In 1914, the great inventor Thomas Edison experienced a devastating hardship. His entire laboratory burned down to the ground, and several years worth of his work was ruined.
Newspapers described the situation as “the worst thing to happen to Edison.”
But that was a lie!
Edison didn’t see it that way at all. The inventor instead chose to see his circumstances as an invigorating opportunity to rebuild and re-examine much of his current work. In fact, Edison reportedly said shortly after the fire, “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start again fresh.” And that’s exactly what he and his team did.
Think about how this relates to your life.
How many times have you heard it was the end, when it was really the beginning?
How many hopeless labels have been slapped over the top of your inner hope?
How many lies were you fed by people when you were younger, that have driven you to call it quits on those hard days when Edison would have called their bluff?
Today, I challenge you to challenge the lies you’ve been fed over the years, starting with five of the most common lies we’ve helped our course students unlearn over the past decade…
1. Starting over isn’t a good choice, and should only be a last resort.
The idea of starting over being a bad thing is baked right into the fabric of our society’s education system. We send our children to a university when they’re 17 or 18, and basically tell them to choose a career path they’ll be happy with for the next 40 years. “But, what if I choose wrong?” I remember thinking to myself. And that’s exactly what I did, in more ways than one.
Over the years, however, through bouts of failure and hardship, I’ve learned the truth through experience: you can change paths anytime you want to. Yes, starting over is almost always feasible, and it’s oftentimes a pretty darn good choice too. Of course, it won’t be easy, but neither is being stuck with a lifelong career you naively chose when you were a teenager. And neither is holding on to something that’s not meant to be, or something that’s already gone.
The truth is, no one wins a game of chess by only moving forward; sometimes you have to move backward to put yourself in a position to win. And this is a perfect metaphor for life. Sometimes when it feels like you’re running into one dead end after another, it’s actually a sign that you’re not on the right path. Maybe you were meant to hang a left back when you took a right, and that’s perfectly fine. Life gradually teaches us that U-turns are allowed. So turn around when you must! There’s a big difference between giving up and starting over in the right direction. And there are three little words that can release you from your past mistakes and regrets, and get you back on track. These words are: “From now on…”
So… from now on, what should you do?
Anything. Something small. As long as you don’t just sit in your seat, strapped down to a destiny that isn’t yours. If you mess it up, start over. Try something else.
Let go and grow!
No doubt, one of the absolute hardest lessons in life is letting go – whether it’s guilt, anger, love or loss. Change is never easy – you fight to hold on and you fight to let go. But letting go is generally the healthiest path forward. It clears out toxic thoughts and choices from the past and paves the way to make the most positive use of the present. You’ve got to emotionally free yourself from some of the things that once meant a lot to you, so you can move beyond the past and the pain it brings you. Again, it takes hard work to let go and refocus yourself, but it’s worth every bit of effort you can muster!
And oftentimes letting go is strictly about changing the labels you place on a situation – it’s looking at the same situation with fresh eyes and an open mind, and then making the best of it.
The underlying key is to treat life like the journey that it is.
The destination you have in mind today is likely not the same place you’ll someday be grateful you’ve landed. So while it’s healthy to plan for the future, it’s not healthy to do so at the full expense of today. The truth is, no matter how smart you are or how hard you try, you can’t accurately figure out the future. Even people who have a systematic plan (steps to be a doctor, steps to be a successful entrepreneur, etc.) don’t actually know what will happen down the road. And if they have any certainty at all, they’re a bit naive.
Life rarely goes as planned. For every person that succeeds in doing exactly what they set out to do in the exact time frame they set out to do it in, there are dozens of others who start strong and get derailed. And if this happens to you, it isn’t a bad thing. New obstacles and opportunities may come along to shift your perspective, to strengthen your resolve, or to change your direction for the better. Again, the destination you fall in love with someday may not even exist today. For example, just a few short years ago the esteemed career paths of working at Facebook, SnapChat, and Twitter didn’t exist. Neither did the job of professional coach and blogger at Marc and Angel Hack Life.
So… if you can’t plan out your future in its entirety, what should you do?
Focus a little less on the future and focus a little more on what you can do now that will benefit you no matter what the future brings. Read. Write. Learn and practice useful skills. Test your skills and ideas. Build things. Be adventurous and seek real-world experiences. Cultivate healthy relationships. These efforts will help in any future opportunities that come your way, and they may even create them for you.
Bottom line: When life does not go as planned, breathe and remember that life’s richness often comes from its unpredictability. Remind yourself that you are on a journey that’s ongoing, and that nothing is ever guaranteed. Sometimes this is hard to accept. Sometimes you have to force yourself to step forward. Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that things will never go back to how they used to be, and that this ending is really a new beginning.
2. Discomfort is undesirable.
Discomfort is a form of pain, but it isn’t a deep pain – it’s a shallow one. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone. The idea of exercising in many people’s minds, for example, brings discomfort – so they don’t do it. Eating a spinach and kale salad brings discomfort too. So does meditating, or focusing on a difficult task, or saying no to others. Of course, these are just examples, because different people find discomfort in different things, but you get the general idea.
The key thing to understand is that most forms of discomfort actually help us grow into our strongest and smartest selves. However, many of us were raised by loving parents who did so much to make our childhoods comfortable, that we inadvertently grew up to subconsciously believe that we don’t need discomfort in our lives. And now we run from it constantly. The problem with this is that, by running from discomfort, we are constrained to partake in only the activities and opportunities within our comfort zones. And since our comfort zones are relativity small, we miss out on most of life’s greatest and healthiest experiences, and we get stuck in a debilitating cycle.
Let’s use diet and exercise as an example…
- First, we become unhealthy because eating healthy food and exercising feels uncomfortable, so we opt for comfort food and mindless TV watching instead.
- But then, being unhealthy is also uncomfortable, so we seek to distract ourselves from the reality of our unhealthy bodies by eating more unhealthy food and watching more unhealthy entertainment and going to the mall to shop for things we don’t really want or need. And our discomfort just gets worse.
Amazingly, the simple act of accepting a little discomfort every day, and taking it one small step at a time, can solve most of our common problems, and make our minds happier, healthier and stronger in the long run.
Truth be told, there is no person in the world capable of flawlessly handling every punch thrown at them. That’s not how we’re made. We’re made to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall sometimes. Because that’s part of living – to face discomfort, learn from it, and adapt over the course of time. This is what ultimately molds us into the person we become.
When you find yourself cocooned in isolation and cannot find your way out of the darkness, remember that this is similar to the place where caterpillars go to grow their wings. Just because today is uncomfortable and stressful, doesn’t mean tomorrow won’t be wonderful. You just got to get there.
3. Grief is a burden that gradually devastates us over time.
You may have heard that it isn’t healthy to grieve for too long. I say this because it’s something I was taught when I was a teenager. A close friend died in a car accident. At first everyone accepted my tears, but as the weeks rolled into months, I was frequently told that it was time to let go. “The tears aren’t helping at this point,” I remember someone telling me. But that was hogwash. My tears were necessary. They were slowly watering the seeds of my recovery. And I recovered as a much stronger, kinder, and wiser soul than I ever was before.
Then, a decade later, this lesson was reinforced in my life two more times, back-to-back, when Angel and I lost her older brother, Todd, to suicide and our mutual best friend, Josh, to an Asthma attack, a month apart.
Through the grief of losing people I love, I have been given the gift of awareness… awareness that every one of us will lose someone or something we love, and that this reality is a necessary one.
It’s incredibly tough to comprehend at times, but there’s a reason for everything. We must know the pain of loss, because if we never knew it, we would have little compassion for others and we would gradually become hollow monsters of egoism – creatures of sheer self-interest, never being happy with what we have. The awful pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to warm-up a cold heart, and make an even better person out of a good one.
So yes, grief can be a burden that devastates us in the near-term, but it can also be a healthy anchor for healing and living well in the long run.
As human beings, we often get used to the weight of grief and how it holds us in place. For instance, Angel once told me, “My brother will die over and over again for the rest of my life, and I’m OK with that – it keeps me closer to him.” This was Angel’s way of reminding me that grief doesn’t disappear. Step-by-step, breath-by-breath, it becomes a part of us. And it can become a healthy part of us too.
Although we may never completely stop grieving, simply because we never stop loving the ones we’ve lost, we can effectively leverage our love for them in the present. We can love them and emulate them by living with their magnificence as our daily inspiration. By doing this, they live on in the warmth of our broken hearts that don’t fully heal back up, and we will continue to grow and experience life, even with our wounds. It’s like badly breaking an ankle that never heals perfectly, and that still hurts when you dance, but you dance anyway with a slight limp, and this limp just adds to the depth of your performance and the authenticity of your character. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
4. Everything we experience firsthand in life is reality.
At a young age we are often taught to question the stories and rumors we hear from other people, but to fully accept what we see, hear, feel and experience firsthand. In other words, if we see it with our own eyes, hear it with our own ears, or feel it with our own two hands, then what we’ve just seen, heard, or felt is most certainly the whole truth. And while that may seem like a logical assumption, it’s not always an accurate one.
As human beings, our inner dialog, or mindset, has a drastic effect on how we interpret real-world life experiences. The stories we subconsciously tell ourselves don’t just change how we feel inside – they actually change what we see, what we hear, what we experience, and what we know to be true in the world around us. This is one of the primary reasons multiple people can go through the same exact experience, but interpret it differently. Each of us may enter a shared experience with a different story echoing through our mind, and our unique story – our inner dialog – alters the way we feel every step of the way, and so each of us exits this shared experience with a slightly different feeling about what just happened. And sometimes that slight difference makes all the difference in the world.
Perspective is everything!
In a way, the stories we tell ourselves narrow our perspective. When we enter an experience with a story about how life is, that tends to be all we see. This phenomenon reminds me of an old parable in which a group of blind men touch an elephant for the very first time to learn what it’s like. Each one of them feels a different part of the elephant, but only that one part, such as the leg, trunk, side, or tusk. Then the men eagerly compare notes and quickly learn that they are in complete disagreement about what an elephant looks like.
Something similar happens through our wide-ranging, different past experiences. Some of us have been deeply heartbroken. Some of us have lost our parents, siblings or children to accidents and illnesses. Some of us have dealt with infidelity. Some of us have been fired from jobs we relied on. Some of us have been discriminated against because of our gender or race. And when we enter a new experience that arouses prominent memories of our own painful story from the past, it shifts our perspective in the present – it narrows it.
When a negative past experience narrows our present perspective, it’s mostly just a defense mechanism. Every day of our lives we are presented with some level of uncertainty, and our innate human defense mechanisms don’t like this one bit. So our minds try to compensate by filling in the gaps of information by clinging to the stories we already feel comfortable with. We end up subconsciously trying to make better sense of everything in the present by using old stories and past experiences as filler. And while this approach works sometimes, other times our old stories and past experiences are completely irrelevant to the present moment, so they end up hurting us far more than they help.
Let this be your wake-up call!
Next time you catch yourself emotionally struggling with the ‘reality’ of a particular life experience, ask yourself:
- What is the story I’m telling myself about this experience?
- Can I be absolutely certain this story is true?
- How do I feel and behave when I tell myself this story?
- What’s one other possibility that might also make the ending to this story true?
Give yourself the space to think it all through, carefully. Mull it over, mindfully. And keep in mind that it’s not about proving yourself right or wrong.
It’s about taking a deep breath, and giving yourself the space to gain perspective.
5. Bad habits are really hard to break.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people repeat the age-old cliché, “Bad habits are really hard to break.”
But this just isn’t true, because “hard” is a matter of perspective.
What is true is that you ultimately become what you repeatedly do. If your habits aren’t moving you forward, they’re holding you back. And if they’re holding you back, it’s time for a change.
For most of us (who are not coping with clinical depression, for example), changing our habits is a straightforward process. People who say otherwise are often just making excuses. They always want tasks to be 100% easier, regardless of how easy they already are. And it’s always easier to do nothing, rather than something. It’s always easier to complain, rather than commit. It hurts to admit this sometimes, but it’s worth doing. It’s worth reminding yourself that changing a habit is just a matter of recognizing why you’re doing what you’re doing, and then replacing one small action with another.
But, why are you doing what you’re doing?
- What motivates you to start a bad habit in the first place?
- How is it that your best intentions for having good, healthy habits have somehow been beaten?
The collective answer to these questions is simple:
Like many human beings, you don’t yet know how to cope with stress and boredom in a healthy, effective way.
Yes, most of your bad habits formed subconsciously as a coping method for dealing with stress and boredom – you resist reality instead of working through it. And these habits didn’t build up in an instant, so they won’t go away instantly either. You built them up through repetition, and the only way to change them is also through repetition – by making small, simple, gradual shifts.
To start, let’s look at five extremely common bad habits:
- Mindless time-wasting and procrastination
- Eating unhealthy snack food
- Watching TV or playing video games for several hours a day
- Constantly shopping for things you don’t need
- General inactivity and lack of exercise
And some new habits that you can use to gradually replace them:
- Take control of the situation: get started with the first (or next) smallest step, so things don’t get unnecessarily stressful
- Go out of your way to find and savor healthy food that you actually enjoy
- Enjoy more play time with family and friends
- Dance, play a musical instrument, read, write, or work on a passion project when you’re bored
- Walk, jog, hike, bike, swim, or take a yoga class
Then, once you have your mind wrapped around the specific habits you want to change in your life, just follow these simple steps:
- Pick one new habit at a time, and start very small – just five minutes a day, if you want it to stick.
- Initiate social accountability and motivation through Facebook, Instagram, etc. Declare the small, daily habit change you’re making, and then ask someone to check in with you on a regular basis (preferably daily) to make sure you’re on track.
- Set up and be very aware of your triggers – for example, a trigger might be walking into your home after work – and then perform the new habit consciously every time the trigger happens.
- Appreciate your new habit, and track the tiny bits of progress you’re making each day – for example, simply put a check mark on your calendar every single time you complete your habit, visually appreciate the chain of daily check marks you’re creating, and make it a goal to not break the chain.
- Once you feel comfortable with five minutes a day (perhaps after 30 days of doing the habit), increase to seven minutes a day, then ten minutes, and so forth.
That’s really all there is to it – at least that’s the baseline of habit change. So try not to waste your time and energy resisting and fighting against where you are in life. Instead, invest your time and energy into getting to where you want to go, one day at a time, one small step at a time. (Angel and I build small, daily, life-changing habits with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Let’s bring this article full circle…
…by asking these questions again:
- How many times have you heard it was the end, when it was really the beginning?
- How many hopeless labels have been slapped over the top of your inner hope?
- How many lies were you fed by people when you were younger, that have driven you to call it quits on those hard days when Edison would have called their bluff?
Think for a moment.
Then remind yourself that the truth does not cease to exist when it is ignored.
When the truth is ignored, whether consciously or subconsciously, it just complicates your life! And there’s absolutely no reason to do that to yourself. There’s no good reason to weigh yourself down with old lies and half-truths.
Seeking the truth, speaking the truth, and living by the truth is incredibly important, always!
If you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU.
Which point mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.