And sometimes it dumps a pile of shit in your path.
What matters is not whether it’s fair (it often isn’t).
What matters is how one chooses to deal with it.
We can spend time complaining.
We can spend time pointing the finger.
We can spend time blaming others for the situations we find ourselves in.
And we can learn to identify as a victim of the unfairness of life.
Or we can take personal responsibility for our lives and use our ability to seek out more favorable options (including how to cope) and move on.
Every single person on the planet is forced to deal with hardship and misfortune at one time or another.
Sometimes it’s because we make bad decisions.
Sometimes it’s because we tolerate things far longer than we should.
Sometimes it’s because we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And sometimes we are simply thrust into things we don’t want to be a part of.
But that’s life.
It happens to everyone at one time or another.
You don’t improve your life by complaining about the one you have.
You don’t improve your life by refusing to take personal responsibility for it.
You improve your life by taking steps to change it for the better.
It can be a lot of work — and it may require some sacrifices — but taking personal responsibility for one’s life and taking steps to change it is far more effective than staying where one is, doing nothing, and complaining about the view.
The fact is, our lives are a direct reflection of our priorities.
Want to be healthier? Focus on your health.
Want to be smarter? Focus on your education.
Want to be a better person? Focus on self-improvement.
Want to be more resilient? Challenge yourself.
Want to get over your fears? Face them.
If we don’t like where we are in life, we can change that. But complaining about it won’t do it. And blaming others won’t do it either.
Acknowledge obstacles & focus on solutions to overcome them.
Make mistakes & learn from them.
Refine your strategy as necessary.
And push forward.
Relying on chance and wishful thinking is not an effective way to dictate what happens to you — or because of you — in life.
Just because “think positive” is a nice thing to say doesn’t mean it’s going to do you any good. Without a strategy, “Think positive” is a meaningless catchphrase.
Think *intelligently* and take action.
It is through being kind, being compassionate, leading by example, and inspiring others with your actions that you will make a far bigger difference in your own life — and the lives of those around you — than you will if you just “think positive”.
Memes don’t change your life. *You* do when you know what you want and you act with intention.
“A person who has resolved to ‘think positive’ must constantly scan his or her mind for negative thoughts – there’s no other way that the mind could ever gauge its success at the operation – yet that scanning will draw attention to the presence of negative thoughts.” — Oliver Burkeman from The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
“One of the most counterproductive pieces of advice spewed from keynotes, gurus, and motivational speakers of every stripe is this: Think positively. Why? It’s not a one-size-fits-all guide to leadership (or life) and adds considerably to your stress load. Because you not only have to tackle the obstacles you’re already facing; you have to also wrestle any negative thoughts you have about them to the ground.” — Jan Bruce (Forbes contributor)
Anytime someone — anyone — ever does something nice for you, is considerate to you, makes you laugh or smile, or otherwise just makes you feel good, always take an extra moment to acknowledge the gesture and highlight it in your mind.
Make it into something more than just a fleeting, quickly forgotten moment. Make it a memory.
The more you take the time to dwell on positive moments in your life, the more that these moments will begin to appear, and the more of them you will remember and be grateful for.
And the more you are truly grateful for these moments, the more appreciation you will have for when they happen and the people who help make them possible.
So, starting today, always make a conscious effort to dwell on these often forgotten positive moments in your life. Soon you will find that there are far more of them happening around you than you ever imagined.
“…Every single day contains delightful moments…but so many of us are so deeply zoned out, our senses dulled by that sensory overload, that we fail to recognize them.” — Dawn Sievers (From: In Both Directions)
One of the most deceptively easy ways to start feeling bad about things is to start focusing on all these problems — and/or your own — without putting in quality time to focus on solutions and ultimately taking action.
The chances of miraculously solving all of your own or the world’s problems by focusing on how bad they make you feel are next to none.
Casually or subconsciously focusing on problems is one of the quickest ways to feel overwhelmed — and many times you won’t even realize why you suddenly feel miserable, only that you do.
If you’re not willing and/or able to commit to action and taking steps to change something for the better, then simply acknowledge your negative thoughts for the time being and move on to something more productive, more positive, more empowering.
Especially if you’re prone to depression.
It is totally ok not to start a project when you don’t have the strength, focus, or tools necessary to complete it.
Gather your tools and the right mindset, and have a strategy. Then you can tackle your problems with intention.
Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Along those lines, I say we can’t solve life’s toughest problems from a state of mental or emotional weakness. Rather than make things better, attempting to do so often makes things appear worse. That’s when you, instead, focus on something else.
And if you ever find yourself stuck having to take action, and you have neither the tools or the strength necessary to do it, then reach out to someone who at least has the potential to help you.
There are always people out there willing to help you in any way they can. Even when they, too, have their own problems.
If you were to say, “The world is full of cold, self-centered, arrogant people who just don’t care”, you may be surprised to discover that I agree with you. You’re right. I’ve been out in the world and I’ve seen and experienced these things much more than I care to in life.
But having said that, if you were to say, “The world is full of warm, caring, and generous people who go out of their way to make it a better place”, I would also agree with you.
Because I’ve seen these kinds of people, too. In abundance. They’re everywhere. You read that right. They’re everywhere. (And if you’re reading this, I think the chances are very good that you are one of these people).
The fact is, the truth in either of the above statements depends largely on where you look and what you’re looking for — because in either case, I’m confident you’ll find it.
And the same is true for most places where you direct your attention. And this is an important concept to understand, by and large, we find what we go looking for.
And what we choose to go looking for in life — the good or the bad — can have a dramatic affect on not only our view of the world, but on our sense of well-being as a result of that view.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers
Depending on whether we look for something good or something bad, the results we find often reinforce whatever belief (or value system) we held to be true when we started searching.
So, if you consciously believe that you can’t be, do, or have something, the subconscious will create the circumstances and find the people to prove that you are ‘right’.” — Robert Anthony
When you expect rudeness from people, you are setting yourself up to be more attentive to it, even if it’s something you don’t want. And when you are more attentive to something, you are more likely to find it — at the expense of not being attentive to the things you’re not paying attention to.
For example, if I told you to stop for a minute and look around you for all the things that are the color red, your brain will register all the things around you that are red and, as a result, you would be able to list them with a high degree of accuracy.
But then if I immediately told you to close your eyes and now list all the things that are the color blue in the room you just searched, there is a good chance you would miss several of them — because you weren’t looking for blue, you were looking for red.
Now, I’m talking colors here, but I could easily be talking about the things that irritate or upset you.
If you go looking for irritating things, it will often be at the expense of registering all the things that are pleasant or beautiful around you — because whatever you focus on is at the expense of whatever you don’t focus on.
“Energy flows where attention goes.”
If you want to see more of the things you desire in life, it’s important to make a conscious effort to be grateful for what you already have and always focus on what you want — and what you want to see more of — not on what you don’t want or the lack of something.
The type of thoughts you hold in your head have a direct impact on the reality you perceive. This includes the severity of aches and pains you experience, as well as how gracefully you age.
“By paying attention to pain on a daily basis, we are wiring ourselves neurologically to develop a more acute awareness of pain perception, because the related brain circuits become more enriched. Your own personal attention has that much of an effect on you. This could be one explanation to how pain, and even memories from our distant past, characterize us. What we repeatedly think about and where we focus our attention is what we neurologically become. Neuroscience finally understands that we can mold and shape the neurological framework of the self by the repeated attention we give to any one thing.” — Joe Dispenza from Evolve Your Brain – The Science of Changing Your Mind
This is why it’s vital to always remember to focus on solutions, not problems, look for the good, and remain conscious of where you choose to focus your attention and how you direct your mental energy.
It is a fact of life that once we’ve reached a certain level of comfort in nearly any particular skillset, finding the motivation to further improve — or “level up” — one’s abilities in that skillset can be a challenge.
This is because, after a certain point, we reach a plateau and appear to stop getting results. And although we may try for a while, the struggle to further improve upon something is often fraught with failed attempts.
So instead, where we once saw a consistent path of improvement, we fail to get results.
People often assume that, because they stop improving, they have reached the apex of that particular skillset. It often comes with the thought, “Well, I’m no longer getting any better at this, so this must be as good at this as I will ever be” and they leave it at that. Or, because something doesn’t come easy, “I guess I’m just not very good at this particular thing. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“I will never be a faster typer than this.”
“I will never be able to perform this skateboarding trick.”
“I will never be able to run a 5 minute mile.”
“I will never be able to paint like the pros.”
“I will never be fluent in another language.”
“I will never be able to play the piano well.”
And so on.
And that’s unfortunate because they’ve just fallen victim to a self-limiting belief. It’s not, in most cases, that they truly can’t, it’s that they no longer make any attempts to try.
Others fall into the trap of believing that if they simply continue to use a particular skill that they are comfortable with enough, they’ll get increasingly better at it.
The issue with that is that after you effectively hit a “plateau” with a skill (or a muscle), any further repeating of the same thing you’ve been doing will no longer yield significant gains, changes, or growth.
And that’s because it is the struggling and working hard, not comfortably, at something that causes one to get better at it.
And if you haven’t made the connection as to why this is important, this not only applies to skills, or strength training, but life as well.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
Joshua Foer, in his 99U talk (video) suggests that you need to “step outside your comfort zone and study yourself failing”.
From his talk description:
“When most of us learn a new skill, we work to get just “good enough” and then we go on autopilot. We hit what journalist and bestselling author Joshua Foer calls the “OK Plateau,” where we have gained sufficient skills for our needs and we stop pushing ourselves.
But experts do it differently. Looking at the research on everyone from incredible athletes to memory champions, Foer has extracted four principles that describe how to push through the OK Plateau to achieve true greatness.”
Carl: Great post! I have felt like I was at a plateau in my artwork for some time, and this thinking may have been part of it. One needs to examine their process with an eye towards learning how to work smarter, because just taking the same approach and expecting to get better can be just reinforcing bad (or less than ideal) habits that are holding back progress.
While “just doing more work” can lead to unexpected/accidental discoveries that lead to progress (as well as being important for maintaining current skill levels), intentionally thinking about why one approach or another may be better, and trying different approaches to find out what might work better (or finding out what approaches are used by those who are better than you) is likely to be more effective. I need to remind myself of this, more.
Zero: I agree. You can improve simply by doing more work — and have those serendipitous moments (happy accidents), but those, too, are often caused by making mistakes — or certainly by trying something new.
But if you want to improve faster, make more mistakes faster. :)
And I agree with working smarter, not harder — but, in the case of plateauing, it is often our lack of wanting to work hard that keeps us from improving. We’re not willing to make extra work for ourselves when we know of a “shortcut”. But we also never learn what hidden gems are on those long hard roads we fear to take.