You're hustling every day to make your life better and yet you feel like you're running in place. Why?
Yes a lousy job, difficult circumstances, or simple bad luck can sometimes be to blame, but according to the author of a new book, if you find yourself consistently putting in a ton of effort for few rewards, the hard truth is that the problem is probably you. Too often we sabotage our own success with unhelpful behavior patterns that make life much more difficult than it needs to be, author and former clinical psychologistAlice Boyes explained recently in a post for UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.
Her new book The Healthy Mind Toolkit explains exactly how we sabotage our success, and offers useful tips to break these patterns. The Greater Good article offered a taste of her thinking.
1. The busyness cycle
Tons of people claim to be insanely busy these days. Why? Tech, cultural shifts, and changes to the labor market are partly to blame, but lots of times the reason you are so busy is because you're so busy. Boyes calls this being "too busy chasing cows to build a fence." In other words, you're so busy running around like a headless chicken that you don't have time to get your life in order so you don't have to run around like a headless chicken.
Helpfully, Boyes has offers an easy, actionable solution to get started on fixing this problem: don't ignore the chaos; instead, plan for it.
"Design aspects of your life with the assumption that you're going to be imperfect," she suggests. "For example, if you have a Google Home or the Google voice assistant on your phone, you can say things like 'Hey Google, remember I put my passport in the linen cupboard.' You can then simply ask your voice assistant where you put your passport when you need to find it." If you frequently forget your wallet, leave $20 in your car's glove compartment. If you lock yourself out of the house, give your neighbor a spare set.
2. Perfectionism paralysis
What's at the root of perfectionism? Our "tendency to have inflexible standards and be dismissive of incremental gains," says Boyes. Perfectionists "want to solve a problem completely, right now, and aren't motivated by solutions that improve a problem by, say, one, ten, or 20 percent--even if these solutions are almost effortless."
The bitter truth, however, is that instead of finding game-changing solutions, perfectionists often end up waiting around endlessly for them to appear. Seeking perfection makes it wildly less likely that you'll get anywhere near it.
To fight back, learn to love the small beauty of incremental improvements. "It can be extremely helpful to ask yourself, 'How could I improve this by one percent?'" says Boyes.
3. The self care-energy catch-22
When will you start taking better care of yourself? When you have more energy. When will you have more energy? When you start taking better care of yourself. It's a classic catch-22 and a great many of us get caught in this circular thinking, according to Boyes. The time to take care of yourself isn't when you're on top of the world because you'll never get to the top of the world if you don't take care of yourself.
"Allow yourself to have more experiences of pleasure before you think you 'deserve' them. Otherwise, you'll continue to run yourself into the ground and engage in self-sabotage," she writes.
4. The procrastination-anxiety death loop
Here's another popular catch-22 many of us fall into: we procrastinate to avoid anxiety only to discover that putting things off actually increases it. Breaking out of this harmful pattern is simply -- just get started. Boyes suggests a number of strategies to do that in the complete article, from breaking down tasks into tiny, non-threatening components to doing "last things first."
5. Falling prey to "irrelevant" decisions that aren't
Another way many of us create trouble for ourselves is by mis-categorizing decisions that actually matter as trivial or inconsequential. "For example, a recovering alcoholic might decide to call an old drinking buddy, just to say hello or for a game of basketball, and soon finds that this minor decision takes them down the slippery slope of resuming alcohol abuse," Boyes offers. The decision to pick up the phone feels iminor in the moment, but the consequences are anything but.
This doesn't just apply to addicts. Where you put your gym clothes or your alarm clock might make the difference between getting up for that morning workout or rolling over and going back to bed. Closing that document before lunch makes it hugely more likely you'll forget to finish working on it after you scarf a sandwich.
But if small decision can sink you, they can also save you if you correctly perceive their power. Leave that document open if you're forgetful in the afternoon or put your phone on silent ten minutes before you're due to leave the house if you're always late. These too are seemingly "tiny" decisions, but they can have outsized positive impacts.