For most of 2012 I was depressed. Heck, while I was depressed I even listed out every single thing I could do to help make my day better.
Ever have one of those mornings when you wake up and it all just seems pointless?
Your thoughts pester you with questions, “What’s the point of living today?” and “Will this feeling ever go away?”
This happens to everyone regardless of where they are on the socio-economic ladder.
The more money I made while working at Facebook, Mint and then starting Gambit (#2 payments company for Facebook games), AppSumo.com (free newsletter that promotes cool stuff for startups) and lastly Monthly1k (helps anyone go from $0 to $1,000 a month business) the more my happiness suffered.
As the businesses grew in profit and power so did my tendency towards depression. Some may even say I tried to sabotage the businesses as I didn’t feel I had the right to be successful. Regardless, I have learned that depression (and happiness) cannot be left to chance.
It’s critical to engineer your days to be as enjoyable as possible, and that all starts with the morning.
Without engineering our days, we tend to wander. We’re impacted by our emotions, the opinions of others, and an undefined notion of success. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” And it’s also true that you won’t know when you are “there”.
How I Started Engineering My Happiness
My close friend and health coach Adam Gilbert asked me to think and write down the activities I KNOW put me into a better mood. At the time, I didn’t care much for the idea. (Interestingly, it is often at the times that we MOST need to engineer our days that we would rather be carried by our emotions and let the questions take over.)
Adam pestered me each morning for a week to write down a few things that make me happy. I resisted.
Then one day I gave in. I emailed Adam and shared one thing I was grateful for. There wasn’t an instant “I’m great and happy now!” as some may expect. But I began a process that, in time, helped me to create great mornings and ultimately led to a happier 2013.
Here’s the process I used to engineer the start of my day:
- G: I became grateful for seemingly small things in my life.
- E: I made exercise a priority (and not just in a gym).
- B: I ate a healthy breakfast.
- Y: I did something just for me (“you”).
First, I took ten minutes to write down a few of my favorite things:
- Hot water running over my hands
- Taco Deli tacos
- Friends who were there for me regardless how I felt
- My parents’ unconditional love
- Did I mention tacos?
“Where you set your gratitude is how you’ll set your attitude.”
The “G” in GEBY is the first step because it’s so easy to miss out on all the great things we already have going on with life.
Adam and I noticed that my health drastically affected my mood.
So we added E to the equation. I was already exercising, but Adam helped me commit to specific exercise goals for the day. By committing to what I was going to do that day, it increased the likelihood of getting it done. As a result, I built momentum and increased my sense of accomplishment both in and out of the gym.
I’ve NEVER left the gym not feeling better than when I walked in. If you don’t like gyms find an activity you enjoy like Disc golf, bike riding, sex (288 calories an hour), whatever.
One of my favorite workouts that Adam gave me is his 20 * 4 workout. 20 jumping jacks, 20 pushups, 20 crunches and 20 air squats. Do that as a circuit 3x in a row. It won’t take more than 10 minutes. Of course you can mix and match and add or decrease.
The point is something is always better than nothing. Movement creates position emotions. Even a 5 minute walk counts. Set a goal and accomplish it. If you need some support, consider hiring a coach or getting an accountability buddy.
After exercise (or before depending on your routine), I started my day with breakfast “B”. Would you drive your car without gas? That’s how our bodies are in the morning. It needs fuel to get you through the day and the places you need to be.
Think about your favorite breakfast. Mine has to have:
- Kashi with cinnamon
- Egg whites with Ham on wheat toast
- Homemade oatmeal
Ideally it should be healthy, but choose breakfasts that make you excited to go to sleep for.
Lastly, we added a YOU component. If I don’t take care of myself, I am unable to help anyone else. When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant always instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why? If you run out of oxygen, you won’t be able to help anyone else with their oxygen mask.
What can you do for yourself that would make today great? What will give you more “oxygen”?
- Going to the movies
- Eating at a certain restaurant
- Having a late night chat session with a good friend
I realized through therapy that ordinary days aren’t bad, they are just part of a cycle. The key is to not to let those days get you down. Instead acknowledge them as part of life. There will be other days with massively great things, but don’t begrudge the ordinary days. Add little things that give you oxygen (and happiness) during long cycles of ordinary days.
By focusing on “GEBY” I spent 2013 being thankful for friends, success, and failure. I even gave a talk to hundreds of people about overcoming my 2012 depression and fears. Using GEBY as a framework, write out the things that make a day great. Work those things into your morning and day.
What’s your GEBY today?