“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” – Confucius
Life is a funny thing. There is no road map. The best we can do is hope for a strong upbringing, surrounded by a good family and people who care for us. After that, we pray for their love and support as we try to fumble our way through adulthood.
How many of us actually know what they’re doing when they graduate high school? What about college? I sure as hell didn’t.
I grew up as a kid who always succeeded. Every challenge put in front of me I knocked out of the park. As I transitioned out of my parents’ home and into the real world, I felt this enormous amount of pressure to continue succeeding. I realized quickly that I was a small fish in a much bigger pond.
Like so many others, I struggled to adapt to life as a young adult. It was about 7 years ago – I was in college, working part-time, had a mountain of debt, and some health issues that popped up out of seemingly nowhere. I didn’t know it at the time, but later I would be unofficially diagnosed with what can only be described as severe anxiety. That pressure to succeed eventually got to me. As things got harder and harder, the stress kept compounding.
I became best friends with the doctors in my area. I was in their offices every other week either sick or with a new issue that came up.
Now the medical field, in general, is pretty clueless when it comes to mental health disorders. Unless you’ve suffered yourself, it’s damn near impossible to explain what it’s like. Your world feels like it’s falling apart. You’re overwhelmed. And everyone tells you to just “chill out, man.”
Well, I couldn’t. So I took the different drugs prescribed to me over a period of a couple of years, hoping for that magic bullet to make everything better.
Whatever happened to that little boy playing baseball without a care in the world other than what ice cream we were going to get after the game?
Needless to say, I never found that magic bullet. Ironically, only after giving up hope did I finally find some. Modern medicine had failed me, so it was time to take things into my own hands. I started reading. A lot. That led me to start looking at my own behaviors and habits.
Until then, that’s something I never really thought about. I can honestly say that I was on autopilot for the first 20 years of my life. It was no wonder I turned out to be a nervous wreck, I never took a step back and saw how I was living.
When I got to college, I started playing a lot of video games. It was my way to hang out with friends and take a break between classes. I tried to go to the gym here and there, but more often than not, video games were my first choice.
Warning sign number one: I was getting a lot less physical activity and sitting a hell of a lot more.
Also in college, I didn’t have my mother’s home cooking. When provided to choose between cooking my own meal or Taco Bell downstairs, what would any college student do? I’ll have the #4 with extra fire sauce, please.
Warning sign number two: My diet had gone to shit.
Lastly, I never knew what real homework was until my first year of college. I had more to do in one night than two weeks’ worth of high school work. My buddy and I would frequently pull all-nighters, and I never really had a consistent sleep schedule. Energy drinks and caffeine became my new best friends.
Warning sign numbers three and four: My sleep schedule was non-existent, and I never gave myself a chance to relax.
I mentioned I went to the doctor’s a lot. I’d show up with migraines, colds, digestive issues, sore throats, insomnia, you name it. The sad thing? This is what 90% of Americans do. And if you think about it, it’s not a surprise. I’d consider my college habits “average” among the rest of the population. I think many of you would agree.
Simply put, I got tired of feeling like shit. I’m thankful that modern medicine failed me. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today. By taking a step back and evaluating my habits, I was able to transform my health, skyrocket my productivity, and be a happier person.
Here are the 4 ways I was able to completely turn my life around:
I started becoming the type of person who eats healthier.
I started becoming the type of person who exercises regularly.
I started becoming the type of person who meditates and practices mindfulness.
I started becoming the type of person who sleeps on a regular schedule.
That’s it. I put down the pills and starting looking at the things I could do to start changing my life for the better. My reading at the time led me to what are now referred to as keystone habits – behaviors that, if done regularly, have a cascading effect on all other aspects of your life.
I identified the few key things I had to do each day, and then I started scheduling time for myself. When you take care of your body and mind, it rewards you by taking care of you. I focused on one habit at a time and slowly adopted them all as a part of daily routine.
It didn’t take a day or even a week, but after a couple of months, I started feeling a lot better. My anxiety calmed down and I had a whole new arsenal of weapons to throw at it.
Notice how I phrased those 4 ways up above: “I started becoming the type of person who does X.” Not only did I start eating healthier, but I started seeing myself and believing that I was the type of person who eats healthier. This is key in changing habits. I believed I was a new person, and so I was.
There is no magic bullet to cure a lifetime of stress and anxiety, it starts with better habits. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can just tell someone who’s suffering. They’ve got to exhaust their options and fumble through it themselves. Only when they’re ready to help themselves can the rest of us even begin to help them.
If there’s anyone out there who knows a better way, I would love to chat with them. This is something that people need to know about and an epidemic that needs to be solved.
This article is for the millennials out there. If you’re fighting the good fight and struggling to find your place in the world, don’t lose faith. Keep on going. You’ll get there. Sometimes you have to march through hell to find the white pearly gates of heaven.