Do you ever have those friends who really seem to enjoy life? Not just the ones that take Insta-worthy photos, but the ones who give off relaxed, joyful energy when you’re around them.
These are the people who seem to attract great things. And it’s not because they are any smarter better than you. They may not have even gotten good grades in school. They just seem to not put so much pressure on themselves. As a result, it feels like glide through life, going with the current of it all, rather than sweating profusely paddling upstream. And it feels a little unfair. These people don’t really even seem to try that hard compared to others. How do they do it?
For me personally, I’ve always put so much pressure on myself to be great. I’ve never wanted a mediocre life. I’ve always been interested in what makes some people thrive compared to others. From the research I’ve done, many factors contribute to whether or not someone will live to their full potential. Many of them make intuitive sense, like having an open mind to the available limitless possibilities.
However, something that I’ve always had a bit more difficulty digesting is the idea of just slowing down a bit and allowing, rather than always thinking I had to try so hard. It’s a delicate balance, because yes, we need to take intentional, sustained action if we are ever going to accomplish anything. But, sometimes, we try so hard that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We’re like Clydesdale horses plodding along with blinders on without even stopping to take a deep breath and look up at the sky.
The truth is that most of us have been told the narrative “Just try your best” or something to that effect since childhood. We get rewarded for effort and excellence. The science of learning also unanimously supports the idea that deliberate, repetitive practice is a huge defining factor in retaining information long-term (i.e. learning things successfully).
And to top it off, we are bombarded with social media images of the people who have given it 110% to get to where they are. The Dwayne Johnsons of the world, or the J.Los.
And so we try. But it’s exhausting. Giving it all we’ve got all the time has a way of making life feel like a never-ending treadmill where we are always comparing ourselves to some arbitrary bar we’ve set called “Our best.” Because what does “our best” even mean? It’s not even measurable. And even if it was, it leaves no room for improvement.
I hike on the mountain behind my house regularly. I love doing it because I get some time alone with my thoughts, I can feel the good burn in my legs, and I get to be in nature. Never once has it even occurred to me to track my time or my distance, heart rate, or steps. If I had to track any of those things, it would take the joy out of it for me, and I would probably quit. In short, I don’t do it with any thought about the outcome or to be the best. I do it because it feels good.
And so yes, there might be a couple of things you want to achieve, which means a lot to you. When it comes to those things, you might want to apply the science of learning and practice them deliberately over a sustained period. And you might want to push yourself outside your comfort zone and lean into the struggle with a growth mindset.
But for many other things in your life, it might help with your overall level of internal peace and joy if you just eased up a bit. Try to stop comparing yourself to what you think you could or should be. And allow yourself time to do things just for the fun of it without worrying that you could be doing something more productive instead. See if you can pass this attitude on to your children as well. They’re under a lot of pressure too. The irony is that once you start to engage in activities without worrying about your score or your time or outcome, you begin to feel good. And when you feel good, you have more energy and feel more motivated to put your whole self into it anyways.