The #1 Reason You're Failing To Change Your Life In Spite Of Working Hard

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stressed woman

While most people think that laziness is the problem, I disagree.

I know tons of super-hard-working people who have truly miserable lives.

The real problem, I think, is not the lack of effort, but a lack of direction. Most people are working super hard — but on the wrong things. This results in one of two scenarios:

Number 1: People keep working on the wrong things chronically and get great results in that direction, but their overall well-being is not improved in any sense.

Take, for instance, Amelia. Amelia weighs 200 pounds and wants to be more attractive — which is not an unprecedented human desire. However, to that end, she spends a lot of time on skincare, but isn’t consistent with her workouts, at all.

The result? While her skin looks f***ing great, she still doesn’t feel that attractive because she still carries a lot more fat than she prefers to. Mind you, I’m not judging her for being fat, I’m simply saying her efforts are being wasted.

Skincare, in different contexts, can be both good and stupid. It’s stupid if you’re majorly insecure about that extra fat you’re carrying. But it’s helpful if you’re okay with how much you weigh.

These are the kind of hard-working people who’re still miserable and can’t understand why.

Number 2: People start working on the wrong things, don’t get the micro-rewards they actually need, and hence they quit.

Society calls these people lazy, or quitters. However, I don’t really think they’re lazy. Again, I just think they’re working on the wrong things. And because they don’t see any result of their efforts, they end up quitting.

I’m willing to bet that if they started working on the right things, and got the right micro-rewards, they’d stick to the journey.

In both cases, happiness or contentment eludes the person.

Hence, the problem is not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction. Deciding what to work on is the most important question you need to answer.

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Here’s a four-step method to change your life:

1. Stop following the roadmap given by society

People follow society’s advice like it’s the word of God. And it results in mass misery.

For instance, I’m in medical college. And in no career is the roadmap so clear as it is for aspiring doctors.

  • First, we need to study for the pre-med exams and get into med schools.
  • Then, we need to keep studying to clear med school exams.
  • Then we need to study even more to specialize further and get into residencies of our choice.

Pretty simple, right?

This roadmap is anchored so strongly in students’ minds that they cannot even consider thinking of any other path other than this. In fact, the medical community makes you feel like doing anything except studying is a waste of your time. The results are disastrous.

For instance, take one of my OBGYN professors.

He followed the roadmap, studied obsessively, and is a successful and skilled Obstetrician. However, at the same time, he weighs no less than 220 pounds, and he f***ing hates it. He hates it so much that he offered one of my friends — one of his students — to sponsor a trip to anywhere in India if he can help him lose weight.

But I wonder, what if he studied just one hour less per day, and actually went to the gym? Sure, maybe it would have taken him a year longer to get into residency, but he would have been happier, right?

But he couldn’t do that. Because he couldn’t think for himself, and do what he needed to, instead of what society wanted him to.

On the other hand, here’s what my journey looks like.

I got into med school on my first attempt. I studied as much as I could, but I never stopped going to the gym. In my third year of med school, I started writing online and started making a decent living with it. Today, I’m writing more than ever and starting to actually build a digital writing business.

I’m also saving a lot of money on the side, and I plan and hope to piss some of it away to go on a 3-month backpacking trip to Europe next year. To make the most of my trip, here’s what I’m doing —

  • Learning to handstand, so that I can handstand all across Europe and get it on camera.
  • Working out consistently to FINALLY get that beach bod.
  • Brushing up on my Spanish so that I can have some interesting conversations during the Tomatina festival.
  • Picking up my Ukulele again and practicing some songs to sing with fellow travelers.
  • Buying a new GoPro and learning how to shoot videos so that I can make a movie or a blog about my trip.

And after my once-in-a-lifetime trip, I’ll start studying for my master’s.

Most people think my plan is stupid. Or overly ambitious. Even outrageous. They think I should just study because they believe that for a doctor to do anything except for studying is a waste of time.

But, I’m willing to bet that I’m much more content than they are in life. I feel free. I feel powerful. I feel peaceful.

Sure, I might become a fully-practicing doctor one year later than them, but I’m willing to bet that I’ll have gathered more great experiences in a couple of years than they will in their entire lifetime.

I don’t say this to brag.

I’m simply saying that you need to realize what’s best for you and figure out your journey accordingly, instead of blindly following the directions given to you by society.

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2. Sit with yourself and figure out the direction with the highest ROI

My roommate has had no real girlfriend yet — and he’s 24 years old. And it pains him right in his heart. Let me tell you some more facts about him.

  • Both his parents are doctors. He’s rich. And he got into an Indian Government Medical school, which means, like me, the government sponsors his college fees. Meaning, he’s debt free. Conclusion? He doesn't have to rush to earn money.
  • He, too, got into med school on his first attempt, while most people need a couple or even three to four tries. Conclusion? He can afford a gap year.
  • He’s not at all lazy. He studies all day long. Trust me. When I wake up, he’s studying. When I go to bed, he’s still studying. It’s insane.
  • He’s good-looking.

But… I know for a fact that he’s not happy with his life.

He’s extremely unhappy about the fact that he hasn’t ever had a real girlfriend. In fact, he even asks me to set him up with any single girl I know. At times, he complains that there are no great girls around.

One day, I decided to be blunt with him.

I told him,

“Dude, your problem is not a lack of girls. But a lack of personality. You’re good-looking but still haven’t had a girlfriend. Why do you think that is? Simple. You’re not someone who girls want to be with. I’m sorry for being blunt, but I think you need to know the hard truth.

You study all the time, which is okay, but you don’t need to. You can afford to take it slow and invest some of your time in developing a personality. Go to the gym. Watch videos by Charisma on Command on Youtube. Read a book.

Stop studying all the time. Studying isn’t making your life any better. The chain is only as strong as the weakest link. And your weakest link is your personality. You might become the greatest doctor the world has ever seen, but unless and until you work on what actually bothers you, which is a lack of interest in you by the opposite gender, you won’t feel like your life is getting better.”

It kills me to see him work so hard but still not feel any better about himself. And the reason is simple enough: he’s not working on the right thing.

Don’t make this mistake.

Sit with yourself in silence. Ask yourself. What keeps you up at night? What aches you the most? What is your pain point? What is the area you can work on that will improve your well-being the most? Do that. Stop chasing things that other people are telling you to chase. Instead, put in work in the areas that actually matter.

Remember, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

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3. Build habits in those areas. Focus first on consistency, then on intensity

After having our talk with my friend, I downloaded a streak-building app on his phone. We chose three habits for him:

Together, these don’t take more than 30 minutes daily. I told him to do these things every day no matter what and build a streak. Once he actually starts walking in the right direction for long enough, we will increase the intensity.

Do the same for yourself. Pick a few habits, and start doing the absolute minimum. Don’t try to do as much as you can. That’s a mistake.

Most people are enthusiastic at the start and so they set ridiculous goals for themselves. As a result, they aren’t able to stay consistent and end up abandoning the journey altogether.

Remember, consistency is 1000 times more important than intensity. Hence, focus on consistency first, then intensify.

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4. Avoid relapse

Changing directions is much more difficult than you might think. It’s because your mind is primed to do the things you’ve been doing forever. It’s more comfortable for the mind to engage in old behavioral patterns, and hence, it will keep pushing you to do what you used to do before.

For instance, after my roommate and I decided on a new direction for him, he kept up the habits only for a while. After a few days, he went back to —

  • Not doing pushups.
  • Not reading.
  • Not watching Chasima on Command videos on Youtube.
  • Studying all day long.

In essence, he went back on the path that will ensure sustained misery for him. Simply because he relapsed.

Don’t make the mistake. Stick to the path. Focus on the journey. Trust the process. The results will come. Not today. Not tomorrow. But over time. And you’ll be grateful for them.

Tying it all together

You’re failing to live a better work in spite of working hard because you’re working on the wrong things. Follow these four steps to start walking on the right path:

  • Don’t follow the roadmap of society.
  • Sit with yourself and figure out your biggest pain point in life.
  • Build habits in that area. Focus on consistency first, then intensity.
  • Avoid relapse.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.