Above the desk in my office, I have an abstract painting of Epictetus framed with the following quote:
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”
I purchased it as a New Year’s present to myself for completing what I considered my first successful year as a writer.
Being my best self is something I think about a lot. I know life is short, and the thing I fear the most is wasting my potential. If I sit around on my butt all day eating chips and salsa watching Netflix, I’m afraid that life will pass me by.
Like you, I have big aspirations. And like you, I push a lot of them off. Instead of today, I choose tomorrow. I’ll eat better tomorrow. I’ll workout tomorrow. I’ll write that article tomorrow. I’ll quit social media tomorrow. The list of good habits I put off until tomorrow is endless.
Sometimes I’ll get my shit together and sprint after what I want but rarely in a sustainable way. Like you, my life is a series of false starts. I’ll make progress. Then I’ll backslide. My healthy habits fall by the wayside as everyday life gets in the way. Rinse and repeat.
Let’s break that cycle together. Not tomorrow, but here and today. In this article, I’ll guide you on your journey to learn how to get your life back on track:
Decide What’s Truly Important
The key to knowing how to get your life back on track is understanding what really matters to you.
James Clear wrote about Warren Buffett’s “2 List” Strategy, which I highly recommend everyone read. To sum it up, Warren suggests everyone create a massive list of things they want to do in their life. Everything big to small that comes to mind.
Do you want to learn the guitar? Start a business? Learn to cook healthy meals? Write a novel? Learn Spanish?
Great! Write all that down.
Then prioritize it and pick your top five. Now put all your effort into doing or becoming those five things. The most important part here is avoiding the other stuff at all costs. They’re merely a distraction. Be more selective and say no more often.
We can’t do it all, and if we try, we’ll fail miserably. Derek Sivers puts it best:
“More people die from eating too much than eating too little. Most of us have too much baggage, too many commitments, and too many priorities.”
Create A “Could Do” System
Creating that list is a great start, but we both know you’ll never stop wanting. Neither will I. Your mind will constantly see shiny objects that distract you from what you’re doing now. The “could do’s” will pile up, and that’s okay. Just find a home for them and think of them differently. I keep a massive google doc of cool ideas, places to travel, habits to form, things to buy, you name it.
I’m not saying never to these things. I’m saying not right now.
That way, they don’t weigh on me or bring about any negative thoughts.
In a weird therapeutic way, it’s freeing knowing I don’t “have to” do these things anymore. David Allen gets it:
“When looking at a large to-do list, you feel a mixture of relief and grief. These items represent agreements you haven’t kept with yourself. What happens when you break too many agreements with yourself is your self-esteem plummets.”
Self-esteem is the reputation you have with yourself. You’ll always know the truth about yourself. Rather than letting these things mess with your mental health, it’s better to rid yourself of the toxic relationship you have with chasing every new idea that comes your way. Leave them on the “could do” list and free yourself from their hold.
Turn Your “Shoulds” Into “Musts”
With the “could do’s” tucked away, I’m now faced with my “should do’s” list. Here’s where life gets complicated. We know what healthy food looks like, but we still opt for fried foods. We know how to save money, but we still spend money on stuff we don’t need.
How do we break that cycle? How do we live more purposefully?
We have to turn our “shoulds” into “musts” and find a way to get it done.
Tony Robbins says, “We don’t hit our goals, we hit our musts.”
Must means “no matter what” and getting okay with being uncomfortable.
It also means sacrificing sleep sometimes or forgoing things that feel good.
Must means putting in the hours.
Unfortunately, the hours won’t suddenly appear. You’ve got to steal them from comfort. Anything you were doing before was comfortable. This won’t be. You’ll be very uncomfortable. You’ll feel awful on the surface, and chances are you’ll be fighting that inner voice telling you to “take the day off” or “you can have just one donut.”
If you really want to learn how to get your life back on track, it’s key that you understand how little actions can compound and make a big difference.
But if you do the work consistently, you’ll get a deeper satisfaction from finishing what you said you’d do. Building a healthy routine and giving life purpose takes hard work. It begins with a small step, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t take a step forward every day.
Figuring out how to get your life back on track means clearing the path
The only way to change your body and mind is to change your standards. Here are a few tips that are working for me:
1. Surround yourself with people playing the game at a higher level than you.
Who you spend time with is who you become. Find successful entrepreneurs to mentor you on starting your business. Make friends that have accomplished your fitness goals. In-person is great, but even chatting with people over Twitter, Facebook, or listening to podcasts can help push away negative emotions.
2. Schedule your success.
Literally, make time in your schedule to accomplish your “must do’s.” I have time blocks on my calendar to write from 5-7 every morning. The same goes for my morning cardio session and my evening workouts. I start and end my workday with workouts. That’s a rule. It’s my personal routine, and it ensures I don’t have to rely so much on motivation or finding the time for what’s important. Try to find consistent times for your “must do’s.” Then they’ll become helpful habits.
3. Destroy your “all or nothing” mentality.
There will be days you are sick, injured, or slammed at work. Days you won’t be at your best. Make it a rule to never skip your “must do’s” twice. Skipping two days in a row starts a new habit—a habit of skipping. Implement make up sessions. For instance, if I miss a workout, I don’t beat myself up. I just schedule two workouts for tomorrow. Truly embracing this rule is a giant step toward learning how to get your life back on track.
4. Create personal accountability.
Sure, a life coach can help, but I personally love to use technology to my advantage. All my to-dos go into Amplenote, and I keep my “must do’s” in my Streaks app. Both have reminder functions, which I use often. Streaks help me keep my habit “streaks” going, which I find motivating. I don’t want to break the chain. It gives each day a feeling of purpose. Personal accountability is essential to learning how to get your life back on track because, without the right influences, you’ll be more susceptible to hard days.
5. Know exactly what you want to do ahead of time.
Writer’s block doesn’t come from not knowing how to type. It comes from not knowing where to start. Think about it. You know how to run. That’s not the hard part. It’s setting the conditions for your run. Make sure you know when, where, and how far you’ll go. Find time in the day to plan tomorrow. Plan your workouts, healthy meals, work tasks, and what you’ll wear. Make doing the right thing feel easy.
6. Create contingency plans.
Life will inevitably get in the way sometimes. Yet, a lot of things that will torch your progress are avoidable. Find time each week to look ahead for obstacles. Are there meetings, trips, or personal obligations that might trip you up? Front-load and do more work on other days. Look at the menu ahead of time so you can make a healthy choice now. Sometimes even 15-minutes of planning each week can keep you on track.
7. Make personal contracts.
The worst thing you can do is give yourself options. There’s a time and a place to quit, but it’s best to schedule that too. Decide now when you’ll review your goals and systems. If you’re going to give losing weight everything you’ve got, then tell yourself you can revisit your workout plan and diet eight weeks from now. Until then, you’re all in. That will keep you on track and prevent you from switching things up too often.
Now you have a foundation for learning how to get your life back on track. But reading isn’t enough. It’s time to take action. I’ll leave you with one final question:
How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?