On Happiness: The Secret Formula For Being Relentlessly Awesome

This is the final installment in the three-part series where we examine the NoGym Credo: Be Strong, Be Lean, & Be Happy.

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, and tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day – today – and I’m going to be happy in it. ~ Groucho Marx

Today we’ll be discussing happiness: what it is & what it takes to find it.

We are going to do that by laser-focusing on what it takes to live an awesome life: kicking ass, in other words.

What does this have to do with health & fitness, you may be asking? Quite a lot, actually. Because when you look at your health and fitness as a small piece of the large puzzle that is your life, as we are so apt to do around here, you start to recognize the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum.

Every aspect of your life has an effect on the other aspects, either positively or negatively.

You’ll find that taking your happiness seriously will have a profound impact, holistically, on your life in general, especially your health and fitness. That’s why “Be Happy” is the third pillar of the NoGym Credo.

And, since I refer to Be Strong, Be Lean, Be Happy as pillars, I guess I’m going to have to come up with a different term for the items we are going to focus on today with respect to happiness: let’s call them columns.

These columns, when cultivated and nurtured, will support your happiness. The stronger the column, the happier you’ll find yourself.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere recently with regards to happiness and goal setting. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits publicly took the stance that taking your focus off of your goals, instead electing to focus on gratitude for your present situation, will help you to really find freedom because you stop holding onto the goal itself.

He points out how many of us set goals and don’t actually achieve them. Then we feel like we’ve failed.

In fact, Tim Ferriss (the king of goals) & Leo even squared off over the topic.

The solution, in my opinion, however, is not so much to not set goals in the first place, but to see the goal in the distance while appreciating the journey as you walk the long road to achieving it, and recognizing that oftentimes it is the road itself that satisfies you, not the end. We are often disappointed in ends because they never quite live up to our expectations.

Case in point, getting super lean. It’s easy for many of us to slide into the trap of thinking our lives will be so much better if we can only lose another couple % body fat, or drop that final 5 or 10 pounds. This may be true.

But often it is not.

We lose that  5 pounds and look in the mirror and still see imperfection. So we set another goal and unilaterally focus on it. Either that or we get fed up and give up. However, we rarely tend to see the value in every day leading up to achieving the goal. Finding the value in the little things in life is oftentimes much more rewarding than hitting some big end goal.

So let’s break this down.

The three columns of finding happiness:

  • Gratitude
  • Abundance
  • Achievement

Some cause happiness wherever they go… others whenever they go.   Oscar Wilde

Column #1: Gratitude

Gratitude is probably the most obvious component that effects your happiness.

One of the most effective ways to really get into touch with exactly what you’re grateful for is to spend a couple minutes – even just a couple seconds – thinking about the things in life that you’re thankful for. You can do this at the beginning of every day, just after waking, or you can do it throughout the day as you encounter the every day blessings in life.

Because I couldn’t put it better myself, I wanted to share the following excerpt from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits post Why Living A Life Of Gratitude Can Make You Happy…

[gss-content-box color=”gray”]Why should the simple act of thinking about who and what I’m grateful for make such a big difference in my life?

Just a few reasons:

  • Because it reminds you of the positive things in your life. It makes you happy about the people in your life, whether they’re loved ones or just a stranger you met who was kind to you in some ways.
  • Because it turns bad things into good things. Having problems at work? Be grateful you have work. Be grateful you have challenges, and that life isn’t boring. Be grateful that you can learn from these challenges. Be thankful they make you a stronger person.
  • Because it reminds you of what’s important. It’s hard to complain about the little things when you give thanks that your children are alive and healthy. It’s hard to get stressed out over paying bills when you are grateful there is a roof over your head.
  • Because it reminds you to thank others. I’ll talk about this more below, but the simple act of saying “thank you” to someone can make a big difference in that person’s life. Calling them, emailing them, stopping by to say thank you … just taking that minute out of your life to tell them why you are grateful toward them is important to them. People like being appreciated for who they are and what they do. It costs you little, but makes someone else happy. And making someone else happy will make you happy.[/gss-content-box]

Column #2: Abundance

I first mentioned taking an attitude of abundance as one of the lessons I learned in building, then rebuilding, a pull-up bar in my backyard. You can read the entire post here on ProjectWhitespace.com.

This is what I said,

“Many tasks in life seem meaningless… just another hoop to jump through.

Don’t think like that. Shift your worldview to one of abundance. There is an abundance of worth in every little thing we do. Every interaction.

Be conscious of it all because it’s all there. You just need to know where to look. Glean lessons from everything and you’ll be a more optimistic, positive, and wise individual because of it.”

Do you see the shift?

Find meaning in every little action you take. Because there is meaning in all of it. Every small step you take toward a goal is important.

Over the last few months the topic of happiness has been on my mind. I haven’t been reading very much about it – just thinking… and thinking and thinking.

One piece of reading that I do recommend, however, is Scott Dinsmore’s Beginner’s Guide To Being Congruent.

It inspired many of my thoughts and brought the pen to paper as I wrote what I’m about to share next.

The following little anecdote, in my opinion, is a very potent distillation of the interplay between our desire to achieve great things and the inherent unhappiness that follows when we don’t pursue our goals relentlessly.

I hope it will hit home with some of you.

[gss-content-box color=”gray”]It was the moment when I realized that I know exactly what I want out of life.

“Why don’t you just sleep?”

No more than ten minutes had passed after posting an announcement on Facebook about the upcoming launch of my new website before my close friend from high school made the quip. Wow.

But such a seemingly innocuous comment really made me think.

On the surface, we’d come from similar roots: middle income suburban families, exposed to the public school system from a young age, with siblings and two loving parents. Unremarkable, and in many respects, just plain ordinary. Clearly we are compatible, heck, we were best friends for many years. So how did we get to such different places in the short years since leaving the nest for college, forging our paths to the rest of our lives?

The answer lies, interestingly enough, in physics.

When one force exists, an equal, opposing force must balance the system.

Desire, and the inherent unhappiness that stems from it, is a force. Action, and the happiness that comes from going after your dreams, in success and failure alike, balances it. It is simple: I have dedicated my life to pursuing my purpose. He has not.

The unhappiness in my life has been balanced. His has not.

In choosing to become congruent, to act in direct accordance with my dreams, desires, beliefs, and goals, making it my purpose to discover, and fulfill, my purpose, I unlocked my potential.

To reiterate, the drastic difference in outlook on life came about because of one little choice: to pursue a dream.

Every creator is faced with this choice: without the relentless pursuit of a dream, the unhappiness stemming from our desire is overwhelming, pervasive, suffocating. Instead of settling for the comfortable life – the steady job, the nice car, the white picket fence, the 3.14 children…and the crushing regret of a life unlived that comes with it – I chose temporary discomfort, poverty, and the freedom and happiness inherent with pursuing my dreams.

I made the choice to live.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”

I am not one of them.[/gss-content-box]

I observed that the basic motive for success is the driving force of envy and jealousy! – Ecclesiastes 4:4

By choosing an attitude of abundance – viewing myself as, not a victim, but a conqueror… with tons of life to live and even more to be thankful for – I essentially chose happiness. I chose to always be grateful for what I have but to continually be pushing myself to achieve more.

I welcomed abundance into my life.

And you can too.

In your fitness journey, welcome success into every day – crush your workouts, make great nutrition choices, and don’t take the fact that you actually have a chance to train & better yourself for granted.

Column #3: Achievement*

Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to attract success?

They seem to succeed at nearly everything they try. They even succeed when they fail. They’re “that guy/gal” who, for lack of a better term, just kicks ass. Period.

What separates these individuals who kick ass from those who don’t?

Why do some people follow through on everything they set their mind to and why do others abandon their pursuits?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret – the secret to kicking ass at everything you do. If you want to attract success, you need to develop the ability to consistently deliver what matters.

Focus on the fundamentals and don’t get lost in the details: trim the fat, so to speak. When it comes down to it, every system is built upon fundamental principles, a core. No matter how complex a system is at a higher level, it’s core it usually relatively simple.

People who succeed consistently do so because they understand that executing upon principles will always be magnitudes simpler, more efficient, and more effective than worrying about specific details, the minutiae.

You only have so much energy. Focus it on what really matters.

I consistently aim to base everything I do on the fundamental principles I am about to share with you.

My approach to fitness reflects this. By advocating an approach that emphasizes operating upon simple, solid principles, I get to help people cut through the bullshit and discern the 10% of things that, when done consistently, will give them 90%+ of the results they’re looking for.

Through months of introspection and several new business projects, it’s become obvious that a core dedication to the following fundamentals is imperative to starting, and succeeding, at any worthwhile goal, be it a business, life, or fitness goal.

1. Honesty

Honesty is the best policy. Period. If somebody tells you that in life, relationships, or business, anything goes and that the focus should always be on the money – the ROI – just walk away. Seriously, just turn around and leave. A life built on smoke and mirrors is nothing more than a poisonous detriment to your character, your loved-ones, and your community.

Construct your castle on a strong foundation. Honesty will never steer you wrong. Yes, it may take longer to deliver your product (in business/career) and start seeing returns, but in the end, your work will be making a positive impact, on both yourself and others, and that is what matters. Because a well-executed, honest plan will last – it will have serious staying power. You will have a devoted following of people, a tribe, that won’t be able to get enough of the value you offer: because they trust you.

And being honest with yourself about your own insecurities & shortcomings is where it all begins. We are not all good at everything: even the ‘kick-ass’ people. Once you can recognize this, you can surround yourself with the right people and tools to help make your dreams come true. And you will grow as an individual in the process.

2. Hard Work

Always work your ass off. The massive popularity of quick two week or 30 day accelerated fat loss programs has, in my opinion, severely damaged the notion of persistant pursuit of a goal: making hard work a habit, not just an unsustainable binge.

This misconception seeps around in entrepreneur circles & popular culture nowadays as well: the idea that you can build massively successful businesses in only a couple hours a week. Shopping for your private island while you sit on a beach that you flew to with a free ticket that you travel-hacked during all that free time might sound appealing and sexy but for the most part it is completely unrealistic – without the work.

Same with your body. Do you really expect to put in very little effort and underwhelming focus on your road to a lean, strong physique and actually see encouraging returns?

The biggest secret to success is putting in the hours. Ask any successful individual, from tech startup CEO to Olympic athlete, and they’re all going to tell you the same thing:

“I worked my ass off for this.”

And the beauty of it is this: once you put in the hours and hit that “sweet spot” maintaining it is a breeze. That’s when you can really dial back on the attention to detail and relax a little. An important part of this whole equation is that by the time you’ve reached this point, success is a habit.

You’ll know exactly how to maintain it.

Making shit happen is not easy. Often times it is simple: dieting and losing body fat, for example, is ridiculously simple. Eat whole, natural foods and consume fewer calories than you expend and you will lose fat. However, MOST diets fail simply because people are not willing to put in the work that’s required for habit change. They become impatient with the slow nature of the pursuit and abandon it.

The same goes for starting a business. There are certain fundamental principles that must be executed upon in the life of any business. They are simply the core of the business. However, many entrepreneurs become impatient with the process and are unwilling to put in the countless hours, sleepless nights, and slavish devotion to their pursuit as the system becomes more complex. They get overwhelmed by the details and abandon it.

3. Usefulness

Know your value and consistently deliver it.

I am of the opinion that all of us have value that we can offer one another. The problem for many people is just figuring it out in the first place. Once you have your value proposition – your usefulness to the world – you need to consistently reinforce it. You need to develop it, hone it to the point of being absolutely outstanding, of being irresistibly useful.

With a life centered around constantly delivering usefulness to the world, you cannot go wrong.

At the same time, is everything you are doing as you travel toward your goal useful? Does each and every task you perform bring you a step closer to the goal? Or do you stagnate, wasting time and energy on useless asides, worrying about details that have no immediate effect on achieving your goal, and may never have any effect at all?

4. Communication

Let’s focus on two things here:

a. Communicating your value to the world.
Once you’ve established your value, you must be able to market it, to get it out into the world honestly and let people know about it. Otherwise, nobody has any reason to care about the great things you are doing, or planning on doing.

b. Communicating between individuals in your support network.
The people around you matter – a lot. Whether you are a dude doing lots of inspiration-surfing on social networks and in forums, or you are a big-shot out taking meetings with star clients and investors, interviewing for magazines and radio shows, communication between the people that matter to your achieving your goal is crucial to its success.

Communicating with your significant other, your siblings, your friends, family, anyone that plays an important role in your life, is a big deal in taking constant steps toward success, especially if they support you. The road to attainment is a rocky one, usually involving both mountains and valleys, whatever your definition of success. It’s always better to have a traveling companion or two along for the journey.

5. Respect

Yourself: The reason you are going after a dream or goal in the first place is because you respect yourself enough to earn something you know you deserve. Maintain this level of self- respect throughout the journey: protect it and cherish it. Because one of the biggest reasons people abandon their dreams is the fact that they stop believing they deserve to be happy. They stop believing they deserve to pursue what they’re passionate about in life. They start losing respect for themselves and let the world jade them to the point of satisficing, settling, and mediocrity.

Others: Your dreams will come true with the help of other people. No one can do everything by themselves. It’s the old ‘no man is an island’ adage. Other people are the lifeblood that will get you where you need to go. Respect them. Give them the attention they deserve. Be that person that will improve the lives of others every time they come into contact with you.

The Journey: Lastly, respect the road you have chosen for yourself. The road to achieving a worthwhile goal is treacherous. Most people do not understand this. They expect Easy Street and instead find the Road to Mordor. And as we all know…


6. Failure

Failure is the best thing that can happen to you in life. And most people never get to experience it. They hide in their safe cubicles for forty to fifty years, retire, and die. They don’t want to risk failing at a diet or training program, so they sabotage themselves before getting the opportunity to succeed.

It’s not so bad. Really. With a positive mindset, failure is enlightening. The fact that you put yourself out there and made decisions that led to failure is awesome. The knowledge you gained from failing is quintessential to your eventual success. Now you know exactly what NOT to do.

When people go after a goal and fail, they never forget that feeling. At the present moment it may be downright shitty, however, in retrospect, most people come to appreciate just how valuable a nice faceplant can be for your personal development. One of my favorite quotes is from Walt Disney:

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

So what is the secret to being relentlessly awesome at everything you do?

Answer: focus on the fundamentals. Always be honest, work hard, be irresistibly useful, communicate well, respect yourself, others, and the journey, and fail often. Oh yes, and always keep a positive attitude. Because life’s too short to be a pessimist.

Keep an attitude of abundance around everything you do and always remain grateful for the opportunities you do have – here and now – because it’s these opportunities that will open the doors to bigger, better things soon.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your questions and comments? Are you happy right now? Why do you think so/not?