Are you constantly being pulled in 10 directions at once?
It’s not just that other people — your boss, your relatives, even strangers — demand your attention. It’s also that by digital means, people now always have access to you.
If you give into that, you will never get around to your most important projects. Life will slip you by.
To remain productive, you must protect your peace. You must learn to actively defend it.
This article will give you 19 proven tactics to do so.
- 1. Become a Manager
- 2. Know Your Triggers
- 3. Choose Your Environment
- 4. Set Boundaries
- 5. Spend Time in Nature
- 6. Make “No” Your Default
- 7. Escape Your 9-to-5 Job
- 8. Become Organized
- 9. Choose Your Essential Activities
- 10. Minimize Your Physical World
- 11. Cut Out Negative People
- 12. Manage Your Phone
- 13. Live Healthily
- 14. Don’t Feed Your Mind Junk
- 15. Have a Flow Activity
- 16. Journal
- 17. Meditate
- 18. Take Breaks & Do Fun Things
- 19. Don’t Blame
1. Become a Manager
Don’t do what I did — don’t try to sit it out.
When I was younger, I thought I could overcome any nuisances by absorbing them. That bully at school? I would take the insults. That annoying friend? I would listen to his moaning, for the 100th time. My girlfriend’s mood swings? I thought it was my job to pacify her.
But every resource in life is limited. And that is especially true for your patience.
If you don’t acknowledge that limitation and start managing your peace of mind, there will be a price to pay. You will get caught up in pointless drama. Your productivity will suffer. So will your health.
But when you do protect your peace, you consciously reduce these distractions. It allows you to give your attention to only a few essential activities. The result will be great progress with your most important project in life, your one thing.
2. Know Your Triggers
When you know what upsets you — a certain person, a particular situation — make a point to stay away from these triggers.
For this, you first need to identify your triggers. For a period of four weeks, take a note on your phone every time something upsets you. Later that night, add it to your list of triggers. Pay attention to emerging patterns, like:
- People involved
- Activities during which you were triggered
- Certain hot topics
- Attitudes that provoked you
Then, rate your triggers on a scale from one to ten. As a rule of thumb, avoid anything that is an 8, 9, or 10. Limit your exposure to 5s, 6s, and 7s. Learn to live with anything lower than a 5 to reduce complexity. Managing low-level triggers will otherwise cost you too much time.
3. Choose Your Environment
For several years, I ran a gym for mixed martial arts. It was a great experience for a while, but eventually, some of the knuckleheads there started to get on my nerves.
It was not their fault. I had known the MMA world, and knew which types lived in it. For a while, I had been okay with it. But now, it was time to remove myself.
Certain environments are bound to make you feel better or worse. To protect your peace, you must proactively choose the most advantageous environment for you.
First, assess your environments realistically. Understand that whatever environment you choose, there will be drawbacks. Then weigh the different environments against each other and choose what creates the least friction. Reassess regularly.
4. Set Boundaries
If you don’t set boundaries, people will walk all over you. Examples include:
- Your partner expecting you to clean up after them, since they cannot be bothered.
- Your colleague unloading their emotional baggage on you, without you asking.
- Your boss making you fix their mistakes, so they can go on looking like the star.
Don’t get upset, it’s not their fault. They just took advantage of what was there for the taking. It is your job to protect your assets, not theirs.
For starters, you must first define what you are willing to do and what not. Write it down. Be honest with yourself, don’t try to be a “good person.”
Once it is clear to you what your boundaries are, you must communicate them to others. Do so calmly. This is new information to them, they need time to process it.
But, if after a while they still don’t respect your boundaries — act, don’t explain. Cut them off, and never go back. People who didn’t get it the first few times don’t magically change.
5. Spend Time in Nature
A lot of the unrest we experience is due to modern conditions of living.
We were not meant to sit in a chair for 12–16 hours a day, stare at various screens, and experience information overload. It is no wonder we feel restless and stressed out.
But as soon as you reenter your natural habitat — walking in a forest, strolling along the beach — your peace returns.
Make a point to spend some time in nature every day, even if it’s just visiting your local park for half an hour in the evening. Of all the tips in this article, this is the closest thing to a magic bullet. It will provide almost instant calm.
6. Make “No” Your Default
We have a hard time saying “No” to others.
Your boss wanting you to attend that pointless meeting. Your partner expecting you to come along to Sunday dinner with the parents. Your friends demanding you come out Saturday night.
But if you don’t say “No,” you effectively let others dictate your life. And that makes us feel anxious. Because on some level, we realize we are not doing our most important work.
Therefore, make “No” your default answer. 9 out 10 ten times, you should deny any request. Only if the ask aligns with your own priority in life, do you say “Yes.”
This is hard to pull off as you must go against peer pressure. But it is the only way to protect your peace in the long run.
7. Escape Your 9-to-5 Job
You cannot work a 9-to-5 job and be happy.
I know this statement will rub many people the wrong way, but I stand by it. I do not know a single person who is truly happy in their office job. Granted, I know plenty of people who have resigned and kind of made peace with it. But is that really a good thing?
Yet, despite the peace it costs us — the monotony, the office politics, our dumb boss — we are still reluctant to escape the 9 to 5.
That is for two reasons. One, society tells us to be a good sheep and do what everybody else does.
Two, and this one is worse, we suffer from massive inertia. Starting your own business would require a significant amount of effort and stamina. Most of us are not willing to put that kind of work in.
I still implore you to do so. Protecting your peace is not about alleviating symptoms. It is about finding the root cause and removing it. The 9 to 5 is one of these root causes.
8. Become Organized
I have a reoccurring negative sensation. Whenever I am juggling too many projects, I become very anxious. I feel like the world is shooting at me from all angles and I can hardly keep up dodging the bullets.
The problem is with our internal RAM. It is very limited. It was not meant to store large amounts of random to-dos. And when we still try to do so, its real use — our ability to think creatively — goes straight out the window.
So, to protect your peace, you must develop a system for productivity. Specifically, you must download all the amorphous “stuff” in your head to one central place outside your head. There, you organize your stuff into well-defined lists and review them regularly.
The “Getting Things Done” methodology is a great place to start. A while ago, I presented my own version of it here. Whatever system you choose, understand there is a learning curve, just like with any skill set. But if you put in the work, you will enjoy significantly more peace of mind.
9. Choose Your Essential Activities
No matter how organized you are, there is a natural limit to how many projects you can take on. You either respect that limit, or, inevitably, you will lose your calm.
This is hard to do, as we are greedy. We want it all — the career, the money, the beach body, the perfect partner, the travels, the family.
But this is an illusion. Something has to give. Actually, most of it has to give.
This way, you will not only experience less confusion, but also more success. Because when you only commit to a few things in your life, you are bound to give them more of your time and energy.
As a result, over time, you will become an absolute expert at your few chosen activities. And that will be both financially rewarding and emotionally satisfying.
10. Minimize Your Physical World
Too much complexity will steal your peace of mind. This also extends to the physical things you own.
The more stuff you have, the more antsy you will feel — the buying decisions, the maintenance, the storage issues.
I did not truly understand this until I went extreme minimalist and reduced my physical belonging to fewer than 100 items.
Practically overnight, a large portion of my mental bandwidth was freed up. No more:
- “What am I going to wear today?”
- “Is it time to do laundry?”
- “Should I buy this, or should I buy that?”
- “Is there a newer model I should get?”
- “What do the reviews say?”
- “Where can I get this repaired?”
- “Should I clean my apartment/wash my car/declutter the garage?”
Indulge in consumerism, like everybody else, and you’ll feel weighed down. But dare to be different and get rid of your stuff, and you will feel light again.
11. Cut Out Negative People
They create drama. They use emotional blackmail. They expect you to fix their messes. They put you down. They lie to you or even steal from you.
Yet, there is no point in playing the blame game. Most of them do not even act out of malice, but from a lack of self-awareness.
You can’t fix them either. They are who they are. Change only happens if someone is ready to change.
But you can remove yourself. And that is exactly what you should do. Cut all ties and leave.
Sometimes, that might not be an option, for example when dealing with a colleague at work. But then you can at least reduce your exposure to this negative influence. Keep interactions to a bare minimum and leave as soon as you can. Ignore all attempts to draw you back in.
12. Manage Your Phone
One of the greatest threats to your peace are digital devices, namely your ever-present smartphone. These things have the power to mess up our day at any time.
Therefore, turn off all notifications on your phone. Don’t leave it up to apps or other people to interrupt you at will.
Better yet, put your phone in silent mode for most of the day. To get real, meaningful work done, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time.
One of the best tactics I found is to not check your phone first thing in the morning. Only until I got some meaningful work done, usually right before lunch, will I see if I got any new messages.
In the same vein, I don’t check my phone about two hours before I go to bed. You might or might not still get work-related messages around that time. But you for sure are still getting personal messages.
And these too can be distracting and even upsetting at times, if someone is being very demanding, for example. So, to protect your peace, keep your nighttime routine free of any smartphone activities.
13. Live Healthily
Your level of health directly influences your peace of mind.
Studies have concluded that bad nutrition can cause depression. Likewise with bad sleep habits or not enough exercise. These health issues are not just a side effect of mental illness — in many cases, they are the direct cause.
So, to protect your peace, you must get your health habits in order:
- Eat unprocessed foods, akin to the paleo diet; things that grow in your garden, run on four legs, or swim in the sea.
- Walk every day for an hour (or more).
- Do 15 to 20 minutes of body weight training at home; no need for the gym.
- Sleep 8 to 9 hours a night, going to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends.
The trick is to start so small that you cannot fail. Pick only one habit and a ridiculously low effort. For example, do five push-ups every day. Keep it up for a week, then increase to six push-ups. And so on.
When you keep these habits up for long enough, they eventually become automated. They start to feel effortless, just like you brush your teeth every day.
14. Don’t Feed Your Mind Junk
What you put in is what you get out. That is true for your nutrition, and even more true for what you feed your mind. Specifically, I am referring to the news and social media.
I don’t deny that the news serves an important function in a democratic society to keep the people in power in check. But on an individual level, when it comes to your life, it is bad for you.
The news will present you with a never-ending stream of violence and misery, as that sells the best. When you consume that on an everyday basis, it will taint your mind. You will start to see the negative everywhere and feel the victim of higher powers that you cannot stand up to.
Social media is similarly tainting, but with a twist. Where the news focuses on negativity, social media promotes a deluded positivity. Beautiful people at the beach. Everybody is ripped. Everybody is smiling. No one is ever sick, broke, or desperate.
When you regularly check social media, if you want it or not, you start comparing yourself against this world of make-believe. And no matter how driven and disciplined you are, you will always come up short. That will make you feel bad about yourself, even when you intellectually know it’s a bunch of lies.
So, to protect your peace, you must stop watching the news and quit social media. Enter into monk mode. Not only will you feel calm again, but your productivity will skyrocket, as you will now have more time and energy to focus on your one thing in life.
15. Have a Flow Activity
Flow state is a term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. It refers to an activity that gets you “in the zone.” You are so immersed in it, nothing else matters.
For me, training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has that effect. When I spar with someone, all thoughts about bills to pay, clients to call, or social duties just evaporate. There is only the opponent that I am trying to outmaneuver. And to experience that is pure bliss.
Writing for me has a similar effect, at least on days when it’s going well. At its best, the words start flowing through you as if somebody else was doing the thinking for you, and you are just putting them on paper.
These are just two examples that work for me. You need to find your own flow activities. The key is to try out different things and watch how they make you feel.
Don’t try to impress anybody. Maybe doing the dishes and cleaning the apartment gets you there. Walking in nature is another very flow inducing activity. Sex can be, and when it is, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.
When we feel like our life is in shambles, we need to regroup.
Journaling is one of the best ways to do so.
Writing our worries down helps us to get an overview of what is going on (usually too much). It lets us prioritize these issues, so we can focus on those who will bring the greatest relief.
But most importantly, journaling creates more self-awareness. If we make it a habit to think about our life in writing, we start to discover hidden patterns. For example, we realize how we enter into the same dysfunctional relationships again and again, and why.
To build a journaling habit, as with any habit, start very small. Sit down each day for three minutes and write down your worries. Don’t worry if you only come up with half a sentence. Do this for a week, then increase your writing time to four minutes. And so on.
Before you know it, you will have built a 30-minute journaling habit into your life, that will absolutely revolutionize how you deal with your problems.
Where journaling is a strategy to bring the unconscious to the forefront of your mind, meditation can be compared to taking a vacation from your mind.
The two are often pitched against each other, which I think is silly. The mind is not the enemy, and we are all well-advised to develop it constantly. The more we do, the more effective we become in business, our relationships, etc.
But fixating on the mind only will rob us of an experience so exhilarating, so refreshing that I can only compare it to a drug trip without the negative side effects. Meditation, when it works, is pure joy. It will help you rediscover your peace on a pre-rational stage.
So, we need both.
This not a guide to meditation. And I wouldn’t be qualified to write such a guide anyway. But I at least want to share one thing that made a huge difference for me.
When you try to meditate, don’t try to “be” calm or to “not think.” That never worked for me, especially if I was very anxious to start with.
Instead, observe that anxiety. See how you are breathing rapidly, how your heart is beating fast, how your muscles are tense, etc. Don’t fight the anxiety, lean into it.
When you do that, all anxiety tends to dissipate very quickly. Same with feeling sad or angry or confused.
Master this, and you can reset your calm at will.
18. Take Breaks & Do Fun Things
This is a tricky one for me, as I easily become obsessed with doing something, to the point where I forget to come up for air.
If that is you, make a point to build breaks and a time for doing fun things into your day, just like you would build any other habit.
This stuff doesn’t have to be major. You don’t need to go on a safari to pet elephants. Novelty can be achieved by little things, like changing up your drive to work, trying out a new restaurant, or talking to a stranger.
The key is (controlled) variety.
We need to counterbalance the routines that make us effective with a certain level of diversion. Not too much, just enough to sustain the routine. Because if we don’t, our routine eventually comes crushing down on us and nothing is won.
If you get that counterbalancing right, you will enjoy calmness, even though you hustle a lot.
For me, traveling serves that function. For most of the year, I will spend my time on a random place on this planet. Not because I am so crazy about visiting and seeing the sights. No, it’s about being in a new environment which makes my routine feel fresh again.
19. Don’t Blame
The unrest we feel is often tied to other people. That annoying colleague. Our boss having unrealistic expectations. Your partner acting out. Your parents meddling in your life.
It is easy to point the finger and call these people “toxic,” and paint them as villains. But that is not doing reality justice.
The truth is — conflicts are inevitable.
For one, resources are limited. This applies to our limited amount of time on this planet, as well as other finite resources like money, power or love.
So, naturally, life ends up being a competition over these resources between individuals.
To make things even more complicated, none of us agree on the rules in that competition, what we call our “values.” Some of us will stretch their values much further than others to succeed.
And who is to say who is right?
Conflicts are built into the fabric of life. Don’t go around calling people “toxic.” It just shows you don’t understand the game.
Instead, take radical control of your own life. We’ve looked at numerous methods to do so in this article. Perfect these methods, and you will become a bastion of calm.