So far in this 4-part series on making complex topics simple we’ve talked about nutrition, fitness, and habits. Today we’re digging into a topic that’s woven throughout all of the others – mindset.

Without a good mindset, most of our other efforts will be in vain, because it’s our mindset that makes life palatable, and even enjoyable. Life is hard. For everyone. And if we don’t have the right framework and paradigms to operate within, that difficulty is amplified. I wrote about mindset last in this series, but in reality it should be first because without it nothing else matters. 

Much of what I believe about mindset stems from ancient Stoic philosophy, but I also weave in the things that have been most powerful for me from today’s best thinkers.

In the spirit of simplicity, I’m focusing on the four things that have the highest return on our happiness and contentedness.

Control what you can and forget about the rest.

This has been the most prevalent philosophy in my own life. We create a lot of unnecessary pain in life by having emotional responses to things outside of our control.

We put energy into other people’s words.

We put energy into the political climate.

We put energy into our co-workers or our boss.

We put energy into screens (social media, news, etc.)

And all of this energy that we’re giving away is given to forces entirely outside of our control. We freely give away our anger, frustration, and sadness to these things, and it drowns out our ability to instead find joy and happiness.

Focus on what you can control – your effort, your intentions, your words, your actions, your work, and your relationships.

And forget about the rest.

Use the hard times as opportunities to grow.

One of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, wrote a book called The Obstacle is the Way, based on one of the core tenets of Stoic philosophy. The title is referencing the choice we have to make when we’re faced with difficult times.

We can grow.

Or we can shrink.

There is no such thing as a life without pain and suffering. It’s woven into the DNA of life itself, and to avoid it is to avoid living. Pain presents us with an opportunity to create a better version of ourself. Suffering presents us with an opportunity to build empathy, perspective, and intention.

But it’s on us to view the obstacles as such, and to use them to propel us, not hold us down.

Find things to be grateful for daily.

So easy to say, but so difficult to do.

Gratitude is the cure for nearly every negative emotion we have. But sometimes we have to shrink our focus in order to find gratitude. When life is going great, we can find gratitude easily. But when we’re facing those obstacles mentioned above, we have to look a lot harder for it.

Ultimately, if you have food on the table, someone to call friend, or the breath to live another day, you have something to be grateful for.

Have something to strive for.

Humans are wired to create, explore, and discover. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we weren’t wired like this.

A lot of the despondency in life is driven from not having anything to work toward or look forward to. Whether small or big, goals keep our focus on some future version of ourself, and this is a good thing. Because that focus is the foundation of hope. And without hope, we have nothing.

If you feel stuck in your life, you likely don’t have anything to strive for.

Sign up for a race.

Set a small goal.

Volunteer.

Offer a skill you have for free to someone.

Learn a new skill.

Do whatever it takes to be content with the present using gratitude, and have hope for the future by having something to strive for.

Life can beat all of us down. And if we don’t have a proper mindset in dealing with the throes of life, it will keep us down. There is no perfect recipe for happiness, nor should that be our ultimate goal all of the time. For how would we know happiness without also knowing unhappiness?

Control what you can. Use the down times as an opportunity to grow. Find gratitude in the minutia. And have something to work toward. If we can do those things, our mindset becomes our ally, not our enemy. And if there’s one ally we need, it’s our own mindset.

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