All of the knowledge and advice out there hinges on a single key trait — the ability to calm yourself the hell down.
Here’s an example:
An old student of mine sent me a nasty little message on Facebook a few years ago. He’d asked me to read one of his short stories, and give him some advice. He wrote, “I’m thinking of sending it to The New Yorker. I don’t want to throw my best work away on some second-tier journal.”
My day finally slowed down around 7 pm, when I planned to think through a response that somehow explained that getting published in a second-tier journal hardly counted as “throwing your work away.”
That’s when I saw his follow-up message: “Okay, I get it. My hard work means nothing. F*ck you.”
It was the kind of message we’ve all felt tempted to send on our worst days. He’d actually done it.
So often, just pausing for a few minutes could mean the difference between getting what we want and lighting it on fire. Good habits and routines take root in a peaceful mind, not an agitated one. Not one full of self-torture. Until then, nothing else you do will matter. No other tricks or hacks you learn will improve your odds of anything.
So if you’re not balanced, how do you get there?
Feeling cheated? Pause yourself.
Even the most remotely self-aware person knows they make their worst decisions out of impulse. The problem is that they only see their mistakes after the fact, when it’s too late.
So how do you develop 20/20 foresight?
It’s not that hard.
All of our toxic behavior comes from the simple fact that we’re not getting what we think we want, or deserve. We think something’s just not fair. When that happens, pause and remind yourself that none of us really deserve anything, except oxygen and a fighting chance.
When you feel cheated, sit down and take stock of yourself. You’re either right, or you’re very wrong. Like, very very. The kind of wrong that makes you feel like a total idiot the next day.
Either way, the answer is usually the same. You’ll just have to work harder. Experiment more. Take risks. Look at anyone who’s been legitimately cheated. They just keep fighting until they win.
Everything comes down to the fear of rejection.
We all want to be wanted, either romantically or professionally. When you think nobody wants you, you’re bound to start thinking you’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well do something stupid.
You start to think any attention is better than none. And that’s a big mistake. Plenty of people wish they could go back to being a nobody, as opposed to that guy or that psycho chick.
Angst crops up the most when someone rejects us — even more so when we anticipate being rejected.
If you’re like me, the worst feelings start to surface when you suspect someone doesn’t even respect you enough to give you a proper rejection. They just leave you hanging.
The unanswered text, the disregarded email…
We want to make a bold statement to remind those people we exist, that we matter, that they’ll be sorry they didn’t treat us right. We forget that most of this conversation is happening in our heads.
You have to articulate what you’re feeling.
Something’s bothering you, but it’s probably not what you think at first. We all project our fears and insecurities somewhere else. It’s a lot easier than dealing with our emotions, but way less effective.
You can journal, or you can just sit down and think for a few minutes. Pinpoint the handful of things that are making you upset. Ask yourself why. Next, ask what you can do to fix these problems.
Hint: You can’t fix your problems by attacking someone.
You can’t fix your problems by making people feel sorry for you.
You can’t fix your problems by quitting out of spite.
You can’t fix your problems by taking an extended vacation.
You can only begin to fix your problems if you actually understand what they are, along with their internal and external components. A bad boyfriend has external dimensions, like their shitty behavior. But keeping them around is mainly a you thing.
Taking your bad luck out on your friends, or the bartender, and driving them away? Mainly a you thing.
You have to dig yourself up, not deeper.
When you understand what you’re actually feeling, and why, then you’ll empower yourself to do whatever you can to make your life better. Not perfect, just better.
You’ll make better use of that productivity advice. You’ll make better decisions. You’ll stop relying on the wrong people. You’ll start making friendships and relationships that mean something.
You’ll finally make that 80/20 flip that everyone talks about, investing your time and energy where it serves you best.
You’ll be able to live in your own skin.
Most importantly, you’ll start digging yourself out, not deeper. Then again, maybe you’re trying to tunnel your way to the center of the earth. Good luck with that. The rest of us will be up here, chilling over margaritas after our shitty but productive day. Pull up a chair anytime.