Things are looking bad.
While it is important to be positive, that doesn’t mean you should ignore reality. As I write this it is clear that we have an out of control health crisis that our systems cannot effectively deal with.
And with it is coming an economic outlook that continues to worsen. Who knows the long-term damage that the virus will cause even after it has gone?
So should you wait for the government to intervene and bail you out? If you are “too big to fail” that is a great plan. But for us normal people we can’t expect the government to save us. You don’t want to be stuck getting too little too late.
Or maybe you were lucky enough to keep your job and are just suffering from the physical and mental turmoil of being locked inside your house, eating too much junk food, and not moving enough. And the idea that you could ever be in shape just seems like it will never happen.
Especially if you couldn’t figure out how to get there before all these new hardships.
There is rarely a clearer wake-up call to the importance of staying healthy than a health crisis. Being overweight or obese greatly increases your chances of having complications with this virus.
And one of those “complications” is death.
In my life I have been fortunate enough to be in impossible situations and succeed before, and have also helped people get in shape who thought they never could. Here are the hard-won lessons I have learned.
You can use these concrete steps to move forward and get back to a place where you can breathe again.
Analyze the Situation
Ignoring reality and “hoping” for the best isn’t helpful. Start by taking a really objective look at what reality looks like. Only then can you start changing the situation.
Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on the negative aspects of the situation. There are always positive points and advantages to any situation no matter how bad it looks.
The best place I have seen this concept put into words is the excellent book David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Among other things he takes the time to analyze the advantages of dyslexia, being discriminated against, and having a parent die while you are young. And if you are in a bad situation it is worth a read to help you find the advantages of being on the “weaker side” or in a “bad situation.”
As a freshly minted “Ex-con” with no college degree and no work experience I didn’t have a lot going for me when I tried to find my first job. I also had no support system in the city where I was released. That only came with the advantage of time.
So instead I spent every moment I could applying for jobs. If you are unemployed and honestly spend 8-10 hours a day applying to jobs you will eventually get “lucky” and find something.
The pandemic shutting down restaurants becomes an opportunity to cook at home – which is good for your budget and your health. Losing your job is an opportunity to reevaluate your work, maybe switch gears and pursue your passion.
It isn’t easy to do reframe your thinking, but find your advantages and strength in the impossible situation and you’ll start the process toward success.
Make a Plan
You have to take actions to achieve anything. And before you start acting you need to take the time to make a plan so that your future actions bring you towards your goal.
Your plan won’t be perfect and you will need to make adjustments (more on this later). But not taking the time to plan and foresee as many obstacles as you can and determine what you can do to overcome them will pretty much guarantee failure.
Often people have half-hearted plans and assume things will go well. In prison, as I discovered, this is a serious problem. Someone reads a few books or a magazine article on real estate and figures that is an easy way to success. Don’t approach the impossible with a plan that sounds “easy”.
When you plan, start with your end goal, a concept I learned from the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. When I made my life plan sitting in a prison cell I took the time to think about what I wanted at the end of my life. The main things I came up with were to be surrounded by a big family, to have been successful in business, and to have made a difference in my community.
I then worked backwards to what I could do in that moment to bring me towards those goals. And I did it. I still continue to work toward them to this day.
But the struggles I have and the sacrifices I make now are different than back then. My goals have shifted since my first plan, and so have my resulting accomplishments, but the key thing is I am moving forward every day.
Don’t just think that things will work out easily. Plan for it to be difficult and take a lot of work.
Do What You Need to Do to Survive
The mistake you will probably make here is confusing “surviving” with being “comfortable.” The fact is that while these steps will work, it is not the most comfortable way to live.
Your default mindset needs to be sacrifice. Both physical and mental.
Learn to push through discomfort. Cut your expenses. Live with less.
When I decided to go back to school to pursue an undergraduate degree I knew I would be making less money than I was currently making. The time it would take to go to class and do well would take lots of my time and focus.
So the first thing I did was move out of my nice one bedroom apartment with a parking space and a large rooftop deck and rent a room in someone else's house with street parking, which cut my rent expense in half.
It was less comfortable and convenient. But one of the advantages of a few years in prison is learning to live with less.
Physical changes like this that translate to dollars and cents are hard but it is easy to understand why it is important. The mental sacrifices are much more difficult to understand and implement.
The best example of this is how you spend your time.
It’s nice to relax. Hanging out with friends is a normal and healthy thing to do. But when you are chasing the impossible you will have to sacrifice a lot of this. And certainly more than you want to.
You are not alone and it hurts and it can be lonely at times. But if you stay focused you will be surprised by what you can achieve and how quickly you can achieve it.
Execute the Plan
Once you have created the plan and honestly evaluated your need to survive it is time to execute.
This is the simplest part.
Just don’t confuse simple with easy. If you did a good job analyzing the situation and making a plan, and have a good idea of your needs, then all you have to do is follow the plan.
But two major problems will come up.
Doubts and distractions.
Doubts are normal. We all go through them. You need to believe in yourself. And seek out people who also believe in you. Doing the hard work is easier if you can find a support system of people who can encourage you when you are feeling like it is hopeless.
And trust me those times will come.
If you honestly can’t find people who believe in you then you can take a different (though dangerous) approach. A chip on your shoulder to prove the doubters wrong.
This is not psychologically healthy. But that it is not to say that it isn’t effective.
Search for love and support, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your dreams.
Distractions might be more dangerous. Especially in today's world.
You know when you start doing something with the best of intentions, then decide to do just one quick thing and before you know it hours have passed.
Especially in our world of smartphones, social media, YouTube, etc., this will happen. If it happens too often you will find that the wasted days turn into weeks. The weeks into months and before you know it years will have passed and you will be stuck in the same place.
Not exactly the same place because you will be older. Time waits for none of us.
First you need to be aware that it is a danger and do what you can to make the distractions less tempting.
I love watching TV. It is a lot of fun and all too easy to get sucked up into a great series on Netflix and binge-watch a whole season.
So I don’t have a Netflix login. Occasionally my wife and I will start a series on her computer when I have some extra time. And then I will have to keep watching until I finish the series.
I know it is a danger for me, so I am careful as to how often it happens.
Maybe you need to put your phone in the other room sometimes. Maybe you just shouldn’t have a smartphone. Maybe you need to put your TV on a timer, maybe you need to cancel the cable (a great way to save money), or just get rid of the TV altogether.
I know a few people who have gotten rid of smartphones or social media and live happier, more fulfilled lives without them. It is inconvenient, but certainly not impossible.
Do what you need to do. Period.
Adjust the Plan
The problem with plans is that they never work as planned.
Or as Mike Tyson once wisely said, “Everyone has a plan – until they get punched in the mouth.”
But the process of planning is still critical. Just know that you are going to have to adjust the plan as new information comes in or your goals shift and evolve.
You might even end up making major shifts because it is what feels right.
For example, I once worked hard for years on a plan to become a physical therapist, even getting accepted into a top-ranked physical therapy school.
Then after the acceptance the school I chose screwed me over, in a classic example of systemic racism.
I had been pushing myself professionally for the last 7 years. To have a successful career, open a business, and graduate from university (with a 4.0 GPA) when you are starting with less than $20 and a criminal record involves work. More work than many people can imagine. Looking over my long term-goals I decided it was time to put some effort into my spiritual and family goals.
You just never know what life has in store for you. Because of it I now live in a different country with a wonderful wife and beautiful daughter.
Be flexible and do what feels right.
Just don’t confuse what feels right for giving up early because of fear or doubt.
Find Ways to Enjoy the Journey
This article might seem like it is pretty grim. Like if you want to achieve something you are going to need to give up all the fun and enjoyment in your life to be successful.
Well, you are going to have to sacrifice a lot. But you will still need to find ways to enjoy the long arduous path.
Because no one knows how they have to live. You need to make every moment count. You can’t only live for the future. You need to make today count as well.
You do that by working hard to achieve important things in the long run – in case you are blessed with the time to achieve them. And also by finding meaningful moments today. Moments you can enjoy and cherish with family, friends, and anyone else you care about.
I have had many small moments of enjoyment in tough situations. Whether it was a great workout with friends in prison, joking with other trainers when I was in a gym working 12 hour days, or taking a short break from my schoolwork to hang with my roommate.
Really, it is about the journey too and not always the end goal.
Sometimes your future will look bleak.
These are the times that we need to grow and evolve.
Other times things may seem to be going well, but you have the desire for something else. Something different.
In both these situations change is possible.
You can do it.
Follow the steps. Stay focused.
And become the BEST YOU that YOU can be.
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