OK, I hate that title. But it’s all about SEO – did you know if you title your blogs with questions people type into google, your content is more likely to be found? True story.
And this post IS about living your best life. I just hate those words because I can hear idiots saying them and using them as a bullshit excuse for why they can’t won’t do stuff. “I’m living my best life.” (Read that in a high pitched, whiny voice.)
What I wanted to title this post is: What’s over your cognitive horizon?
Pretty much my favourite TED talk of all time is by Shawn Achor. It’s about happiness. And in it, Shawn says that most of us live with happiness over the cognitive horizon, because we tell ourselves once we achieve X, we’ll be happy.
When I get that promotion/pay rise/ideal job, I’ll be happy. When I lose weight, I’ll be happy. When I find the right man/woman, I’ll be happy.
The problem is, he says, once we achieve that thing, it’s in our natures to immediately set the next milestone. You find the right partner, and then it’s suddenly, when I have kids, I’ll be happy. You get the promotion, and then you set your sights to the next one, or to starting your own business.
It never ends. We never reach the happy place – so it’s over our cognitive horizon. Happiness is always in the distance, just out of reach or out of sight, and we never get there.
What the research shows, instead, is that if we can be happy here and now, those other achievements are more likely to follow. Find happiness every day, and you become more successful. You’re more likely to attract the right partner, achieve the promotion or the pay rise, find success in what you do. But the happiness has to come first.
So it’s not step 1: be successful, step 2: be happy. It’s the exact reverse.
I’ve known this for years now.
I AM happy on a daily basis. I know I need to find joy in each day (in amongst all my mess, cos I truly believe life is messy, full stop. I used to wait for the mess to be tidy so I could be happy. Then I discovered Shawn Achor).
So I understood that.
But late 2018, I woke up one day and a whole bunch of things fell into place. No, I wasn’t keeping happiness over my cognitive horizon, but you know what I was keeping there? Wellness.
I’ve had, for quite some time now, a clear vision of the life I want to live (my best life – uggh).
It involves some balance – between work and downtime, between taking care of my needs and the needs of others – it involves time outside and eating in a way that makes me feel well.
AND I WAS KEEPING THAT LIFE OVER THE COGNITIVE HORIZON.
WTF! That realisation pisses me off! It makes me feel like such a slow learner!
And what’s worse is that the horizon wasn’t even clear. It was just, I can’t have those things YET. I have to keep working my ass off for a while yet, before I can change my lifestyle. I have to work more, do the next stage of business development, make more money yet, before I can start prioritising myself and my own needs.
So on that morning, I woke up. The sun rose over the cognitive horizon and the light fell on the simple, simple truth. I have to LIVE my ideal life if I ever want to HAVE my ideal life. I have to just get up each day and LIVE IT.
Want quiet time in the fresh air each morning, Shelly? Fucking get up and do it. Because the emails can wait. That piece of writing for a client can wait. Those questions your staff are waiting for answers to, can wait. Go for a fucking walk and breathe and drink a bottle of water while you’re at it.
And strangely enough? No one died. And I came back from my walk refreshed and clear-headed and energised and sat down at my computer and got shit done.
As I write this, my inner mean girl is saying, People are going to think you’re SO DUMB, Shelly. But I’m not. *insert tongue poking out here* Yes, some of you will be giving up reading about now cos #ThankYouCaptainObvious. But at least SOME of you are going, holy shit! That’s what I’ve been doing! OMG, I can’t believe I never thought about it like this!
And then others of you might be saying, well that’s just lovely but I’ve got a 6-month-old or 3 kids under 5, or 3 jobs, so fuck you and your best life, Shelly.
And you’re not wrong – being a mother of babies and toddlers was a nightmarish time in my life. It was the exact opposite of my best life.
So I hear you, sister – AND I have 2 questions for you:
- What’s your best life WITHIN that reality?
- Is your reality TRUTH, or are you lying to yourself about what things are in and out of your control?
Because here are some of the lies I was telling myself about my reality:
- If I don’t start work the second my eyes open, when my brain is clear and I’m motivated, I’ll have lost my chance to be productive that day. So I can’t risk it.
- I have too many people who need too many things from me and something’s gotta give, and the only thing I can see that CAN give, is me looking after me.
- To let someone down or say no to potential work is to fail.
- Living the life I want to live is simply a luxury that I don’t yet have time for. I haven’t earned it yet.
I was at a conference in Montreal last year and I was talking to a friend about how I’d know when I’d achieved balance because I’d be taking better care of myself. I honestly believed that – that balance and self-care would be the result. It would be the evidence I’d arrived at that destination over the horizon.
And she called me out on it! So thank you, Cheryl Stephens, for being wise and simply saying, you just have to start NOW. You told me to book myself a regular massage. And I thought to myself, no, you’re missing the point.
But I sat with it for a good couple of months. And then came that morning when I woke up and knew what I needed to do. Those words landed right where they needed to: in that place inside of us that knows truth.