Sometimes I feel like life always ends up here: exhausted, weary, and burned out.
To be fair, I am an endlessly-relapsing perfectionist. I hold myself to unachievable standards. I strive, I push, I accomplish. It’s who I am—for better or worse.
Anybody else built like that?
Lately, my obsessive brain has been freaking out about turning 30. You see…
30 feels… old. (Sorry everyone older than 30). 30 feels like I should be doing things with my life. 30 feels like I should have my life together. 30 feels like I should have a clear picture of my future. 30 feels like I should know who I am and what I stand for. 30 feels like I should be done fighting the hardest fights. 30 feels like I should be married with 2.5 children and a white picket fence. 30 feels like I should be accomplishing things…
I actually keep a list of my accomplishments for days like this, to remind myself just how far I’ve come, but if we were sitting around a campfire I’d tell you most days it all feels utterly unimpressive.
My counselor once told me, “You’re the kind of person who terrifies me the most. Nobody would ever look at your schedule and your accomplishments and have any clue of the battles you face.”
We forget that struggle is universal, that everyone is battling something behind a chain and three dead-bolts.
One of my battles has always been to feel happy in the here and now and I’m not alone.
According to this report in Time Magazine, only 33% of Americans are happy with their life. WHAT? 1 out of 3? Boy does that scream about the culture we’re living in where gratitude and self-acceptance are as rare as an uplifting news story.
This year I set out to have the best year of my life—to be crazy happy by my 30th birthday in August. And so far, it’s helping. I certainly haven’t achieved a prolonged ecstatic state of euphoria, but I am taking actions every day to feel fully alive.
One of the biggest revelations of these past few months was just how much I was ruining my own life. So I’m focusing on… not doing that.
The truth is, life is too short to be anything but ridiculously happy.
So this year I’m saying to Hardees with that garbage. This year I’m fighting back. So here are 16 ways to stop ruining your life.
1. Fight All of the Lies in Your Head
Enough people. Enough. How many years are you going to believe the relentless lies in your brain?!
…that you are ugly, disgusting, unworthy of love and belonging. …that you don’t deserve the reckless and never-ending love of God. …that you are alone. …that you are too damaged to run to the arms of the perfect father in heaven. …that your past IS your future, that who you’ve been is who will always be.
The word Satan literally can be translated as “accuser.” The enemy will use everything he can to keep you numb and lifeless, to keep you stuck where you are. Punch that guy in the face and never look back.
Stop ruining your life by believing anything about yourself that isn’t from God. He knows you best.
Action Step: Write down every negative thing you believe about yourself and light that sucker on fire. Enough.
Let Jesus’ final words on the cross be your battle cry: “It is Finished.” —John 19:30
2. Stop Surrounding Yourself with Toxic People
Science has proven you are becoming like the 5 people you spend the most time with—whether you want to or not.
I know it’s hard to let people go, especially people who feel safe and never challenge you. Meeting new people is super difficult and exhausting.
This year I finally embraced this quote: “You can’t do epic shit with basic people.”
While perhaps more crass than necessary, this couldn’t be more true. If you want to be in great shape, you need to surround yourself with people who encourage you to eat well and exercise. If you want to change the world, you need to find people who give a damn.
Stop ruining your life by wasting your precious time with people who aren’t helping you become the best version of yourself.
Action Step: Look at your five and honestly answer whether they are helping you become the person you want to be. If they are not helping you on your journey, maybe it’s time to let them go and make space for new people.
A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses. Proverbs 27:19
3. STOP Complaining and Making Excuses
YOU. You are responsible for changing you.
No one is coming to do the handwork for you. No one is riding in on a white horse to cancel your massive student loans or teach you how to eat healthier. No one is coming to magically cure your addiction or to force you to meet new people.
It’s time you take ownership for how you got here.
Yes, the cards might be stacked against you. Yes, impossible things might have happened. Yes, there might be a defeat in your heart you think no one understands.
Except I do. I know that defeat. I know the impossibles and the excuses.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take hard work and grit. It’s going to take crazy amounts of vulnerability and humility. It’s going to take asking for help.
Stop ruining your life with excuses and complaints. Make a plan and go for it.
Action Step: Ask yourself, have you really given life everything you’ve got? Write down areas of your life that feel hopeless and make small, measurable goals towards your big dreams.
If you only ever did the things you don’t want to do, you’d have everything you’ve ever wanted. ― Mel Robbins, Stop Saying You’re Fine: Discover a More Powerful You
4. STOP With the Obsessive Busyness
A few years ago, I entered into a weekend retreat seeking the answer to this question: Which ministries should I let go of?
In that season, I was volunteering 5-7 days a week in about 12 different areas and I knew I had to let something go. By the end of the weekend, God had answered my question with a question (like he does):
What if your greatest ministry is being available to those you love?
You can’t love people well if you are never available.
Stop ruining your life by filling every second with things that don’t matter to your bigger purpose.
Action Step: Do an audit of your calendar. What is essential to your life purpose? What could go? What are you missing out on because of your busyness? Ask God to show you ways to free up time for Him, for rest and better relationships.
Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.― Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
5. Make Rest & Sleep a Priority
I have a weakness. Okay 47 of them. (48 if you count Flammin’ Hot Cheetos).
I am horrible at resting. My typical M.O. is to push incessantly until my body gives out and I am forced to rest against my will.
This year has been totally different. I realized I need one day a week off from work and forward progress.
The result? I haven’t been sick this whole school year (and I teach germy 6 year-olds). Focusing on sleep and rest has rippled out into every other area of my life.
Stop ruining your life by thinking sleep isn’t a priority. The best version of yourself requires rest. Even God freaking rested on the seventh day.
And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. -Genesis 2:2-3
6. STOP & Enjoy the Little Moments
Three weeks ago I was in South Carolina on my latest speaking tour while staying with my friend Beth from BethSaadati.com. We were doing several speaking events together—a dream come true—as she shares her story of losing her daughter Jenna to suicide in 2013.
One of the many brilliant things she shared in her talk was this: “Life is about the little moments.”
Practice gratitude and hope. Thank God for the sunshine and the smile of a stranger. Thank God for the beautiful gift of this moment right now, regardless of its imperfections.
Stop ruining your life by missing the awesome moments in every day.
Action Step: Make a habit of living in the moment and practicing gratitude. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but choose to fight entitlement and struggle by seeing the good things in every second.
It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness. –Charles Spurgeon
7. STOP Obsessing About Things You Can’t Change
I am an extreme over-thinker, or at least I used to be. This year I started employing Hal Elrod’s 5 minute rule and it is changing my life.
When something bad happens, you allow yourself to feel all of your emotions about it — ANGER, HURT, DEEP SADNESS— but only for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, if you cannot change it, you accept it and focus on what you can change.
How often do we let one bad interaction bring us down? How often do we ruminate on the one negative moment in a day full of joy.
You get to choose how you walk through this day. You get to choose what sets you off and what you think about.
Stop ruining your life by obsessing about things you can’t change. Instead focus on the good and take action on the things you can change.
Action Step: Listen to this episode of the Knowledge for Men podcast and use the 5 minute rule yourself.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. —Philippians 4:8
Dental floss. Use it. Seriously people.
Action Step: Buy dental floss. Use it.
9. Don’t Stay Stuck in the Wrong Story
I wrote an entire post on this: How to Tell a Better Story With Your Life and it’s one of my favorites I’ve ever written.
In my 30 years I have learned this for sure: if you’re bored with your life, you’re probably just stuck in the wrong story.
You were made for so much more than to earn money and watch TV. Life is about loving people and adventure. Life is about discovering your purposes on this planet and chasing them with all of your soul.
Decide to put yourself in a better story. A story of loving kids and orphans. Helping widows and the elderly. Feeding the poor and hungry. Clothing the homeless. Those are the things that make life worth living.
Stop ruining your life by wasting your time on things that don’t matter. You are here on purpose for a purpose. Go live it.
Action Step: Read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and cancel your Netflix.
And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
10. STOP Thinking You Can’t Overcome ______________. (fill in the blank)
What has you trapped and feeling hopeless?
An addiction? A past relationship? Endless student loans? A Social Media Obsession? Abuse? An eating disorder? Suicidal thoughts? Loneliness? Netflix? Depression? Fast food? Anxiety? Fear?
When you picture the best version of yourself, what does that look like? What habits or struggles are gone for good?
As many of you know, I paid off all of my student loans ($96,000) back in September—THE BEST FEELING EVER. It was a long, hard process paying extra every month but I did it! Throughout that whole process I felt hopeless and defeated, but I got side jobs, I went back to school, I fixed up a house and one day I woke up and I was free.
You can have that too. Maybe not in a day, but you can.
Get real about your struggle. Tell someone, make a plan and ask them to hold you accountable. Get yourself into rehab or XXXChurch. Finally decide to lose the weight. Go talk to a counselor or go on a date for the first time in a long time.
Freedom is worth fighting for and that is what Jesus offers us every single day. Jesus went to the cross so you could walk and live in the light.
Stop ruining your life by staying stuck in your jail cell. Ask for help and run towards the freedom you deserve.
Action Step: Tell someone about your struggle or make the appointment. Sign up for Financial Peace University. Join a group designed to help people fighting for freedom like Celebrate Recovery.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. — Mark 5:3
11. STOP Thinking Material Things Will Make You Happy
We are trapped by our stuff and our desires for more. Stop expecting STUFF to make you happy. Life isn’t about material things, it’s about people and love and making a difference. [6 Ways to Declutter Your Life]
At your funeral no one is going to talk about what a great condo you had or your fancy car. People are going to talk about how you loved and your generosity. Stop believing the lies of the United States of Advertising and focus on what really matters in life.
Stop ruining your life by buying into the lie that the key to happiness is in money and possession. True happiness is found within you.
Action Step: Listen to the Minimalists Podcast. Listen to Making Money by Ben Rector and 85 by Andy Grammer.
12. Set Short-term, Yearly and Lifetime goals
Enough wandering through life aimlessly; decide who you are and what you’re about and freaking go for it. The world is full of half-committed wishy-washy people. Don’t be one of them.
Watch this Ted Talk [Mel Robbins]. In the depths of some hard days last year, I listened to this every morning to motivate me to GO and change the things in my life that sucked.
Decide what you want your life to look like and be brave enough to chase after it.
Now on days that I’m feeling motivated, I hear Mel’s voice in my head: “What do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
Stop ruining your life by aimlessly wandering through each day without a goal or a dream. Set out to make a huge difference in the world and freaking go for it.
Action Step: Set small, measurable
All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible. —Orison Swett Marden
13. STOP Being Afraid to Actually Live
When was the last time you were all-in for something in your life? When is the last time you gave everything you had towards a person or cause?
The Recklessly Alive life requires being all-in and the rewards of living that way are greater than you could ever imagine.
Dress up for that costume party. Start that non-profit. Sign up to volunteer with foster kids. Get your friends in the car and go cliff jumping.
Get out of your house and freaking live.
Stop ruining your life by giving into fear and complacency.
Action Step: Make a bucket list of things you’ve always wanted to do and start checking those puppies off! (Bonus points if it includes actual puppies)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. -John 14:27
14. STOP Thinking Your Life is About You.
You weren’t created to accumulate as much money as possible. You were created to learn what true love is and give that away to others. The greatest joy you will ever find is helping someone who can never repay you. Happiness isn’t about how long you can go without feeling hurt, it’s about how much you can help others.
Stop ruining your life by focusing on yourself.
Action Step: Start volunteering somewhere on a regular basis.
Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people he has made? ― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
15. STOP Scrolling Your Life Away
Ooooh I am so guilty of this. This is why I didn’t have a smart phone for many years.
Even if you scroll for 20 minutes a day, you are giving away 121.6 hours of your life this year. What could you do in 121 hours?!?
Stop ruining your life by hiding behind a screen filled with comparison and self-doubt. Turn it off and go live.
Action Step: Set boundaries for yourself and how long you spend scrolling. Then stick to it. Consider installing the plug-in Stay Focused or deleting social media apps on your phone.
16. Make a Monthly Budget
I’ve alluded to my financial struggles several times over the past few years. The biggest turning point for me came when I finally started following the advice of Dave Ramsey and took his class Financial Peace University.
Stop ruining your life by being wasteful and not tracking where your money is going. Tell your money where to go.
Action Step: Download the free Every Dollar App (I use this too) and get started. Spend your money on purpose and know where your money is going.
Live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later. —Dave Ramsey
16.5 (BONUS!) Realize How Awesome You Already Are
I think it’s time we all stop being so stupid hard on ourselves. The truth is most people are just doing the best they can.
Yes, set goals. Yes, make a budget. Yes, get off the couch and live a better life. But also, recognize and celebrate the many great things about who you are.
Last fall I was going through a really tough time ruminating on all the friends I’ve lost in the past few years. The girl I really cared about. The mentor who ghosted me. The pastor whose words cut through the skin. The church family that vanished overnight.
And through all that pain I forgot who I was; I forgot how awesome I am.
I can make any situation more fun. I can make anyone laugh. I am a great friend. I am there for people at the drop of a snapback.
Sometimes pain feeds us lies about our identity, but I implore you to fight through the pain and focus on the awesomeness inside you.
Stop ruining your life by thinking you’re not a badass child of God. There are incredibly awesome things about you right now, this second. You are made in the image of God. You literally look like God… the guy who created the universe. Now that’s pretty awesome.
Action Step: Write down the best things about yourself. Do anything you can to remind yourself who you are and whose you are.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. -Genesis 1:27
So there you have it people, 16 things I’ve been learning about living a better life this year.
If there’s one lesson I keep learning a million times over and over is that to live the best life possible, I just need to get out of my own way and let God take the lead. It’s messy and terrifying because so often he seems so far away and silent. So often it feels like he hates me, like I am an accident, a disaster that God could never actually love.
But those are some of the many lies I keep fighting.
If you’re struggling, chose something to focus on. Decide to make this your best year ever. Decide to be intentional with your life until you are part of the 33% of people who actually like their life.
It’s time you stop ruining your life and realize your recklessly alive life is out there and it’s waiting for you to come find it.
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