Personal Development

10 things you need to stop doing to create the life you want

Jan Fortune
Written by Jan Fortune

Do you wake up with a sense of purpose ready to carve out time to do the things you’re passionate about? Do you want to become the person you’ve only dreamed of being?

Change begins with how we think and moves into how we act. So many things effect our creativity and motivation, but designing habits for the life you want and the person you want to become can have a huge impact.

We all have the same amount of time in a day and, barring tragedy, some good years ahead. So why is it that some people seem to have so much energy and momentum and perform miracles on a daily basis, while others drown in overwhelming ‘to do’ lists that appear to grow twice as long with every trivial item that’s crossed off?
Getting into peak state for creative development

Being in peak state requires clarity about your mission, whether it’s losing weight, switching your income to nomadic self-employment or writing a novel. You need to use time so well that you can make this mission happen. This will require eliminating time wasting activities and distractions as well as implementing habits that support you.

There are lots of positive things you can do to change your mindset and your life, but let’s start with what has to go:

10 things you need to stop

1. Always saying yes

Too many of us are people-pleasers. We hear ourselves saying yes to things we don’t want to do, don’t have the time to deliver well or that will lead to so many more problems than saying ‘no’ and facing the initial chagrin.

We don’t have to become negative and ungiving, but we do have to make choices if we want to be free of the downward cycle of overwhelm. Saying yes to things that aren’t essential or that drain you will sap your energy. Saying yes to things that leave you lukewarm or merely appease others, is a recipe for self-negation.

If you want to avoid overwhelm, stop saying yes to everything and save that word for the things that matter to you and those you love.

2. Overwork

I know – it can feel like you have no choice. Two years ago, when I was routinely working 80 hours a week for the publishing business I run, I’d have told anyone who questioned me that there was no alternative.

Your work should not occupy 80% of your time. You need down time so that you are not fatigued, so that you can think. If you are a creative, then give yourself a chance.

How? Well a good start is to stop saying yes all the time. I made a huge transition in this area by not only learning that the word ‘no’ exists but also by using time blocks so that much less of my work time is wasted on changing between activities.

And cutting down on these also helped enormously:

3. Distractions that drain you

In a world where there are apps for managing your apps something is on overload. In a world where you’re expected to have to have 6 different forms of instant communication open at any one time, perhaps you’re too available. Becoming fragmented is a common contemporary phenomenon and it diminishes you.

You need to be ruthless about distractions. Turn off notifications for as much of each day as possible. Mine are all off all the time so I physically have to check and the world keeps turning fine.

  • Give yourself a significant period of technology-free time each day. Evening is good when the blue-light of screens is more liable to interfere with sleep.
  • When you wake up is good so that you remain in the liminal state between sleep and wake that can be highly creative.
  • And blocks throughout the day are good so you can prioritise what’s essential in your work or life. After all, much of social media is mindless and draining and you can always answer emails in one block.

4. Multi-tasking

There are lots of things we can do all at the same time. We can walk and talk. We can cook and listen to music. In short, while doing something automatic and simple, we can do something else.

We can daydream while cleaning the house, but it’s a myth to think that we can do two (or more) complex activities at once.

What actually happens is that the brain flips back and forth between the two activities.

  • And the constant switching uses up more glucose so that we feel exhausted or even disorientated.
  • And we store information in the wrong place while we’re frazzled, making our short term memory weaker.
  • And we produce more stress hormones.

Multi-tasking and overwhelm are partners. Don’t go there.

5. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is an invidious voice inside that whispers that failure is not an option, when failure can be a great teacher. In the words of Samuel Beckett:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Fear of failure keeps us small, paralysed and unable to take risks, the opposite of everythning we need to become the people we want to be.

Perfectionism can make us believe that if we ‘just’ get everything right then we won’t be rejected, but the truth is that we are all flawed and that’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad or unworthy person.

Perfectionism puts us on a continual treadmill to do it all, but in the words of David Allen in Getting Things Done:

You can do anything, but not everything.

We all have to make choices. If writing is essential to you, then you prioritise it. If setting up your nomad life is what thrills you, focus on it. Certainly strive for excellence, but not for perfection. And don’t think you have to be all things to all people. To quote Annie Dillard:

It’s endearing how people think writers [or designers or artists or coders or …] have time to dust.

Replace the urge to perfectionism (in your passion projects and in life) with joy and kindness. You don’t need to be perfect.

6. People who drain you

Some relationships harm us. We all know people who drain us, who take an act of kindness as an a sign of weakness, who only seem to take. People like this are rarely if ever evil. But they might, at least for a time, be too self-absorbed or wrapped up in their own suffering or perspective to such a degree that they can’t relate with any reciprocity.

It’s not always possible, or humane, to cut such people out of your life entirely, but you need to do everything possible not to buy into their perspectives. Don’t engage any more than is absolutely necessary and don’t take their opinion of who you are.

7. Self-righteousness

There are people in all our lives who can stress us in moments, people we need to protect ourselves from emotionally and as far as possible by limiting our time with them.

But it’s also worth thinking about whether we ever behave as such people in the lives of others. It’s a hard question to face, but none of us are finished and flawless.

We can drain others with passive aggression and our self-sacrificing as much as with aggression.

We have the most chance to influence ourselves and real change comes when we dig deep and ask hard questions.

Sometimes apology is so much more courageous and liberating than self-justification.

8. Willpower

Really? Yes.

Pushing ourselves hard and constantly eventually leads to burn out. What we need instead is to discover what it is we really care about and focus on those few precious things.

Instead of willpower we need environments that support us in our quests rather than tripping us up at every stage. Someone giving up alcohol will have a much harder time, for example, if the pantry is full of beer and wine.

By the same token, someone who wants to write a novel will have a much easier time if they have two clear uninterrupted hours every day, a congenial place to write and no distractions. You won’t have to use willpower to stop you checking your phone every five minutes if it’s in another room.

Don’t fuel yourself by gritting your teeth but by giving yourself the time to discover what you care about the conditions to pursue it.

9. Options

Having a million options can be stultifying.

Once you know what you want, stressing over paths not taken is a way to stand still. Know your direction and head there. In Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin P Hardy puts it like this:

the fewer choices you have to make the more powerful your choices will be

10. Reasonableness

The reasonable thing to do in life is to follow the herd, not ask too much of life, say ‘yes’ even when your heart is screaming ‘no’ and be ‘realistic’ and ‘reasonable’.

That way lies reaching the end of your life disenchanted and full of regret.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. — George Bernard Shaw

If you want to change your life you have to change your mindset and that will include having ambitions and quests and values that are unreasonable. No one can promise you success, but there’s a lot you can do to make the journey an amazing one. And what if you stay reasonable, hunker down and never try?

The poet Mary Olive challenges us:

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

A hear-felt answer to that is not likely to run: ‘be reasonable’, is it?

About the author

Jan Fortune

Jan Fortune

Jan Fortune is an editor and publisher at an indie press in North Wales. She blogs ‘Becoming a different story’ where she helps writers and creatives become the story they want to live as well as helping writers develop their craft.