Active Contentment: 5 Tips to Have Both Peace and Ambition

“Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Stress equals success.

I wholeheartedly believed this for many years. Who had led me so astray? I have only myself to blame.

The concept of peace had no practical application in my life. Peace was something that was necessary in war-torn countries, not in my mind.

This toxic belief began in college. The library often felt like a boxing ring where my fellow students and I competed to be the most stressed out.

Who had the most papers to write, the most books to read, the most labs to complete? Who had stayed up the latest the night before? Who had gone the longest without sleep or food? Or a shower?

If you were stressed out, you were respected. Accepted.

“I’m stressed out, so that must mean I’m achieving something,” I’d think to myself on a regular basis. Then I graduated, and the stress continued.

After six months of working a nine-to-five office job, I realized that I didn’t want to spend my life building someone else’s dream. I wanted to carve out a life of freedom for myself, so I decided to start my own business.

At first, I felt completely liberated. I woke up excited to work every morning. Then guilt set in.

Oh guilt, what a useless emotion.

As I sat working from my home office in my favorite sweat pants, I watched the morning commuters. Most looked tired, frazzled, and unhappy. And a big part of me envied them. Envied? Yes.

I no longer felt “accepted” in the rat race.

“What did you do to deserve this great life?” said my subconscious mind. “If you want to be happy, you need to be stressed out first. Peace only comes after a life of hard work and huge success. Retirement—now that’s happiness!”

I have no idea why these thoughts were so prevalent. Perhaps it was because I’d never known there was a different way of life out there.

And so with this mindset, I set about attempting to becoming as stressed out as possible. I believed that if I wasn’t cramming as much into my day as possible and setting ridiculous goals for myself, I couldn’t truly call myself an entrepreneur.

And then something happened. Something called yoga.

I started doing yoga and meditating on a regular basis, and the practice slowly but surely seeped into me and began to unleash a peace I’d never thought possible. I started smiling more and caring less. I experienced fleeting moments of pure contentment.

My relationships improved, and I learned how to handle stress in a healthy way. I no longer let it run my life.

I also stopped thinking about the future as much.

A few months after my turning point, I had coffee with a friend.

“All I truly want to be in life is content,” I told him confidently. I was sure I had life figured out once and for all.

“Great,” he replied, “but is content all you ever want to be? What about always aiming for something bigger? What about your desire to continually grow and learn and transform?”

Sigh. I knew he was right. After almost burning out on creating stress, I had gone too far in the other direction. I had lost sight of my vision.

I knew that if I gave up on my ambitions, I wouldn’t be content for a long. I had always been a big dreamer.

Balance, balance, balance.

Everything I was reading at the time told me to “live in the moment.” Yoga is all about being present in the here and now, and I couldn’t figure out how to factor this mentality into my budding business.

“How the heck can I apply the concept of living in the moment in a practical way in my life?” I shouted at the universe.

Finally, a tiny voice in my head answered me. There was no blare of trumpets, no fanfare. It was simple, beautiful:

Seek active contentment.

Active contentment. Such a liberating concept. It’s about being completely at peace with who you are and what you’re doing in the moment while simultaneously maintaining a vision for the future.

The following are five ways to help cultivate an attitude of active contentment:

1. Make time for downtime every day.

Downtime could involve meditation, light exercise, listening to music, reading something for fun—anything that puts you at ease and allows you to check out for a while. The recharge time will help you become more receptive to new ideas and inspiration.

2. Write a list of everything you’re grateful for right now.

Read it often. Gratitude is powerful, and taking stock of everything you have right now can help ease the pressure in stressful times.

3. Make two lists of goals: immediate goals for the week ahead and bigger-picture goals to work toward.

Being able to check off smaller goals grounds you in the present and will help motivate you to keep working toward those bigger, future goals. Momentum is also powerful force.

4. Celebrate small successes every day.

The biggest achievements are often a result of multiple small ones. By learning to appreciate the little things, you open yourself up to a world of joy.

5. Remember that in the end, there is nothing you have to do.

It’s your life. Just breathe. It’s good to be motivated, but sometimes just taking the pressure off is the most effective way to accomplish a big goal.

It’s a lesson that took me a long time to learn: just because you’re happy with where you’re at doesn’t mean you don’t want to be inspired or aim higher. Being at peace in the moment will only help you attract more success into your life.

Peace isn’t some distant goal to work toward. It’s something that can be cultivated on a daily basis to help you achieve your goals in a health way.

Active contentment is growth. It’s a state of mind that allows for ambition as well as peace. I challenge you to be actively content with your life. Namaste!

Photo by missportilla

About Rachel Small

Rachel Small is a freelance editor, writer, lover of words, yoga enthusiast, and music extremist. She believes life should be lived with passion (and, of course, vanilla lattes and red wine). Visit her at http://freelancingtofreedom.com.

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