IMPORTANT: This blog represents just PART of a WHOLE journey. You'll get the most out of it if you start from the beginning.
Last time, I spoke about living life in a more process-orientated, rather than goal-orientated way. And how when trying to get what you want, this change of approach might work out better than diligently crafting SMART goals, which in my experience, tend to achieve F-all. I did personally find much of this goal-acting rather than goal-chasing system worked, so is something I still do today.
However, for me, it sort of only worked for the ‘easy’ things that I didn’t mind doing anyway.
Compounding tiny and daily changes to my life worked great for creating habits like only checking my emails twice a day, or turning off my phone whilst doing deep, focused work. And don’t get me wrong those little changes absolutely made my life easier.
However, the compound effect didn’t work when I tried to implement more elusive habits like exercising more or eating better. It didn’t matter how small or achievable I made those goals, I just couldn’t get them to stick for any longer than I could before.
At this point, it would have been easy to believe that I was the problem. Imagining that everyone else read Atomic Habits and immediately pulled their sh*t together would have been simple. But luckily, my job as a personal trainer showed me real live evidence that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stick to healthy habits or achieve their fitness goals.
My experience as a trainer and gym owner conclusively showed me that the majority of people who say they train regularly and “eat clean” are liars. The membership database and my own eyeballs showed me the disparity between how many sessions my clients did per week and how many they boasted they did on social media. Their friends saw Facebook pics of their chicken and avocado salads, whereas I saw the Mars Bar and Coke they smashed down after their workout.
RANDOM FACT: If every gym member showed up consistently to do the recommended amount of exercise, most gym businesses would fail. Gym rates would need to be ridiculously expensive to cover the costs of providing enough space, staff, and equipment needed to accommodate everyone. If you have a gym membership but don’t go, you are essentially subsidising those that do. So, ummm, as an ex-gym owner, thanks for not showing up, I guess!
BACK TO THE STORY: My point is that a logical theory as to how to stick to goals are great and all, but if they don’t work in real life, they don’t work. Full stop. For most people, getting a new habit to stick or stopping a bad habit is hard AF in real life. And real life is where we all live, not in some lab or book-perfect scenario where everything aligns to make it easy. So, I decided it was back to the drawing board to find out exactly why I couldn’t get the habits I dearly wanted to include in my life to stick for real.
After a tonne more reading, I came across some stuff that got me considering that maybe it wasn’t just how I set my goals that needed to change. That the environment I was trying to enact them in needed to be right too. Sort of like if I lived on a meat and dairy farm, I should understand that’s a tough environment to become a vegan in – not impossible, just f*cking hard.
Back in 2016-ish, when going through the part of my life this specific blog is written about, my life, like everyone else’s in the Western world: full of work and hustle culture, where busyness, productivity, and stress rule. It started to make more sense as to why fitting in regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, having a good social life, and having lofty career goals and benchmarks of success, was hard.
Was the answer that I was in an environment that simply expected too much of me whilst also limiting my ability to change it?
To answer that question, I had to take a real deep look into the type of environment I had, and why I had it when it wasn’t supporting a lot of the things I said I wanted. When I looked at my environment it was clear that it was built around the goal of becoming successful – as is the same for many people. But success isn’t a set standard, so what did that actually mean and how was I trying to chase it?
I grew up in the 80s when success was demonstrated by how productive we were. Meetings were conducted on big phones during commutes to other meetings. Only losers not willing to put in the extra effort took a lunch break. And the more shoulder in your power suit, the more people you could knock out of your way to get to the top of the career ladder. Success was demonstrated with a big bank balance and how many brash branded goods you could cram into your ginormous home. All of this contributed to the big lie that anyone could become successful if they just worked longer and harder than everyone else.
During this time technology got better and better allowing us to become more efficient (read: have more time to cram in more productive tasks) and more productive.
Humans have always embraced tech – it’s in our nature, helping us evolve, invent, and enact our crazy awesome ideas. Stone Age homo sapiens used fire and tools, medieval farmers strapped oxen and horses to equipment to increase food production, and early scientists invented measuring equipment to discover important sh*t about the universe. Popular culture likes to blame technology for promoting the go go go of a hustle culture, but that culture had been there for years before computers and mobile phones became part of everyday life.
The actual problem is never the tech itself. Technology has no bias or intentions. A gun can be used to protect a house or massacre an innocent community. Medical breakthroughs can be given away for free to cure nations, or the formulas can be hidden away under copyright ‘protection’ to increase shareholder profits. What technology is used for is very much dependent on what cultural ideas happen to be dominant at the time.
Hustle culture especially enjoys technology that makes productivity more efficient. We could have used the time freed up by increases in efficiency to knock off work early, socialise, and make beautiful art and music. But instead in a culture guided by a toxic form of capitalism more interested in profit than people, this newfound efficiency was used to make us more productive. Culture created a system that meant we worked the same numbers of hours but made 100 things instead of only the 10 we could before. Remember, according to our culture, increased productivity = increased success.
No wonder I was exhausted. I was spending all of my waking hours trying to be as efficient and productive as I possibly could be, leaving little time or energy left to add tasks like going to the gym or cooking fresh food each day.
When I took a step back and examined my life and looked at it like that, my actions made no sense. I decided that what I really need was a way to slow down and be just as productive but take advantage of the efficiency that technology could potentially allow.
There were four key books that, at the time, helped me formulate a plan to do just that (FYI, I read a lot more than these four, these are just the ones I remember as stand outs):
And I learned a lot from them. A whole bunch more little nuggets of usefulness to add to the arsenal of tools for a happy life that I was gathering.
I’ll leave you to read the summaries (maybe then the entire book of any of them which stand out to you) and figure out what information contained in them might have some use to you. But I wanted to share a couple of lessons I thought were useful and important to me at the time.
The first revelation was the bombshell that most of my goals weren’t even mine to begin with. They were taken directly from that f*cked up 80’s version of success: bigger, faster, cheaper.
But is that what I wanted for my life? Did that kind of success sit well with me? Were the habits I was trying to adopt or let go of because they’re what would bring me more of what made me happy? Or was I trying to shoehorn them into my life because I was told they’d make me more productive? Would “walking meetings” make me happier than just going out and enjoying a distraction-free relaxing walk? Did hustle culture fit into my idea of success?
I started to think deeply about my goals, and what achieving them would mean in real terms.
Did I want to be rich? Or was it the safety and security that came with not worrying about bills that I wanted? Because the two things are NOT the same. And if it was just the security I wanted, did I even need to be rich to get that feeling of being secure?
I don’t like big houses or fast cars, I certainly don’t wear Gucci, and I often prefer cooking to going out to eat. I’m a simple soul, and that kind of lifestyle doesn’t need a lot of cash in order to live it. When I stripped away the societal and cultural expectations of what financial success should look like, what was I left with? What kind of life did I want if I ignored what culture told me I should want?
The second thing that I learned from these books was that if I wasn’t planning on using my money to buy BMWs or Prada handbags, maybe I could use it to buy another precious resource… my time. I could use my cash to outsource the parts of my life I didn’t enjoy, to other people or to tech.
For example, if I don’t like cleaning and it takes me 5 hours a week, would I do better to pay for a cleaner? If updating my website is hard and someone else could do it better anyway, would it work out better in the long run if I employed an IT expert?
I was brought up to believe that I should be self-sufficient and do it all myself. But these books and videos introduced the idea that maybe paying for some help would not only help me out on my way to a better life but that my money might help someone else out too by providing them with more financial security.
There are tonnes more insights I gained from reading those books. And here are a few more rabbit holes to get you going if the idea of a slower lifestyle with less hustle is new to you…
It became logical that many of our bad habits would naturally fall away if we could create the conditions that stopped relying on them – like a hustle-filled job using the sticking plaster of a G & T or two (or five) every night to reduce stress. And a bunch of good habits would become easier to maintain – like spending newly found free time meeting up with friends for a walk or game of tennis.
Looking back now, a tonne of what I learned did help to reduce the amount of unnecessary work I was doing. And I probably did spend more of my time doing the things I wanted, rather than the things that I felt like I had to in order to seem productive.
…I didn’t actually get a lot of time to fully embed this into my life because, in 2018, something HUGE happened. My gym closed. And I was left jobless, depressed, and with an uncertain future. And so, despite finding some logically excellent theories and tactics about minimising and slowing down my life, I got slapped in the face with a reminder that you cannot ever count on situations staying stable. I guess in hindsight kind of screws with the idea that controlling our environment is the key to happiness either.
That was my rock bottom. And like in the cliches, that rock bottom brought me to the most important turning point of my entire life. And that’s where my next blog will start… at my next life turning point.
While I’m busy writing the next chapter, why don’t you take some time to reflect on how much your environment is affecting your ability to develop a great relationship with your body, mind, movement, and food? Because as I said, a lot of what I learned made a lot of sense, and I still use a bunch of the little tips and life hacks today.
Here are some questions for you to consider or write about…
- How does everything I’ve just read hold meaning or show up for me in MY REAL LIFE?
- If I stopped thinking about how I’m ‘supposed’ to feel or act and started to explore what is ACTUALLY happening for me here what would I discover about myself and my environment?
- What would happen if I ‘tried on’ some of the new theories I’ve discovered to see if they’d work in my actual real life? Do they help or do they hinder, and what can I learn from the ‘success’or ‘failure’ of these new approaches?
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Just you being here and allowing me to take up some of your time is amazing, so thank you!