Motivating yourself to be your best.
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How to Use Annoying Comments to Your Advantage
Criticism is an opportunity to grow and doesn’t always mean someone is a troll.
I’ve been harassed to the moon and back in my five years of online writing.
Heck, on Quora, I can’t even load my blocklist because it’s so large.
My browser crashes.
Harassment doesn’t bother me anymore.
If anything, it’s a sad indictment on humanity. I don’t write about politics or controversial issues.
Yet here I am, working a second job as a digital bouncer, throwing people “out of the club” for getting too belligerent.
As someone who makes his living with content that is open to comments, I’ve learned to harness that feedback.
You can too.
Not all negative comments are trolls
I learned a deceptively simple, all-powerful insight from my years in business: the opinion of one customer often represents the opinion of many.
Years ago, when I was new at writing, I wrote a humor piece, “The Signs of a High Maintenance Woman.”
Even writing that title now, I wince a bit.
It was a bit basic and ill-advised.
But I was naive.
I figured it was all in good fun, “Hey, it’s a joke right?”
Really, it was just lazy writing and preying on cheap jokes.
Very soon after hitting publish, someone commented saying I was being insensitive.
Ironically, in my own hyper-sensitivity, I got combative and argued with them about it.
Soon, I realized they were right and deleted my post before it got worse.
It was an early and important lesson in consideration for my audience.
The customer isn’t always right (and if they use that phrase, they definitely aren’t). But often — they are on to something.
Leveraging pedantic jerks to your advantage
Cunningham’s Law states that “The best way to get the right answer on the internet isn’t to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.”
People dive like a hawk at the opportunity to sound smart.
You could make the most obvious observation, stating that the sky is blue, and if the article gets enough eyes, you’ll invariably get a slew of irritating, poorly formatted comments.
- “OH so because YOU think the sky is blue WE should think it’s BLUE.”
- “Based on what empirical evidence can you state this? Citations needed. Reported.”
- “Well actually the sky isn’t blue, it’s that blue light gets reflected most out of the seven colors. If you had taken science, you would already know this.”
These people walk around you in everyday life.
You bump into them at grocery stores and gas stations.
They smile at you and wave.
Then they go home and raise all hell on their keyboard.
You can’t win with some people.
But the mere presence of nitpicky audience members should get you thinking more.
I try to anticipate the counterarguments they’ll make and write to them.
It strengthens your message with the entire audience.
You can do this with pending conversations too.
Scenario planning helps you excel with negotiations, relationship “talks”, and asking for a raise.
Map out possible reactions and how you’ll accommodate them.
A quick tip: how to effectively reply to a bad comment
It’s usually a waste of time to engage with hostile users, but if you must, validate them in some way. Do this by acknowledging their feelings or some truth behind what they say.
Then, offer your rebuttal.
If you don’t do that, they’ll only see you through a combative lens, forming their counterargument as they read.
Use the “sandwich” strategy
A surgeon-friend told me a joke about a patient who just woke up from surgery.
The doctor tells the patient there’s good news and bad news.
The patient says, “Well, give me the bad news first so the good news lifts me up.”
The surgeon says, “The bad news is that we had to amputate both legs.
The good news is that the guy down the hall wants to buy your shoes.”
Thankfully, the story is fiction, but it illustrates a feedback mechanism called a “sh#t sandwich”.
It’s when you give bad news with a positive spin that does little to make things better.
It’s common, ineffective, and often makes the recipient hate you.
The more effective version of this is a “praise sandwich”.
You say positive things, give critical feedback in the middle.
Then you end with a compliment.
This management tactic is proven to affect change and influence people.
Humans are sensitive creatures.
If you aren’t good at taking criticism, you can deploy The Batman Effect.
Look at yourself as a third-person entity, an alter ego.
It distances you from your immediate feelings.
You’ll see the situation more objectively and actually utilize what is said.
The truth of Grammar nazis
I saw a guy comment on someone’s Quora answer, pointing out that it is “your instead of you’re” and this led to a full-blown, 18-reply argument that ended in name-calling.
Studies show that grammar nazis, as the name implies, have highly disagreeable personalities.
However, their critiques are often accurate.
We should know the difference between you and you’re.
Yes, sometimes that mistake is just a slip of the hand.
And yes, it’s annoying when someone comments only to point out a mistake rather than message us directly.
Nothing is more annoying than people who only comment when they disagree.
Grammar nazis have a purpose.
As a writer, I’ve grown to appreciate nitpicky readers who see small problems in writing.
It’s a talent.
My girlfriend is an academic editor and picks off my mistakes with ease.
If you are highly self-critical, channel that into your communication and writing.
Plan ahead and think through what you’ll say.
The internet is full of trolls and the real world is infested with closet trolls.
But don’t dismiss every criticism.
Information is inherently neutral.
It’s how you use it that determines its value and alignment.
Accepting mistakes is a way of exorcising your ego and growing in a way that most fail to.
Earlier today, I was sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich for lunch when an elderly couple pulled their car up under a nearby oak tree.
They rolled down the windows and turned up some jazz music on the radio.
Then the man got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side, and opened the door for the woman.
He took her hand and helped her out of her seat, guided her about ten feet away from the car, and they slow danced for the next half hour under the oak tree.
It was a beautiful sight to see.
I could have watched them forever.
And as they wrapped things up and started making their way back to the car, I clapped my hands in admiration.
Perhaps doing so was obnoxious.
Perhaps I should have just appreciated being a silent witness.
But I was so caught up in the moment—so incredibly moved—that my hands came together before my conscious mind caught on.
And I’m sincerely grateful they did because what happened next inspired the words you’re reading now.
The elderly couple slowly walked over to me with smiles on their faces.
“Thank you for the applause,” the woman chuckled.
“Thank YOU,” I immediately replied.
“You two dancing gives me hope.”
They both smiled even wider as they looked at me.
“Us dancing gives me hope too,” the woman said as she grabbed the man’s hand.
“But what you probably don’t realize is that you just witnessed the power and beauty of second and third chances.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“My college sweetheart—my husband of 20 years—lost his life to cancer on my 40th birthday,” she explained.
“And then my husband of 6 years died in a car accident when I was 52.”
As my mouth hung open, we all shared a quick moment of silence.
Then the man put his arm around her and said, “And I lost my wife of 33 years when I was 54.
So what you see here before you—these dancing partners—this incredible love—this marriage of only 3 years between two kindred souls in their late 60’s . . . all of this is what happens when you give yourself a second and third chance.”
Finding Peace Through Painful Experiences
I’ve spent the rest of the day thinking about that beautiful couple, about second and third chances, and about how human beings find the motivation to keep going . . . to keep loving . . . to keep living, despite the pain and grief and hopelessness we all inevitably experience along the way.
And this topic hits close to home too.
About a decade ago, in a relatively short time frame, Angel and I dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back:
- Losing a sibling to suicide
- Losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest
- Financial unrest and loss of livelihood following a breadwinning job loss
- Breaking ties with a loved one who repeatedly betrayed us
- Family business failure (and reinvention)
Those experiences were brutal.
And enduring them in quick succession knocked us down and off course for a period of time.
For example, when Angel’s brother passed, facing this reality while supporting her grieving family was incredibly painful at times.
There were moments when we shut the world out and avoided our loved ones who were grieving alongside us.
We didn’t want to deal with the pain, so we coped by running away, by finding ways to numb ourselves with alcohol and unhealthy distractions. And consequently, we grew physically ill while the pain continued to fester inside us.
We felt terrible, for far too long.
And getting to the right state of mind—one that actually allowed us to physically and emotionally move forward again—required diligent practice.
Because you better believe our minds were buried deep in the gutter.
We had to learn to consciously free our minds, so we could think straight and open ourselves to the next step.
We learned that when you face struggles with an attitude of openness—open to the painful feelings and emotions you have—it’s not comfortable, but you can still be fine and you can still step forward.
Openness means you don’t instantly decide that you know this is only going to be a horrible experience—it means you admit that you don’t really know what the next step will be like, and you’d like to understand the whole truth of the matter.
It’s a learning stance, instead of one that assumes the worst.
The simplest way to initiate this mindset shift?
Proactive daily reminders…
Mantras for Finding Motivation in Hard Times
It’s all about keeping the right thoughts at the top of your mind, so they’re readily available when you need them most.
For us, that meant sitting down quietly with ourselves every morning (and on evenings sometimes too) and reflecting on precisely what we needed to remember.
We used short written reminders (now excerpts from our books) like the ones below to do just that. Sometimes we’d call them mantras, or affirmations, or prayers, or convictions, but in any case, these daily reflections kept us motivated and on track by keeping grounded, peaceful, productive thoughts at the top of our minds, even when life got utterly chaotic.
We ultimately discovered that peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard realities to deal with—peace means to be in the midst of all those things while remaining calm in your head and strong in your heart.
Challenge yourself to choose one of the bolded reminders below every morning (or evening), and then sit quietly for two minutes while repeating it silently in your mind like a mantra.
See how doing so gradually changes the way you navigate life’s twists and turns and hard times.
- Never assume that you are stuck with the way things are right now. Life changes every single second, and so can you. – When hard times hit there’s a tendency to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. For some strange reason, this doesn’t happen as much when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.
- It is what it is. Accept it, learn from it, and grow from it. It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what you do from here. – Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now. Don’t be one of them. Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself in this moment. Oftentimes letting go is simply changing the labels you place on a situation—it’s looking at the same situation with fresh eyes and an open mind, and then taking the next step.
- Use pain, frustration and inconvenience to motivate you rather than annoy you. You are in control of the way you look at life. – Instead of getting angry, find the lesson. In place of envy, feel admiration. In place of worry, take action. In place of doubt, have faith. Again, your response is always more powerful than your circumstance. A tiny part of your life is decided by completely uncontrollable circumstances, while the vast majority of your life is decided by your responses. Where you ultimately end up is heavily dependent on how you play the hands you’ve been dealt.
- The most effective way to move away from something you don’t want is to move toward something you do want, gradually and consistently. – The key is in building small daily rituals, and understanding that what you do in small steps on a daily basis changes everything over time. This concept might seem obvious, but when hard times hit we tend to yearn for instant gratification. We want things to get better, and we want it better now! And this yearning often tricks us into biting off more than we can chew. Angel and I have seen this transpire hundreds of times over the years—a course student wants to achieve a new milestone as fast as possible, and can’t choose just one or two small daily habits to focus on, so nothing worthwhile ever gets done. Let this be your reminder. Remind yourself that you can’t lift a thousand pounds all at once, yet you can easily lift one pound a thousand times. Small, repeated, incremental efforts will get you there. (Angel and I build small, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
- The effort is never wasted, even when it leads to disappointing results. For it always makes you stronger, more educated, and more experienced. – So when the going gets tough, be patient and keep going. Just because you are struggling does not mean you are failing. Every great success requires some kind of struggle to get there. Again, it happens one day at a time, one step at a time. And the next step is always worth taking. Seriously, no matter what happens, no matter how far you seem to be away from where you want to be, never stop believing that you will make it. Have an unrelenting belief that things will work out, that the long road has a purpose, that the things you desire may not happen today, but they will happen. Practice patience. And remember that patience is not about waiting—it’s the ability to keep a good attitude while working diligently to make daily progress.
- Don’t lower your standards, but do remember that removing your expectations of others is the best way to avoid being derailed by them. – As you strive to make progress, you will inevitably encounter roadblocks in the form of difficult people. But realize that the greatest stress you go through when dealing with a difficult person is not fueled by the words or actions of this person—it is fueled by your mind that gives their words and actions importance. Inner peace and harmony begins the moment you take a deep breath and choose not to allow outside influences to dominate your thoughts, emotions, and actions. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of our “1,000 Little Things” book.)
- As you age, you’ll learn to value your time, genuine relationships, meaningful work, and peace of mind, much more. Little else will matter. – Remember this, especially when the going gets chaotic and tough. Focus on what matters in each moment and let go of what does not. Eliminate needless distractions. Realize that too often we focus our worried minds on how to do things quickly, when the vast majority of things we do quickly should not be done at all. We end up rushing out on another shopping trip, or hastily dressing ourselves up to impress, just to feel better. But these quick fixes don’t work. Stop investing so much of your energy into refining the wrong areas of your life. Ten years from now it won’t really matter what shoes you wore today, how your hair looked, or what brand of clothes you wore. What will matter is how you lived, how you loved, and what you learned along the way.
Afterthoughts… On Deep Loss & Renewal
Before we go I want to briefly address the biggest elephant in the room.
That elephant is losing someone you love.
The elderly couple in the opening story lived through this kind of loss.
Angel and I have lived through this kind of loss.
And although there are no words to make it easier, I want those who are presently coping with this kind of loss to know that the journey forward is worth it.
The end is always the beginning. There’s more beauty—a different kind of beauty—ahead.
You see, death is an ending, which is a necessary part of living.
And even though endings like these often seem ugly, they are necessary for beauty too—otherwise, it’s impossible to appreciate someone or something, because they are unlimited.
Limits illuminate beauty, and death is the definitive limit—a reminder that we need to be aware of this beautiful person, and appreciate this beautiful thing called life.
Death is also a beginning, because while we have lost someone special, this ending, like the loss of any wonderful life situation, is a moment of reinvention.
Although deeply sad, their passing forces us to reinvent our lives, and in this reinvention is an opportunity to experience beauty in new, unseen ways and places.
And finally, of course, death is an opportunity to celebrate a person’s life, and to be grateful for the beauty they showed us.
That’s just a small slice of what living through deep loss has taught us.
Just a short piece of a longer story that’s still being written . . .
A story of second and third chances, renewed hope, and heartfelt dances.
And the reminders above will get you there, one day at a time.
Before you go, let me ask you a quick question:
- Which point above resonates the most with you right now?
And how might reminding yourself of it, daily, change your life?
I’m sitting here on the tenth anniversary of a dear friend’s passing, thinking about the last conversation I had with her.
With a soft, weak voice she told me her only regret was that she didn’t live every year with the same level of love, passion, and purpose she had in the final two years of her life after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“I’ve accomplished so much recently.
And I’ve touched so many people,” she told me.
“If only I had listened to the good advice of my elders—if only I had known—I would have started sooner.
I wouldn’t have wasted so much time on drama and distractions that don’t matter.”
My friend’s words were hard to hear in that moment, for many reasons.
And although her sentiments—her lessons—were concepts I had listened to others say a hundred times before, I had never truly heard them until that moment.
My heart broke wide open for her, and for me.
It was downright painful to see the glimmers of regret in her eyes, and then to realize that I too had wasted time … that I too had let so much good, common-sense advice go in one ear and out the next.
For a decade now, I’ve lived with my late friend’s words echoing in the back of my mind.
I’ve let them guide me through thick and thin.
And I’ve also committed myself to hear more good, hard advice, and living by it.
The list below is a highlight of that advice—some hard things I remind myself of often … some hard things we all need to hear sometimes.
- When you hear only what you want to hear, you’re not really listening. Listen to what you don’t want to hear too. That’s how you grow.
- Fantasizing about other times and places can be dangerous. Don’t cling so tightly to the past, or dream so fervently about the future, that you miss out on the real value and beauty that is here and now. Don’t live entirely in your head. Don’t miss your life!
- You often waste your time waiting for the ideal path to appear. But it never does. Because you forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting.
- You will never feel as confident as you want to feel. Stop believing that you should feel more confident before you take the next step. Taking the next step is what builds your confidence.
- Distractions will get the best of you if you let them. Study your routines, figure out where your time goes, and remove distractions. You become a true master of your life when you learn how to master your focus—where your attention goes.
- There’s a big difference between empty fatigue and gratifying exhaustion. Know the difference. Life is too short. Invest in the activities (and relationships) you deeply care about. Value what you give your energy to. Focus on what matters and let go of what does not.
- Self-neglect is super common. Realize this! Your needs matter. Do NOT ignore them. At times you have to do what’s best for you and your life, not just what’s best for everyone else. There’s absolutely nothing selfish about self-care and self-love. We can’t give what we don’t have. Enrich your life and you’ll be life-giving to others, too.
- You don’t give yourself enough credit sometimes. Remember that time you thought you couldn’t make it through? You did, and you’ll do it again. Don’t let your challenges get the best of you. Appreciate how far you’ve come. You’ve been through a lot, but you’ve grown a lot too. Give yourself credit for your resilience.
- Your response is always more powerful than your circumstance. A tiny part of your life is decided by completely uncontrollable circumstances, while the vast majority of your life is decided by your responses. Where you ultimately end up is heavily dependent on how you play the hands you’ve been dealt.
- Everything gets a bit uncomfortable when it’s time to change. That’s just a part of the growth process. Things will get better. Be patient.
- Patience is not about waiting. Patience is the ability to keep a positive, focused attitude while working hard to move your life forward.
- New, good habits don’t form overnight. It takes roughly 66 days to form a habit. So for the next nine weeks, look at the bright side of your life, and you will rewire your brain. Then apply this same principle to other areas of your life. (Marc and I build small, life-changing habits with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
- Mental strength is incredibly important and easily overlooked. Go to environments that expand your mind. Spend time with people who truly inspire you. Read books. Learn. Grow. Get better. Your life is your choice.
- Old patterns are hard to break. Be aware. Act consciously and consistently. Don’t fall back into your old patterns. Toxic habits and behaviors always try to sneak back in when you’re doing better. Stay focused.
- Sometimes it’s better to let go without closure. Actions and behavior speak volumes. Trust the signs you were given and gracefully press on.
- If you always play the victim, you will always be treated like one. Life isn’t fair. But you don’t have to let the past define your future. Try to take life day by day and be grateful for the little things. Don’t get caught up in what you can’t control.
- Life doesn’t always give you the circumstances you want. Life gives you the circumstances you need … to learn, to grow, and to fall in love.
- When you really pay attention, everyone and everything is your teacher. Take time to observe and listen. Take time to learn something new.
- No one wins at chess by only moving forward. Sometimes you have to move backward to put yourself in a position to win. This is a perfect metaphor for life.
- Your hardest challenges will teach you your best lessons. There is an opportunity in every difficult situation to understand yourself more deeply, and also to improve your life. Take one small step at a time.
- The vast majority of your stress is self-inflicted. And the most powerful weapon you have against stress is your ability to choose one thought over another. Learn to manage your thoughts, before your thoughts manage you.
- Your mind will forever produce negative thoughts. So the goal isn’t to get rid of all your negative thoughts. That’s impossible. The goal is to change your response to them. In fact, the strongest sign of your inner growth is realizing you’re no longer worried, stressed or pained by the things that once used to drain you.
- Calmness is a superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things personally keeps your mind clear and your heart at peace. Once you begin to value your inner peace over your need to react and be right, you will in fact experience more inner peace, and happiness.
- You are holding on to things that hold you back. When things aren’t adding up in your life, begin subtracting. Life gets a lot simpler when you clear the clutter that makes it complicated. Not everything and everyone you lose is a loss.
- “Busy” is mostly just an excuse. In a world with so much noise and clutter, you must make room to hear yourself and others. Embrace silence and space. Breathe and listen. Be where you are. You’re where you’re supposed to be at this very moment. Every step and experience is necessary and can be enhanced with your presence.
- You ignore your inner voice too often. Give yourself the space to listen to your own voice—your own soul. Too many of us listen to the noise of the world and get lost in the crowd.
- You often seek validation from the wrong sources. You will never find your worth in another human being—you will find it in yourself, and then you will attract those who are worthy of your energy. So stop waiting for others to tell you how impressive you are. Impress yourself. Show yourself that you can grow and get better. It’s never about competing with others. In the end, it’s just you vs. you.
- Popularity is irrelevant. Forget popularity. Just do your thing with passion, humility, and honesty. Do what you do, not for applause, but because it’s what’s right. Many of the kindest gestures you’ll ever make, and the most important things you’ll ever do will never be seen publicly. Do them anyway.
- You have been impressed with some people for the wrong reasons. Be less impressed by money, titles, degrees, and looks. Be more impressed by generosity, integrity, humility, and kindness.
- People will not always tell you how they feel about you. But they will always show you. Pay close attention.
- Your expectations of others cause you unnecessary pain. Don’t lower your standards, but do remember that removing your expectations of others is the best way to avoid being disappointed by them.
- You will end up heartbroken if you expect people will always do for you as you do for them. Not everyone has the same heart as you.
- Life is too short to argue and fight. Remember to be selective in your battles. Peace can feel better than being right. You don’t need to attend every argument you’re invited to. Count your blessings, value the people who matter, and move on from the drama with your head held high.
- You will gradually attract people that think and behave like you. If you want to be surrounded by positive people, you need to be positive too. And the opposite is also true. So do your best to surround yourself with people who push you to be your best. Less drama—less mess. Just higher vibrations and intentions.
- You need to learn to be more human again (we all do). Don’t avoid eye contact. Don’t hide behind gadgets. Smile today. Ask about people’s stories. Listen. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of our “1,000 Little Things” book.)
- Sometimes you subconsciously dehumanize people you disagree with. Be careful. In our self-righteousness, we can easily become the very things we dislike in others. Ultimately, the way we treat people we disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love and compassion. Every single person you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something. Know this. Respect this. And be extra kind.
- “Bad” people can change for the better. If somebody is working on themselves and changing for the better, it’s unnecessary to keep bringing up their past. People can change and grow.
- Forgiveness is necessary for personal peace. Forgive others, not because they absolutely deserve forgiveness, but because you absolutely deserve peace. Free yourself of the burden of being an eternal victim.
- Life will take things from you, and give things to you, gradually and continuously. It’s funny how we outgrow what we once thought we couldn’t live without, and then we fall in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Do your best to embrace life’s uncertainties. Some of the best chapters in your life won’t have a title you feel fully comfortable with until later.
- Everything you have right now is in the process of changing again. Look around, and be thankful for your life right now. For your health, your family, your friends, and your home. Nothing lasts forever.
Before you go, let me ask you a quick question:
- Which point above resonates the most with you right now?
And how might reminding yourself of it, daily, change your life?
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