“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” – Steve Jobs
A few years ago, my life was an endless cycle of procrastination, addiction, and self-sabotage.
Each morning, I’d wake up with little to no enthusiasm to do anything meaningful. I’d lie in until the last-minute before eventually getting up to go to work. After a nine-hour shift in what I considered to be a boring dead-end job, I’d return home with a single desire; to consume excessive amounts of television, video games and junk food until I couldn’t stay awake any longer.
Come tomorrow, and the cycle would start over again.
The entire time, I knew intuitively that no good would ever come of this lifestyle. But the instant feelings of pleasure and comfort that it granted were so enticing and difficult to let go of. I was so uncomfortable doing anything productive that even doing something as simple as cleaning the dishes felt strenuous.
So the cycle continued, unbroken and unchallenged. Sure, in comparison to being addicted to drugs or alcohol, my addictions might not sound too dramatic. But the impact that they were having on my life was very real.
I was overweight and unfit to the point where walking up the stairs to get to my apartment would completely take the breath out of me. Financially, I was just about staying afloat thanks to the unreasonable amounts of money I spent on unhealthy foods and material possessions.
And not too surprisingly, my life lacked all feelings of happiness, contentment and purpose.
My self-sabotage continued from my late teens into my early twenties. There was no light bulb moment that suddenly revealed all the answers for me. Only a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction and emptiness that would eventually become too much for me to bear.
One day, I began to picture vividly what my life would look like if I continued on that path for the next ten years. And what I saw terrified me…
The thought of being even more unhealthy than I already was, the thought of being financially in debt working long hours in the job I hated, the thought of being without my closest relationships and the thought of having nothing to feel passionate about in life, were enough to keep me awake long into the night.
But it was also these fears that encouraged me to change my life for the better.
I wanted to be fitter and healthier. I wanted to be more financially stable. I wanted to give up my addictions and spend my time doing things that were truly meaningful to me.
The trouble was, this also terrified me.
I was afraid of being disappointed despite my best efforts, afraid that others wouldn’t support me, hell I was even afraid that I’ll actually do something right and have to deal with the consequences (both good and bad).
Then I remembered something Seth Godin once said about fear. To paraphrase him, he said that if you’re afraid of the dark but more afraid of snakes, you’d probably run through a dark room to get away from a snake.
I was afraid of stepping outside my comfort zone and becoming a better version of myself, but not merely as afraid as I was of becoming the person I envisioned in my future-self to be.
With my fears in mind, I knew this time I was finally ready to make a change.
I replaced junk food with balanced and healthier meals. I deliberately left my wallet at home (unless I knew I needed it) so that I couldn’t buy junk food that cost me so much money and made me feel like crap. I even began exercising twenty minutes every day without fail and soon had more energy than I had ever had in my teenage years.
Instead of sleeping in every morning, I’d wake up at 5 a.m. full of excitement to work on things I was truly passionate about like writing. After work, instead of slouching back on the sofa and watching TV for several hours, I devoted my time to reading books that my past-self never had the opportunity to read.
I stopped spending money on material possessions that I knew wouldn’t make me happy. And I made sure to savour every second of time spent with the people closest to me knowing that few things (if any) are more valuable.
I never became rich and travelled the world or anything glorious as a result of my actions, but I was happier than I had been in a good number of years.
I wish I could say it was smooth sailing, but I’d be lying if I said it was.
More often than not, giving up an addiction is an uphill battle as every fibre in your being fights against the discomfort of change and tempts you back to the bad habits you’re all too familiar with.
One of the greatest challenges to me (and I doubt I’m alone here), was how much easier it is to do nothing than it is to change your life.
It’s so easy to choose the path of least resistance.
It’s so easy to put off the important things in favour of what brings you the most pleasure and comfort.
And it’s so easy to let your present-self indulge in the moment while your future-self pays the price.
But I can say from experience that the pain of not taking action when you’re perfectly capable hurts far more than failure.
Walking away from self-sabotaging addictions and choosing to focus on the things you love isn’t as easy as logic would suggest it is. It’s uncomfortable and often frightening.
What I can promise though, is that if you persist and push through what initially feels terrifyingly uncomfortable, eventually your new healthier habits will become your comfort zone and you will become the person you wish to be.
And if an ordinary guy like me can do it, I’ve no doubt that you can too.
What do you fear most? What possibilities frighten you so much that you’ll do whatever it takes to avoid them?