Don't Stop believing.
Look at your habits.
Habits define you. All the results in your life come from your daily habits.
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In a culture that seeks quick results, we must learn the beauty of effort, patience, and perseverance.
Have you ever told yourself that you’re going to make something happen and then nothing happened? All details aside, it’s because you didn’t have the right habits in place—the little things you do every day that builds up to something bigger.
Habits define you. All the results in your life come from your daily habits.
If you’re out of shape and overweight, you have different habits than someone who’s physically fit.
If you’re fit, you jump out of bed early every morning and sweat before preparing a healthy breakfast.
If you’re out of shape, you sleep in and eat whatever is fastest and easiest.
This may be a bit of a generalization, but it’s not far from the truth for the average able-bodied person.
In all walks of life, you don’t become an overnight success.
You become successful over time from all the little things you do one day at a time.
Failure occurs in the same way. All your little daily failures (that you don’t learn and grow from) come together and cause you to fail…
- You fail to check the books.
- You fail to make the calls.
- You fail to listen to your customers.
- You fail to innovate.
- You fail to do what must be done.
And then one day you wake up and your business has failed.
It was all the little things you did or didn’t do along the way—your daily habits—not just one catastrophic event.
Let this be your wake-up call.
YOUR LIFE IS YOUR BUSINESS!
YOUR HABITS ARE YOUR BUSINESS!
So today, let’s discuss some super-common habits Marc and I have seen plaguing thousands of our course students and Think Better, Live Better live event attendees over the past decade—little things too many people do every day to gradually wreck their own lives:
1. Change nothing and expect different results.
There’s a saying that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Take this to heart.
If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Period.
Oftentimes the only difference between a successful person and a person who makes little progress is not one’s superior abilities, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take calculated risks, and to take steady steps forward.
In other words, some people sit and wait for the magic beans to arrive while the rest of us just get up and get to work.
2. Keep waiting and waiting and waiting for the right time.
Remind yourself of how often we waste our time waiting for the ideal path to appear. Then remind yourself of how often it never appears.
Seriously, we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting.
So think of today as the beginning—the conception of a new life.
The next twelve months are all yours.
You can do with them as you please.
Make them count.
Because a new person is born in nine months.
The only question is: Who do you want that person to be?
Now is the right time to decide.
And no, you shouldn’t feel more confident before you take the next step.
Taking the next step is what builds your confidence and fuels your inner and outer growth.
3. Expect good things to come easy.
A goal is a point of achievement that requires effort and sacrifice.
There are no esteemed ventures worth participating in that don’t require some level of effort and sacrifice.
Trust me, decades from now when you’re resting on your deathbed, you will not remember the days that were easy, you will cherish the moments when you rose above your difficulties and conquered challenges of magnitude.
You will dream of the strength you found within yourself that allowed you to achieve what once seemed impossible.
So don’t do what’s easy, do what you’re capable of.
Astound yourself with your own abilities.
And as you struggle forward, remember, it is far better to be exhausted from lots of effort and learning than to be tired of doing nothing.
The effort is never wasted, even when it leads to disappointing results.
For it always makes you stronger and more experienced in the long run.
4. Refuse to accept necessary risks.
Living is about learning as you go.
Living is a risky business.
Every decision, every interaction, every step, every time you get out of bed in the morning, you take a small risk.
To truly live is to know you’re getting up and taking that risk, and to trust yourself to take it.
To not get out of bed, clutching to illusions of safety, is to die slowly without ever having truly lived.
This isn’t drama—it’s real life.
Think about it.
If you ignore your instincts and let shallow feelings of uncertainty stop you, you will never know anything for sure, and in many ways, this unknowing will be worse than finding out your instincts were wrong. Because if you were wrong, you could make adjustments and carry on with your life, without looking back and wondering what might have been.
5. Make the rejections of yesterday the focal point of today.
Be okay with walking away when the time comes.
Rejection teaches us how to reject what’s not right for our well-being.
It won’t be easy, but some chapters in our lives have to close without closure.
There’s no point in losing yourself by trying to fix what’s meant to stay broken.
All too often we let the rejections of our past dictate every move we make thereafter.
We literally do not know ourselves to be any better than what some opinionated person or narrow circumstance once told us was true.
Of course, this old rejection doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough; it means the other person or circumstance failed to align with what we have to offer.
It means we have more time to improve our thing—to build upon our ideas, to perfect our craft, and indulge deeper into the work that moves us.
And that’s exactly what you need to do, starting now.
6. Refuse to take responsibility.
You aren’t responsible for everything that happened to you, but you need to be responsible for undoing the thinking and behavioral patterns these outcomes created.
Blaming the past for a limiting mindset today doesn’t fix it.
Change your response to what you remember, and step forward again with grace.
A combination of your decisions and external factors for which you had no control brought you to where you are in the world today.
Negatively blaming someone else, or some other past circumstance will change nothing.
Positively taking full responsibility for your situation and your path forward can change everything.
Leave the unchangeable past behind you as you diligently give yourself to the present moment.
At this moment is every possibility you seek. Take responsibility for it, and bring these possibilities to life.
7. Close your mind to new ideas and perspectives.
Even as you grow wiser and wiser with age you must remind yourself that an understanding is never absolutely final.
What’s currently right could easily be wrong later.
Thus, the most destructive illusion is a settled point of view.
So, remember that success in life does not depend on always being right.
To make real progress you must let go of the assumption that you already have all the answers.
Don’t stop learning.
Don’t stop investing in yourself.
Engage with people, including those who think differently.
And don’t just grow in knowledge.
Be a person who gives back.
Use what you’re learning to make a difference.
8. Let a few negative people fill your mind with garbage.
Your mind is your private sanctuary; do not allow the negative beliefs of others to occupy it.
Your skin is your barrier; do not allow others to get under it.
Take good care of your personal boundaries and what you allow yourself to absorb from others.
Of course, there will inevitably be a few people in your life who will be critical of you regardless of what you do or how well you do it.
If you say you want to be a dancer, they will discredit your rhythm.
If you say you want to build a new business, they will give you a dozen reasons why it might not work. They somehow assume you don’t have what it takes, but they are dead wrong.
Let that sink in.
It’s a lot easier to be negative than positive—a lot easier to be critical than correct.
When you’re embarking on a new venture, instead of listening to the few critics that will try to discredit you, spend time talking to one of the thousands of people in this world who are willing to support your efforts and acknowledge your potential, respectfully.
And go ahead and leave us a comment on this post if you think you can’t find one.
9. Hold tight to something that’s not real.
One of the most important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage to let go of what can’t be changed.
Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself—to grow beyond the unchangeable.
And that changes everything.
Seriously, remind yourself right now that not everything is meant to be.
You have to seriously sit down with yourself and come to grips with the fact that you were wrong about it all along.
It was just an illusion that never really was what you thought it was.
It’s one of the most difficult realizations to accept, to realize that you feel a sense of loss, even though you never really had what you thought you had in the first place.
The key is knowing this, learning from it, letting go, and taking the next step. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” chapter of the NEW edition of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
10. Maintain rigid expectations every step of the way.
Simple things become complicated when you expect too much. Expectation truly is the root of all heartache.
Don’t let it get the best of you.
Every difficult life situation can be an excuse for hopelessness or an opportunity for personal growth, depending on what you choose to do with it.
So start by choosing to let go of the ideas and expectations that aren’t serving you.
Remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect life.
There’s just this moment you’re living through and what you choose to do with it.
You can be disappointed in this moment and do nothing, or you can practice being satisfied with the opportunity to make the very best of it.
Closing Exercise: Build Better Habits
Choose an area in your life that you want to improve, and then:
- Write down the specific details about your current circumstances. (What’s bothering you? What’s wrong? What do you want to change?)
- Write down your answer to this question: What are the daily habits that have contributed to your current circumstances? (Be honest with yourself. What are you doing that contributes to the situation you’re in?)
- Write down the specific details about your ideal circumstances. (What would make you happy? What does your ideal situation look like?)
- Write down your answer to this question: What are the daily habits that will get you from where you are to where you want to be? (Think about it. What small, daily steps will help you move forward?)
5 Low-Effort Changes That Will 10x Your Productivity
You can make changes that will transform your life in as little as an hour
Productivity and self-help articles have a bad habit of recommending what I like to think of as “high-effort” interventions.
Wake Up at 5 AM!
Take Cold Showers!
Track All Your Expenses By Hand!
I’m an admitted self-help writer and total productivity nerd, but these kinds of recommendations are and have always been far too much for me.
I’m a self-help junkie, but I also have a personality disorder, autism, and an undiagnosed abdominal pain issue that collectively sap my ability to function.
There are weeks in my life when I’m able to wake up at 5 AM and meal prep, but there are also weeks in my life where getting out of bed is an accomplishment.
I need self-help hacks that don’t take any energy out of my emotional bank account.
And you know what?
I’m not the only one.
I meet so many people who are mentally ill, physically disabled, or otherwise unable to rise to the high demands of traditional self-help.
These people often tell me they’ve sworn off self-help entirely because it’s completely inaccessible.
But there are self-help hacks that work for people with very little spare time and energy. Implementing these low-effort changes can create all the positive momentum you need for lasting changes in your life.
1. Adopting a Minimalist Mindset
“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”
― Greg McKeown, Essentialism
People think that to get more done, they have to do more.
When they’re looking for ways to be more productive, they’re looking for more, more, more.
But the reality is the most powerful boosts to your productivity come from doing less.
- If you have less on your to-do list, you feel less overwhelmed, and you’re able to more effectively complete the tasks that are on your list.
- If you have fewer calendar obligations, you are more refreshed and relaxed for the obligations you do have.
- If you have fewer platforms and newsletters you need to check, you can spend more time thoughtfully reading each one.
It’s also true that most of what we spend our time doing doesn’t contribute to our happiness and success, whether that be professional, athletic, interpersonal, or any other kind.
If you quit wasting time on what isn’t working for you, you have much more time for what is.
The less you have, the more focus you have, and the more you get done.
Simple as that.
There are two super-easy ways you can set about adopting minimalism in your life today.
Declutter Your House
Yes, good ole’ minimalism — let go of the possessions that don’t add value to your life to make more space for what does.
We’ve been blathering on about it for ten or twenty years now, but we minimalists been blathering on about it because it works.
Becoming a minimalist didn’t make any of my problems go away, but it made them far easier to deal with.
I’ve already written enough on minimalism to fill a book, so here’s an extra-short guide to how you can adopt minimalism in your own life.
- Go through your clothes. Clothes are a great place to start minimizing because it’s easy. Get rid of any that don’t fit, and that you never wear because you like the color, and any that are stained, pitted, or threadbare. I promise, you already have enough clothes; you don’t need to clutter up your life by keeping these around.
- Look around your house for any books you haven’t picked up in years, any household appliances or items that are sitting forgotten in a corner, stacks of random and unsorted papers, or anything that’s visibly collecting dust. Consider that if these things have been sitting forgotten that long, it’s like you never owned them — and if you got along without them until now, you’ll get along fine once you get rid of them, too.
- Look for any pricy items you’re not using that still have value. Sell them on eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or a similar platform. This is a great way to get rid of old phones, television sets, and gaming equipment you don’t use but don’t want to throw away because they’re still valuable. Better to sell them now than throw them away in ten years when they truly are worthless.
Minimize Your Digital Life
Sometimes I catch a glance of what other people’s phone lock screens look like when they pick up their phone and it gives me an aneurysm.
Dozens upon dozens of unaddressed notifications, all begging for the user’s attention, most of them pointless corporate marketing spam — and the rest useless social media notifications from people the user doesn’t care about.
No wonder people miss your text, call, or email.
A super-easy way to increase your productivity is simply to make sure you see what’s important by getting rid of what isn’t.
- Take care of your email so your inbox isn’t filled with junk.
- Organize your phone so it isn’t constantly beeping with notifications.
- Get rid of social media platforms that don’t justify the time they take up.
- Throw out items on your to-do list that are mere busywork.
2. Quitting Unhealthy Dependencies
“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
― Lance Armstrong & Sally Jenkins, Every Second Counts
One of the most unsettling parts about becoming an adult is the day you turn around and realize the majority of the people around you are hooked on something.
Some are hooked on “obviously bad” things like heroin, cocaine, and whiskey, while others are hooked on “not so bad” things like marijuana, beer, porn, and shopping, but nearly everyone is hooked on something.
Your liver might survive your shopping habit, but every dependency exacts its toll, no matter how benign it appears at first.
And if you are one of the many who are hooked on something, one of the greatest things you can do for your productivity is to break your dependency.
You can’t function well if you’re jonesing for a hit, even if it’s just a hit of Netflix.
Here’s a list of things people are commonly hooked on:
- Social Media Feeds
- Binge-Watching YouTube or TV
If you don’t think you’re hooked on anything or aren’t sure what you’re hooked on, start tracking your time and your expenses.
I guarantee, at the end of thirty days with these tools, you will have learned a number of unsettling things about your own habits.
3. Get Good Sleep
“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.”
— JoJo Jensen
JoJo Jensen is right, you know.
When we don’t get a good night’s sleep at roughly the same time every night in a dark quiet room, our ability to function well suffers greatly.
- We’re more prone to arguing and conflict.
- We pay less attention to detail and do lower-quality work.
- Things slip our minds.
- We’re exhausted and/or in pain, so we’re unmotivated to work.
- Our brains aren’t firing on all cylinders, so we can’t solve problems well.
It’s not difficult to see how these things interfere with our productivity.
If you want to see your productivity shoot up a notch, just start taking care of your sleep.
Go to bed at a reasonable hour.
Go to bed sober.
Turn off all the lights.
If you have to listen to something, listen to a soft and relaxing YouTube video for sleep, not cable news.
Your body will thank you for it.
4. Getting a Therapist
“Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.”
― David Richo
Getting therapy isn’t usually in listicles about productivity, but truly, nothing is better for your productivity than effective therapy.
Think of therapists like coaches.
They help you root out all the personal issues holding you back and teach you the skills you need to rocket toward the life of your dreams.
It’s no surprise that a couple of years in therapy will seriously help anyone’s productivity.
You don’t have to attend therapy too often to see benefits.
Once every two weeks is enough for most people to get cognitive reframing they could benefit from.
The best part is, it’s affordable as heck.
Even if you don’t have insurance, an appointment once every two weeks is under $200 a month, and most people have access to some kind of insurance or medical financial aid, bringing that cost down to less than a night out.
If that still sounds like a lot to you, consider that you spend more on food & takeout & alcohol, and you get a lot less from that money.
Therapy is money well spent.
“If you have a body, you are an athlete!”
— Bill Bowerman
This entry is the last on the list but should be the first.
It still astonishes me just how potent exercise can be in making everything about your life better.
I’ve been on a lot of psychiatric medication, been to a lot of therapy, read a lot of self-help books, and done a lot of self-improvement procedures, but by far and away the most helpful thing I’ve ever done is still adopt a workout routine.
Like I’ve written in other articles, we’ve found the fountain of youth, and it’s a gym habit.
Getting in shape gives you so much energy.
It increases your working memory and other neurological capacities.
It improves and stabilizes your mood.
It enhances your problem-solving abilities.
It’s not hard to imagine how this boots your productivity.
There is so much literature out there about how to be more productive, but I think the most important thing when it comes to productivity is just doing what you know you should do.
We all know by now that we should exercise, get good sleep, quit our bad habits, and take care of our mental health.
People who struggle with getting things done don’t have a knowledge problem, they have a procedural problem — which is why I also recommend therapy.
Therapists will help you diagnose and correct what’s going wrong in your life so you can get back to doing what you know you should be doing.
Hopefully reading this article shook something loose for you and was the catalyst you needed to finally start doing what you know you should have been all along.
To Curb Your Misery, Checkmate Your Tendency to Compare
Concepts that have helped me almost liberate myself from comparison-induced unhappiness.
The method of exhaustion to find out areas of various polygons was a pivotal moment in the history of mathematics.
It proved to be the precursor to calculus.
Exhaustion is a method of finding the area of a shape by inscribing inside it a sequence of polygons whose areas converge to the area of the containing shape.
If the sequence is correctly constructed, the difference in area between the nth polygon and the containing shape will become arbitrarily small as n becomes large.
For instance, earlier, it was unknown that the circle area could be calculated as πr². So Archimedes tried to find it by the method of exhaustion. As you can see in the image below, he went from a pentagon (n=5) to hexagon (n=6), to an octagon(n=8), and so on.
As n keeps on increasing, the area of the polygon gets closer to the circle, at one point getting close enough that the difference can be safely ignored.
And for all purposes, you can consider it to be the same as the area of the circle.
It’s kind of a stretch, but I see the problem of comparisons similar to the problem of finding the area of the circle.
Consider any one strategy to deal with comparison-induced misery as one side of the polygon.
So if you keep increasing the ‘n,’ there will come a time when you can almost free yourself from the unhappiness that results from comparisons.
Maybe you’re at zero, where comparisons are really ruining your life.
Or at the stage of a triangle, where you have only a few mindset shifts or some strategies to deal with comparisons.
However, in this article, I want to give you every strategy, every mindset shift, every loophole that I have learned to free myself from the misery of comparisons.
Let’s dive in.
Comparisons When Matching Isn’t Possible Are Unnecessary.
Here’s what a classic drug trial looks like.
You take two groups with a certain disease.
You give the new drug you’re supposed to be testing to the first group, and to the second group, you give a sugar-pill (no drug).
If the first group shows improvement and the second does not, you conclude that the drug works. Voila!
A medical breakthrough!
Hold your horses, though, because it’s not that simple.
Before you can compare the results between the two groups, you have to do what’s called matching. Matching is a statistical technique where the patients in both groups are selected such that their observable characteristics match.
For instance, if one group consists entirely of older people and the other entirely of children, how do you expect your comparison to be fair?
With matching, you make sure both the groups look as similar as possible, and the only difference between them is whether they’re given the drug or a sugar pill.
Without matching, a drug trial is useless.
Similarly, without matching, comparisons don’t make sense.
They border on ridiculous.
For instance, in one episode of AskGaryVee, a woman born in a middle-class family said that she felt bad, comparing herself to Kylie Jenner because she became a billionaire.
But how is that fair?
Kylie Jenner was born in a house with a shitload of fame and money.
How can you compare yourself to her when the other circumstances don’t match at all?
This misery is absolutely unnecessary.
And you’re better off without it.
So, don’t compare when you cannot even match.
Here are a few examples.
- Don’t compare your writing skills to someone who’s been writing for 10 years, when you only started a few weeks ago.
- Don’t compare your success to someone in their 40s if you’re only 25.
- Don’t compare your worst, most unproductive days to someone’s best days.
Use a Different Philosophy Than Trying to be Better Than Others
In the name of success, being the best at something is often romanticized in our modern world. But that model of success and happiness only works for a few people at the top.
It breeds an endless web of comparison because no matter what you do, chances are someone will do it better than you.
What’s the solution?
I found a liberating mindset shift on Zat Rana’s website.
As he writes, “I’m not competing with anyone else for a shiny object because I’d rather compete with myself. Freedom is mostly an inside job, and it’s about becoming so uniquely different that it would be an insult for me to measure myself against someone else.”
Read that again. “Becoming so uniquely different that it would be an insult for me to measure myself against someone else.”
How freeing is that?
Here’s what it looks like for me.
Nowadays, I’m not necessarily trying to be the best writer in the world.
Instead, I’m trying to be a different writer.
I’m trying to write articles that others won’t.
I’m trying to build a voice that others don’t have.
And while that’s also not easy to do, it’s certainly better for my mental health than trying to be the best.
Simply put, if they’re an apple, don’t try to be a juicier, shinier, or a redder apple.
Be an orange.
It’s a much more effective way to grow.
Envy is an energy leak.
It’s an emotion of the less conscious human within us.
It fills us up with negative energy and yet doesn’t do anything for us.
And there’s a way to upgrade our consciousness by simply replacing envy with inspiration.
It sounds like a cliché, but that’s only because it works.
For instance, in the past few months, I’ve been very fortunate to make a few hundred dollars from my writing every month.
But there are writers who make tens of thousands of dollars as well.
As you can see, that’s a breeding place for envy right there.
But the way I see it, I see someone’s higher achievements as a reminder of what’s possible.
Because it freaking blows my mind that people make that kind of money here.
And if I get inspired, instead of being envious, I too can achieve what they have.
Simply put, envy — boo. Inspiration — yay.
Remember, You’re a Picture, Not Just a Pixel
As humans, each one is such a beautiful picture, made of thousands of pixels.
Some of those pixels are ugly.
But the point is, is it fair that we feel bad about the entire picture, based on how a single pixel of our lives compares with others?
For instance, you compare how much you make with someone else, and you feel shitty.
But what if you’re kind, creative, generous, empathetic, and the person that makes more money is not all those great things?
For the traits you’re inferior to others, there are so many that you’re superior to them. And with that, I don’t mean that you should compare those as well.
But again, I want to hammer on the fact that comparing one pixel, and feeling bad about the whole picture that is your life, doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair to you.
One pixel — any pixel of your life — is not the proxy for the whole image.
Don’t give comparisons the power to assume that.
Acknowledge Psychological Asymmetry
In an article on The School of Life discussing psychological asymmetry, the author says —
One of the most basic facts about the human condition is that we know ourselves from the inside, but know others only from what they choose or are able to tell us, a far more limited and edited set of data.
Think about it.
We are continuously exposed to everything that happens in our heads.
We are incessantly the subject of our own worries, dreams, hopes, and memories — many of which can be overwhelming at times.
But on the other hand, we know others from a very meticulously filtered set of data. We know about others only what they choose to show us — much of which can even border on pretense.
But the human minds don’t like knowing only a part of something.
Calling the brain a machine that jumps to conclusions in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman says that our brain is hardwired to make sense of partial information by filling in the gaps.
But how do you think our minds fill the gaps when the partial information that gets fed into it is all rainbows and butterflies?
We see others on social media looking like models, riding Lamborghinis and Ferraris, and enjoying expensive vacations to Greece.
We see couples seven years into their honeymoon period, people crushing their goals and all of this in the absence of the slightest hiccup.
However, there’s a ton of data that we don’t see.
Are they truly happy or not?
Have they overcome their fears?
Are they struggling with any insecurities?
Do they sleep well at night?
We have to assume the answers to these questions.
And based on the rainbows and butterflies that they do choose to reveal to us, we assume they’re happy.
We think they have overcome their fears and insecurities, and everyone is walking towards the light.
We compare our picture — a more coherent, accurate picture of the human condition — with someone else’s picture — a meticulously filtered, false facade that doesn’t really represent human life.
This, obviously, makes us feel horrible. But again, this comparison is unfair as well.
And the way not to be a victim of psychological asymmetry is to acknowledge and be mindful of its presence.
Know that you know yourself too well, and others, not enough.
Hence, you just don’t have enough data to make a valid comparison.
Your Only True Competition is You
Of course, you’ve heard this before.
And again, it’s a cliché.
But clichés are cliché for a reason.
They make sense.
And as humans, our only self-declared purpose on this planet is to grow.
It doesn’t matter if you become better than everyone else in the world.
If you don’t strive to be better than who you were yesterday, life won’t make sense anymore.
So make life about that, will ya?
Quit the rat race.
Run your own race.
Being better than others may feel good for once as it inflates your ego.
But as Ernest Hemingway once said — “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
So if you can make your life about true growth day in and day out, you can live a truly great life, irrespective of how others are doing.
2 Words From My Therapist That Changed My Life
Her surprising advice gave me the license to be myself without apology.
First, it’s worth knowing that my therapist “Laura” is one of the gentlest, kindest people I’ve ever known.
As in, she has a Zen master calm about her.
Given the story that I’m about to tell, also know that she doesn’t normally swear as she did that day. She is a beautiful and elegant woman who wears exquisite, expensive shoes and great clothes, which shouldn’t matter in a therapist.
But I find a well-dressed therapist to be reassuring and aspirational.
The fact that Laura’s such a composed and dignified person made what she said to me in therapy that much more shocking.
Actually, the two words coming from anyone could be taken as just plain offensive.
But once she said them to me, those two words imprinted on me like a psychic tattoo.
They have become my life mantra.
These two mono-syllabic words made as much of an impact as all of the wise, well-articulated advice she’d given me for years.
Every couple of weeks I would come and plant myself in her small, stylish, sun-lit office and say something that wasn’t entirely true.
Like, “I destroy everything.”
She’ll look at me with her piercing blue eyes that don’t flinch when she’s getting a point across, even and especially if that point makes me feel uncomfortable.
Then she’ll let me know that what I’m saying is what is called distorted thinking, a fancy way of saying “Wrong.”
In this case, therapists call what I was doing all-or-nothing thinking. The truth? I destroyed some things, but that’s hardly the whole story.
For so long, I pooh-poohed therapy.
I looked at it as a rich person’s luxury, an indulgence for people who have time for a lot of navel-gazing.
I didn’t have the money or time.
Plus, over the course of a few decades, when I dabbled in seeing someone, like so many bad dates, I had a string of strange or at least mediocre therapists.
One woman had ugly, scuffed shoes and dead plants.
One man sighed in empathy at regular intervals, wore sweater vests, and would weep when I told him something sad.
Another wore leather pants and had all-leather furniture.
He squeaked whenever he shifted in his therapist chair.
I didn’t want to go to all that trouble to go back into therapy only to be met with more weirdos, more disappointment, more wasted money, more wasted time.
Learning to unlearn my lies
But then my life came crashing down around me.
I was in enough of a crisis that I had become almost non-functional.
If someone could save me and figure out a way to help me clean up the mess I had made, I would do just about anything, including spending what little money I had.
Somehow I found Laura, who even in the first session started helping me to see more clearly.
Since I started seeing her a few years ago, Laura’s been teaching me to unlearn lies that I’ve been telling myself for most of my life.
She’s also willing to let me sit in my discomfort, let the lies I’ve told for years to me, and lies I’ve easily told to others, ricochet throughout her tiny office until I wanted to run screaming to escape the pain of seeing the real me.
Strangely, the pain of being honest in therapy quickly morphs into a near transcendental thrill of revelation.
Laura has been teaching me that the most priceless, but hardest, thing in the world is, to be honest with myself.
As a woman whose lifelong trademark was to be nice, I’m learning to go down a scary and unfamiliar path to unlearn a lifetime of behaviors that no longer serve me, if they ever did.
I’m unlearning my trusted go-to behavior to stay sweet and quiet no matter what.
For the first couple of decades of my life, I learned that there was no safe place for me to speak up and say my peace. What a funny expression, to “say your piece.”
Yes, it’s “piece” and not “peace.”
Small matter. Saying what you want to say would be anything but peaceful, and would most likely but would unleash anger and outrage in a family of volatile men.
Coping with the insane business of being alive
She’s also been teaching me to step back in my life.
I use the time in therapy to finally try to understand all of this.
You know, the insane business of being alive and trying to get it right.
Which will never happen.
Which is intolerable and can make a person feel crazy as they try to get closer to some truth, only to mess up over and over.
Then try again. Even if it’s impossible, I try anyway.
That’s why it’s a very good idea to find a guru — a priest, a monk, a therapist, a trusted village elder — who is wise, brave, and honest enough to call it as they see it.
And someone caring enough to tell you when you have gone off-course.
Oh, and tell you when you are being a coward and not throwing yourself into life as if you will die tomorrow.
This is how, ideally, we should all live, because we might. In any case, we will all die. So wake up, now.
The times I know that Laura has really strong, let’s say even agitated feelings — when she goes past just the wide-eyed, look-is-worth-a-thousand words stare — is when she tilts her head to the side, but only a bit.
Good therapists know not to show their hand because, dammit, you have to figure it all out yourself on your own, the Glinda the Good Witch “You knew it all along” kind of irritating thing.
After the micro-tilt, she’ll arch one of her already arched eyebrows and widen her eyes.
When I get one of these wide-eyed, arched eyebrow looks, it means she has some very strong feelings that mean, “Really? You really believe that?”
Or, “Seriously, you’re going to go down that shame and blame path again?!”
Or cut to the chase, a look that says, “That is not a good idea.”
Usually, when she does an eyebrow raise, I’ll say, “What?!”
Then she’ll do that annoying therapist thing and say, “What do you think?”
I don’t know!!! I want to say.
That’s why I’m paying you so much money.
But I don’t.
I’ve learned to be more honest, but I still try not to be rude.
The more I tried, the worse I made everything
During the session that Laura handed me those two life-altering words (I’m getting there), I was telling her a story of how something had gone so badly with someone I love.
We were, at this point, estranged.
There seemed to be an invisible barrier between us ever since I had upended our lives.
I couldn’t find a way to get back to where we were.
The more I tried, the worse I made everything.
For months, I had been working on a big, creative project.
I decided to entrust this person by telling them about the project, and the problems I was having making sense of it.
Maybe this person was trying to save me from me.
Maybe they thought what I was doing was misguided.
Maybe I was being overly sensitive. But what they told me made me feel like it was a disaster waiting to happen.
To cut this person some slack, I did make the mistake of asking for their advice.
But once they offered it, I immediately felt deflated and defeated.
Even though I knew it was a good idea, I decided a person like me wasn’t smart or creative enough to pull it off.
They’re right, I decided.
It’s so flawed.
I’m so flawed.
What was I thinking trying to take this on?
Then I started crying and, I’m embarrassed to admit, screaming at this person, unleashing the kind of anger that — no matter how hard I try to keep it in — keeps erupting since my life has gone haywire. I was messing up yet again and hurting someone I loved. Again. “Why am I such a horrible person?”
“You could have handled that better.”
It was right about here, in me retelling the story, that Laura arched one of her eyebrows.
Cue me saying, “What?!”
“It sounds like you were really angry,” she says.
“Yes, I was terrible. The worst.”
“Okay, it sounds like you could have handled that better,” she said. “But do you know the best thing you can say when people are not supporting your creative ideas?”
I had no idea. “I should use an ‘I feel’ statement?
Like, ‘I feel bad when you don’t seem to support my creative ideas?’”
“Well, yes, you could say that,” she said. “But in this case, when it comes to defending your creative work, there is something more effective.” I think, but wasn’t sure, Laura was smiling. Call it a therapist Mona Lisa smile.
“I give up,” I answered, expensive seconds ticking by.
“Can’t you just tell me?”
She emphasized the “Fuck” especially.
The “y’all” gave it a twangy don’t-mess-with-me twist.
And that was it.
I laughed, I was so surprised.
She smiled, but the kind of serious smile so I knew she wasn’t joking.
She meant it.
Laura doesn’t go drop F-bombs right and left with me, like, ever.
It’s as if the Dalai Lama had said, “They can all go kiss my Guru ass.”
As in, Laura’s “Fuck y’all “carried that much more weight.
My secret suit of armor
At first, I was shocked silent.
But her advice sunk in fast.
No long long-winded therapy advice required.
“Fuck y’all” is the mantra to live by when somebody tries to bring me down to Earth in a soul-crushing way.
“Fuck y’all” works perfectly for a person who until recently, lived her life trying to please others, even at the risk of giving up on what she wants most.
It’s not like I need to say it out loud, although I reserve that right if somebody really is intent on squashing me with their squashy statements.
But thinking “Fuck y’all” really hard whenever I need to set up strong and healthy boundaries does the trick.
It has been two years since Laura handed me those two words.
They’re my talisman to ward off criticism that doesn’t serve me in any way.
When someone rejects a creative idea or even my creative way to live? I pull on my “Fuck y’all” suit of armor that’s deflective, funny, and impenetrable.
As someone who became a master of accommodation, of putting up with things that made her feel bad so others don’t, for not “saying her piece” for the sake of keeping the peace, these words have given me a ballast.
As long as I’m not hurting someone, then what can I say but say, or just whisper them to myself, these two words in the absolute nicest way possible. No offense meant. And have a nice day.
EMOTIONAL HEALTH –
EMOTIONAL HEALING –
A fusion of thought and feeling that expands your consciousness.
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