Imagine you’re traveling down a long, empty road.
This road is filled with landmarks, beautiful scenery, and interesting stops. However, along the way, you never allow yourself to stop. Not even once. As you pass by one beautiful scene after another, racing quickly without a moment of rest, you’re constantly saying to yourself, “Keep going, you can’t afford to stop”, “You don’t deserve to stop”, and, “All I need to do is get to the end and everything will be great.”
This way of thinking is, unfortunately, critically flawed. Since we were little we’ve been taught that we need to work hard towards a goal. And that’s perfectly fine. But more specifically, we were taught that we need to give everything of ourselves now to become successful and happy later — with success usually encompassing some combination of money and material possessions.
The thing is, this goal eventually grows into a sort of fantastical idea within our mind, becoming more myth than reality. We imagine a sort of “pot of gold” at the end of a rainbow, with the rainbow being the long-term work done towards achieving success, while the pot of gold is the monetary and material rewards we receive. But this myth isn’t just dangerous – it’s deadly.
Why Racing to the Finish Line of Life Leads to Stress, Anxiety, and Unhappiness
Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they never stopped to enjoy it.
– William Feather
The reality is, this idea of a perfect everlasting happiness, of this perfect ending where we ride off into the sunset, is a myth.
And this is okay because it turns out this wasn’t how to realize happiness in the first place. Happiness is available to us in each moment if we know how to look for it, which is a far better deal. The problem is we live out our life thinking that if we just get to that magical pot of gold everything will be perfect for the rest of our life. This is the sign of a critical and very harmful misconception.
And it leads to a lot of damage. By pushing yourself with little rest and relaxation for years our body and mind develop serious problems, most notably stress and anxiety, which then ends up affecting our physical health in myriad ways, potentially leading to burnout and even serious illness.
So in the end, we race through the journey of life, missing all of the incredible moments of happiness along the way just because we think we’ll find this ultimate form of happiness at the end of the road. We miss out on the true happiness available to us in each moment all the while building up stress, anxiety, and potentially even serious health issues that threaten to shorten our precious life.
But if happiness and fulfillment are available to us in each moment, it means that at any point in our life we can learn to stop and tap into this amazing gift. And by changing our approach, we can continue to work towards meaningful goals while enjoying our life now and finding fulfillment in the work we do each day. To accomplish that, I’ve developed a simple exercise based on a combination of basic NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and mindfulness meditation that can be practiced at any time of day and in any situation.
Exercise: Breaking the pattern
It’s important to note that at the heart of the race to this mythical accomplishment is a habitual behavior: when we wake up, consider a break, get off of work (scratch that – when we’re supposed to get off work), and while doing anything else, tell ourselves that we can’t (or don’t deserve to) stop, that we have a long way to go, and that we need to keep racing to achieve this mythical accomplishment.
And because this is based primarily on a habitual behavior, in order to stop it we need to develop a way to interrupt and change the behavior. Habitual behaviors are patterns, and if you stop or break the pattern enough times you begin to break (or alter) the habit. By interrupting ourselves in the midst of the process we can gain clarity, but more importantly, we can start to change the behavior by adopting a new habitual process (or altering the existing one to make it healthier).
Exactly how do you do that? Generally, by doing something completely different from the behavioral pattern you’ve adopted, to “shock” yourself out of the pattern and become present so you can act more consciously, more intentionally. In this case, by doing the exact opposite of racing and rushing around: stopping.
Use these simple instructions to start breaking the habit of racing and begin adopting a healthier pattern of behavior in your daily life:
- “Shock” yourself: Think of something totally weird (even shocking to you) and unrelated to the act of racing around and working, and do it anytime you catch yourself racing. This could be dancing, making a funny face, or waving your hands in the air. Anything you can think of that is totally unexpected, particularly something associated with your physical body (getting the body moving in unique ways tends to wake us up mentally). The idea is you want to “shock” yourself out of the habitual behavior by stepping outside of your accustomed routine. And if you notice yourself getting used to the action? Simply change it up to something new.
- Stop and breathe: Now take a moment to stop and pay attention to your breathing for a few seconds. Notice the sensation of the breath on your nostrils or mouth. This is a simple meditation technique used to adopt a healthier pattern of behavior in contrast to always racing around. By learning to stop and take a moment to notice your breathing, you’re breaking the pattern and replacing it with a healthier behavior.
- Repeat (and have patience): Simply repeat this process anytime you catch yourself racing. There are no specific rules to this, you can do this once a day or 10 times, it’s all up to how many times you notice the behavior in a day. And it won’t be perfect. You’ll likely go days without remembering to do it at first. Just keep at it and you’ll see the change begin to take place.
By using this simple exercise, you can begin to break this harmful pattern and replace it with a healthier and more mindful behavior. By doing so, you’ll learn to appreciate your life now – from moments with your family, simple silence, and even the little moments of beauty that once went undetected – and better manage the stress and anxiety that inevitably arises from a busy life. The more you do it the more you’ll notice yourself able and willing to stop and rest too.
The finish line of life is a harmful myth that leads us to live out our entire life without ever truly living. With this exercise, you can begin to break the habitual patterns connected with it and truly live a happier and more fulfilled life.