Many of our problems come from within our own minds. They aren’t caused by events, bad luck, or other people. We cause them through our own poor mental habits. Here are 10 habits you should set aside right away to free yourself from the many problems each one will be causing you.
Stop jumping to conclusions. There are two common ways this habit increases people’s difficulties. First, they assume that they know what is going to happen, so they stop paying attention and act on their assumption instead. Human beings are lousy fortune-tellers. Most of what they assume is wrong. That makes the action wrong too. The second aspect of this habit is playing the mind-reader and assuming you know why people do what they do or what they’re thinking. Wrong again, big time. More relationships are destroyed by this particular kind of stupidity than by any other.
Don’t dramatize. Lots of people inflate small setbacks into life-threatening catastrophes and react accordingly. This habit makes mountains out of molehills and gives people anxieties that either don’t exist or are so insignificant they aren’t worth worrying about anyway. Why do they do it? Who knows? Maybe to make themselves feel and seem more important. Whatever the reason, it’s silly as well as destructive.
Don’t invent rules. A huge proportion of those “oughts” and “shoulds” that you carry around are most likely needless. All that they do for you is make you feel nervous or guilty. What’s the point? When you use these imaginary rules on yourself, you clog your mind with petty restrictions and childish orders. And when you try to impose them on others, you make yourself into a bully, a boring nag, or a self-righteous bigot.
Avoid stereotyping or labeling people or situations. The words you use can trip you up. Negative and critical language produces the same flavor of thinking. Forcing things into pre-set categories hides their real meaning and limits your thinking to no purpose. See what’s there. Don’t label. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
Quit being a perfectionist. Life isn’t all or nothing, black or white. Many times, good enough means exactly what it says. Search for the perfect job and you’ll likely never find it. Meanwhile, all the others will look worse than they are. Try for the perfect relationship and you’ll probably spend your life alone. Perfectionism is a mental sickness that will destroy all your pleasure and send you in search of what can never be attained.
Don’t over-generalize. One or two setbacks are not a sign of permanent failure. The odd triumph doesn’t turn you into a genius. A single event—good or bad—or even two or three don’t always point to a lasting trend. Usually things are just what they are, nothing more.
Don’t take things so personally. Most people, even your friends and colleagues, aren’t talking about you, thinking about you, or concerned with you at all for 99% of the time. The majority of folk in your organization or neighborhood have probably never heard of you and don’t especially want to. The ups and downs of life, the warmth and coldness of others, aren’t personal at all. Pretending that they are will only make you more miserable than is needed.
Don’t assume your emotions are trustworthy. How you feel isn’t always a good indicator of how things are. Just because you feel it, that doesn’t make it true. Sometimes that emotion comes from nothing more profound than being tired, hungry, annoyed, or about to get a head-cold. The future won’t change because you feel bad—nor because you feel great. Feelings may be true, but they aren’t the truth.
Don’t let life get you down. Keep practicing being optimistic. If you expect bad things in your life and work, you’ll always find them. A negative mind-set is like looking at the world through distorting, grimy lenses. You spot every blemish and overlook or discount everything else. It’s amazing what isn’t there until you start to look for it. Of course, if you decide to look for signs of positive things, you’ll find those too.
Don’t hang on to the past. This is my most important suggestion of all: let go and move on. Most of the anger, frustration, misery, and despair in this world come from people clinging to past hurts and problems. The more you turn them over in your mind, the worse you’ll feel and the bigger they’ll look. Don’t try to fight misery. Let go and move on. Do that and you’ve removed just about all its power to hurt you.
Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include How to save yourself from being hooked again and Why fear of failure is the most common blockage to success. Adrian’s latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.