Why Your Future Plans Won't Make You Happy

Obviously I’m all for setting intentions (not goals!) for myself around here but I’ve come to some realisations over the years, and I’m sure some of you have been through scenarios like this too.

Have you saved up for a new car (or any new possession), dreaming what it will be like to finally have it, then a week or maybe a month after getting it (and trying to keep it sparkling clean!) it becomes no big deal?

Did you plan your milestone birthday / wedding / other occasion, working on every detail and planning the perfect outfit, only to come crashing down to earth the day or days after when the anti climax of the event being over kicked in?

It’s all a little depressing yes, but all comes back to the false theory of “I’ll be happy when…” I hate to break it to you readers but this is all an illusion.

If it wasn’t, wouldn’t you be happy now, since I’m sure you’ve had those thoughts before, reached your goals, and thought I’ll be happy when I’m done with ‘X’?

So what can you do to be happy right now?

Practice gratitude

An obvious one, but a goodie. One of my guided meditations from Stop, Breathe & Think is all about gratitude and I love choosing this one in the morning.

It asks you to think about all the people who have supported you in your life, all the people you don’t see who make the world tick as it does for you (think roads, food in your grocery store, etc) and to think about the freedoms you have in your life that so many others don’t.

I love thinking like this and not taking seemingly obvious things for granted. Look around readers, there’s a lot to be grateful for right now.

Go after feelings, not just goals

I’m sure many of you have heard of Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map. I haven’t done it fully myself but do support the idea of picking core desired feelings and aiming for those instead of focusing solely on goals.

Not to the level of Danielle’s work, but I have picked my top three desired feelings for each day in the past and came up with ‘excited’, ‘energised’ and ‘satisfied’.

If I keep that in mind when deciding what to do each day (or even approaching things I don’t get to decide on with those feelings), I notice a huge difference. You can try Brooke Castillo’s worksheet on this here.

Realise this is all there is

A little morbid but I guess we all know we’re not necessarily promised any future other than today. That’s a struggle to comprehend but is incredibly grounding too.

One of the exercises I did in Self Coaching Scholars was to write out my ideal day.

What really surprised me was that, despite often trying to improve, I’m really not that far from the days I want to have.

Although it can sometimes seem boring or repetitive, on my ideal day, I would still do yoga, meditate, write to you guys, do some coaching and exercise.

I could pass them off as ‘have to’ tasks in my life, but after completing the exercise I realised I really want to do all of them.

How can you find happiness now, instead of waiting for it in the future?

 

The Happiness of Doing Less

In discussions of late with girlfriends, the idea of doing less has been coming up more and more.

We used to pride ourselves on hitting the 6am spin class, grabbing dinner and wine after work and stuffing our weekends full of catch ups with every ex-coworker and high school friend we could find.

It may be (read: probably is) age but this routine doesn't seem to have the same appeal as it used to. Slowing down, breathing and being more discerning about what we say 'yes' to is now at the forefront of our minds.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by commitment and don't know how to slow down, try some of these tips:

Form routines

A morning and evening routine crafted just for you will really frame your days and encourage self-care and pleasure.

Write out the activities you want to help wake you up in the morning and those that will end your evening on a relaxing note (a long walk? cooking a delicious breakfast? yoga before bed?) and start to implement them week by week.

Pick your appointments

Finding time to catch up with those important to us seems to be getting more and more challenging.

Diarise monthly or bi-monthly catch ups with friends, make sure the appointments are scheduled at relaxed times that suit both of you and feel free to say no to those relationships that you don't value as highly as others. Yes, really.

Avoid the highlight reels

Gazing on social media with a severe sense of FOMO can undo all the joy of doing less.

But remember - social media is everyone's highlight reel - we usually don't see them trimming their toenails, running late for appointments or dreading the next appointment they have to go to.

So if it makes you feel worse, stay off social media or remove those that bring any feelings of anxiety.

How can you do less in the next week? What can you say no to? 

Five Ways I'm Failing At My Own Advice

 

Over the last few weeks, I've fallen off the wagon. Exercise has taken a back seat, my work stress levels have been ascending and the thought of meal prepping on a Sunday makes me want to lie down and take a wine-induced nap. But hey, that’s what this blog is about – being OK with where you are and taking it easy on yourself. It’s also about honesty and transparency, so today I present you with the five ways I've been failing at my own advice.

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Advice #1

When blogging about how to make the most of your commute, I offered catching up on emails on the train/tram/bus to really get you ahead for the work day.

Reality

I guess with this one I have been taking my own advice, but checking emails has been causing me more anxiety than is necessary. I’ll often see mail that I want to act on straight away but don’t have the right files available on my phone. Or I’ll see an email chain that’s taken place that I haven’t been able to chime in on, then start thinking about how I’ll word the email when I arrive in the office. Arriving at work flustered and stressed is not the aim, so for now I’m letting this activity go from my commute.

Fix

My work email is right next to my personal email so I've shifted it into a folder on my phone I never use (and is located on the last screen) so I can’t access it easily and I’m not tempted for a quick peek (this never works right?!). So far, so good, which makes me more relaxed on the commute.

Advice #2

Plan your work day ahead so you feel accomplished at the end of the day. Otherwise hours can slip away and you leave work feeling like you didn't achieve anything.

Reality

Um, totally failing at this one lately. I've been saying yes to a lot of meetings, putting out little fires everywhere and am glued to my email, rather than working on more important tasks.

Fix

I am totally guilty of this but I love to change the way I manage my to do list. Some weeks I like Outlook, some weeks I need to handwrite it and for the last few weeks I’ve been using Trello, a free online organiser. I freaking love it and I think it’s definitely made me more productive. I include all of my different projects or clients as lists, then add ‘cards’ for each task. I can add due dates, archive (so satisfying to move things off as you do them) and see that yes, I have a lot of tasks, but only some are actually urgent, not all.

Advice #3

Plan for a well-rounded week – allocate equal time to all the important areas of your life – career, relationship, friendships, family, leisure, hobbies.

Reality

Does coming home from work tired and watching House of Cards all night count as a well-rounded life? Yeah, the last month has not been great for this one. I've been letting exercise go, been zoning out in Instagram instead of talking to my husband and secretly feeling happy when plans with ‘semi-obligated-to-see-friends’ get cancelled so I can do nothing.

Fix

Turning this around is so important. Last week I made an effort to get to the gym two nights after work and I left with much more energy and motivation than I came in with. I've also been making sure to spend at least 10 minutes talking through our days with my husband in the evening, and have been going out with the friends that leave me feeling inspired and full. My mood and energy have definitely lifted.

Advice #4

Practise gratitude in the mornings – list five things in your head that you’re grateful for as soon as you wake up.

Reality

Or alternatively, pick up your iPhone, check your emails, hear the cat meowing for breakfast and before you know it you’re on your way to work.

Fix

Taking a few minutes at the start of the day is so important to me for setting up the rest of my day. When I start with positive thoughts, ease into the morning and do some yoga, I’m a much more relaxed human being. I feel less stressed, can plan my day better and am more zen all around. Time to get back to the morning routine.

Advice #5

It’s ok to feel negative emotions completely. When you’re spiralling with negative self talk, set aside time to feel it.

Reality

As with any new job, I've been suffering a little with imposter syndrome as I learn the ropes. I’ve also been focusing on plans for the year ahead (read: wishing I had more $$ to travel more and fulfil those plans) and sometimes I find myself in a real spiral. I push the negative emotions away and think ‘I should feel happy. I shouldn't feel like this’. And guess what? That doesn't work.

Fix

Read The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. I've had so many epiphanies while reading this book, I haven’t even finished it yet as I want to give sufficient time for it all to sink in (he also recommends this – reading and practising the theories bit by bit). The crux of the book is a number of behavioural techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Parts of it centre on allowing yourself to accept negative emotions and scenarios you dream up and accepting our thoughts for what they really are, just thoughts.

So although I’m revealing how I’m failing at my own advice, that’s really only a story I’ve made up. So here’s to accepting what is and making moves to get life back to where we’d like it to be – one non-judgemental step at a time.

To finish, a couple of great quotes from The Happiness Trap:

"The mind loves telling stories; in fact, it never stops. All day, every day, it tells you stories about who you are, what you’re like, what you should be doing with your life, what other people think of you, what’s wrong with the world, what will happen in the future, what went wrong in the past, and so on. It’s like a radio that never stops broadcasting."
"The bottom line is not whether a thought is positive or negative, true or false, pleasant or unpleasant, optimistic or pessimistic, but whether it helps you create a fulfilling life."

Have a great week lovely readers.

 

Gratitude 101

 
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Do you feel like you’re always reaching? Like when you buy that thing, or get that job, or finish that goal, you’ll be happy? I’ve heard these aspirations called many things including shiny pennies, carrots, vision boards, bucket lists.

On the flip side, I’ve also read a lot about gratitude and living in the present moment. No longer reaching and living a life of ‘I am happy now’, not ‘I’ll be happy when…’

Back when I started looking into positive psychology, I shared the strategies to a more satisfying life from Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher and author of The How To Of Happiness. Even though they sounded simple, I wanted to look further into her research.

A good proportion of the tactics she discusses come back to gratitude – being grateful, expressing wonder at the world around you and counting blessings. Research has shown that practising gratitude regularly can have a huge effect on your outlook, disposition and overall happiness.

The truly fascinating part of Sonja’s research is that she has ascertained that:

  • 40% of our happiness is in our control and can be influenced by intentional activity
  • 10% is based on circumstances outside of our control
  • 50% is genetically determined.

Only 40% control makes me want to work harder, so gratitude is a new focus. When I say working hard, the premise is actually to be satisfied with your life as it is, but that can be harder work than I thought...

Below are some of my favourite practices, and some I’m yet to implement:

Five grateful thoughts each morning

This is perfect for the newbie to gratitude or those that feel they don’t have enough time to be grateful (an oxymoron?). Every morning before I get out of bed, I list the first five things that pop into my head that I’m grateful for. It sets a good frame of mind for the day and stops me moaning that it’s too early to get up.

Mantras and affirmations

Taking a mantra through your day is something I learned from Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles. The book is based around daily practice in meditation, but also gives you an affirmation to use as needed over the course of the day. You can either set a few reminders in your phone or go back to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you have a quiet moment. A few of my favourites are:

  • I’m grateful for this moment
  • I could see peace instead of this
  • I am responsible for what I see

I could go on and on with these ones… And she also has a very cute app that you can use as your alarm.

Journaling

I’m not a regular journal-er but it’s a popular gratitude practice. Writing down at the start or end of each day what you’re thankful for helps ground you and is great to refer back to on a not-so-great day. Plus there’s so many nice journals out there to choose from right?

Photos and quotes around your home

Ok, I’m not a big fan of the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ sign, but there is strong research into the fact that having an uplifting quote around the home and surrounding yourself with photos of family and friends increases gratefulness. The photos in particular remind us of the amazing people in our lives, the places we’ve travelled, the celebrations that stood out. Even when we’re in the humdrum of everyday life, reminders of these can keep us grounded and increase our satisfaction with life in general.

   Some moments I like to remember.

 

Some moments I like to remember.

Gratitude letter (and visit...)

I’ll be honest and tell you this one terrifies me a little. Martin Seligman, pioneer for positive psychology, developed this exercise. You think of someone who has made a major impact on your life, write them a gratitude letter and visit them to read it in person. I would love to hear if anyone has done this or is interested in doing it. I imagine it would be a hugely powerful experience.

Celebrating moments

I am so guilty of this one and am working on this for 2015. I am a goal setter and luckily most of the time, a goal achiever. But what I forget to do is stop and celebrate each goal, rather than rushing right by on to the next one or brushing it off as not a big deal. Living in the present moment is about celebrating these achievements, for yourself and others. And why not take a photo and put it up in your house to remember it?

I’d love to hear how you practise gratitude? Or if any of these are enticing you to start?