The last 12 months have taught me a lot about personal burnout. It made me pretty crispy around the edges, which resulted in a lot of discontentment and dissatisfaction. It also forced an unnecessary focus on the end-game that produced unhealthy results. In my search for everyday contentment along this journey, I’ve realized one major truth: In order to find contentment during the journey – and not just at the end – you must be physically, emotionally, and spiritually present in every moment. You must be content with simply being and existing in your life. As someone wisely put it,
Discontentment makes rich people poor while contentment makes poor people rich. ~Unknown
In order to feel rich in life, you must first put away all of the distractions that prevent you from having an “attitude of gratitude” towards this life. That’s the only way to find contentment.
Here are some practical ways that I’ve learned to stay in the moment and, in turn, find the contentment that I’ve been lacking. Each one may not work for you, but I bet many of them will.
1. Put Down Your Phone
This blog has been wonderful to me in many ways. I get to put my thoughts down, which is a form of catharsis in itself. People reach out to me and encourage what I’m doing here. Shoot, the blog even makes some money at this point.
Yet, one thing that this blog has also resulted in is a constant attachment to my phone. At some point,
I realized that this wasn’t healthy my wife pointed out that the amount of time I spent attached to my phone wasn’t healthy.
So, I’ve done a few things to stay in the moment from the instant I walk through the door. I put my phone on silent, take off my Garmin watch that can send notifications from my phone, and I focus on my family.
In just two short weeks since starting this routine, feelings of freedom have been palpable. In fact, I think I had some anxiety related to all of the notifications my cell phone sent me that I felt I had to respond to immediately.
As it turns out, the world will continue to turn even if you don’t respond to a text message, email, or social media message instantaneously. Who knew? This one change alone has immediately improved my contentment in life by allowing me to be present in each moment instead of being stuck in an electronic world that can wait.
2. Don’t Push Emails
When I started out as an attending, one of the faculty members I worked with told me that he only checked his email once each week. On Wednesdays. How insane is that in today’s world? And, you know what? He is a major leader in my department. When I first learned this, I thought he was crazy. Now, I consider him wise.
There is real freedom in escaping the constant stimulation that our human bodies were never meant to experience. Maybe you don’t want to go so far as checking your email once each week. Perhaps, you are looking for a more reasonable way to limit the email madness so that you can be in the moment and find that ever alluding contentment.
Well, there is a more practical way to approach this problem. Simply, stop pushing emails to your phone. Instead, schedule them to get fetched by your email service.
For example, instead of every single email popping up on your phone the second they are sent, you can schedule your phone to fetch the email every 6 or 12 hours. This way, you won’t worry about your emails until you sit down to do your emails when they are fetched.
This not only results in higher contentment and a better ability to be in the moment, it also increases your productivity through batching. You are killing two birds with one stone.
3. Be Intentional with Your Time
You may have gathered by this point that I struggle with my attention span. By limiting the distractions above, I can focus better on what I really want to be doing. Yet, this begs a question – what do I really want to be doing?
Far too often, I used to sit down and figure out what needed to be done at certain times. Now, I’ve become much more intentional with my time. I’ve done this in two specific ways.
First, I now operate via “To Do Lists” via an app called Google Keep. I separate my physician and academic medicine responsibilities into one list, and Physician Philosopher responsibilities into another. When I have time at work to get my academic work done, I go immediately to my first list. If I am off from work, I go to my second. When I am in the middle of something else, and one of these items pops up… I add it to the appropriate list, and then keep focusing on the current task.
It’s simple and highly effective.
The second thing I’ve learned to do is to use my electronic calendar more effectively. My wife and I have a linked Google calendar that allows us to know what is going on in each other’s life. This has helped us figure out who is picking up which kids on which days. It has also allowed me to schedule phone calls for work more effectively. And, most importantly, it allows for freedom from all of those activities in time that is not scheduled for work activities so that I can be with my family when I am with my family.
4. Institute a Hell Yes Policy
From a high-level point of view, my Hell Yes Policy has been by far my most effective tool for finding contentment.
The most common limiting belief that I find when it comes to putting things down or finding time for what is truly important is “I don’t have enough time.” That’s total hogwash. You do have the time. In fact, you have the same amount of time in any given day that every other human has. Where you choose to place your time is up to you, and it is also incredibly important for your contentment.
So, I decided to institute a Hell Yes Policy. Simply put, I say no to anything that does not make me say “Hell Yes I wanna do that!”
You need me to be on a committee I’m not interested in? There is an opportunity to improve a quality improvement project that doesn’t sound particularly fun? You want me to lead up an initiative because you can’t find anyone else? No. No. And, uh, no.
Then, when the opportunity came about to create a personal finance curriculum for the 4th year medical students at Wake Forest, I said, “Hell Yes!”
The sooner you institute something similar, the more contentment you will find.
5. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
While I focus on personal finance on this site, and you might read a lot about practical investment principles, your financial investments are not your most important. Not if you are in a committed relationship, at least.
The most important investment you can make is in your relationship. So, put it on that electronic calendar you adopted from above, pay for the babysitter. And pay them well so that they will come back. Then, put your phone on silent (or leave it in the car), enjoy some good conversation, and remember why you fell in love in the first place.
You will likely find no better way to find contentment than when your life is full of love. Don’t neglect this area that often gets ignored, because no one likes figuring out they have nothing in common once the kids are finally gone (or your early retirement starts).
6. Write Down a List to Find Contentment
When you are stuck in the rut of discontent and burnout, finding the silver lining can prove challenging. I was so crispy at one point that the idea of “gratitude” actually made me mad. “Of course, I am thankful for this, that, and the other…. but I am so mad right now I cannot focus on that!”
Yet, when we actually slow down, take a deep breath, and intentionally focus on things that we are thankful for in this life… it really does help.
One easy way to find this intentional contentment and gratitude is to write down a list of all of the things you currently love about your life and your situation.
Contentment may just be a pen and paper away.
7. Set Intermediate Goals
As my burnout raged into a fire set to consume me, I started focusing on all of my outs. “When I am financially independent, I’ll be able to escape all of this!” Given that we are 10-12 years away from financial freedom, this ultimately just made the burnout worse. Our goal was too far away.
Now, instead of focusing on the penultimate goal, we focus on intermediate goals. That’s what prompted me to write about the 10 milestones of financial independence.
Don’t wait until the end to celebrate! Enjoy the moments that come sooner. When you achieve a net worth of zero dollars, celebrate that! Did you pay off your student loan debt after refinancing your loans? Go grab a really nice dinner!
If you place your sole focus on the end goal, you’ll miss the entire journey that is meant to be enjoyed. You’ll find that contentment isn’t as far away as it seems.
8. Learn to Breathe!
Life has a funny way of making us acutely blind during tough times. The truth is that we often look back at the toughest times in our life only to realize those were the times that we grew the most.
In the moment, though, it feels impossible. We all know the moment when we start to feel our blood pressure rise. For me, it usually involves a three-year-old screaming at me for putting on the wrong dress for school, while my 3rd grader takes a year to get ready… and I am already running late for work.
Even in these hectic moments, you can take a moment to simply breathe. Simply, close your eyes, count three seconds in for a breath, and out for five seconds as you exhale.
Then, remember, that you’ll likely look back fondly on these times. You are being refined by the fires of life, and it is okay to stay in tough moments like this. When you look back on that list you have created from above, you’ll be even more thankful for all of the goodness you have in your life.
9. Get Outside to Find Contentment
There are few things in life that make me feel more in the moment than seeing the vastness of nature and realizing how small I am in the face of it. This happens when I watch the ocean tide at the beach in the same way that it happens when I sit at a brewery in the mountains.
If your life seems so busy that you cannot focus on the great things you have in this life, then get outside. Go for a walk. Take a hike. Get out in the water.
Go experience the grandness of life and all it has to offer and realize how small you are in this great big world. This truly helps me put things in perspective when the stress feels overwhelming. It also helps me find contentment in knowing that I have the opportunity to see these things when I am able.
Take Home: Contentment
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-13
Like the Apostle Paul you, too, can learn how to be content. But it is something that you have to learn. It will not happen without focus and attention.
Being in the moment is crucial to finding contentment. However, that contentment is not as far away as you think it is. You simply have to know how to focus on it rather than getting distracted by all of the things that scratch and claw for your attention.
Today, take a moment to be present and thankful for all that you have around you.
Do you have trouble finding contentment? Have you tried these tips and found success? Or do you have other tips for being in the moment? Leave a comment below.