The previous article was about taking intangible flights of fancy and transforming them into vivid, well defined goals. Today I want to talk about one of the inherent pitfalls that you might encounter when you start to become a mover and shaker. Call it the danger of self development; dogmatic positive thinking.
I’m a positive thinker and generally a happy guy. However, my sunny disposition is gilded with a spiky vein of what was once referred to as healthy pessimism. Urgh, I hear you cry, how can pessimism be a healthy thing? Well I guess it means whenever I’ve got my teeth into a project or goal, I hope for the best and plan for the worst.
The cult of PMA
A reassuringly small percentage of the self help literature out there fetishises positive thought and self belief to a quasi-religious level. Sadly these delusional, lazy books sell very well, polluting millions of people with unrealistic expectations, whilst providing no framework for when it doesn’t work. These texts state that you need only believe strongly enough and it will happen. Little is said of getting off your ass and putting in the work; that stuff is just a footnote to the hyperbole and bullshit. If you fail, which you inevitably will from time to time, you are told you didn’t believe strongly enough, or you didn’t think positively enough. This is really fucking cruel. That’s the sort of bile that can destroy self esteem or make you depressed or anxious. Obviously its important to take responsibility for your own part in the tale and, if you failed simply because you were lazy, then yeah, it’s on you.
Fairness vs Fortune
Life isn’t governed benevolently by fairness and justice. But it is most definitely affected by capricious fortune/chance/circumstance whateveryouwannacallit. Shit happens that you couldn’t possibly plan for or expect. Sometimes these random variables ruin our well laid out sequence of events. At this point you have a choice; you can throw your toys out of the pram and sulk because things didn’t go exactly your way, or you can try to mold yourself to the contours of circumstance and try to salvage something from the ruins. I read a story once that describes two dogs leashed to a slow moving cart. One dog fights and struggles against the leash, desperately seeking freedom, suffering; the other has accepted the situation and trots along comfortably with his owners cart, serene.
Give it your 100%
It’s a cliché and, despite being a little trite, a cliché is a cliché for a reason. If a tool is overused, it’s because its an excellent tool. My own experiences of failure have lead me to conclude that doing things as well as I can is the only way to live harmoniously. If you do something as best as you are able to, then any upsets or mishaps no longer affect you emotionally, it was outside of your control.
I like to play mario kart with my friends when we’ve had a few beers. It’s hilarious fun. When we play, I race the track, not the other drivers. The aim is not to win but to race the best race I can. Same with sports or any other competitive endeavour.
As a society we’ve all been so conditioned to constantly strive to win that to suggest a different perspective is tantamount to admitting cowardice. How do you win if you don’t aim to win? And that’s the point. You don’t. And that’s OK. You have some successes and some failures. Yoda said it beautifully “failure, the best teacher is”. Besides, if you got absolutely everything you wanted all the time, imagine how boring it would be.
Take back control
Blindly needing to win (control/possess/dominate etc) all the time ties up the outcome with forces you couldn’t possibly hope to control. This attitude is a dogmatic, unbending, uncaring thing. It is unchecked ego. You relinquish your state of mind, mood and emotional health to the whims to all the stuff that’s happening outside of your sphere of influence. In effect, you become a victim.
Some of you reading this may be repulsed by this idea and immediately rebel against it. I would ask that you suspend your disbelief and take a deep look. The truth of the matter is self evident if you can get out of your own way and look at it without prejudice.
Think about it this way. If, during Mario Kart melees, I raced the other drivers, when someone hits me with a red shell or takes that corner a bit sharper than me, I immediately feel frustrated. This in turn creates tension, leading to mistakes, in turn creating more tension leading to more mistakes. Instead of enjoying time having a laugh with friends, I become angry and resentful and quite likely go off in a huff.
This is the reason I don’t play multiplayer with my Nintendo when I’m traveling. People can become so ugly when they lose! We’ve all seen that one kid go batshit when he gets crushed online. However, when I race the track, none of that stuff fazes me. I stay relaxed, maintain poise and focus and, if I lose, never mind, I did everything as well I could.
Allowing external forces to heavily influence your internal experience leaves you wide open to feelings of anxiety and depression, which I’m sure you’ll agree are shitty ways to feel. It can also lead to self esteem issues; things just won’t go my way, so I must be a loser and rubbish at life.
So, I’ve ranted at you for nigh on a thousand words, I should probably get to the point? The key issue here is about being able to recognise the things that are and aren’t outside of your control. What can you control? Your thoughts and actions. What can’t you control? Quite literally everything else.