Stop. Stop whatever it is that you’re doing (aside from reading this blog post). Take this time to think about what’s happening in your life, the habits you hold, the routines you have, the motions that you go through. Now, ask yourself a question.
How many of those things are working out wonderfully for you? Don’t kid yourself – be honest.
Are you always late for work? Why? Maybe your routine doesn’t allow enough time in the morning. Or, maybe the Starbucks drive-through sets you back 10 or 15 minutes. What habit kills the chances of you making it to work on time?
Do you always seem to be stressed out? About what?
Are you making the progress that you expect at the gym? If not, why not?
We Americans live in one of the richest and advanced countries in the world. Opportunities abound. Our nation offers scholarships for college, inexpensive housing and reliable electrical grids and running water almost everywhere, all the while being insanely connected to one another through Internet and our handheld cellular devices. Yet, people remain unhappy. That’s a total buzzkill.
Something is seriously wrong. That “something” is speed.
Fucking stop. Life is not a race. We all arrive at the next red light at about the same time whether we weave in and out of traffic or not. Seriously. Have you ever pulled up next to a kid who blew passed you, then cut right in front of your car only to switch lanes again to get just one more car ahead?
Now, you’re sitting right next to the kid. You have a slight smirk on your face because you know driving like a jackass got this kid nowhere. You’re right next to him! A lot of good that did him.
Here’s a secret: Life works the same way. The faster we go, the more we miss. We make decisions based on beautiful assumptions of what life “should be” and then proceed to plow forward as fast as we can towards the next decision, and the next. Along the way, very few of us take the time to stop and consider whether the choices we make are right for our lives.
Do you stop long enough to consider how your decisions effect your life? Or, do you plow full speed ahead in search of the next one? If you are like most Americans, you’re pushing headlong forward. Always moving. Forward. More. Forward. More!
And we end up making the same mistakes over and over again. It’s because when we do something, we teach our brains to repeat this same behavior in the future. Why? Less energy, perhaps. The pathway we previously created gets re-used. Path of least resistance, like a river.
This happens when we do things right, but also when we do things wrong. We tend to ignore where the path leads us. Instead, we simply follow the easiest route to a desired result. It’s because when things don’t go horribly wrong, we mentally assume things went right. No reason to change, right?
In all facets of our lives, these mental pathways fuck with our sensibilities – and many of us don’t realize it. Always losing things. Dating the wrong types of people. Overreacting. Perpetual tardiness. Tempers.
Bad habits stick with us as easily as good habits. And until we stop to consider more thoughtfully how our decisions affect our lives, we sentence ourselves to endless cycles of failure and mediocrity.
Stop, Drop and Roll
Remember learning the “Stop, Drop and Roll” routine back in school? I do. We were taught to stop whatever we were doing, drop to the floor and roll like hell any time that we spontaneously caught on fire. Or were caught in a fire, perhaps.
The very first step is to stop, not run. Running fans the flames. The fire gets bigger. Things get worse.
When something’s wrong, stop. When nothing appears to be wrong, slow down. Taking a more gradual path through life gives us time to reflect. To be present. To realize that just because things may not have gone horribly wrong, there still might be a better way.
There’s not enough time in the day to stop? Bullshit. Yes, there is.
It’s different for each of us, but find the time. It’s there. Consider taking an extra 10 or 15 minutes before bed (or in bed!) to reflect quietly on your day. Think about the choices you made, the interactions you had, your reaction to the day’s events. This doesn’t need to take long, but over the days, the time you take to reflect adds up into something extremely powerful.
It makes you more deliberate and thoughtful.
What makes you late to work? Why do you keep choosing the wrong person to date? Why do you feel lonely or afraid? What are the things that you do that might contribute to the satisfaction you feel out of life?
Maybe the answer has been right in front of you this whole time, but you never gave yourself the opportunity to realize it.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.