Stop Living a Passive Life
Note: this post was originally written in February 2017, but was unpublished when I moved to a new blog host.
I have a real problem with writing in the passive voice. A quick look through any draft of anything I write shows an inclination towards this type of writing. There are probably plenty of passive sentences in this blog post. The passive is something that plagues and haunts writers of all genres and experience levels. Just like writing in the passive voice makes writing less interesting and not as powerful, living a passive life leads to boring days, a lack of fulfillment and unhappiness. I would know, because I often let my life become passive.
A Passive Life
But what exactly is a passive life? I think this shows itself differently depending on the person, but for me a passive life is monotony. It's doing the same things every day without very much, if any, change to daily routine. I snooze the alarm, drag my feet to get ready, take the same route to work with my brain on autopilot, sit in my cubicle for 8 hours, head home, make the same things for dinner and usually end up on the couch in front of the TV until I go to bed so I can repeat the same thing the next day.
Sure, there's some variety. I write blog posts, I experiment with habit change. I wear different clothes and eat different foods. But days are passive where I don't try something new, learn something new or take small steps toward a significant life change. Those are the days where I come home feeling unfulfilled and depressed. I go to bed not wanting to get up and hit the repeat button.
In a nutshell, a passive life is one that lacks power, growth and fulfillment. Now before you leave any angry comments, I'm not saying that routines are bad. I enjoy my 9–5 most days. I like the clothes I wear regularly and I enjoy the food that my wife and I eat on a regular basis. Routines can be great for building habits and creating momentum for change in our lives. But bad routines can also keep us trapped in an unfulfilling, passive life that cycles around every day.
Leading a passive life means letting life happen without trying to change and improve anything. We just let things happen to us while leaving our brains on autopilot for most of the day. Instead of trying to do something hard, we take the easy route through life, letting the hours, days, weeks, months and years blur together into a life wasted away doing the easy, passive thing. We cling to remotes, scroll incessantly through social media, avoid personal growth, and let circumstances and other people dictate what happens to us.
So how do we combat the cyclical trap of passive routines? I've found 6 ways to live an active lifestyle rather than a passive one. There's no right way to take back control of your life, but I (and many others) have found a few ways to break out of a passive life.
Learn Something New Every Day
Since I finished my degree a few months ago, this has been a challenge for me. I imagine it's a challenge for many of you who end up doing the same things every day in the same place while surrounded by the same people. It's hard to learn something new when not much changes on a daily basis. Learning and progression often become passive.
But just because you're doing the same thing day in and day out and you're not in school doesn't mean you can't learn new things. Here are a few ways I've found that help me keep learning:
- Deals on classes through sites like Udemy or Coursera
- Free, short courses through Highbrow
- Local classes offered through local library/county systems
- Community classes offered at local colleges
- Book clubs
Break Free From Monotony and Routine
Once again, I'd like to say that routine is not bad. In fact, I love some of my daily routines. Other routines, namely the ones where I zone out and stop paying attention, turn me into a passive zombie who can't distinguish different days.
I think we should pay attention to the routines that help us live better and work more effectively. We should keep and strengthen those routines. They're an important part of our lives. Then we should strip away the routines that make us passive. Scroll through Facebook while you're eating breakfast? Change it up. Take the same route home from work every day? Try changing it up every once in a while to take in some new scenery.
The point is to not get so caught up in the easy, automatic routines that we basically turn into robots. Don't let your life run on autopilot. Take control of your routines and only follow the ones that make a difference.
List What You Can't Control and Control What You Can
This is a powerful activity that I've talked about in past posts. Listing what you can and can't control can be eye-opening and life-changing. Here's the basics to get you started with this simple yet impactful exercise:
- Go through your day and do your best to list everything that happens. Use as much detail as possible. If it rains, if your bus is late, who talks to you at work, what emails you get. Write down everything.
- Do this for a few days.
- After one or more days, take the list and separate the items into things that you have direct control over (for example, which shirt you wear, your mood on the drive to work) and things that you have no control over (for example, the weather, other drivers, etc.).
- Use this list to determine what you can control and then take control over those things. Don't let them just happen on autopilot. Make sure you are actively making those choices because they matter to you, not because they're easy or it's the way you've always done things.
Create More Than You Consume
Creativity is the opposite of passivity. If you're not creating, you're being passive and/or consuming. Create something as often as possible. It can be something as simple as creating and playing a game with your kids or as complex as composing music. Here are a few more ideas: writing in your journal, drawing with chalk, crafting a blog post, designing a website, painting, sketching, playing music, etc.
Do Nothing Sometimes
Sometimes the right choice for the moment is to do nothing. This seems like the most passive thing you can do, but I beg to differ. I think we are so surrounded by distractions, to-do lists, busyness and noise that we almost never take time to just do absolutely nothing. No phones, no TV, no lists, no games, no noise, no music. Nothing. Just you and your body and your mind. If you do this intentionally, it can be one of the most mentally active things you do all day. It is soothing, freeing and meditative. Try it. Make time to sit and do nothing.
Replace Passivity With Intentional Living
Intentional living has become something of a buzzword these days. But it is still a worthwhile ideal. As we learn new things, break free from monotony, focus on what we can control, create more and do nothing sometimes, we'll become more intentional with our lives and what we do every day. Make choices and act with real intent. Don't just let stuff fall into your life and control your thoughts and actions.
Intentional living takes practice and work. It's not easy. We must learn to change things, to control our actions and wake up for life. Don't live in a passive fog anymore. Open your eyes and live life to its fullest.
What are some things in life you find yourself doing on autopilot? What are ways you combat falling into a passive life?