Success means knowing the difference between who we are and what we do

On most mornings, thoughts of work, errands, and chores stir me awake: To Do lists snap me from my slumber and toward a full day’s worth of duties and tasks. My mind “goes there” out of habit and a sense that being productive creates success – Sound familiar?

Creating a running list of things to accomplish and then check-off is what behavioral scientists term Relational Frames Theory. This intellectualized, step-by-step approach to needs and wants is responsible for many of civilization’s remarkable successes but, when over-utilized, this behavior becomes the culprit of our emotional failures.

The Failure of Success

Pairing our self-worth with how much we get done or how much we have or make is emotionally perilous: The popular thought that making enough money or gaining enough notoriety creates happiness is a daydream with often dire consequences.

A recent study found $105,000 to be the ideal income for life satisfaction in Northern America. Perhaps, more strikingly, researchers found earning past this amount coincided with lower levels of happiness and well-being.

I have found that many high-earning individuals and “power couples” initially visit The Mental Gym seeking relief from anxiety, stress, and depression. Our cultures heavy emphasis on defining success through acquiring and achieving has shifted our focus from inner-connection and empathy, which are vital components of our emotional balance.

Over my twenty years of clinical experience, I have overwhelmingly found that happiness aligns with knowing the difference between who we are and what we do. Whether we groan or grin as our days begin has more to do with the level of relationship we feel with ourselves and others, not how much we have or make.

Are we too smart for our own good?

Our brains are magnificent tools – just like planes, trains, and automobiles. When used correctly, “having brains gets us places.” However, in our plugged-in/work-overtime culture, the 3.5-pound organs in our heads tend to run the show. Like a dystopian sci-fi drama, these tools have taken over our lives: No longer do we use our brains – our brains use us.

Being that our brains are problem-solving biological computers, once we overcome one challenge, we immediately shift to addressing another – and then another. It is difficult to feel good when our minds are always finding something to worry about.

When our brains run us, we question everything: Instead of knowing who we are, we compare ourselves to others; Instead of recognizing our worth, we seek to prove ourselves. This becomes part of a never-ending cycle of non-completion, which then leads to chronic fatigue and a never-ending loop of dissatisfaction.

When is enough, enough?

Several paragraphs ago, I used the pivotal word “enough” to describe the psychology behind our linear thinking. Like you, I believe our accomplishments are necessary: making a nice living and receiving recognition for a job well done are ingredients in the recipe of emotional wellbeing. But, to maintain our equilibrium, we must set boundaries with ourselves to determine when “enough is enough.”

A Mindful Reset

Here’s an uncomplicated practice that makes all of this chaos much more manageable. Take a moment to study the below statement:

We keep our thinking in line by watching the line of our thinking.

This sentence may appear riddle-like at first glance, however, with closer inspection, the statement opens up – hinting at the vast wisdom that lives within each of us when we are conscious enough to witness our thoughts instead of defining ourselves by our thinking.

Our ultimate satisfaction in life is determined by how we view ourselves and our place in the world. It is not the setting ourselves apart from others but our aligning with those who are equally-intended that signals self-fulfillment. By blending meaningful work/social activities into our days, we conjure self-esteem and emotional wellbeing.

So take a moment from your busy schedule and pause long enough to assess how you’d like to feel before diving back into your day. Address who you are by separating yourself from your thoughts and then use this understanding to determine what to do. In this way, you can meaningfully contribute while adding to everyone’s greater good.