All of a sudden things change. Just like that. At first, I was just watching a dramatic movie. I enjoyed myself. A bag of chips beside me, and my iPad right in front of me. The movie keeps playing, but nothing sticks. The story quickly became empty and the enjoyment quickly disappeared. It’s about 8 p.m. you’ve worked all day long. I thought I deserved some time off. A moment to relax. To enjoy some movies and let my mind come to rest. But nothing is more true. Nothing is more an illusion than the tremendous pressure I put on myself. I rise to work until I go to bed. There is no time for rest. There is no time to enjoy a movie. There is more to learn, more to create, more to write. I am not yet making money with this, I need to keep pushing. More, more, more. 8 p.m. quickly becomes 9 p.m. and I am still watching the same movie. Well, at least the screen is on, and the bag of chips is still beside me. But the story, the reason why you’re watching a movie seems to be empty. I don’t hear a word of what the actors are saying. All I can think about are the things I could be doing with this valuable time. I grab my phone and open a to-do list. I add one after the other task to the list of tomorrow. That list is getting longer and longer. There is no way I am going to finish all of that tomorrow. My hand reaches for the screen and pauses the movie. I sigh and get up. My desk is in the same room. I sit down and turn my computer back on. I pick a task on my to-do list and start working. A night that could have been relaxed and reenergizing transformed into a rush of doubts and stress.
The rest of the night is filled with a constant rush, a feeling that I should be doing more. A pressure that I can’t seem to shake off. It feels as if you are constantly being chased by the knowledge that you might not be doing enough. That your dream will not come to reality if you aren’t working hard for it. “Goodnight!” I hear behind me. I turn around and it is my mom, wishing me goodnight. I look at the digital clock in my room and see it’s almost midnight. I’ve been working for hours now, and still, I feel that there is more to do. I only finished one of the tasks on my to-do list. There are about a dozen more. In contrast to shrinking the list, I add another two things I wanted to do. And so the list grew, even when working far into the night. I decide to close my computer. Even though I feel like there is so much more to do. The pressure is still weighing down on me, but I just don’t seem to be creating anything anymore. The words I try to write become empty and meaningless. This isn’t what I wanted myself to be like. This is not who I want to become. I think to myself.
My computer chimes and I am faced with a black screen. Once more I sigh, hoping to release a bit of the pressure with my breath. A spiking headache arises and my shoulders are raised. My body and mind are both in tension. “A warm shower will do me good,” I say to myself aloud. I feel the water rushing down my limbs. I push my head back into the stream of warmth and close my eyes. For a moment, just a brief moment in time, my thoughts evaporate like the steam rising from my body by the hot embrace of the shower. “Tomorrow I’ll get up early, eat breakfast, read and then get straight back to work. Maybe I’ll skip lunch break to get everything off my to-do list.” There they are again. The thoughts. The relentless, deliberate provoking thoughts of pressure. I need to do things. I can’t stop. I wash, turn off the shower, and shiver at the sudden change of temperature. I quickly dry myself, put on some underwear, and go to bed. I close my eyes, but my mind will not slow down yet. Every muscle in my body seems to be tense. After some time I fall asleep. My body still under the strain of stress and anxiety. Still in the grip of a continuing pressure created by my thoughts. And so the day ends. Not with a peaceful, relaxing night, but with a night filled with the feeling of having to outrun something ghostlike. Something I can’t put my finger on. But I know that I can change the world. So I push on. I’ll rest later. There is something far more important than rest. That is my purpose, my gift to the world. I must succeed. I must achieve greatness.
We will change the world
We are the new generation. We will be a new age that will have to keep the world progressing. We will change the world, we will lead and innovate. We will create new ideas that can keep us rising to greatness. Won’t we? Or will the tremendous pressure we put on ourselves. To succeed. To be happy, to be wealthy, to have a purpose in life destroy us far before we got the chance to change the world. Will everything we do be a waste? The pressure we put on ourselves arises in the moments we least expect it. It can rob us, of our joy and peace of mind. Just as I described in my experience of stress and anxiety. We place such an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves, which is the drive that moves us forward. Whether you are an artist and want to show the world your work, or you have a new idea that will change the way we process food or use plastic. We all have a dream. We all have something that will change our lives, and a lot of those dreams can involve the need to change the world. Whatever you are pursuing will put tremendous pressure on you. I know what you are thinking right now, this sounds pessimistic. It is, but I am not gonna leave you just like this. With no change, no answer to your questions.
No matter what pressure we put on ourselves, we will change the world. So let’s change it with balance and joy in our hearts, shall we? Let’s give ourselves time to breathe. Let’s figure out how we can change the world, but with a lot less pressure and a lot more joy. Let us find the balance between watching a movie at night, not being interrupted by our thoughts and feelings of anxiety, pressure, and stress. And let us pour our everything into the work we create. That’s the balance I am striving for. So how will we strike that balance between pressure and happiness? How can we both release the pressure we put on ourselves, experience more joy in our work, and strive for more? How will we change the world, with a balanced, joyful, and loving heart and a calm and relaxed soul?
The origin of our pressure and anxiety
Pressure and the need to perform is a great driver of motivation and change. On the other hand, it can quickly turn into anxiety and stress. Hitting you out of nowhere with the constant feeling of having to do more. This pressure we put on ourselves isn’t something we create ourselves. Not deliberately at least. Have you ever seen a kid that feels the need to keep pushing? That feels the need to keep working on getting better grades? Or a kid that constantly needs to get better at drawing? Kids don’t need to do anything. They want to do everything. There’s a big difference for you. I’ll repeat it for you. Kids WANT to do everything. Kids don’t NEED to do anything. See that subtle yet massive difference. Kids never need to do anything, they only need to do things, because parents, teachers, or caretakers make them do it. That’s where your pressure comes from. You need to do your homework because both your parents and your teacher say you should. You need to clean your room. You need to exercise. You need, need, need. That need slowly drips into the things we want to do as we grow older. Why? Because we learn by imitating, and all we see are people that need to work. That NEED to do things. I barely hear people say I want to do this. Most of the time we say we need or have to do some particular thing. Even when it comes to creating or finding a career we love to do. We don’t want to find our purpose, we need to find our purpose. Instead of wanting to create a writing career for yourself, or creating a business for yourself, this can become a must. A need to do it. It initially starts because we want to, but ends up becoming a must.
I want writing to be my profession, but with that comes the pressure I put on myself. The pressure that I must write daily. That I must write an article each week. And so on. But why? Why do I create this pressure for myself? To whom am I responsible for writing each day? I started writing because of the freedom it gave me, to express myself, and to have a medium to help others. But with the pressure, I put on myself it became less like freedom and more of a cage I put myself in.
The pressure I put on myself came from the need to prove myself, and the need to be ‘successful’ in the sense that I earned money with writing and people would judge me to be successful. I felt the need to help the world, to make the world a better place. I still feel that, but something shifted in me when I realized the core of this pressure I put on myself. It is a core that’s the same for everyone. The origin of pressure and anxiety doesn’t come from ourselves. It comes from the relationship with others.
Step One Identifying the source: Interpersonal Relationships
Now I don’t mean to place any blame on others, and our relationships with them. This is a good thing. It is only a realization that helps us to find the balance between pressure and happiness. During my years in college, it was almost a weekly reoccurring thing that my dad and I would have some sort of fight over my grades or the effort I put into college. Rarely was it enough. There was always more to do. A 6 at a test, which in American grades is about a C wasn’t enough. I had to get that up to at least a B or an A. At that time I loved to play video games after dinner with friends. I still love that. It’s one of the moments I can relax and enjoy the online company of friends. It’s something that brings joy to my life. That does mean it takes away time for me to learn, to study, to get better grades. But who cares right? You’re a teenager and your relationships with friends, and creating your own identity is far more important than getting good grades. Besides I was consistent, did what I had to do, and wasn’t slacking. This was represented by my grades, which too were consistent with an occasional failure. Which I didn’t care about. But this one failure seemed to be massive in the eyes of my parents. So getting home with the knowledge that I got an F on a test was a disaster. I tried to not mention it, or mention it at a quick moment. When both of my parents were occupied, which didn’t work because most of the time they would get back to me at a later moment.
Their consistent drive to keep me at my peak. To push me, and motivate me to keep pushing. This became a pressure that I had to fulfill. A motivation for me to keep going, which continues even to this day. It is the very reason why I get attacks of anxiety and stress when I am watching a movie, or playing video games. I constantly feel the need to do more. That I should be doing something valuable with my time instead of playing a video game, or watching a new Netflix series. The pressure I felt during college is the same pressure I now feel when writing. It has become my motivation for writing and doing more. Which isn’t sustainable, it brings more harm than it does good.
The pressure I put on myself, as you might have guessed found its origins in college. It was created by my relationship with my parents. A normal thing to happen when you don’t yet know what is the right thing to do. You have always followed your parents’ advice so why shouldn’t you do it this time. But parents aren’t the only source of our pressure. Things like teachers, experts, gurus, society, friends, and other family members can also contribute to the creation of this pressure. Just to make this clear, they aren’t to be blamed for this pressure. There is no need to blame anyone. Instead, be thankful that they did this because it has created a steady and strong drive that got you going. Only now is the time to realize this and become aware. Confronted with these authority figures we automatically feel a sort of need to prove ourselves. This is normal, we want to fit in. We want to be just like them because we look up to them. So we try to prove to them that we are worthy of their time, friendship, help, or support. It’s most likely to be your reason for the stress, anxiety, or pressure you are feeling. Let me give you some examples.
Pressure in college
Amy is a girl in high school she is doing fairly well. A steady average at most of her classes. She does her homework, and also spends a lot of time with friends. There is just a few classes like history, and French which she just doesn’t understand. Whatever effort she puts in, the facts and words just don’t seem to stick. She is struggling and after a few tests, she is confronted with the fact that both her history and French are far below average. If she doesn’t get these grades up she will have to redo the entire year. This places tremendous pressure on her. She doesn’t want to be left in second grade, whilst all her friends go to the third grade. To add a little spice her parents, as any parent would, join in and try to help her. They motivate her and try to be supportive of her, which only creates more pressure for Amy. Why? Because she now also has to deal with the disappointment of her parents when she fails. All these things are points of pressure Amy creates for herself. Which she can’t be blamed for. It’s the very system of grading that creates the fear for failure and the pressure to succeed. And like any teenager, she doesn’t want to let her parents down. So this too creates pressure.
Okay, another example.
Pressure as an artist
Rick is 26 years old, just finished both college and university, and has a degree in physics. During university Rick figured that he didn’t want to be a physicist, he wanted to become an illustrator for children’s books. So during university, Rick promised himself that he would do this. He promised himself that after college he would give it a shot. Which did mean that he had to get serious about practicing his craft. Every bit of spare time rick had, he practiced his craft. He enjoyed it a lot because there wasn’t any pressure. He did it for the sake of practicing. After two years Rick graduated from university and now it was time for him to get professional about this. He had to find a job as an illustrator. For a few months, he sends out his resume but got rejected many times. He didn’t know what to do. He was becoming desperate and close to giving up his dream, soon after graduating from college.
Why did Rick place so much pressure on himself to become an artist so quickly? Why did he place so much pressure on himself to make money doing it? Why not find a different job, and do that for a while, whilst also looking for a job as an illustrator? He did so because he believed that you should also pursue your dreams. He had listened to some of those motivational speakers and followed people that had succeeded. That took the shot to their dreams. He heard stories of famous illustrators, but what he didn’t hear, was the struggle that was involved in this journey. He only heard that he should be going for it. That he should make the jump. The pressure he created for himself, was based on the stories of other successful illustrators. Not on his confidence in himself. He created the pressure to prove himself, to the world. To society. To these professional illustrators that he too could make a living from it.
These are both examples of how we either create pressure on ourselves because of grades in school, our parents, or the success stories we hear. Do you see what they have in common? Right, these are all things outside of ourselves. Things we can’t control. We can’t control the opinions of our parents. We can’t control how we will do at a test. We can’t control whether or not we will be making money as an artist. All we can control is the practice and our dedication to the work we do. All we can do is figure out the real goal.
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Step Two The real goal we are after
The reason why we feel pressure is clear. We create pressure, with the thoughts we hold over others, or groups of others like college or society. We know now that our goals create pressure, because of this. That we hold on to a belief we created for ourselves. So what is the real goal we are after? This is universal. It is joy. Happiness. Feeling good. This is the real goal we are after. The achievements we create for ourselves should be closely related to the joy we experience in life. If we want to change the world we should focus on the part that makes us joyful. Changing the world is a large topic, in which specific area do you want to change the world? Hint this is linked to the part of life where you feel most alive, where you experience pure joy. For me, this is writing and crafting stories. I feel alive. My hand glide across the keyboard and words appear on the screen. But writing isn’t the end goal. Nor is earning money with it. The real goal is to enjoy it, to see that writing is just something that brings me joy in life. So after identifying the source of our pressure, which is interpersonal relationships, we can now identify our real goal. Which is happiness, figuring out what makes us happy. At the end of this post, there is a form that will link to an enhancement where I’ve added multiple practices and questions to help you answer this question. To figure out for yourself what is pressuring you and creating this feeling of stress and anxiety. As well as a few practices, and questions on figuring out what it is that is at the core of your joy.
So keep this in mind. The second step is figuring out what is the real goal. This is linked to your experience of happiness. Be aware though, your experience of happiness, true happiness, is not linked to other people’s wishes or opinions. If you want to become a nurse, just because your parents told you they think it’s something you might like, then this might not be the right thing for you. Figure out what it is that makes you happy, without any opinions, thoughts, or judgments of others in your mind.
Step Three Set Up Your Achievements
If you have your real goal clear, now setup achievements. Yes, I just broke down the whole idea of having goals and achievements and how they can result in a tremendous amount of pressure. And now I am telling you to set them up again. Yes, that’s right. I want you to find the right balance. I didn’t say that goals and achievements were bad, or that pressure is normal. No, I want you to find the right balance between progress and contentment. If you figured out the real goal, what gets you excited and joyful. Then it is time if you want to, of course, create a list of about 5 achievements you want to reach for. Take Rick, for example. One of the people I used as an example a few paragraphs back. His goal is the practice of illustration. He loves to illustrate, it makes him happy. Now his achievements could look something like this
- Make 2000 euros each month from doing children book illustrations
- Follow 1 course on black and white illustrations
- Create his own book with illustrations
- Create and keep up an Instagram page with my illustrations
- Create a website for his illustrations
These are 5 actionable achievements, that don’t serve the purpose of finding happiness. They aren’t the end goal. They become dots to an infinite line. The goal isn’t to make 2000 euros as an illustrator, the goal is to be happy illustrating, earning 2000 euros a month would allow you to do that all the time. Creating a website isn’t a goal, it will not give you satisfaction or quick money, it’s just a place where you can showcase your work. It’s a place where you can show your work to the world. You see if your center goal is redefined, and it becomes linked to happiness and joy, your achievements change. They become less superficial and more like fun things to do along the way that will build up your happiness even more.
It gets rid of the stressful and anxious pressure we create for ourselves. And replaces it with a healthy kind of pressure. One that does strive for growth, but that detaches happiness from these achievements. Therefore allows you to be joyful all the time, yet make progress along the way.
Step Four Be Here Now
Without the enjoyment of your practice, you’ll never get to these achievements. However bad you want to achieve them.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
In Eckhart Tolle his book ‘The Power Of Now’ he describes perfectly why it’s so powerful to be here now. To do your work, and live your life, not dwelling in the past or worrying over the future, but to be here now. To enjoy this very moment. It’s the source of this brand. Today I Lived. To experience life as it is right now. That’s why the fourth step is Be Here Now. A phrase officially created by Ram Dass.
If we are deliberately focussing on the work we are doing right now, or the things we are doing right now we will not worry. We will not let anxiety or stress take over. In the introduction of this article, I wrote about my experience of watching a movie. I was more focused on the things I could be doing than focused on the thing I was doing right there and then. If you know what makes you happy, that doesn’t mean you should do it all the time. Many things can make us happy and enjoy life. The main thing they have in common is that we are doing them consciously and are present whilst executing them. If I enjoy my writing that means I am here right now. I am sucked into my writing and therefore can’t think or worry about anything else. All that matters are the words on the screen and the point I am trying to get across with my writing.
For Amy, this could mean that she was deliberate with her studying, but that when she studied she wasn’t worried about her next test. Worrying about the next text wouldn’t help her right here, right now. It would degrade her quality of doing her homework and learning for her test because her mind is constantly drawn away from the present moment. That’s why being deliberate with your practice is so important. Hold this thought in mind:
That which I choose to do right now, I will do with full deliberation, full dedication. If any thoughts or worries arise I will write them down and look at them later. Right now, my time is spent on this which I am doing right now.
This could also be something relaxing. Like watching Netflix, working out, spending time with friends, having diner. Do these deliberately as well. If you start worrying about not doing enough, simply remind yourself that you will do that, but that right now you will first enjoy that which is right in front of you.
Step Five Take A Nap
We are on to the final step. But before I share this with you I want to thank you. Really thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you are reading this far into this article it means you really care. I hope I have helped you and would love to hear from you if you want to let me know. Find me on Instagram @today.i.lived or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
The last step is rest and reflection. After hard work, deliberate work, and practicing our craft we need rest and time to recharge. To reflect on our path and where we are going. If this is the path we want to follow or if we want to do something else. A lot of the masters we adore rested. Einstein, Tesla, but also new day hero’s like Jay Shetty, Robin Sharma, or spiritual masters like Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, and financial masters like Tony Robbins, and Warren Buffet. They all have time to reflect, rest and do nothing but pure pleasure. This is something we can easily neglect if we have a clear goal. If we want to achieve something. But if we lose this out of sight we will end up worn out, depressed, or overworked. Rest is essential not only for sleep but also for having fun with friends, spending time with other people can do wonders. Even if you are an introvert. Spending quality time with just one person can give you so much energy and motivation.
If you have a big goal in mind, if you felt the pressure to achieve something then you should not skip this step. Rest, really take some time to fully rest. Go for a walk, and focus on the walk itself. Going for a walk sounds cliche, but it is the intention with which you take that walk. Go for a walk and see the world. See the textures of the ground you are walking on, see the buildings, hear the sounds, feel how your feet touch the ground. Place your focus on the here and now as much as you can. See how wonderful, extravagant, and extraordinary this world is. Even the places so close to your home. If your thoughts wander let them, maybe a great idea arises. But if they wander into stressful or anxious thoughts allow them to slowly come back to the here and now. Don’t push them away, slowly get your attention back to the place you are walking right now.
Or use a practice to reflect on yourself, on your progress, and where you are heading. This too is a moment of rest. You allow yourself to work through fears, or thoughts that keep bothering you so that they can be let go. In the enhancement, I share a few practices that allow you to get started with this reflection process. You could do it weekly, or monthly, depending on what you like best. All you really need is a notebook and the questions listed in the enhancement.
You’ll achieve more
If you identify the problem, see your real goal in life, identify the achievements you want to reach for, break those down into baby steps, practice being here now, and using reflection and rest to your advantage you will find yourself in a joyful state. Having let go of the pressure to achieve something. Yet you will achieve more. Things will go much easier like they are magically aligning and coming into your mind.
Have confidence in the outcome of your actions right now. Focus on the here and now, enjoy the work you do, enjoy the people around you, enjoy your life. Work hard but out of a free will, with joy in your heart and peace in your soul. Work with deliberation and enjoy the practice of it, not just the outcome. Focus on the things you want to do, not the things you must do. Focus on that feeling you had as a kid. The excitement and enjoyment you felt for the small things in life. How you enjoyed drawing, or building, or writing, and how you can feel that same excitement right here right now. Then you’ll achieve your wildest dreams.
Go for it. You got this, remember the steps I shared with you and you’ll most certainly be experience joy in the things you do. I created an enhancement, a workbook for you with extra content, quotes, inspiration, and all the practices and questions that go with this story. If you’d like to download this leave your email address and name down below and you’ll get it right away!
I will share these free resources, these free enhancements weekly. So you’ll also be getting these in the upcoming weeks and months. As well as being able to download the past enhancements I already shared with my email list.
Have an amazing day! Remember that Today You Live!