How to deal with post-graduation uncertainty (or anything like it).
Six months ago, I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I wanted to get better at things, improve myself and become a better person, but I didn’t know how to do it. I had no idea of the kind of person I wanted to become, my concept of success, and where to channel my energies.
The loss of perspective happens quite often in today’s society. Especially when you close a significant chapter of your life, like finishing your studies.
The Washington Post and New Hampshire University talk a lot about this discomfort. They call it post-graduation depression, and I have seen many people dealing with it. But for me, it was a lighter version of it.
The fact is that I got a job a month before getting my degree, so I didn’t have the time to think if that was what I wanted. I lost focus on my future and let the autopilot guide me. But something deeply personal was telling me I was on the wrong path. So I decided to refind myself in the next six months, and I built a complete plan to improve my life one step at a time.
Month #1 — Reflect on your life
Since the loss of future perspective was my problem, I built the first month of the plan around self-reflection.
After finishing your studies, you have an empty path ahead of you, filled with many possibilities. Sometimes, this creates discomfort because of the fear of failure. Other times, you take a pathway that you do not enjoy because people around you influenced your choice with their egos.
My parents, for example, were expecting me to continue my engineering career because that is what I did at university. My friends and my girlfriend expected me to have more free time to give them. But for a change to happen, I had to disappoint all of them. I needed more time for myself, and I didn’t want to have a career as an engineer.
Find dreams and extrapolate goals.
The first month of the plan to improve my life started with understanding my dreams. If I wanted to improve myself, I needed to learn what I wished to become and my life purpose.
So I started asking myself one simple question every morning of the first month.
If I die tomorrow, what would people tell about me?
Thanks to this simple exercise, I discovered I wanted to have a big family and become a great father. I wanted to live a healthy and wealthy life.
Also, I wanted people to remember me. I wanted to represent a change in their lives and help them improve how others helped me before.
So I started this blog.
In 6 months, my goal was to write at least four articles each month and connect with people. Also, I set a goal for eating healthy, learning the best ways to manage my finances, and develop new habits.
Create a plan to meet your goals.
However, without an execution plan, a bunch of goals means nothing. So I had to figure out how I wanted to reach my goal.
I knew nothing about goal setting at that time, but I understood that simple and measurable goals are better. So my first plan only included a couple of straightforward actions:
- write one article every week
- read at least 10 minutes every morning
- eat vegetables at least once a day
- save at least 30% of my monthly income
I did not need more in the beginning, and you don’t either. Your actions have to be stupid simple, and easy to perform. This is only the first month of the plan, so do not overcharge yourself with too many goals.
Month #2 — Focus on habits
It was clear from the beginning that I needed new habits to become the person I wanted to be. So I dedicated the second month to getting rid of unproductive patterns and building healthy ones instead.
Even here, I tried to maintain a minimalist approach and value simplicity over complexity. As for the goals, even the habits had to be simple and easy, to keep a gradual but constant evolution.
Focus on ending bad habits first.
Our body cannot stack habits to our routines infinitely — this is the most valuable lesson I learned from the second month of the plan to improve my life.
If you have no time to form a habit, and you only reserve your leftovers, you will never form that habit at all.
So before charging yourself up with hundreds of new habits to try, focus on ending unproductive patterns first. Deal with addictive behaviors, procrastination problems, inefficiency to close tasks, and understand how to overcome these obstacles first.
For example, one of my biggest problems was procrastination. As soon as I finished working, I jumped in front of the PC to watch videos on YouTube and Twitch for hours. So I had to convince myself it was impossible to follow all the lives and videos I wanted. I could follow a few, the most important ones, but the others had to go.
Build new habits.
Contemporary with the removal of bad habits, good ones should refill those empty spaces. This is the only consistent way of not falling back into addictive patterns while building up new ones. To keep track of the transformation, I built a transactional list.
If you want to do it too, take a piece of paper and divided it into two parts:
- On the left, write the attitude or pattern you are trying to get rid of.
- On the right, the one you are trying to acquire.
Also, start with one habit at a time, and then stack them up until you achieve all of them.
For example, I would never start a new habit if I could not maintain a streak of at least 7 days for all the precedent ones.
Here can download the printable transactional list below.
Month #3 — Focus on the plan execution
I used the third month of the plan to improve the consistency of the new habits.
Usually, when you start a new habit, there will be moments in which you skip repetitions. So in the third month, focus on consistency and techniques to improve your habit stacking.
In this period, for example, I dealt with motivation, one of my worst problems. I engaged in motivational exercises at least thrice a week, and that improved my performance overall.
Increase time spent working.
If you want to follow your plan and improve your life, you need to spend time on it.
Implementing a new schedule in your life is not easy. Your day is already full of things you want to do, and many times bad habits will bite you in the back. Therefore, maintain focus on your goals and restart your habits every time you fail.
In the past, I have noticed that if I skipped a habit once, I could recover without any problems. However, if I did it twice, I would have probably failed it soon. For this reason, I use the not-skipping-twice rule to maintain consistency without ruining my habits.
Do I have to explain it? Just never skip two repetitions in a row!
Improve diet and nutrition.
Since this month was not that heavy, I dealt with nutrition too. I found it effective to link my diet to a habit and treat it as one. For example, I engaged with the challenge of eating one vegetable portion every day.
However, keep in mind that having a diet does not mean losing weight but eating healthy. Your goal is to build good eating patterns that allow you to maintain your weight. Then, if you need it, you can start losing some belly fat. This way, even if you engage in a restrictive diet, you can always turn back to a healthy lifestyle without gaining weight back.
Month #4 — Deal with your finances
In the fourth month of the plan to improve my life, I finally put my focus on personal finance. By then, I was gaining some real income from my job, and accumulating the money felt like a waste of capital power.
Read, invest, repeat.
My interest in personal finance also brought me to start an investment plan and put $200 in assets monthly. In this case, understanding what type of investor I was and what I wanted to achieve was crucial.
So I read many books about investments, money strategies, and crypto. The Richest Man in Babylon, by George Samuel, was one of my favorites. It taught me how money works through a couple of simple stories from ancient Babylon.
Also, while reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, I discovered the purpose of my investments. I wanted to buy a house on the sea. So I defined an aggressive strategy for 20+ years to maximize my gain and make me reach the goal.
Month #5 — Outer and inner problems
When you start a six-month plan to improve your life, you get involved in the process and forget about your mental and physical integrity. But you need to deal with both before it becomes serious trouble.
If you already set up a healthy eating habit, your shape did not necessarily change too much. But a sedentary lifestyle is not the best choice. Therefore, in the fifth month, create and stick to a workout routine.
My routine, for example, consisted of running three times per week and lifting some weights in the days between workouts. This way, I could lose weight by running while also building muscles with weight lifting.
Mindfulness and chill.
Even if everything in my life seemed to have worked out properly, I still felt a sense of emptiness that I could not fill, so I decided to take an inner journey to try and solve it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t work with a professional psychologist. But I took small steps individually and, thanks to meditation and mindfulness, I relieved all of the stress coming from my ambitions.
To build mental strength, I developed a daily habit of thinking about my needs and communicating them to the people around me. I learned how to make space for myself, prioritize my feelings, and take a pause when needed.
For this reason, I also introduced in my routine bath nights — a night once in two weeks where I give up all external stimuli and think about life in a hot (or cold) bath.
Month #6 — The end of the journey
In the last month of the journey, I focused on finishing the plan while keeping all my habits together. Also, I needed to reflect on what I achieved, analyzing what I could have done better.
I wanted to take responsibility for my behavior, not only for the successes but also for my failures. I wrote a list of what I did great and what needed improvement in the following six months.
Even if it seems like my six-month plan to improve my life was fabulous, there were some downfalls, but I learned a lot from them.
Many things were great. My money management capabilities improved, my side hustle is rising, and I achieved mental fortitude.
However, a couple of things still need some improvements. I did not keep my habit of eating at least one vegetable dish a day, for example. And my workouts weren’t that satisfying after the first month.
Habit stacking works, but building too many at once can be fatal. A habit needs time to form and become part of you. So even when you maintain the streak for more than a month, once you give up twice in a row, you will quit.
So be careful of the amount of stress you put on your shoulders, and put your mental integrity in the first place. Everything else matters relatively to that. In the end, you will always have another six months to try again.
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Article first published on Medium (referral link).