“A 10-year-old patient of mine will be undergoing her 14th surgery in three years’ time to combat a rare and aggressive type of cancer. Even after all the medical procedures and surgeries, I’ve never seen her frown—I’ve never seen her skip a beat. Although the odds continue to work against her, I’m certain her attitude, acceptance and presence are the principal reasons she has lived so well to this point. She’s still positively engaged in living her life to the fullest. She laughs and plays with her friends and family. She has realistic, intelligent goals for the upcoming year that she’s already working on. A kid like her who can go through everything she’s been through and wake up every day with enthusiasm for the life she’s living, is the reason I’m enrolled in your course.”
That’s the opening paragraph of an email I received recently from a new course student. It caught my attention for obvious reasons. (Note: I’m sharing this with permission.)
Our student then went on to say, “My conversations with this incredible little girl have opened my awareness to all the self-destructive fantasies I have in my head. I have it so good—I am incredibly fortunate to be alive and healthy, for example—and yet I sit at home most nights thinking the opposite. I don’t necessarily do this consciously or intensely, but I do it. I fantasize about how my life ‘should’ be different than it is—how everything should be better, easier, more enjoyable, and so forth. And these fantasies are slowly spoiling my attitude and my ability to make progress on the things that are important to me.”
Wow! Talk about a great reminder for all of us to get out of our own heads.
And the truth is, most of us come to similar realizations at some point. The older we grow, and the more real-world tragedies and challenges we witness, the more we realize how incredibly blessed we are, and how frequently the fantasies in our heads hold us back from these blessings. In fact, you’ve likely fantasized your way into headaches and heartaches hundreds of times in the past. We all do this to a greater or lesser extent . . .
We stress ourselves out, because of fantasies.
We procrastinate to the point of failure, because of fantasies.
We get angry with others, with ourselves, and with the world at large, because of fantasies.
We miss out on many of life’s most beautiful and peaceful moments, because of fantasies.
Let’s look at some common examples…
- When we wake up and immediately start fantasizing and worrying about all the things we have to do, we aren’t really doing anything but adding stress to an otherwise pleasant morning.
- When we fear the potential of failure, and we procrastinate in response to our fear, our fearful fantasies force us to miss great opportunities for success.
- When someone upsets us, this is often because they aren’t behaving according to our fantasy of how they “should” behave. The frustration, then, stems not from their behavior but from how their behavior differs from our fantasy.
- When we think about making a healthy change in our lives, like getting in shape, we are initially inspired by the fantasy of how easy it will be, but that’s not reality. So when the reality of working hard to exercise and eat right surfaces, and it doesn’t match up with our inspiring fantasy, we give up.
- When we’re having a conversation with someone, we’re distracted with fantasies of how this person views us, or we’re distracted by our propensity to fantasize about how to respond before they even finish talking, and thus the conversation is unnecessarily draining
- When we move through our days, our minds are stuck fantasizing about other times and places—or other possibilities—and so we miss the pleasant surprises and simple pleasures surrounding us.
And the list goes on and on . . .
Of course, sometimes we get out of our own heads long enough to focus on the present, accept it, and make the best of it, but it’s NOT often enough.
Which is why it’s time for a change!
To get yourself out of this mess, you need to literally rewire your brain and replace negative, fantasy-driven mindsets with positive, productive ones. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t have what it takes,” you must start saying, “I think I can figure this out!” And by doing so, you’ll stop saying, “I’m not ready yet,” and you’ll start taking action because the new mindset is something along the lines of “I am ready to learn and grow!”
Bottom line: If you’ve caught yourself stuck with similar fantasies and negative thought patterns like the ones discussed above, you need to take action ASAP. The longer you let these little demons linger around, the harder it is to get rid of them. And since the New Year is just around the corner, which inspires many of us to refocus our energy and attention on the right things, I think it’s a perfect time right now to start letting them go.
So today, I challenge you to this:
Before the New Year . . .
- Let go of the fantasies you have about all the distractions in your life. – If it entertains you now but will hurt or bore you someday, it’s a distraction. Don’t settle. Don’t exchange what you want most for what you kinda want at the moment. Study your habits. Figure out where your time goes, and remove distractions. It’s time to focus on what matters.
- Let go of the fantasy that everyone else knows what’s best for you. – Too many of us listen to the noise of the world and get lost in the crowd. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t read every gossip column . . . don’t check the news five times a day. Find the strength to fill your time with meaningful experiences. The space and time you are occupying at any given moment is LIFE, and if you’re worrying about the Kardashians or Lebron James or some other famous face, then you are disempowered. You’re giving your life away to marketing and media hocus-pocus, which is created by big companies to ultimately motivate you to want to look and behave a certain way. It’s all just a distraction from what is real and good. What is real and good is YOU and your friends and your family, your loves, your highs, your hopes, and your dreams. You know this already! Listen to what your heart is telling you!
- Let go of the fantasy that your anger and frustration is someone else’s fault. – The ultimate measure of your wisdom and strength is how calm you are when facing any given situation. Calmness is indeed a superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things personally keeps your mind clear and your heart at peace, which instantly gives you the upper hand. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Happiness” chapter of our “1,000 Little Things” book.)
- Let go of the fantasy that your biggest obstacle is outside yourself. – The biggest and most complex obstacle you will ever have to overcome is your mind. Truly, if you can overcome that, you can overcome anything. And by “overcoming,” I’m referring to the skill of mindfulness, and learning to effectively control your emotional responses to life’s unexpected challenges. Because most of our deepest pain comes from the way we respond, not the way life is.
- Let go of the fantasy that life shouldn’t be so hard. – It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one big, challenging circumstance and then underestimate the value of making better daily decisions based on what that circumstance has taught you. The truth is, you need things to be challenging—you need things to be hard! Your mind and body need to be exercised to gain strength. They need to be worked consistently. Because if you haven’t pushed yourself in lots of little ways over time—if you always avoid dealing with and working through the hard things—of course you’ll crumble on the inevitable days that are harder than you expected.
- Let go of the fantasy that the risks are too great. – Angel and I have met hundreds of interesting, intelligent people searching for something new—a new relationship opportunity, a new income opportunity, etc. Yet oftentimes when these people have their ideal opportunity sitting right in front of them, they take zero action. They refuse to step up and pursue what they truly want because, deep down, they fear pain—rejection, failure, etc. So, they subconsciously and heartbreakingly trade comfort and self-preservation for lifelong misery. Don’t do this to yourself!
- Let go of the fantasy that you need permission to move forward with your life. – No one is going to give you the permission you need. Don’t wait to be chosen or blessed by someone else. The chosen and blessed ones choose and bless themselves, with heart-centered focus and consistent action. Your life is YOUR choice! Know this, choose wisely, and take action.
- Let go of the fantasy that you should feel more confident first. – Seriously, stop believing that you should feel more confident before you take the next step. Taking the next step is what builds your confidence. Meditate of that for a moment, and then force yourself forward. You don’t need to have it all mapped out. You don’t need to feel “ready.” You just need to get started—to make “starting” a daily ritual. Do so—learn to start every day before you feel ready—and I promise you will learn how to succeed, step by step, before you even realize that you’re good enough. (Note: Angel and I build small, life-changing, daily rituals with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
- Let go of the fantasy that you need more, more, more . . . of everything. – Simplify wherever and whenever possible. Clear the clutter in your physical and mental space. Instead of figuring out how to make ends meet, work on having fewer ends. Don’t sell your sanity to the impulse of acquiring things—more distractions—you don’t need in your life. Learn to say “no!” When you simplify and live comfortably below your means, mentally and physically, you ultimately enjoy a freedom that people busy upgrading their lifestyles and schedules can’t even fathom.
- Let go of the fantasy that what you know now will always be true. – Warren Buffett once said, “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” This is a tragedy, this kind of thinking. Don’t do it to yourself. Don’t just look for data that confirms what you already know. Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to learn. Be mindful, humble and teachable. There’s always room for a new idea, a new step, a new perspective . . . a new beginning. Life changes every second, and so can you.
Cheers to a new beginning…
Undoubtedly, the days, weeks and months ahead—both before and after the New Year—will be filled with incredible highs and stressful lows, for all of us. But in any case, we can train our minds to make the best of the present moment as it unfolds. Letting go of the fantasies covered above is one of the simplest and most powerful starting points for doing this. And if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and keep our lives and relationships on track. This is precisely why Angel and I work with our coaching clients every day, and it’s why we wrote our books and built our happiness course. We all need support, guidance, and healthy reminders sometimes. And believe it or not, Angel and I review a lot of our own material on a regular basis too, just to center our minds on the proven principles we preach and teach.
We sincerely hope you will join us in the days and weeks ahead.
Because it’s never too late to let go and step forward in the right direction.