I can’t tell you the key to success but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.
We were just sitting there, winding down in my friend’s living room. My ears were still ringing from the obnoxiously loud bass I was subjected to for the last two hours. Everyone was exhausted; it had been a long day of drinking, being out in the sun, and exploring the coastal California city. Everyone was ready for bed. Everyone, except for me.
I was wide awake, ready for an adventure. The reason I was here, in the first place, was to step outside of my comfort zone. I eagerly craved a new experience, something fascinating and out of the ordinary. Something outside of the box of clubbing, drinking, and tanning.
I turned to another one of my friends, a local, inquiring about the best location for an adventure in Isla Vista. “Goleta Pier,” he replied “go jump off of Goleta Pier. That’s where I went for my last exploration.” It sounded great. I could go jump off a 15 foot pier into the salty Pacific water, illuminated only by moonlight. “Let’s go!” I responded.
Here’s where things got complicated. While I was fired up, ready to go jump into the water like an idiot, it was not as easy to convince my companions. Of the three that remained conscious, not one exhibited any reciprocation of my enthusiasm. “Tomorrow night, for sure. Not tonight,” they said. As someone who prefers not to risk drowning by myself at two in the morning, I elected to stay back, looking forward to cannon-balling off of the wooden structure in less than 24 hours.
Long story short, I never jumped off of Goleta Pier. Our group ended up leaving early this weekend. Consequently, here I sit in San Jose, wishing that I would have done what I wanted to, when I wanted to. I wish that I would have taken further action and found a way to jump off the pier that evening, instead of giving in and heading to bed.
This is not just about some foolish “adventure” that I wanted to have in the wee hours of morning though. It is about something that holds much more weight: not letting your emotions dictate your actions and doing what you want to do, when you want to do it. And as Charles Duhigg elaborates on in this book The Power of Habit, it only takes one small action to build momentum. I was disappointed that I failed do what I wanted to in that instance and also upset that I had started to build negative energy.
Every single day, there are countless decisions that we have to make. Each time, we are faced with any number of options, a plethora of directions that we could go. In order to simplify this, let’s say that each choice falls into one of two buckets: what you do want to do and what you do not want to do.
The things that you do want to do are activities that will help you grow, reach your goals, and be happy. What you do not want to do may be things that help in these areas too, but are not driven personally. More often than not, these are items that we are social conditioned to believe we should do and generally, do not propel growth in the same order of magnitude as the former.
For example, say you all of your friends are busy on a Friday evening or that you just moved to a new city and don’t have anyone to go out with, but you feel very social and a desire to meet new people. You do want to go out and interact, but there is a social stigma associated with being out alone, you know you will be judged by some. You do not want to stay home and watch television, but, because you are social conditioned to judge those who are alone at bars or clubs, you stay in and fall asleep on your couch with an empty bottle of wine.
Believe me, I know that feeling. I have been there before. It was flat out awful and contagious. It is incredible how fast your mind can rationalize this poor behavior and continually prevent you from doing the things you want to do, to step outside your comfort zone. And if you are not careful, this vicious cycle can put you on the fast track for a mid-life crisis or, even worse, a long life of being boring.
There is a silver lining, though! Now that we have explored the downfall of this principle, let’s explore its beauty. In the same way that small concessions to your desires can hamper your ability to make the right decisions, small actions that align with your aspirations can enable you to choose favorably. This fundamental is key to assessing your shortcomings and devising a plan to get back on track as soon as possible.
When you choose to browse the internet instead of reading a great book, close the laptop and just read a page or two. That’s all. Just accomplish something, no matter how small. When you give into your diet and eat an unhealthy meal, make sure to order or make extra vegetables the next time you eat. If you see a pretty girl or interesting person and you feel too much anxiety to approach them in public, let it go and strike up a conversation with the barista at Starbucks. Constantly try to build positive energy with small victories – they will add up.
In the future, be more authentic. Displaying authenticity in everything you do breeds consistency, which enables trust in relationships and with yourself. You should constantly do want you want to do, not what someone else wants you to do. Do your best to be indifferent to the judgment of others, not letting it push you too far off course. I guarantee it will make your life exponentially simpler – you will no longer have to worry about saying or doing the “right thing”. Just do what makes you happy and allow the chips to fall where they may. And when you fall off the wagon, find a way to get a few small wins to get right back in the driver’s seat.
Now, to devise a plan to get back to that damn pier…
Published 7/5/2015 at 8:36 PM PST