“Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace.” ~Joan Borysenko
Stress and my own expectations were killing me. I was taking care of my physical health with exercise four to five days a week, eating right with lots of plants and vegetables, and sleeping enough, but my health was getting bad.
I had IBS that was getting worse, and I wasn’t sleeping well (even though I spent enough hours in bed). In other words, I was doing everything right, or rather, all the external physical stuff right.
I was doing something that virtually everyone agreed was going to make me happier: I was building a side business to fund my freedom from my day job.
Finally, I had taken the plunge to pursue one of my biggest, scariest, most exciting dreams.
I would fantasize about being able to do what I was passionate about every single day: help people live healthier, happier, more “whole” lives.
I couldn’t wait to turn in my two weeks notice and wake up every single day early in the morning with the fire and passion to make a difference in people’s lives—and actually get paid to do it! It sounded like a dream come true.
Fast-forward one year: I still hadn’t quit my job, and I was living in a nightmare.
Some days I had slight panic attacks because I would tell myself I would quit my job soon, but my passion business wasn’t making enough money for me to quit comfortably without freaking out.
The expectations I put on myself were crushing me; I thought I would be at a certain benchmark by a certain date, and I hoped I would be somewhere that I currently wasn’t in my business.
I was being crushed and crumpled under the weight of my own expectations and goals.
Something that originally woke me up in the morning inspired and ready to roll was now drudgery—something that I constantly associated with pain and failure.
There weren’t enough clients, there were too many things I was trying to figure out, working twelve or more hours a day was wearing me out, and I was nearing burnout.
Nothing seemed to be enjoyable anymore. And one night, when I (yet again) couldn’t sleep, I had an “aha” moment.
“What a horrible irony. I started this side thing, working on my passion every day, with the hope of one day getting compensated for doing something I loved. And now I wake up every day dreading both my job and my ‘passion’ business. How did it get to this point?”
After sitting down to think about my own goals, my passion, and what was destroying my happiness, I learned a few things:
1. Remove expectations and find flow.
So much of the initial stress was self-imposed. Actually, all of the stress I had each day was self-imposed.
I thought back and realized that I’d stressed myself out with almost every goal: health goals around the New Year, personal finance goals, and now my own business/passion goal.
How often do we place these expectations on ourselves—“I’m going to lose thirty pounds in sixty days!”—and once we don’t reach them, get crushed and quit?
The more this happens, the more our self-esteem suffers, and the more we internalize the story that “I’m a failure.”
Even though I needed money in order to quit my job, I did a test: iInstead of focusing on the bottom line, I focused just on flow.
I focused purely on the things I enjoyed the most, the things I was most motivated to work on, and I focused on pushing myself forward every single day rather than meeting random goals like “losing thirty pounds in the next two months.”
2. Focus on growth, not hard deadlines.
By far, the best thing I ever did for myself was set only one goal: get better each day.
No other goals and no more deadlines.
Deadlines always produced massive stress in my life. Did they work? Sure, sometimes.
But every time they resulted in pressure and discomfort. And often they didn’t work because I didn’t accurately estimate how much time it would take to achieve them, since I was doing things for the first time.
Whereas every day used to be stressful because I was always measuring how I stacked up against my goals, now every day was enjoyable because I just focused on getting better each day.
To say this was a major relief would be an understatement!
3. Forget the timeline and focus on enjoyment.
There’s an old Tony Robbins saying that goes something like this: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Almost all the anxiety, panic, lost sleep, and stress occurred because I had an artificial timeline: I wanted to quit my job now. So I wanted to reach XYZ goal by XYZ date—and when I didn’t, it would cause anxiety and panic because I was resisting reality.
As an experiment, I spent thirty days without any timeline.
That meant no goals, no benchmarks, nothing.
It didn’t happen overnight, but over the coming months I slowly regained that passion, love, and zest I had for life. And my “passion” business regained its former “passion,” which had disappeared in the face of my expectations, stress, and anxiety.
I’m proud to say with these three subtle mental shifts that dramatically simplified my life, removed deadlines and pressure, I was able to focus on self-growth and my sanity returned.
At the end of the day, the self-imposed stress and anxiety caused by deadlines and setting too many goals were more damaging than the benefit.
I realized that it was only once I stopped trying to control everything and trusted the process things started to happen.
When we release expectations and focus on enjoying every day and working our hardest on growth—not madly achieving our goals as quickly as possible—that’s ironically when we reach our goals faster, and with less stress, than ever.