Is your intention everyday just to survive? Is your intention everyday just to make it through the world, because your interpretation is ‘the world is so hard, so stressful, so chaotic, I hope I can just get through this day’? Because if that’s where you’re at, that identity for you is small. – Brendon Burchard
I used to whine…a lot. Practically every word out of my mouth was a complaint of some kind. I was either talking about my frustration over my homework load, kvetching over the constant barrage of e-mails, or just going on about random aches and pains and fatigue. The only information I had to share with anyone was about how something was bothering me.
I was hardly conscious of my behavior; whining just seemed to be the natural thing to say, and after all, it seemed to me that most conversations were based around complaining. People would get together after work to basically whine about the difficult week. Guys would bond over complaining about their girlfriends, and women would commiserate over the poor quality of men in their lives. Most of the student conversations I heard were about academic frustration.
Still, I was not pleasant to be around, and my family made this very clear to me.
I didn’t want to be that guy nobody invites to parties (I was already that guy, and knew it wasn’t fun). I didn’t want to be the guy nobody could rely on who couldn’t handle his own life. So I resolved to change what I thought was a seemingly simple habit of conversation.
I had no idea how deep it went.
The rule I instituted was: if what I am about to say is something negative and simply expresses how I feel bad about something, with no suggestion of actually fixing the problem, I will keep my mouth shut.
With only moderate self-control, I did very well at this. It was merely a matter of keeping my lips sealed. Sometimes I found I had nothing to contribute to conversations, but at least I wasn’t bringing people down anymore.
Then I made a horrifying discovery.
I had nothing at all to say anymore and I had suddenly been forced to listen to my internal dialogue, which turned out to be almost 100% negative. Not only had all my speech been composed of complaints, but my thoughts were all negative as well. I learned that my initial reaction to almost every event in my life was to look for the bad in it. I had a worldview that was completely dominated by the perception that everything was difficult, frustrating, tedious, uncomfortable, or held some, as yet unknown, pain. The way I saw the world, it was hard, cruel, and utterly unfair. After all, this was the only way I could justify my constant complaining and generally stagnation in life.
I occurred to me that I while I would be able to change my speech by simply keeping my mouth shut, I might never be able to change the way I thought. It just seemed totally overwhelming. We weren’t talking just about how I behaved anymore. Now I was taking on a foundational aspect of how I saw the world. I resigned myself to simply acting optimistic in order to fit in.
…I Just Woke Up One Day
That was at the end of college. It’s been three years, and I realized this morning that I hardly ever whine anymore. Even more significant, my view on life rarely includes thoughts of complaint. My first reaction is to put a positive spin on everything that happens (which still annoys a lot of my friends and family…I guess I can’t win). I’m always hopeful that bad situations will get better, and if something is unbearable, I smile through it, look for the good in it, and try to actually do something about it to make it better in future.
How did this happen?
I have no recollection of any specific turning point. I don’t even remember thinking that things were getting better, or that I was feeling better. The change came about in little steps and consistent practice. Without realizing it, the positive outlook I’d been ‘pretending’ slowly seeped its way into how I actually saw the world.
Exercises in Positive Self-Delusion
For example, when learning how to attract women, one of the hardest principles to master was that of always being upbeat without being phony. I would go out night after night, whether I felt down or not, and in order not to get totally rejected, I had to psych myself up. Not only that, but I had to stay positive no matter how many girls blew me off, how many awkward silences I created, or how tired I was. Every encounter had to be approached with fresh optimism and energy, otherwise, I’d just crash and burn in a never-ending spiral.
It was an exercise in self-delusion, but the delusion eventually gave way to a reality of optimism and resilience.
Similarly, when I started learning about personal and professional success, one of the overriding themes was that success requires the ability to take risks knowing that things might not work out. Most people focus only on what could go wrong and what they could lose if they take a professional risk. That is why so few people break out of the 9-5 to grasp financial freedom. A successful entrepreneur has to see that the positive outcomes are worth the risks and to focus on the possibility of freedom and real change in the world.
I knew in my heart I wanted to be financially free, but some might say that, lacking the right mindset, I just wasn’t cut out for it, and would have to accept that. I was stubborn enough to think I could just emulate the mindset. Surprisingly, it started to become real.
And of course, there was exercise. Exercise is inherently an exercise in positive thinking (excuse the pun). You have to put yourself through discomfort in order to get better. To do that, you must have faith that the positive outcome is worth the discomfort and that the discomfort will not last long. You have to look past the immediate unpleasantness and see the potential for something better.
My drive to be strong and fit overrode my attachment to a negative worldview, so I just ignored my pessimism, and it slowly faded away.
I didn’t really believe these ideas in my heart when I started, but I kept reading, filling my head with a different worldview, and put the ideas into practice in my life. I went out to meet new people, giving myself pep talks in front of the mirror before a night out. I would visualize strength and power before a hard workout. I started following all of those hokey personal success rituals advocated by business gurus. I did all this with much skepticism, but I was noticing differences in my performance, so I kept at them. I was carried not by a desire to ‘be happy’ but rather, to ‘be effective,’ to be able to do the things that made life exciting for me.
Eventually, the behaviors started to change the way I thought and the way I saw the world. Instead of contemplating a move to Korea and thinking only of how difficult it would be, I saw it as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. I knew I’d be starting all over again, but instead of thinking how much I’d lose, I could only see how much there would be to gain starting with a blank slate. People actually had to remind me of how difficult it would be.
Because the changes were so tiny, I never noticed them until the cumulative effect hit me one day, and I compared my current self to how I had been in the past.
Now, I don’t even have to work at staying positive. It has become my default mode of thought.
Besides feeling better about myself, the other benefit of eliminating the whining habit is that the world seems full of possibility. I used to imagine the things I wanted to do and immediately become overwhelmed by how difficult they would be. As a result, even the smallest things seemed to require superhuman resources and effort.
Now, however, I think of what I want to accomplish and I see so many potential paths for getting there. I’ve discovered that it is just as easy to imagine possibility as difficulty.
I used to think that whining was just a part of my nature. I was always going to be pessimistic, even if I changed the way I behaved around other people. But, by focusing on small things in daily practice, I managed to bring about a complete change in the way I see the world.
I literally changed my mind. Everyone who has known me during that transition would attest that the change has been for the better.
The lesson I took out of this is that you can change anything about yourself that you want to improve. Don’t think about rushing the change, just focus on the daily behaviors and keep your goal in mind. Just as looking for the easiest conversation topic in whining led to a self-defeating mental attitude, enacting positive behaviors led to an empowered mental attitude. Without even realizing it, things will start to pick up momentum and one day, you’ll open your eyes, or look in the mirror, or an old friend will comment on the change, and you’ll wonder what happened to the old you. The mind adapts to support the most common behaviors, to make them natural and easy.
These changes happen slowly, but you’ll look back one day and be shocked at how far you’ve come.
Please share any stories you have of surprising positive change, or insidious negative change, that snuck up on you over time.