The above image is from the bathroom scene in “Liar, Liar” — the last Jim Carrey movie to actually be funny. Here’s the clip of the scene. If you don’t want to spend 3 minutes laughing, the money line is this: “I’m kicking my ass. Do ya mind!?”
With that headline and clip, this post may seem like I’m in a dark mood. I’m not. I’m actually optimistic and hopeful you can actually learn to stop kicking your own ass by reverse engineering behaviors and mindsets that cause misery. In short, by dismantling suffering, you can create happiness.
Here are 5 ways to be miserable (and 5 things to do instead):
- Systemic Beliefs: These are beliefs taught to you by someone else — parents, teachers, churches, politicians, celebrities, bosses. They’ve all poured beliefs into you that were intended to shape in you a some way. Usually in the form of religious or political doctrine. Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr refers to this as “domestication”. Systemic beliefs cause misery because they aren’t actually your beliefs. This triggers comparison (see below) and induces a stream of guilt and shame. And the ego gets addicted to guilt and shame like the body gets addicted to sugar. Besides guilt and shame, the surest sign of systemic beliefs is stunted spiritual growth. So do this instead: understand your Intrinsic Beliefs. These are the beliefs that you’ve always known to be true. They weren’t taught to you. They are also beliefs revealed to you through a spiritual journey or transformation. You will find that these intrinsic beliefs are guideposts for your mission and purpose.
- Extrinsic Obsession: This is my term for having attachment issues; of attaching your happiness, self-worth and value to people and outside conditions. This is the root of materialism and the cause of the rampant addiction to comfort and ease. When combined with systemic beliefs, it becomes a dark voice that says “You aren’t enough. You don’t have enough”. It is also the root of creating additional suffering through already difficult times. Extrinsic obsession robs you of your power of choice over your perspective. Concentration camp survivor and author Viktor Frankl says this: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Frankl offers us an alternative to extrinsic obsession: Intrinsic Focus. This is focusing on the things you have actual power over: mindset, words, reactions and the most powerful tool, breathing.
- Lack of Self-Care: This corrosive habit comes in many forms — lack of care for the body, mind, soul and heart. Usually under the auspices of not wishing to appear selfish (extrinsic obsession!). So many people go about quietly kicking their own asses by poor nutrition, lack of exercise, not settling the mind, addiction to technology, lack of sleep, pretense in relationships and many more. They slowly empty out and never take action to fill back up. This puts the ego in charge and creates a near-constant mindset of scarcity and survival. There are thousands of ways to do this differently, but I will give you three you can do every day: 1) Spend 5–15 minutes in solitude. This doesn’t include your car ride to work. 2) Eat clean. You will be amazed about how much better you will feel. 3) Move. Walk, yoga, lift weights — just move.
- Comparison: The meaner cousin to assumptions, comparison conspires with all of the above to put you in a constant state of benchmarking yourself against others. Comparison is so powerful it is the #1 advertising manipulation tool. But when left unchecked, it wrecks careers, relationships and identities. Other than values mis-alignment, I also believe it is the root of most conflict. Consider a recent spat you had with a partner or co-worker. Chances are high that it was because one or both of you were in comparison mode. The opposite of comparison is Standards. These are an internal set of expectations for performance and quality — without all the guilt, shame and doubt. Standards allow you to set success points for growth to trigger accomplishment and increased self-worth. Standards teach you what to say yes or no to. They teach you discipline, discernment and healthy detachment.
- Trying Too Hard: This might be the summation of the first four, but it feels like a stand-alone misery trigger. This is primarily an issue with over-achievers who are trying to feed the soul through frenetic activity. More, more, more! Go, go, go! It’s a striving to make things exactly how we want them to be. Yet despite all the effort and busy-ness, nothing ever turns out the way that we planned. And if it does, we aren’t really happy because in trying too hard, success, joy and situations becoming manufactured not discovered. I’m not saying you should stop trying. I’m saying there are better ways to use all that energy. The antidote to trying too hard is Taking Action. This is a simple planning and execution exercise: set a short-term measurable, achievable and reasonable goal then determine the next 5 actions (not activities) that you are going to take. Then do them and start another next 5. Of course you will have work, life and self maintenance, but these next 5 are the ONLY thing to focus on as it relates to effort.
The lesson from all of this is that MISERY IS OPTIONAL. It has nothing to do with other people, outside conditions, our past, who is President, who is not President, who did or did not win the Super Bowl. By understanding that misery is optional, we can learn that we control the human app. It doesn’t control us. And we when control it, we learn that this very moment contains everything we need to be happy.