The Real Problelm With Living Life by Default

Written by on February 29, 2016 in Confidence with 45 Comments

Life by Default

Do you ever experience a nagging feeling that something is missing or just not working in your life? Maybe you even have a pretty good idea what it is but avoid dealing with it because you don’t want to rock the boat, or you’ve never been good at confrontations or, for whatever reason, at some point you convinced yourself that certain things are not an option for you; you’re too young or too old; you have too much responsibility and not enough control, or you lack the right skills, education or experience.

Consciously or not, these are choices you’ve made along the way, and yet the pesky feeling of longing and dissatisfaction persists.

How Settling Leads to Life by Default

Life in default mode looks something like this … we get up every day and go through the motions of letting life happen to us, following routines and investing energy and attention on whatever screams the loudest for attention. Occasionally something happens, a comment or uncomfortable situation that pings your gut and reminds you that you’re still hauling around the weight of this annoying albeit persistent obstacle to your peace of mind. You might give it a second thought, but in the end, decide not to let it ruin your day and focus your attention on other things.

It seems innocent enough, but in choosing to live this way you are relinquishing control of your life to fate, circumstances and the whims of others.

There are two ways to be happier; improve your reality or lower your expectations. ~Jodi Picoult

The sentiment in the quote above about happiness applies to most areas of life. Many people choose to lower their expectations to avoid disappointment, but more often than not it’s to avoid discomfort. To be clear, the focus here is not about condemning the life you’ve built, which may be perfectly wonderful on the whole. It’s the little things that we learn to put up with that multiply and prevent inner peace, create regret and in extreme cases can end up defining the quality of a life.  There’s no better example than the issue of boundaries.

Personal boundaries are not about keeping people out or being mean, they are imaginary lines you draw around yourself to maintain and protect your body, mind, emotions and time from the behavior or demands of others. People who disrespect your boundaries often start out with small transgressions to test the waters and then keep pushing to see how far you’ll let them go. A good example would be the frog in hot water analogy. That may be a myth but the concept is a valid one when it comes to how easy it becomes to overlook more and more as time goes on, unless you choose to take responsibility and stop the cycle.

By taking the time to identify and face the source of any feelings of discontent you can make an informed decision about whether or not you are willing to make the effort to change your reality, or once and for all find peace of mind by lowering your expectations. This is a choice only you can make.

How to Uncover the Source of Your Discontent

Identify Your Triggers

Even if your whole life feels vaguely off balance, the chances are good that the real culprit is a specific problem, circumstance or relationship that’s been left unattended for too long. Regardless of the root cause, there will inevitably be certain triggers that set off annoying feelings of yearning and discontent, and your first job is to identify those triggers so you can begin to hone in on the area that needs attention.

It may be your work, where you live, a relationship, or it could even be a health issue you’ve tried your best to ignore. Maybe it’s a dream you once had, getting your college degree for example, and every time you have to list your education or show your references it triggers feelings of embarrassment, vulnerability, or defensiveness.

So the next time you begin experiencing that itch of discontent, don’t try to ignore or stuff it, instead, take some time to write down your thoughts and feelings. Even if you believe you already know what the problem is, by identifying the specific actions or circumstances that trigger these feelings, and exploring your responses, you may be surprised at what you learn about yourself. Sometimes what we believe is the culprit is really just a symptom of an entirely different problem.

This is a process, which means you may have to go through it a few times so I recommend you use a journal or a log of some sort. The deeper you can dig and more detail you can come up with the better.

Determine What Would Make You Feel Whole

Once you identify the source of discontent in your life then it’s time to explore your options. This is where many people stall because they focus only on the potential discomfort of confrontation or reasons why they can’t do, be or have something. The thing to keep in mind is that sometimes we latch on to those excuses because they provide us with a convenient reason for not taking action.

You Must Make a Choice

Once you discover your triggers and source of discontent you are left with a choice to make, and there really are only two ways to go with this. Either decide you’re worth the effort and commit to doing the work to create meaningful change, or resolve to find peace of mind within your current circumstances. It really is that simple … and that hard.

Regardless of where you are now, time will continue to pass and it’s up to you to choose whether you will be the driver or the passenger in your journey through life.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


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  1. William Rusho

    Great advice and great recommendations. We can create traps, or perceived traps in our lives. We get in them, and think we cannot get out. Reminds me of the story of the captured elephant. At first they need to put a heavy chain around his leg. After he tries and tries to escape, finally he gives up trying. They then can use a simple twine around his leg to hold him. He never realizes he can yank his leg and become free.
    William Rusho recently posted…CHILDREN’S CRUSADE: A lie for the ages.My Profile

    • Glad you enjoyed the article William. I’ve heard that story about the elephants before, sad. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” by Harriet Tubman.

  2. Joyce Hansen

    It’s funny how easy it can be to fall into a life of default. After college and for several years after that I just drifted. I had a lot of interesting experiences. At that time, no one talked about finding your purpose or passion. It was all about getting a job. Now, I’m living my dream, and I’m much more at peace with myself and the World.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…10 reasons why female Internet entrepreneurs are not afraid of retirementMy Profile

    • You are so right about how easy it is to fall into default Joyce. I think we all spend some time here at different points in our lives. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts – always appreciated!

  3. One my of biggest lifetime challenges is that I have always aimed very high and so often have felt let down when those dreams have not flowed easily into my life. I have rarely settled, continuing to go full out, and yet the disappointment with not achieving the “big dreams” leads me to wonder if I’d be wise to make peace with what is so. Somehow I can’t lose site of what stirs my heart and soul, so this year, I am resurrecting a big dream I had to put on hold during the years I was ill, and am going for it in as big a way as I can. Great post as always, Marquita! Thanks for always giving us food for thought to take with us into our lives.
    Beverley Golden recently posted…Hippie: Think Values Not LifestyleMy Profile

    • Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation Beverley, and I have to tell you I can certainly relate to your point about aiming high. I admit I have to periodically conduct a reality check myself, not so much on the scope of the big dream but about how big a load I can carry at one time (the old superwoman syndrome!)and how long the process will actually take. The truth is things are always a bit harder and take longer than we think they will, but sometimes I think that’s a good thing.

  4. Suzie Cheel

    Marty I love this and after my post yesterday this touched my heart and soul. It can be so easy to live by default xxoo
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…The Challenge of Achieving SimplicityMy Profile

  5. Erica says:

    I think it is really important to actively make choices that create happiness. It is easy to get in a rut and just accept the status quo. I remember when I went down to part-time at my job to start my own business, everyone I worked with thought I was crazy. But I knew I wanted more than just safety in my life. People stay in a place of being discontent because they feel that the safety brings joy. But taking chances to create happiness will lead to a much happier, more fulfilled life, even if you fail. At least, that is the way that I feel.
    Erica recently posted…You’re Not Perfect. Now Embrace it!My Profile

    • I totally agree with you, Erica! Many people actively avoid change and risk, but learning to manage discomfort and uncertainty not only makes us stronger it’s the only way to fulfill our true potential. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  6. Sue Kearney

    I’m seeing your words through the lens of my new theme word: wholehearted.

    When I avoid taking a real look at what’s keeping me off balance, guess what? I remain off balance.

    Change or don’t change. Do or do not. (You’re bringing out my inner Yoda.)

    Or as they say in 12-step: Nothing changes if nothing changes.

    Sue Kearney recently posted…Want more joy in your life? Try these three things…My Profile

    • Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed the article, Sue! As an ACoA and ex-wife of an on-again-off-again alcoholic, I’m all too familiar with the 12-steps and the one about change is spot on.

  7. So many people live life by default because it is quite difficult to understand and act on the need to really live the life you want.
    This article should help many realize that it’s not an “impossible dream” regardless of age or economic means.
    Betty Eitner recently posted…20 Inspiring Women We Lost in 2015 : A TributeMy Profile

    • Very good point Betty. A few months ago I was doing some research on personal boundaries and one of the things I like to do is read comments in forums and various group discussions to see what people are talking about, their hot points etc. I will never forget this one woman who – in all honesty – did not know that setting a personal boundary was not only possible, but healthy. Her comment was really a story and I was in tears by the end, just wondering how many people are under the impression that their only option in life is to take whatever fate, and other people, toss at them. Thanks so much for sharing, and for the wonderful series of articles you write on women in history. I just love them!

  8. Stella Chiu

    Hi, Marquita

    Your post stimulated me to search my internal feeling. Am I living default life?
    Currently, I have discontentment inside me because some events did not turn out as the way that I wanted.
    I believe this period will be short. I am making a choice to look for open door for different path or opportunity.
    I believe each of us has the ability to create or change the circumstance.
    Thanks for sharing the in sight!
    – Stella Chiu
    Stella Chiu recently posted…Are Healing Miracles Real?My Profile

    • Well said Stella! I am also a big believer in our ability to direct the course of our destiny. The challenge we all face from time to time is accepting that the outcome we envision isn’t always our destiny, that sometimes there is something far better awaiting us! Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to the conversation.

  9. Mark

    What an excellent and extremely well written post M!

    And I love your quote from Jodi Picoult.

    And BTW, just for the record M, I knew and could tell instantly, from the very first time I visited your site, and saw that pretty face, that you definitely were a car dancer!LOL!

    All the passion and insights, that go into your post, were dead giveaways!LOL!

    And I definitely agree with your frog in the hot water analogy, in terms of how it relates, us sort of first letting mediocrity present itself.

    And then letting it remain, until in just becomes an accepted part of our daily routine!
    How sad is that? Thanks for offering a proven road map out!
    Mark recently posted…Lead Magnets: How To Put Your Lead Magnet Process On Steroids!Part TwoMy Profile

    • You are always so kind Mark! I really like your point about how accepting mediocrity becomes the norm after a while. So true! Thanks so much for sharing, always value our thoughtful insights. 🙂

  10. lenie

    Marquita, I love your posts and your quotes. They always seem so right on. Sir Bob really know what he was talking about and I’m very like that – doing without until I can get what i want, rather than settling which would totally frustrate me
    The Jodi Picoult is wonderful – It certainly is all about ‘you have a choice’.
    lenie recently posted…Are Eco-Friendly Cleaning Supplies Really Safer?My Profile

    • I hear you Lenie, and that is where cultivating willpower and self-discipline can really make a huge difference in our lives! The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment on willpower has been widely shared and it’s just one good example. I remember when I first started in sales and had a daily quota of cold calls – which I absolutely hated! I came up with a little mantra, “just one more”, to push myself just a little bit. And it worked so well it’s pretty much carved into my brain now, so every time I feel like quitting before I hit my goal I just keep saying to myself, just one more, just o-n-e more. 🙂

  11. Tuhin

    Hey Marquita,

    I always try to dig out the source of discontent. It is not very healthy to ignore these things as it makes the situation worse and pinches us from inside.

    While lowering expectations can be a good thing to do in certain cases, but this is not the appropriate solution in most of the cases.

    Thanks for writing this.
    Thank you
    Tuhin recently posted…Protect your child from sexual abusersMy Profile

  12. Another thought provoking post, Marquita. One summer job during college was bartending/waitressing. I was very bad at both, but the customers had a lot of fun teasing me. One repeat Sunday afternoon bigwig from Bethlehem Steel gave me great advice: “Don’t settle. If you want a cashmere sweater, don’t buy cotton. Save up until you can get the cashmere one.”
    Decades later and I still think of “Sir Bob’s” advice when I’m making certain decisions.
    I have certainly lived my life by default in the past, but have not operated that way for a long time, for which I am very thankful.
    Boundaries are something that I think get set and reset throughout our lives–at least it’s that way for me.
    Off to share your insights.
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Is Your Life Justified?My Profile

    • Sounds like Sir Bob gave you some great advice RoseMary! It is true that boundaries are not carved in stone, and they do change depending upon circumstances and even our stage in life. Nevertheless, each of us is responsible for defining our own boundaries and choosing to relinquish that responsibility by leaving things to fate (or to others) is to risk having none at all, a sad state far too many people (particularly women) find themselves in. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation!

  13. Catarina says:

    Believe me, I have lever led life by default. When I want something I get it. It’s just a matter of how long it takes. We are never too old, or whatever, to change and start doing something new. Just passed an exam yesterday and there are more to come. Since I was young I have had the courage to do what others just dream about or watch in movies/read about. Sure sometimes I get hit in the head but I always end up in the saddle again.
    Catarina recently posted…Do MBAs harm the economy?My Profile

    • That’s wonderful Catarina and you certainly serve as an inspiring role model. There are many others who I write for that are still growing and learning to tap into their inner strength and I appreciate your sharing your experience and confidence with them.

  14. Though few things come in black and white, I do agree that this is one:
    As you say, “It really is that simple … and that hard.” It is also true that someone can go back even further to discover the origin of why they believe or have attached a label to whatever it is about themselves or their life, they have chosen to judge as unacceptable. Is it really what they believe about themselves, or is it what they have been taught to believe by others? When you recognize the role of others in shaping some of your beliefs and behaviors that no longer serve you, I believe it can become easier to heal and to reclaim your right to change.
    Michele Harvey recently posted…Personal Growth and Adapting to our Changing WorldMy Profile

    • There’s no question we each have stories we’ve created and tell ourselves again and again. The challenge is most people have trouble thinking in terms of narratives so it usually takes some practice to see the big picture. This is just one reason I find journaling for personal growth so valuable because it’s much easier to put the pieces of the puzzle together when you can follow your thinking in writing. Thanks for contributing to the conversation Michele!

  15. Donna Janke

    Great post. Sometimes we need to dig into and fully experience our discontent, anger,and uncomfortable feelings to uncover the real source. Then we can positive action. I’m just learning how to do this, thanks in large part to wise words from my daughter.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Marvels of the Panama Canal at Miraflores LocksMy Profile

  16. Ben

    Hi Marquita. I agree with your post. You have to follow those nagging feelings. I remember back when I had a traditional IT job that I absolutely hated. I knew that I had to make a change. My wife had just finished massage school, so decided that I could do that too. I started massage school, quit that job and got a new one to get me through school, and eventually found an opportunity where I could work from home and spend much more time with my wife and young kids. Everyone around me was telling me that I was crazy, maybe even irresponsible. So, making change isn’t just about dealing with your own discomfort. You may also have to deal with the doubts of those around you.
    Ben recently posted…Tres – Weekend Roundup IIIMy Profile

    • Well you’ve touched on a hot button for me Ben and I couldn’t agree more with your point about also having to deal with the opinions of others. I’ve been where you were with well-meaning friends trying to talk “sense” into me. It’s frustrating, and it’s also hurtful because you want to believe that the people who matter to you have your back and will cheer you on, but it doesn’t always work out that way. That’s the reason I’m such a huge believer in self-motivation. Having people who support you is wonderful, but that isn’t always the case so we have to be prepared to motivate ourselves. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I wish you all the best and hope you’ll visit again.

  17. Ken Dowell

    I do experience a feeling of discontent at times. I think my first reaction is to think through why something is a source of discontent and ask myself if it really is something I should be concerned about. Maybe that could be interpreted as an avoidance strategy, but I also think it is a way of not focusing your energy on stuff that isn’t that important to begin with.

    • There’s a reason therapists listen more than talk to their patients and that’s because with few exceptions they already have the answers to questions about why they do the things they do. I may not be a therapist but there is one thing I do know and that is that most people become champs at justifying their behavior.

  18. Jeri

    I spent a lot of my life settling. Even though I accomplished a lot, I still settled in many ways because I was aiming to please someone else who wasn’t too reciprocal in that process. Little by little, I do try to uncover the sources of my dissatisfaction and deal with them. A huge load was lifted upon getting ride of that chunk of flesh known as the ex,but also it’s the little things like knowing I will feel better about almost everything if I just go outside and take the dog for a walk.
    Jeri recently posted…#AuthorInterview: Lizzi LewisMy Profile

    • A certain amount of settling is human nature, after all marriage is all about compromise. The tough part is finding that line where compromise turns into something destructive and that question can only be answered by each person based on values and standards. And I couldn’t agree more with you about the therapeutic value of fresh air+exercise+dog 🙂

  19. Sabrina Quairoli

    Great advice. I feel writing in a journal helps me get to the root of how I feel about the situation. I read somewhere years ago that you should write down what you feel and when you have processed it and found your solution, you should get rid of the paper by burning it. I did that a few time when I wrote more emotional writings and it helped me let go of it easier. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m also a big fan of journaling Sabrina, in fact my post is on journaling for personal growth so I hope you’ll watch for it. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation.

  20. Dave

    I had a very real feeling of physical discontent about a year ago. There was no major traumatic injury that caused it, but an MRI revealed two slipped discs in my back (really, my upper neck). It was excruciatingly painful and it required all my focus just to get through daily activities. Heck, even sitting on the couch to watch a television show was a chore.

    I bring this up because I have felt this same sort of “pain” mentally when pushing the pursuit of some highly sought after dreams to the back burner, for a number of reasons – none that were really valid. It’s amazing how much simpler it seems to push those mental pains out of sight and out of mind, even though it can be so much more debilitating than the physical variety.

    Through an intensive bout of physical therapy, I’ve managed to eliminate those back pain and slipped those discs back into place. The pain still flares up on occasion, but I now know that I can do something about it to make a difference and get me headed back in the right direction.

    The same can be said about those mental pains. I really empathize with one of your final sentence. It really is that simple … and that hard. It’s so very true. But, given the choice between writhing in pain (either physically or mentally) and stepping up to take some action that will make a positive difference in my life, I’ll take the latter every single time 🙂

    Thanks for the great article, and for giving us all the motivation and encouragement to not live by default, but to live on purpose and with purpose!
    Dave recently posted…Sweet SerendipityMy Profile

    • Well said as always Dave! I hate saying this, but I do believe age is a factor sometimes. I was fearless in my twenties but the more “responsible” I became the more I had to think about consequences and when you have a family, children to think of, well that stumbling block can seem pretty big at times. But I think the thing to remember is there is a Huge difference between giving up and taking smaller steps to keep moving forward. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation, I always value your thoughtful insights my friend. 🙂

  21. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    This topic is so timely for me. A few months back I was feeling discontented. I couldn’t figure out why. Everyone is healthy around me, I’m in a great relationship with my husband and business is great.

    As I fell deeper and deeper into this feeling, I had to do a lot of meditating. I realized that I missed having my hands on physical products to sell. I went from real estate a long time ago to selling on Ebay to selling antiques.

    Call it the law of attraction, or whatever, but someone had offered me an opportunity to get back into this kind of business. All of a sudden, I felt a deep sense of relief. Now excitement. I’m on my way and it is all because I wasn’t content, but I took that as a sign to get deep into myself and find the answer.


    Donna Merrill recently posted…How I Come Up With Blog IdeasMy Profile

  22. Phoenicia

    Brilliant write up as per usual Marquita. You always leave me feeling challenged.

    I agree that doing nothing is a choice. If we would like life to change then we must do something to change it. We cannot blame others. Circumstances often lead us to be in the place we currently are but we do not need to remain there.

    Discontentment is not necessarily a terrible thing as it causes us to reflect and reassess our lives. As long we are not comparing ourselves to others we are on the right track to change.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Anxiety – do you suffer with it?My Profile

    • Thank you for your kind words Phoenicia and for letting me know you enjoyed the post. Great point about the value of discontentment, the key is to not ignore it but take it as a sign we need to start paying attention!

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