“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice”
I think that becoming a happier person is not so much about changing external circumstances as it is about changing your thinking.
You can pile up tons of positive external stuff in your life but if your internals are messed up then your life won’t become that much better.
And the thing is that if you get your thoughts into the right place then your outer world will start to align to those thoughts.
Now, there are quite a few ways to make yourself miserable. Here are 9 of them that I believe are some of the most popular. I have used them time and time again. I still do from time to time.
I’d recommend decreasing these thought habits as much as possible. Ditching them all together might be hard. But over time you can cut down on them significantly.
To remind yourself of them you may want to print out this article or write down a few of these ways that you feel especially apply to you.
You can use those notes as external reminders for the fridge or your bathroom mirror.
1. Compare everything you do to the lives and accomplishments of other people.
The problem with comparing yourself to others is that there will always be someone with more than you. So you get a car that is nicer than the ones your closest neighbours drive. And that feels awesome for a while. But then one day you see the young kid on the next block driving around in his new, cool and expensive sports car. And once again, you don’t feel so good anymore.
A more useful way of thinking is to compare yourself to yourself. Appreciate the progress you have made. Take a closer look at the areas where you aren’t improving as much as you’d like and try to figure out why. Then make a plan for how you can improve on those areas of your life.
2. Go along with what everyone else tells you. And try to please everyone.
Recognize that everyone will have opinions on what you can do. That doesn’t mean that you have to do what they say. You cannot live your life through the eyes of everyone else. Well, you can but then you’ll most likely feel a lot of pressure from every direction and not feel that well at all.
And even if you do try to please everyone you may find that some people aren’t pleased anyway. That’s because what they are saying doesn’t have much to do with you at all. What they are saying is just an outer reflection of their life and how they feel. If they didn’t say something negative to you then they would complain about cabbies, dog owners or whoever popped up in their mind or in front of their nose.
Now I could tell you that you should always think for yourself instead and make your decisions on what you know. The problem I have found with that point of view is that you and I are bit like everyone else. We also like to feel like we are right and are sitting on the best advice. So what you are thinking is right may not always be the best solution.
So try to do some research. Ask people who have actually been where you want to go what they have learned. Try to base you decisions on something substantial. Then just take action. In the end you have to experiment, fail over and over again and discover what actually works for you.
3. Live in a sea of negative voices.
What you allow into your mind will affect you. So be selective. If you’re hanging out with negative people all the time then that can really drag you down. It’s not easy to stay optimistic when pessimism is the default mode in your world.
Another part of this is getting hooked on the news and prophecies of the sky falling. The sky is probably not falling.
Consider spending less time with negative voices. Cut back on – or cut out –seeing negative people. Cut back on watching the news or even more spectacularly negative TV-shows. You’ll find yourself with a chunk of new, free and fresh time to do something more fun.
4. Never mix things up or try something new.
This one is sneaky. It can fool you into feeling that things are pretty OK. You have your pleasant, safe routine. But underneath there are fuzzy negative feelings of dissatisfaction that sometimes move up to the surface.
Remind yourself of the other times when you have tried something and how you most often don’t regret it at all. In fact, you probably had a pretty good time. Don’t fool yourself into complacency.
I’m not saying that need to go sky diving. But simply that it’s a good choice to mix things up, to get some diversity at least once in a while. The next time someone suggests trying something give a try. Or make a suggestion to your friends.
5. Spend too much of your time in the past and/or the future.
How much time do you spend thinking about something that has happened? Or on something that you think will happen?
How much time do you actually spend thinking about and observing what is actually in front of your nose right now?
It may seem like a pretty good idea to think about a great memory. Or dream about what you will do for the weekend or your vacation. And it is.
The thing is just that if you spend much time in the past or present then thoughts tend to spiral a bit out of control. You start to over think. You imagine future scenarios in an almost compulsive way. You replay and reinterpret old memories. You trap yourself in a negative downward spirals and moods.
Getting lost in these trains of thoughts is very easy. But you can also train yourself to keep a closer eye on your thoughts. If you start to question your own thoughts throughout the day with questions like: “is this useful?” then you can improve your understanding of what you are spending your time thinking about.
If you find what you are thinking isn’t really that useful just drop it and start thinking about something else. If you can’t just drop it – it isn’t easy sometimes – here are three suggestions:
- Focus most of your thinking on finding a solution. Not on wallowing in your negative thoughts. There is often something you can do about a situation. Focus your mind on finding that or those solutions. Then take action. This can bring you out of a negative mood and make you see light at the end of the tunnel.
- Focus on your breathing. Take a couple of dozen belly breaths and just focus your mind on your inhaling and exhaling. This will calm you down, release anxiety and align you with the present moment once again.
- Focus on what is in front of you right now. Instead of thinking over and over again about what your boss told you yesterday or what you want for dinner just focus on what’s right in front of you. When you are driving actually observe what is happening in front of you. When you ride the bus observe the people, trees and buildings.
Like so much else, being present is a muscle you have to build. You learn to stay longer in the now and it becomes easier to snap back into it after some training.
6. Focus on what you don’t want.
If you focus on what you don’t want then that is what your focus system in your mind, your reticular activating system (RAS), will find. If you focus on how everything is going down the toilet then your RAS will let you notice examples of that in your surroundings.
You can only bring into focus what you are focusing on. The rest will blur into the background. So if you want to earn more money don’t focus on your lack of money. Focus on how you can make more money. Opportunities will jump out at you in conversations, while you are reading the paper or watching TV or while you are just walking down the street. It can be a bit freaky sometimes. Suddenly, after having changed your focus, something that has obviously been there for quite some time in the background jumps out at you.
Just focusing on what you want won’t solve your problems though. You still need to take action over and over to take advantage of your newfound opportunities.
7. Spend your time looking for magic pills.
Reading a book on personal development won’t solve your problems. It’s kinda devious though because reading the book can make you feel like you are making progress. But without action there is little progress.
But this pleasant feeling of making progress can become addictive. It gives you an emotional high. So you read another book. And another. And you become a personal development junkie.
Always looking for that one thing that will change your life. But there are no real magic pills. Some books are certainly more helpful than others. Especially if they wind up in your hand at the right time. When you are ready for them. And exposing your mind constantly to positive and helpful information is better than listening to negative voices. Over time it can help you change how you think and how you view your world.
But it is no substitute for taking action. Someone might try to sell you something that they promise will bring big rewards with basically no action your part. That’s probably just a sales pitch. The product itself may be good, great or useless. You never really know. You just have to try it out by taking action and see for yourself.
My recommendation is to stop looking for magic pills. Instead just buy a classic personal development book from authors like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy or Eckhart Tolle. Then actually follow a tips or two of their tips for 30 days. Just focus on that. Then move on to another couple of pieces of advice. This will give you better results than running around in circles looking for magic pills. You can find some recommended books right here.
8. Always be looking for and relying on external validation.
This can be a huge one. External validation is basically that someone other than you validates you. They might tell you that you are smart, pretty, cool, successful etc. They tell you something that tells you that you are a person of value.
Now, this may sound all well and good. Getting compliments is wonderful. The problem is just that if you need validation from others then you let the outside world, other people, control how you feel. And that can be a real rollercoaster. Because if you need the positive validation from people then it’s hard to avoid listening to their negative input. Or you may feel bad when there is a pause in the validation.
So what do you do? You let go of the need for that input. But there will still be a need for validation. So you need to fill that up to not go back to really, really wanting validation from others.
You do that by validating yourself instead.
You think about how awesome you are. You appreciate how far you have come and the positive things you have done. You appreciate your own value in the world. You set goals and you achieve those goals. This builds confidence in yourself and in your abilities. These things will help you to build a habit of inner validation.
Don’t sell yourself short. Validate yourself and your accomplishments. Get off the rollercoaster that is over-reliance on external validation.
9. Take things too seriously.
Things are seldom really that serious. It’s most often your ego trying to fool you into thinking so. Because if your problems are serious, huge and important then that means that you must be important. It’s a way to try to raise your value for yourself and in the eyes of others.
It’s not a great way of thinking though. You’ll spend far too much time thinking the past and the future. You’ll create irritability and instability within yourself that is reflected into the outside world. You’ll probably spend quite a bit of time being hard on yourself.
Being hard on yourself might sound a like a good idea to “teach yourself a lesson”. I believe it’s better to drop such behaviour and learn what you can from mistakes and then move on. Being hard on yourself just seems to create a lot of negativity and problems within yourself. All in all, by taking things too seriously you can really go down, down, down into a negative spiral.
Lightening up and not taking things too seriously is more pleasurable and useful thing to do. I have done this by for example using a note on my fridge to remind myself to “Lighten up!” and by not identifying so much with my ego, emotions and thoughts. You can read all about it in Lighten Up!
Image by Md. Ziaul Hoque.