Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: Every day I wake up and promise myself that I'm going to live each day to the fullest and not let my emotions or fears hold me back. I'm going to do that thing that I've been putting off, talk about that issue that has been eating away at me, but after bathing and having my breakfast, I lose my nerve. How do I take charge of my life? How do I stop letting fear get the best of me and just live my life? I keep postponing things and giving myself excuses for all the wrong things that go on in my life. How do I take charge of my life?
— Melissa M., Botswana, Southern Africa
When you say "take charge," you are actually defining the obstacle, not the solution. You are setting up the situation so that it takes effort, will and fortitude to face life's challenges. As long as you confront a daunting obstacle, quite naturally you will take the course of least resistance. The same setup causes millions of people to overeat because the alternative is too much effort and trouble. Let's put it off until tomorrow. Meanwhile, pass the chocolate cake.
The solution is to keep making it easier to overcome your resistance. If you could face life's challenges, including your fears, with enthusiasm and energy, that would be ideal. You can't achieve the ideal overnight, but you don't have to. Taking positive steps every day is good enough. Better than good enough, really, because most of the resistance we encounter inside comes down to old, outworn habits and inertia. Getting past them is more than half the battle. Here are the steps I have in mind.
Step 1: Look at your procrastination. This is an ingrained habit, but why do you cling to it? Because putting off unpleasant things offers itself as a kind of "solution." It's a feeble solution, on the order of "out of sight, out of mind." But the things we put off aren't really out of our minds. Just below the surface, they nag at us and make it impossible to be carefree. Sit down and absorb this concept: Procrastination is a false friend. Recall all the times in the past when you faced up to a problem and felt good about yourself. Realize that procrastination never feels good. It is based on wishful thinking, that somehow a problem will solve itself. Believe me, any outcome is better than waiting, because the longer you wait, the more your mind will invent worst-case scenarios.
Step 2: Make a list for how to have a good day. First thing in the morning, write down what you are going to eat, the errands you are going to run, the bills you are going to pay. Don't extend this list beyond one day. Include on it at least one thing you want to accomplish that you have been putting off. As you write, check in on your comfort level. Everything on your list should lead to the same result: You will feel good today.
Step 3: Carry out your list, and as you accomplish each thing, check it off. At that moment, see how you feel. If you wind up feeling tired or bored or anything negative, revise your list. The whole point of the list is to build yourself a new comfort zone, one based on fulfillment and accomplishment. These things can come about only when your life is manageable. Nobody is happy when their day is overwhelming and exhausting. When you get into the grip of procrastination, all the things left undone build up until they truly are overwhelming, yet you can't break out of this vicious circle until you begin to act. Once you learn you can face a few challenges while still feeling good—in fact, facing them makes you feel even better—then that little voice inside that says, "Put it off. One more day won't hurt anybody," will begin to lose its power to persuade you.
Next question: How to I stop my negative thinking from the past from getting in the way of my future?
Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!
Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
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Published on April 28, 2010