I'm often guilty of writing articles that offer advice on self-improvement and being the best you can be at work and at play. It's meant with good intentions. And for the most part, I hope it's helpful.
But I've noticed lately that we're increasingly bombarded with advice on how to be even healthier, happier, smarter, richer – and I'm not sure about you, but I've had enough!
All this advice is feeling too oppressive. As though it's having the opposite effect of what it's trying to achieve. Throw in a whole unhealthy dose of social media where we constantly see other people having the time of their lives, and it's no wonder many of us are feeling inadequate, depressed and worthless.
In which case, allow me to give you a break with some alternative tips. And hopefully, it'll take away that stupid pressure that is so inflicted on our generation, and reassure you that it's ok to just be where you are right now.
1. Let it be, let it be
First and foremost, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to be so god damn perfect and successful all the time, take a deep breath and say out loud: "It doesn't matter!" Throw in a decent swear word, if you like. I certainly do.
Because all this talk of over-the-top self-improvement can be pointless. It's boring. Just take a chill and try and find some balance. You know deep down what you need to do to be happy, healthy and successful. You don't need to become obsessive about it. It's ok to just... relax.
2. Accept non-perfection
You know your biggest critic? That's you, that is. The voice in your head that's always telling you you're a failure. That you're not good enough. Or will never amount to anything. Have a kind word with yourself, will you? And, even better, ditch the perfectionist attitude. Perfection doesn't exist.
Failure is actually a wonderful thing. It teaches us how to do better next time. In which case, always do your best – and accept that mistakes will be made and that things won't be perfect. And that it's perfectly healthy and normal. When you realise this you'll feel so relieved.
3. Give yourself a break
There's a quote by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: "Only in recent history has 'working hard' signalled pride rather than shame" – and it makes me sad. Because it sums up today's disappointing work culture. When did we place success on how much we work? It's ludicrous.
Studies have shown that working longer hours doesn't mean you get more stuff done – it's actually counter-productive.
If you're at your desk 15 hours each day, what are you doing? With focus and minimum distraction, you could easily tackle your job list in half that time – freeing up your day to focus on rest and relaxation. What can you do right now to change how long you work? What's distracting you from getting things done? Could any of these productivity tips make a difference?
Your problem might be procrastination – or it could be that you're not charging enough for your time. In which case, is it time to raise rates with clients and work less for more money?
4. Acknowledge you're not always seeing the true picture
You know when you're trying to cut back on the booze, and then you go for a walk on a summer's evening and you see lots of people out drinking... it's easy to assume everyone's drinking all the time, and that you're missing out, right? Wrong.
It's the same with work. You see others working really hard when you've downed tools and you worry that you're not doing the same. That you'll get left behind. Co-working spaces, in particular, can sometimes leave us feeling worthless, when we see others pushing themselves to their limits.
The same can be said for social media. Through our Instagram and Facebook feeds, we're constantly seeing other people having a blast – going on amazing holidays, enjoying fun-filled nights out and smiling all the time. It's easy to see why FOMO is on the rise amongst younger generations.
Recognise that you're not seeing the full picture and stop making assumptions that everyone is having a much better time than you because it's simply not true. We all have boring days when we simply work and then slump in front of the television. We're all struggling to improve. We all make mistakes and suffer from difficult times. You just won't see it as much, because everyone is always trying to present the best version of themselves.
5. Change your perception of success
Success isn't just about making money, launching a VC-backed mega side project or making your first cool million. I've seen those people and what they have to sacrifice to get there. I'm not sure I consider that success. No, success can mean other things, like having more time, a better work/life balance or work that you're proud of.
Besides, I often wonder if people over-work to show-off. To prove something to themselves, as well as others. Or perhaps diminish any guilt for not working. Where this culture comes from, I'm not entirely sure. But it's a rat race that doesn't suit most of us.
6. Exploit the power of now
Let go of what's been, don't worry about tomorrow, just enjoy right now. Ok, so I'm slipping back into dangerously sickening self-help territory here, but this is an important point – "now" is all we have, so just enjoy the moment. Notice the birds singing in the trees, feel the sunshine on your face, take a deep breath and consider how great it is to be alive.
Take further inspiration from Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment: "As soon as you honour the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action."
7. If you feel yourself slipping, find a healthy distraction
Got that sinking feeling of dread? Like you're not doing enough to succeed? When anxious thoughts whirl around your head and you can't figure out what's bugging you, it's a reaction to modern work culture and life.
In a world obsessed with money and success, it's easy to feel pressure to push, push, push – even when you've just had an amazingly productive week. Stop. Find a healthy distraction to quieten those negative thoughts and clear the mind. Yes, you can meditate – check out Headspace for some extra help. But if, like me, you struggle to sit still and silent for long periods, find meditation through the mundane instead – that's whether you're doing the ironing, the housework or some kind of DIY – the boring act will help you be in the "here and now".
If the mundane doesn't excite you, try creativity or exercising instead. Love painting or knitting? Colouring in? Great, this can be how you meditate. If you prefer to move your body, try jogging or walking to clear your mind.
Personally, I love cycling for mindfulness. It allows me to completely switch off. What else am I going to think when trying to climb 5,000 feet? Certainly not work! Find your own way of meditating to quieten the mind and find peace.
8. Stop taking yourself, and life, so seriously
When was the last time you laughed so much you cried? Has it been a while since you had fun? If life has taken a more serious turn of late, it's time to inject a little happiness and humour.
Choose some lighthearted fiction to read; download some happy, feel-good movies or comedies; opt to hang out with friends who make you giggle and don't make life heavy; go to a comedy gig in your nearest city... whatever you do, fill your life with fun and laughter, because laughter really is the best medicine.