7 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Behind in Life

We are such visual, time-driven creatures. Sometimes we need ques; or bottom lines, benchmarks, follower numbers, or checklists to demonstrate that we’ve grown. We believe we need these or else we really haven’t succeeded. 

But then we are left unsatisfied because so much of life, and relationships and growth happens in a way that can’t be put on a timeline, even if it does affect, say, your follower count or bottom line. So much happens within - you are learning, adapting, conversing, maturing, at all times of day, and at any age. Yet, we constantly say, “I’m not good enough,”  “I’m unintelligent compared to [blank],” or, “my anxiety makes me work too slow.” 

Especially the comparing words, “I am behind.” Those are very dangerous words.

We believe we need measuring traits, or else we have no purpose or value. Why is it that we are always gauging where we place in the sea of other bodies, minds and souls? Is it the sin that wraps our hearts and pulls the string of our feet? Is it the trauma loosening our tongue in fear? Is it the deep desire of wanting to be seen or heard? 

I believe it’s the desire to be wanted.

We want to be seen as a good artist, writer, or professional. We want to be wanted in our platonic and romantic relationships, which if we lack those, we must not be tracking in life like the “other” people around us. We yearn to be wanted by others, or even ourselves, in our job titles, resumes, degrees and wisdom. We want the views on Instagram reels and likes on social media; feeling like it justifies strangers wanting our content, laughter, fashion, wisdom or life.

This thought process can become all consuming. For me personally, it’s put me in long seasonal holds of depression, anxiety and self-hatred. My intrusive thoughts increase, and a trickle down effect happens; I don’t want to take photos of myself or my life, I don’t want to look in the mirror and so on. I get riddled with feeling like I need to be productive, and I am constantly forward thinking, as if “tomorrow” is some perfect life.

If any of this is resonating with you, keep reading. I’ve found a few ways to combat this thought process, reduce my anxiety, and lessen my quickness for comparison.

#1 Joy Isn’t Exclusive To The Future

True joy is in the present. While we can, and should, be excited about what the future holds and its wonders and sufferings, we should also be cautious with how much romanticization happens regarding it. Sometimes when we are hurting and suffering we seek escapisms, and for many of us, that’s tomorrow. We think things like, “When I get there, I am going to be happier.” When in reality, tomorrow is faced with many challenges and pitfalls - it’s a part of the human experience. Why does joy matter? This feeling of being wanted, this fear of being behind, ultimately rests on the balance of our own happiness. When we seek out to be like others, or have their lives, or compare, we’re in total comparing their joy, how happy and at ease their life must be compared to ours. While this mindset alone needs to be adjusted, a way to combat this is by realizing we do have the power to have joy also - and that power is today. Point #3 goes a bit more into my idea of, “Constructing Happiness.” But in summary, schedule and plan and recognize things that bring you joy in the moment.    

#2 Broaden Your View and Experience

I found when my thoughts of feeling behind and comparison was at all time rise, I was only looking through the tainted, edited, and condensed lens of my social media, and not the real world. COVID-19 absolutely heightened this for many people - so it’s important we start retraining ourselves and reacclimating to understanding and gaining wisdom beyond ourselves and our phones. Broadening the horizon can be done in many ways. Yes, traveling, and especially traveling for long periods of time (allowing you to immerse yourself in a community or people) is fantastic. But this is not a possible resource for many of us, not right away. But rest assured, we can do many other things, in our own backyard. 

Inviting friends and family over for dinner, asking deep questions and checking in on people can be a fantastic way to understand the human experience better. Hearing other people’s anxieties, thoughts and joys helps you understand and voice yours better as well. You can also join communities around you such as; workshops, classes, athletic teams, and volunteer groups, and have more time interacting with new people - not just the endless loop of yourself and your coworkers or same friends.

If that step feels too big for you, no worries. I’d encourage you to watch documentaries, read non-fiction books about other parts of the world, or memoirs, and begin grounding yourself in what it means to be human. 

#3 Stop Chasing Happiness, Construct It

I believe it is in our nature as humans to have a deep desire to become perfect. If we’re not happy the moment we wake up or during what should be a “beautiful day” or “event” we think we’re broken, or something is wrong with us. How often do you think you miss out on good moments because you’re too obsessed with wanting to make it last longer, or why you don’t have a happier feeling in the first place? That was and sometimes is still an issue I have at least.

I have friends as well that cling onto happy-memories, and try to replicate them. For example, something from childhood. Then we are continuously let down that it’s not the same experience or feeling. Many of us try to cram real happiness in a space in our mind that is compared to our fantastical happiness. 

We put it next to an unreasonable expectation. Or a comparable time when we were different, or in a different season. We set our happiness up for failure. So, let’s start constructing. First, I would recommend making a list of things you enjoy, or that you’re grateful for, etc. You can get inspiration for new joys on Pinterest or YouTube, etc. Then you plan them. You build them into your days, big or small. You make space for them.

#4 Prioritize Your Goals

This one may seem a bit weird. I get it, you can roll your eyes. But honestly, when I am feeling behind in life, it sometimes correlates with me feeling inactionable towards my true goals and desires. So first, inactionable. It’s important we recognize that we might have too high an expectation on what actions we are taking. But it’s also true we may be taking less actions then we realize. When my work (the job that pays the bills) gets over demanding, seeping into personal time and weekends, I start to become inactionable on my true desires. For me, it’s side projects and time with my fiance and friends. For others it might be time with their kids, a small business they’re trying to jump start and so on. 

For others, it might be a mix of both, or that you are continually serving others (children, community, family members) over your own needs. In the crazy, over-packed days of life, we start to cut away things that might seem “less important,” and that’s usually our long term goals. Have you been cutting out the microsteps to your macrovision? Perhaps it’s reading certain books or 30 minutes of working out a day. Whatever it is, recognizing this and putting them back into your schedule is going to help you feel like you’re taking steps forward.   

#5 Take a Social Media Detox

I know you’ve heard this one before, so I’ll keep it short - social media has a lot of pros, but many cons. One of them is the constant conditioning to our worth through edited content. It directly feeds our comparison spirit, as well as our inspirational one. While I’d cheer if you had the willpower to toss your phone in the ocean and go off the grid - let’s be real - this isn’t possible for most of us. So here’s a few things. 

  1. Turn off your notifications: Seriously this is one of my biggest game changes. I only allow myself to get text messages and work-related messages. All other social media applications are off so I have to have the desire and downtime to remember to open them.
  2. Leverage the other notification blockers and focus settings on your device. On my iPhone, my Control Center has a Focus button, and I have it turned on depending on the hours of my work day and my sleep schedule.
  3. Look at social media as a tool, not as escapism. Look, I love Pinterest. It’s amazing. But I’ve shifted my focus for social media to become a tool, not a need. I use Pinterest for inspiration only, not mindless scrolling. Instagram is for my business and connecting with people, not a value metric as to my own self-worth. 

#6 Who Are You Surrounded By?

This is a tricky question, I know. But who do you surround yourself with continually? Are people in your corner supporting you, there when you fall down, or bringing you back to the present? Or are they taking advantage, feeding your anxieties about your self worth and putting you down? It’s a simple question with a lot of emotional grenades. We become and mold ourselves towards who we interact with - it’s a social trait. It’s not shameful to seek out new friends, people, mentors and community members who you admire or want to learn from. It’s not wrong to spend time with people who might be emotionally damaging to you. Friend, you’re allowed to ask yourself these questions.

#7 Create an Understanding of Your Productivity and Procrastination Traits

We should stop seeking for a number or how something looks to gauge success, and more about how something feels. We are often so blind with the swirling dust and messiness of life that we must trust in what we cannot see, what is being worked and moved within ourselves on a daily basis, until suddenly we are at the peak of the mountain that we once thought was just a hill. You are not behind today, you are not behind tomorrow, if time moves forward, so are you.

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