“Try to give up one of each of these behaviors for the 20 remaining weeks of 2015 and I guarantee that you will be more successful and much happier.”
Many things that we value in life are the result of accumulating stuff; experience, wealth, and education all come from adding more to what we have. By contrast, the act of being happy is often more about subtracting things that weigh us down, tie us to the past, or keep us engaged in unhealthy situations and relationships. But letting go is hard. We attach ourselves easily to behaviors and patterns that are comfortable because they are known, even if they limit us and our capacity to succeed and to be happy.
By the way, if you think happiness is an elusive and fuzzy concept, I’ll prove to you that it’s not by posing this question: If you came back in another life, would you want to be yourself all over again? Yeah, how’s that for a benchmark of happiness?
So try this. There are 20 weeks left in 2015. Start focusing on subtracting behaviors that stand in the way of your success and happiness. Here’s a list of 20 things that happy and successful people don’t do. Pick one for each week and make a commitment to let it go, and then practice the letting go religiously for the week. I promise you’ll be not only happier but incredibly more energized and ready to build the future as well.
1. Blaming others
This just admits a lack of control, making our happiness the responsibility of others. It never is. Owning our actions is always the most important step in being happy with ourselves.
2. Blaming themselves
So, the blame lies with you, right? Not so fast. Blame implies that you did something you shouldn’t have. Chances are that while the result wasn’t what you wanted, the actions you took were the best given the information you had. So stop beating yourself up. Learn and move on.
3. Looking back
You’re either happy with your past or you’re not. If you’re not, then it’s time to create a future you can be happy with rather than live in a past that makes you miserable.
4. Making excuses
Excuses undermine happiness by creating a fortress of reasons that stand between you and your objectives. Each excuse is one more brick in the wall. Rather than say, “I can’t because…,” say, “I can if…”
5. Accepting old habits
Habits are just repeated behaviors triggered by old patterns. The problem is that long after the pattern is gone. the habit remains. Like a traffic jam from an accident already removed, the reason is gone but the problem remains. Challenge your habits, create new ones; in short, evolve!
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” –Mahatma Gandhi
6. Engaging haters
It’s instinctive to push back on people who are overly critical or outright antagonistic toward your objectives. But continuing to engage with these sorts of people will only distract you from your purpose. Don’t engage them. Your success will speak louder than your words.
7. Putting things off
My favorite scene in A Christmas Carol is when the ghost of Jacob Marley comes back to haunt Scrooge, dragging heavy iron chains as reminders of his mistakes in life. Ignoring tasks that you know have to be done creates the same effect, slowing down everything else you need to do. Do it or cut it lose.
8. Feeling guilty
Guilt is the most useless of human emotions; it will blind you to happiness.
“Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.” –Gretchen Rubin
9. Harboring regrets
If you have them, do something about them. If you can’t, then let them go. Yes, it’s that easy!
10. Revisit failures
As long as you call them failures you won’t let go of them. They are only failures if you allow the limits of your past to define the limits of your future. The future has no limits unless you impose them.
11. Living with embarrassment
If you hadn’t tried you wouldn’t have been embarrassed, so be happy that you had the guts to try.
12. Feeling shame
An artifact of our childhood that we dig up over and over. Like guilt, it’s a false emotion in that it masks discontentment and a lack of self-esteem. To be happy you have to believe you are worthy of being happy. Are you?
13. Accepting the constraints of others
Let others constrain themselves; when they wear their constraints, like a pair of lead boots, you’ll have that much more of an advantage to outrun them.
14. Reliving the glory days
Listen to the Springsteen song. I don’t need to say anymore.
15. Thinking in black and white
This is the leading cause of unhappiness, because it limits your options to A or B when in fact they are limitless. Learn to live in the gray space; there’s much more than 50 shades of it.
16. Zero-sum thinking
It’s either yours or mine. Either I win or you do. Unhappy people live in a world of scarcity. Happy people live in a world of abundance.
17. Sticking to their own generation
Ever notice how happy people are happy no matter what age demographic they are in? It’s because they do not constrain themselves to generational thinking. Instead, they allow themselves to enjoy the entire spectrum of life’s experiences.
18. Obsessing over weaknesses
Happy people are happy despite their limitations, disabilities, and flaws. Strengths, not weaknesses, are what differentiate us, give us value, and make us happy.
19. Meeting the expectations of others
Life lives up to our expectations of ourselves. Nothing will make you feel better about yourself, and happier, than exceeding your own expectations. But first you need to define them!
20. Keeping it to themselves
I’m never happier than when I’m sharing. (Hey, that’s why I’m writing this!) Find a way to show gratitude by sharing what you know and what you have. There is no greater investment in your happiness than this.
So, how’d you do against that list? Don’t worry, happiness is not a perfect and perpetual state of being; it’s a journey of letting go. This list is just a constant set of reminders that we are all traveling that road together.
This article was originally published on Inc.
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.