We’ve all had those days. Or weeks. Or months. Something is wrong. There is that thing in the back of your mind that is bugging you and stopping you from being productive. Or happy.
There is something that is preventing you from being, well, you.
You tell yourself you don’t know what it is. If your loved one or partner asks what’s wrong, you shrug and say, “I don’t know.”
But that’s a lie. You know what the problem is. How do I know this?
Because I’ve been there. Sometimes, I go there every day.
Every. Damn. Day.
Because it’s easier to walk around in a funk all day than actually deal with the problem.
Or is it?
Experience tells me it’s not. After going through the same thing hundreds, even thousands of times, I do the same thing and expect different results.
What do they call that again?
And even in those rare instances when I really can’t say what’s wrong, I know from past experience it’s one of these things. Even if it’s not one of these problems, solving them will make things better — every time.
Like air, food, and water, we need enough of this. And if you have made it into at least your 20s, you know how much you need. Most people say 8 hours. That may or may not be the correct amount for you, but it’s a starting point. If you get 8 hours of sleep a night, it will probably be enough and almost certainly won’t be too much.
For me, it’s closer to 7. But I’m not sure if that’s the number or that’s what I end up with. I rarely go to sleep before ten, and seldom sleep past five. That leaves seven. Most days, that’s enough. When it’s not, there is a decent workaround.
It’s called a nap.
But naps are a patch, not a solution. If you find yourself taking a nap every day, then you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. Don’t have time to sleep more? Think again. You spend one-third of your life doing something to improve the other two thirds. That’s a pretty big commitment to allow it to fail. If it’s not enough, do more.
What if someone told you, for 2% more you could get a better car? Or for 2% more you could get a better house? Would you do it? I would.
So, what if someone told you for 2% more you could get a better life? Sign me up!
And that’s all I’m talking about here. Sleep an extra half hour. That’s 2% of your day. If a 2% investment only netted you a 5% return, would you do it? Hell yes! All day long. If spending 2% more of your day sleeping improved the rest of it by even a small margin, that would be considered a success.
Oh no, not that again. The only thing worse he could talk about is exercise. Spoiler alert: That’s next.
I’m not telling you to go on a diet, although that may not be a bad idea, just to think about your diet. Food is the fuel that gets you through the day. If you pull your Mercedes up to the gas pumps, you don’t put the cheap stuff in it. That’s just going to make your car run like crap and eventually ruin your engine.
Yeah, you already know where I’m going with this, but stick with me. It’s okay to eat a little junk food, we all do it. Dessert? Help yourself. But the bulk of your diet needs to be healthy. I’m not going to define healthy here; I’m not a dietician. Plus, everyone has there own variation on what constitutes healthy. I’ve even heard of some people that eat kale.
But you need a balance of the primary three components: protein, fat, and carbs. Please don’t respond about your low-carb, low-fat, low-protein diet. The body needs all three in moderation. And that’s the key. Overeat anything, and you throw the engine out of whack. Not enough of something, and you will run out of gas.
I used to run marathons. At around 20 miles, it is said you will ‘hit the wall.’ I read about that for years before it happened. I could physically feel my tank running dry. This was when my body ran out of easy to burn carbs, and had to start burning fat and protein.
But you don’t have to run a marathon to run out of gas. It happens all the time. That’s how snacks got invented. You hit the middle of the morning or afternoon, and you just lose interest. Your motivation is gone, and you don’t feel like doing anything. Maybe you just ran out of gas.
If this happens to you, reevaluate your diet. Does it only occur on certain days? What was your last meal on that day? Does it happen every day? Do you eat the same thing every day? Hmmm. Maybe you need to change that. What’s missing from that meal? Add some complex carbs or simple protein to that meal and see if that doesn’t make a difference.
I just told you I don’t feel like doing anything, and now you ask me to exercise.
This isn’t about getting in shape, although that will improve almost everything else we’re talking about here. It’s more about solving whatever is bothering you right now. Exercise is a triple threat in the problem-solving world. Unless your problem is a physical injury, whatever is bothering you will be helped by exercise in one or more ways.
- Energy — If you are feeling lethargic, get up and walk around. I often hit a period in the afternoon where I want to take that nap. I have discovered over the years that a five-minute power nap will do wonders. For a little while. But a twenty-minute walk will wake me up and supply enough energy to get me through the rest of the day. Get up and get moving. It pumps oxygen to your muscles and blood to your brain.
- Give your mind a break — You’re tired. From what? You sit at a desk all day. It’s not your body that’s tired; it’s your mind. Give it a break. Kick it out of gear and go for a walk. Or run, bike, swim. It doesn’t matter, but a walk can be done anywhere and anytime. Leave the problem behind and get some exercise.
- Let the problem work itself out — Did you ever go to bed with a problem and wake up with the solution? It’s because your mind was at rest, and it was able to work through the problem without all the distractions of being awake. Exercise can do the same thing. Walk away from the problem and stop thinking about it. But somewhere in the back of your mind, the engine is still running. Before you get back, it’s likely the solution will present itself. If not, at least you can face it with new energy.
The brain isn’t technically a muscle, but it still needs exercise. And doing the same thing every day isn’t exercise. A three-mile run is an exercise. But if you do it every day, eventually it becomes just routine. You cease getting any more benefits from it. To increase your fitness, you have to keep pushing yourself.
It’s the same thing with your brain. If you use it for the same things all day every day, it will become lazy. The mind is a remarkable organ that assimilates ideas quickly and makes them rote; muscle memory if you will. To keep the brain sharp and quick, you have to exercise it.
Never stop learning.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That’s a lie. You can’t teach a lazy dog new tricks.
I am often asked the same question, “How did you know that?” I’ve never once understood the question. How do you know anything? I wanted to know. I learned it. Now I know it. I’ve never stopped learning. Ever. And in today’s world, with the entire accumulated knowledge of humanity in our pocket, there is absolutely no excuse ever to stop learning.
If you find that your problem is that you have a hard time-solving problems or thinking through anything outside your daily routine, you may need to take your brain out for a walk. Leave social media behind for a minute and find a site where you can learn something new.
Leave Work at Work
Okay, this is a big one. How often has your evening, and subsequently your family’s evening, been ruined because you had a crappy day at work? Who cares? That’s work — this is home. Two different things. Work is where you trade some of your time and knowledge for money. That’s it. It’s not your life’s calling. You’re not seeking a higher purpose.
It’s work. When you leave work, leave work.
Do you think the person that ruined your day is thinking about you right now?
I don’t think so, either.
Here is where you are making your mistake. Someone pisses you off at work. At the end of the day, you leave pissed off and get in your car pissed off. You’re pissed off all the way home thinking about it, and that carries on into your evening. If you’ve followed this logic, I’m pretty sure you already know the solution. As the title said, you see the problem; you don’t want to deal with it.
Do this instead. How long does it take to get from your office to your car or public transportation? Two minutes? Five? Whatever. That’s the time to flush work out of your head. Breathe deep and think about something else. Anything else.
I know it’s hard; I’ve been there. Here is what I did. Every time work crept back into my head, I would physically stop and tell myself to stop. Then I would force myself back to thinking about something pleasant.
But that jerk at the office… Stop walking. STOP! Think about something else. To begin with, it took forever just to get to the car. But your mind is trainable. Within a week, it will only take once or twice, and eventually, you won’t think about it at all.
Now in the drive or ride home, put on your favorite tunes. Or better yet, an audiobook. You can’t think about work if you’re listening to a book. But work is off-limits. Use the Stop technique if you need to, but soon it won’t be necessary. By the time you reach home, work is gone and in its proper place.
TV and Social Media
It’s the slime oozing out from your TV Set.
Frequently, I tell people I haven’t watched the news since Nixon resigned. They all think I’m joking. But I’m only half-joking.
And listening to them, I’m glad about that. I can’t tell you how often I watch someone at a fun social event get pissed off as they recount the day’s news. There’s always something terrible going on somewhere.
Sometimes it’s close to home, most times it’s not. If the news pisses you off, stop watching it. It’s not that hard. Just stop.
Same thing with social media. I am continually pruning my social media feeds, and I suggest you do the same. Scroll through Twitter or Facebook. If something you read pisses you off, whether you agree with it or not, mute, block or delete that person. Why would you let some random stranger ruin your day?
If someone did that to you on the street, you’d hurry away; they’re probably some nut. But on social media, you will give them your full attention and allow them to ruin your day. Just stop. For me, social media is entertainment, information, and marketing. And by information, I don’t mean zombies are invading Lichtenstein. When they get to my neighborhood, let me know. Otherwise, I’m watching cat videos.
Swallow the Frog
Almost every piece of advice in this article comes down to a straightforward rule: Stop it. Just stop. But this one is different. This one comes on high from the Greek Goddess of Victory. Or some shoe company out of Oregon, I forget which.
Just Do It.
That thing that’s hanging over your head that you don’t want to do? Just do it.
That awkward conversation you need to have, and have been putting off?
Just do it.
Not doing something is hard work. It’s not our fault; we learn this early. I remember in grade school, I would spend an hour concocting an excuse why I didn’t do that twenty-minute homework assignment.
Not doing something never goes away. By definition, not doing something means it is never done. It’s always waiting, lurking in the back of our minds, distracting and worrying us. But you know what will make that little voice go away? You know what will solve that problem we’ve been dragging around for days or weeks?
Just do it.
I’m not saying that problems aren’t real, but they reside in our heads for the most part. And that’s where they eat at us. That’s how they ruin our day. Because we let them. But we have the power to stop them. And the good news is, we know exactly how to do it.
We just need to deal with it.