledge-Decide-Decide doesn’t work that well if you’re stressed, overwhelmed, stuck, whatever. Which leads me to my second point: there’s a right way to build a gratitude habit.
Gratitude vs Appreciation
If you’re like me, you’ve always heard that keeping a gratitude journal will relieve stress and anxiety. I don’t know if it works for you, but it doesn’t work for me. I never do it consistently. It gets repetitive. Don’t get me wrong – it works okay for some people. But there’s something better out there.
This totally changed things for me. I found out that this technique works THREE TIMES as well as keeping a gratitude journal. Here’s how it works.
Think of a time someone expressed genuine appreciation for you. Think of that time where they expressed appreciation and it gave you that heartwarming feeling. When you think about your experience in that moment for 30 seconds – you can write it down or not, this helps at first but isn’t always needed – it doesn’t just help you reframe your perspective. It actually floods your body with this feeling of gratitude, releasing serotonin and oxytocin into your system. You physically can’t feel stress at the same time as when you’re feeling this sense of being appreciated. It resets your system and recharges all those parts of the brain you need to manage stress.
It lets you jump into that cold shower.
I’d love to talk to you more about this – I could talk about this all day long – so let me know what you think. Drop me a line or leave a comment and let me know when you start taking cold showers, or maybe when you get yourself to try salad instead of fries. I’d love to hear about it!