Sam Holstein

Your Life Sucks — But It Doesn’t Have To

In a previous life, my life kind of sucked. I watched hours of Netflix every day. I spent 6+ hours on my phone a day, mostly browsing Instagram and Tumblr to find pictures of beautiful women I felt inferior to and sending pointless Snapchats to people. I spent a great deal of my free time shopping for outfits to help me feel less inferior to the women I saw online. The rest of it was spent navigating tense social situations with a close friend I feared and taking that stress home to a boyfriend with whom I frequently argued. Going to the gym, cooking healthy meals, and pursuing meaningful hobbies were things internet self-help authors did, not regular people like me.

Of course, I didn’t realize my life sucked. For one, my sucky life was in line with the average American life. Everyone else watched the same amount of Netflix as me (or more), used the same amount of social media as me, shopped the same amount as me. My sucky life was par for the course. Combined with my usually close family and early career success, I thought my life was pretty good.

Then there were the self-help people. People who woke up at 5 am, made their bed and went to the gym every morning before work. People who came home from work to read and practice their chess skills before cooking a homemade dinner and preparing for bed by slipping on some freshly laundered pajamas. I knew they existed because they wrote productivity blogs for the internet, but I didn’t acknowledge their existence. It’s not that I thought they were lying. More like I thought they were irrelevant. Their circumstances were different from mine; there was nothing I could learn from them.

If this is you — if you have a pretty good life, but you watch Netflix every day and have an Instagram feed filled with pictures of people who are better than you and you’re not getting up every day to go to the gym, I’m here to tell you your life sucks.

But it doesn’t have to.

How To Change Your Sucky Life

Make one area of it not suck. One. Self-improvement has a lifting effect, where one major success begets other major successes for far less effort than the first. People who wake up at 5 am and meal prep and go to the gym often have a time in their lives they can point to where the first domino fell.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 
(Chinese Proverb)

My first domino was deleting my social media. A breakup with a man who used Snapchat a lot made me want to take a break from the photo-snapping nightmare app to get space. In that moment, I realized not only were my ex’s Snapchats not worth seeing, none of them were. I deleted my Snapchat.

Over the next month, I deleted the rest of my social media. This improved the quality of my relationships; my connections with everyone I know became deeper overnight.

Now my attention wasn’t flooded with others to compare myself to. I could work on my own life. I Marie Kondo’ed all my possessions, physical and digital, and made a new year’s resolution not to buy anything new. My wallet and my peace of mind thanked me.

The mental relief of it gave me the energy to go to the gym three times a week, no internal kicking necessary. After the gym I felt so good about myself I started cooking myself real food instead of mainlining a microwave Mac ’n Cheese.

Such simple changes work because humans are, on some level, animals. We imagine we are a rational sort of being who makes informed decisions, but the reality is we are highly irrational.

If we have an Instagram feed filled with beautiful influencer photos, our subconscious checks our worth against theirs as compulsively as — well, as compulsively as we check Instagram. To a brain, repetition is truth. Monkey see, monkey do. It’s not a matter of will or weak character. That’s how brains are.

We aren’t the only ones with brains like this. All organisms function this way. It’s a feature of life as old as sexual reproduction (maybe older).

You can hijack this to your benefit. If you alter your environment so you see less of something and more of something else, you can guide your ancient instincts to do what you want.

You wouldn’t expect a dog to be potty trained if you never let the dog out to do his businesses. Similarly, you can’t expect yourself to learn new things if you do not teach your body how.

Pick a sucky area of life that’s easy to change. Maybe you, too, spend too much time on Snapchat or Instagram. Delete that social media account. Or maybe you watch too much TV. Put your TV in the closet (or better yet, give it to a friend to babysit) and only watch TV on your phone or computer. Maybe you play games on your phone too much. Delete all the games off your phone (download Duolingo instead).

You don’t have to do anything in particular instead of watch tv or go on social media. You can spend that time walking around in circles in your neighborhood or listening to your favorite album over and over. This isn’t about forcing yourself to build some new habit, only to break an old one. Nature abhors a vacuum — the time the bad habit took up will fill on it’s own.