“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” ~Wayne Dyer
How many days do you wake up feeling like you’re a hamster on a wheel? You brush your teeth, take a shower, drink your coffee, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch television, go to bed, and rinse and repeat.
Do you wonder how you can keep going and keep everything together when it feels like you’re doing nothing, going nowhere, and living some life you weren’t meant for?
Do you ever wonder what to do on those days where you feel like you can’t go on? On days where life seems to have no point? You’re going through the motions, but there is always an empty pit somewhere inside your soul that never seems to fill.
It seems that no matter how hard you try, you end up in the same spot, in the same position having to start all over again, and your inability to change your messed up emotional patterns starts taking an excruciating toll.
You wonder and think and read and try to break free from the subconscious battles within your mind, but the negative stranglehold has a strong grip and does not want to release you so easily.
Maybe the pain has become intolerable, and instead of going away it has continued to eat away at your peace of mind bit by bit. But, then another day dawns and you’re still here and you live to start again.
I have been in a cycle of rinse and repeat for more years than I care to remember. I have changed jobs at least ten times, apartments and locations twenty-three times, and boyfriends six times. I’ve had the same happy hour and the same weekends and the same soul-searching periods over and over and over again.
I have tried to change all these external things because I figured changing the outside would change the inside. But like they always say, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
Despite traveling the world, changing jobs, moving, and having relationships, I live my life in a little bubble because I feel safe there, and staying safe means being resistant to any real transformation. It doesn’t matter that I’ve changed my circumstances; the end result is always the same: I feel bored and empty and lost and alone.
You feel bored and empty and lost and alone because you never really do anything different. Whether you stay stuck because you’re an introvert or you have social anxiety or you’re depressed or you’re lazy doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is, change nothing and nothing will change.
Look, I get it. I am a tried and true introvert, so developing relationships is exhausting. People think I’m extroverted because I can talk quite a bit one-on-one, but put me in a group and I’ll clam up. I become super anxious at parties or in large groups of people, preferring one-on-one in-depth interactions. Being an introvert makes life a little more challenging in a world that embraces and rewards extroversion.
So, maybe there are days when you feel like you’re going nowhere and you don’t fit in and life has no point. But, you can change it, even if just a little. There are some little things you can do to change your patterns and your life.
How Do You Keep Trying?
First, you get up every damn day and say, “Today is a day for change” and you do your best and face the world, whether you want to or not. Every day you fight for yourself because if you don’t, no one else will. I know it’s hard and I know some days you want to stay in bed with the covers over your head. But, don’t do it. Get up. Go for a walk. Do something. Anything.
Some days I force myself to get in the car and drive to the beach (okay, it’s only four miles) because I’m so comfortable in my apartment. Every time I get there I’m happy I did. I roll out my towels and read a book while listening to the waves crash, or I walk along the water’s edge watching the sand between my toes and squishing those weird little seaweed blobs.
Second, you start becoming aware of the negative thought patterns in your mind and how they affect you when you get caught up in them. The truth is, you are reacting to events in your life in a way that is detrimental rather than helpful. Negativity breeds more negativity and keeps you stuck on that hamster wheel.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I get it. Some days when I’m trying super hard to think positively, my mind says, “Yeah, I don’t care. I am going to feel or think this way anyway, so deal with it.” Some days I simply need to embrace how I feel instead of forcing myself to be positive. But I know I need to eventually shift my mindset or I’ll always be stuck. So, I keep trying. If you can’t change the way you see the world, then the world you see will never change.
Recently I found myself on the verge of a breakup, a move, a deploying boyfriend, and no job. My head went into a tailspin worrying about what I would do or where I would go and why this was happening. But, with all the work I’ve been doing on myself, I decided to see everything in a new light.
Maybe this was an opportunity for positive change instead of a devastating loss. I stopped worrying and started believing I would be okay. I was only able to do this because I have been practicing changing my perspective. Think of your mind as a muscle. If you strengthen it and work it out, it becomes stronger. If you let it sit there and wallow in self-pity, it never grows.
I stopped focusing on the worst-case scenario, and do you know what happened? We didn’t break up. He signed for an apartment us, and I got a job within a week of his departure. I know things won’t always work out how I want them to just because I think positively, but I now believe I will be okay no matter what happens, and that’s making a huge difference.
The same can be true for you.
You may face unexpected challenges. We all do. Changing your mindset won’t guarantee that everything will be okay. But it will give you the insight and strength to believe that you will be okay and that you can handle what life dishes up. And it will also help you create a life that feels more fulfilling and less empty.
The first step in any change is recognition. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Start to notice that you have a negative pattern of thinking that keeps you stuck. I’m guessing you will probably be amazed at how much and how often your mind wanders toward the negative.
From there, start practicing mindfulness, which basically means you are aware of what you’re thinking, but you don’t get caught up in your thoughts. See if you can separate the negative thoughts from your being. Anyone who has studied meditation will tell you that you can use a technique to distance yourself from your thoughts. Try to place them in a balloon and watch them fly away.
You are not your thoughts and feelings. You experience thoughts and feelings, but they don’t need to own you. I know this isn’t easy, but it is doable.
Personally, my mind always sees deficit instead of abundance. Whether this came from years of sexual abuse or family upbringing or genetic coding, I’m not sure, and at this point I don’t really care why. What matters is that I want to change it because it has become exhausting to always be so unsatisfied.
How Do You Effect All This Change?
Tony Robbins says that change can happen in an instant, but I think that statement needs a little tweaking. I think the ability to change can happen in an instant. When you decide you want more or you deserve better or you become sick and tired of being sick and tired, then you have now opened the door to change.
One way to start creating change is to change the words you use to describe how you’re feeling. Our language affects our emotions, and our emotions influence our choices. Tony Robbins offers a 10-Day Challenge that can help with this.
I love this challenge because it forces you to take a hard, deep look at how you speak to yourself and how you treat yourself daily and even hourly.
Next, try to cultivate more happiness in your life a little bit at a time. Research has shown that happiness is, in fact, a choice, and although you may have a certain “set point” of happiness, you do have the ability to make yourself happier by doing things like:
Everyone must be spouting the benefits of meditation for a reason, right? Well, studies have shown that meditation can improve our health mentally and physically by reducing stress.
You don’t have to turn into Buddha and sit under a tree for hours, but even five to ten minutes per day will give you a few moments of insightful reflection and peace. If you’re like me and have a wandering mind, start out with guided meditation because they’ll keep you more focused.
Begin a gratitude journal.
Studies have shown that writing down three specific things you are grateful for every day for just twenty-one days will increase your happiness. Tiny Buddha has a great gratitude journal to get you started.
Volunteer or find a way to help someone.
Volunteering connects us to other people, and it can give us a sense of purpose. It can also be fun and enjoyable, if you choose something based on your interests, like working with kids in the arts or baking birthday cakes for underprivileged youth. Maybe you love animals but can’t afford one or aren’t home enough to take care of one, but you can take some time to volunteer at an animal shelter and help them find a furever home!
You can likely find something that interests you at VolunteerMatch.org.
Get out there and exercise.
I love endorphins! If you’re type A and have a lot of energy, then the more energy you expend during exercise the happier you’ll be. If you hate the gym (like me), find something you enjoy doing whether it’s walking in the woods, doing yoga in the privacy of your own home, or joining a kayaking team. The options are endless.
What about becoming a bad-ass by learning Krav Maga or starting martial arts? I mean, who doesn’t want to be as Zen as Bruce Lee?
Figure out what you’re good at and start doing it.
We all have strengths, and we feel a lot more fulfilled when we use them instead of sitting around, focusing on our weaknesses. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, take the character strengths survey here.
Create a social support network.
They say that people who have at least five strong social connections are the happiest. Many of us feel so lost and alone because we have Facebook connections, but no real or genuine face-to-face interactions with friends on a regular basis. If you’re an introvert it will be hard and you’ll have to work at it, but the reward will be worth it. Meetup is a great place to start.
Write or scrapbook or create something.
Being creative opens your mind to new experiences and new possibilities. Color in an adult color book, start a blog, knit, crochet, sculpt or paint, write a children’s book, or journal every night. Medium.com will allow you to publish your writing without starting a formal blog. Get your mind engaged in anything other than thinking!
Don’t try to do everything at once or you’ll likely become overwhelmed and feel like you’re failing. Pick one thing and do it for a week or ten days, then maybe add another and so on. Every little thing you add will build up like pebbles of sand on the beach, and over time you will have created something beautiful.
We live in a society that wants immediate gratification, and when we don’t get it we tend to give up and move onto something else and blame the activity for not making us happy. Give it some time, be kind to yourself, take it a step at a time, and slowly you will see progress.
If you struggle with something you’ve decided to start, shift your focus to one of the other ideas instead of being hard on yourself.
Example: I signed up for a self-defense class to see if I wanted to join. Of course, I cancelled it before going. I told myself I wasn’t sure if I could afford it right now and I should wait. In part this is true, but in part I dreaded going to the class. However, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’ll try some other things right now and then I’ll put myself back out there and try again.
For now, I re-started meditation, which allows me a few moments to reflect and set new intentions. I’ve also started writing more, which provides a creative outlet and gives me a sense of accomplishment.
Beyond that, I’m keeping a gratitude journal and started a new exercise program. The gratitude journal is great for helping you focus on the positive rather than the negative, and exercise is a general stress reliever. I’m taking baby steps, and when I’m ready I’ll try something more social. It’s okay to go at your own pace.
Regardless of what you choose, the point is to live more in the world and less in your head. Just try it.
I promise there won’t be a day where you say, “Jeez, I wish I didn’t exercise” or “I wish I didn’t go for a walk” or “Helping someone really sucked.” But I guarantee if you don’t do anything you will regret it, and you will wake up one day wondering where your life went and how you got to the place you are. And that, my friend, is not what you want.
On this day you can choose life. You can choose a new path and things can change.