Have you ever felt like something is missing from your life? You’re getting up each day to go through the motions and smile and do all the things you feel you’re supposed to do, but it’s just not enough. You know there has to be more to life, but something keeps holding you back from getting it. Maybe you tell yourself to stop dreaming and to suck it up and get on with it like everyone else seems to. Maybe you’ve got out of your comfort zone a few times that didn’t go so well and you feel safer staying where you are.
How many times lately have you been going to do something you wanted to do, maybe even something that you’ve done before, even enjoyed before, when all of a sudden you really just don’t want to do it anymore? You try to reason with yourself but you just can’t bring yourself to take action. We all get scared sometimes, but when it’s keeping you from doing what you really want in life and living to the fullest, then keep reading, because I was there once too and this is how I got through.
Have you noticed those older people who have become more cautious, more careful and a lot less courageous than they used to be? When they were younger they were so much more open to ideas, open to trying out new things, actually having a go, and taking on new experiences. Think about it. As we get older, as we grow, develop more skills and take on new knowledge and experiences, shouldn’t we be able to do more things? Shouldn’t we really be better at getting ourselves to take action?
One would think that more experience would make us more confident and more certain, but for so many people it tends to go the other way. They seem to become less certain, less courageous, and as a result, there tends to be less they are willing to do in life. Life isn’t as fulfilling as it used to be, or as they imagined it might be. Their lives become more and more reduced, until they find themselves doing only a handful of things that they feel safe doing.
That used to be me
I used to feel as if I was going through the motions, never really getting too out of my comfort zone and wondering why I felt so lost and unfulfilled. If you think about it, most people get up in the morning, they do the same thing they have done every other day. They go to the same job, they drive the same way to work, they talk to the same people and on the weekend, they do the same things that they’ve done on the weekend for years.
There’s very little that’s new, there’s very little that stretches them, that helps them to grow. That’s when life can start to feel less fulfilling than before. They might be quite content with nothing to complain about, but without those stretches and something to reach for, it can start to feel as if there is little meaning and purpose anymore.
In contrast, how different are we when we’re younger? As a teenager or a young adult, the experiences you had in a day were much more varied. My guess is you were much more likely to go out and meet new people, create new friends, have new experiences, join a new sports club, get involved in different activities, be engaged in the community or try out a new job.
You weren’t just limited to what you were doing in that moment. You also spent a lot more time thinking about the future and all the things that you could do as you continue to grow older; the business that you might build one day, the relationship that you might create, the family that you look forward to, the dreams that you had of travelling, of exploring, the wealth that you might create one day. And we did this with courage, we did it with excitement, we did it with anticipation for the life to come.
So what’s different, what’s changed since then?
How do we get back to living life instead of hiding away from it? I started by looking at the people who are the best at this. The people who aren’t held back by fears. The people that aren’t scared of taking action. The people that do things with courage and excitement. That’s right, I’m talking about children! Let’s look at children, and use them as a model for how to change this within ourselves.
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So, what is it with children that is different about the way they face life and the way that they choose to do the things they want to do without being scared? Well, the truth is, children have an advantage over adults. And that advantage is, they don’t have so much history. We talk about people having “baggage”, but have you ever heard of a baby with “baggage”?
Children haven’t got many negative experiences to refer to of how things haven’t worked out for them, or reasons as to why they can’t do something. They only have pictures and references for what’s possible. You might say that they start with a clean slate. And if you want to move beyond being scared and enjoy life more courageously, then let’s look at how you can do the same.
Have you ever noticed that there are people who tend to dwell on the past, on the significant events that have happened to them, the challenges they’ve had? The past tends to be a more negative thing for them. Whereas when people are thinking in the future, it tends to be a bit brighter. They imagine the possibilities of what life could be. Knowing this, we can ask what is it that goes on in our mind that prevents us from doing the things that we want to do, or the things that we know we really should do?
Imagine what’s possible
Could it be that we associate to our past experiences and create meanings and pictures for them that don’t always work for us? For example, when we think about doing something new, when we think about going for that pay rise, starting a new career, asking someone on a date, or joining the local gym, what we tend to do is look back to our past experiences to show us how our future might be. The only problem with this is, often times our natural response is to be aware of the things that could hurt us.
So what can happen is that we look back to the past and find all the negative references as to why we should avoid something. We find all the experiences that went badly in the past, all the experiences where somebody might have judged us, or where something happened and we judged ourselves. Then we bring those experiences forward and try to create a future for ourselves. And of course, if we draw from the negative experiences in the past, we’re going to create pictures of what could happen negatively in the future.
So instead of creating a future picture based on all the possibilities out there, we’ve limited ourselves to a future picture based on less than great meanings from our past that may not even be accurate. At that point, we unconsciously move away from or feel almost repelled from taking that action. It undermines our attempts, often showing up as a form of self-sabotage.
Ask better questions
What happens if we let ourselves imagine for a moment that it’s possible to clear the slate? Imagine life from the perspective of being a child again. You see, sometimes as adults, people might get caught up in thinking about all the things they have to do, they live in ‘necessity mode’.
Whereas children tend to operate from more of a ‘possibility mode’. They think about all the possibilities. They think about what could happen, ‘What if I ‘could’ do this’, ‘What if things do go well’, ‘What else could happen?’. How much more exciting and curious do you feel just thinking about life from that perspective?
I wonder what difference it would make for you, if you started to open up and think not so much of what you have to do, or even what you can do. But, when you’re thinking about your dreams, when you’re thinking about your goals, when you’re thinking about the things that you want for yourself, for your family, for your children, for your partner. Try asking yourself a different question, ask yourself ‘What if it is possible?’. ‘How many different ways can I think of how I can enjoy life, express myself, grow to a new level, have fun, meet new people, do exciting new things?’
It’s possible that you could enjoy life even more and feel fulfilled and passionate again. It’s possible that you could create a relationship with more positive emotions than negative. It’s possible too that you could develop the career of your dreams. It’s possible that you could have the body that you want. If you approach life from a place of possibility, then you’re much more likely to be inspired than if you approach it from a place of necessity.
Choose your meanings
Another thing that may have prevented you from living the life that you desire, is not only thinking back to your experiences, but also the meanings that you attached to those experiences. You see, we think about something that happened in the past and instead of just seeing it for what it is, an experience, information, we create all kinds of meanings around it that may or may not be true.
Meanings like, ‘I didn’t get that job I went for because I’m not good enough’. When the truth is, you probably were good enough, but the person who got the job had a more suitable qualification, or, maybe they lost part of your application.
‘Because I’ve already tried to do this twice and failed, that means there’s no point in me trying to do it again.’ When the truth is, the more times you try, the better you’ll get with each attempt, and the more likely it is that you will succeed. We all know the story of Thomas Edison’s 1000’s of attempts to create the light bulb before he was successful, right?
We make up these possible meanings in our imagination, and at times we start to believe them as if they’re fact, and when we form a belief about something, it can be a challenge to reverse it. The problem with that is, it can make someone less likely to take action. They might not go for the next job, or they might give up trying too soon. The good news is, if you create meanings about experiences that are positive, they can be just as stubborn.
I’ve been teaching this to my family and I remember a time where I was extremely proud, when my three year old son was learning to ride a bike for the first time. He was riding around on the driveway and he happened to topple over. As I walk over to pick him up, he looked at me and he said, “Daddy, I fell over, that means that I’m learning!”. I was very proud, I laughed at myself, and thought, how wonderful it is that we have the ability to make whatever meanings we choose.
How about we too find ways that experiences can mean something better than what we used to make them mean before?
“The person I went on a date with last week doesn’t want to see me again because I’m meant to meet someone more suited to me”.
If your wife forgets your birthday, instead of taking it badly, how about considering “My wife takes such good care of our family and she didn’t have time to get me a present. She’s always finding other ways to show she cares, by taking time to plan weekends away and the little thoughtful things she does each day”.
“Last time I went to the gym, I didn’t know how to use the equipment and I wasn’t able to keep up with others in the class.” Rather than being down on yourself, you could think “How should I know the steps, or how to use equipment I’ve never seen before? Next time I go, I’ll speak to the trainers there and ask them to go through the machines with me, and before class starts, I’ll ask the instructor to explain the steps.”
Believe that you can. You’ve got this!
One last thing to remember, that stops a lot of people making a start, is that they think they need to already be skilled or have certain abilities before they can believe that they can do something. But belief always precedes ability. For example, If a child didn’t believe that they could actually walk, then they would soon give up.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a child give up trying to walk. They just keep going until they get it, because children first develop a belief they can walk. They get their references and pictures from their parents who walk around all day, every day. Children create the meaning that if their parents and others around them can walk then they must be able to walk too. Children believe that it’s possible and they keep working on that skill until they succeed. You can do the same in your life, as I did. One way that you can build on the belief in yourself first, is to seek out people who have achieved what you want to achieve, or who have the same vision. I did this in my life by finding ways to put myself into different environments where there were more possibilities of meeting the types of people that I wanted to meet. This has helped me create a life with joy, purpose and I now live in a place, knowing that anything is possible. There’s always a way. You just have to look for it.
You can join new clubs or gyms, attend different courses, do volunteer work, help out at school fundraisers or fairs. Find any way to meet new people. Anything that helps you find more positive references, more examples for what’s possible, so that over time, you can create a massive library of possibilities for yourself, until you realise that all that’s left is for you to just believe in yourself. Go for it and keep going until you get there!