I’m an incredibly neurotic individual. Always have been.
As a result I’ve spent a lot of my life being incredibly sad, as persistent self-doubt slowly constricted the enjoyment out of everyday life. I’ve preoccupied myself with what other people think of me, and the baseline assumption has always been a fairly negative one. As a result I’ve found that I have tended to lose concentration very rapidly, losing interest in things and generally becoming less and less motivated to get stuff done. There have been huge numbers of things that I wish I had done, but never did, simply because of what others might think. I’ve always enjoyed weird things like circus tricks and magic, but never really pushed myself to get good or show anyone because it was just too scary to put myself up for scrutiny by those around me. I once rode my unicycle to lectures, and found the whole experience was ruined by the embarrassment and fear that I’d made someone, somewhere, think I was an idiot for doing so. (It was awesome fun though…)
Over the recent years I’ve gradually come to the realisation that what makes me happy, and I mean genuinely content with myself and my life, has very little to do with other people. Even less to do do with what they’re thinking. To this end, I decided to write down a list of the common characteristics of things that I would say actually make me happy:
- To learn new information
- To master new skills and perfect old ones
- To make other people feel better
- To create something meaningful
That was it. My whole life, everything I’ve ever wanted and am ever going to need is in those five bullet points. I call them my big five. Imaginative I know…
I wanted to be a doctor because I believed it would cover the first three of these, and it so far it certainly has. The wealth of continually growing knowledge in medicine would ensure I never ran out of things to learn, and the practical procedures are always great fun to practice. Hopefully I’m making people feel better along the way, too…
However what I found was no matter how hard I tried my neurotic brain got rather proficient at throwing a negative spin on each of these characteristics, and pretty quickly they morphed into a rather acrid, menacing set of doubts:
- I’ll never learn all the necessary information
- There will always be someone better than me
- I can’t help everyone, and at some point I’m sure to screw up and make it worse
This threw me into a tailspin, and I lost considerable faith in what I was doing. Something needed to change if was to remain motivated to tackle such a demanding career, and maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle.
So I started to break things down to the level of the big five.
Is this going to teach me anything?
Is it making me better at something?
Is it helping other people?
Is it exercise?
Is it creative?
I focused entirely on these five. I tried to only do things that fulfill at least one of them, and when I was doing something that did, I didn’t question it. Of course my neuroticisms would seep through the cracks of optimism, trickling thoughts of doubt tugging away at my motivational drive, but I forced myself to say ‘yes, this is a good thing that I’m doing, and I’m going to keep going‘. The result?
I got happy.
Not laugh out loud happy. Not even smiling happy. Just ‘content’. It was huge – everything felt warmer and all the colours had a brighter hue. People seemed friendlier while day-to-day jobs seemed more enjoyable. My concentration began to climb, to the point where I could sit comfortably for up to an hour and a half, gently plodding away through some work, and actually enjoy it. I found my working memory steadily improving as it was no longer clogged with negative assumptions like some old oil filter, and my interest in both my work and the people I interacted with was on the rise too.
I decided to use this improvement in my outlook to try and describe what I had been through in the hope that maybe someone else feeling the same thing might read it and find the same results that I did. Below are a number of things that I found made significant improvements to my own wellbeing and helped me to start doing what I wanted without the crushing worry that was holding me back in previous years.