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Spotlight: Matthew McConaughey on Turning Red Lights to ‘Greenlights’

Matthew McConaughey recently released his memorable memoir Greenlightsa life-long pursuit of chasing down those go-moments but also turning reds and yellows into green ones.

There’s no better feeling than looking down the road and seeing a string of green lights. But just because a red light pops up doesn’t mean we have to punch the roof and lose our focus.

According to McConaughey, yellow lights are the things that slows us down, and by that logic, a red light is a major stopping point, a life event or obstacle that can bring everything to a screeching halt and cause you to veer severely off course. For him, losing his father was a major red light moment. But in time, he found a way to make the experience into a positive, productive life experience — turning a red light to a green light.

In promotion for his book, the Dazed & Confused actor has offered up some clear and straightforward advice on how to get more green lights in your life, and, should you find yourself stuck at a red light, well he’s going something that make those alright, alright, alright as well.

Check in With Yourself Before Checking in With the World

We all have the nasty tendency to let those little gadgets by our bedside be the first and last thing we see each day. When we use it to wake us, it’s second nature to check our email, texts, social media and news feeds before even getting out of bed. Matthew urges us to take a moment and check in with ourselves before going down that rabbit hole.

Get up, drink some water, make some coffee, have a stretch, read a short passage, ruminate on it, check on your closest loved ones, walk the dog, think about your day and what you want to get out of it. Then set some goals — lots of goals, especially easy ones to get going — then allow the rest of the world in. But it all starts with you, and you alone.

Keep on Writing, Even When You’re Rolling

How do you get yourself back to green lights? By writing about them.

It’s good to keep in touch with ourselves, and by writing out thoughts and anxieties, we better digest what’s going on in our heads and around us. But don’t just write when you’re sad or frustrated. Jot down what’s going on with you when things are really good, too. Dissect your success.

By keeping tabs on yourself, you can revisit old habits that got you into and out of messes. When you’re stuck at a “red light,” you can look back on what you had going on when you had nothing but green lights, then adjust yourself. What were you eating? How were you sleeping? How much TV were you watching? What habits kept those green lights coming? Which habits slowed you down to a yellow light?

Answer those questions for yourself and the keys to finding more green lights are yours.

Make To-Do Lists, Then Lay Them Out Flat

Writing down the things you want to accomplish is key to consistently productive days. It keeps you organized and on point, and it keeps you committed and disciplined. No matter how small the task, even if it’s a given for the day — you’re going to hug your lady, take a crap, and (hopefully) wipe your ass — and you can just as easily cross them off the list, giving you a sense of accomplishment. And those little accomplishments make it easier to accomplish the big things.

So how does laying your day out flat work?

Break a Sweat to Break up the Day

Breaking a sweat not only gets your blood and the creative juices flowing, it also helps to break up the day. Accomplish a few things, break a sweat, then accomplish some more things. You have time to think when you’re breaking a sweat, but it can also be a moment to shut off the brain, let the ideas marinate and return with a fresh head.

In the same way that you lay down your mat, you lay out your day. Instead of feeling like you have to climb a ladder to reach the top, lie everything out in front of you and slowly work your way to each. You can see it more clearly, you can reach it just as easily as you touch your toes, from one green light to the next.

Just Keep Livin’ (And Laughin’)

Keep that twinkle in your eye. Keep on laughing and never take yourself too seriously. You can take your work as seriously as a heart attack, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Be able to laugh at yourself. Control what you can control, and when you can’t, go with the flow as best you can.

And don’t ask for permission so much. Go with your gut, take some initiative and get it done, then decide if it was a horrible idea or not. You can trust those people in your life who help you find the green lights, but don’t rely on everyone for everything. You’re a grownup, make a decision for yourself.

Bookend Each Day

What did you accomplish today? What is tomorrow to you? At what point were you the happiest? When did you see the most green lights? How can we get more of those red ones to turn green? These are all great questions to ask yourself at the end of each day. The same way you set out to accomplish at the beginning, you can circle back for a little review, then set up for the next one.

Your life isn’t always going to be green lights, but that doesn’t mean we need to be running the red ones or risking it with the yellows. Don’t get discouraged when you hit a red, it’s only a matter of time before it turns green. It might take a minute, a week, or a few years, but in time, we all find the green lights. The key is to just keep on going.

Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights is available now where books are sold.

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