Monday Motivation: Weekly Cycles

 

Every week has its Monday.

 

I know that sounds pretty obvious and maybe even a little stupid, but it’s important to remember. Our lives run in cycles, and one of the cycles our lives run through is the weekly cycle.

 

You start out on Monday, and the thing about Monday is that everybody hates Mondays. Honestly, if we talked a little less about how much we hate Mondays we’d probably hate Mondays a little less.

 

But after Monday comes Tuesday. Tuesday’s kind of weird, because it’s still early in the week but it’s not Monday. Tuesday has a bit of an in-between feeling, where you don’t quite know how to feel about it. (To my knowledge, nobody has strong feelings about Tuesdays.)

 

Then there’s Wednesday. It’s hump day! Wednesday is the turning point. It’s as if all week up to this point you’ve been climbing a mountain, but from now on you’re going to be headed downhill. There’s a real sense of relief when Wednesday ends.

 

(In fact, the only downside to Wednesday is that some people get a little too enthusiastic about the whole “Hump Day” thing, and it gets to be kind of grating.)

 

Next comes Thursday. Thursday is a little like Tuesday, in that it’s not particularly distinguished in any way. To use a mathematical analogy, Thursday is what you get if you take the average of Tuesday and Friday. There’s the meandering quality of Tuesday, combined with a vague annoyance at the fact that it’s still not Friday.

 

But sure as ever there comes the big day: Friday! There’s nothing like the feeling of a Friday evening, just sitting back and anticipating a nice, relaxing weekend. I’d go so far as to say that the Friday evening anticipation is the best part of the week.

 

Because Saturday comes along, and it’s great. You go camping, or hiking, or in the winter you look out the window and wish global warming would hurry up. But here’s the thing about Saturday: it’s never quite as good as you imagined it being when you were looking forward to it on Friday. The sun’s a little too bright, or there’s rain, or you can’t meet up with your old friend on account of a death in the family.

 

Whatever it is, something happens so it’s not perfect.

 

And last of all comes Sunday. For some of us that means a day of church activities, and for some of us that means a second attempt at a perfect Saturday. No matter what, though, Sunday ends pretty much the same way: Sunday evening. When Sunday evening comes around, you feel down. The weekend’s dried up, and there’s Monday, dead ahead.

 

So Monday comes back, with all the responsibilities and all the worries that were put on hold for the last two days. The next round of the cycle begins, and the wheel keeps on spinning.

 

Well, what about it? What’s the big deal about all this “weekly cycle” stuff?

 

The point is that if you’re anything like me, there’s part of you that fights against this cycle even though it’s inevitable. It’s that part that wants to get everything that’s good in the process without having to accept anything that’s bad. We want our whole week to be Friday evening. We hardly realize that the whole joy of a Friday evening comes from the sudden release of pressure after a week of hard work.

 

So we fight the inevitable, or at least we resist it in our minds. But as we all know, time is going to pass. There are going to be unpleasant times and pleasant times, moments of dread and moments of breathless anticipation.

 

You know that already, though. I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t been said a million times before. So what am I trying to tell you? What point am I driving at that isn’t so obvious?

 

Just this: you’re going to feel this resistance on Mondays. It’s part of the way the week works. There’s nothing wrong with you for partially fighting against it, and there’s nothing wrong with the week for being the way it is.

 

I think there’s a part of us that wants to take Monday as a personal insult, as if it came around to ruin our day and ruin our fun. But the fact is, life doesn’t work that way. It’s just the nature of things. You don’t get the good without the bad.

 

You have to pay for Friday evening with Monday morning, in other words. As long as you’re resisting Monday morning, there’s a part of you that’s not accepting reality.

 

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you have to accept reality. I’m not trying to preach. If you want to accept reality, you can accept it. If you want to fight it, you can fight it. All I’m saying is that you should be conscious of what you’re doing.

 

Because there’s a way in which you can say that really getting annoyed on a Monday morning makes the weekend that much sweeter when it comes. Emotional states are conditioned by their opposites, so if you’re going to experience the highest joys you’re going to have to accept the lowest misery. In that way it can be quite healthy and good to let yourself get a little down in the dumps on Monday. Just know what you’re doing, and you’ll be fine.

 

The fact is, motivation is a funny idea. You can motivate somebody in one of two ways: either you tell them a lie they want to believe but can’t keep up for very long, or you tell them the truth in such a way that they see their place in reality and accept it.

 

You’re a human being. That means you’re a limited being. But you’re a limited being with a specific role to play in the life of the human race. No matter how much you’d like to fight against that role, and no matter how much it feels like an imposition on your personal freedom, it’s a real, meaningful role.

 

It’s a meaningful role, and it’s a role that only you can choose to play to the best of your ability. Even on Monday.

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Face It: You Need People

 

Everyone in this world wants to feel important. Remember that, and act on it.

 

Say you’re in a tight spot in life. You feel like the walls are closing in. You feel like every day that goes by only takes you deeper and deeper into a nasty trap you’ll never get out of. You feel helpless. You feel insignificant. You feel like you’re going to die! No, it’s worse than that: sometimes it gets so bad that you start wishing you were dead.

 

At times like that, you don’t want anything to do with the world. It’s gross. It’s nasty. It’s full of a bunch of self-serving hypocrites looking to drain you of your life force. All you want is to get away. You feel like the car that’s stuck in a ditch it can’t get out of because the wheels won’t touch the ground. They just keep spinning, spinning, faster and faster, ever more desperately, but still going nowhere.

 

You want to curl in on yourself and give up. It’s too difficult. It’s too much for you. If only you could die you could solve everything, but there’s that little core deep inside you that keeps pumping away, forcing you on.

 

The last thing you want when you’re in a situation like that is to face other people. You don’t want them to look at you. You don’t want them to talk to you. You don’t want them to ask you how your day’s been. All you want is to lock yourself away, far away from everything, where you can keep to yourself and quietly lament how lonely you are.

 

We’ve all felt that way before. It’s probably the reason zombie stories are so popular these days. Maybe the zombie comes from the part of us that’s a little bit disgusted at humanity. It sees us as a bunch of half-dead brainless creatures who can only keep up their miserable existences by feeding on human flesh.

 

Because from a certain point of view that’s the truth about humanity. It’s a one-sided truth, because it leaves out what’s good and honorable about human beings, but it gets certain things right. We’re driven by our desires. We have a paradoxical desire to cut ourselves off from humanity and immerse ourselves in the human mass. We feel like we were once more human than we are—as if we’ve been infected with some inhuman thing that compels us.

 

But that’s not the whole truth about what we are. We’re human beings. That means we can feel the urge to hide ourselves away but choose to connect with people in spite of that.

 

That’s not easy. It takes strength and discipline. It takes a willingness to believe that human beings are more than just zombies who want to consume all they can without facing the consequences.

 

There’s a part of you that you’d like to hold onto very tightly. Somewhere along the line you learned that if you loosen your hold on this part of yourself, the world will take that as a sign of weakness and crush you. You learned that it wasn’t okay to trust other people, because other people are always trying to worm their way into your mind, your wallet, or some other part of your anatomy.

 

And you know what? That might happen. There’s no guarantee that everything’s going to be okay. There are plenty of things in this world that are emphatically not okay.

 

There are people out there who have bad intentions. There are people out there who will take advantage of you. There are people out there who are absolutely and one hundred percent out for themselves.

 

But what about you? You’re a human being. And because you’re a human being, you need things that you can only get from other people.

 

It doesn’t matter how much you dislike people. It doesn’t matter how much you don’t trust people. It doesn’t matter if your hair stands on end whenever you come into physical contact with another human being.

 

You need people. You need to deal with people.

 

You have to deal with the cashier when you go to buy clothes. You have to talk to the hairdresser who cuts your hair. You have to find some way to get somebody to pay you for doing something if you’re going to have the privilege of living on this rock long enough to get old and gray.

 

No matter how much you kick and scream and wish it weren’t so, you must find a way to deal with people. No matter how much you want the human race to leave you alone, they won’t do it. You’re a human being living in a complex society, and you’re going to have to find a way to stomach it.

 

So if you’ve got to put up with the human race, you might as well find a way to make it as painless as possible. And the first thing you can do is exactly what I started this article with: remember that everyone in this world wants to feel important.

 

You have to deal with the human race. And you can do that a lot more effectively if you manage to enjoy the process.

 

What makes dealing with people more enjoyable? Making sure they like you and can get comfortable around you. So even though it seems like it’s more effort, interacting with people is a lot less painful if you go out of your way to make the other person comfortable.

 

Put it this way: if you make sure that people like you, they’re generally less likely to go crazy and try to run you through with a broadsword someday.

 

Offer a listening ear. Let people tell you their aches and pains, their challenges and difficulties. Congratulate them when they succeed and commiserate with their failures. People appreciate it when you listen to what they say and repeat some part of it back to them in your own words, so they know you’ve understood it.

 

Over time, you’ll learn more about human nature. As you learn how to deal with it, you’ll make your peace with it. Maybe you’ll never get to the point where you can honestly say, “I like people.” But if you can go out of your way to make the other person feel important, you’re headed in the right direction.

 

If you found this post meaningful, I’d really appreciate it if you shared it or left a comment. It would mean a lot to me. Thank you.

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When the World Falls Apart

 

When things aren’t going your way, it’s not pleasant. You start to feel weak. You start to feel ineffective. You start to feel powerless to change anything in your life.

 

So what happens? You get angry. You get bitter. You get resentful. You get to the point where any little thing could set you off. Sometimes it gets so bad that spilling a cup of coffee in the morning can ruin your entire day. Spill your coffee on the kitchen table in the morning and you can end up grinding your teeth all day long.

 

Well, why is that? I think it’s because spilling the coffee feels like adding insult to injury. Here you are, pushing yourself so hard but still feeling like you have no control over your life, and what happens? You can’t even hold a lousy cup of coffee right!

 

No wonder you get angry. Your whole world is falling apart around you, and now that stream of black liquid dripping slowly onto the floor proves that even your own hand won’t obey your will.

 

So that’s when you start feeling about a million different emotions all at once. You feel annoyed that the coffee spilled.  But beyond that you feel humiliated because apparently now you’re the type of person who can’t even hold a cup of coffee right. But beyond that you feel resentful because on top of everything else in your life, you now have to worry about cleaning up that stupid little cup of coffee. But beyond that you feel absolutely terrified because there’s a part of you that thinks, “I’m getting worse and worse. If I can’t even control this, there’s no way I’ll ever get the rest of my life together.”

 

There you are by the table, with annoyance, embarrassment, resentment, and black terror cycling through your mind—which is probably what we mean by anxiety.

 

It’s a hopeless feeling. At the bottom of it all there’s the feeling that things are going to get worse. And not only that: it’s a feeling that things are only going to get worse for the rest of your life, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

 

This is where things get dangerous. Because when you’re wrapped up in a feeling of utter hopelessness, and powerlessness, you’ll do anything to alleviate that feeling. There are a few things you can try, and it’s worth taking some time to talk about them.

 

You can take that feeling and turn it into anger. You can decide, “No, I’m not powerless, because I can lash out in anger against people who have nothing to do with my real problems.” Hurt people. Be cruel to animals. Treat everybody who cares about you so badly they stop caring, and do your best to alienate everybody you meet.

 

Go ahead and try that, if you want. See how well it works.

 

On the other hand, you could take that feeling and try to find immediate relief from it. You could go get so drunk you forget how bad you feel when you’re sober. You could go gamble away all your money on the hope that you’ll find a sudden windfall. You could go spend more money than you can afford buying things you don’t need and don’t really want.

 

You could try that too, if you like. See how well that works.

 

Another thing you could try: decide everyone’s out to get you. Decide the world doesn’t like you, doesn’t want you, and is for some perverse reason actively opposed to your happiness. Make up your mind to be a passive victim, and do your best to stop caring.

 

That’s another thing you could try. (Just as a side note: taken on its own terms, this one works extremely well. If you decide to live like a victim, the world is only too happy to play along.)

 

If you’re looking for an immediate solution, those three are just about the only options you’ve got. You can get angry, you can get intoxicated, or you can get depressed.

 

(You can also try suicide, but it’s not recommended.)

 

So you spilled your coffee. You’re feeling hopeless. You’re feeling like you’ll never get your life in order. You’re feeling desperate, and you’re getting close to the point where you’re willing to do anything to put a stop to the pain you’re feeling. What should you do to escape this pain?

 

My advice: don’t try to escape. Not immediately, at least. The short-sighted hope to escape the pain instantly can lead you to make rash decisions that lead you right back to where you started. Like the way they say drinking alcohol is “borrowing happiness from tomorrow.” Sure, for a couple hours all your problems go away. But tomorrow morning they’re all still there, and you’ve got a wicked hangover too.

 

You have to be able to put up with the pain. You’re not getting away from it immediately. Accept that. Don’t resign yourself to it—that’s being a victim—but accept that you’re going to be in pain for a while.

 

Now, look rationally into what’s causing your distress. Ask yourself, “Am I angry because I spilled my coffee, or am I angry because I’ve been hunting for work for months without making any progress?”

 

Keep digging into those causes until you can’t dig any deeper. This can be a painful process. It’s not easy to look at yourself and your problems objectively. Usually you end up finding out that most of your problems are your own doing, and that you’re going to have to make some major changes in order to fix it.

 

If you’re anything like me, hearing the word “change” is enough to get your hackles up. We like to keep our actions stable and constant. Our habits are the way we know ourselves.

 

But here’s the truth: no matter what’s bothering you, there is a solution. And no matter what the solution, it’s going to take some change on your part. It’s going to be unpleasant, it’s going to be painful, and you’re going to hate every minute of it. But it’s going to be worth it.

 

It’s worth it to get to that day when you can spill your cup of coffee and shrug it off. You’ll have control of the parts of your life that matter most, so you’ll be secure enough that spilling a cup of coffee won’t threaten you. You won’t have to be so sensitive to every little slight that the world feels like it’s out to get you.

 

That can happen. That will happen. But only if you make it happen.

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Why Do You Keep Losing?

 

Monday sets the tone for the rest of the week. A good Monday gets your week off to a great start, and a lousy Monday can set you up for a week-long game of catch-up. So the problem is: how to make sure you have a great Monday?

 

The answer is so simple you’ll probably want to slap me: the way to make sure you have a great Monday is to want to have a great Monday.

 

“Well, obviously,” you say. “What, do you think I want to have a lousy Monday?”

 

No, I don’t think you want to have a lousy Monday. But the really important thing is that you need to allow yourself to have a great Monday. And that’s where the whole thing gets hard.

 

Because you’ve already decided that what you’ve got to get done this Monday is not what you’d like to get done this Monday. You’d like to spend this Monday morning lying on a beach, sipping your favorite cocktail, and listening to the rolling surf. But instead you’ve got sales to make, accounts to file, meetings to attend, and decisions to make.

 

No wonder there’s a part of you that resists it.

 

So when I say that you need to choose to have a great Monday, it takes some doing. It means you’ve got to say to yourself, “No, I don’t want to be out enjoying myself. I want to be here, now, working on the things that will make a better future.”

 

It’s hard to do that. It’s hard to do that because there’s a part of your mind that hates anything to do with long-term planning or discipline. It’s that part of you that craves instant gratification and wants to see the world burn. It’s the part of you that wants to sleep, eat, mate, and cause chaos.

 

You know how it is, when you wake up on Monday morning and your first thought is something like, “Gee, I wonder if civilization has finally crumbled so now I can do all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t do because they were illegal.”

 

Then you turn on the TV and there’s the weatherman going on about a warm front and the morning commute, and you think, “Not today, then. I must be civilized today.”

 

So no wonder it’s a little tough to motivate yourself on a Monday morning. But you figure it out by the time you start sipping that first cup of coffee. You remember, “Oh right… the whole point of this career is so I can turn my antisocial urges into planning and productivity. And the whole point of planning and productivity is so I can do better than everybody else around me. Sure, it might be illegal to destroy my enemies and drink their blood out of their skulls, but the free market economy allows me to outcompete them and thus symbolically kill them in an entirely legal way.”

 

Because that’s the real wonder of civilization. It manages to turn the drive to chaos and destruction into a force for creation and order. The fact that you want nothing more than to take most of the people you meet and squish them into jelly is turned (by the logic of the market) into a beneficial force for the community.

 

So if you’re feeling unmotivated on a Monday morning, you just need to hone your killing instinct. I want you to think of everybody you’ve known who ever made you feel small, or weak, or helpless. I want you to feel as angry as possible at that person. I want you to imagine taking a club and using it to beat their face in while they scream and they scream, “Oh, for the love of God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it, I swear I didn’t mean—”

 

But you’re not listening because the blood lust has taken hold by now, and anyways you really disliked them to begin with.

 

Imagine all the people who have ever hurt you. Everyone who ever insulted you. Everyone who ever made you feel insignificant. You want motivation? Just imagine how tiny and insignificant they’ll feel after they see how massively successful you’ve become.

 

Granted, if you’re one of those people who generally likes the human race and doesn’t have any problem with other people, this isn’t going to be the best method for you. You can go imagine gumdrops and teddy bears and making the world a better place, if that’s what floats your boat.

 

Otherwise, you just need to cultivate as much negative emotion as possible. People always talk bad about negative emotion, but here’s the thing: you don’t accomplish great things because you have great intentions. You accomplish great things because you have cruel, subterranean, and generally antisocial intentions.

 

You just need to think of all the people you’re going to beat and how devastated they’re going to feel when they lose. If you motivate yourself with the need to beat others, you may never be happy, but you’ll have a ton of energy and you’ll be able to keep going till you die of your heart attack at fifty.

 

So maybe you can’t go to the beach today. But you can get a heck of a lot of stuff done, and that will set you up for a great day tomorrow. And if you can have a great day tomorrow, you’re on track to have an amazingly productive week. Have enough amazingly productive weeks, and eventually you’ll be able to conquer the known universe and have all the human worms in the universe bow down before your awesome power.

 

Because that’s what life is all about, right? It’s all about making sure everybody knows that if they step as much as a single toe out of line you’ve got the legal and moral right to have them vaporized. Everything else is a bunch of sentimental hogwash that has nothing to do with how you can keep yourself motivated on a Monday morning.

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How Can You Be Free When There Are Things You MUST Do?

 

Most of the challenges we face in life are the kind that last a long time. A lot of them last your whole life long.

 

To show you what I mean by that, let me give you an example. You have to watch what you eat. Well and good, but here’s the kicker: you’ll never be done watching what you eat. You had to watch what you ate last year, you have to do it now, and you’ll have to do it next year. By definition and by its very nature, nutrition is the kind of problem that stays with you. Sometimes you’ll have a better handle on it than others, but you’ll always have to eat something.

 

You took a shower today. You’ll have to take a shower tomorrow too.

 

You mowed the lawn today. You’ll have to mow the lawn next week too.

 

You paid your bills today. You’ll have to pay your bills next month too.

 

Most of the challenges we face in our everyday lives have this same perpetual structure: no problem ever gets fully solved, everything degrades by degrees, and you always have to put more effort into the system to keep it from falling apart. In many ways, life is repetitive.

 

Now, you can choose to take this in one of two ways. The first is that you can say, “My God, what’s the point of it all? What could possibly be more dreary and boring than a life that’s made up of nothing but a lot of nested cycles ceaselessly repeating till it ends in the grave?”

 

Let’s be clear: I’m arguing against this view, but I don’t think it’s wrong. Because on its own terms it’s true enough. I think we can all agree that there’s something nightmarish about looking at life as a matter of being caught in a loop. And any person so inclined could find a virtually endless number of quite legitimate reasons to feel trapped somewhere in a cycle not of his or her own choosing.

 

We’re all caught in the cycle of our own language. We’ve all got a particular manner of thinking that we cycle through on a weekly or yearly basis. We’re all caught in the economic cycle of boom and bust. We’re all caught in the cycle of waking and sleeping. Election cycles. Daily cycles. Weekly cycles. Monthly and yearly cycles. Cycles within cycles within cycles, to the point that the whole thing starts to look like a Ptolemaic map of the universe with all its cycles and epicycles. Endlessly running through the cycle, the ouroboros swallows its own tail…

 

Is it any wonder the word “everyday” has taken on such a dreary and depressing connotation?

 

In the end, you can’t argue against this way of seeing the world. The facts are there to support it. Once someone has chosen to experience themselves as the passive victim of a malevolent universe with its cruel machinery, there’s no talking them out of it. They’ll always have plenty of excuses to justify their innocence and prove beyond any doubt that other people were given chances they didn’t have, or that they’re just too profound to do anything but suffer in a life that’s not worth anything.

 

Are they wrong? Well, no. Not objectively at least. But deep inside themselves they’ve decided not to accept reality on its own terms. And that’s an idiotic choice to make, by anybody’s standards.

 

Which takes me to the second way of reacting to the repetitiveness of life: you can choose to embrace it. That’s where freedom lies, really. It’s in choosing to do willingly what you have to do by nature.

 

Does that mean it’ll be any less tedious to get up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time every night? No.

 

Does that mean you’ll be bursting with joy when you floss your teeth, one by one, for the eight hundredth day in a row? No.

 

Does that mean you’ll ever get used to the fact that that lousy lawn won’t just sit still and stay mowed? No.

 

But when you decide that you’re going to choose to do these things, the whole character of the thing changes. Sure, you’re going to feel some irritation and resistance at the fact that you’re doing the same damn thing yet again. But it’s no longer the resistance of fighting against some external power that’s imposing its will on you; it’s the resistance of bringing the resentful part of yourself in line with the part of yourself that’s good and self-disciplined.

 

And that’s the value of consistency. When you consistently do something that’s good for you, it’s often the case that the best thing about it isn’t that you’re doing this whatever-it-is that’s good for you. It’s that you’ve formed a consistent habit and managed to turn that into a source of self-discipline.

 

Freedom is a funny thing. I think we’ve all got this spontaneous idea that freedom is the freedom to pick out the brand of chips you want, or something trivial like that. We think of freedom like it’s the opening up of a wide range of possibilities. That’s true as far as it goes, and I think the measure of a free country is that it opens up that range of possibilities. But the responsible use of freedom calls for a voluntary self-limitation. When external laws don’t bind you, you have to be a law to yourself.

 

That’s what consistency means: it’s the voluntary acceptance of the self-limitation that comes with discipline. There’s no strength without discipline, and there’s no discipline without voluntary self-limitation.

 

You can’t always choose to be enthusiastic about the everyday realities of your life. But you can choose to face the everyday realities of your life. Face them willingly and wholeheartedly, full of the awareness that this is your choice and you’ve committed to it without reserve. Over time, with consistency and self-discipline, you’ll mold yourself into the kind of person you can be proud of being.

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Face the Truth and Reach Your Goals

 

Nobody likes to face unpleasant truths. In fact, there’s nothing in this world quite so much like an invisibility cloak as a willingness to try to get people to face facts they don’t want to face.

 

Tell a man his house is burning down, and he won’t listen. Tell the very same man his house has already burned down, and he’ll scream at you and demand to know why you didn’t tell him it was burning when he could have stopped it.

 

Of course that’s taking things a little too far, but the point remains. We’re generally pretty blind to things that threaten to undermine our paradigm. Human beings like to think they’ve got everything pretty much figured out, or at least that they’ve got the main things figured out and they only have to worry about the details.

 

The really unpleasant fact is that we really know almost nothing. As individuals, we mostly know only what we have to know to get through our days in one piece and in order to avoid smashing the illusion that we actually know what we’re doing. Collectively, we’re a little better. As a group, we can use things like peer review and the scientific method to steadily chip away at the massive list of things we don’t know and can’t understand.

 

But one of the most persistent facts about the human race is that we’re not very good at remembering important truths. Most reasonable people will listen to you politely when you say people don’t like to face unpleasant facts, but the idea doesn’t stick. It stays somewhere back in the long-term memory where they never think about it and never even think of using it on an everyday basis.

 

And why is that? Simple. It’s because we don’t like to face unpleasant facts. We’d rather write them down on a list of things we should take care of, someday, maybe, eventually. When you take the time to face the fact that we don’t like facing unpleasant facts, it requires a lot from you.

 

It requires you to take the time to dig into problems.

 

Now, let me tell you a little bit about problem solving. We act like problem solving is a simple thing that everybody knows how to do, but it’s not. The sad truth is that most people don’t know how to solve problems. Sure, they could tell you a nice little story about how they would solve a problem if they ever solved it, but generally we like to palm off our problems on somebody else.

 

The main reason for this is that most people don’t like to face unpleasant facts. Because if problem solving requires one thing, it’s a willingness to face unpleasant facts.

 

Now what is problem solving? Problem solving is using the human mind to do what the human mind is for. The mind is a highly temperamental machine for finding and solving problems. Once you understand that, you understand why most of us don’t like to face unpleasant facts: we avoid problems because we’re stuck in the default mode of trying to solve the problem that there are problems.

 

The first key to problem solving is to remember this: there is no perfect solution, and the problems only stop when you’re dead. Trying to solve the problem that there are problems is a self-defeating process.

 

So the next key to problem solving is to choose the right problem. Another way of saying this is to say that you need to set the right goal. Of course, it’s possible to work towards many goals at the same time. You can have a short-term goal of driving to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee, mid-term goals like raising company revenue by 15 percent this fiscal year, or long-term goals like living on Mars when you retire. You can even have highly abstract goals like “trying to be a good person.”

 

The thing to keep in mind is that the structure of your goals determines the structure of your life. That’s why you can exercise a high degree of freedom in picking your goals, but you don’t want to choose any problems that are intrinsically unsolvable.

 

That’s the unpleasant fact I’m really trying to get across here: some problems really are unsolvable. No matter what you do and no matter how smart you are, you’ll never get rid of the fact that there are problems. There are always going to be problems in life, and there are always going to be challenges. When you set out to get rid of the problem of having problems, you magnify the suffering in your life. Paradoxically, nothing in the world causes quite as much suffering as the utopian drive to get rid of all suffering.

 

After you’ve identified the problem, you come up with a plan for solving it. If it’s a fairly mundane or familiar problem, your first solution will probably work when you implement it. If it’s a more complex problem, it will take longer and be more difficult to solve. The thing we have to remember is that problem solving is a repeated, iterative, and continuous process leading to continual improvement.

 

There’s always an urge to give up and say, “I can’t do it. This problem is too hard.” I won’t say that’s never true, but it’s very rarely true.

 

Why does it happen then? This comes back to what I was saying about how much we hate facing anything unpleasant. Failure hurts. It’s discouraging. It makes us question whether we’re ever going to solve the problem we’re out to solve. But if you try you’re going to fail, at least sometimes, and a lot of us get into the habit of not trying instead of risking the pain of failure.

 

If you’re going to win in life, you have to embrace the fact that it’s going to be painful sometimes. You’re going to fail sometimes. You’re not going to like that, not one little bit.

 

But when you fail, you’re going to get up and try it again. Because you know your goal is worth reaching.

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Procrastination: Turn Around and Face It

 

Procrastination. If there’s one problem in the world that’s harder to get rid of, I don’t know what it is. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of having some huge task hanging over your head, is there? But what do we do?

 

We let ourselves get distracted. We work on something easier, “because it’s really just as important.” We end up reorganizing our desks for the third time this week.

 

Now, I don’t want to make you feel bad here. Everybody procrastinates sometimes. It’s a pretty common failing. But the thing about procrastination is that it sneaks up on you.

 

What do I mean by that? I just mean that you never deliberately set out to procrastinate. It’s always that something distracts you. Maybe it’s a YouTube video that’s just too good to pass up, or maybe it’s that you need to check and see if any of your friends have posted anything life-changing on Facebook in the last five minutes.

 

That’s the real problem with procrastination: it happens when we allow things in the world around us to distract us from what we know we should really be doing. When we procrastinate, there’s always a little piece of us that’s okay with that. Sure, maybe avoiding work right now might come back and bite you in the future, but hey, that’s the future, right? So we smooth it away and allow ourselves to take it easy, “just this once.”

 

Somebody once described drinking alcohol as “borrowing happiness from tomorrow.” That’s pretty much what we’re doing when we procrastinate. In the moment, it’s great. You get to look at cat pictures and sharpen all your pencils so they’re exactly the same length (which is just so satisfying, isn’t it?).

 

But after you’ve wasted an hour, or two hours, or a whole week procrastinating, it’s as if all the unpleasantness you’ve been avoiding suddenly falls on your head. You realize it’s noon and you haven’t even started on everything you were supposed to do today. You realize it’s the last week of the month and you’re not even halfway done with your goals for the month. In short, you’ve procrastinated to the point that you’ve created a crisis for yourself, and you don’t know how to get through it.

 

Of course, now is the time that you might be saying, “Well, I do my best work under pressure, so it’s not really procrastinating. It’s just the way I get my best results.”

 

And maybe you’re right about that. But I think most of us get our best results and feel our best when we take care of what we need to take care of now and enjoy ourselves later.

 

When we procrastinate, we form the habit of avoiding anything painful or unpleasant. That’s understandable, isn’t it? Painful things are painful and unpleasant things are unpleasant. In a perfect world, neither one of them would exist. But this isn’t a perfect world. In fact, it’s a world where painful and unpleasant things generally get worse the longer we leave them to fester.

 

So the cure for procrastination is to break the habit of hiding unpleasant things from ourselves. I know it’s no fun to hear it, but that’s what procrastination really is: it’s a habit of turning away from anything painful and unpleasant.

 

If you’re going to break the procrastination habit, you’ve got to build up your ability to tolerate discomfort and unpleasantness. At the heart of the procrastination habit there lies this senseless demand that the universe should be absolutely good, absolutely fair, and absolutely free of pain. In procrastination, there’s an unspoken demand that living in the world really ought to be constant absolute enjoyment all the time. It’s utopian at its core.

 

But—as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve got a pair of eyes and a working central nervous system—this world is very far from perfect. If our society had the good of its children at heart, it would teach them from day one that life is suffering.

 

Go at life with the attitude that it’s fundamentally suffering and something paradoxical happens: you don’t suffer as much. And I’m not talking in the trivial sense of the old joke that says you should be a pessimist because you won’t be disappointed that way.

 

I’m saying that if you train yourself to believe that life is fundamentally suffering, you won’t be surprised by suffering. You’ll expect it, and you’ll be ready and willing to face it when it comes. But more importantly, you’ll be able to willingly put yourself through unpleasant situations.

 

Procrastination is based on a fundamentally wrong premise: it assumes that suffering is bad and ought to be avoided at all costs. The fact is, suffering is an unfortunate necessity. In the end, it’s a choice between willingly taking your medicine and having it shoved down your throat. The basic truth remains: you’re going to swallow the bitter pill. Remember: the suffering you undergo willingly is always less than the suffering that’s imposed on you.

 

Choose it.

 

I hope this shows you how much is at stake when you choose to procrastinate. The only thing that can end procrastination is the conscious awareness of what’s at stake. It takes constant vigilance and constant effort to overcome procrastination, but it’s worth it in the end.

 

It’s worth it because you grow stronger day by day. It’s worth it because you learn to see yourself and the world around you with more freedom and honesty. It’s worth it because when you take care of your business, you can live with the clear conscience that comes from not having a ton of tasks hanging over you.

 

Breaking the procrastination habit isn’t something that happens all at once, and it isn’t something you’re ever entirely finished with. You always have to watch out for potential sources of slovenliness and procrastination. The unpleasant things you force yourself to face are never going to become pleasant. But with effort and discipline, you’ll be able to face them day by day.

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Monday Motivation: How You Can Break the Slump

 

It happens to the best of us: the dreaded slump. You can’t even say why, but you just feel yourself slipping.

 

You’re not getting as much done as you usually do. You’re not as enthusiastic as you usually are. You find yourself spending way too much time wondering How can I get myself working like I usually do?

 

Of course, everybody knows how you get out of a slump: you snap out of it. You just get yourself going and pretty soon you’re making progress like you’ve always done. That’s easy enough, right?

 

I mean, if you’re not working very well, what could be easier than sitting yourself down and doing better work? That should be simple enough, shouldn’t it? If you’re running into problems, you’d think that going straight at them would be the way to fix it. But it’s a little more complicated than that, and I’ll tell you why.

 

The word slump is a term from baseball. When a player hasn’t gotten a hit for a long time, they say he’s in a batting slump. Why don’t we take a look at the way a hitting slump feels, and that way we can figure out how you can get out of your slump?

 

So how does a slump start? You have a bad game. Maybe you strike out a couple of times. Sure, you feel a little down because you didn’t do so hot today, but it doesn’t really mean anything. You’ll get them tomorrow and more than make up for it.

 

Most of the time that’s the end of the story. But sometimes you have another bad game the next day. You strike out, you ground out, and you make an error that gives the game to the other team.

 

So what now? If it happens once it’s a fluke. But if it happens twice, it’s starting to become a trend. It’s not quite a slump yet, but it’s getting there.

 

By the third day, you’re starting to wonder. This is when we start getting into slump territory. Because it’s times like these that your mind starts playing tricks on you.

 

You start wondering if maybe you’re starting to slip. What if this is all part of a long downward spiral into failure and nothingness?

 

You’re a little on edge when you step up to bat. You’re already wondering if you’re hitting a slump, and you can see it in your teammates’ eyes that they’re wondering too. You’re feeling tense. You’re feeling so tense that when you go up to bat you keep trying to relax. And the more you try to relax, the tenser you get.

 

A slump happens when a little bad performance gets blown out of proportion. Your mind takes one or two failures, and from that data it extrapolates that you are a failure and you’ll always be one. So a slump is really a negative thought-loop where your expectation of failure and your anxiety over your performance ends up causing you to fail.

 

So the fact is: a slump isn’t something that’s objectively out there in the world. You can’t point to it, and you can’t isolate it. It’s created in the pattern of your thoughts. In the end, a slump is only your mind deciding to make too big a deal out of a few bad at-bats.

 

Now what does all this mean? It means that if you’ve involuntarily created this slump with your thoughts, you can also end the slump with your thoughts. And how do you change your thoughts?

 

Well, there are any number of ways to do it. You can try affirmations, for one. I know they’re not for everybody (they’re a little too woo-woo for some), but if you practice them in the right way, they can get results over time. They’re good if you want to avoid slumps, but they’re not the best for getting out of a slump now.

 

What do you do to break a slump that’s going on right now? You change your thoughts. But how do you change your thoughts?

 

I know this might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to change your thoughts is to change your habits. The best way I’ve found to end a slump is to experiment with my daily routines until I find an arrangement that gets me into the right mental state. It’s like there’s something in my mind that’s out of alignment, so I have to keep experimenting with my routines until something clicks and I’m ready to go.

 

There’s an incredible amount of feedback between what we think and what we do, and between what we do and what we think. So even though it might sound counterintuitive, sometimes the best way to change the one is to experiment with changing the other. We’re continually caught up in a feedback loop between our mind and the world around us, and the trick is to set things up so that feedback loop grows in a positive way instead of a negative way.

 

Success breeds success, just like failure breeds failure. So when you’re in the middle of a slump, it’s easy to slip into this thought-habit of thinking, “Oh no, this is the end!” But If you can keep your mind from slipping into failure-mode, you can reverse the process and start making progress before it does too much damage.

 

The thing you need to take away from all this is that the mind creates its own successes and failures. You have the power to change the course of your thoughts, and you can overcome the mental blocks that hold you back.

 

Because progress is about vision, and vision is about seeing yourself succeeding. If you want to get out of this slump, you have to believe you can get out of it. As soon as you know you can get out of your slump, you’re already out of it.

 

So use your vision, use your action, and use your mind to get out of your slump. Get your mind in the right place, and reality will catch up.

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How to Motivate Yourself When Existence is Pain

 

Let me put this as delicately as I can: if you’re trying to motivate yourself, you’re working on the wrong problem!

 

Now why do I say that?

 

Put it this way: if you’re worrying about how to motivate yourself, you’ve already admitted you’re unmotivated. And what do you do when you’re unmotivated? You waffle around and find distractions that keep you from working on the real problem.

 

That’s all this motivation talk boils down to: it’s another distraction.

 

Am I saying it’s a waste of time to write down your goals? No, of course not.

 

Am I saying you shouldn’t envision what it’s going to be like once you’ve reached your goals? Not at all.

 

Am I saying you should just give up when you hit those moments where you just want to drop to the ground and groan, “It’s too much, I’ll never make it!”? Nope.

 

I’m saying that if you get into the habit of looking for motivation, you’re using your motivational material in an unmotivating way. This happens all the time. We’re human beings, right? We form habits.

 

But if you make a habit out of hunting for motivation, you’re using it in the wrong way. You’re using the motivational information as a crutch when you should really be internalizing the advice you’re receiving.

 

If that sounds like you, you might have a real problem on your hands.

 

So what do you do to get over the hump?

 

First off, you’ve got to look into why you’re feeling so unmotivated in the first place. Are you bored? Do you have doubts that you can reach your goal? Are there some serious problems you’re trying to avoid?

 

Now, a lot of people won’t want to dig into these questions because they’ve got a feeling that if they think too deeply about them they’ll have to make a change. If you’re like me, you hate change more than anything else in the world and you seriously wish things would just stop happening.

 

Everything. Absolutely everything. Everything should stop happening.

 

But until the world ends we’re unfortunately going to have to deal with the fact that things change. That means learning to fit into the universe and change with the change that’s already going on.

 

If that sounds at all woo-woo or vague, I promise it’s not. No matter how woo-woo it sounds, when you cash those words out into actual everyday practice you’re not talking about anything exotic. Because mostly it means turning away from the motivation problem and applying all that energy to solving the problem you’re facing.

 

Because at bottom, all this “motivation” stuff is just another way for you to act like you’re making meaningful progress on a real problem, when what you’re really doing is distracting yourself.

 

I’m going to say something now. It’s something you’re probably not going to like hearing, but if you’re here you probably need to hear it: motivation is almost never the problem.

 

The problem is that you’ve got a real problem you’re trying to avoid. You’ve got a real problem festering somewhere in the back of your mind, and there’s something about it you’re trying to avoid. There’s some aspect of this problem that you’ve built up in your mind to the point where it feels like the SUPREME AND ULTIMATE EVIL OF THE UNIVERSE.

 

You don’t have a motivation problem. You’ve got an avoidance problem.

 

And guess what? I don’t blame you.

 

Maybe you’re afraid you’ll seem pushy and obnoxious. Maybe you’re afraid the whole world will discover what a horrible faker you are. Maybe you’re afraid some minor weakness in your character will suddenly grow into a black hole that will suck you in and rip your bones apart while everyone you’ve ever known laughs at you, loudly and clearly.

 

Whatever it is, you’ve got a real fear. And even though that fear is different for each and every one of us, we’d all rather peel our own skin off with a rusty saw than face that awful, awful fear.

 

So I want you to take a pen and paper, and I want you to write that fear down. What’s the thing that absolutely terrifies you?

 

Seriously, I want you to write it down. Write it down like “I am afraid of ____,” or “I am afraid that ____.”

 

If it makes you feel any better, here’s my fear: I’m am absolutely terrified every time I reach out to contact potential prospects, because I’m afraid they’ll say no, and if they say no that means I’m a failure and I’ll always be a failure and that means I’m a waste of time and energy that’s only polluting the gene pool.

 

It’s an irrational fear, and it’s an excessive fear. But just try telling me that when I go to talk to prospects! We’re talking sweating buckets and thoughts of jumping in front of the next bus. It’s an irrational fear, but it’s real!

 

But here’s the thing: identifying the fear is the first step toward overcoming it. So that’s why I say you need to get out a pen and paper and write the thing down. (Come on, I told you mine. That means you have to tell me yours!)

 

When you write down that fear, you externalize it. You make it something other than yourself. Because as long as you leave the fear vague and sort of amorphous, you can’t look at it. Once you write it down, you’ve pinned it down and you can come up with strategies for getting through the fear.

 

Because that’s what kills you with the fear: not facing it. Facing your fear means identifying it and finding ways to overcome it.

 

There’s nothing shameful about being afraid. The shameful thing is when you hide your fear away so you don’t have to face it and overcome it. I know it’s an old cliché, but it’s true: being brave doesn’t mean never feeling afraid. It means refusing to allow your fear to stop you.

 

So: what are you afraid of? Write it down, and let me know what it is if you want!

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Why You Shouldn’t Blow Your Brains Out

 

Motivation is a problem for all of us.

 

Now, I’m not saying you’re one of those who wakes up every morning with a groan and a crushing feeling of disappointment that you didn’t die in your sleep. I’m not even saying I’m one of those people.

 

You may not force yourself through a set of physical exercises that really feel like a perverse kind of self-torture. Heck, maybe you don’t even get so angry when you’re exercising that you’d like to get your hands on the person nearest you, rip their head off, and spit down their neck.

 

It’s very possible you work a job that doesn’t make you want to stick a fork in the electrical outlet.

 

So if you happen to be one of those intolerable “well-adjusted human beings,” kindly do us all a favor and swallow a revolver.

 

For the rest of us, I’m going to try to dig through a few reasons why you might want to consider going on living. Now trust me, I’m not going to say life’s all sunshine and rainbows. I’m not even going to try to convince you that life’s not a nightmare. All I’m saying is that you should see your particular nightmare through to the end.

 

So here you go: four good reasons to go on living.

 

  1. Climate Change is Probably Real

Now, I know what you’re thinking: if climate change is real, doesn’t that mean you might as well hook your water hose up to your tailpipe and start gulping down the carbon monoxide?

 

Heck no. We live in the very best time to be alive: the last time to be alive. If you’re young and relatively healthy, you’ve got good odds of being alive for the end of the world.

 

Think about that, why don’t you? You’ve got a decent chance of seeing the whole world go to waste. You might even witness the greatest mass extinction in the history of the earth!

 

Now believe me, believe me, I see the downside here: living till the end of the world means taking care of yourself and keeping good enough relations with the neighbors that they don’t decide to murder you between now and then. It’s a tall order, I know.

 

But think about it: isn’t it worth it to see the last days of the human race? Isn’t it worth it to see everyone you’ve ever known and loved perish miserably? Isn’t it worth it to see everything you’ve worked and toiled a lifetime for fade into nothingness, as if it had never existed?

 

Now, just hold that thought close to your heart and it should keep your spirits up.

 

  1. If You’re Dead, You Can’t Make Life Unpleasant for Others

“Good and well for all those youngsters who might live that long,” you think, “but what about old farts like me?”

 

Well, here’s what I’ve noticed about life: the greatest joy in life is the joy of being able to make things unpleasant for others. Raise their taxes. Make them fill out complicated forms. Tell them they have to work late—because if they don’t do it they’ll lose their home and their families will starve!

 

Now, I don’t want to prejudge anything here, but if you’re an old fart who’s about to kick the bucket, odds are you’ve got the power to make things really awful for at least a few people out there.

 

There’s no joy in life to compare with the joy of plotting revenge against people who have wronged you. But if you can’t get revenge on them, there’s always the (slightly lesser) joy of plotting revenge against people who have never bothered you in the slightest.

 

Cut somebody off in traffic. Make your waitress work really hard for that 50 cent tip you’re going to leave her. Become a magazine editor.

 

So as you’re sobbing to yourself at night and wondering why nobody loves you, remember there’s no need to buy a packet of rat poison to put in your milkshake. You can just outsource the pain of your existence onto people weak enough to let you do it.

 

And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

 

  1. Physical Pleasure is Pretty Nice

Now, this is a complicated one. Pleasure is nice. Pleasure is really nice.

 

But—and this is probably the single most infuriating thing in the whole mess we call human life—pleasure has this nasty habit of being addictive.

 

It’s not enough to eat one lollipop. You have to have two.

 

It’s not enough to get pleasantly buzzed every once in a while. You’ve got to go on a raving bender for a month every time you so much as think about alcohol.

 

It’s not enough to murder one prostitute in a back-alley and turn her into whoreburgers. You’ve got to go whole hog Jack the Ripper and start experimenting till you get your recipe just right.

 

You know how it is. You start enjoying something, and pretty soon it gets to the point where you have to enjoy it all the time. It starts to get physically painful not to have it. But if you can live responsibly and enjoy your pleasures moderately, you can have a pretty good life.

 

Of course the downside of that is that you have to exercise responsibility and moderation. So it’s not all roses. But if you can manage that, you can have a pretty good, fulfilling life where you have to exercise self-restraint and experience stress all the time.

 

And that’s the best you can hope for in this life. So it’s well worth living!

 

  1. Let’s Be Honest: You’re too Scared to do Yourself In

This is the clincher. I mean, if I haven’t sold you on the whole “Let’s not take a Solo cup full of sleeping pills” idea by now… well, this should pretty well win you over.

 

Let’s be honest: life is pretty rough. You have to wake up early, you have to put up with stuff you don’t like, and you have to die.

 

No matter what else you can say, you’ve got to agree: you made a mistake when you went and got yourself born. But you’re in for the duration now, and you might as well make the best of it.

 

That’s not the real reason, though. The real reason is that everybody wants to be dead, but nobody wants to die.

 

Being dead—God, that must be wonderful. Talk about stress-free! You don’t have to worry about anything when you’re dead. You don’t even have to pay taxes anymore. It’s like going to sleep with an alarm clock that never goes off.

 

But dying. Dying!?! That sounds like pretty rough stuff, hombre. What if it hurts? What if it takes a long time? What if it turns out there really is a God and you end up burning for all eternity?

 

Yikes. Maybe it’s not so bad to stick around and put up with what’s going on here…

 

It’s creepy stuff, this whole “dying” thing. So best you avoid it. Best you and me both avoid it!

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