Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)


Strategy #4: Connect Goals to Your Passions

Too many people live lives of quiet desperation. They wake up with a low-level sense of dread, anxiety, or sadness. At work, they feel underutilized, unappreciated, and underwhelmed. And when they get home, they feel mentally and physically exhausted, with just enough energy to take care of the kids, fix a meal, and plop onto the couch to watch a few hours of television. Then they wake up and do it all over again .

Even if this doesn’t describe you exactly, I’m sure you can relate. We all get in the occasional rut. We accept less than our dreams. We stay in jobs that don’t inspire us or make us happy. All of this angst adds to our mental clutter and distraction.

Life has a way of swallowing us up, and before we know it we’re far down a path that feels nothing like who we are or what we want for our lives. By the time we realize it, we have obligations and responsibilities that add yet another reason to stick with the status quo—even if we hate it.

While the concept of “finding your passion” might remind you of those woo-woo quotes you often see on Facebook or Instagram, it still is incredibly important to connect what you do on a daily basis with goals that you feel are truly important.

The reality is that your mental health can be negatively impacted when you feel unfulfilled with your work. Think about how much negative mental energy you’ve devoted to a bad boss, a job you hate, or a career move you regret. We spend huge chunks of our lives working, so the decision you make about your job will have the potential to make or break your overall happiness.

If you find work that you love, you not only free your mind from oppressive thoughts, but will also feel energized in all areas of your life.

So what does it mean to live your passion?

We think it can be defined with a few examples:

·                   Most days you wake up feeling enthusiastic and happy about what you have going on that day.

·                   You feel like you’re in the “right” place, doing something in your work or life that feels authentic to who you are and how you’re wired.

·                   You attract interesting, like-minded people in your life and work.

·                   You have a sense of self-confidence and empowerment about what you’re doing because it’s a great fit for you.

·                   You experience a deeper purpose or meaning—or at least you are more fulfilled in general.

·                   Your overall life is better and your relationships are happier because you are more content, self-directed, and present in your work.

Finding your passion and making it part of your life isn’t something that happens overnight, and it isn’t an exact “paint by numbers process.” It’s not like teaching you how to follow a recipe or change the oil in your car. It involves a variety of actions and experiments to figure it out. In fact, Barrie teaches the process in her Path to Passion online course, and in her book The 52-Week Life Passion Project .

Everyone who reads this book is unique. We all have different personalities, aptitudes, dreams, and life obligations. What you determine to be your passion may differ from what others find for themselves. So that’s why we recommend a 14-step exercise you can use to find your passion.

Step 1: Write a vision.

Using your values and priorities as guides, write down what you want in every area of your life—especially in your work. You may not know precisely what to include, but a good starting point is to describe what you DON’T want.

For example, when Barrie wrote her life vision five years ago, it looked like this:

I live in an interesting, progressive, vibrant city where I can enjoy nature, the arts, culture, great food, and likeminded people. I’m working in a career I love where I help people, utilizing my coaching and interpersonal skills, as well as my writing and creative skills.

My work is flexible and allows me the freedom to travel and work from anywhere. My income continues to increase, but I do not allow my career to create imbalance in my life.

I am in a relationship that is loving, respectful, and mutually supportive with a smart, creative, funny, kind, and ethical man. I have a network of close and supportive friends and family with whom I regularly spend time, and I have a loving, positive relationship with each of my three young adult children. I frequently spend time in nature, and travel to new locations several times a year. I remain active, energetic, and health conscious with every passing year, and I remain open to new opportunities and possibilities for my life.

She can honestly say that she has made this vision a reality by moving to a new city, building an online business related to personal development and helping others, going on several amazing trips, and nurturing her relationships, health, and freedom.

Our recommendation is to write down what you want and then revise it along the way whenever you recognize something you do/don’t want in your life. Finally, post this vision where you can see it every day.

Step 2: Revisit your current life.

If you feel yourself focusing too much on what you don’t like about your life, then take a look at your current life to see how much of it matches the vision from the previous exercise. You want to maintain those things, and remind yourself that part of your vision is already happening for you…right now!

Write a list of everything in your work that you do enjoy or view as positive—whether it’s the comfy desk chair or the client you really like. Write the same list for your personal life, including everything about your life that is working well for you.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water when you’re seeking your passion. Sometimes we overlook positive things in our lives when we’re so focused on the negative.

If you want to learn more about this subject, then read this blog post on mindful journaling that will help you recognize possible passions you might be overlooking right now.

Step 3: Investigate yourself.

Begin learning more about who you are, what motivates you, and what your strengths are. Take some online personality assessments like:

·                   The Myers Briggs Test

·                   The Keirsey Temperament Sorter

·                   Or strengths assessment tests like Strengths Finder 2.0 or this free online strengths test

Learn everything you can about your personality type. You’ll find that this information about you gives you a sense of self-awareness that is both comforting and enlightening.

Step 4: Start reading.

Set aside 10 minutes a day to read everything you can about your interests or ideas for potential passions. Look at how other people have translated these interests and ideas into careers. Make notes about anything that seems interesting or relevant to you.

You should also consider taking an online course to gain more in-depth knowledge and understanding of what you’re investigating as a possible passion.

Step 5: Narrow your search.

As you begin reading and researching, you may find one or more career options that jump out at you. Deepen your research on those topics to find out exactly what kind of training or education is needed, who is already successful in this area, what kind of salary you could make, and how long it would take to become proficient in this area.

Start filling in the blanks of all of the details necessary to make this possible passion a reality for you and the structure of your life.

Step 6: Find a mentor.

Find one or two people who are doing what you want to do, and doing it well. Reach out to them. Send them emails to ask if you can get their advice. Make a list of questions you want to ask.

Step 7: Brainstorm and write.

Think about all of the possible action steps you’ll need to take to move the needle toward living your passion (once you have done your research). Make one long list of actions, then go back and prioritize and order the list. Break down each action into the smallest possible steps.

Step 8: Take the first action.

Do one concrete thing to get the ball rolling toward your passion. Maybe it’s getting your resume in order, signing up for a training class, or making a call to someone. You may not feel 100% sure that this first step is the right step, but you have to take it to find out. So set a date and take it.

If you get stuck, refer back to the previous strategy on setting S.M.A.R.T. quarterly goals. We recommend turning your pursuit of a meaningful career into a project where you take action on a daily basis.

Step 9: Decide on a test drive.

One of the best ways to figure out if a passion really is a passion is to test it out. Rather than making a full-on commitment to a new job or starting a business, find a way to get hands-on experience through volunteering, a part-time job, or even shadowing someone for a few days.

This test drive gives you real-world feedback to help you decide if you’ve truly found what you love.

Step 10: Consider other people.

Remember to keep those close to you involved and in the loop. You will likely meet some resistance. Think ahead about this possibility and how you will handle it. What is the bottom line for you? For them? Keep the lines of communication open.

Step 11: Save money.

Begin putting money aside in a savings account. You may need this as you make your transition to something new. It might be used for additional education or training, to get a business started, or to sustain you financially while you get a business up and running.

Start thinking about ways you can bring in extra cash in a pinch. Even if you transition from one full-time job to another, it’s always good to have a back-up plan.

Step 12: Plan your income.

Determine your lowest acceptable yearly income. To do this, you will need to know how you spend your money, where you can (and are willing to) cut back, and how long you are willing to live at this income level. You don’t want to go into debt, so this needs to be a realistic number that can sustain a basic lifestyle.

One tool that’s great for monitoring your spending and staying on top of your finances is the Mint app . Here, you can enter your billing information, current debt, and bank accounts to get a complete picture of your financial situation. Then you can use Mint to fully understand how much money you need on a monthly basis.

Step 13: Deal with your current job.

Be sure to include as part of your action steps how you will move from your current job into your new one. Will you continue working at your old job as you start your new work? How and when will you discuss this with your employer? Be sure to leave on a good note and handle things professionally so you can maintain those ties.

Step 14: Stay motivated with action.

When moving from something safe and secure to the unknown, it’s natural to feel a lot of fear. Thinking, planning, fretting, and pontificating only go so far, and they contribute to your mental clutter.

Daily, focused action will move you forward. If you don’t know what to do, just do something. Take one small action in the direction of your dream.

One of the positive outcomes of this 14-step exercise is that you create a sense of purpose as you take control of your life and move toward something more meaningful. In fact, the effort of working toward your passion is sometimes as satisfying as the outcome. Greg Johnson, author of the book Living Life on Purpose: A Guide to Creating a Life of Success and Significance , says “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

Much of our mental distress and negative thinking comes from feeling uncertain and out-of-control about our lives. Once you start taking action toward finding your passion, you’ll have more and more mental clarity and peace of mind.

Okay, at this point, you’ve learned a number of strategies you can use to overcome your negative thought patterns and reduce the impact of life obligations that don’t truly matter. In the next section, we’ll talk about the negative impact that some relationships have on your mental well-being, and what to do about them.