In a society that glorifies busyness, we tend to go along with other people’s ideas of success and start chasing dreams that are not our own. I know I did for a long time, and I still catch myself doing so occasionally. The only way not to get swept up with the current is to take time to understand what success means to you, why you do what you do, and what makes you tick. I have already written a couple posts on how re-evaluating what mattered to me changed my mindset and the way I approach being an artist, but I’ve never explained how I set my priorities straight, so I thought I’d write this little article by way of explanation.
1. I picked up journalling.
I’m not great at building habits, I’m more the type of person who will be extremely enthusiastic about something for about a week and then drop it as enthusiastically a week later. It was the same with journalling, but I still enjoyed writing and doing my gratitude practice, so I stuck with it sporadically. On average, I still journal about half an hour a week, and that seems to be enough. There’s no need to explain how this helped me because of how obvious this is. It helps to get all your thoughts down on the page, and a journal provides you with a judgement-free zone, where no one’s opinion matters. Except yours.
2. I had my gratitude practice.
I have mentioned this before in my post about dealing with self-doubt, but practicing gratitude is important. It shifted my mindset from blaming the world for my first world problems to being grateful for all the love, friendship, and comfort I have. But after a while of doing it, I also started noticing a pattern in the things I was grateful for. At the end of the day, what mattered to me were my friends, my family, a good book I’d found, or some amazing song I’d listened to. I never wrote down how grateful I was for a Facebook comment or my Spotify streams. Why? Because who cares.
3. I made a list. Okay, a bunch of lists.
I LOVE writing lists. My diary is full of lists with books I want to read, films I need to watch, holiday plans, etc. If I can make a list out of something, I will. So, obviously, when last winter, I realised that I needed to focus more on things I enjoyed, I started by making a list of things I wanted to do. It included a bit of everything – things I wanted to try, things I missed doing, things I was already doing.
After I finished it, I picked what I really wanted to do, like travel more (before the coronavirus hit…), perform at spoken word open mics, start a blog. I didn’t want it to be things that were all connected to my music because sometimes, the point is just to have fun. Once I had written it down, I made a point out of scheduling items from the list in my day-to-day life. I started going to more poetry nights, spending more time with friends, and I did do that spoken word open mic. It’s only by trying stuff from your list that you can figure out what brings you joy.
4. I started going for walks. Without music.
It’s hard to think about anything when you never give yourself time to think. Although life in London is often hectic, and everybody (including me) is always complaining about how little time there is in a day, most Londoners spend at least an hour a day on public transport. And when they’re not on public transport, they’re speed-walking somewhere, usually in their suit, bumping into everyone with all the anger they’d suppressed at work. So, we really do have time to think. We just prefer not to. When I realised that I spent two hours a day listening to music or a podcast or leafing through a book on the tube, I decided to try to get on the bus and just sit there. I also started walking places more often without listening to anything.
Some people meditate, but I can’t bring myself to sit still with my thoughts. Yoga or running are the closest things to meditation I have, but by leaving my headphones at home from time to time, I realised I could build in more reflection time into my day. And sometimes, I walk and nothing happens. But sometimes, I walk and a thought pops into my head that turns my day around.
5. But really, I’d just realised I was not in a good place.
I don’t know if any of these things would have changed much had I not been in the right frame of mind when I started doing them. After all, being considered successful by others usually feels good. So good that we often don’t realise it can be better. I think I needed to crash and have a bit of a mental breakdown to realise that something was off. Success looks different to everyone. Figure out what it means to you.