If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.
Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
Negativity and Naysayers
I don’t know about you, but I’m very prone to negativity and a negative outlook but I get it honest. My parents were the same way.
I’m the guy who will look at his situation, in any given situation, and find the one light bulb burnt out in a room full of lights or as Clark’s father-in-law, Art, says to Clark in the famous Christmas movie Christmas Vacation:
Art: The little lights are not twinkling.
Clark: I know, Art and thanks for noticing.
Clark handled his father-in-law with more grace than I probably would have. More than likely, I would have said something a bit more R-rated but Clark moved on to his next family member and left Art and his negative statement behind.
Clark acknowledged noticing these faulty lights when he said “I know Art..” but he didn’t let the small detail keep him from enjoying what was a huge victory for him.
He had struggled up to this point in the movie with trying to get these lights to work so this was a big deal to him even if the rest of his family didn’t quite get it. Maybe you hear your story in Clark’s: a less than supportive family, a nay-sayer, a daunting problem/problems, etc.
As Mark Manson mentions, “If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.” Clark chose to see his completed project as a success even if it wasn’t perfect and exactly how it “should” be. Art had no problem pointing out the flaw in Clark’s project but Clark didn’t care. He measured the success of his project based on it being completed instead of perfect. He defined the metrics of his success based on his house lighting up instead of every light perfectly twinkling.
I’m a guy who wants every light twinkling but this kind of mentality and thinking has kept me miserable and always falling short of my own expectations, so I decided to take some Manson’s advice and change my metrics.
Change Your Metrics
To change or redefine your metrics, you should ask yourself some questions: How do you measure success in different areas of your life? Do you feel like you’re succeeding, failing, or just keeping your head above water? How do your metrics fuel this feeling? Are you trying to live up to impossible standards that were placed on you by society, your parents, family system, work, religious dogma, a pushy friend, etc.? Or, are you living up to standards that have been set and defined by you?
Both ways will help you measure yourself against a definition of success but only one of the two ways is a true measurement of how far you’ve come—when you measure yourself against yourself.
From my own personal experience, my workouts began to change and grow when I stopped comparing them to everyone else on social media and myfitnesspal and started comparing my workouts to—well—my workouts.
I have seen tremendous growth because I am no longer feeling bad that I’m not as ripped as that guy or as rich as that other guy. There will always be someone richer, stronger, better looking, etc. But, there is not nor will ever be another YOU!
If I were measuring myself against someone else’s metrics, say someone who lost a 100lbs in the time that it took me to lost 50lbs then I would feel like a failure, a loser, and not good enough. This is not only self-defeating but it also takes away any opportunity to be proud of yourself and build up your self-esteem because you’ve given this power to another person, people group, etc.
It’s time to stop comparing your journey to other journeys and celebrate how far you’ve come. We all need to take a moment and celebrate how far we’ve come on our journey.
Next month will be 3 years since I was incarcerated and I’ve been feeling defeated with this date quickly approaching. I’ve been feeling “less than” because I’ve recently been asked, more than once “So, when are you going to get a car? Are you back on the road yet, etc.”
Most were well-meaning inquiries but they still left me feeling defeated because I’m not any closer to buying a car than I was a year ago, but I was reminded by some friends and family of how far I’ve come in the last 3 years so after following Manson’s suggestion, I decided to revisit the way I measure my progress and cut myself some slack.
Up to this point, my metric for improvement has been related to having (or not having) a car and if I kept this metric as the only tell-tale sign of my success and improvement in the last few years then I’d still be considered a miserable failure, however, if I were to “balance the scales” as they say in recovery it would be much easier to see (and celebrate) my progress:
I’m not drinking 18 beers a night (or even in a few months).
I’ve held my current job after being fired from the previous three.
I’ve physically improved with weight loss and have lowered my blood pressure.
I’ve paid off all of my fines and paid back friends who I had manipulated for money. I’ve paid them all back in full to restore their trust in me and to make amends for my wrongdoing.
So, I’ve made a lot of progress, but if I only looked at the metric of “got a car” then I’d feel like a failure.
See how important this is for our mental health to take an honest look at ourselves and our circumstances?
I hope you do.
Learn from the Negative and Build on the Positive
Maybe you’re a person who tends to see the row of lights that aren’t twinkling which keeps you from seeing what is so apparently clear to everyone around you—or at least several neighborhoods around you (those lights were BRIGHT!)
So, my challenge to you today is to take some time and balance your scales.
Where have you improved in the last week, month, six months, or year?
Where could you improve and what do you want to improve?
How have people helped you improve and challenged you on your journey to becoming your best self?
How have people hindered you in seeing your progress? There will always be people, like Art, who will try to get into your head but, like Clark, sometimes you have to acknowledge your less-than-perfect progress and move on.
Lastly, what can you do take a step towards being kinder to yourself on your journey?
As a famous televangelist, Joyce Meyer, once said: “I’m not where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.”
Progress is Progress No Matter How Small
You may not be where you want to be in life, but if you’ve made progress, any progress, take a moment today to remember it, celebrate it, and learn from it because acknowledging your successes and building off your progress can really help you move forward.
If you’re anything like me and tend to beat yourself up for what you’re not, what you don’t have, or what you haven’t said or done, then you’re guaranteed to stay miserable and unhappy, but if you are willing to shift your attention to some of the more positive aspects of your progress—you’ll find the stamina and desire to achieve more.
Stop beating yourself down. There are enough Arts in the world to do that for you.
Surround yourself with some good people who will encourage you, lift you up when you need it and give you a kick in the ass when you need it, as well and—if you’re lucky—go walking through the woods to chop down a Christmas tree with you.
You’re not where you used to be.