Monday, November 29, 2010

"It looks like someone's got a case of the Mondays."

I'm not a big fan of small talk. For one thing, it's how people who barely know each other kill time during interpersonal interactions at work, school, or the grocery store without having to go to the trouble of getting to know each other better.

For another, some people's brains are on autopilot when they engage in small talk. For some, the opposite of talking isn't listening, it's waiting and thinking about what they're going to say next.

Another good reason to examine small talk is to take an honest look at how much negativity gets thrown around in casual discussions.

Examine your own conversational habits. How much of what you say to fill up space is a complaint? Complaints about the boss, about the hours, about the kids, about the weather?

The weather, that's always a popular topic to bitch about. Where I live, winter has settled in. Complaining about the weather is a "safe" topic that people can use to drum up some contrived camaraderie.

But what's the point? The weather is what it is, whether you like it or not. I remind myself of what Milton wrote, that "The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." Winter's here, and it's not going to disrupt my serenity. I dress warm, drive safely, and enjoy the life I've made for myself, indoors or out.

-30 with the windchill doesn't impinge on my personal happiness, so why whine about it?

Why whine about anything, really?

I acknowledge that small talk is socially necessary. The checkout line at the grocery store is no place for an in-depth discussion of anything. Regardless, every time you speak with another person, you have an opportunity to be a positive influence, even in the smallest ways.

If what you feed grows, why would you foster negativity? Think about what you have to say, and be positive.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What You Feed Grows

If you have a garden, and you only fertilize the weeds, but not the flowers and the vegetables, then the plants you don't want will grow bigger and stronger than the plants you want.

The same thing is true with your thoughts. Most people have both good thoughts and bad thoughts running through their heads. Unfortunately, it's easy to fall into the bad habit of dwelling on and nurturing the bad thoughts. Like all habits, running a discouraging internal monologue can be a tough habit to break.

What you feed grows. Make the decision to dwell on and nurture postive thoughts about yourself and others. When negative thoughts come to you, put them aside and think about something else that's positive instead. In time, thinking positively will be as much of a habit as thinking negatively used to be.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No Idols, No Pedestals

It's hard to find an angle to make my point here without coming across as an arrogant jerk, so to hell with it, let's just go for it.

It's great to have role models, and goals to which you aspire. In fact, I'd say that they're necessary. But the last thing anyone who is committed to success should do is to idolize another person, put them on a pedestal or make them your hero.

Idolizing someone is a mental construct that causes you to place them above you. Once you've programmed yourself into a subservient role that way, there will be a small part of your psyche that shys away from excelling. It sounds silly, and it is, but you'll begin subconsciously sabotaging your best efforts to avoid the emotional stress that comes from unseating your idol, and the uncertainty that follows afterwards, the "What now?"

Respect the achievements of others, but remember that "what one man can do, so can another," set big goals for yourself, and always look to better yourself in the ways you've decided to grow as a person.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Perfect Is The Enemy Of Great

Quentin Tarantino said that "directors never finish their films, they abandon them."

One of the biggest challenges to achieving excellence is the little voice inside your head that warns you that your efforts aren't good enough. Self-awareness and introspection are crucial to growth, but it's easy to fall into the trap of being your own worst critic.

"Paralysis by analysis" can tie you up in knots, and interfere with your ability to be productive.

Even today, when working on projects, prior to submitting them to my clients, a little voice inside sometimes thinks "Oh god, this is shit. I can't hand this in!"

Fortunately I've learned to give that little voice no power. I know that my work is appreciated, so listening to irrational fear instead of the positive feedback of others makes no sense.

If you hold off on getting something completed until it's "perfect" then you risk never accomplishing anything. At the very worst, you're better off doing something, anything, than doing nothing.

By all means, look for opportunities to improve and accept constructive criticism, but it's just as important to believe in yourself, believe in the value of what you can do, and go do it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Boredom Is Self-Centeredness

How often do you complain about being bored?

If you are, what do you do about it?

Lots of people presume that other people, places, or things are responsible for their happiness. With that assumption in place, when outside factors fail to excite them, they're left with nothing. They're bored.

Where is it written that it's the responsibility of everything around you to keep you amused? Boredom is self-centeredness: expecting other people to wait on you like a king with his court jester.

I take to heart two quotes: Zelda Fitzgerald's "She was never bored mainly because she was never boring," and John Milton's "The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven." The lessons there are clear as day if you're ready to accept them.

There is nothing that will come to you in this life that you don't take for yourself. Happiness is no different. If you're "bored" take the initative, and do something to fix it. The best place to start is by not being boring.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

All You Have Is Yourself

Looking to outside sources for joy and happiness is a transient boost. Yet so many people surrender responsibility for their own happiness and look to things that they don't have to make them happy.

Instead of choosing to be happy right now, they think "if only I was five pounds lighter" or "if only I had that new watch" or "if only I had some more money."

Sentences that start with "if only" never do you much good. Inevitably, people who are locked into an "if only" mindset end up on a hamster wheel, and never reach their desired destination.

Believing that your happiness is dependant upon things is much like the sugar rush that comes from eating too much candy. It feels great for a brief time, but then it's gone, and you're worse off than you were before.

Years ago, in conversation a girl who worked for me outlined the list of cosmetic surgery procedures that she had planned out. Without exaggeration, she had mapped out a full head to toe surgical renovation of herself. Because I was more of an asshole than I am now, when she finished itemizing every body part she intended to "fix," I couldn't resist asking "And then you'll be happy, right?" Oblivious to my sarcasm, she nodded like a bobble head and said, "Oh, yes!"

Really, if you haven't chosen to be happy on the inside, regardless of what surrounds you, adding more stuff onto the pile isn't going to do it. More likely, you'll be just as empty inside as you were before.

Decide today that you deserve to be happy, and that you aren't dependant upon other people, places or things to make you so. If you have exigent circumstances in your life that are problems, figure out how to fix them, and move on. Don't end up on your death bed in old age thinking "if only..."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Whatever Happens, You'll Handle It

It's all too easy to live in fear: fear of getting fired, fear of getting dumped, fear of cancer, fear of missing your bus, fear of fear itself.

Certainly the news media doesn't help much, constantly bombarding us with a whole litany of things that we're expected to be afraid of: disease, terrorists, pit bulls, serial killers and sexual deviants, not to mention telling us to be afraid of the air we breathe and the food we eat, and even the sun.

But what's the point? Why waste your mental energies fantasizing about scenarios where something terrible happens to you? That's no way to live. It's doubly true when you consider that the terrible things that people obsess over are either only remotely likely or completely trivial.

When a terrible thought comes to you, ask yourself: What's the worst that could happen? And then ask what's the worst that could happen after that. And after that. Once you reduce the chain of consequences and take a wider view, you'll see that your mountains are merely molehills. If you apply yourself and realize just how much is within your power to change, you'll realize that nothing is ever as bad as you fear.

If anything, the anticipatory fear of an event is far worse than the event itself.

When beset by Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, tell yourself "Whatever happens, I'll handle it." Believe in yourself. You've handled what life has dealt you in the past, the future should be no different.