Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for self-improvement. My grandfather gave me The Power of Your Subconscious Mind when I was 13 and I’ve been working on becoming the best version of myself ever since. But here’s the thing. The self-improvement journey often brings about two problematic frames of mind:
- focusing on our goals to an extent that we rush through life, missing out on actually experiencing it.
- thinking that if we have this [insert goal], then we’ll be happy, loved, respected, etc.
My favorite Italian proverb is chi va piano va sano e va lontano. It roughly translates to if you go slowly, you’ll go healthily and far. The English equivalent, it seems, is steady pace wins the race. The Germans have a similar saying: Eile mit Weile—haste without speed. To me, all of these sayings translate to one step at a time.
If you’ve ever been to Italy or Germany, you know that this is not just a cute saying. It’s something that’s ingrained in both cultures. The pace of life there is much slower than in California, where I lived at the time of this writing. In Italy, many stores close for lunch. And in Germany, stores usually close on Sundays. Something that’s almost unimaginable in the Age of Instant Gratification.
I grew up in those cultures. But when I started my self-improvement journey, all the advice I consumed came from the US. Specifically from parts of the US where working overtime, multitasking, and being busy all the time is the societal norm. For the longest time, I didn’t even question whether that was healthy. Considering that I had worked myself into burnout by the time I turned 25, I would argue that it’s not.
So how do we reach goals without getting overwhelmed?
Hitting the Brakes
I’m hardly alone with this. When I went to the doctor back in 2009, she told me—as she was writing my Lexapro prescription—”you wouldn’t believe how many executives are on anti-anxiety medication.” Like it’s a badge of honor. A prerequisite for success.
Really think about this for a moment. Some of the smartest, most beautiful people I know are on anti-anxiety medication. And that number is rising. Back in 2018, NBC and other news outlets reported: “Anti-anxiety drugs are fueling the next drug crisis in the US.”
And it’s not just anxiety. There are many other stress-related illnesses. All year I suffered from breathing problems that got so severe I had to take medication 3 times a day. Then as soon as I started to prioritize self-care (i.e. frequent breaks, meditation, journaling) it took less than a week for all of it to go away.
Part of my recovery involved taking a long break from social media. And here’s why: I would constantly compare myself to others. Not once did I stop and think, “My circumstances are different. There’s no way I can accomplish all of what they are doing in the time I currently have available. But that doesn’t mean I’m a loser, or that I’m not working hard enough, it just means I have to go at my own pace.”
Chances are that we still have a long life ahead of us. Why do we need to accomplish everything right now?
Do you know what happened when I decided that from now on I’ll try not to rush through life anymore? I still get things done. But I’m getting them done with good health and a whole lot more fun along the way.
The Art of One Day at a Time
Slowing down to go at my own pace is a decision I make every single day because, at some point in my life, my default became “I rest when I’m dead.” And that’s a dangerous mindset. When we don’t get enough rest, we’ll likely die a whole lot sooner. And possibly alone in an empty paradise. (No one likes to be around someone who’s grumpy and tired all the time.)
I still have days when I write or read when I should be sleeping. And that’s ok. I’m not striving for perfection. But the next day I’ll make up for it. I’ve been following the “80/20 rule” for years when it comes to healthy eating and keeping my weight. I eat well 80% of the time, so the 20% I eat unhealthily don’t tip the scale. Why not apply the same attitude to our goals so we can reach them without getting overwhelmed?
To put an end to the constant “if I have/do this [insert goal], then I’ll be happy, loved, respected, etc.” thinking, I do the same thing. I take it one day at a time. Two things are particularly effective. Gratitude and reflecting on what we’ve already accomplished. I do both in the form of journaling. I absolutely love The 6-Minute Diary PURE by fellow German, Dominik Spenst.
Every day (or 80% of my days) I take a few minutes to write down what I’m grateful for and what makes me happy (e.g. talking to my loved ones, autumn leaves, good air quality), as well as all the big and small things I’ve done that brought me closer to my goals. I highly recommend keeping two lists: one where you note all the things that bring you joy, and one for all the things you’ve accomplished throughout your life. Look at them regularly.
Lastly, we should also remember what Sadia Badiei said in the videos below. It’s ok to not be in a constant state of pure bliss. “We need the ups and downs and hardships to learn and grow. And those ‘down’ moments help us appreciate the ‘up’ moments so much more.”
[VIDEO] A Healthy ImBalance by Sadia Badiei (Pick Up Limes)
[VIDEO] If You Do This… Then You’ll Be Happy by Sadia Badiei (Pick Up Limes)