Outside of the Box: 14 Ways Living Inside the Box is Slowly Killing Our Joy

Published on
May 30, 2023
Written by
Coryne Forest
Personal Development
"Life is goodwhen we think it's good. Life is bad when we don't think." – Douglas Horton, academic.

What is life like in the status quo? Does this phrase make you feel safe and content, or do you cringe when you hear it?

Think about this for a minute. When you're in the status quo, you know what to expect. There are very few decisions to make. You know what’s coming and how to react to those things. If things go wrong, you know how they're going to go wrong, and probably even how to fix it. There are no surprises.

For me, I like to feel comfortable in certain areas of my life, while others are swirling in the chaos of change.  For example, I recently moved from the house where I lived for 20+ years.  This caused immeasurable chaos in my personal life.  So, accepting the status quo in my professional life was okay for a few months.  Sometimes, it’s the opposite.  When deadlines on big projects are looming, I’m grateful that my personal life is running along without a whole lot of input from me required.  

But I try not to live too long in this space of focused imbalance.  Because, when you’re in the status quo, there is no change, either. It feels as if you're living life in a box, and while this might seem comfortable at times, it's killing your joy.

It's time to do something about it.

How can you rediscover happiness, take back your life, and live life outside the lines? Try following these tips:

Start Thinking For Yourself

The biggest problem with the status quo is you stop thinking for yourself. With so few decisions to be made, it's easier to go with the flow than worry about right or wrong or even what you want. To break free, this has to change. It's time to seize control of your destiny. Quit listening to what others say you should be doing with your life. It's time to figure out who you are and what you want entirely for yourself.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Are you sure you want to move to northern Michigan?  Winters are long.  I think you’re going to hate it!”  It would have been easy for me to let those opinions sway me from my decision.

Look Up

Rather than accept every day as another carbon copy, think about where you want to go from here. What is the next step you want to take? Although it might seem hard at first, the main idea, for now, is to break out of the pattern and move, even in a small way to a life more in keeping with what you want. Start small and go from there.

Okay, so moving from a big house in the suburbs to a small house in the woods was a giant leap.  But, it was done intentionally to move me towards a life I want to create for myself.

Dream Big

When you've been used to following the crowd, you'll find your own goals and ambitions have pretty much disappeared. And this is why one of the first steps to take as you step outside the box is to start dreaming again. Forget goals for the time being. Just get used to imagining all the beautiful things you want to do to change the world. The bigger, the better. Eventually, you'll find specific dreams keep coming up. Pay attention to those as they're what you're going to use to create fresh new goals that are uniquely yours.

Moving and living in a little house isn’t my dream, but it is a step to one of my bigger dreams: that of living in the mountains.

Rethink Your Job

Career-wise when you're living inside the box, it means you are stalled. The big question? Are you going to work each day, or are you embracing a career path that is fulfilling? This is not the same thing. When you want to live life outside the lines, you need to find things that are fulfilling to you, starting with your career choice.

Three years ago, I retired from my career for the US Army and embarked on a new career trajectory.  I started a business knowing very little of how to run one, since I’d been a civil servant my entire adult life.  I didn’t let that stop me, though, knowing that I had more to give to the world.

Have Ideas

In the status, quo innovation is not always welcome. Over time, it becomes effortless to keep quiet when you get a thought on a new way to do things. The problem is, keeping ideas to yourself is part of what's keeping you stuck in the status quo in the first place. Here's where you need to shake things up if you ever expect to break free of this particular box. It's time to speak up. Share your thoughts. Inspire new growth, and you, too, will grow.

I’m not going to lie; it was my idea to move up north and sell the big house.  Of course, my husband agreed with me, but all the pain of moving and changing most things about our life started with that idea that I had a year ago.  I tell you, there were days when we were exhausted from packing and loading boxes of furniture that my husband and I looked at each other and said “Why did we do this?  Life was good…”

Stop Watching

How many times have you sat on social media, taking note of all how other people are living their lives? How does this make you feel? Here's where you need to quit hanging out, being sad at all the opportunities you're missing. It's time to shine! Start living your own life by taking time out for your dreams. Got a bucket list? Why wait to start knocking things off of it. Do what makes your soul happy.

I keep a Happiness Journal where I write a few sentences every morning about what made me happy the day before.  I noticed that there was a theme of walking in the woods with my dog, listening to all the birds chirping.  My social media is filled with friends travelling to exotic places, but my happy moments were in the peaceful places, so I made sure that I lived in a place where those opportunities are plentiful on a daily basis!

Shake Things Up

Living inside the box only works if everyone is doing what's expected of them. Conforming to group think keeps things calm, remember. This means if you truly want to honor yourself and your individuality, you need to let loose and shine! Embrace the weird, enjoy the eccentric. Be quirky, fun, and decidedly different in all the ways you've always wanted to be. Wear bowties. Sing to strangers.

It's funny, but whenever I’m asked to use a word to describe myself, I always choose quirky.  Why be normal?  We are past the days when being ostracized from the tribe meant certain death. The more “you” you are, the more you attract the people into your life that love the real you!  

Drop Your Phone

Social media can be great when it comes to staying in touch with your friends. It's not so great when you start using it to poll the masses before every move just so you can make sure you're doing what's expected of you. The problem with being in touch is you very easily fall into the trap of groupthink. Quit checking for second opinions and start trusting your gut. Not that you can't ever ask someone else for thought or opinion on a matter. In the end, though, your decisions need to be yours alone.

Get Uncomfortable

One thing about the status quo is just how comfortable it is. With no decisions to make and no change from day to day, you really can just sit back and go with the flow. But while this sounds Zen (it's not), you need a lot more in your life than the sameness of every day. It's time to take chances. Sure this is going to feel awkward and even scary at first. It will get better as you go as you learn more about who you are and what you're truly capable of.

I had the honor and privilege to hear a talk from Nick Vujicic last week and one of the things that stand out to me is when he looked out to the audience and shouted, “Life is hard.  Figure. It.  OUT!!”  Powerful words.  We only grow by getting out of our comfort zone and most of us do end up figuring it out.

Stop Playing the Game

Have you ever noticed just how much stock people put on milestones? You're forever going to be confronted with all the significant life markers. People will ask, "when are you going to have kids?" or "shouldn't you go to college?" These questions are more meant to satisfy themselves in their own life choices than to help you in yours! The biggest problem with this line of questioning is the damage it does to you when they start getting under your skin. Rather than follow a timeline set out by your family or friends, it's time to break free and consider just how you want to live your life and what order you want to live it in.

Don't want kids? Fine. Are you going back to school at fifty? Why not? Honestly, it's all up to you.

I wouldn’t have started an encore career after retirement, if I subscribed to retirement as the time of life when you stop working!

Embrace Positivity

When nothing ever changes, it's natural to get caught up in a negative inner dialogue. You start expecting things to be dull. You might feel trapped and will even start telling yourself things along the lines of "there's no use even trying." You expect failure at every turn. All this really can get you down. The problem is, when you're stepping out from the status quo, you're going to need a lot of positive energy to help you make the transition. Your self-talk likewise needs to change. It's time to remind yourself of how good things are going to be by focusing on the positive.

I totally recommend the book Messy Joy by my friend and colleague, Robin Shear.  It is about how joy can begin before difficulties end and makes you feel SO GOOD when you read it!

Know Yourself

What are you good at? Too often, when we live inside the box, we suppress a lot of who we are. This includes our capabilities. You have a unique set of talents. Part of authentic living is in embracing who you are and what you're good at. Push yourself to see what you can learn. See how far you can fly. By trying new things, and coming to learn just what you're good at, you'll start to see the possibilities. What's more, you'll start to trust yourself to be able to reach those goals as well.

Create 'You' Goals

Who have you been working for all this time? When you're trying hard to fit in, it's easy to toe the company line. You start living your life with someone else's goals in mind. Now it's time to wake up and figure out what you want to do. If you've got a handle on your talents and are dreaming again, you probably already have some ideas of where you want to go with your life. If not? Maybe some self-examination is in order. The important thing here is in setting goals you're capable of (or would like to be capable of!), and then putting your feet on the path to reach them.

Live Your Life

The world of the status quo is a dry, dead place. Nothing happens there. In the end, the only way you're ever going to bring joy back to your life after getting stuck is to get moving. Start doing things differently. Take actions that reflect your belief system—Chase after goals. Try new things. Movie into a little house…oh wait, that’s just me!

Anytime you're trying to escape out of a box, not of your own making, it's going to be hard initially. Boxes are meant to be cages. What keeps you there are some pretty ingrained habits. Be patient with yourself as you set out on this path. Take your time, and if you need to, revisit these ideas again and again until they stick.

Whatever you do, make sure you're honoring your hopes and dreams in all you do, for here is where you find the most joy.

You've got this.

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