When I was in my early to mid-20s, I got really depressed.
Life was going fine at first – I graduated college, worked for a year, moved to China, and then came back and got into a multiple-year funk.
I didn’t know what to do.
I had no idea where to move, what kind of job to find. I was unemployed, and I moved back in with my parents, longer than it’s socially acceptable. I had no friends. Had no idea what I wanted from life. Had the worst insomnia I’ve ever had, and felt like things were gradually getting worse and worse.
In general, the first couple of years of my 20s were one long, horrible period. Ironically, it was because I didn’t understand the simple power of compounding habits.
In this article, I want to share a bit about how I got myself on the opposite habit curve.
How I Got Into (And Out of) the Deepest Hole of my Life With Habits
The Daily Habits I Used to Begin Reinventing Myself
The worst “symptom” of my funk was that I literally didn’t have energy to do anything in my life.
So the first thing I did was take the time to differentiate what what was actually going on, and why I constantly felt like I had no energy.
Am I just doing something I don’t want to do right now?
Am I just tired?
Am I just having one off day?
Am I actually just depressed?
One off day is normal, even for really happy and fulfilled people who have never had any kind of depression in their life. But compare that to a string of off days or a string of off months. That’s something different altogether.
If I’m going about my day and I don’t want to go to the gym, I can ask myself, “Is this just an off day or is this just an off activity – something I don’t want to do?”
“Do I not want to go the gym right now because I’m tired and didn’t sleep enough? Or have I been saying the same thing for the entire week?”
For me, the rule was simple: having an off day is fine, and natural. Having an off month means something is up.
Like Steve Jobs said,
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Figuring Out What Really Drives You on a Daily Basis
The second thing I did was look into my crystal ball, so to speak. When I just finished recording my second book, Milk the Pigeon: A Field Guide for Anyone Lost in Their Twenties, one of the things I realized is that very few of us ever sit down to think about what we actually want from life.
For me, on some of these worst days, I would take the time to sit down and write out all of the cool things I wanted to do.
If you know me, you know that I’m a big fan of goals. I’m a big fan of envisioning the stuff you want to create in your short, human existence.
I would just take the time to research all the possibilities. For me, having a tiny, little booklet I reviewed each day was good enough for me. It was the primary driver of everything I did in my life – almost like looking at a vacation I had planned six months in advance.
It was the reality I wanted to make manifest.
My philosophy on habits is pretty simple. I think that if you are constantly thinking about what you want on a daily basis, how is it possible that your life can’t improve?
How can you think about the gym every day and never go?
How can you think about eating healthier, and never eat one healthy meal?
How can you think about starting a meditation habit, and never meditate once?
I would put things together like:
- Go to the gym four or five days a week to regulate my mood
- Try cold-turkey on coffee for a month
- Do work I love every day – shoot videos, host events, travel all over the world
- Have enough free time that I can take a vacation every 3 months
- Take a 10-day vacation to a new country each year to reset and take time off
- Write a book
I would write down exactly what I wanted my day-to-day existence to become. Whether that took a year, two, five, or ten, didn’t matter. I just knew that I needed some kind of direction to travel in, to have a reason for getting up in the morning.
Next, I began a morning ritual to make sure that every single day I reminded myself of this.
I’ve already shared what I do in the morning, especially what I did during those worst years of my life, but this is something I would definitely consider as well.
Sometimes, it’s the internal difference between feeling like you’re waking up on vacation, versus Monday morning.
How to Make Your Own Luck When it Comes to Life and Goals
There’s a famous Taoist story about farmer Ma and his horse.
One day, one of the horses runs away, which seemed like bad luck. The horse was an important part of the farmer’s property and was quite expensive – everyone around him was saying, “oh, what bad luck!”
But then, the farmer replied, “Well, it could be good. It could be bad. I don’t know. We’ll see. Time will tell.”
A couple days later, the horse comes back, and it brings back with it a few wild mares. All of the villagers then said, “Oh, you’re so lucky!” The farmer said, “Well, I don’t know. We’ll see. It could be good. It could be bad.”
A couple of days later, the farmer’s son is on the horse. He gets kicked off, and he breaks his leg. All the villagers then were remarking how unfortunate it was that this happened.
Some time later, the army comes, and they take all the boys in each family to put them in the army. Now all the villagers think that the farmer was lucky his son was spared because of his broken leg. They see this as good fortune.
The moral of the story is you don’t know right now which events in your life are a blessing and which ones are a curse.
For me, those awful, depressed years gave me the fire to create what I now have in my life. If I had never had those really hard years, I would never have 1 percent of that visceral fire you sometimes feel in my videos and blog posts.
It’s that fire from those worst years that’s put me here and will put me wherever I continue to be.
Were those worst years really bad, or were they a gift?
The Worst Case – Getting Yourself Out of a Funk
My grandpa was digging in trash cans in an alley to eat food during the Great Depression. I promise you, his life was a million times harder than mine, and yet, my generation has the guts to complain and moan about how hard life is, when we can click a button and have access to all of the knowledge in the world.
Having said that, I don’t think “pushing” to get yourself out of a funk always works.
For me, it started with seeing if it was just a one-day funk, or something deeper.
If it’s not just one bad day, then maybe you need to sit down and analyze what’s really behind it, because there’s definitely a deeper issue there. Like in medicine, treating the root cause vs. symptoms, one bad day would be a symptom, but the illness, so to speak, might be much deeper than that.
Begin with a morning routine.
Take inventory of your habits.
Create a better story that inspires you.
If it’s serious, see a doctor and get help.
But at the end of the day, for so many of us, a perpetual funk is more spiritual and existential than medical – and we need to address it at the core.
What’s the one thing that has worked for you when you’re just dealing with a bunch of crappy days? Share your comments below.