Hoping Doesn’t Work. Here’s How to Actually Change Your Life (The Baby Step Method).

I got a question from a mother who is going through tough times on multiple fronts. If you join my email newsletter (there’s plenty of places to sign up, such as at the bottom of this article), you can reply to an email with your question, and I will try to help you.

As the title of this article hints, she’s failing at most areas of life.

I don’t tend to address issues like this because it attracts people I can’t help (even if I want to). My content is focused more on high achievers who can execute. But this time, I was compelled to answer (and post this with her permission) because it was so emotional, genuine, and almost everything I’ve released online started because I was like this women and wanted to learn how to get better. I want to add some value here, even if my tips won’t solve everything.

I’ve posted a shortened version of her question and my answer to help anyone going through something similar:

Hi Will,
 I’m 55 years old and a single mom of 3.
I have been divorced for just over 11 years. My oldest son has Aspergers. So this had kept me home for a good portion of his upbringing.
When I was younger.. and I mean in my 20’s, I was confident, assertive. Happy go lucky. I was a purser (head flight attendant on int’l flights for a prominent airline), I could make decisions quickly, without a second thought, no second guessing. And I never doubted myself. I always knew what I needed to do, or wanted to do. No matter what it was in regards to. My life, health wise, relationship wise, financial, family, ect.
I grew up pretty much alone. Living on my own since I was 16. I married at 28. My ex-husband was an alcoholic and emotionally abusive. This was the initial decent into depression for me.
I lost all my friends because I was not allowed to see anyone, in a round about way.. We only hung out with his friends, or family. When my friends or family came over.. He was always doing something.
Mostly cleaning..lol. Long OCD story that goes with that. So after a time, they stop coming around. At least the friends did.
Anyway. after years of emotional abuse, and becoming permanently disabled myself at 40, I divorced him.
I was so happy to be away from him. Having taken my kids away, to a happier place. It was a fresh start.
 But I started to realize I had no friends, most my family was in other areas of the country. And since I was disabled, no money, well.. it started to take its toll.
I am unable to work outside the home, so I didn’t have as much opportunity to meet people. For friends or relationships.
After one severely failed relationship, my depression started to spiral even more so. It’s hard to always be alone. And no matter how positive you try to be, when no one wants to be in a relationship with you because they are older and do not want younger children, especially someone else’s.( I had my children at an older age..), Or they want a newer model… lol.( what I laughingly call younger women that most men my age want but don’t admit to..). And most women my age,(for friendship), are too busy with their own crap.
So not only am I depressed. I have no one to talk to, I have lost all my friends. I have no one in my life relationship wise, and the way I see myself and life has changed dramatically.
I am no longer the positive, quick thinking, know what I need to do person that I use to be.
 Half the time, I cant figure out what to wear every day. Or what to make for dinner.
My kids don’t talk to me, and have little or no respect for me.
So Will, if you can write an article about taking a person from the dumps and building them up to at least feeling some semblance of happiness and confidence again. I would be much appreciative. Because I honestly don’t know where to start.

Here’s my response (revised and expanded for all my readers):
 Thanks for the heartfelt message.

Wow. I’m no miracle worker and this seems to be a really tough situation.But I can try my best to help guide you towards the right path.
 I’ve been:

  • severely depressed.
  • emotionally distraught.
  • socially awkward and super shy.
  • frustrated and resentful about the world and women.
  • without any friends I can hang out with on a regular basis.
  • physically unhealthy with a poor diet and horrific sleep schedule.
  • lacking much of a social or dating life. I was invisible to most women.
  • lacking much fun in my daily life outside of what the Internet could provide me.
  • confused and lost because I still didn’t no what my passion was and didn’t feel like I had any skills I could use to find a job I liked.

I’m sure there’s something missing but you get the point. And if you put it all together like that, it looks bad, especially since they were all happening at the same time. It was a dark time. And now, I’m fairly happy, healthy, fit, and have more friends. I’m still not above average or even that good but I’ve come a long way. I was fortunate enough to not be so screwed up that there was no point of return.

The first thing I recommend is to focus on the good. We tend to over focus on the bad and forget all the good stuff we’ve accomplished. I definitely did. During this time, I forgot that I also:

  • was kind and friendly.
  • was always a harder worker than 99% of my class.
  • had moments in my life where my fitness and sleep schedule were on point.
  • achieved great success in school, even if my current work situation wasn’t great
  • had met lots of friendly acquaintances throughout my life (which I may even call friends) even if I lost touch with them.

You get the idea.

It definitely seemed like you were on top of your game in your twenties. I fully believe that you can reach that state again.

It also seems like you’ve had some unexpected challenges later in life.

Brian Tracy has a great quote for this. He says that unsuccessful people don’t plan for the challenges that are bound to always come and if they do, they try to avoid them. It’s not that successful people expect to avoid all challenges. They simply expect them to come and deal with them appropriately.

That brings me to my second point. Surround yourself 100% of the time with podcasts, audiobooks, videos, and articles from successful, positive people. I can’t list out all the mindset shifts, ideas, and positive mental benefits have come out of years of doing this because there are so many. But it’s so worth it.

You get new perspectives, like the one I just mentioned with Brian Tracy. Thanks to that one idea. I now expect bad things to happen to me in the future. I know they will happen at some point no matter what. I’m ready and prepared for them. In the past, I used to hide for them.

I remember spending my nights alone at a $10 per month Planet Fitness. Those nights were lonely and sometimes, I felt hopeless. I knew I was young and had my life to turn things around but the emotional side of me still wouldn’t believe it.

Listening to success-themed podcasts at that time helped so much. What’s funny was it sometimes wasn’t even the content. The simple positivity that came out of Pat Flynn or Russell Brunson’s voice during podcasts helped me from getting down on my self. I think it was because they gave me hope that I could one day live a happy life like them.

There are plenty of free podcasts to choose from where they interview millionaires and people who may have started worse than you. There’s Mixergy, Entrepreneur on Fire, Eventual Millionaire, Addicted 2 Success, The School of Greatness, The Art of Charm, and many more.

One person in particular who may help you a lot is James Altucher. He’s gone through the ringer as well and come out on top. He’s made millions and lost it all numerous times. He’s been a psychological wreck. He’s been severely depressed. Yet he’s made it through it all and he’s back on top, wealthy, and happy. His book Choose Yourself was made for people like you. I’ve read it and there are some great stories and exercises that I think can really help you.

It’s too hard to summarize his book in one sentence, but if I had to, I’d say it’s about giving as much value as you can to others without asking for anything back. If you do this with people worse off than you or people who are successful and can help you later in life, you start realizing the blessings you’re taking for granted, you start feeling better, and you get more of what you want later down the line.

His blog and podcast aren’t bad either. You can find those at jamesaltucher.com. He’s a great writer.

I have some article recommendations that may help you with your issue better than any article I can write. These two articles were written by a blogger called Jon Morrow who can’t move anything but his face. I think it may help you a lot with your confidence, hope, and motivation:

1) https://unstoppable.me/life-lessons/

2) https://unstoppable.me/accomplish-big-things/

His interview on the James Altucher podcast also shook me to my core with other stories and reminded me that there were people that were worse off than me:


If you really want an article from me on it, I wrote one here (but it’s not nearly as good as Jon’s): https://www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/how-i-went-from-dark-depression-to-happy-and-joyful/

After hearing hundreds of stories of people who were worse off than me and went on to do better (Helen Keller, Slyvestor Stallone, etc.), it really changed my attitude. I also learned to see all the things I was grateful for but took for granted (being born in the U.S. rather than any of the other hundreds of countries out there).<

As far as dating goes, The Mating Grounds podcast helped a lot for me. It’s for males, but there are many episodes with advice applicable for females too.

For example, they taught me about compromising and mate value. Rather than to have ridiculous over-the-top standards based on what you can offer, it’s sometimes important to compromise slightly.

In one episode, a man phoned in who was divorced and already pretty old. They told him that you have to sometimes compromise in life. Maybe he couldn’t get the 20 year old women he wanted but he could get an older woman who had a child. Or he could move to a city with better demographics (a better mating market) and improve what he had to offer (his mating value).

For you, it may mean compromising on who you can get in a competitive dating world. We can’t all get beautiful supermodels or superstar husbands. But that doesn’t mean we have to stoop to an abusive relationship. Perhaps, it means settling for a man who is a bit older and is divorced but a great guy. The podcast goes into more detail, but they suggest creating a strategic plan (What are my strengths? What type of guy do I want? Where will guys like that hang out who value my strengths? Then, go there.)

Control what you can and work on improving those areas; don’t worry about what you can’t do.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. — Theodore Roosevelt

For example, if the only thing you had to start trending in the right direction was time and your body, why not start exercising? Start with one minute a day of walking. Then, turn it into two minutes over the course of the next month. Then, three.

You never know, you may eventually become a role model in fitness. You may even run a marathon. People you bump into may even ask you to coach them. Heck, it may even turn into a fitness empire. You never know. It’s happened before and it’s not the craziest thing to occur.

Maybe none of that will happen but you’ll still be healthier, more attractive, and more focused than you were before. You’ll at least be trending in the right direction.

Never underestimate the power of persistence. You may have more years in your life than you think and you never know what may change in your favor in a complicated world with many factors you didn’t consider at play.

Elon Musk was asked if he would have given up after his last rocket ship attempt. He had put all his money into this last attempt. His response? Never. He would only stop if he were dead or completely incapacitated.

“Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.” -Bruce Lee

To give you an example of this mentality, if I could only stay in my room and the only thing I could do was improve my writing, I would do everything I could to become a master of writing, then leverage the internet and social media so I could help as many people as possible.

Stephen Hawking and Helen Keller are great examples that physical limitations don’t hold people back as much as they did in the past. Helen was blind and mute and Stephen can’t move.

And you may argue that they were geniuses and you’re not. But I’m not asking for you to change the world (though I think you and most people can if they want to). You can do things a little bit better than you currently are though. Baby steps. Will Smith says you don’t set out to build a wall. You just try to lay the most perfect brick possible first.

It may be as simple as spending two extra minutes to list out what you’re grateful for.

I believe you can turn your life around.

There are countless Quora questions of people in worse situations than us.

I don’t believe I can really help these people much or want to. From personal experience, it requires a Herculean amount of work to help someone else out of it, let alone myself. I feel like I was able to hold on and get moving because at my core, I was still a sane, positive, ambitious person. Some of these people could be so mentally unhinged or down in a hole that there is no return. I’m not sure.

But I couldn’t help but respond and try to give some guidance just this once.

You may forget everything I just said. But the one tip I hope you remember is to just take one tiny step forward every day that improves your mental health, happiness, physical health, or wealth. Just focus on the next step forward. One tiny step at a time. And when you can do more than one thing, do two.

Just slowly start trending in the right direction. I have a whole article on happiness you can draw from.

In conclusion, I would crawl and work on fixing one small thing at a time. You may want to start with something like making friends, since social relationships are a keystone to success and happiness in many other areas. It can be as simple as taking twenty minutes to go to a hiking group you found on Meetup.com once a month. Then, when you’re comfortable, expand it to once a week. And then, maybe start exercising for ten ten minutes or eating healthier. And slowly but surely build from there.

You never know. Before you know it, you could be a lot more attractive, fit, sociable and comfortable.

For some of your deeper problems, I suggest seeking professional help. A good psychiatrist can do wonders. There are also plenty of great books on depression, social anxiety, and dealing with negative thoughts.

Recommended Books

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

Originally published at willyoulaugh.com on September 5, 2017.

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