You are locked in a colossal battle. It’s invisible. And given that you haven’t produced a bead of sweat yet, you might be incredulous that this war exists. But those who win it will go on to the highest levels of success in business and in life.
I’m talking about your inner dialogue.
Learn how to change your thoughts and change your life
If you could see the bombs most people drop on themselves daily—I’m stupid; I suck; etc.—you’d know this war is real. But we don’t even hear these bombs exploding, let alone realize we ordered the strikes. Our internal war of the words has been going on for so long that we’re inured to the concussions, much like a veteran soldier, or a Syrian refugee. Most people are oblivious to the immediate damage they’re causing.
But how are we supposed to change our thoughts if we can’t see them? How are we supposed to connect them to concrete consequences, like the job we hate, or the debt we own? I had as much difficulty as anyone.
Three years ago I was stuck blaming my parents and girlfriends for my situation—everyone but me. I’d been living on mom’s couch for two years, and the longest I’d kept a job was six months. My life was an embarrassment. I just didn’t know the cause.
It took a trip to rock bottom for me to search for the answers.
I’d never been desperate enough before to make a change. But when you’re in existential anxiety, wondering whether life is worth living, you’ll do just about anything to make a change. For me, that meant reading self-help books…the ones I’d always marked for losers. And through reading all the greats—Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard—the same answer kept cropping up:
Change your thoughts,
Change your life.
I hadn’t thought about my thoughts. Chasing a new girlfriend, yes. Getting drunk as often as possible, yes. But thinking…I just hadn’t seen the point in thinking about that.
Someone broke down the significance for me:
“Your thoughts feed your emotions. Your emotions fuel your actions. Your actions form your habits. And your habits define your life. –It all starts with the thought.”
Not seeing another option, and for the first time in my life, I took control of my thoughts.
Thinking positively starts with affirmations.
I got into the habit of speaking highly of myself. A strange thing for someone like me to pick up—a loser by all accounts. I thought it was silly too. But I reasoned that at the very least it wouldn’t hurt me. And at best, I might just change my life.
So I looked in the mirror and said, “I am independent; I am bold; I am courageous, I am dependable”—everything I’d never been. And nothing happened, at first. But by consciously choosing any thoughts, I trained myself to tune into the subconscious thoughts that defined my life.
Within a week I started noticing all of the belittling thoughts that had been on repeat; I became aware of the war that had been going on inside me since birth. And with that new awareness, I started consciously thinking positively.
When I noticed a negative dialogue, I’d break the pattern by practicing affirmations. I diffused the “suck” bombs with conscious positivity. And within one month, I was a brand new me. For the first time, I saw life with eyes for opportunity.
I read the how-to books; I adopted a writing routine; I pitched my first publications—things I never could’ve done before. The next month I was getting paid $50 an hour to write. Three months later I was published on websites with millions of viewers. Six months later I was writing full time. And a little over a year later, I was finally living on my own.
Most people who are desperate for change don’t attempt the long-term strategies. They’re hurting now. And they want to escape the suffering now. But now takes a long time to build. If you can change it all around within a year, that’s fast.
But if I can do it, you can do it too.
Making a habit of positive thinking
All the mental work seemed tedious at first. But once it became a habit, choosing the right thoughts became automatic. I just had to make sure to start my day off with inspiring and uplifting thoughts—then I’d schedule activities that advanced my dreams—and within a year, I’d broken all the subconscious barriers that made life hell. I’d made a habit of positive thinking.
A year doesn’t seem fast when you want change today. But if you can commit to choosing the right thoughts for one year, starting today, you’ll pinch the new you one year from today. It’ll pass in the blink of an eye.
So choose a set of affirmations that work for you. Commit to doing them for thirty days, three times a day. Make daily goals for your affirmations and self-encouragement. And if you need help after a month, I will coach you to success.
Human habits are funny. Not SNL-in-the-90’s funny, but the type of funny that makes you raise one eyebrow and shake your head a little.
We’ve historically persisted in not-so-good things, like bad relationships, negative self-talk, and exposing ourselves in public. And we quit the good stuff–like pursuing our passions and improving our lives.
After observing this phenomenon in my life and others’, I’ve come to one conclusion:
We only have so much power to persist in good habits. And if all your power is spent on being average, you’ll never persist in the things that can light up your life. I speak from firsthand experience.
(You can skip the story and go straight to the 5-minute life-changing exercise…but I recommend the story.)
How I Changed My Habits and Found Independence
My 18-25 life was a looooong series of suck. (I’d have to add another 12,576 “o’s” to accurately depict the length of my suck. My editor suggested I cut that true-to-life representation in favor of this explanation.)
I was addicted to TV, Facebook, cigarettes, partying, toxic relationships, feeling sorry for myself, and being dependent on everyone but me. I remember reflecting on my days at night—all the nothing—and I’d think, “What the heck am I doing wrong? Why can’t I just succeed?”
But looking back, my shit-fest was an inevitable byproduct of my shit habits.
What does your energy pie look like?
If our life-force energy were a pie, 97% of mine would’ve been eaten up by mediocre sh!t. And at 25, when I’d been sleeping on my mom’s couch for two years, jobless and hopeless, I had an epiphany:
“I can change my pie!”
*That epiphany had everything to do with listening to podcasts like The Tim Ferriss Experiment, and reading books by Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar.
So I consciously shifted the ratio of my daily habits. I put a moratorium on mediocrity—like constant texting and social media. And I forced myself to do more of the every-day, eat-your-spinach type of stuff—reading, studying, creating, meditating, etc.
It turns out that what I had to create was valuable to others—everyone has something valuable—and I ended up selling my writing to websites and companies around the world. By today, at age 27, I’m independent through my passion—I’m on fire for living, and for inspiring people to change their lives.
I finally learned how to persist in the things that were good for me.
But my transformation didn’t happen instantly.
It took time and reflection to identify the activities that had made me average. Journaling was my saving grace. It also took a brain storming session every morning, where I’d commit to the broccoli (or avocado) activities—(depending on your power food—) that would energize my life.
As my energy pie shifted, my life improved commensurately. My depression and anxiety began to disappear. And I knew I was really on to something when I’d ask people how they were doing—“Oh you know, same old shit man”—and I’d think, “Are you serious? Of all the incredible shit that you can do, of all the mountains to climb, you’re stuck in same-old-shit?”
That incredulity happens when you clear out your crap habits and make room for extraordinary things.
And you can do that today.
The 5-minute exercise that will change your life forever
Get a pen and a notebook. (It’s okay, I’ll be here when you come back…) Now take an inventory of your daily habits–time spent on social media and TV, exercising, reading, creating, etc. Then mark each habit as a growth activity or a comfort. For most, the comforts will far outweigh the growth activities.
Now write down all the growth activities that you want as habits—exercising, making money through your passion, etc. Imagine how good you would feel living that kind of life. Visualize what life looks like when you’re constantly challenging and improving yourself in your relationships and in your career. Then ask yourself,
“Can I persist?”
It might be a resounding no right now. But when you take an X to every comfort that you have persisted in, your “Yes” gets a little bit louder. And after you’ve slashed 90% of your habitual comforts, your Yes will be loud–so loud that you’ll actually believe it. And that’s when you’ll persist in all the things that make life extraordinary.
So what are you waiting for? Examine your life! (Socrates, the father of self-improvement, highly recommends it.) Dump the comforts that hold you back. (Yes, even if they’re people.) And commit to the life-broccoli that you know you need.
Since tomorrow is granted, you’ll not want to delay this simple exercise for another minute. Start now. Stop reading this. … ? ….What are you still doing here? Go change your life!
Article originally appeared on MindBodyGreen.com
Step into this scene:
You walk into a crowded party and are greeted by a sea of faces—most of them beaming smiles. But instead of a surge of curiosity, you feel an overwhelming sense of pressure. Then you imagine, “Are they thinking about me? Am I pretty enough? Are they looking at someone more beautiful than me? How can I appear more desirable? Please look at me. You don’t want to look at me? Well, you’re ugly.”
Now you know what it’s like to think like a narcissist. I do, too. Because that person used to be me.
A balanced human would think something along the lines of, “She’s beautiful–He looks fun–I want to get to know this person.” But then again, most people don’t have an enormous hole where their self-worth should be. Narcissists do.
The making of a narcissist:
Narcissists are usually talented and attractive people who skipped over one small detail in their formation: that life is about serving others. The satisfaction of knowing that our actions create value for others is what fills us with self-worth. Those who give freely have the most to give. Narcissists, on the other hand, feel the need to constantly take.
They think their self-worth is a result of what others give them. As a reformed narcissist, I grew up thinking that what I had to offer wasn’t good enough. So when I was called handsome or intelligent, I clung to those compliments as life preservers. And I did everything to perpetuate that image.
I pursued sexual relationships to feel validated. Instead of finding my worth and joy in the things I gave to others, I was entirely dependent on the praise of my natural endowments. I was powerless—jumping from one relationship to the next, sucking up as much pleasure as I could and bailing when things got rocky. And I exited each relationship with less confidence and sanity than I had to begin with.
The cycle drove me nuts. After my third live-in relationship, I seriously considered whether life was worth living. That’s when I knew I needed a serious change.
The unmaking of a narcissist:
I’d heard from famous speakers like Zig Ziglar that happiness lies in the giving. “You’ll get what you want if you just help enough other people get what they want,” he said. I was lucky enough to have been exposed to Zig’s messages when I was at rock bottom, living with my parents, jobless, and broken. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would’ve made it.
As it was, I took Zig’s messages to heart. A complete 180 was my only option, so I started helping others through the written word. But in order to stick with the whole “living for others” bit, I had to unlearn the selfish habits that had made me behave like a narcissist. It started with giving up porn.
Porn had always been my biggest crutch. Whenever I was bored, anxious, nervous, or unsure, I turned to porn. The dopamine release was like crack, which distracted me from any uncomfortable feelings I had. But there was one hitch: In all of that self-pleasure, I never actually learned a thing about myself—and I sure as hell didn’t think about making life better for others. It had to go.
The next thing I nixed was casual dating.
My friends and family had described me as a hopeless romantic because I was never happy out of love. As long as I was in a relationship, I didn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of fulfilling myself—I didn’t have to think about how I was making life better for others. If I was giving my girlfriend wild sex, and if the relationship was entertaining, I could lose myself till it ended, which it always did. And when it did, I focused on getting into another one so that I didn’t have to be lonely—so that I could lose myself. Giving wasn’t part of the equation, so I had to let the casual relationships go.
Finally, I gave up dependency.
Your life heads in the direction of your thoughts. When my habitual thoughts were about others serving me—like my mom and dad cooking, cleaning, and providing shelter for me—it was impossible to break out of my selfish patterns. But as I cured myself of narcissism, as I helped others through my writing, and as I grew my profession, I started thinking more about providing for myself. And then one day, I made the leap.
I had to think about myself to survive. I worked hard and improved as a writer so that I could eat, but the motivation wasn’t just for me. I wanted to eat so that I could write, and I wanted to write so that I could help others improve their lives. The better I got at providing for myself, the more valuable my messages became. And after one full year of living solo, I’d left narcissism in the mirror.
These three habits helped me transform:
1. Journaling was instrumental in my transformation.
I didn’t notice my thought patterns until I wrote them down day after day. When I started journaling, I could finally see those selfish thoughts and behaviors, plain as day. Then I’d replace the old thoughts and habits with better ones.
2. Planning out each day was another important step.
If I didn’t plan on being a better me after my journaling sessions, I wouldn’t have gotten very far. So I made concrete action steps that would make me a more confident, generous, selfless, and useful person, day after day. For instance: through journaling, I’d notice that I felt hopelessly dependent on other’s opinions of me when I spent too much time on Facebook. So, the next day, I’d plan to not use Facebook at all, opting for a self-improvement activity like reading or writing.
3. Affirmations were the third critical step in unlearning my narcissistic tendencies.
People who describe themselves as narcissists have an unedited mind that keeps spewing selfish and disempowering thoughts. Ick. When you hear a lie once, it’s just a lie. But when it’s repeated over and over and over and over, you’ll believe just about anything—no matter how insane it is. I believed I was worth nothing because that’s what I kept telling myself.
When I began making affirmations, I thought I was repeating lies. “I am beautiful, I am worthy, I am generous, I am capable, I am independent…” Bullshit, I thought. But as I stuck with the habit, I started believing in them. Then I started acting like I believed them. And then I was them. I realized I’d actually been those good things all along—it’s just that my mind was so programmed with junk that I couldn’t see the truth before.
We are all good—even those of us who behave narcissistically, like I did. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who behaves narcissistically, even if that person is you, it’s best to go solo and to focus on thinking and behaving like the intelligent and inspiring person you were born to be. Affirmations, journaling, and daily planners helped me make the change. So did giving up porn, casual relationships, and being dependent.
Article originally appeared on MindBodyGreen.com
What’s your picture of success? I’m not talking about your parents’ idea, or society’s vision for the perfect citizen (shudder). I’m talking about your dream—that insane goal that nobody would believe until you actually did it.
Think about it.
That dream is only a set number of best efforts from being real. And just like Rome was built brick by brick, your good life is a day-by-day project. What’s keeping you from putting up your best brick today?