Life can be tough. You will fail at certain things. You will be stressed. Bad things will happen to you. People will disappoint you. But did you know that, despite all these things, life can be awesome? Yes, it is true! In this week’s blog and podcast, I talk with bestselling author and speaker Neil Pasricha about how we can all learn to be more stress-resilient and failure-proof, how life is still awesome even when things don’t go our way, and how we can teach our children to thrive in a world where change is inevitable.
Neil is no stranger to bad news. A number of years ago his first wife left him and his best friend committed suicide. To cope with his grief, he decided to start a blog called 1000 Awesome Things, which focused on life’s simple pleasures. This blog soon became viral, was voted one of the best blogs in the world and led to Neil’s first bestseller, The Book of Awesome, which focuses on how, despite the ups and downs of life, there is so much to be thankful for and amazed by every day.
Most recently, Neil published a follow up to his book called You are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live and Intentional Life, which is based on his personal journey and why, even though he is incredibly successful, he still feels like a failure at times. This is not uncommon. According to research, more and more of us are anxious about where we are in life, even when things are going well for us!
Why is this the case? In part, this spike in anxiety levels is due to our inability to deal with failure. Many of us have grown up in relatively safe environments compared to previous generations, which means we have limited experience dealing with and managing failure—we haven’t built the internal musculature needed to handle disappointment. Moreover, with the advent of modern technology, we are constantly exposed to everyone else’s greatest hits, which can make us feel inferior, as if we lack the ability to succeed like the people we see on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Thankfully, as Neil notes, you can control how you feel and learn to embrace and deal with failure by:
1. Buying an alarm clock and getting your cell phone out of the bedroom! Instead of wasting time scrolling through social media and comparing your life to other people, make your bedroom a cell-phone free zone. This will help decrease your anxiety levels and improve your mental health.
2. Starting your day off with a 2-minute morning. On paper, in your phone notes or in your journal, spend 2 minutes every morning thinking about what you will let go off, what you are grateful for and what you will focus on. According to research just being grateful for 10 things a week can dramatically reduce your anxiety levels and can make you physically and mentally healthier, while choosing to focus on one thing can help reduce the anxiety that comes from decision fatigue (or the feeling of being overwhelmed by the plethora of “would” or “could” choices we face daily) and the myth of multitasking, that is trying to jump rapidly from one task to another, which disrupts concentration and affects your ability to do any task well. This, in turn, builds up your mental strength and resilience, helping you better deal with disappoint, failure and the daily anxieties of life.
It may also be a good idea to take what Neil calls an untouchable day now and then. This is a day when you choose to focus on one thing and remove all distractions. Say, for example, you are writing a book: schedule in time where you switch off your phone and just focus on your research and writing, letting the people in your life know you will be unavailable.
Another reason more and more of us are stressed and anxious is because we are really good at thinking that a bad situation will last forever. We tend to think things will never change, confusing the possibility of something happening with the probability of something happening. As a result, many of us don’t have the tools to process and deal with the future, but just because we can’t imagine something happening doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen!
To deal with anxiety over the future, you need to focus on the difference between the facts and how you are interpreting the facts, that is the story you tell yourself about any given situation. You can do this by asking yourself:
- If this will matter on your deathbed?
- If you can do anything about the situation? If not, then stop worrying about it—there is no use trying to change something you cannot change.
- If this is a story you are telling yourself, or the facts? How are you interpreting what is happening to you? Can you change the story you are telling yourself? How can you reconceptualize the situation?
We also need to learn to be okay with failure. The only way we can get good at anything is to be bad at the something; we all have to start somewhere! And we all learn a lot from our failures, even when we don’t realize it. People in secure and loving relationships, for example, have an average of 16 relationships/dates before settling down! A failure is not just a failure; it is an experience that teaches us what does and doesn’t work.
Indeed, the path to success is never smooth or easy, and often involves a lot of disappointment. The key thing we need to ask ourselves when it comes to our goals and dreams is do we love it enough to go through the pain to get it? A lot of our daily fears and anxieties come from not wanting to deal with the pain and sacrifice required to get what we want, which is why it is so important to ask ourselves what we really want our lives to look like. In many cases, we can’t have it all, and will need to choose what sacrifices we are willing to make if we want to succeed at something. Neil recommends making a success triangle with three points to help you do this: sales (or how much money you make), social (your relationships and wider social influence), and self (how do you feel about it?). Focus on what is most important to you and why. Be honest with yourself, as it is your life!
It is, however, important to recognize that happiness precedes success. Many of us have backwards models of happiness: we think that if we achieve this or earn this much money or do this one thing we will be happy, but that is not the case. Yes, hard work can lead to success, but you have to be happy first in order to put in the hard work that leads to true and lasting success.
We also need to teach our children about success, happiness, failure and stress. Sugar-coating life will only end up hurting them in the long run; we need to teach them from young how to deal with the vagaries of life and build up their stress resilience. We can start doing this by:
1. Recognizing that kids don’t need cellphones. You may say that you need to know where your child is all the time, but you really don’t. You should teach your children about the world and trust them enough to let them explore and learn. Controlling their every movement will only inhibit their mental and physical development, while giving them a phone with access to social media will increase will increase their comparison stress and can end up isolating them from their friends and family. This, in turn, will further hinder their individual and social development, and can harm them in the long run.
3. Under-programming their lives. In today’s world, it is far too easy to schedule every minute of our children’s day. Yet, if their day is over-programmed, they have little time to be bored, which is an important part of developing creativity and imagination through daydreaming, interaction with nature and the intellectual need to occupy one’s time with something fun and interesting. We should spend less time scheduling our kids’ lives, and more time encouraging them to overcome boredom by finding new and interesting ways to interact with the world around them.
Books are a great way to do this, whether you are a child or an adult! As I always say, reading is one of the best ways to build the brain and develop cognitive resilience, which can dramatically improve our mental and physical health by strengthening our ability to deal with the vagaries of life. If you or your child doesn’t like reading, start small! I always recommended that my patients start with a comic book series like Asterix and Obelix, and then work their way up to stories like Lord of the Rings. You can also make reading a family event with fun trips to the library or reading books out loud together.
You can even delete the news on your phone and just focus on reading novels and stories—let your imagination roam free and watch how it improves your mental health! For more information on reading, building the brain and mental health, see my book Think, Learn, Succeed.
4. Try limit or stop homework. There is very little evidence that homework helps much, so keep your child’s free time free, rather than flooding them with additional work. The more time your children have to be creative and explore the world around them, the more they will build up their cognitive reserves and develop mental resilience, which will really help them later on in life.
For more information on stress resilience, happiness and mental health, listen to my podcast with Neil (episode #137), check out his website, his books, his podcast, his fantastic TED talk and his Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. If you enjoy listening to my podcast please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family, and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
Podcast Time Highlights:
2:00 How Neil turned lemons into lemonade
4:10 Why we don’t know how to fail
10:45 How to tell yourself a different story
16:51 Why the only way to get better is to get bad
29:46 Why you should let your children fail
39:11 Why you can’t have everything you want
46:18 Why happiness, not success, comes first
51:00 Why reading is good for your mental health
56:55 Why multitasking is a myth
If you would like to learn more about how to deal with stress and failure and improve your mental health, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit in Dallas, TX December 3-5, 2020! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click here. Early bird special pricing end 3/31!
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