A couple years back, I got really unhappy with my life and felt really stuck. I had recently made a major life change, moved, and was living in an area where I needed a new job, new friends, and in general, a new life.
Despite the fact that I was building a business that I loved ( but eventually failed), I was noticeably unhappy throughout the day and constantly stressed. I wasn’t having fun anymore, even when I was having fun.
One rainy afternoon I was wondering why the hell I had fallen into this state. I mean, I never was an unhappy person in my life. Never. I was that retardedly optimistic person that people wanted to shut up because I was unrealistically ambitious and always cheery.
One feeling, in particular, was bothering me. The feeling that life was passing me by.
It scared the living shit out of me.
So for the afternoon I decided to just hang out and research (and think) all I could on what makes life pass us by so quickly. Why, I wondered, was life speeding up as I got older? And how could I slow it down?
And that’s when I realized something:
The less present you are during the day, the more quickly it feels like time is passing.
And generally, the less you are doing activities you enjoy, the less you are in flow, and the more you think.
The more you think, the less you are paying attention to life and the more unhappy you get.
When you’re unhappy, you tend to be thinking a lot about life. When your job sucks, you’re not engaged. You’re listless and googling shit, and in general not enjoying what’s going on.
When you love your work, or a class you’re in, or a hobby after work, you’re fully present because you’re having a great time. When you’re present, you aren’t thinking. When you aren’t thinking, you’re generally happy. You’re not looking for an out. The time that is passing is “worthwhile.”
If you feel like life is passing you by, if you’re unhappy, or if you feel stuck and feel resistance in every direction, here’s how to fix it.
It all revolves around things that intensely make you present and turn off your mind.
#1 Deactivate all social media, and turn off your phone (and anything that lets you view the lives of others)
I can’t even begin to explain how destructive social media (particularly Facebook & Instagram) are to happiness. I cannot emphasize the importance of quitting Facebook for the sake of your happiness.
When I made my major life move, guess what I would do 35 times a day? Check my Facebook here and there for 2 minutes. Look through old pictures when I actually enjoyed my life. Look at friends posting their vacations. Look at happy couples. Look at people bragging about their lives (even if they hated them, they made them look good on Facebook).
Interestingly enough, they even did a study on Facebook showing it to be a major source of envy and unhappiness.
It stems from the human mind’s incessant desire to compare ourselves with others.
But there’s another hidden problem: it pulls you as far away from possible from the present.
When you’re present, for example while doing something you love, you aren’t thinking. This is the easiest way to be happy long-term. Watching someone’s fitness improvements on instagram only make you feel worse about yourself. Watching your friend’s latest trip to Paris just makes you jealous and feel worse about your life.
When you’re focusing on the shit that you have to do now, to improve your life now, your mind turns off.
#2 Do more activities that put you in flow
Remember the goal: to do things that keep you in the present moment and turn off your brain. Usually these are things you enjoy doing or require focus.
For me, one of the largest sources of unhappiness was my day job. My day job was boring and unengaging. As a result I was thinking about a million other things I’d rather be doing instead of that work. My day job was remote work on the computer, so I had some flexibility in how I could re-arrange it during the day.
So how did I fix it?
First, I re-arranged my schedule, and started off my day with an activity I liked that engaged my brain. I decided to spend the first 4 hours of the day (8:30-12:30) working on my own business, since it was fun and engaging.
After that, from 12:30-4:30 I decided to begin work on my day job stuff. That would start my day off right without much thinking or grumbling.
Second, I made my day job more engaging.
This depends on who your employer is, and whether or not you work at corporate or a startup, but I’ve found that when you’re doing monkey work (like sending out mass cold-call emails, data entry, repetitive stuff, etc.) listening to podcasts makes it more fun.
I now spend 4-5 hours a day listening to podcasts while I’m doing the boring work, which is a hell of a lot fun and more engaging. Every once in a while I stop and take a bunch of notes, and in general it makes the process something I look forward to much more.
Outside of work, you can put yourself in flow (non-think mode) by following step #3 – creating a kick ass daily routine.
(P.S. If you want to learn more about how being in Flow kicks ass, read these posts I’ve written:
- The One Simple Test That Will Change Your Business & Life (Flow Testing 101)
- How to Learn Any Skill 2x as Fast in 1/2 the Time (Part 2 – Flow )
- If Your Work Sucks, Learn About Flow
#3 Create a daily ritual of things you love
Alright, so I told you about how I discovered that filling the day with flow producing activities made it a hell of a lot more enjoyable, and, more importantly, slowed it down.
Here’s how I took it to the next level.
After giving myself a 30 day flow test, I learned that despite the fact that I didn’t like most of my day, some of it I actually did, like:
- Waking up a few minutes before work to make a coffee and just sit down and meditate while It was quiet.
- Hanging out in a coffee shop every afternoon with an espresso and a nice book.
- Going to the gym — working out instantly brings me into Flow.
- Judo – Another very physical activity that brings me right into flow because it demands focus (And I like it).
All of these things shut my mind off. That’s the key. I would tell you to meditate but I know most of you won’t do it. The easiest way to essentially “meditate” then is to find activities that naturally engage you, and turn them into a daily ritual.
I would work in the morning and later at night, so I could enjoy that 4-6 pm I was in a cafe reading. And then 6:30-7:30 in a gym, and then 8-9:30 at judo. There wasn’t a shitty day that couldn’t be fixed by 5 hours of straight flow. Ponder that.
Find what shuts your mind off.
4 – Create & Produce
A recent article called there’smore to life than being happy reminded me of one of the key truths I’ve learned in the past few years of my life.
People are most happy when we’ve produced or created something with our time. The act of producing or creating is one of those things that contributes massively to living a meaningful life.
If there were ever a quick road to meaning, it would be this: just start creating something. Produce something you believe in. Whether that’s a book, a piece of art, or just a meetup group… when we produce (rather than consume) we get into flow and time becomes much more enjoyable.
We start to think “Wow, if I never existed, this creation would never exist on earth.” Powerful. You feel important.
There’s another interesting that happens when you produce. At one point of my life, I was getting “too busy” for Milk the Pigeon. So I sat down for an afternoon and went through all my past posts — and it was only then that I had realized just how much I had created.
I had created all this stuff that would not have existed in the world without me. I created words and books that inspired people or made them think differently, which resulted in 100’s of emails where people said “thank you.” That was just the bonus.
Sometimes you don’t realize just how much you need the physical act of creation until you look back and see how much you’ve actually produced.
5 – When in doubt, DO something (don’t think about it, you’ll just end up miserable)
You should realize by now that one of the fundamental causes behind unhappiness is thinking.
For whatever reason, the human mind doesn’t naturally think about all the good things that can happen. When you’re unemployed for 8 months you can’t think about anything other than stabbing yourself in the face with a fork.
When I moved back to the United States a year or two back, I had a lot of time to think about “what next.” Not surprisingly, that’s when I got the most unhappy. I would think about purpose, meaning and direction for half of the day, and by the second half of the day was ready to just move again and leave all my problems behind.
But here’s the thing: You’re thinking and working yourself up but not doing anything, so you’re actually not getting any closer. It’s not surprising that you’re confused as hell.
Whatever it is – really – when in doubt, just go do something. Spend as little time thinking and as much time doing. Aside from the obvious (you’ll product results, unlike most people), there is the other benefit that you won’t be stuck in circles all day in your mind.
You know those people who are always living vicariously through others? They don’t DO anything.
6 – Laser tag Mondays, wine tasting Tuesdays, slip n slide Wednesdays, micro adventure Thursdays
For many of us, the boredom (and resulting internal monologue) is one of the main reasons life is flying by and we can’t slow it down.
The other obvious one is that you’re doing the same thing every day. Chances are, if you’re complaining about life passing you by, you aren’t doing the things you enjoy and want to be doing.
This is the exact reason why I started learning a new skill (or doing a new activity) every 30 days. This is where my 30 day flow test experiment originated.
I would spend 30 days studying wine (just an hour each evening). The next month I would spend an hour outside walking (to see how it affects my stress levels). The next month I would spend an hour a night learning about acupressure points and seeing if they did anything to me. The following month I’d practice some of the memory tricks from Moonwalking With Einstein.
See where I’m goin’ with this? It’s a crazy easy way (with minimal time investment) to make life a hell of a lot more conversation worthy and flat out fucking awesome.
The secret to slowing life down
One of the keys to making life slow down is to think as little as possible and do as much as possible. For many of us, we only get stuck in our head when something isn’t going right. Job sucks? Think all day and complain. Girl rejects you at the bar? Think of a million things you should’ve said instead.
When life is good, we usually just sit there soaking it all in. It’s intensely meditative.
What kind of things should we do as much as possible? Anything that puts you in flow and turns off your brain.
We live in an era with an epic amount of distractions. Facebook, instagram, cellphones. They’re all distracting us and preventing us from doing anything.
Many of us spend our days jealous of our friends’ vacations on Facebook. We envy the guy with a good job who shows off his money. We envy the girl who posts duck-faced pictures of herself in a bikini on a beach. We envy the couple who travels the world together. We envy the person who never seems to be working when everyone else is.
Get rid of all that shit. They’re distractions. They’re preventing you from reaching your potential. Stop living your life through this illusion and start seizing it by the balls.
Stop letting life pass you by, and go do something.