Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Sometimes success is not what you expect. I spent years trying to be happy and got stressed instead.
I was performing well at work, and getting promoted, but the pressure to avoid mistakes, plan for every eventuality and juggle lists of deliverables seeped into my life outside work.
I was always thinking about on some stressful aspect of work, and was completely unable to live in the moment, or even be fully aware of what was going on around me. I would leave pots boiling on the stove and not take in or remember things my wife asked me to do.
I was so distracted from the here and now that I never learned to drive – when I was much younger my driving instructor was very worried that I was not paying attention to the road. Even when I was swimming, running or doing yoga I was distracted by my thoughts.
When I was at work, I could turn my worrying to good use by writing down everything which could go wrong, and planning ahead to avoid the risks. Usually I was worrying and thinking about work during my downtime.
I felt isolated, but what kept me going was the knowledge that I was always striving to do the right thing, and put other people’s needs first, by being a good person.
Every now and then, I would get glimmers of a life without worry – holidays, nature walks, and also aikido – a fluid martial art which gently and gracefully deflects and redirects the attack. When I practised aikido I was fully in the moment. But the feeling never lasted.
Things started to go wrong
In 2016, I was juggling too many projects at work, and I started to lose my grip on the detail. Things started going wrong, causing delays and extra costs on my projects. I blamed myself for making mistakes and not spotting problems before they happened. Then while I was busy blaming myself, more things started to go wrong. Soon I was facing an avalanche of self-criticism, which was more than I could deal with. My confidence crumbled. I couldn’t cope with making mistakes.
I was stressed all the time, I had insomnia and was constantly running to the toilet. I would try to fall asleep, but lists of worries would go through my head. I would wake up with a jolt in the middle of the night because I would suddenly remember a worry. I did my best to eat healthily, but I was constantly alternating between diarrhoea and constipation. I had butterflies in the pit of my stomach and my chest was tight. I developed a stiff shoulder and it hurt to put a coat on. I couldn’t raise my arm all the way up because I would get a sharp pain in my shoulder.
Looking for answers
I needed an answer fast. I was waking up very early anyway, so I put the time to good use. I read some books, watched some YouTube videos, and thought carefully about what was stressing me out.
I decided I needed to learn how to let go of stress and be happy.
I slowly realised I had to change, but I didn’t know what to do. I knew I had to stop blaming myself but it was easier said than done. My whole identity was based on being a good person and being good at what I do. Most of the time this made me a strong person, because I wasn’t seeking approval, and didn’t need anyone to build me up with praise. But the weakness of the ‘goodness’ mindset was that my whole sense of self could collapse if I made mistakes.
I thought carefully about the things which were making me unhappy, and I realised they fell into these categories:
Things that could go wrong
Whether I was performing well enough
Things I “should” be doing
Blaming other people
I learned how to confront these thoughts and make them go away. Once I could see beyond what I ‘should’ be doing, I was able to understand what I actually wanted to do. I realised what I wanted to do was to learn how to drive and start practising yoga regularly at home.
Before I could learn how to drive, I had to tackle my distracting thoughts, and bring myself firmly into the present moment. I discovered that yoga could help me do just that. I discovered that yoga could help me:
breathe deeply, overcoming the tight feeling in my chest,
ground myself in the present moment, rather than being a prisoner of my thoughts,
clear my mind and meditate, by finding a peaceful place inside me,
cope with stressful feelings without getting upset or angry.
I used to walk to work wrapped up in my thoughts, hardly noticing what was going on around me.
Now I practised walking with awareness, noticing people, cars and buildings.
Before long, I began to feel like I was on a holiday, discovering a new and exciting city. I started taking driving lessons, and to my surprise and relief, I was actually fully in the moment and aware of what was going on around me. I passed my driving test with flying colours.
Now I want to pass on this knowledge, and help you start your own journey to happiness.