To say you feel like nothing’s happening in your life does not make sense. You might say, “Well, that’s rich, smart-ass. I know nothing’s happening.” But have you considered the possibility that it’s only you who thinks that? That it isn’t an objective truth you’re making it to be? Well, that’s a good start.
That you feel that way might only be the result of a few (or many) events that seemed to have connived to lead you to believe that indeed, you’re just a piece of nothing.
Here are seven things I want you to remember if somehow you’re caught in this “unmistakable” situation.
1. First, seriously take it as a sign.
Feeling—or rather, thinking—nothing’s ever happening in your life is actually a great start. This usually further gives birth to meta-awesomeness, or the art of thinking about what you’re thinking.
Take it as a sign that something needs to change.
More important, it may be a sign of learned helplessness. You acquire this when you’ve been caught in a dreadful situation, perhaps for too long, of which you haven’t gotten out yet. When another unpleasant situation—especially if it’s not as awful as the previous one—you automatically assume it’s not going to get better, but at least you can bear it and it’s better than the older one. You’re going to assume all bad events are just the way they are: solutions are never available anyway, so you do nothing.
Your learned helplessness might have pervaded every aspect of your life, especially the important ones you may be giving less credit than they deserve—your relationships, career, or play time.
At this point, allow yourself to entertain this sign, this idea—even though you’re not taking immediate steps yet. I would even suggest taking the time to just think and not make any decisions yet. This, however, is the sign that tells you can turn nothing into something.
2. You may be stuck but only because of stuff inside your head.
Now let’s not talk about whether you’re actually stuck, in reality. Because perhaps you’re in a situation that’s way worse: your mind is keeping you from taking action in the first place.
What are these things your mind might be preoccupied with? They are fear, excuses, being overwhelmed, perfectionism, or some sort of shame.
Perhaps you’ve had a series of “first” attempts that failed—first love, first startup, first public speaking—that they’ve stuck with you and have become that sly monster that tells you to just forget it whenever you try something new and amazing.
These firsts are hard to forget. There’s nothing special—or perhaps embarrassing—about them. They’re just firsts, but that is why they’re powerful. In addition you might not be permitting yourself to do a second and third and so on to get better even for just 1%. You’re being held by imaginary fetters, and they’re keeping you from becoming a better individual.
3. Impossible expectations will make you feel like shit.
I’ve eventually learned to always lower my expectations—super-low that sometimes I even hold NO expectations at all. Of course there are standards or SOP’s (standard operating procedures)—social, most of them—but what’s really the point of setting high expectations? To survive? To get a paycheck? To earn the respect of others?
Of course those things are also important, don’t get me wrong. But what I’m saying is that perhaps you’ve been setting ridiculously high expectations for yourself that when you don’t meet them, you get so frustrated until you conclude you’re not good enough and you never really had the capability of getting better.
When you fail (relative to your farfetched expectations), you will most probably feel nothing’s happening in your life. Because you’re assessing your progress by standards that most likely were not even set by you.
Perhaps you were expecting that promotion because Jake just got promoted. Perhaps you were expecting to spend more time with your family because Jake just posted travel pics with his family. What does Jake do that you don’t? That jerk!
But when it comes down to it, you’ve only been comparing yourself with others—a trite maxim, but usually overlooked. You might think you should be this and that, but you’re only using conditions someone else has set and has already achieved.
4. But surrender to the process and do your best.
Now when I said set really low expectations, I didn’t mean to say you should also slack off. Setting low expectations simply means letting go of things you have no control over. But yourself? Hell, you have yourself to work on and take charge of. This in itself is more powerful than you might understand.
The issue a lot of people don’t resolve with themselves is that they don’t want to do the heavy lifting, the hard work required to take them from a state of stagnation to one of daily, meaningful activity.
Sure you can study great people that have come before us—and you should as you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel—but it’s tempting to hold on to that oh-so-nice feeling of having learned something new. You still have to do something.
Surrendering to the process also means not giving in to the toxic human reactions such as bitching, jealousy, self-pity…you know the drill.
Watch out for things on which you spend your energy, especially your mental energy. It’s fun to look at cat pictures, or think about how dorky Jake is, but you might be spending unnecessary time and energy you should be spending on something else, especially during your most productive hours.
Stop with the bullshit. Get to work and do your best.
5. What do you get from expecting nothing but doing your best?
Small victories become sweeter. And with more of those victories than you expected (which are next to nothing), you get motivated to carry on. Note that this kind of motivation is an internal one. You don’t get it from anywhere else except from the fact that you know you got a tad better. This should be celebrated.
Of course you must know which area you should be making progress at. It may take some time but you’ll eventually know that one thing you must be doing every day. When you find it, focus on it and keep advancing. This is how you live your purpose in life.
Take note of your victories. Remind yourself every time you accomplish a task—however big or small—that you’re getting better at the trade. This is not “nothing.” This is not “stagnation.” Challenge the critic in your head that’s been so loud all these years.
6. Life is not one-size-fits-all.
Whoever said you should be like someone else, or the majority? Who said you should be like Brad Pitt (or a Hollywood star), Warren Buffett (or a super-investor), or Bruce Lee (or a hardcore martial artist)?
It’s not hard to see why people like them are at the 1% of the bell curve.
But why not take the time to look deep into yourself and look for things that actually fire you up? I’m not saying you should be that clueless “rebel” or the kick-starter who’ll swim against the tide. It’s just that knowing yourself could take so long a time, be too much an investment, and be too stressful an endeavor—to attempt to become like some superstar and achieve what they have.
Maybe you’re content with dressing okay without the Brad Pitt vibe, or being an okay investor, or okay at self-defense—because they’re not really your thing. You want something else.
This is the reason why weight loss has always been debatable. People don’t realize that just because it’s a fad, it should work for them. They don’t recognize that a system may apply to a person but not to the next one. They don’t accept there may be a lot of trial and error to go through before actually finding one that will make sense. And most important, they underestimate the power of simply trying again after failing.
7. Persistence is key.
But first, take note of the sunk cost fallacy. Because I don’t want to leave the impression that you should keep persisting on a project even though it’s painfully obvious it’s going nowhere.
Be persistent in looking for what works for you—and yes, even when it feels like nothing’s happening. Letting go of an enterprise you’ve invested too much time on doesn’t mean you’re giving up persistence. It’s only a decision, but you don’t stop exploring and finding the unique path that’s for you.
You don’t get back to square one, because you’re always a changed and upgraded individual every time—as long as you don’t stop. Don’t fool yourself into thinking nothing’s ever changed, because when you find something new and start working on it, you carry with you everything you’ve learned, including failures, up to that point.
Change starts in doing nothing.
A whole different world may emerge when you start changing your perspective. Heck, you might not even realize you’re actually making progress already! You’re simply doing your thing. You’re not slow, you’re not dumb, you’re not up for nonsense—because you’re not comparing yourself with others, only with yourself.
Pause for a moment and think about these things. A small step could wipe the illusory “overwhelm” that’s been deceiving you. The brain is simply tricky like that. But if you take action along with these realizations, it won’t take long for you to see what’s up.
(Image Credit: GMB Monkey)