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How My Life Changed When I Adopted the Habits of Successful People

Confessions of a recovering cool kid

Illustration by Piya Willwerth

So, I’ll admit this first: My life is still changing. I don’t want to come here and act like I have all the answers, because I definitely don’t, but I did start from a position of “wanting to better myself” (which … let’s be real, we should all be striving for all the time) and yo, my life is better now.

Illustration by Steve Dillon

There’s a hole that people tend to get stuck in and it’s the “what-if-I-fail” hole. I do think we tend to underestimate the impact that mindset can have towards actually succeeding, and it’s the difference between “knowing” you can succeed — well, having faith that you can — and being preoccupied by the possibility that you can’t.

Like, it’s weird. I spent so much of my life being a cynical cool kid, and now I wake up (naturally) around 7am and go jogging.

So what was the key? What made me stop lying around on the couch? I would say it was a combination of two things.

First, it was FOMO. Not FOMO about a specific party or event, but FOMO on life, basically. I was in my 30s and I was missing out on things. It scared me! Because we, as human beings, are entitled to the pursuit of happiness. Right?

Second, it was … well, it was basically this:

I have a crazy pro tip for confidence about your art. If you're worrying about whether your art is good, it probably is because everyone I've ever met who makes truly terrible art, thinks it's INCREDIBLE and if they get to feel that way, so should you.

I can already hear the buzzards circling. Listen, I’m not trying to say I’m better than everyone else. What I am saying, though, is that by not practicing your art, by not stretching your arms out to embrace whatever talent or skill you were born with — by not feeling proud of the things you create, you are needlessly cutting yourself off at the knees. We all deserve to grow and to seek, and to fill oceans with our selves.

Do you remember when you were a child, and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? It’s quite a loaded question to ask a child, but it definitely shouldn’t mean that much, in my opinion. It’s just one of those thoughtless questions that grown-ups ask children. But for lots of kids, it’s the first time that they’ve ever had to consider their future. In this sense, it can be rather a bizarre proposition. What does the kid want to be when they grow up? Whatever anybody will let them be, I suppose.

When I thought about who I’d be when I was an adult, it was all very flashy. I would take “business trips” all around the world. I would dress beautifully in black suits. I was going to be like Dana Scully in The X-Files … or maybe Lara Croft. Maybe an archaeologist? An artist, perhaps? But my dad kept telling me there was no money in that.

When I looked up twenty years later, I was not any of these things, and I was in a job that I was not very interested in. I was shying away from realizing my full potential, and because of that, I was letting child-me down. After a great deal of thought, this became unacceptable to me. Because after all, this is life or death we’re talking about, aren’t we?

Does it seem dramatic to state that my daily habits — of drinking alcohol regularly, of eating expensive junk food, of binging Netflix shows — were preventing me from hiking across Peru? Because that’s what I was being told by the books I was starting to read. All of the small things added up. This was a universal truth. If this was true, then it followed that the quality of all the small things was of the utmost importance.

Eating Better

I lost weight. I’ve never been overweight, but I was … getting a little fluffy. When I changed the quality of the stuff I was eating — no more days of nachos and delivery Mexican food — I realized that not only did I feel healthier, but my brain literally worked better, too. As an avid home cook hobbyist, it also became a way for me to use my hands in a relaxing and focusing activity.

Stopped Drinking

I stopped drinking alcohol regularly. This, in combination with eating better, had an enormous cumulative effect on my mental health and general sense of optimism. Instead of feeling as though I was trapped in a dark tunnel, I began to actually look forward to the rest of my life. It also occurred to me that other people looked forward to the rest of their lives, despite whatever Twitter thinks. I was also able to identify the source of some of my anxiety (alcohol). You see, alcohol provides a temporary “escape” from a problem, but it does not solve the problem, and on top of it, you feel worse about having the problem.

Like, say you’re in a job that you don’t like, so you have a drink to forget about it. You forget about it for awhile, but after you’re done drinking, you still have a job you don’t like, and on top of that, you feel like shit: so.

I know I’m oversimplifying this, but these are all true statements.

I wrote down my goals

Eat That Frog is very clear about writing down your goals, so that you can give them tangible form. It’s not important to think about whether this is too woo-woo Law of Attraction-y for you. What is important is that it works. As soon as I wrote down my goals and broke them down into smaller, more specific tasks, I gave myself a road map that I have been able to follow fairly closely.

It’s a lot easier to follow “Join a coding bootcamp” than it is to “Beef up your coding skills.” One tells you how, the other tells you what. Which one is more practical? (Hint: It’s the one that tells you how)

What happened when I did these things?

I did more things after I did these things. In fact, I did things that I didn’t even think about doing before — like learning how to play acoustic guitar (badly), moving into a beautiful new apartment, starting a blog, and driving across the country on a road trip. Oh, and I also completed a bootcamp to level up some of those motion graphic skills.

The little things add up to the big things. I don’t know exactly where I’m headed next, but I do know this: Taking the time to change my daily habits took me to these new places.

What are some of your own bad habits?

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