By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple ideas that you can use to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing every day, based on quality research.
This is Episode 74 and this week I’m talking about success. In this episode I’ll cover what real success is (and what it isn’t), why redefining success is essential for your mental health, and how to approach the idea of success in a way that creates better overall wellbeing. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.
Watch Episode 12 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m sharing five lessons about better mental health and wellbeing from… the Spice Girls? Yes, seriously! There are actually some really great lessons we can take from Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty plus it gave me an opportunity to combine two of my greatest joys in life: talking about mental health, and talking about the Spice Girls. Enjoy and let me know which tips you found most useful and really, really want to apply (you see what I did there)!
Watch it below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 11 April, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 74, and thanks so much for joining me! 2021 is The Year of Wellbeing here on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast, and each week I’ll be exploring ways you can make a positive difference in your own life.
This week is all about success. As I said last week, for years we’ve been sold this message throughout much of the world that success is all based on things like money, status and possessions, and I’m not saying that we should ignore those things and go live in the woods, but there has to be balance in all things. When we go too far in any direction we find ourselves dealing with extremism, and unfortunately the things that are valued in society today — like followers, the way we look and the size of our bank account — are all extreme versions of a very particular type of success. So this week I’m going to be looking at the mental health impact of that sort of so-called ‘success’ and I’ll be talking about different ways to approach life in order to increase your overall happiness.
Before I get into that, Episode 12 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV is out now on YouTube where I’m sharing five important lessons about better mental health from… the Spice Girls. Yes, seriously! Anyone who listens to this show regularly will know of my enduring love for the Spice Girls and I decided to celebrate that by considering what their brief reign at the top of the charts can teach us about wellbeing… and it turns out there’s actually a lot of serious things we can take away from them! The episode is out now on my YouTube channel and the content I post there is completely different to the stuff you hear on this podcast, so if you’d like some more Let’s Talk About Mental Health goodness each week then head to YouTube at www.youtube.com/c/LetsTalkAboutMentalHealth or watch it now at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/YouTube — you’ll find the links in the episode description for this podcast. And while you’re there, if you like what you see then please subscribe to the YouTube channel.
So, now, on with this week’s episode about redefining success…
If you don’t have three degrees, a six-figure salary, an expensive car, and a home with so many rooms that you only use some of them once a year, you’re a failure as a human being. At least that’s what we’re told time and time again by the media, by society and even by some of the people we’re closest to. Now I’m not suggesting you sell all of your possessions and go live in a hut on a mountain top (although if that’s appealing to you then go and do it!), but surely there is a better way to live than just endlessly working to try and keep up with all the things that we’re told we have to buy and achieve in order to be successful.
Many of us tend to be quite hard on ourselves and when it comes to success, our attention spans can be minuscule. Often we focus on achieving a specific outcome or goal, thinking that this particular success will make us happy, and then when we do achieve it we might find ourselves feeling happy for a little bit, but then within days or weeks that feeling fades and we’re onto the next thing that we believe will make us feel happy and successful. Do you know what that is? That’s the building blocks of misery. When you do these things over and over again, every time expecting that this will be the time when everything in your life transforms into never-ending rainbows and unicorns, what you’re doing is subconsciously setting yourself up for failure. Because trying to find success through material achievements is like throwing Jell-o at the wall: it won’t stick for long, and you’ll wind up with a big mess to clean up afterwards.
What we need is a way to define real success in our lives so that we can understand what has a lasting impact on our mental health and wellbeing. So…
What is real success (and what isn’t)?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘success’ is usually defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”, or “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status”. Here’s the problem with those definitions: they are very focused on external factors, most of which are outside of our direct control. And regular listeners will know that I often talk about good mental health being directly related to focusing on the things that are within your own direct control (your words, actions and feelings, and in particular what you choose to do with your feelings). Think of it this way: if you’re climbing the corporate ladder you’re at the mercy of the demands of those higher up on the ladder than you, which means it is less likely that you have any direct control over what you are expected to do to take those next steps.
Take a look at similar words to success and it’s all about affluence, wealth and victory which, again, are very externally-focused… there were, however, two alternatives that stood out to me: ‘prosperity’ and ‘favourable outcome’. Now I know prosperity can also be applied to wealth but the word ‘prosperity’ also refers to ease, security and comfort — in other words, consistently having what you need without having to worry about how you’re going to put food on the table — while a ‘favourable outcome’ is about things turning out in a way that is to your advantage. The thing about being focused on prosperity and achieving favourable outcomes is that these are things that are affected by the external, yes, but which we also have a lot of internal control over; for example, my money comes from external sources but I can choose the way that I define having a prosperous and successful life. Does that make sense? So for me, ‘prosperity’ simply means not stressing over how I’m going to pay my bills and having a fridge and freezer that are always full of good quality food — that’s my definition of prosperity. That’s been a huge shift for me over the past 10 years, and going through depression and anxiety (as well as bankruptcy a few years back) forced me to completely change my attitude, because frankly there was no way I was ever going to let myself go back to the way things were before everything happened. I never used to save money; I now live on a small amount each week and save the rest.
I’m sharing all of this because real success is about finding genuine and sustainable happiness. Back in Episode 61 I talked about things that can make a positive difference and create a healthy attitude towards our approach to happiness, including:
- having a positive and optimistic mindset
- maintaining healthy relationships
- learning how to live in the moment (something I’ll be exploring in a couple of months’ time)
- helping others
- living with meaning
- (and) taking care of your health
(and that list was adapted from an article in Healthline, which you can find linked in the transcript — find it here: https://letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/2021/01/11/happiness/)
So if that is what contributes to greater happiness, wouldn’t it stand to reason that real success is directly related to those things? Because you’ll notice that mentioned nowhere in that list was your bank account, job title or how many followers you have!
A successful life is one that feels truly meaningful to you. What that looks and feels like is going to be unique for each of us.
Let’s be honest with ourselves about what success is and what it isn’t. Real success is not about making heaps of money or going on luxury holidays (when Uncle Rona actually allows us to travel). It’s not about the number of followers you have or the clothes you wear, or the size of the house you live in or what kind of car you drive. There’s a big difference between having what you actually need versus what you think you need, because most of those so-called ‘needs’ are actually just wants. For example, I have an iPad that I use multiple times a day but I’m self-aware enough to know that I don’t actually need it; yes it makes life easier, but the world won’t fall apart without it (that said, don’t touch my iPad!).
We need to redefine success and focus on what really matters; in other words, putting our most fundamental priorities — like our relationships and finding a sense of meaning in our lives — at the heart of everything we do. If other things are getting in the way of that or are detracting from your sense of satisfaction with your life, then something has to change. That requires a leap of faith because, of course, we all still need to be able to pay the bills while refocusing on our priorities (assuming that you need to refocus which, frankly, most of us probably do!), but it’s been said for centuries that necessity is the mother of invention… so if being successful by finding genuine satisfaction in your life really matters to you, you’ll find a way! So…
Why is redefining success essential for your mental health?
Here’s the thing: making a bucketload of money doesn’t mean anything if you don’t feel calm and satisfied with your life. Do you want to just make it through each day, or do you want to really live? Because if you want to live then you need to stop focusing on the material stuff that just doesn’t create long-term happiness.
We all have bills to pay, but there’s an enormous difference between providing you and your family with the necessities of life versus working your arse off so you can pay for a massive house and a BMW. When you focus on those external markers of success, what happens is that it detracts from the internal stuff: peace of mind, feeling in control of your own destiny, and being able to do things with your life that feel purposeful and meaningful to you.
I used to think that earning money to buy lots of stuff was so important that it meant I had to suck up the inevitable disappointment and dissatisfaction that came with my corporate work (and no disrespect to people that love corporate life — like anything, it’s a good fit for some but not the right fit for others). Now, I know that I can choose to put my peace of mind first… and when you do that, your perspective on what you’re willing to put up with changes entirely. Now I work no more than 30 hours a week because enjoying my life and spending time with those I care about is far more important than a few extra dollars in my bank account. I limit the number of clients I work with one-on-one to just a small handful at a time so that I can achieve the balance between doing work I find rewarding and still having plenty of time to devote to all the other projects that I enjoy working on, like writing and also building my YouTube channel with better content.
I know I’ve been mainly focusing on money (and I do a lot, primarily because it’s one of the most tangible symbols of this whole external success we focus on a lot) and there’s a great quote from the British philosopher Alan Watts that I think explains why this stuff is so important to really think about. It is:
“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living — that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.”Alan Watts
So I loved that quote and I don’t know about you but that cycle isn’t one that I want to be a part of. Breaking that cycle is challenging and it takes courage, but it’s absolutely possible to redefine success and approach it in a way that helps you create better overall wellbeing. How do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode…
How to approach the idea of success in a way that creates better overall wellbeing
So I have six key points here in the how-to section and I’ll note upfront that most of these are about mindset, which I explored back in Episode 31 and it’s really about the way that you choose to look at the world.
Change your mindset towards money and external measures of success — throughout most of this episode I’ve been talking about how to redefine success… well, now it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to apply that to your mindset. Because it all starts with choosing to change the way you think about this stuff. Money is a means to an end, not a reason for living. It can buy you some happiness, absolutely, and you can use it to outsource things that take you away from your priorities, but there’s a point at which the happiness you get from those things fades and then you no longer feel as satisfied (so you start looking for the next thing, and the next thing, and… well, you get the picture). You don’t need to give everything away except for two forks and a plate, but you also don’t need to have 57 of everything or fill your house with the latest gadgets. Which leads me to my next point…
Be honest with yourself about the impact external measures of success have on you — so, when you’re working 50, 60, 70 hours a week just so that you can afford to drive a fancy car or have the latest iPhone, or when you’re trying to present a polished facade to the world when in fact you can barely make ends meet, you’re going to burn yourself out… and honestly, life can’t be too pleasant if you’re having to constantly focus on keeping your head above water. So be honest with yourself about the impact of chasing that external success. Which leads to my next point…
Live within your means — poverty sucks. I know. I grew up so poor that most of the time the last two days before my mother got paid again there was nothing to eat except stale bread (so I developed a very strong affinity for toast). I’m not advocating you become poor and destitute (and just as a side note to that: can someone explain why the hysterical reaction that some people have to the suggestion to live within your means is to accuse the person saying it of being a communist or socialist? Anyway…!). Live in a house that accommodates you comfortably without being unnecessarily large — if there are more bedrooms than people, are you really using them? (And I don’t know about you but all of that space has to be cleaned and… ah, no!) Does everybody really need a car? Does everybody in the family have to have this year’s iPhone or does last year’s model still work perfectly well? Don’t overextend yourself in the name of appearing to be successful and if you can’t pay for something out of your own money, don’t buy it (or save up for it until you can); credit just makes things worse in terms of trading off security for material stuff that we don’t actually need. Which leads into my next point…
Know your priorities and make them the foundation of everything you do (and don’t do) — what’s more important, your family or your job title? What’s going to make you feel better about yourself and about life in general, what car you drive or your peace of mind? Your priorities will be unique to you however everyone I’ve ever asked to describe their priorities to me has usually started off with their family or partner (or both), and doesn’t that just tell you something about what really matters most in life? So know your priorities and make them the foundation of everything you do and don’t do. The next point is…
Stop seeking external validation — who honestly cares what other people think? Why the hell are many of us working our backsides off to try and meet a socially-driven form of success — who are we trying to impress? Nobody is really paying that much attention to you anyway and those that are either (a) respect you no matter what because they like you and care about you, or (b) if they’re being negative or looking down on you because of what you wear or what phone you have, then those type of people really are just self-absorbed shallow arseholes… so who cares what that type of person thinks? If they’re not the type of person you want to be, then to hell with what they think! So choose to stop seeking validation from what other people think.
And then my final point, and it’s a bit of a longer one, and it’s to…
Do things because they’re fun or you feel passionate about them (or both) — when I started my YouTube channel in January I was initially worried that people just wouldn’t want to watch, so I was so worried about it that it held me back from having fun with it at first. The thing is that people do want to watch it, and subscribers are growing quicker than the average and that’s lovely… but, if I just focus on the numbers, then I’ll miss what’s most important: creating quality content that people actually find helpful, and having fun while I’m doing it. It’s the same with this podcast. At first I was so worried about the numbers and I think every creator goes through that as well (and in the early days it took a long time to grow), and now I mainly focus on creating content I feel passionate about since that’s all I can really control. Yes, I do still look at the numbers and I’m always pleased to see it’s continuing to grow — for example, last week I was the 36th most popular mental health podcast in Portugal which is mind-blowing (so a big obrigado to my Portuguese listeners!) — but all of that is beyond my control, and when we focus on external things to measure our success we’re taking away from the more important internal factors (like loving what we do) which is what we do have direct control over. So I choose to focus on doing the things I love doing and having fun with the process; this week’s episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube is a perfect example because I got to combine two of my favourite things — better mental health and the Spice Girls — and I rolled them into one ridiculous video that actually has a lot of valuable content in it (and at the same time I had SO much fun producing and editing it because I got to insert lots of Spice Girls clips and just generally created a video that I personally enjoy watching). Do what makes you feel excited and passionate, and use those feelings as a benchmark for success rather than figures that are completely beyond your direct control. If external success comes as a result of that work then fantastic, but be objective about it and remember that you can only ever control what you do, say and feel.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to success and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When we focus on money, fame and status as a means of deciding whether or not we are successful, we completely miss the point about life. Because it’s the way that we live our lives and how we find purpose and meaning that determines whether or not we’re successful as a human being, not the size of our bank balance. Mother Teresa? Poor, yet incredibly successful as a human being. You get to decide what success means to you and if you think about what matters most to you in life, then shouldn’t being the best version of yourself possible and focusing on what really matters — like love, kindness and compassion — shouldn’t that be the way that we measure success? And you have the choice to decide how you measure your own success, both now and in the future.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the American writer Christopher Darlington Morley, and it is:
“There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.”Christopher Darlington Morley
Next week I’ll be talking about toxic people. I like to focus on the positive as much as possible however there is also reality to contend with (which is why I consider myself a realistic optimist!) and the reality is that some people are arseholes. I try to separate the person from the behaviour as much as possible (because we all have bad days sometimes) however there are people in life who insist on making it difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt, and usually someone who repeats the same toxic actions over and over again is telling you very clearly what type of person they are. So how do you deal with that, especially when it’s someone close to you (such as in your family or at work)? Well next week I’ll be talking about what toxic behaviour looks like, why it’s important to know the difference between challenging behaviour and toxic behaviour, and how to deal with toxic people for the sake of your wellbeing. And spoiler alert: I’ll be saying “don’t put up with shit” quite a lot (amongst other advice).
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 18th April. And join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday.
Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and past episodes (including audio links and full transcripts) and while you’re there join the Let’s Talk About Mental Health mailing list to have exclusive updates land in your inbox — those of you on my email list receive the full transcript for each episode every week and I also just started a short weekly newsletter where I share 3-4 things that have inspired me or which I found interesting related to mental health and wellbeing, so if you like this show then sign up now at the website: letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content throughout the week, and if you follow me on Instagram then you’ll notice that I make a point of interacting with as many people as possible there so it’s a great way to continue the conversation!
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.