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The Wisdom of George Costanza: 7 Lessons from the Life of a Miserable Little Man


“My father was a quitter, my grandfather was a quitter, I was raised to give up. It’s one of the few things I do well.”

“I’m disturbed, I’m depressed, I’m inadequate, I’ve got it all!”

“If you take everything I’ve accomplished in my life and condense it down to one day, it looks decent!”

You can learn a lot from people. Personal development stars like Wayne Dyer or Eckhart Tolle. Or your family. Or a friend.

Or even a walking disaster like George Costanza, the iconic and miserable character from the classic TV-show “Seinfeld”. Now back on the fake reunion show that is taking place on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.

Much can be learned from the great life of Costanza. Mostly what to avoid doing.

1. Believe in it. And yourself.

“Jerry, just remember: It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

That quote may not be the best piece of advice in itself. But the thought is very interesting. Because the belief you have behind your words can have a huge difference. People often focus a bit too much on the words. But how are they said? With confidence? With a relaxed 100 percent conviction?

Or mumbly and a bit stumbley?

If you can’t say something with confidence then it may not matter what you say. People won’t listen. They won’t be swayed and captured by you.
OK, so how can you improve this part of your life?

One tip is being present. If you are in the moment while saying something then that tends to add a lot of weight to your words and remove incongruence and conflicting thoughts. You can find ways to become more present in your daily life here.

Also, if you think you can do something then you can. If you don’t think so then it will be very hard to do it.

So work on building that confidence in yourself. Here are three tips to get you started:

  • Take action. Get it done. The most important step in building self confidence is simply to take action. Working on something and getting it done. Sitting at home and thinking about it will just make you feel worse.
  • Face your fear. Look, I could tell you to do affirmations or other exercises for months in front of your mirror. It may have a positive effect. Just like preparing yourself it may help you to take action with more confidence. But to be frank, if you don’t face your fears you won’t experience any better self confidence on a deeper and more fundamental level. Having experiences where you face your fear is what really builds self confidence. There is no way around it.
  • Realize that failure or being wrong will not kill you. You have to face your fear. Because it is only then that you discover the thing that billions of people throughout history have discovered before you. Failure won’t kill you. Nor will being wrong. The sky will not fall down. That’s just what people that haven’t faced their fear yet think. The thing is to reframe failure from being something that makes your legs shake to something useful and important for the growth of your self confidence and your overall growth as a human being. Because you really learn things and you become stronger and your chances of succeeding increase through failure.

2. Do the opposite.

In one episode – the on called “The Opposite” – George’s life turns from a series of disappointments and disasters to a string of successes. How does he do it? By doing the exact opposite of what he has been doing all his life.

When you start studying personal development it’s a bit like that. You realise that difference between you and more successful people isn’t just that the successful ones are working harder. They are doing something else than you are doing.

Some of these things are pretty counter intuitive. Personal growth isn’t always doing the exact opposite of what you’ve done before. But it is about trying out beliefs and methods that isn’t “common sense” or doing what you may think that most people do.

It is about taking a leap of faith and sometimes keep doing things for a period of time – not just over the weekend, but for months – until you get that first success and you realise, not just on an intellectual level but an emotional too, that this stuff really works and that you can really change.

So learn what you can from people who have already done what you want to do. Take a leap of faith once in a while and try what they say even though it may sound a bit odd. Do things that feel unusual for you – while using common sense of course – to expand your comfort zone in small and big situations and to gain and understanding of things really are. Rather than getting lost in your own theories based on what you have experienced so far in life.

3. Don’t blow things out of proportion.

George really has a knack for blowing things out of proportions. A kind gesture like paying for a big salad is interpreted as an insult and as someone looking down on him.

So why do people do such things in real life too and how can you stop yourself from doing it?

One reason could be to protect oneself from pain. By actually doing things, failing and learning you also need to expose yourself to pain and discomfort. By overcomplicating things and over thinking them you can create a helpful excuse to not take action. Instead you can remain in a state where you are “still trying to figure things out” for a long time.

Another reason is to feel good about oneself in an odd way. By making things more complicated than they need to be you can make them feel very important. And since you are involved in these important things, well, then you have to be important too, right?
Now, on to decreasing these kinds of things in your own life:

  • Zoom out. Ask better questions. Not why is the whole world against me questions like George tends to ask. But: “Does someone on the planet have it worse than me?” “Will this matter in 5 years?” These questions help you zoom out and realize that in most cases things aren’t really that bad and you can handle them.
  • Bring awareness to you own thought patterns. Ask yourself questions like: “Honestly, am I overcomplicating this?” and “What is the simplest and most straightforward solution to my problem that I may be avoiding to protect myself from pain?”
  • Get a life. If you have too much time on your hands then it’s easy to start thinking and thinking about something until you made a hen out of a feather. If you feel like you have a habit of doing this then add more activities to your life. Then you will have more fun and less time to sit around thinking about things that are pretty pointless.

4. Sometimes coffee is not coffee.

In one hilarious scene – in the episode “The Phone Message” – George and a woman is at the end of a date. It is midnight and they are sitting in his car.

Woman: Do you want come upstairs for a cup of coffee?
George: No thanks, if I drink coffee this late at night, it keeps me up.
Woman: Well, ok, good night…
George: Take it easy.

End of date.

Sometimes a cup of coffee isn’t a cup of coffee. And words are only one part of communication. Being open to using common sense and experience and not just listening to words in a straightforward, logical manner can help you improve your communication skills. And prevent situations where a bad time is had by all.

5. Drop your grudges. Forgive and forget.

In the episode “The Apology” George wants an apology. A few years ago George was at a New Year’s party. He was freezing and wanted to borrow a sweater made of Cashmere wool. But the host said: “No, I don’t want to have the neck hole stretched out.” And everybody at the party laughed.

When George learns that the host is going through the 12-step program and is apologizing to the people he has wronged in the past George sees his chance. But the guy calmly and mockingly says that he doesn’t need to apologize.

And so George of course become angrier and angrier throughout the episode that ends with him screaming at a Rageoholics Anonymous-meeting.

Hilarious on TV. Pretty pointless in real life. It’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking that forgiveness is just about something you “should do”. But forgiving can in a practical way be extremely beneficial for you.

As long as you don’t forgive someone you are linked to that person. Your thoughts will return to the person who wronged you and what s/he did over and over again. The emotional link between the two of you is so strong and inflicts much suffering in you and – as a result of your inner turmoil – most often in other people around you too.

When you forgive you do not only release the other person. You set yourself free too from all of that agony.

6. It is a problem if you think it is a problem.

One of the big ongoing issues about George is that he’s going bald and how it makes him feel less attractive. I think the big issue here is that George so fixated on his baldness that people pick up on it. If you are going bald or perceive something to be very negative about your appearance then it’s a problem if you think it’s a problem.

If you are ok with it, people in general will be ok with it. Or rather, they won’t think about whatever the issue might be. Your world is often a response to what you think and believe.

7. You are your own worst enemy.

George tries to manipulate women and everyone is various elaborate ways. But he never really changes. And so life never changes for him. At least not for long. Soon he is back where he started. Many episodes end with George self sabotaging a good thing by for example blowing something out of proportion. He does not feel worthy of success.

So how do you get past being your own worst enemy and become better friends with yourself? It’s not a simple thing. But to feel more worthy of success and not blow it by self sabotaging you have to live a life where you feel worthy. I don’t think there is any way around this. It’s not easy but it does work.

If you do your best, if you do what you feel deep down is the right thing over and over then when some opportunity comes along you’ll think that you are indeed a good person who has worked very hard and been through ups and downs. You feel good about yourself and you feel worthy.

Another great tip to increase self-love is to love other people more. The way you behave and think towards others seems to have a big, big effect on how you behave towards yourself and think about yourself. Judge people more and you tend to judge yourself more. Be more kind to other people and help them and you tend to be more kind and helpful to yourself.

A bit counter intuitive perhaps, but that has been my experience.

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  • Michelle Corbin December 4, 2009, 6:07 pm

    I don’t suppose you’d be willing to do a life lessons from Elaine or Jerry, too, would you? :)

    • Henrik Edberg December 5, 2009, 12:40 pm

      I might do that someday too. Perhaps one on all four characters of Seinfeld. Thanks for the idea!

  • Ideas With A Kick December 4, 2009, 7:25 pm

    Just goes to prove you that you can learn something valuable from anybody, even a miserable little man. But you also seem to have a skill of turning his lines or action into positive lessons. Now I know why this is the positivity blog. :)

    Eduard

    • Henrik Edberg December 5, 2009, 12:41 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, I think it’s fun to pick up good lessons from unlikely places.

  • Lauren Elder December 4, 2009, 7:33 pm

    Quite honestly, this article could not have been more timely. This past month, I’ve been dangerously close to becoming the next George Costanza. How did this happen? Well, I let all of my problems weigh down on me and took them out on people who are close to me. I became emotionally erratic and overreactive – something I am not proud of. What is most surprising is how quickly being miserable and emotionally UNintelligent causes your life to spiral out of control. Currently, I’m trying to think only in positives and appreciate the good things in life. It is true that you are your own worst enemy, but you are also the only person in control of your life and you have to make the most of it. All of these tips are fabulous and utterly relevant.

    • Henrik Edberg December 5, 2009, 12:43 pm

      Thank you, Lauren! I agree, things can certainly spiral out of control quickly, especially when you have a couple of problems hitting you all at once. Glad to hear that you are doing better now.

  • Adventures of The Fearless December 5, 2009, 2:08 am

    I love the show seinfeld. George is a total classic. Biggest lesson from that show is.. laugh and laugh some more

    • Henrik Edberg December 5, 2009, 12:44 pm

      Yeah, it’s still a great and very funny show. Certainly one of my all-time favorites. And good added lesson, thanks!

  • Gordie Rogers December 5, 2009, 3:32 pm

    Great idea. I did a post on things we can learn from Hitler. Now you did one on George Costanza. We can learn from absolutely anyone if we look hard enough. :)

  • Wanderluster December 5, 2009, 8:19 pm

    Love ‘em or hate ‘em, George has some pretty good dang advice! I love this post!

  • Miche - Serenity Hacker December 6, 2009, 1:52 am

    Hi Henrik, I loved this! I have a friend who reminds me of George EXACTLY almost, every time I watch the show! He’s a sweetheart, really. You’ve got some real gems here, thanks!

    Cheers,
    Miche :)

  • Lloyd Christie December 7, 2009, 5:19 am

    Great post Henrik Love the angle

  • barira1 December 7, 2009, 2:16 pm

    its damn difficult to forgive someone , well instead of torturing more i would learn from ur blog that better to forgive and start living ur life again !
    Thanks .

  • Jorgen Sundberg December 8, 2009, 10:47 am

    George is the best…. Love the scene where a fellow with a receding hairline asks George what to do, George goes “Live godamnit! Before you you go bald…” Or something to that effect… :-)

  • Nea | Self Improvement Saga December 13, 2009, 1:37 pm

    Until reading this article, George was the last character on Earth that I’d try to learn from. But you’re so right… he’s full of info on what not to do. Amazing… you’ve shown me that George Costanza is good for more than belly-aching laughs. Thanks a ton!!

  • JDH December 14, 2009, 6:52 pm

    Henrik, this post is so very timely for me and so very awesome!

    I just wrapped up my fall semester and did horrible on one of my finals, so I’m a bit worried what my grade will be. But, failure won’t kill me, so I’m keeping optomistic and using this as a lesson in what not to do next semester LOL

    Wonderful post!

  • aDeeb December 19, 2009, 3:38 am

    Interesting concept.
    George is so ultra-neagative that even when good things do come his way, they don’t last till the end of the episode.
    As you sow, so you reap.

  • Luis Lujan January 9, 2010, 5:32 am

    Hello:
    As a college student at UTEP i tend to be pretty good staying busy all the time. About year ago, I heard from an awesome classmates a statement that would influence my college studies in an unimaginable way. I used to be full of complexes and insecurity, and was afraid, that would damage my reputation in college. It was then when this guy helped me face my fortunate reality. He said: “hey there are about 20+ thousand people on this campus. The good thing is, they have no idea who you are! ( i wondered if that was trully suppossed to be something good). They don’t know about your horrible inferiority complex and insecurity. Take advantage of that and decide which Luis you want them to know. RE-design yourself.”
    Damn! He was totally right. It seemed like an awesome idea!!! But, where do i start??? so i surfed a little, and i found ur blog. You have no idea how much i’ve learned from you and your “wisdom.”I used to be so much like George…Thank you so much for not keeping this knowledge to yourself…God bless you!!!

  • Meaghan January 14, 2010, 2:39 am

    What a clever and interesting post! Who would have thought that George could teach so many lessons?! Thanks for sharing!