How to Become Mentally Strong: The Practice of Resilience

What is Resilience?

Resilience: the ability to stay creative and motivated in an environment of chaos and change.  

Personally, I faced a huge time of chaos and change in late 2008.  My company was going bankrupt and my family was falling apart.  It is from this time of great difficulty that I learnt most about myself and about what it takes to get me out of bed with energy to make a positive difference during the day.  I gave a talk recently about resilience.  This post is a summary of my notes on becoming resilient.

There are 3 ingredients of Resilient Human Beings:

These are three ways of being that resilient human beings possess:

  1. They Face Reality
  2. They Find Meaning
  3. They practice Resourceful Action

1. Face Reality

Self Aware, highly open to feedback

“Hope is not a strategy” Colin Powell

Victor Frankl said that the only group with survival rates worse than pessimists were the optimists.  Neither see reality as it truly is.  Both distort reality.  The pessimists were dead in 1 week, optimists were dead in 1 month. The conditions in the camps were not going to get better.

Humans have a natural tendency to claim credit for gains and blame bad luck for losses.  We win a bet on a horse race – we attribute it to our knowledge of horses and racetrack conditions.  We lose a bet on a football game – we attribute it to a lucky goal against the run of play.  In both cases, we distort reality.  This distortion means that we cannot learn effectively from experience.

It requires discipline and practice to maintain an emotional state that allows us to act positively after a loss, and to learn how to improve ourselves for the next time.

When I spent a day with Kilian Jornet, one of the most striking elements of his personality was his ability to see success and failure, winning and losing from a humble, ego-less perspective.   In a race, if his ski binding were to break, there is no anger…  he says “anger is an indulgence” – each second of anger is a second where the other competitors are making progress while I engage in self-indulgence.

I have been part of an Entrepreneurs Organisation forum group for 9 years.  Each month I spend 4 hours sharing experiences of life.  There are 3 rules to the group – total confidentiality, proactive sharing and only share personal experience.  Nobody gives advice.  I share a challenge I am facing and I receive feedback that helps me see where I am not seeing the situation clearly.

All emotion is a distortion of reality.  Emotion arises when reality is different from my expectation of how reality should be.  The greater the emotion, the greater my refusal to accept that the world is not the way I would like it to be.  Great joy?  I expected less from the world.  Great frustration?  I expected too much from the world.  It is my expectations that are blinding me to the objective reality.

Tony Robbins says “there are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful emotional states”.  Resilient people cultivate resourceful emotional states.

Doctor John DeMartini says that the universe is always in balance.  The problem is that our perception is only of a small part of the universe.  If we observe one part of an experience and feel proud of ourselves – it is because we are not observing the negative impact of our action.  DeMartini believes that no action is good or bad.  Only actions that align with my highest values are inspiring.

2. Find Meaning

“I am a necessary part of something”

Victor Frankl tells of his first revelation of the importance of a meaning in one’s life.  One morning in Auschvitz he was walking out to work.  His thoughts: “should I trade my last cigarette for some soup? how will it be to work with this new foreman?”…   Suddenly he noted “How banal!  I will not survive unless it is for more than this.”  He spent time imagining a future that would inspire him.  The vision of the future that gave his life meaning was a vision of himself lectures on lessons from camps to hundreds.  He worked to create a meaning for himself.  There was an important human project that only he could complete.  He must survive to publish his book and share his experiences and lessons with the world.

Around the age of 50, Carl Jung visited the Plains Indians of New Mexico. He spent some days with a tribal elder called Mountain Lake. Mountain Lake believed that if the tribe stopped performing their rituals, the sun would stop rising in less than 10 years. Imagine the sense of connection he must have with the world – to so deeply believe that the universe needs him and his people in order to keep functioning.

I was in the bank earlier today to open an account for my daughter. Three people work in the branch. They didn’t look like people who feel that the universe needs them. They don’t even act like the bank needs them. They act like they are not necessary for the world, and that the only thing that matters is accumulating a safe pension fund.  Their approach to their work was more characterised as “waiting for 5pm”

The book Sapiens helped me understand that there are three types of truth – objective, subjective, inter-subjective.  Objective truths are true in the world – one plus one equals two, this is an Apple Macbook Pro.  Subjective truths are true for me – I am warm right now, I feel engaged and excited by the ideas of this blog post and look forward to hearing other’s comments and questions.  Inter-subjective truths are particularly special for humanity – they are beliefs that are not objectively true, but enough people believe them that they work as objective truths.  Money is an inter-subjective truth.  A dollar or euro bill is a piece of paper with some marks on it.  However, I know that you will accept it as valuable.  Given that I believe that you believe that it is valuable, it is valuable.  (There is definitely a future blog post coming on the idea of the inter-subjective truth)

For the purpose of psychological resilience: subjective truth matters most.  Subjective truth is not restrained by objective truth (There is another whole blog post on the degree to which subjective truth can diverge from objective truth).  Resilient people cultivate belief in ideas that serve to give you peace of mind.  Reincarnation is not an objective truth.  It is impossible to prove objectively in the world.  However, subjective truths are essentially a matter of choice.  It is important to be careful about what beliefs we are willing to accept.  If I cultivate a belief in reincarnation will it make my anxiety about this life less?  Is that a good thing?

We are creatures in need of meaning in a universe without intrinsic meaning.  We are blessed in that we each individually have the capacity to create meaning for ourselves.  The meaning does not come from outside.  The meaning comes from a decision inside ourselves to cultivate a sense of purpose for myself.  How to find this purpose?  I have 2 questions:

  1. Who inspires you?  What do they do or have that makes them inspirational to you?
  2. Who do you want to inspire?  What do they need from you?

3. Resourceful Action

Ritual Ingenuity

A quality of resilient people is that resourceful action is a habit.  It can be thought of like the bounce of a ball.

Lets imagine a ball.  You drop the ball, it hits the floor…  it rebounds.  Bounce is an intrinsic property of a ball.  Resilient people make the habit of “bouncing back” a natural part of their response to situations.   Resilient people constantly gather resources, seek out small opportunities where you are out of control (speaking to strangers, giving a presentation, dancing, sports); Under pressure we collapse back to our practiced habit.

Resilient people practice resourceful action as a daily habit.  Daily ingenuity in little challenges leads to habituated ingenuity when faced by major challenges and stresses.

Cal Fussman on the Tim Ferriss show

I recently enjoyed a 3 and a half hour podcast interview.  Tim Ferriss interviewing Cal Fussman.  Initially I thought “3 and a half hours?  that must be a mistake”.  However, 200 minutes later I was still gripped by the interview.  Tim asked Cal how he learnt to interview people so well.  Cal spent 10 years backpacking around the world…  with very little money.  Every time he got on a bus or a train, he needed to find a person on the train that might invite him to stay.  He would walk down the aisle looking at strangers thinking “is this someone who might invite me to stay?”  He then had to have a conversation that was sufficiently deep so that the stranger invited him to stay.  Over 10 years he became very successful in having conversations that led to an invite to stay.  Years and years of practice connecting with strangers led him to be able to connect in seconds to Mikail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Mohammed Ali…  some of the hundreds of world leaders that he has interviewed for his column in Esquire magazine.

The company UPS has a motto: “do what it takes to deliver”.  They expect individual drivers to be resourceful.  Within 2 days after Hurrican Andrew in 1992, UPS drivers were delivering packages to people in their cars, in hotels, in civic centres.  No manager could have given them instructions on how to find people – the drivers were operating in their habitual mode – “do what it takes to deliver”.

Victor Frankl speaks of the resilient being on constant lookout for resources.  They collected string, wire, cigarettes, spoons… anything – knowing that it might come in useful in future.

You can practicing Fertile Inventiveness with 5 daily habits.  C.H.A.I.M.

Practice the 5 Steps of C.H.A.I.M. –

  1. Connect – make a human connection today.  Meet a stranger.  Reconnect with an old friend or family member.  Make connecting to others a daily practice.
  2. Humour – laugh at crazy situations, even better: laugh at yourself.  Remember Rule #6.
  3. Assistance – get someone to help you today.  Even if you don’t need their help, get in the practice of allowing others to help.  Develop a deep sense that you can trust that others will help you.
  4. Inner World – take time to imagine and visualise.  Remember your dreams.  Write a journal that captures the images, ideas and symbols that have an importance to you.  What images inspire you?  What faces inspire you?  Take time to live in this inner world.
  5. Mastery – what are you excellent at?  If you can’t answer you must start working.  Pick anything, but become a master in something.  Music, theatre, greek history, drawing, film reviews, medieval travel, kung fu…

Resilience

[update] Iñaki sent me these words of Marcus Aurelius that sum up these 3 aspects:

Objective judgment, now at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events.
That’s all you need. MARCUS AURELIUS

Resilience summarised by Iñaki:

“See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must.”

These are the three characteristics of mentally strong people.  I think the poem “If” is a wonderful summary of the attitudes that allow for resilience.

This is a workshop I teach:  Becoming Psychologically Resilient:  The 3 Practices of High Performance.  Get in touch if you are interested in running this session for your company or team.

Another note: Resilience is neither good nor evil.  It is the capacity to keep going in the face of challenge.  I would prefer that you work on goodness and personal integrity before you become resilient.  Sadly, evil people and selfish people can be resilient and keep sharing their nastiness even as times get hard.

5 years ago I explained my ideas about The Psychology of High Performance in a short video:  Watch it here on the blog:

Past Writing on Resourceful Resilient People

Over to You, dear Reader…

I’d love your feedback.  How do we teach these practices?  How do I help students develop resilience?  Do leaders need special types of resilience (is it harder to stay resilient as an individual marathon runner, or as the leader of a tribe?)  I’d welcome your comments, questions and reflections.

Managing Oneself

Companies today aren’t managing your career. You must be your own HR guru. That means it’s up to you to identify your place in the world and know when to change course. It’s up to you to keep yourself engaged and productive. This is the premise of Peter Drucker’s 2005 HBR article “Managing Oneself”.

Peter Drucker asks some great questions the article (available as a short book).  This is a very brief summary of his article.  (The summary image above is a wonderful thing to print and keep in your notebook.)

  • What are my strengths?  Feedback is the only way to find out.  Do you have a systematic process for getting feedback on your behaviours?
  • How do I perform?  How do I learn best?  Don’t struggle with modes that don’t work for you.  (on Mastery)
  • What are my values?  “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?”
  • Where do I belong?  Mathematicians, musicians and cooks are mathematicians, musicians and cooks by the time they are 4 or 5 years old.  Successful careers are not planned, they happen when people are prepared and positioned for opportunities that suit them.  Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding performer.
  • What should I contribute?  Given my strengths, methods and values: what is the great contribution to what needs to be done?  Don’t look too far ahead – 18 months is the range of good planning.  Define courses of action: what to do, where and how to start, what goals, objectives and deadlines to set.
  • Responsibility for Relationships:  Adapt to what makes those around you successful.  Adapting to what makes your boss most effective is the secret of managing up.  Take responsibility for communicating how you are performing; take responsibility for building trust

  Final thoughts from Peter:  In management…

  • Success is at best an absence of failure
  • People outlive organisations
  • People are mobile and will move
  • We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves
  • Each worker must think and behave like a CEO

Further Reading

The Original Article is available at Harvard Business Review: Managing Oneself – Harvard Business Review or as a short book Managing Oneself (amazon).

Which question do you find hardest to answer in your own life?  I will share some resources with those that comment or email.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Me and my 7 Habits

This is a great summary video of a book that had a great impact on me back when I was 23 years old.  I was working for Accenture (in those days, Andersen Consulting) and the organisation shared this book with all employees.  There’s a photo there of me there on the right with my leather bound edition of the book.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the most influential books in self-development.

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

  1. Be proactive.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Put first things first.
  4. Think win-win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize.
  7. Sharpen the saw.

About the Creator

You can follow the creator Malkash Geldashvili on twitter.

Teaching with Creative Indifference (or Impartiality)

Creative Indifference

My daughter checking the roses in my parent’s garden

A good gardener creates the conditions for growth of a garden, but cannot force the flowers to grow in an exact way.  The good gardener creates the conditions and accepts what arises.

The bad gardener fights what arises.  The bad gardener hacks and chops and fights against the natural growth of nature.

The good gardener changes the conditions and different plant shapes and varieties arise.

In each case the attitude of the gardener is “Interesting!  I wouldn’t have expected that.”  Creative indifference as a gardener is a deep curiosity, and an openness to delight in the million and one ways that nature can arise.

Good Teaching as Good Gardening

I want to teach more as a gardener than as a sculptor.

Up to now I often find that I am trying to remake a participant into my image of what she could be – I am metaphorically hacking off bits of stone and adding bits of paint.

A good gardener allows the plant to grow in its own unique way.  Nature is difference.  Nature is no straight lines, no leaf exactly like any other leaf, no flower exactly like any other flower.

I want to focus more on creating the conditions for growth in the classroom, during the breaks, during the lunches… that would allow the participants to grow in their own individual way – and have less fixed ideas about how each individual will use those conditions.  I want to be willing to allow the person to become who he is to become, rather than my ideal of what he could be.

Put somebody on a treadmill and I’ll tell you how good they are at any other thing they do in life.

Will Smith (photo from Esquire)
Reading an interview with Will Smith (he is deep and a keen observer of the human condition), I came across this statement from him:

“Put somebody on a treadmill and I’ll tell you how good they are at any other thing they do in life.” Will Smith

Harsh.

Brutal.

but… is it True?

I think he’s right.  Verne Harnish thinks he’s right – he says “How you do anything is how you do everything

And Will on Resilience…

“Don’t let success go to your head and failure go to your heart”? Daphne Maxwell Reid, Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince.

Will shares his experience of failure:

“After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective—viciously. And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about ninety minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”

Will says that in his house they have this quote up on the wall:

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” Pema Chödrön

Will summarises the meaning of these words for his family:

“We call it leaning into the sharp parts. Something hurts, lean in. You just lean into that point until it loses its power over you. There’s a certain amount of suffering that you have to be willing to sustain if you want to have a good life.”

[Infographic] 6 Simple Steps A CEO Can Take To Improve Employee Engagement

This week I attended an Entrepreneurs Organisation learning event led by long time EO member Ridgely Goldsborough on the subject of “Know your WHY“.

Here’s a picture of EO Barcelona Learning Chairman Toni Mascaro welcoming over 100 entrepreneurs to the event.

Disengagement: The “Quit and Stayed” Employee

I recently posted about the 4 paths of our working lives – and one path is Quit and Stayed.  These category of people are those who have emotionally given up on their jobs, but they still keep sending their body in to sit at the desk and collect a salary.

Ridgely shared statistics on the impact of disengaged employees on a company.

  • An indifferent employee costs you $2,246 per year according to Gallup. An actively disengaged employee costs you more than $25,000.
  • 33% of American employees change jobs every year.  90% leave jobs for reasons to do with “attitude“, not skills.
  • Recruiting expert Brad Smart (author of Topgrading) shares evidence that 1 bad hire costs a company 5 times their salary (and 10-15 times for senior hires)

Apart from the financial cost, there is a painful emotional cost for all those who must work in close proximity to this disengaged individual – they suck your passion.  I know that the best way to increase team performance is to remove the disengaged team members.

Achieving Engagement

According to the AONHewitt definition, engaged employees want to:

  1. Stay (intent to stay with the organisation)
  2. Say (speak highly of the organisation to others) and
  3. Strive (make an discretionary effort to deliver results)

Ridgely presenting the benefits of Engaged Employees

Ridgely shared that engaged employees deliver:

  • 37% less absenteeism and turnover
  • 48% fewer safety accidents
  • 41% fewer safety defects
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

How do we Achieve a Culture of Engagement?

Ridgely explained that people are different and seek to express themselves in different ways. If we try to be everything for everybody, we end up frustrated and wasting our time.

Do you understand the different personalities of the people that you work with?  I have done so many psychological tests that I assume that everyone knows these tools (I studied psychology at university…).  When I was 14, my father brought home a Myers-Briggs test and did it on all of the family.

About me…

What about you?  What are you?  What types do you get frustrated by?

The Why types

Ridgely worked through a short coaching process where each participant was able to identify their primary “why” from a list of 9 “Whys”. The 9 whys are:

  1. Contribute
  2. Trust
  3. Make Sense
  4. Better Way
  5. Right Way
  6. Challenge
  7. Master
  8. Clarify
  9. Simplify

By the way, I came out as a 7 – Master.  My “why” is to seek mastery and understanding above all else.

Infographic: Employee Engagement

One of the challenges of important life lessons is that we need to be reminded every day.  Now that I have just written a blog post about how people are different, I am primed to not over-react when I meet someone who is a “5 – Right Way” and has a constant focus on what the precedent is, what is proven, what is low risk… all perspectives that I find tiring.  However, tomorrow I will forget and will overreact again.

What can company leaders do to create a culture where we actively seek to empathise with each person’s primary purpose?

I found an infographic that describes the problem of employee disengagement and 6 things that CEOs can do to create engaged employees.  Click on the infographic to get a large version.  (Personally, I think that the yellow colour scheme is a bit aggressive):

Employee Engagement on a page

 

  1. Inspire employees through purpose
  2. Align employees behind your strategy
  3. Develop line managers
  4. Be Fair (in process, in resource distribution, in relationships)
  5. Role Model
  6. Measure And Set Engagement Goals

Read in more detail at the business2business blog.

 

How Engaged are You?

What do you think?  Is your workplace engaged?  Are leaders actively creating engagement?

Become Strategically Unavailable

First, you may ask, what is “Strategic Unavailability” anyway?

What is Strategic Unavailability?

If you say “yes” to every request for your time, money or attention you will have none for the areas that are your own personal priority.  If you want to achieve success, you must retain most of your resources and dedicate them to one to three areas of your choosing.  Thus, you must learn to say “No”.

Saying “No” is hard.  It also has several negative consequences in polite society.

Far better than the use of the word “No” is the use of a series of tactics that come under the general concept “Strategic Unavailability”.

At the very simplest, the idea is to avoid being there when someone might make a request that will take away your time, money or attention.  The key is to retain “plausible deniability” during your use of the tactic.  Some tactics require greater acting capacity than others.  Beginners would be best avoiding these high acting requirement tactics.

The aim is to keep time for the important 1, 2 or 3 priorities that you have decided for yourself in your profession.  It is a total waste if you use the freed-up time to watch CSI Las Vegas or re-runs of Downton Abbey.

Some simple ideas for achieving “strategic unavailability”

  1. Go to the toilet when you know someone is approaching your desk
  2. Work from coffee shops, other people’s offices or meeting rooms during dangerous periods
  3. Return phone calls when you can see that the person is away from their desk (go to voicemail)
  4. Return phone calls after work hours
  5. Delay email responses until tomorrow morning (you can write them today, but don’t let them leave your outbox until tomorrow morning)
  6. Receive an important phone call just as a meeting is reaching the moment where actions will be assigned to people (either phone a friend style, or develop your acting abilities)
  7. Use an old iPhone that regularly runs out of battery (this is a highly plausible tactic, mine is down to about 2 hours of battery)
  8. Always ensure that you are involved in at least 3 projects, and demonstrate massive productivity in the first week of exposure to any new manager or colleague.
  9. “Forget” to switch off the direct to voicemail setting on your phone
  10. Tell your colleagues/team that you have an open-door for them – but that you request that they batch their problems into groups of 10…  they can’t interrupt you unless they have accumulated 10 specific issues that they cannot address without your input (usually #1 gets resolved before they get to #5…)
  11. Regularly ask “what could you do to move this forward that does not require anybody’s approval?”
  12. Work with headphones in (whether you are listening to music or not, this also works on airplanes when your neighbour aims to talk for 14 hours)
  13. Keep a charity box on your desk and ask for donations whenever anybody approaches (if you have kids, then ask visitors to your desk to sponsor your kid in a race or something).  Bonus edition is to have stickers so that when one person donates, you give them a sticker and then they let others know to avoid your desk unless you wish to donate.
  14. Cultivate a freakish interest in Star Wars, or World Wrestling Foundation, or ancient Greek philosophy, or NLP, or furniture upholstery and engage all visitors in a deep discussion about the merits of your hobby.  Freaky hobbies with a plausible connection to your work are ideal.
  15. When asked if you are available to meet, say “yes, I am free this Friday at 6:00am” – puts off all but the most keen time thieves.  You will very rarely have to do it.
  16. Bring a regional speciality food to work – I recommend any Icelanders to use “rotting shark meat in vinegar” – and request that anyone who comes to your desk try it.
  17. Have a large audio recorder device and make a big show of switching it on when anyone comes to interrupt you – tell them that you are on a personal efficiency drive and are making a detailed study of all your interactions and all requests
  18. Cultivate a mysterious illness with unclear symptoms
  19. Remove all other chairs from your office (this made a massive improvement on my meeting time when I was running an airline); another variant is really uncomfortable chairs (especially very low seats)
  20. Eat a rich curry or garlic dish for lunch in your office
  21. Keep saying “that would make a great tweet!” and write down some banal saying from the other person

Advanced Strategic Unavailability

I need your help.  What else works for you?

PS You better be very good at establishing a great reputation before you engage seriously in these tactics.  If you are not viewed as a strong performer, if you are not delivering measurable results and if you are not gaining good exposure to senior influencers – fix that first (check out The PIE Model).  These tactics only work if you are perceived as an “A” player

Your Scarcest Resource

I know plenty of financial advisors who would love to spend a few hours reviewing my investments, cash position, investment goals and helping me make a realistic plan.

I know how much I spent on food, travel, housing, school in the last month, year and if I did the sums I could calculate a rough lifetime spend.

Money.

You can always earn more money.

Organisations spend small fortunes developing capital expenditure budgets and operational budgets and auditing the cash of the business.

My time, in contrast, goes un-managed. Most organisations have no systematic procedure to eliminate time wasters. They place clear objectives for the use of every dollar, but no barriers on the expenditure of another hour.

My first girlfriend used to tell me that time is like money but with one major difference – at the end of every day, everything you have left unspent is taken away from you. Imagine if you started every day with €240 and you knew that at midnight, any left unspent will be taken away.

Imagine Managing Time Like Companies Budget Capital

Imagine if every month, instead of receiving a bank statement, I received a time-statement: a detailed breakdown of where my hours have been put, how many were invested and how many just dripped through the cracks.

Would it change how I spend my time? Would it reduce facebook and increase playing with my daughter? Would it reduce email and increase face-to-face meetings? How would the measurement change me?

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

This post was originally published on Alternet and it is written by coaching guru Cloe Madanes.

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

Coach Cloe Madanes

Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.

So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.

Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.

  • When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.
  • When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.
  • Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.

Honing Your Misery Skills

Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.

1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.

Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.

2. Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.

A side benefit of being bored is that you inevitably become boring. Friends and relatives will avoid you. You won’t be invited anywhere; nobody will want to call you, much less actually see you. As this happens, you’ll feel lonely and even more bored and miserable.

Exercise: Force yourself to watch hours of mindless reality TV programs every day, and read only nonstimulating tabloids that leave you feeling soulless. Avoid literature, art, and keeping up with current affairs.

3. Give yourself a negative identity. Allow a perceived emotional problem to absorb all other aspects of your self-identification. If you feel depressed, become a Depressed Person; if you suffer from social anxiety or a phobia, assume the identity of a Phobic Person or a Person with Anxiety Disorder. Make your condition the focus of your life. Talk about it to everybody, and make sure to read up on the symptoms so you can speak about them knowledgeably and endlessly. Practice the behaviors most associated with that condition, particularly when it’ll interfere with regular activities and relationships. Focus on how depressed you are and become weepy, if that’s your identity of choice. Refuse to go places or try new things because they make you too anxious. Work yourself into panic attacks in places it’ll cause the most commotion. It’s important to show that you don’t enjoy these states or behaviors, but that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.

Practice putting yourself in the physiological state that represents your negative identity. For example, if your negative identity is Depressed Person, hunch your shoulders, look at the floor, breathe shallowly. It’s important to condition your body to help you reach your negative peak as quickly as possible.

Exercise: Write down 10 situations that make you anxious, depressed, or distracted. Once a week, pick a single anxiety-provoking situation, and use it to work yourself into a panic for at least 15 minutes.


Cloe Madanes has teamed up with Tony Robbins to launch a coaching certification program. They have released a new series of eye-opening educational videos that will show you how to create profound changes in yourself and others – within a short conversation.

I encourage you to sign up for this training series (affiliate link) – you’re going to be inspired by what is possible. Tony has been an inspiration for me for over 20 years and I love how practical and direct he is in his trainings. His focus is on making a real difference in people’s lives.


4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.

Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.

Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.

5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.

Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.

6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.

Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.

7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?

Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.

Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.

8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.

Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.

9. Blame your parents. Blaming your parents for your defects, shortcomings, and failures is among the most important steps you can take. After all, your parents made you who you are today; you had nothing to do with it. If you happen to have any good qualities or successes, don’t give your parents credit. Those are flukes.

Extend the blame to other people from your past: the second-grade teacher who yelled at you in the cafeteria, the boy who bullied you when you were 9, the college professor who gave you a D on your paper, your first boyfriend, even the hick town you grew up in—the possibilities are limitless. Blame is essential in the art of being miserable.

Exercise: Call one of your parents and tell her or him that you just remembered something horrible they did when you were a child, and make sure he or she understands how terrible it made you feel and that you’re still suffering from it.

10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. Taking pleasure in things like food, wine, music, and beauty is for flighty, shallow people. Tell yourself that. If you inadvertently find yourself enjoying some flavor, song, or work of art, remind yourself immediately that these are transitory pleasures, which can’t compensate for the miserable state of the world. The same applies to nature. If you accidentally find yourself enjoying a beautiful view, a walk on the beach, or a stroll through a forest, stop! Remind yourself that the world is full of poverty, illness, and devastation. The beauty of nature is a deception.

Exercise: Once a week, engage in an activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but do so while thinking about how pointless it is. In other words, concentrate on removing all sense of pleasure from the pleasurable activity.

11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.

You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.

12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since. When you were young, for example, you were glamorous and danced the samba with handsome men on the beach at twilight; and now you’re in a so-so marriage to an insurance adjuster in Topeka. You should’ve married tall, dark Antonio. You should’ve invested in Microsoft when you had the chance. In short, focus on what you could’ve and should’ve done, instead of what you did. This will surely make you miserable.

Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background? It’s important to think that bad memories, serious mistakes, and traumatic events were much more influential in forming you and your future than good memories, successes, and happy events. Focus on bad times. Obsess about them. Treasure them. This will ensure that, no matter what’s happening in the present, you won’t be happy.

Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.

13. Find a romantic partner to reform. Make sure that you fall in love with someone with a major defect (cat hoarder, gambler, alcoholic, womanizer, sociopath), and set out to reform him or her, regardless of whether he or she wants to be reformed. Believe firmly that you can reform this person, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Exercise: Go to online dating sites and see how many bad choices you can find in one afternoon. Make efforts to meet these people. It’s good if the dating site charges a lot of money, since this means you’ll be emotionally starved and poor.

14. Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.

It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.

Exercise: Make a list of 20 things you dislike and see how many times you can insert them into a conversation over the course of the day. For best results, dislike things you’ve never given yourself a chance to like.

—–

I’ve just listed 14 ways to make yourself miserable. You don’t have to nail every one of them, but even if you succeed with just four or five, make sure to berate yourself regularly for not enacting the entire list. If you find yourself in a therapist’s office—because someone who’s still clinging to their love for you has tricked you into going—make sure your misery seems organic. If the therapist enlightens you in any way or teaches you mind-body techniques to quiet your anxious mind, make sure to co-opt the conversation and talk about your misery-filled dreams from the night before. If the therapist is skilled in dream analysis, quickly start complaining about the cost of therapy itself. If the therapist uses your complaints as a launching pad to discuss transference issues, accuse him or her of having countertransference issues. Ultimately, the therapist is your enemy when trying to cultivate misery in your life. So get out as soon as possible. And if you happen upon a therapist who’ll sit quietly while you bring all 14 items on this list to life each week, call me. I’ll want to make an appointment, too.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/14-habits-highly-miserable-people Hat tip to Eka

Leaders Open Doors, Bill Treasurer

Simplifying Leadership

I am sharing a new book and a short video by a friend of mine, Bill Treasurer.  The book is called “Leaders Open Doors” and is a short, simple answer to the question: what do great leaders do for those around them?  

I first met Bill over 20 years ago on an Accenture (then Andersen Consulting) training program in Chicago.  We were put on the same team and enjoyed the fun and challenges of 2 weeks of intense, sleep deprived, project work.

Since then, Bill has become a well known speaker and author.  Bill is the author of Courage Goes to Work, an internationally bestselling book on courage building. Bill is also a former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, a cancer survivor, and a champion for the rights of people with disabilities. Bill currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three children.

Leaders Open Doors

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N9tR0xJeRI]

Transcript of Bill’s talk

But the reality is we’ve inflated this idea of leadership too much and after twenty years I had a conversation with a very wise person that brought me back to the essence of what leadership is really all about I had a conversation with my five-year-old son.

Now Ian, at the time, was a five year old at the preschool the Montessori School and Asheville North Carolina where I live. I came home and my wife said “hey honey Ian got to be the class leader today!”

“A class leader!” My son.

I’m the guy who goes around teaching leadership and my son got to be the class leader.

“Son give me a high five! What’s it like to be a leader? What did you get to do as a class leader Iain?”

He looked at me and with 7 words he cut through to what matters most about leadership.   He looked at me and said: “I got to open doors for people”

I get to open doors for people.

I thought about it for a couple of days… I kept thinking about that concept: leaders opening doors.  I thought about the leaders who had made a difference in my life; and there are always people that have taken an interest in me and nudged me into discomfort; sometimes to help me be accountable to my own potential… they believed in me until I start to believe in myself.

I can live up to, and into, my potential.   Leaders to open doors… and I thought about that concept and it turned into a book. “Open-door Leadership” is about serving people and organisations by creating opportunities for them to grow and develop.

What if leadership was that simple?  What if that’s the central idea? Leadership is serving others. Leadership is not about the leader, it is about those being led.  What are you going to do in the service for them?