Let me paint you a little picture of what my evenings used to look like for a long time…
After I was done for the day with school, internships, or work, I would always pass the time in the same way — I would climb into bed with whatever junk food I felt like eating at the time and would sink into the Netflix hole. You know the one where your computer asks you if you’re still there? That one. It wasn’t pretty. This time would also be spent online browsing and shopping for things that I did not need at all and getting to stupidly high levels of Candy Crush. My levels on both the Soda Crush app and the original Candy Crush would shock you.
Until one day, in one of this Netflix black holes, I came upon a documentary called “Minimalism.” If you know me at all, you know that I’m the exact opposite of a minimalist. I’m 100% a maximalist. But I watched this documentary and instantly became inspired by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Seeing how they stepped out of traditional lives, sold all of their possessions, and lived with intention was uplifting. I’ve been reading their website and books and listening to their podcast ever since. I believe I’ve talked about them in past posts as well.
Anyways, I’m definitely not a minimalist, but I’ve found that listening to what they advocate for helps me to recharge and refocus on what’s important. Their conversations about digital media and consumption have helped me tremendously to curb the shopping habit and make sure that what I spend my time and money on adds value to my life. Their message came to me at the perfect time, towards the last year of college before I would be thrown into the real world and would have to decide for myself what I wanted my life to look like.
However, a major turning point in my life happened when I was listening to one of their podcast episodes. I heard the episode many months ago and I remember Joshua asked his listeners to do a little exercise as a way to show them how people often spend time in ways that do nothing but fill the hours. His exercise showed that as a result of bad habits and (let’s be honest) laziness, people prevent themselves from becoming the best version of themselves they could possibly be.
I did his exercise back then, and because of that day, my life has completely changed. I was able to break so many of my bad habits and slowly become a better version of myself. One that doesn’t waste all of my precious time eating junk food, Netflix binging, procrastinating, candy crushing, shopping, and Instagraming. So today, I’m going to show you how this exercise worked and how I executed it in my life to get on the right path. Side note: This happened so long ago that I can’t find the exact episode. Therefore, this may not be the exact “minimalist exercise.” However, this is what I did and this is what I recommend if ever you find yourself slipping into bad habits and farther away from your ideal self… If you want to see how this could work for you too, get out a pen and paper and follow along.
Step One: Write down every one of your goals
Think about everything that you’ve ever wanted to do and accomplish. All of your life goals. The BIG things. The things that might even be so embarrassing that you’ve never told anyone before. Like a backpack through Europe, become a full-time travel blogger, launch a company, become a famous athlete, or write a New York Times Best Seller. Those dreams and life goals that you wouldn’t want to tell your mother because she would roll her eyes and say it’s unrealistic. Spend some time thinking about what you really want out of life and be completely honest with yourself. Most of us are so busy going through our day to day routine that it’s easy to lose sight of what we really want. This exercise will help you refocus on those goals that may have been forgotten.
Step Two: Write down your values
This one is super simple, and all you have to do is write a few words on a separate sheet of paper. Do you value your health, relationships, creativity, community, family, travel? Take a few minutes to really think, what do I care about the most? Anything that comes to mind that you personally value, jot it down.
Step Three: Write a schedule of your average day
Now, turn the page. Create a full schedule of what your average day looks like and don’t hold back. If you do this right, then it might be even more embarrassing than the first step. You have to be brutally honest with how you spend your time from day to day. Like if your alarm goes off and 8 am, but you stay in bed hitting snooze until 9 or 9:30. Or you come home from work and play on your phone for an hour while sitting on the couch. Or you go out to a bar every evening and drink wayyyy to much. Or maybe you binge-watch Netflix every night from 7 pm until you’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open. Write it all down, the good and the bad.
Step Four: Compare the lists
The next step is fairly simple. Compare what you saw between those three lists and really study it. Then wait for that ah-ha moment… You see, when I first tried this exercise, that’s when I really noticed what the problem was. Those three steps were enough to wake me up to how I was spending my time and what I really needed to do to turn my life around, be successful, and make myself proud. To feel happy and fulfilled with the work I was doing and how I was spending my free time. My values showed health, relationships, writing, etc. and so did my goals, but my day to day activities didn’t reflect that.
It was like a lightbulb went off over my head and I finally found the motivation that I needed. I didn’t want to look back and realize that I never fulfilled my dreams and accomplished the things that I wanted to do, all because I watched too much Netflix and played too much Candy Crush. And neither do you! You don’t want to wake up one day and realize that you never started your dream company and now are unhappy and upset with yourself for not really going for it. Notice the difference between your day to day life and the dream you have, and prepare to make changes.
Step Five: Replace the bad habits
Now that you’ve noticed the little things that you’re doing to fill your time rather than becoming the person that you want to be, you need to replace those habits with better ones. I use the word replace because I believe that one of the biggest problems is that we encourage people to stop their bad habits instead of replacing them with healthier habits. I once went cold turkey and tried to stop all my bad habits in one day which did not work at all. I didn’t think far enough ahead about what I would do instead. This step involves studying your day to day activities and then creating a better daily schedule. For me, the time that I used to spend laying in bed, playing on my phone, and online shopping I now spend reading, writing, listening to podcasts, and meditating.
Figure out what you can do each day to incorporate your goals and your ideal way of life into your daily routine. Play close attention to when you hear yourself saying “I should…” statements. I should write, I should read, I should exercise, I should call…, I should plan…, I should learn… All of those things that you tell yourself you should do but have been putting off for whatever reason, start to do it now. Do just a little bit every day. Soon, you’ll look back and do so proud of everything you’ve accomplished once you started to spend your free time with intention instead of distraction.
I hope this exercise works for you as well. Seeing as it’s been such a tremendous help in my life, I wanted to share it in hopes that it would help someone else get on the right track. And if you were coming here in hopes of some quick and easy tips for breaking a bad habit, I’m sorry to disappoint. I believe that we could use all the hacks and the tricks in the world to help us stop bad habits, but none of that works as well as self-reflection.
Did you try this exercise? Did you notice a difference between your goals, values, and habits? What were some of the bad habits that you had to replace? What did you replace them with? Let me know in the comments!
Photographer: Ken McBride.