Since I started thinking this way, my life improved dramatically. If you learn how to think this way, your life will improve dramatically, too.
First, let me talk about what this way of thinking helps you fix.
Regardless of whether or not I know you, I can probably guess a few things about you.
You get frustrated sometimes when people don’t behave or think the way you want them to.
Sometimes life seems unfair. This doesn’t mean you’re a pessimist. Sometimes certain situations make you ask yourself, “Why is this happening to me?”
You feel a little overstimulated sometimes. Especially now in times where you see much more negativity than positivity.
You sometimes feel like you’re running on a hamster wheel in your life.
You’re not totally down and out by any means, but you seem to be living in this repeating loop — your days are the same, your weeks and months, even years all blend together. And it seems like your life will always be this way.
Every once in a while, you have a glimmer of hope that you’ll get this jolt of motivation to transform your life, maybe you even try to start this new “life path” thingy, but inevitably, you slip up.
Back on the treadmill of life.
Does this all sound about right so far, more or less?
Before I dive into the solution…
Deeply think about how your life will turn out in the next five, ten, hell 30 years if you keep thinking and operating the same way.
Are you on the path to purpose and freedom or total stagnation?
If you feel it might be the latter, I have one of the few solutions that might actually work — the one that worked for me.
The Power of Pragmatism
So what’s the trick I used to change the way I think forever and dramatically improve my life?
It’s simple yet devastatingly effective. In one sense delusional, but in the sense that matters, pragmatic.
I ask myself if the way I think, my belief systems, and my behaviors are useful.
Here’s a quick way to think about this. Let’s say you really do find yourself in dire straits. And let’s also say for some reason you know you have a one percent chance of solving the problem. If you don’t solve the problem, you’ll be hurting bad, permanently. But if you fix it, you can make a brand new life.
Even though your odds are horrible, is it useful to think about how horrible they are?
If your back is against the wall, is it useful to give up and make failure certain? Or is it, albeit far from ideal, more useful to focus on your one percent chance of success?
I look at many ways people think and behave — complaining, outrage, negativity, laziness, nihilism, etc. I used to make moral judgments of these items.
Now? I don’t think here nor there about them a moral perspective. They’re just useless. All downside and no upside.
If you think the sky is falling, it will fall on you. If you think the game is rigged against you and there’s no hope for success…there’s no hope for success.
I’d rather be delusional with low odds than accurate with the certainty of failure. Get where I’m coming from?
Yet people make the useless choice, often, most of the time actually, why?
Why Humans Are So Weird and Counterproductive
I take that back. The feelings above aren’t useless.
Being negative, outraged, jaded, helpless, etc, are useful in a sense, but a very very very weak one.
How are they useful?
They give you somewhere to hide.
Somehow self-sabotage beats out trying and failing by a wide margin.
It’s so weird, though.
Why would you sabotage yourself?
Why would you live well below your potential? Shouldn’t you do everything in your power for yourself? We are talking about you after all.
That’s the weirdest things about humans. We’re super self-centered yet we underserve ourselves. Like, a lot. Makes no sense when you look at it logically.
But human beings don’t use logic all that often, unfortunately. They use emotions.
Imagine someone who’s architected this elaborate narrative for why their life sucks. They have many, many, many good and accurate reasons for their own failures. They’re justifiable, too. If they were to list off all the reasons they’re screwed you’d be like, “Yeah…I see what you mean”
And the thing is, deep deep deep down they know they’re full of it. So do you. There’s that glimmer of the real you in there like in movies where someone gets possessed but their family members are like:
“Johnny, I know you’re still in there! Johnny, please…if you can hear this right now, please come back. *Sobs uncontrollably* Johnny! Johhhhhnnnnny!!!!!!!”
But the demon possessor, your ego, can turn you into “the host” permanently. I see this all the time and it makes me really sad.
Here’s the truth most self-help writers won’t tell you.
Many people won’t be saved.
Many people have such a warped image of reality that they can’t be saved.
But what about you? You’re reading a self-improvement blog post so you probably have a shot.
Granted, it’s a slim one. But remember the anecdote I used to start this post with. What’s the useful way to think?
If the concept hasn’t hit home, let’s run through a list of common traps people fall into when they fail to think in a useful way.
Is it useful to ignore human nature?
Is it useful to make moral judgments of the way you think other human beings should be?
People try and it doesn’t work. You can’t eliminate human self-interest, vanity, reciprocity, social-proof, stereotyping, envy, people who simply can’t help being idiots, malice, or people who hurt you unintentionally.
An example from my own life to illustrate this. People often say they don’t want to read click-bait…but if I don’t take time crafting a catchy headline people won’t click and read my articles.
This extends to another useful idea, never (strictly) focus on what people say, watch what they do.
Scott Adams once talked about something called “the moist robot hypothesis.” He basically said that we don’t have free-will and we respond to certain stimuli on a deep subconscious level. More or less, he’s right.
Copywriters and markets have known this for forever. People have subconscious levers that can be pulled without their permission. This happens all the time. If you know this, you can use persuasion for good and also avoid being manipulated as often.
In many ways, it’s not useful to act like you or anyone else has total free will, e.g., throw the cookies away if you want to lose weight, as Marcus Aurelius says (paraphrasing) “If someone believes x or y, why be surprised when they do x or y,” put people on pedestals or make unnecessary moral judgments.
People who don’t learn to accept, in a sense, the way things are, will experience a lifetime of surprises, mostly negative.
Do the Opposite of What I Just Said
At the same time, it’s useful to act as if free will does exist.
What the heck?
See, the way you use your beliefs should depend on the context.
On the one hand, in a situation where you know your environment will trump your free will, act like you have none. When dealing with other people, act like they have none.
On the other hand, even if circumstantial forces are getting in the way of your success, it’s more useful to pretend they aren’t.
Often, I straight up say that some people are royally screwed when it comes to their circumstances. If you’re born into poverty, odds are you’ll stay there. If you come from a broken home, you’re worse off than if you came from a stable one.
There are many ills of society that affect people in a totally unfair way. Still, is it useful for them to think they’re destined for failure? That they can’t exert any will over their situation.
Take rags to riches stories like Oprah or Chris Gardner who the movie The Pursuit of Happiness is based on. Statistically, their stories are anomalies. Still, it was useful for them to think escaping the trap of poverty was possible.
This is all about each individual. This is about you. If the rule is failure, it’s useful to think of yourself as the exception. Not because you’re right, but because it’s basically your only chance to live a good life. And it is your life, after all.
I don’t know of any cures to the collective. Smarter people than me are (rightfully) working on that. In the meantime, though, each individual has a choice about the way they think, regardless of circumstance.
And, odds are, you’re not in dire straits. You’re probably a working-class or middle-class American. Not ideal, but it’s especially not useful for someone like you to think they have no shot. Especially when there are others so much worse off.
Many people in this category point to those in dire straits as some weird way to absolve themselves for responsibility for their own lives. What does poverty have to do with you in a direct way if you’re not impoverished? Nothing.
To double down in this bad attitude, people in this category like to point to those who are really struggling and rule them out completely. This is called, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Saying someone can’t do [x] because they are in the category [y] is the definition of a stereotype — fake kindness, the opposite of real compassion, used to both mask one’s own failures and feel better than someone else at the same time. It’s gross.
As you can tell, I’m quite fired up about this. I try not to get upset about the media, propaganda, and outright brainwashing that comes from society. But it’s so palpable. And people don’t realize it.
Yes, there are problems in the world. But there is a massive amount of opportunity to focus on — businesses you can start from little to no money, alternative sources of education, rapid eradication of true poverty across the world, this thing called the Internet.
Sadly, people are being tricked into helplessness instead of usefulness.
So what should you do about it?
I’m Not Sure How Many Times I Have to Say This…But Here We Go
It’s useful to know that life is unfair. Not think. Know. This cliche is true and it always will be.
There is no government program to eliminate the fact that luck plays a large role in success, or that the rich tend to get richer or that you can’t override incentives or that some people are smarter than others or that Lebron James is 6 foot 8, can basically fly, and is a billionaire while you’re not or that nepotism exists or that people with less talent and intelligence leapfrog more deserving people.
I honestly wonder what the people who are sitting around waiting for the scales of justice to even out think is going to happen. I’m not talking about real activists. I’m talking about people who share social media posts to virtue-signal.
If you’re “in the field” for real and that’s your mission, more power to you. We need people like you.
But for everyone else…
What are they actually accomplishing? Nothing. So why do it? Hiding.
I’m sure someone is going to make one of the following types of comments:
- Nitpicking — I’m a writer. I make generalizations because, um, I have to.
- “But…you don’t understand!” — I know, you have some special malady that no other human being has ever had before — not the 7 billion that currently exist or the 100 billion who have already died. Nope. You’re the only one. Fine, you are screwed. Is that what you want to hear? You’re certain to suck forever. See? Not very useful now, is it?
- “Well, you can say that because…” — I’ve been to jail. I’ve been convicted of multiple felonies. I’m black. Six months ago I went totally blind in one eye and risked losing eyesight in both. I have a recently failed marriage, sickle-cell anemia, and I can’t organize myself for shit. But I also accomplished my dreams. I have advantages that you don’t, but I have problems, too. Successful people aren’t devoid of problems or absolutely privileged. They know how to be useful.
I’m Not Mean, I’m Just Trying to Reach You (Before It’s Too Late)
I came at you pretty hard there, didn’t I?
If you think it’s because I lack empathy. You’re wrong, opposite actually.
Only someone with real empathy will tell you the truth. I tell you the truth because I do care.
The societal overlords that brainwash and gaslight you constantly so that you’ll feel helpless are the ones who don’t care about you. Regardless of what “team” you’re on, trust me, not only don’t the leaders care about you. They despise you.
They’re the ones who lack empathy and want to ensure you fail. God damn wolves in sheep’s clothing eating people, constantly. And people seem more than happy to bow to their altar and offer them their souls.
This is insane. All of it.
You need to get out. You need to think for yourself. In a way that’s useful to you.
And for the rest of your life.