It’s human nature to believe we’re just one small change away from greatness. If only we could do this or do that – everything would be perfect. Our wants, wishes, dreams and desires mix with our regrets, our pain and our envy to create the perfect illusion of a puzzle we must solve before we can continue on our quest.
It’s all lies. Here’s why;
A couple of months ago I wrote an article called ‘The Little Things’ in which I discussed how we are always looking at what we lack rather than what we have.
The powerful CEO who works 80 hour weeks and earns 6 figures a year is jealous of the 9-5 guy who takes home minimum wage and is free every evening to hang out with his friends and family. Likewise, the 9-5 guy wishes he could escape his bland career and earn a shed load of cash, even if it means longer hours and less time at home.
Who is right? Which person has the better lifestyle? What would happen if they swapped places?
Both, neither, the truth is they would find something else to moan about. That’s the way it is. Nothing is ever exactly how we want it. We need to tweak and fiddle around with everything because we’re led to believe our lives would improve, if only… something… was different.
Do you feel like you could do with a bit of good fortune?
Do you always focus on things you can’t immediately change?
Do you moan that certain tasks are too difficult?
Do you hold back in life because you never seem to have any money?
These problems are all in your head. They’re imaginary. They don’t exist.
Let’s look at them in more detail…
1. Why do I get all the bad luck?
Have you heard of confirmation bias? It’s when a person seeks information and interprets the data to confirm their existing beliefs. They will ignore all alternative points of view in favour of focusing on one possibility – however compelling the evidence to the contrary.
You only have to glance at the deeply religious to see this in action. Several billion people roam this earth believing in the little snippets of their chosen faith which seemingly align with their ideals. Everything else is irrelevant.
Unfortunately, a small percentage of these people take confirmation bias to the extreme and their fanatical desire to support their own pain and anguish breed terrorism and the hatred of all those who dare oppose their warped ideology.
Yet, confirmation bias affects us all. Its power is overwhelming.
The jealous husband will look for anything which supports the belief his wife is having an affair. Every business trip becomes a sordid rendezvous with a mysterious foe. Her decision to wear a figure hugging outfit is nothing but an animalistic ‘come hither’ sign of sexual availability and presentation. He ignores the thousand and one signs of love and affection in favour of the few insidious theories which satisfy his insatiable hunger for proof. He’s creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.
One day, his wish may come true.
You might not be taking things this far – but your tales of woe are damaging you in much the same way. Life is random. Nobody is out to get you. In fact, you’re sharing every negative experience with the rest of the world – we’re all in this together. Don’t make it into something unique, because, and please don’t take this the wrong way, you’re really not that special.
Your ‘bad luck’ is merely a one off situational occurrence.
It’s already in the past.
2. This is too hard… I want to quit
Think about this…
As a child you learnt how to recite the alphabet. It seems simple enough, but if you’re a native English speaker you managed to recognise 26 random shapes, assign them a name and this is the mental part – you could reel them off in a specific order.
By the way, why do they have to be in that particular order?
Nothing is too difficult. Your brain is an amazing piece of mushy brilliance. It can learn anything, with ease. It is capable of mastering several new languages. It can solve complex mathematical equations and theorems. It can create stunning works of literary genius, compose beautiful melodies and sculpt amazing pieces of art.
All you have to do is feed your brain the correct information, in the right amounts, and it will do the rest.
The beauty of learning is that you don’t even have to think about it. People spend far too much time and effort on memorising pieces of information when the quickest approach is to forget about it – literally. The brain learns through repetition, not brute forcing it by cramming everything in there.
Robert Bjork, director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab believes in ‘interleaving’ – the act of dividing your study/practice session equally among different, yet related areas. For example; say you’re preparing for three exams and the subjects are – English, History and Geography. Six weeks out from the exam you might intuitively believe the best approach is to spend the first two weeks with English, then once you’re happy with it – moving on to History for two weeks, and then ending with Geography, followed by a quick revision covering all three subjects before exam week.
The problem is you will be rusty with your English, and probably forgotten a lot of your History facts too. At the time – you focused on just one subject, so you tricked your brain into thinking it knew everything… but this was just rote memorising. This isn’t learning. Cramming works for short period, but this information isn’t passed on to your long term memory.
The best approach is to interleave all three subjects together – dividing each study session equally between English, History and Geography. The initial confidence isn’t there because it will take longer to become comfortable with each subject when studying three at the same time – but overall, your knowledge will grow with each passing day and by the time of the exams, your knowledge of each subject will be right where you need it to be.
This approach works with anything from learning a musical instrument to improving your tennis skills and even how you train in the gym. Don’t try and master one little thing at a time. Spread your focus among several different, yet related components and the skills you pick up will aid your development in the other areas. Science says so.
Besides, you have no right to be angry, frustrated or upset when learning a new skill.
You haven’t learnt it yet. What did you think was going to happen?
3. If only I had more money…
In a 2010 study; Researchers at Vanderbilt University, in collaboration with the universities of Kentucky and Pittsburgh, examined data from 35,000 winners of Florida’s Fantasy 5 lottery from 1993 to 2002 and discovered that mid-level winners (under $150,000) were 50% more likely to file for bankruptcy within three to five years in comparison to low winners (less than $10,000). In other words, the impact of this sudden influx of cash had little positive effect on the long term finances of the recipients.
The reason for this is simple; money does not create happiness. It cannot change who you are. It will not cure depression, improve your relationships or give a shit when you’re on your deathbed. It’s merely a digital representation of the various decisions you have made in your life up to and including the present moment.
By itself it’s completely worthless. We think of money as the goal – but it’s just a tool. Giving a random person their lottery winnings is no different than allowing a Chimpanzee the use of a chainsaw. Without the skill, knowledge or intelligence of know how to use it – shit’s gonna get messy.
That’s if it hasn’t already been flung at the walls.
What would you do if you were a millionaire for a day? Let’s pretend you wake up tomorrow morning to find out some rather nice chap has credited your account with one million dollars (or pounds/euros, whatever) and you only have 24 hours to play with your newly discovered wealth. What would you do with it? How would you spend it?
If you can’t come up with a genuine way to enhance your current life within 5 seconds, you probably don’t want, or need a substantial amount of money. I would even go as far to say the vast majority of the situations or experiences you turn down by using this excuse can either be done on a budget or with a little saving and patience.
Or by using a little common sense…
I recently read an article featuring photos of a female celebrity flaunting her figure during a photo shoot. I say ‘reading’…
Anyway – the comments section was full to the brim with angry women and their reasoning as to why this celebrity looked great and they didn’t.
“Oh she only looks good because she has a rich husband”.
“If I had her money I would look like that”.
“It’s so easy for her to be slim. She probably has her own nutritionist and personal chef”.
My only thoughts were…
Not shoving cake in your mouth is completely free.
4. What if…?
What if I do something wrong?
What if I choose the wrong option?
These are just figments of your imagination – possibly more so than anything else on this list. You’re trying to see into a future of your own creation and bizarrely, it’s been set up to include every worst case scenario in existence.
If you’re going to play with your crystal balls then you should do so with a smile on your face. The only people who have to deal with the immediate aftermath of their decisions are bomb disposal experts – and those mentalists are mental. So why are you being such a drama queen over something which, in all probability, won’t result in the loudest explosion this side of a Phaal curry?
There are only two things I waste my time worrying about; if this runny nose is the onset of Ebola and how close we are to the nearest black hole – and no, I don’t mean Stoke-on-Trent. But even this is pointless. Worrying about stuff that is out of our control is a waste of time and energy.
How many times have you wondered ‘what if’ up until this point? You’re still here – alive and well. Nothing catastrophic has happened, and even it has – right now, in this very moment, you look alright to me.
The truth is – people fuck up every day. It’s called being human. We all do it. You’ll do something this week you’ll probably regret. So what? You can spend hours pondering the potential fallout of your actions but life is too chaotic and random to predict. In a million parallel universes with a million different versions of you – every decision you’ve ever made has formed a new and unique path towards the unknown.
What if you do nothing?
What if you choose the other option?
Fuck it. The outcome is the same regardless.
How to fix your imaginary problem in 3 simple steps
Solving an imaginary problem doesn’t require any special skills or abilities. You don’t need an instruction manual or someone on the internet to show you the way forward. You don’t need a guru, a life coach or anything else which will strip you of your hard earned cash (see number 3).
No, it’s easier than that.
All you need is to follow these 3 simple steps and a weight will magically lift from your shoulders.
- Think about your imaginary problem (or problems). Go and do that now.
- Repeat after me – ‘this problem is imaginary and I’m being an idiot’.
- Slap yourself in the face.
There you go.
When was the last time you faced (and solved) an imaginary problem?
What made you realise it was all in your head?
Please share in the comments below!
I spend 4 years in psych grad school, studying to be a therapist. Never once did we talk about what a problem was.
A few years later, I went to grad school for public policy. In one of my first classes, the professor asked us what a problem is. After a bit of discussion he gave us his definition: “A problem is whatever you decide it is”.
Definitely an eye-opening experience….
Ed Herzog recently posted..Five Simple Communication Strategies For Improving Your Relationships
Hi Ed, that’s really interesting. You would think that’s the first place a psych school would start.. the root of the problem.
Thanks again for a little perspective, cause that’s what it’s all about right 😉
Lots to think about & re-remember.
You’re welcome, Amy. Thanks.
Today is the first and last day I will write ‘LOL’ in a comment online. I literally LOL’d reading this. Thanks Jamie !
Razwana Wahid recently posted..Professional or amateur: You decide
If I ever see that acronym (is that an acronym?) spill from your fingers onto another comment – or even the internet in general.. I will mock you greatly. You’ve been warned! 😉
I like your suggested solution man! Haha.
Jeremy recently posted..Eternity ~Memories Of Light And Waves~ (Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collections)
Jeremy, I hope you tried it? 🙂
thank you-! your imaginary problem piece popped into my life at just the right time, as does most of your writing~ Just before reading yours I picked up an article “Recognizing Self Neglect Among the Elderly” badly written except for the hot line #’s- I have heard the word Neglect and abuse enough, but never with the “SELF” Neglect but I recognized the issues in myself, just from the title, as someone who has been planning to eat better, exercise, change jobs, get a savings account, work on my hobbies, update my wardrobe, learn a new language – and who is in healthcare spending all my time taking care of “them”- any way I wish you had written the article- and I wish I understood ? believed admitting my problems are imaginary, and the ground hog day cycles of fixing a problem to have it return to nip at my butt are an illusion, keeping a roof over my head and gas in the tank would be easy if I just decided it wasn’t a problem…. since I also got two seperate lectures today to stop being so nice / being the victim – (one from my doctor about my high blood pressure is because I am nice, here take these pills) – I will use my “mushy brain brilliance” to refocus !!! thanks!!!! I enjoyed your talent!!
Hey Lynda – it sounds like you realise what you want out of life, and that’s half the journey. Remember, many problems don’t even need to be fixed, because they don’t exist. An imaginary problem is simply nothing. Go and do all of those things you want. There’s no reason why you can’t do something today! Keep going.
As usual, your post is funny, insightful, and helpful. The negative perception of situations can stop you dead in your tracks of pursuing your goals. The difference between people who achieve their goals and those that don’t is that they get to work on them rather than viewing all of the reasons that they can’t do something. Instead of worrying, get to work as you said in your No. 1. Great advice! REdditted and shared on social media for you.
Sebastian Aiden Daniels recently posted..Become A Better Listener By Using The 7 Levels Of Validation
Hey, your explanation of the difference between achievers and ditherers is spot on. Thanks again for the shares (and the flattering praise, of course.
This is all great advice Jamie. I’m definitely a solution focused practitioner. You don’t have to look at the problem to find the solution. The ‘What if…” and ‘Why do I always get the bad luck is just a way of looking at things. It’s just as easy to say ‘when’ and ‘look at all my good luck’.
Kellie recently posted..HELPING CHILDREN WITH BEREAVEMENT AND LOSS
Hey Kellie – re framing a situation is a powerful habit to have. Most problems have a flip side which many people fail to notice (or even want to believe).
I did it. My cheek hurts. Now what?
Ludvig sunström recently posted..Think Like an Investor: Avoid Mistakes (and why you should play the loser’s game)
Now you are problem free with a sore cheek!
Although the moral of the story is – Next time don’t hit yourself so hard.. 😉
If you remove your imaginary problems you’ve removed your excuses for not doing stuff. It’s much easier to blame your metabolism or some such nonsense for being overweight rather than your overladden plate at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Not everyone wants to take control and stop being a victim. The imaginary problem is a prop for some.
But if you do want to live in the real world then the rewards and opportunities are there. Thanks for the encouragement to do so.
Peter Ewin Hall recently posted..New adventures in creativity
Hi Peter, that’s a good point. Excuses usually stem from problems of our own creation. Thanks for the insight.
I love this!
I was just speaking to a friend about this. These ‘problems’ are really just excuses. Stop with the ‘woe is me’ attitude, cancel your pity party and move on.
Great article, true to the last word.
I love number 3 about money, especially the part about those women making excuses for how good they look. As you said, money is a tool. And just like any tool it’s useless without having the knowledge to use it.
Theo recently posted..How Small Actions Can Make A Big Difference
Loving the 3 step advice. I have to admit I find myself having to take myself to one side and administer the mental slap a bit too often for my liking. I can well relate to point #4 in particular. I like the kid example too though. I was reminded recently of something obvious but, in its way, kinda profound – i.e. the fact that by the age of 3 we’ve managed to learn one of the most difficult languages on the planet. A task that we’d now consider ‘too hard’ is something the vast majority of us already have on our resume and overlook. More potential in the old grey matter than we often give it, or ourselves, credit for.
Micah recently posted..Why Humility is a Bigger Deal Than You Think
Thanks Micah. It’s funny how people view English. It’s a language which is relatively easy to pick up but incredibly challenging to master – and we pretty much did it while we were kids.