Do you feel stuck… like you’re not moving forward in life? For clues as to why you’re stuck, the first place to look is your everyday habits. We all have bad habits, but some qualify as toxic because of the monumental damage they can cause. Some literally steal our potential and years from our lives.
You know your habit is toxic (or getting there) if you silently want to get more done, but can’t seem to because you’re chronically unmotivated, and you have no good excuse.
To feel motivated to work on our dreams, pursue our interests and fix problems in our lives, we need energy.
This type of energy has a physical, emotional, and spiritual component to it. Without enough of this energy, we find it hard to stick to our goals or even start them. If you’ve been wondering why you feel stuck and want to unstuck yourself, consider whether you have any of these not-so-obvious toxic habits.
1. Little/no discipline
A sure route to stucksville is to spend your days without any type of structure. One reason for this may be that growing up, you didn’t have a structured bedtime, playtime, or it wasn’t modeled to you in other ways. You may not have had the level of security or something you really needed so you developed a type of quiet anxiety. These things you missed in childhood, can in adulthood, manifest as procrastination and lack of discipline. And it doesn’t help that the world today is conducive to procrastinating.
THE FIX: Create more structure in your life
To live a productive life requires structure/discipline, which, like a muscle, you can develop. Don’t fault yourself for past procrastination, but with some understanding of how you developed it, how it’s holding you back, learn how to overcome it. Here are some ways you can do that.
- Eat at regular times, always make your bed, etc.
- Morning routines create consistency, start one.
- Create small (3-5-task) to-do lists.
- Put everything you have to do on the calendar.
- Add interesting (not just productive) activities to the calendar.
- Plan your week on Sundays and your day the night before.
- Start a physical fitness program.
- Hire a productivity coach.
- Research a subject you like in-depth.
- Start a group or something that you can lead and be responsible for, such as a Facebook or Meetup group, volleyball team, or kids’ choir.
- Get a pet, also to have something to be responsible for.
2. Too much TV
How much is too much? I’d say more than 90 minutes a day is too much if you don’t have a career or passion that’s related to watching TV. This is one of those habits that may be obvious, but people rarely realize how much of a psychic energy-drainer it is.
THE FIX: Cut down to 5-7 hours a week
If you think about it, 5-7 of mostly passive entertainment is a lot! Some entertainment raises our energy, but others, like TV, drain it. If like most TV junkies, TV is your only form your entertainment, boy, are you missing out on other ways to have fun!
- Swap some of your TV time for hobbies like photography, cooking, learning to DJ or to edit videos. Your body will produce more feel-good hormones (serotonin) when you’re doing these activities.
- If you find it hard to cut down your TV time right away, swap regular TV with YouTube tutorials and Talks.
- Don’t go home directly after work. Find a park, coffee shop, recreation center, gym, TV production studio, college campus, or outdoor space that you can visit instead.
3. You’re dull and boring
If your days just seem to run into each other with a sameness from day to day, you’ll be dull and uninteresting because of it. This can affect your self-esteem and lead to social problems.
THE FIX: Become an interesting person
- Find some stimulating things (hobbies and interests) you actually want to pursue. They’ll make you more interesting and give you things to talk about with others. Learning a new language is one of those hobbies that can do more than make you more interesting; it can be a way to attract new opportunities too.
- Offer to help someone who is doing something you find interesting. Aspiring musicians and many creatives could use all sorts of help.
- Become a local Airbnb guide.
- If you enjoy live music, start an annual concert tradition where you save up all year to splurge on a major artist like Beyonce.
- If you enjoy music, become a promoter. If you enjoy reading, set a goal to read all the books by your favorite author or start a book club.
4. Not figuring out what you want
When we don’t take the time to figure out who we are and what we want, we don’t have anything tangible to shoot for. As toxic habits go, this one may feel like it’s outside your control, but it’s not. It’s your responsibility to figure this stuff out.
THE FIX: Design your life
- Read these two books to start your exploration: Now Discover Your Strengths and Flow.
- Have internal conversations where you regularly ask yourself, What do I want? Look around and start jotting down things that interest and inspire you that you can do now.
- Figure out what the things you’re interested in have in common. For example, what do the artists you love all have in common?
- Think about how you can leverage a skill you’re now using wastefully. If you love video games, think of how you can apply those strategic skills to something that makes you money, help others, or somehow move your life forward.
5. Comparing yourself to others
If you don’t have a strong sense of self, comparisons can leave you feeling less capable than you really are and when you feel like that, it’s going to be hard to shore up interest in things you could otherwise easily accomplish.
THE FIX: Be a little less superficial
- Work on becoming a person who is less focused on “stuff.”
- Be more discriminating about your friendships – IRL and on social media. People who flaunt superficial success may not be the best influence for you right now.
- Master something you love – even if it’s ping pong. Mastery and the discipline you gain from working on something for a while, make you feel more confident.
- Root for others… yes, even that “annoying” friend on Facebook who keeps saying how blessed she is for her kids, friends, and her morning hikes.
- Learn to appreciate what you have. We’re usually comparing our worst to other people’s best, but to someone less fortunate, you have the life and things they’d gladly trade.
- Become aware of when you’re comparing. We’re usually doing this unconsciously but by being aware, we can catch these thoughts and reframe them.
6. Not making time for the things and people that matter
We all have an innate need to belong and when we don’t feel like we do, we feel off. Social bonding makes us feel connected, energized, and inspired and produces the chemical Oxytocin (the love hormone), which makes us feel, not only connected but also energized.
THE FIX: Make time for your relationships
Commit to a minimum number of interactions with friends and family. While you may not get this yet, one day you will, there is NOTHING in life more important than our relationships.
- Put everyone’s birthday on the calendar and schedule times to chat. I have a girlfriend that I talk to every Friday morning on my 30-minute drive to work. It doesn’t happen every single week and from time to time, our lives will get too busy to call, but we always find our way back to this schedule.
- Commit to a minimum number of texts/calls with parents, siblings and the people who matter to you.
- Create traditions like a regular summer getaway or always have a touch football game (trophy included) on Thanksgiving day.
7. Dwelling on “If only…”
If only your parents did this or that. If only you had more help. Had you gone to college or finished, you would be… If only you were taller, prettier, younger, or a different race. “If only” fantasies that involve things we can’t do anything about keeps us idling in neutral. This is another spiritual and emotional downer. It’s one of those toxic habits we grow to regret.
THE FIX: Work on being present and practice acceptance
- Accept your share of the responsibility for your situation.
- Accept that no one is coming to save you and that the world is what it is now.
- Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, be inspired by great minds, books, and people who are finding a way and working with what they have.
- Be thankful that they’re even in a position to have dreams. Some 20-something in Senegal, in Greece, or right in your backyard is so preoccupied with keeping a roof over his/her head that she can’t even entertain the thought of starting a blog or whatever it is you’re avoiding.
8. Not exercising
File this one under “most overlooked productivity habit eva!” Exercise is a cognitive enhancer and the best natural “smart drug”out there. It’s a mood booster and it naturally makes us more productive.
THE FIX: Work on exercise consistency
- Carve out 30 minutes, if that’s all you have, and exercise DAILY. Why daily? If you hate exercising, doing it daily means you don’t have an “out” and cements the habit for real.
- Think of exercise as one of your daily “supplements” and take your medicine.
9. Spending too much time on social media
Unless your life is perfect or your job requires you to monitor social media, spending more than an hour a day on it is an energy-drainer and distraction you can do without. This is one of those toxic habits that’s becoming a health hazard so you’re not alone, but it’s not an excuse.
THE FIX: Make healthier use of your phone and your time. Check out these ideas to take control of your phone:
- Check out Freedom, the app, and social media blocker.
- Leave your phone when you do certain activities.
- Keep your phone out of sight when you’re at work.
- Put your phone away most of the time when you’re out with friends. Let one person be the designated photographer. If that’s not possible, once you’ve taken that food snap and posted it, put the phone away.
- Limit your social media activity to one app: IG, Snapchat, or Facebook, but not all 3.
And the most take-charge move would be to schedule your social media time. I recommend a one-hour limit a day and to take a day off on weekends, or at least a day off once a month. This goes back to creating discipline. When “things” control us, we’re going to feel lost eventually because “things” lack purpose and have little real value.
Jason Zook did a 30-day social media detox, which he recapped on his blog. He shared this about his 30-day experience:
It’s amazing how much clearer I’m thinking. Along with a bunch of writing and emails, I outlined an entirely new business idea and sent it off to a developer friend for feedback… Whenever I sit down to write, I can do it without the feeling of distraction or procrastination. Whenever I answer emails, I can tear through them without breaks.
10. Avoiding your problems
Do you live paycheck to paycheck, but rarely pay attention to what you’re spending money on or to how much things cost? Do you passionately hate your job but you’re doing absolutely nothing to change it? Are you in an abusive relationship, dating someone who isn’t there for you or who brings drama to your life instead of making it better? Have you been struggling with your weight for years and feel some shame about your body? Avoiding these weighty issues can’t help but drag you and your life down.
THE FIX: Personal development and personal growth
- Pay attention to these problems and work to change them. Yes, it’s going to take effort, but that’s the lovely thing about life. Life is meant to require work.
Love, fulfillment, and all the feel-good stuff that makes life rich take time and effort. By paying attention to the things that require work, we get stronger and more confident. And we get weaker, have less confidence and hope for the future when we ignore our problems.
Here’s why you want to do the work
There is nothing more painful than the regret of unused potential. Even when your career and family isn’t what you want/hope it to be, there are so many ways to add meaning, and even passion to your life and minimize the regrets you’ll have later on. Habits that build good mental hygiene, physical health, financial stability, and strengthen the other areas of your life will take work, but the work doesn’t need to feel like a burden. It can actually be fun!
If you approach working on yourself with a joyful heart instead of a critical judgmental mind, you’ll find personal development can be fun. If you consider that you may only ever find the purpose or healthy relationship you’re looking for by doing the work, that’s another way you can psyche yourself into doing it. And if you consider that the true cost of your toxic habit is far greater than you realize now, you may not want to wait to make changes.
Not everyone loves personal development as I do, I know. But I also know how much doing it can change your life, so I want to encourage you to get on with it.
Christine is a Life Strategist living in Los Angeles. Using systems, routines, and personalized methods, she can help almost anyone hack their mind and life for more joy and greater productivity.