The secret to a (fairly) fulfilled life – it’s a big statement to make, intriguing even. Go and achieve a fulfilled life. But what does that mean to you, your colleagues or anyone you associate with? Each of us have our belief systems, our values. Do we need a quantum change in these? It depends.
What follows is my blueprint for making a start on achieving fulfilment, whatever that means to you.
My first pointer for you would be to accept that the capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. It’ surprising how readily most of us give up on our greatest ambitions in life, simply to avoid easily tolerable levels of pain – basically, feelings of unpleasantness.
Starting a difficult conversation with a colleague, working on a creative project or asking someone out. You already know it won’t harm you to endure the mild agitation of starting work in these areas but grasping the nettle is avoided.
You can also waste years procrastinating over projects that never leave the drawing board, ideas that remain in your head, so as to avoid the necessary discomfort. This is how social media platforms flourish: by providing an instantly available, compelling place to go at the first hint of unease. We all reach for it.
It’s possible instead, however, to make a game of gradually increasing your capacity for discomfort, precisely like weight training at the gym. When you expect an action will be followed by feelings of irritation, boredom or anxiety, it’s usually possible to let that feeling arise and fade, while doing the action anyway.
The rewards come so quickly, by way of what you’ll accomplish, that it soon becomes the more appealing way to live.
My second offering is that the advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.
This is a good one for me. I spent a long time fixated on becoming hyper-efficient and productive before I finally started wondering why I was staking so much of my self-worth on productivity levels. What I needed wasn’t another exciting productivity self-help book, but to ask more uncomfortable questions instead.
The main point here is that it’s no fun to confront whatever emotional experiences you’re avoiding – if it were, you wouldn’t avoid them – so that advice that could really help is likely to make you feel uncomfortable. Tread carefully here, though, since bad advice from manipulative friends or partners is also likely to make you uncomfortable.
My final suggestion relates to the importance of consistency in being a vital character trait for those wishing to be successful in life. A cadence, even, like the rhythmic beating of a drum. The catch word for me here is patience.
Patience used to be described as a virtue but that’s not the case now, as everyone expects things to come quickly and easily. In an instant world, time becomes your enemy. If you set a date to achieve a goal and don’t achieve it, then you’ll think you’ve failed. Remember those SMART goals we work towards? The letter ‘T’ for achieving the goal in timely fashion. The subsequent emotion that prevails is that time has beaten you.
But who said you estimated the time correctly or could foresee the obstacles that naturally arise between the setting of the date and the reaching of the goal? The future time ahead hasn’t happened yet, and yet we treat it as the real thing to be measured by, rather than the quality of the end result. Stop that.
So, my suggestion is to patiently persist with your process, and you’ll get the best version of what you hoped for, even if not quite when you hoped for it.
It isn’t the time it takes that matters, it’s what you take from the time.
Finally, learn to accept that there will always be too much to do – and enjoy the feelings of liberation this realisation will bring.
Today, more than ever, there’s just no reason to assume any link between the demands on your time – all the things you’d like to do or feel you ought to do – and the amount of time available.
Thanks to technology and the ever-demanding workplace, these demands keep on increasing, while your capacities remain largely fixed.
It follows, therefore, that any attempt to ‘get on top of everything’ is doomed. In fact, it’s worse than that – the more tasks you get done, the more you’ll generate.
The upside here is that you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible. The only viable solution, then, is to make a shift – from a life trying not to neglect anything, to one spent proactively and consciously choosing what to neglect, in favour of that matters most.