The last two years have not been great: I quit the career I studied for, I quit the next career I went into, my depression resurfaced and brought his buddy Anxiety to the party, and I’m in the worst financial situation of my (admittedly short) life. Every day is a new discovery of short-fallings and failures and black holes, but every day is also an opportunity to dust myself off and get back up to try again. The wonderful thing about rock bottom is being able to do anything: I can take risks because there’s nothing left to lose. But most importantly, I get a second chance at building a strong foundation. And I’m determined to do it right.
I’ve found myself doing a lot of self examination over the past few years, especially in recent months. I’ve been trying to figure out what are the little things that are holding me back, that are making me unhappy, that are getting in the way of things. I have these great dreams and big plans, but I don’t seem to go for them as strongly as I could. There’s a whole slew of psychological reasons behind that to keep a therapist employed for years, I’m sure, but there are a number of tiny things I can work on right now. And that you should work on, too.
Whether you’ve already achieved success, are almost there, or can’t even figure out where success is because your compass is broken, there are five things in your life that you should stop doing. I’ve found that these are areas that make me unconsciously unhappy, and that also poison the people around me. So this isn’t about me, this isn’t even about you: this is about everyone.
#1 Stop Apologizing
This has some parameters to follow: if you hit someone’s car, apologize; if you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize; if you accidentally feed your roommate peanut butter cookie dough that triggers his peanut allergy, apologize (I swear it wasn’t me. It was the other roommate). But there are other situations when you should rephrase your “sorry” as a “thank you.”
Let’s say you’re running late because reasons. The reasons don’t matter. But you show up to happy hour where your friend has already been waiting for twenty minutes and you’re a bit out of breath because you were trying to be there on time, even though you knew you wouldn’t be. So what do you say? “I’m sorry I’m late”, right? Wrong. Don’t say that. Instead, say “Thank you waiting for me.” It’s a simple change of words, but it will do so much for you and for your relationships.
When you say “I’m sorry” you’re putting the focus on you, and you’re doing it in a negative way. You’re essentially saying “I messed up. I’m a failure.” Yes, you did oversleep or whatever it was that caused you to be late, but beating yourself up about it further is only going to make you feel negatively about yourself, and it’s inviting the other person to view you negatively as well. Reverse it to say “thank you” and you’re expressing gratitude, something positive, towards the other person. You feel good, they feel good, everyone is a winner. Positive vibes = positive life.
Other ways to say “thank you” instead of “sorry”:
I’m sorry I’m such a mess
- Thank you for understanding that things are crazy right now and for still loving me.
I’m sorry I’m so emotional
- Thank you for being patient with me
I’m sorry that I need so much attention
- Thank you for reassuring me and spending time with me
Need some help getting started? Try filling out a few of these “Thank You” sticky notes.
#2 Stop Trying to Fit into Molds
Somewhere in the course of history, humans created this idea that certain titles come with certain identities. Things like “construction workers can’t be pretty” and “women should be stay-at-home moms” and “manly men can’t wear glitter.” All of those are lies.
If you haven’t yet, you need to go read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. In it, she talks about “good for her, not for me” and how terrible it is for people of different walks of life to criticize each other. You should not feel bad about wanting to wear a floral sundress right after shaving your head. You should not have to think about what others might think about you if you quit your job as a rough-and-tough business woman to pursue a career as a hair dresser. You should not been made fun of for having a full beard and perfectly threaded eyebrows.
Likewise, you can fully wrap yourself up in an identity if it’s what you like. You’re an accountant and like wearing black suits every day? Good for you! Just maybe not for me. So let me dye my hair pink and go slam a whiskey shot at lunch.
This is about being true to you. It’s the same lesson that you’ve been hearing time and time again since you were a little kid, but I’m here to tell it to you again just in case you haven’t started living it. Be what you want to be, who you want to be. And if people aren’t supportive, then you don’t need them: this is your life, so live it!
#3 Stop Going Back to the Same Sh*t
You ex is an ex for a reason. That restaurant always gives you food poisoning. You say that you can write a blog post while watching Netflix even though you know you can’t. So stop going there!
We’re creatures of habit, I get it, but sometimes we have to slap ourselves out of it and move on. Because if we don’t, one of two things will happen: either it will continue to suck you down until it’s too late and the damage is irreversible, or your friends will start throwing spoons at you every time you try to talk about getting back with your ex. True story.
If you hear the little whisper in your head of “don’t do it”, then DON’T. DO. IT! If you’re sitting down at happy hour and your conversation starts with “I know you told me not to, but…” be prepared for a harsh dose of reality, either from your friend or from the world. Stop poisoning your own well, stop the self-sabotage. If you can’t do it alone, enlist help: get your friend to delete all of his social media and change his number in your phone; cancel your Netflix subscription (drastic, I know, but it might be necessary. Speaking from experience here); hire a shrink. Take care of yourself.
#4 Stop Letting Things Slide
There are little things every day that irritate you and you know it, but you don’t do anything about it. Or at least not enough. Maybe it’s your roommates never emptying the dishwasher or the dog always tracking in mud or your boss never fully giving you the details of your assignment. Maybe it’s bigger, like constantly being overlooked for a promotion or your landlord not sending a plumber over for the garbage disposal that broke two weeks ago. Either way, those things make you sad and mad and that’s what leads to stress acne and not being able to sleep and feeling sick and throwing things. Not good.
So do something. Either truly fully suck it up and become okay with it on a spiritual level where you are the new Buddha, or speak up. Enlist a friend or coworker or your hairdresser to practice your speech: you want to be confident but not mean, firm but not overbearing. Make it happen.
And be firm with yourself. If you want to be healthier, don’t let yourself skip a gym session just because you don’t feel like going. If you want to learn a new skill, make it a requirement to practice it every day and hold yourself to that. You’re an adult now: it’s time to get off the kiddie slide.
#5 Stop Blaming Others for Your Unhappiness
It’s time to lay down some cold hard truth: take charge of your own happiness. That means either having some hard conversations with people (see #4 up above), or cutting some people out of your life.
If you’re a big dreamer but everyone around you is content to be mediocre and makes you feel bad for wanting more in life, the first thing you should want is a new circle of friends. If your partner belittles you or puts you down, it’s time to pack up and GTFO. If your friend is constantly bringing you down with all her drama and foolish decisions, see #3 of this guide and tell her buh-bye. Hard, I know, but worth it.
But here’s the thing: this item on the list isn’t telling you to stop being friends with those people. It’s saying that you need to stop blaming them for your unhappiness, because the real reason they make you unhappy is because you let them. By agreeing to a dinner date with that friend, knowing you’re going to need to order at least two glasses of wine and that you’re going to walk away feeling down about the world, you’re signing yourself up for a world of hurt. You, not her. If you’re dreading going to the family reunion where your aunt is going to criticize your haircut just because she never has anything positive to say and you go and let her, that’s on you. It’s time to either start standing up for yourself, cutting people out, or not letting it get to you. It’s your life, and you have a say in how you live it, and you have a say of how people get to affect it.
Because here’s the thing: you are worthy of happiness. But sometimes you have to work for it, and you always have to insist on it.
Related Reading: Cherish: A Story of Silver Linings