Life is already hard enough. Don’t care if you’re a billionaire or working at Burger King, each of us has problems to deal with that are just inherent to being human.
So, what do we do? Do we optimally deal with all of our problems, analyzing and quickly solving each one? Do we act rationally and logically, making the best move regardless of our starting position? Nah, usually we act irrationally and make an already difficult life harder.
Self-improvement is primarily the process of getting out of your own way. That’s it. I know it’s easy for me to tell you to do. On the surface, it seems easy enough to follow. But, you have this mind, this thing that technically feels like it’s in your control but it isn’t. And every time you try to reign it in, something else in your life happens that throws you right into that loop.
That loop where you constantly think about making your life better, then you kinda sorta try to do it, but then you get in your own way, but you still kind of have hope so you try again, and then the cycle repeats, and then you kind of go through life with this low-level anxiety and doubts about the future.
You’ll never be perfect or get rid of all these problems, but you can make them less severe. You can stop getting in your own way so much. You can stop making your life harder than it has to be so much. All you need is a slight edge — enough momentum to get you going.
How many times have you been in a situation where the anticipation of the event was much worse than the event itself? I remember one time being physically ill before going in to ask my boss for a raise. Wasn’t like he was going to laugh me out of the room. At worst, I’d et a polite no. I got the raise. And I wasted a bunch of time being afraid of what would happen.
Human beings are wired to want certainty. Avoiding uncertain situations kept our ancestors alive, so we have the bias toward negativity built-in. But, in the modern world, we don’t have all that much to be afraid of. Easy for me to say, but we still have that viscerally negative feeling of anticipation when it comes to making major moves in life.
Nine times out of ten in life, the worst that can happen in any situation is getting a no. And, if you’re bold, and try enough times, you’re probably going to get the results you want in the long run. Remembering this can help. Also, it helps to reflect on all the times your anticipation-based fear was wrong.
You don’t realize how much you’re missing out on by letting your anticipation get the best of you. Moments after you break through the threshold, you’re fine. That’s the second lesson. Putting yourself through the fire, repeatedly, is the only way to learn the lesson properly.
They should make everyone in society be a door-to-door salesman or do cold calls just to help them get over their fear of rejection. People in sales understand that success is just a numbers game. Keep shooting your shot until it goes in. The more you shoot, the less you think about each individual shot before you throw it up.
I’ve been trying to come up with a name for this feeling. That feeling of deep regret after you do something you know you shouldn’t have done. You made a mistake, did something you’re ashamed of, did something that makes you feel like you’re not going to bounce back.
It’s like this ‘pit of shame.’ You’re just stuck. You go back in time and try to imagine what the situation would be like had you made a different decision. It’s this useless mentally masturbatory exercise that happens to all of us. And, in the moment, there’s not much you can do about it.
I’ve felt deeply stuck after moments of either major mistakes on my part, or situations that I didn’t necessarily cause, but felt I could’ve avoided. When I was sitting in a jail cell, thinking I should have listened to my friends who told me to stop selling drugs. When I was in my new apartment completely alone, analyzing the many, many, many red flags in my relationship I ignored prior to the devastating breakup.
When you feel deeply stuck after a past event, there’s not much you can do about it. Time heals, cliche, but true. It’s what you decide to do after it subsides that matters. You can let those situations define who you are. You can let the trauma from your past dictate how you’re going to behave in the future.
Or you can see the past moment for what it really is. It’s just something that happened. Something that a million different people would have a million different takeaways from had it happened to them. You don’t have to be locked into the context of your past actions or circumstances. You’re choosing how to feel about it, no matter how much you feel like you can’t help but feel that way.
I focus on trying to get it right rather than trying to be right. These days, I see so many people stuck in a psychological prison because they need to be right. Some people need the world to be out to get them, even when it isn’t. Some people need to believe that they’re helpless and powerless when they’re not.
Everyone views the world through their own lens, frameworks. These frameworks guide your decision-making. What frameworks are you using that are making it harder to get what you want? What frameworks are making it harder for you to be happy?
Which would you rather have? The framework? Or the results? You’d think we’d choose the results, but one of the tragic elements of human nature is our need to feel consistent with our identity, even if that means we ruin our lives in the process. More than ever, we’re living in a narrative-driven world. Everyone is drawing lines in the sand. As a society, we’re no longer trying to understand other points of view at all.
But, individually, you can still decide to give other points of view a chance. Maybe you don’t have everything figured out. It reminds me of the phrase “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?” Don’t let a faulty narrative keep you from living the life you really want.
There are a lot of things I wish I could do well, but I just can’t. I’m not great at sports. I’m only 5′ 10″ and I’m not very coordinated. If I could choose my height, I’d probably be 6′ 5″. I’ve always been envious of my brother who was an all-star athlete in high school and ran track at a division 1 college.
There are a lot of things I wish I could change about myself. Wouldn’t we all? I’d make myself more naturally disciplined and organized and less absent-minded. I’d make my eyes a little bit smaller — kids used to make fun of my big ‘bug eye’s in grade school. I would be able to grow a beard and still have all my hair.
But, guess what? Either I can’t change those aspects or it’s not a good use of my time to try to change them. Instead, I focus on the things I do well, the things I like about myself, and the avenues I can pursue based on all the above. I didn’t get the brawn, but I got the brain, so I use it. My absent-minded nature is also part of the reason why I’m good at what I do because I’m able to think on the fly and I’m not rigid like some organized perfectionist types can be.
You get some blessings and you get some flaws. Other people would love to have some of the blessings you have, just like you’d love to have some of theirs. You can go a long way to learn pretty much any skill or trait. You can mitigate some of your weaknesses and you should.
But focusing on what you lack blinds you to all the potential upside in your life. You are not so flawed that there isn’t an amazing life out there for you to live. The moral of the story I always go to: you have to be you. You don’t have a choice. Stop trying to fight it. Own it.
You can totally reinvent yourself, but you’ll never do it by primarily focusing on the things you don’t like about yourself. Instead, you can paint a picture of who you want to be in the future, an enhanced version of you, to aspire to, without beating yourself up about who you currently are.
I’m re-reading a great book — Ego is the Enemy.
Almost always, your ego does more harm than good. The higher the sense of self, both positive and negative, the harder it is to actually live a successful life.
When you have a strong, positive, over-confident sense of self, you can misstep by being too aggressive, not thinking enough, and failing because you think you have the “golden touch” and don’t actually do the work.
When you have a strong, negative, under-confident sense of self, you think too much, don’t take action enough, and worry too much about imaginary futures that will never happen. There’s a common misconception that people with low self-esteem don’t have a strong sense of self or ego. The exact opposite is true. Their sense of self is very strong. You can’t come to feat every little outcome, scenario, and interaction without thinking you’re the center of the universe and “under the spotlight.”
So what’s the answer?
I talk about this in my article about “outcome independence.”
You want to succeed. You want positive outcomes. But you’re not a slave to your wants and desires. You’re the true embodiment of the “you win some, you lose some” mentality. You’re never too up and you’re never too down.
The less ego you have, the freer you are to genuinely try hard.
Mistakes are inevitable, but you make your life harder when you compound those mistakes. I like to use this analogy. Actually, it’s not an analogy, it’s something that I’ve actually done. I’ve been trading stocks for a little while now.
Sometimes, I’ll make a dumb trade and be out of some money. Instead of being patient and waiting for another solid trade to come along, I’ll try to double down on another foolish trade to make that money back, which often leads to more losses. It’s hard to just cut bait when you screwed up because of ‘doubling down effect’
There are so many situations in life where it makes sense to just cut bait instead of continuing to make your mistakes even worse. You can compound your mistakes in a variety of ways:
Of course, you have to plan parts of your life out to a degree. But, often, ‘getting your ducks in a row’ pushes you further away from your goal. You’ve been thinking of starting that business for how long now? You’ve been thinking about switching careers, moving to a new city, traveling, whatever.
You’re always thinking about executing that next big move in your life. Well, when the heck are you actually going to do it? I look back at my own life and see how much time I wasted thinking about executing certain moves. It took me five years to go from working a job I hated to owning my own business and having freedom. But had I just ruthlessly executed, it probably would’ve taken two years tops.
What kept me in loops of thinking too much? All the things I’ve mentioned so far really. The anticipation of what would happen kept me from launching many products and aspects of my business. But you have to launch to find out if your idea works. Thinking too much about past failures in business kept me from executing ideas in the future. But the past is just a moment of time.
Pretty much every moment you spend hesitating because of x, y, or z ends up harming more than helping. If you were somehow able to execute your ideas as soon as possible, you’d have the life you want in no time. But, that’s probably not doable for you right now.
The next best thing you can do is try to make a move today. Try to make a move right now. Do 10 pushups, write 100 words, send an email, whatever it is. See how the results shake out and do it over and over again. This is the process.
The moment you begin to act, you turn off that mental chatter. Action is the only antidote to that mental chatter. And every time you act instead of think, you’ll look back and wonder why you spent so much damn time thinking in the first place.