Stop Doing

With the new year around the corner, people are bound to make resolutions for making habit changes that they would like to start doing. The thing is, you can start those change any time during the year. I would say an equally (if not more so) effective approach would be to stop doing things that are not adding any value to your life; and when you do, you’ll find that it significantly contributes to your personal bottom line.

Instead of starting new things and creating habits, we need to pay more attention to things we should stop doing. What are some of those things that, when removed, will significantly increase your results? After all, the wisdom is not in adding new things to our lives, but taking away the unnecessary.

Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and poet said:

To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.

Doing the wrong things often hurts more than trying to do the right thing.

Stop doing things that are not helping you. I know this is such an obvious thing to say, but I bet you’re doing things in your life that you would rather not be doing, and yet you continue to do them — I know I am.

When you stop doing the wrong things, you start doing the right things as a byproduct. You want to be more healthy? Stop eating junk food. You want to sit less? Move more by taking frequent breaks. You want to be more present? Stop multitasking. You want to make more space in your head/mind? Stop trying to manage time and instead manage your attention. Set up systems to do these things.

Why stop doing these things? Doing the wrong things means we can’t spend time doing the right things. If anything, they’re taking value away from our lives. They’re draining us. We do them mostly because of old habits or emotion, but we need to stop.

So, how do you figure out which things to stop doing? Begin with the end in mind. Having the results you want starts with having awareness of the things around you. This awareness can happen in the form of daily reflection. For me, that happens when I’m writing Morning Pages every day. When you have awareness about what you’re doing, you begin gaining clarity. Having clarity about the things that you do can lead to making better decisions for yourself. When you make those decisions, it’s about maintaining your integrity, which is doing what you say. That means following up with commitment and action. Then, it’s only a matter of time before you start seeing the results you want.

What things would bring about a tremendous impact in your life if you no longer had to do them?

  • Stop trying to change others; that would imply that something is wrong with them; the problem is never out there, but always within. Accept that you can’t change others, and move on.

  • Stop going to bed late at night; it screws up your sleep and affects your morning routine. This can be resolved by establishing the habit of going to bed at the same time every night.

  • Stop eating junk food (eat healthier food, plan meals); eat for the right reasons, i.e. not to rely on emotional hunger but instead on physical hunger. Eat to live, not live to eat.

  • Stop trying to multitask — to do more than one cognitive/mental task at one time; it doesn’t work and it’s exhausting. Instead, do one thing at a time.

  • Stop idle/random web surfing during work hours. First, schedule time for it without feeling guilty during Play; then get to work.

  • Stop using your phone aimlessly. The next time you feel the urge to use your phone without any purpose, consider taking a pause and use that as your cue for not doing it.

Doing these things might seem fairly trivial in the short term, but if you continue doing these things, at some point, they’ll undermine your effectiveness in the long run.

We need to be aware of what we’re doing (good and bad) so that we can make decisions on what to stop/keep. Then, simply make a list of things you would like to stop doing based on that awareness. Next, stop doing one thing at a time. Don’t try to stop doing all of those things all at once — that won’t work, and it won’t be sustainable. Instead, pick one thing from that list that you want to stop doing that isn’t adding any value to your life, then evaluate it on a weekly or monthly basis as a mechanism for disciplined thought about how to better manage your time and attention.

When you do it, you’ll be amazed by how many of the big decisions are not about what to do instead of what to stop doing. Have at it for a month or so before you stop doing the next thing on your list, and work your way through the list this way.

More often than not, we tend to fall back on our emotional/right-brain when we should be using our logical/left-brain. When it comes to stopping things, we must be objective and can’t rely on our emotional brain. For instance, that’s the reason it’s so easy to mix food and emotion, which can be a dangerous combination. You could end up eating for the wrong reasons.

When it comes to stopping things that are not helping you, here’s what you can do:

  • Do things with purpose; ask yourself “why” before doing them. Take a pause before making your choices. Reflect on the choice you’re about to make before you make it. Think through the consequences before you do things. Remember that in that space lies your capacity for growth and freedom.

  • When you want to stop doing something, make it harder for yourself to do so. For instance, if you want to stop eating junk food, stop keeping that food in the house.

  • When feeling the urge to do something you’d regret later, use that feeling as a cue/triggers/reminder to not do that.

Only when we stop doing things that aren’t adding any value to our lives can we reach our inner core and the very essence of what defines us. That can happen only when we start paying attention to the things that have our attention. When we don’t, they’ll take more of our attention than they deserve.

When you recognize the things you want to stop doing on a daily basis, you will see the positive long-term effect of not doing those things. This means spending more time doing things you want to do, and almost no time doing things that are not adding any value in your life.

Everything in your life is important; if it’s not important, it should not be in your life. Your time and attention are invaluable. Use them wisely.

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