Somewhere between our growing obsession with performance and the desire to make life easier to handle, we’ve begun to snuff out the flame that made us want to live life in the first place.
When’s the last time you sat in awe of a moment, and said to yourself, “Damn, I’m glad to be alive”?
When’s the last time you stopped worrying about your performance, whether you were going to be on time, whether other people will hate you for doing what you know is right, and whether you’re even doing the right thing in the first place?
When’s the last time you let go, and just had fun?
Fun is the thing we are all seeking in the moment – the ability to feel carefree and truly enjoy doing something – and, yet, as we’ve turned life into a mechanized set of actions your average robot can perform, we’ve started to lose it in every part of our lives.
That, my friends, is a tragedy.
Fulfillment and Fun Can Coexist
I’ve said that finding long term fulfillment is curcial to living a life of happiness.
However, how much sense would it make to chase fulfillment by doing things you hate? Sure, you’d be proud of the fruits of your labor, but every single day, you’d hate going to work (or whatever you do to bring yourself fulfillment). You’d end up resenting yourself, and your spirit would be cut in two.
You’d be choosing between a life of pleasure and one of fulfillment.
While the conventional wisdom says that a life of pleasure and fulfillment isn’t possible, I reject that claim.
I believe that it’s possible to have fun doing the things that you “love” to do, deep down – like work that matters (whatever that means to you). Even if you’re incredibly serious about your work, it’s still possible to have a bit of fun with it. Having fun on the job – or anywhere, really – is a good thing. You don’t have to buy into the lie that everything in life has to be taken seriously and that those who aren’t as serious are disrespectful or incompetent. It’s simply not true.
In fact, it’s a true sign of respect for your work and competence if you can have a ton of fun on the job, and still perform at your peak. Think about it… It makes sense.
Moreover, you don’t have to live a totally mundane life. The cool thing about having fun is that it’s all up to what you find fun – this is why the ability to self-amuse is so critical. That means that, if you’re creative enough, you can have fun doing anything – watching TV, doing laundry, taking a shower… Anything.
Real life example: whenever I’m in the shower, I sometimes sing to myself, break out into a freestyle rap, or dance (or all three!). While I’m shaving, I’ll bob my head to the song that’s in my head. When I’m getting dressed, I’ll dramatize every single movement I make, getting dressed with only quick, precise, flowing movements (it’s tough to describe, and no, I’m not going to include a video to demonstrate it).
The bottom line is this: if you’re not having fun, you’re not trying hard enough. It’s as simple as that.
This is why “style” is so important in doing anything. A great natural style – in work or in the rest of life – can come out of you just trying to have fun with it, to do what you like to do while you’re working.
Stop Being an Emotionless Robot!
Like I alluded to earlier in this post, it’s easy to become a mechanized human-machine hybrid, living in the world we do today. You can totally deny your humanity on a daily basis by doing one thing that you probably do already: suppressing your emotions.
If you suppress your emotions to the point that you don’t express them at all for the majority of the day, congratulations! You are now a robot!
Odds are, if you’re a robot, life is neither good nor bad, but things don’t feel as good as they used to be (nostalgia), or you keep hoping for something to happen to break up your routine. Or the days pass by without you really caring much at all – they just zoom on by, with each day the same as the last.
The best way to reclaim your humanity? Express your emotions, all the time.
Now, I’m not saying you should go launch a profanity-laced tirade at your boss whenever he does something to upset you, but you should be able to create and express your emotions within reason at any given time. If you can’t do it verbally, do it with body language.
But wait – I just said “create and express your emotions”, didn’t I?
You can create your own emotions. Like I said in the section above, if you’re not having fun you’re not trying hard enough. You can create your own fun, you can make yourself happy in the moment, and you can turn your bad days around. All it takes is a little creativity, a little style, and a good imagination.
Doing something creative and spontaneous is the best way to turn your metal arms back into bone and transform yourself back into a human. Being unpredictable can help inject some energy back into your life.
Dropping Performance Anxiety and Outcome Dependence
A huge – although unintended consequence – of taking things too seriously and not letting yourself have fun is that you begin to define yourself based on your performance.
What’s counterintuitive about this is that, the more you define yourself based on your performance, the worse you’ll perform. You will actually end up resisting doing well if you put too much pressure on yourself. This is why being ‘cool’ about your work as a whole is a very useful skill to have.
While your performance and competence at your job is a very important thing, realize there’s nothing that you can do to do your best besides actively creating the conditions to be your best. By this I mean that, if you want to do your best at work, you should get enough sleep, eat well, and feel relaxed enough for you to perform your best. From there, just showing up is all it takes to perform your best; trying too hard often makes you make more mistakes, not less. Those who are anxious, tense, and lack energy don’t do well – and focusing on their performance or the outcome of their actions makes things worse.
Similarly, those who have energy and are relaxed find that performing their best is actually easy. Or – perhaps more accurately – they don’t freak out or overreact when they’re not at their best. They’ve let go of outcome dependence and the idea that things are somehow “wrong” when they’re not performing at their peak. They relax, let things flow, and don’t stress too much. Oftentimes, this approach leads to them actually attaining their best, simply because they aren’t worried about it.
Placing too much stress on performing well creates internal resistance that prevents you from performing well. This is why the state of “flow” is so great at explaining peak performance – it notes that the conditions (correct levels of difficulty and reward) are very important to bringing out high performance, and it also shows how relaxation in the moment is crucial.
1. Choose one thing you don’t like, and make a conscious decision to try and find ways to make it fun for the next week. Remember: if you’re not having fun, you’re not trying hard enough. Get creative!
2. Choose to let go of performance anxiety during the thing that you feel the most stress. Instead, focus on having the kind of experience that you want to have while doing that activity – particularly, hitting that state of ‘flow’.
3. Do something you’ve never done before, today. It can be anything – but the scarier, the better. Let me know what it is in the comments.