Why You Should Quit the Toxic People in Your Life, Pronto

You’re only as good as the company you keep.

You’ve heard that before, I’m sure, and probably took it to mean what most people take it to mean: If you hang out with losers, you yourself are more likely to become a loser. If you hang out with winners, you’re more likely to become a winner. And etc. You know, the sort of stuff your parents told you when explaining why you could hang out with your straight-A-student friend as often as you liked, but your black-eyeliner-wearing, rumored-to-be-a-smoker friend was off-limits. (The joke was on them, because your straight-A-student friend was actually the one who got you into all sorts of shenanigans.)

But there’s a spinoff to the old cliche, and it’s one most people don’t always take into account, although they really ought to:

 

Your Life Is Only As Good As the People You Allow Into It

(Tweet!)

Surround yourself with amazing, supportive, loving people, and your life will be happier. You will feel inspired and encouraged. You’ll have fun doing nothing on a Saturday night just because you love the people you’re doing nothing with. When things get tough — as things will, from time to time — you’ll have a support system to lean on that will make everything a little less lonely and painful.

Surround yourself with downers, drama magnets and doomsdayers, and you’ll find yourself feeling resentful, anxious and irritable. Your energy will be sapped and your good vibes kiboshed. You’ll find yourself complaining more even when things are basically alright, and hard times will hit you twice as hard. Everything will just kinda suck more in general.

Negativity, just like positivity, has a tendency to seep throughout your world.

Most of us realize this, at least theoretically. We seek out and are drawn to the people who make us laugh, make us feel good about ourselves and make us glad to be around them. But sometimes we find ourselves stuck with the other sort of people, whether by chance (relatives, in-laws, coworkers), bad decisions or a moment of weakness when we thought we could “fix” someone and eventually realized we couldn’t.

The people in category A (those you’re stuck with by circumstance) you can’t always chuck, but you can limit your time with them and develop ways to mitigate their life-sucking abilities so they don’t harm you as much.

The people in category B (any and everyone who is in your life simply because you allow them to be), you can — and should — chuck, plain and simple. Here is why.

 

1. They Will Only Bring You Down

You may think you can bring them up with your injections of fresh perspective and invitations to optimism. You may naively think they just need a hug, or someone to give them a smile, or a kind gesture to erase their memories of being picked on in middle school (or whatever it was that turned them into a prickly forcefield).

And occasionally, once in a very great while, you can do this. I won’t tell you not to try, because it’s a brave and kind and generous thing to want to help other people, and because giving up on that would go against everything my spirit animal Anne Shirley stands for.

But once you’ve tried, and failed, innumerable times and they’re still just as impenetrably prickly, it’s time to accept you may not be the one who can bring them out of their funk. Often no one can but themselves. There’s a critical difference you need to understand when it comes to people who are just stuck in a gloomy mood and people who have lived so long in their negativity it’s become a part of who they are: negative-at-the-core people won’t change because of any effort you or anyone else makes on them.

That’s not to say they can’t change. They can, but only if the decision to change comes from within. Whatever it is that made them the way they are, they’ve been stewing and festering and entrenching themselves in it for so long it’s become a part of their very DNA. Nothing you can say or do will make a significant dent in that armor; it will just wear you out and expose you to more of their negativity rays than necessary.

Save yourself. You have better things to focus your energy on.

 

2. Sometimes People Just Suck

I’m reminded of a certain Popeye’s drive-thru incident in which the husband and I had a terrifying run-in with a person whose toxicity was so fierce and inexplicable I still to this day find myself idly musing over what life events must have led her to become someone who would act the way she did.

I muse on this not because I think there’s any answer to it — or at least not any answer I can ever get to the bottom of — but for the sake of my own mental exercise, the way you’d muse on the “one hand clapping” koan. It’s intriguing to imagine the different factors that may have gone into creating this person’s extreme reaction in this particularly un-extreme situation. Sometimes it helps me loosen up my synapses when I’m suffering a bout of writer’s block.

But the trouble with the run-ins we have with the toxic people in our lives is that we often feel we should be able to get to the bottom of them. We secretly wonder what we’ve done wrong to cause or exacerbate this person’s awfulness. And in the vast majority of cases, the answer is, “nothing.”

The simple truth — and I hate to say this because I do believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to see the good in everyone — is that sometimes, people just suck. Maybe, like the Tootsie Roll goodness at the center of a Tootsie Pop, there’s a heart in there somewhere that’s been shellacked over with layers and layers of unbreakable anger and resentment and hostility. And it’s incredibly sad to think of whatever must have caused that.

But you, yourself, are not responsible for the task of chipping away at that veneer for however many attempts it takes to get to the center. It’s a long, hard job to get there — sometimes one that takes a lifetime and the kind of professional experience that comes with a high billable hour rate — and, as aforementioned, the effort will only bring you down rather than them up.

Some people can’t be fixed by you, and some people can’t be fixed at all. It’s not your fault or your responsibility to fix them, especially not if all you get for your effort is pain and suffering. Be a good person. Be kind and patient. Then know you’ve done your best, and move on.

 

3. You Should Spend Your Awesomeness on the Things That Are Worth It

Your life is short, and your days on this planet are numbered. You have gifts and talents and love and awesomeness the world deserves to know about and benefit from, and wasting those things on people who only repay you with soul-sapping is not only a crying shame, but a slap in the face of the universe that gave you said gifts, talents, love and awesomeness.

If you’re kind and positive and forgiving and generous, it will radiate outward. It will affect those around you, whether you see it immediately or not. It may even affect people you’ll never meet, in ways you’d never imagine, including some of those toxic people you thought were beyond hope.

But only if you disengage from them so you can do you to the best of your ability.

Your mission on this earth is to be the most kickass version of yourself you can be, and you can’t be that person if you’re surrounded by people who consistently bring you down. It’s like trying to be a race car driver when your pit crew is quietly loosening your wheels and filling your tank with water every chance they get. Choose a crew that’s got your back. Be on the crew of people you admire. You’ll do a hell of a lot more good that way.

 

4. You Deserve Better

Is this one a selfish reason? I suppose so, and I have zero guilt over that. So should you.

For a society where selfie sticks are actually a thing and weddings have their own hashtags, we’re amazingly reluctant to allow ourselves to pursue the courses of action that will make us happy. Narcissism and navel-gazing are on fleek, yet we’re terrified of coming across as “selfish” for daring to make a life we love when the people around us insist on staying miserable.

But guess what? The shitty people in your life feel zero guilt about making your life shittier. They are black holes that get off on pulling everyone else into their vortex of suckiness, and if your good-faith efforts to reach out and help them are ignored or rebuffed, it is totally and absolutely within your right as a human being to rid them from your world.

Whoever declared it was virtuous to tolerate people who insist on acting like asshats was probably an asshat himself, trying to guilt-trip people into still hanging out with him after they decided they were finally fed up.

Fuck that noise, and fuck it hard.

You can still be a good person, and preternaturally kind to toxic people whenever they happen to cross your path, while also making a decided effort to keep them out of your path at all junctures possible.

It’s your life. It’s your energy. It’s your precious time on this planet. Don’t feel bad about standing up for that. Don’t feel bad for wanting to spend it on things that are worth the effort.

What toxic people do YOU need to evict from your life? 

Image:  JD Hancock / Flickr

35 More Inspirational Quotes on Happiness, Following Your Dreams & Generally Kicking Life’s Ass

From time to time, I share a quote on my Twitter or Facebook page I think will help make your day (slash-life) a little better. I’ve built up quite a collection of these quotes, so I like to drop them on you en masse occasionally — consider it my contribution to whatever goal you’re currently fighting for or obstacle you’re currently fighting against.

To make them easier to share with anyone you think could use a jolt of awesome, I’ve also included an easy click-to-tweet after each quote. (You’re welcome.)

 

Happiness

“Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” ~Margaret Lee Runbeck (Tweet!)

“I have decided to be happy because it’s good for my health.” ~Voltaire (Tweet!)

“If you want to be happy, be so.” ~Kozma Prutkov (Tweet!)

“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.” ~William Feather (Tweet!)

“Happiness is an inside job.” ~William Arthur Ward (Tweet!)

“Happiness is a choice.” ~Valerie Bertinelli (Tweet!)

“Happiness depends more on how life strikes you than on what happens.” ~Andy Rooney (Tweet!)

 

Blazing Your Own Trail

“I like things to happen, and if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.” ~Winston Churchill (Tweet!)

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” ~Walt Disney (Tweet!)

“Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” ~George Bernard Shaw (Tweet!)

“I’ve never heard a bird half sing, a hawk half cry. When ready, speak your truth with conviction.” ~Dave Ursillo (Tweet!)

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” ~Max Dupree (Tweet!)

“Be a voice, not an echo.” ~Albert Einstein (Tweet!)

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” ~Richard Branson (Tweet!)

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” ~Jim Rohn (Tweet!)

“When in doubt, yell, ‘CHARGE!’ and then MOVE. YOUR. ASS. AND. MAKE. IT. HAPPEN.” ~Ash Ambirge (Tweet!)

 

Following Your Dreams

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” ~Zig Ziglar (Tweet!)

“Good things come to those who wait. Greater things come to those who get off their ass and do anything to make it happen.” ~@LifeCheating (Tweet!)

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~Thomas Edison (Tweet!)

“The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes (Tweet!)

“If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.” ~Tony Gaskins (Tweet!)

“Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” ~Paul Brandt (Tweet!)

“The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.” ~Seth Godin (Tweet!)

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” ~Wayne Gretzky (Tweet!)

 

Overcoming Adversity

“There are two things a person should never be angry at — what they can help, and what they cannot.” ~Plato (Tweet!)

“At the end of the day, no matter how many times the lawn is mowed, it doesn’t take it personally — it just keeps on growing.” ~Ash Ambirge (Tweet!)

“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get.” ~Ray Bradbury (Tweet!)

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” ~Jim Rohn (Tweet!)

“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” ~Charles Swindoll (Tweet!)

“If it isn’t a little scary, it probably isn’t worth your time.” ~Ted Murphy (Tweet!)

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~Nelson Mandela (Tweet!)

“Fear is not a bad thing, it can keep you alive. The trick is to make sure it doesn’t stop you from living.” ~@RevolutionsClub (Tweet!)

“It’s not the person who dodges the most bullets who wins. It’s the person who finds something useful to do with the bullets, after the shots have been fired.” ~Ash Ambirge (Tweet!)

“The darkest hour has only sixty minutes.” ~Morris Mandel (Tweet!)

“Learn to embrace fear, because it’s often the only thing that’s between you and what you want.” ~Paula Pant (Tweet!)

What are your favorite quotes? Share them with us in the comments!

Image:  Pink Sherbet Photography / Flickr

Mind Over Matter, As Illustrated By a Small Child Who Shamed Me At an Amusement Park

It was one of those moments where all the bravado that led you to that point suddenly drains from your being — but it’s too late to go back. The attendant had pulled down the heavy shoulder harness that would keep me from flying off to my death and was going through the standard safety announcements, and all I could think was, Holy shit, oh my fuck, why did I decide to do this?

I am 30-mumble-something and hadn’t been in an amusement park since my early 20s until my recent trip to Cedar Point with my (younger and more physically resilient) sisters. And if the way my metabolism has been treating my weight lately was any indication, I knew my body no longer handles things the way it once did.

I’d been relieved to find out I could still do roller coasters of all varieties, but spinny things — which I once loved — now made me sick. So when my youngest sister somehow dared me onto this whirling dervish of a machine, all bets were off.

The spinning/swinging/twirling contraption looked awesome to the 20-year-old inside of me (which I think is what got me on it in the first place), but the 30-something body housing that inner 20-year-old was fairly certain it was about to pass out, get sick or scream for her life like a terrified child who thought the kiddie coaster would be cool but then spends the entire ride shrieking to mom to stop-the-ride-I-wanna-get-OFF-make-it-STOP!* (*Actual embarrassing anecdote from Cordelia’s childhood.)

The announcements stopped and there was that moment of dead silence before the storm hits something awful happens the ride starts to move.

I was shitting my metaphorical pants.

Then a tiny little voice from a boy who must have been 6 months old (read: probably between 5-7 years in actuality) piped up next to me:

 

“This Is Gonna Be Awesome!”

I couldn’t see him around my enormous shoulder harness, and he couldn’t see me, but I felt instantly and utterly burned.

“It totally is!” I called back, too fragile in my state of panic to realize a show of bravado to keep an unseen elementary school child from thinking I’m a lame-o is in itself pretty lame-o.

“My brother wouldn’t come on this with me,” the small voice responded. “He was too chicken!”

“Well then, he’s gonna miss out!” I replied cheerily, resolving deep within myself that I would not let this little boy know I was a chicken too. I would. not.

So, as the ride gained momentum and my stomach gained some not-so-great sensations, I whooped and hooted with a right good will along with the small boy next to me. We traded “This is so cool!”s and “We’re flying!”s until an odd thing happened:

I realized I was actually enjoying the ride as much as I was pretending to.

It did kinda feel like we were flying, and if nothing else, it felt pretty awesome to have conquered something I’d been petrified over. I felt a wee bit dizzy afterwards, but I was more exhilarated than anything — both at the outcome, and at how it had come about.

 

It’s All About Your Perspective

If I’d kept stewing in my pants-pooping fear and nervousness as the ride got into full swing, no doubt my worst-case scenarios would have come true and I would have felt ill, scared and extremely PO’d at myself for having agreed to go on that stupid ride. But since I’d made up my mind that I was going to enjoy it, dammit, I actually wound up enjoying it.

Funny how that whole “mind over matter” thing works.

I’ve written before about how the stories we tell ourselves matter — how the frames through which we view the world color the way that world looks to us. That’s a big-picture thing, and it’s something I try to keep in mind on a grand scale when it comes to things like my business and my relationships. But this was the first time it really clicked for me that you can play the same game with little-picture things, like the scary ride you’re about to go on or the presentation you’re about to give or the room full of strangers you’re about to walk into.

As James Clear so brilliantly put it, your mind is a suggestion engine. You can choose the way you want to experience things, and you can psyche yourself into situations as much as you can psyche yourself out of them. So why not use that force for good rather than evil? (Tweet!)

Later, feeling emboldened by my newfound Jedi mind trick, my sister and I conquered this bad boy, which shoots you from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds, then straight up and down a 300-foot incline in the span of about 17 seconds (that’s me waving in the tan sweater, if you can see it):

 

[KGVID width=”568″ height=”320″]http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Cedar-Point-video.mov[/KGVID]

It’s the sort of ride so ridiculous it has an actual row of bleachers next to it for people to watch it run. It honestly happened so fast I remember nothing but the sensation of mind-numbing speed and feeling, again, proud that I went through with it. I went through with it because I told myself I could. And I found it was pretty freakin’ fantastic — as you’ll find many things are when you decide to decide they are.

 

An Aside

That’s the happy ending to this story.

The extended ending is that when I emerged from my harness on that first ride and went to give the little boy next to me a high-five, I discovered there was another little boy sitting on his other side to whom all of his comments were more likely directed. This made me just some random crazy old lady stranger seemingly talking to herself.

But whatevs. I didn’t promise this method would remove deeply ingrained social awkwardness. Just fears and other bad mental juju.

How can you use this mind trick to make your daily experiences awesomer?

Image:  Tara Faul / Flickr

Embrace Whatever Makes You Happy (Even If It’s Totally Weird)

I wished I loved anything in the world as much as my current foster dog loves this one janky, busted-ass tennis ball.

Mocha has a plethora of toys at his disposal, including several he’s gutted in a spree of delightful destruction that have since been retired to the trash can. But I can’t trash this ball, because for some reason, in spite of its having lost nearly every trait that makes a tennis ball entertaining, it’s still his absolute favorite toy in the world.

At first, its appeal made sense: Mocha wants to play, Mocha gets the tennis ball and brings it to us, we throw the tennis ball into the hall, he retrieves it and the whole thing starts over again. Sometimes we throw it in one direction and it bounces into the bedroom. Sometimes we throw it in another and it caroms into the kitchen. Thrown at full speed, it can lead a dog that’s chasing it across pretty much the entire length of our tiny little house. Whether I’m working or watching TV with the husband, this game is something we can play with Mocha ad nauseam, which is merciful because Mocha has some serious bursts of energy and our two senior dogs are not down with being his roughhousing buddy.

But the tennis ball is no longer what it once was.

happy

In addition to its service as exercise tool, it’s also played the role of chew toy when we’re not available for fetch games, and as such it’s been slowly and methodically stripped of all of its fuzz in several mysterious grooming sessions. A few especially emphatic chomps split the ball straight down the middle about a week ago, so it now hangs open by one last, tenuous seam like a clam that’s been stepped on. When we throw it now — which Mocha still insists we do — the ball no longer bounces and caroms delightfully down the hall and into various rooms at a speed that invites happy chasing. It just kind of thunk-womp-womp-wobbles to a spot a few feet away and then lies there like a slug.

Mocha still dutifully runs after it, as much as he can in the few feet it’s rolled, then turns tail and brings it back to us so we can toss it again. When he gets tired, he lies down and continues to meticulously destroy it just a teensy bit more.

I totally don’t get it, but I don’t really need to. He gets it, and he clearly thinks it’s awesome, and that’s good enough for me. In this — as in so many things I won’t get into because I am a crazy dog lady and could talk about lessons our dogs teach us for forever — I believe there’s something we can learn from our four-legged friends.

 

In Defense of the Things That Make Us Happy Weirdos

Much like Mocha’s sorry-looking tennis ball, we all have things we love that other people are somewhat mystified by. But unlike Mocha’s unabashed enthusiasm for an object the rest of us see as questionable, we tend to keep our unusual loves a secret only we (and possibly a few close friends who already know what weirdos we really are) know about.

Whether it’s a love for an unconventional hobby, an un-hip band or a cheesy reality TV show, most of us try to keep our stranger passions to ourselves. If we indulge in them, we do it behind closed curtains and behind the facade of the more acceptable, cooler interests we present to the world at large.

But here’s the thing: everyone else in the world at large is secretly a weirdo, too. (Tweet!)

That super-poised colleague who intimidates you at work? She psyches herself up before big meetings by listening to Katy Perry’s “Roar” on her earbuds in a stall in the bathroom.

That hipster friend who sneers at anyone who has anything to do with mainstream culture? He has a secret collection of Walker, Texas Ranger DVDs — and he doesn’t watch them ironically.

That Crossfitting, Paleo-proselytizing sister of yours has had a secret addiction since she was a kid, one she still dips into when she’s had a particularly rough day: Cap’n-Crunch-and-Pixy-Stix sandwiches, smushed together just the way she saw Ally Sheedy do it on The Breakfast Club, where she first picked up the habit.

None of us is a 100% “normal” human being, because “normalcy” is a shadow term that means, at best, “what most people tend to do (as far as you can tell), which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or bad, just that most people tend to do it (as far as you can tell).”

So screw your secret shame over your oddball hobbies, habits, loves and fandoms. Screw feeling embarrassed about the things you think only you “get.” Because as long as you “get” them, then they are awesome, and that is all that really matters.

What weird things make YOU secretly happy?

(I’ll get it started: I love juggling sock balls while folding the laundry, dancing like a fool to any form of old skool hip hop, and sniffing the tops of my dogs’ heads the way normal people sniff babies’ heads (which, let’s be honest, isn’t any more “normal” than sniffing a dog).)

Image:  Pink Sherbet Photography / Flickr

QUIT: My Abusive Relationship

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I call these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

I’ve been in an abusive relationship for… well, more years than I’ve really been counting, especially since it took a while to see it for what it really was. Abusive relationships are like that. You find lots of ways to justify them, explain them away, make excuses for why they make sense and why you deserve precisely what you’ve been getting.

It’s sick and twisted, and deep down somewhere, you know that, but it’s hard to muster up the full-on realization it takes to walk away.

I’ve known this girl for a long, long time, and our friendship seemed awesome, at first. She inspired me to do some amazing things and had my back during some ridiculous escapades. She was the first person to laugh with me when I found something funny and the first to hand me a tissue when something broke my heart. She knew me better than anyone else, hands down, and she still does.

But she’s also a stone cold bitch to me an awful lot of the time.

And I’m finally beginning to realize that’s just not cool.

 

The Way We Were

In the beginning, I liked her because she challenged me. She was always spurring me to be better, smarter, kinder, stronger, to reach for more and accomplish more, to not go easy on myself. I loved that about her. I loved that she called me on my B.S. and wouldn’t let me listen to my own excuses.

I’m also a contrarian person. I like to prove people wrong. When people say I can’t do something, it makes me that much more driven to show them I can. I respond well to the boot camp style of coaching. And that’s what I thought she was offering me, at first: tough love. If it felt a little too tough at times… well, that must have meant I was being particularly soft that day and I needed the spurring more than ever.

Her challenges inspired me to start this blog, quit my day job and do plenty of other things I never would have dreamed of doing without her. She held me to my guns. She wouldn’t let me wuss out. She kept my nose to the grindstone. And it paid off.

 

Then Things Started Shifting

They were small things, at first.

An “Are you sure you want to do that?” when I stopped attending my masterminds because I found they were only making me unhealthily obsessed with keeping up with the entrepreneurial rat race.

A barely noticeable eyebrow raise when I said my only plans for the evening were to read a book and cuddle with the husband.

A quietly muttered comment about “commitment” when I announced I was no longer forcing myself to put in 60-hour workweeks.

She meant well, I reminded myself. Maybe she was feeling cranky that day, or maybe her tendency to want the best for me came out wrong that time. So I let it slide. I forgave and forgot and kept striving to live up to her expectations

But more and more, I began to realize that her expectations were no longer helping me. In fact, they were kind of tearing me to shreds. Something had changed in our relationship — in her — and her input was getting less and less “You can do better!” and more and more “That’s not good enough.”

I put in a marathon workweek to get a big project done by Friday, and she ruined our Sunday Funday by going on and on about how Richard Branson probably doesn’t take weekends off and Robert Herjavec says anyone who needs more than 4 hours’ sleep won’t make it as an entrepreneur.

I turned down a project request because it paid well but didn’t fit my interests, and she reminded me how there was once a time I would’ve been happy to take on anything and everything, and if I got too picky I could wind up regretting it.

A reader emailed to tell me how much my blog had touched them, and when I told her about it, she sniffed and said, “That’s nice, but you can’t monetize compliments. How much has your blog actually made you this month?”

All that pull-no-punches, let’s-be-real-with-ourselves brazenness I used to admire in her had become twisted, somehow. It had morphed from being motivating and energizing to being downright cynical. Maybe I’d let her push me around too much, and the power got to her head. Maybe she’d always been the negative kind of taskmaster, but I never saw it before because it took a while for her to wear me down. Maybe we’d both lost sight of the difference between tough love and just being an asshole.

Whatever the cause for the shift, I started dreading the times she came around. Her comments lingered with me long after she left, giving me headaches, stomach aches, anxiety attacks whenever I thought of them. I started staying in bed at night binge-watching bad TV rather than risk hanging out with her or doing anything she’d be sure to pounce on and tear apart.

I could anticipate her cutting, snarky remarks before they even came, and what was worse, deep down I’d begun to believe them. I’d come to see myself as the screwup she clearly saw me as. I was was damned if I did, because it was never enough, and damned if I didn’t, because that meant I was slacking.

 

So, Why in the &%$* Did I Stick With Her?

There are all sorts of excuses I could give for why I’ve kept her in my life long past the time she was a positive addition:

It’s easy to fall into negative patterns.

It’s hard to let go of a long history together.

I still believe that, in her heart of hearts, she really does want the best for me, even if it comes out in a way that sounds harsh.

But the biggest reason I’ve put up with this abuse (because, let’s be honest, that’s what it is)?

It’s because I can’t get away from her.

It’s because she’s in my head.

It’s because she is me.

I’ve always been my own worst critic, but I’ve been kidding myself into thinking I’m only being hard on myself because I’m driven, because I’m disciplined, because I want more for my life than the average bear. I’ve confused pushing myself with beating up on myself. And it’s turned my inner motivator into a monster whose sole purpose in life is to smash down anything I try doing out of a perverted idea that being a heartless drill sergeant is the same thing as being driven and ambitious.

So I think it’s time we break up, for reals.

 

Inner Critics Make Shitty Coaches

The thing about being driven to improve yourself is, it can get you to lots of great places. Holding yourself to high standards can produce some amazing results, and pushing yourself farther than you think you can go can be empowering and enlightening.

But it can also drive you into the ground, if you’re not careful to make sure there’s plenty of love to go along with all that toughness.

For all the posts I’ve written like this one, this one and this one, hoping to show you that you can do more and be more and still be kind to yourself, I’ve written an equal number of posts like this one, this one and this one, which — if I had been looking close enough — were telltale signs I was in an abusive relationship with my own inner critic-coach

I wasn’t pushing myself past my limits Jillian-Michaels-style, believing in an awesome end result and giving myself the motivation to get there; I was playing a ruthless game of “Bombardment!” on myself every time I tried to do something, whether that “something” was write a post or hang out with my friends or try to take some much-needed time to relax. (Did you realize you can fuck up relaxing? You can, quite spectacularly, according to my inner critic-coach.)

If a real friend had treated me this way, I’d have dropped her without thinking twice. I have no place for toxic people in my life. But toxic people in my head? I somehow trust that they know what they’re saying, because I know me, right? I’m my own worst critic because I’m the only unobstructed witness to all the things that are the matter with me… right?

Not so much. That inner critic, those demons, those lizard-brain reactions, whatever you want to call the voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough, not smart enough, and gosh darn it, people hate you — that voice is a Mean Girl (or Guy) of the highest caliber, and just because she’s a part of you, that doesn’t mean she’s right. There’s a part of me that would love nothing more than to sleep all day and subsist on Little Debbie Zebra Cakes, but I’ve learned to ignore and override that part because it clearly doesn’t have my best interests in mind. The same goes for your inner critic.

There’s a difference between challenging yourself (super-awesome) and being a complete and utter bitch to yourself (super-not-awesome). (Tweet!) When you challenge yourself, you push yourself to go further and be better, but you realize you’re only human and if you fall short of your goal, you pick yourself up, pat yourself on the back and tell yourself it’s OK; you’ll get ‘em next time.  You also realize that challenging yourself 24/7 only leads to burnout, and it’s not only OK but necessary to spend some time just being alive and being happy about that.

When you’re a complete and utter bitch to yourself… well, you end up writing veiled Quit posts that make you sound like you’ve got borderline personality disorder.

Don’t end up writing veiled Quit posts that make you sound like you’ve got borderline personality disorder.

Learn to ask if the gauntlet you’re throwing down for yourself is one that will help you go farther or simply make you feel like shit. Learn to recognize that your inner critic isn’t your coach, but your detractor. Stop piling “tough love” on yourself when it’s really just abuse in disguise.

Be kinder to yourselves, guys. I promise you can still kick ass and do amazing things while being nice to yourself. (It actually helps you do it better.)

Is your inner coach really an inner critic? How can you break free from the abuse?

Image:  Nicki Varkevisser / Flickr

The Way Things Are Isn’t The Way Things Have To Be

Recently, I wrote about the importance of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. The way we cast ourselves (victim, reject, center of the universe) affects the way we experience the world. If we think everyone’s against us, we’ll keep seeing things that reinforce that story. If we think we’re better than everyone else, people will constantly let us down. We react to things based on the story we believe about our world, and as a result, we wind up perpetuating the story by playing along with it.

But there’s a bigger story, a story so hulking and omnipresent it warrants a post in itself. It’s a really shitty story our whole society has deluded itself into believing. That really shitty story is the ridiculously depressing notion of “The Way Things Are.”

You may not realize The Way Things Are is a story. That’s part of what makes it so devious (and powerful). Most people just accept that it really is… well… the way things are. As a result, they play along with it without realizing they have any other choice. They take it as a given rather than one way of seeing things.

And since the majority of people are going along with it, it really does become the way things are.

 

So, How Are Things?

Pretty damn crappy, if you believe the story.

If you subscribe to the general belief in The Way Things Are, life is a pretty grim set of circumstances you can’t control and probably don’t like. Here are some elements of “The Way Things Are” mentality:

  • You have no choice but to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for pretty much most of your life.
  • You have to do this because you have to have a car, a house, 10 credit cards and a steady stream of stuff and distractions at all times to keep you happy.
  • You need to be kept happy because you probably hate the job that takes up the majority of your waking hours.
  • (Lather, rinse, repeat the above 3 phrases as needed. It’s a nice vicious circle.)
  • You deserve lots of things you can’t afford because you put up with the unfairness of the above circle. Future You can deal with paying for these things.
  • Debt is something you only need to think about when the bills come each month. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying off that flat-screen TV for the next 30 years, because they’re probably going to be 30 miserable years anyway, and the least you deserve is to be able to watch Dancing with the Stars in high-quality HD.
  • What you do doesn’t matter.
  • Dreams are for the naïve and the misguided. Resignation is the mark of a real, functioning adult.
  • If you don’t already kind of dislike your spouse, you probably will after enough time together. Kids will only make this worse.
  • You should still have kids anyway.
  • No one is where they want to be. That’s just part of growing up.
  • No one likes The Way Things Are, but they can’t be changed. Suck it up, have a drink, go out and buy something. It’s almost the weekend.

I could go on, but it’s too depressing. And I think you probably recognize the story by now.

 

If We All Hate This Story So Much, Why Do We Keep Telling It to Ourselves?

The thing is, no one is really happy living according to The Way Things Are. Any story you have to constantly resign yourself to is not a good one.

So why do so many of us resign ourselves to it?

Because we don’t realize we have any other choice. If we did, we think, more people would be doing something different, wouldn’t they? The fact that everyone around us seems to be keeping their heads down and trudging along makes us think that must be our only option. So we all put our heads down and keep trudging, and this grim picture of the world continues to be the way things actually are because no one realizes it can be any different.

It’s not surprising most of us don’t think to question it. Everything around us reinforces the story.

TV shows give us characters who live neatly in The Way Things Are: dysfunctional families, disgruntled cube farm workers, harried moms and overworked suits and couples who communicate in nasty one-liners. We find these shows funny or moving because they portray things we recognize. They make us feel better about our own shitty circumstances by delivering the reassurance that “we’re all in this together.” You don’t see many shows about minimalist, location-independent lifestyle designers living life on their own terms. (And if you did, people would probably argue that they’re completely unrealistic.)

Commercials sell us products to help us escape from The Way Things Are. We deserve that big SUV with dual heat zones and seat-back DVD players because nothing else in our lives is going right, and the least we can do is give little Johnny the comfort of knowing we’re keeping up with the Joneses. (The money we put towards that SUV could fund part of little Johnny’s college education, but what matters is pleasing Johnny, and ourselves, N-O-W.) We need energy drinks because we’re exhausted after 8 hours at a desk and only have an evening of drudgery to follow, and it’s easier to guzzle a little bottle of something than find a lifestyle that actually energizes us.

We’re inundated with ways to work around The Way Things Are, to distract ourselves from The Way Things Are, to make The Way Things Are a little easier to live with. But The Way Things Are, in itself, is considered a given. And if everyone around you is operating under the notion the earth is flat, you have no reason to stop and wonder if it’s not. You just go on living the best little flat life you think you can.

 

What You Don’t Know

What you don’t know could turn everything upside down.

Did you know it’s possible to sell all your stuff, pay down your debt and be free to live literally anywhere you want, at anytime?

Did you know you can visit every single country in the world in 5 years?

Did you know playing it unsafe is a viable option?

It’s time to free yourself from The Way Things Are and instead create The Way Things Ought To Be. (Tweet!) Poke around the blogosphere long enough and you’ll find that more and more people are doing it — real-life, ordinary people who are, in their own ways, rejecting the mass delusion and creating the lives they’ve always wanted. Start reading just a few of their stories. It’s like someone flipping the Technicolor switch after you’ve been watching black and white all your life.

I’m not gonna lie to you. It takes hard work and some serious faith to pursue a life on your own terms. Another reason The Way Things Are has such a stronghold on us is because, shitty and completely miserable as it is, it’s oh so easy to fall in step with it. But you’re always sacrificing something, whichever story you choose to live by. The choose-your-own adventure stories take discipline, hard work and a willingness to stand out and be different. The Way Things Are story takes your soul, your dreams and your day-to-day and long-term happiness.

Guess which sacrifices I believe are the better deal?

It’s your choice. It’s your story. Which road are you going to take?

Image: Eamon Brett / Flickr

Why We’re Scared of Being Happy (And How to Get Over It)

Recently, I’ve started waking up with a feeling that makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

It’s a strange feeling, a foreign one, and I’m more than a little nervous to be having it.

That feeling is something I suspect might be called contentment.

And apparently, I’m not quite sure what to do with it.

 

One of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong Here

After a year and a half freelancing full-time, several serious breakdowns and a heck of a lot of rebuilding, I’m finally at a place where I can almost dare to trot out the “H” word when it comes to my general mindset on a day-to-day basis.

Things aren’t perfect, mind you. My husband’s a year and a half into waiting for disability benefits that could take 5+ years to come through, we’ve racked up more debt than I care to admit as a result, and there are still days I wonder how long it’ll take the rest of the world to realize I’m a fraud masquerading as a professional writer (hello, Imposter Syndrome).

But on the whole, if I’m looking at it objectively, most days I find myself not really minding the things I’m doing with my time. My clients are awesome, I get paid to write (from home, whensoever I please), I wake up most mornings feeling pretty “alright” with my overall situation, and I go to bed most nights feeling productively satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

I’m almost — if this is what the word means, because I never really got clear on it — kind of happy.

And that scares me shitless.

I don’t know what to do with this new feeling. I’m used to struggling and fighting and enduring and scrambling, and somehow the lack of all that tension makes me feel as though I’m getting away with something I shouldn’t be — I’m not challenging myself enough, I don’t deserve it, it can’t last, something horrible must be waiting just around the corner to pay me back for this brief moment of calm… and so on and so forth. You may know the drill.

Happiness, for any extended period of time, makes me want to knock on a wooden surface, then verify that it is in fact a wooden surface because a decent amount of our furniture is prefab, faux-wood stuff and this isn’t the sort of thing I want to take chances on.

 

I Know I’m Not Alone

Ask anyone you come across throughout your day how they’re doing, and their answer is likely to range from “Fine” to “Hanging in there.”

Very rarely does anyone answer, “Amazing!” or “Best I’ve been all year!” because that’s just not how people are supposed to answer that question. Unless we’ve recently gotten engaged, received a clear bill of health after a long bout with illness, or experienced some other life-altering event, we tend to downplay our answer to the “How are you?” question because… Well, why do we do it?

Because we don’t want to sound like we’re bragging?

Because we think upbeat people are annoying?

Because we don’t think whatever happiness we’re currently enjoying is big enough to be worth celebrating?

Any and all of the above. We’re not, as a neurotic and overly stimulated society, used to the concept of being OK with where we are and freely admitting that.

And that’s just plain sad.

 

Why We’re Scared of Being Happy

As a culture, we’re obsessed with the idea of the pursuit of happiness. It’s why life coaches and self-help sections and Oprah exist and rake in millions. It’s why you decided to read this post. It’s important enough the Founding Fathers saw fit to include it as one of our inalienable rights when they drew up the Constitution.

But for most of us, while we pay lip service to the pursuit of happiness, we have no fucking clue what to do with happiness if it actually comes our way.

If we find ourselves suspecting we’ve fallen into a state of being happy, we activate all sorts of avoidance techniques and superstitious invocations to hedge our bets and protect ourselves. We doubt our happiness, second-guess our happiness and try not to think too much about how happy we might be in case the Powers That Be are waiting for some silly chump to enjoy himself too thoroughly and need to be taken down a peg.

For something we’re seemingly so obsessed with obtaining, we’re awfully bad at actually possessing it. I suspect there are several reasons why this is:

 

1. We Don’t Think We Deserve It

Many of us are our own worst critics. (Raising my own hand here.)

We think we’re challenging ourselves, humbling ourselves or trying to better ourselves by being so tough on ourselves, but in reality, we’re just treating ourselves like big, bad bullies.

We would never speak to a friend or loved one — or even a random stranger on the street — the way we talk to ourselves: Why the hell did I just do that? I’m such an idiot. No wonder he dumped me. I screw everything up. Nothing I ever do is good enough.

Too many of us have a nasty, self-defeating dialogue like this running through our heads at all times, reminding us why we’re not pretty enough, brilliant enough, smart enough or successful enough compared to everyone else in the world. And it’s really hard to allow yourself to be happy, over anything, when you’re only used to seeing yourself in such a critical light.

You get an awesome new boyfriend or girlfriend, and you immediately start sabotaging the relationship because they seem way too good for you.

You get that big account at work, and you spend so much time second-guessing your ability to handle it, you eventually screw it up just like you suspected you would.

You lose 20 pounds, but while all your friends are complimenting how great you look, all you can see is those extra five pounds you still haven’t lost yet.

But beating yourself up won’t solve anything — whether you really do have something to address or you’re just being hard on yourself. We need to start learning to love ourselves the way we love the people who matter in our lives — by being patient, caring, empathetic, and forgiving. By celebrating the wins and being supportive during the losses. By being gentle. By chilling the fuck out.

 

2. We Feel Guilty for Having It

This can be a direct result of the above, or a separate factor in itself. We fall into this trap every time we answer “How are you?” with a humble little shrug.

We feel bad about advertising our own happiness because there’s this collective notion that it’s rude to be happy when others are not.

But happiness is not a zero-sum game. It’s not like there’s only a certain amount of it in the world, and if you take too much, someone else will get none. Anyone who views your happiness as a direct affront to theirs is someone who is not willing to be in control of obtaining their own happiness.

Of course, if your coworker is going through a rough divorce, you probably shouldn’t spend all lunch break raving about your awesome new s.o. If you’re up for a promotion against someone else and you wind up getting it, you don’t want to crow over the person who lost out. There are times when you need to be sensitive to other people’s feelings, especially when the thing that makes you happy is something that will pointedly make the other person unhappy.

But that doesn’t mean you should feel bad about that thing making you happy. And it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy that thing to the fullest without rubbing it in another person’s face. You have a right to be happy. You’re not hurting anyone unless they’re looking for ways to be hurt, and if they are, that’s not your fault.

 

3. We Think Struggling Is More Admirable

Entrepreneurs and hustlers will nod along with this one with particular vigor, but really, anyone who lives in modern Western society should relate.

In our up-by-the-bootstraps, Get Things Done society, we tend to glorify the dignity and discipline of the struggle. We admire fighters, workaholics, people who overcome insurmountable odds. We respect those who give it all in the shittiest of circumstances. We worship the cult of busy. We think success equals always striving for the next bigger, better thing.

The idea of being generally at peace with our world and our circumstances feels wrong to us — like we’re being shallow, lazy or unrealistic about the unfairness and turmoil in the world. Like we’re taking the easy way out. Like we don’t have a fire under our ass.

But there’s a lot more to being a successful human being than being stressed out and exhausted all the time, humble-bragging about how stressed out and exhausted we are as if that somehow means we’re doing this whole “life” thing better than everyone else.

Work/life balance is such a popular buzz topic because we’ve begun to realize that all work and no play makes us miserable little Something-Somethings. More people are getting back to the earth, back to the home, back to family because they realize all this busy-ness and chasing after things isn’t making us any happier. We’re starting to suspect life can be easier than we’re used to making it.

 

4. We’re Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

I’m especially good at falling into this crappy mindset.

I make an awesome new friend, and I wonder how long it will take before the shine wears off and we’re both bored with each other.

The husband and I get through the month with a little cash left over, and I wonder how long it will be before something big breaks and needs pricey repairs.

I secure a new project I’m excited about, and I remember all the times past projects have fizzled or clients have turned out to be nightmares.

I am always in a state of bracing for the next big disaster, especially when something good has just happened. I tell myself it’s because life will throw me for a loop if I’m not prepared for the worst. I tell myself happiness is temporary. I most likely also suspect I don’t really deserve any good thing that’s come my way, and sooner or later life will realize its mistake and over-correct for it.

But life doesn’t have to be hard-knock. Does it naturally have ups and downs? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you need to chase an “up” with an immediate welcoming party for a “down.” Why not celebrate the good while you’ve got it, knowing it’s made all the more precious by the fact that sometimes things are not so good?

 

How to Get Over It

So, the ultimate question at the end of all this becomes: How do we stop being scared of being happy? How do we learn to get comfortable with happiness — to welcome it, even — instead of squirming and looking over our shoulder like we’ve just put on a wool sweater with a big, scratchy collar tag?

Here are some good places to start:

 

1. Redefine What “Happiness” Means to You

Many of us have in image of “happiness” in our minds that’s akin to a commercial for a new miracle drug (or yogurt, which is inexplicably advertised as creating the same sort of euphoria as a miracle drug): people romping through fields, holding hands in bathtubs on the beach, smiling like morons as they ride double-bicycles in matching cardigans.

But this isn’t what real happiness looks like in action.

Real happiness is a quiet, subtle thing. It’s not an abundance of excitement or elation; that’s joy, and it’s a fleeting high that don’t come all the time (think: weddings, athletic triumphs, etc.). Joy is vibrant and noisy and impossible to ignore. Happiness is softer. If you don’t look carefully, you might not even notice it.

Happiness is waking up in the morning ready to face the day and going to bed that night happy with what you’ve done with it.

It’s the absence of sorrow, anger, frustration and resentment.

It’s the feeling you get curled up on the couch with your significant other watching some silly TV show in your PJs — not the kind of thing that would qualify as “spectacular,” but you know in your bones there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing in the whole wide world right now.

Real happiness is easy to overlook or take for granted if you’re not prepared to see it. So learn to start watching for it, then cherish the heck out of it when you notice it.

 

2. Stop Feeling Bad About Being Happy

David Cain (whose blog you must read if you’re interested in living a mindful life) dropped a wonderful line a while back that’s stuck with me ever since. He was talking about the way we feel guilty for wanting to find a job we love when so many people would be happy just to have a job at all (can you relate?).

I don’t remember the exact wording of his response to this feeling, but it was something like, “That makes about as much sense as neglecting your health because there are people in the world who don’t have access to healthcare.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing “take one for the team” about being miserable just because other people are miserable.

Should you do everything realistically in your power to help the less fortunate? Absolutely.

Should you be mad-crazy grateful for the blessings you have in your own life? Damn skippy you should.

But should you ever restrict your own happiness out of “respect” for those who are, unfortunately, unhappy right now? Hell to the no. That would just be stupid.

Limiting your own happiness does nothing to help those less fortunate than you. If anything, holding yourself back from a life you love prevents you from giving your best to the world — including those who are struggling or in need. You owe it to the world (not to mention yourself) to live the best life you possibly can. Your playing small helps no one.

 

3. Accept That You Do Deserve Happiness (No Matter What You Think)

No one is perfect. We all have flaws. We’ve all made mistakes, some of them whoppers. We’ve all had moments in which we haven’t been the best human being we could have been.

But no mistake you’ve made or weakness you have is unspeakable enough to warrant a life sentence without happiness. In fact — and here’s where the mind-bending part comes in — embracing the happiness in life can actually make you a better person in a way doing lifelong penance never could.

Happiness opens your heart. It makes you generous. It breeds empathy, charity and a host of other awesome things that lead to positive repercussions in the world around us. And whether or not you think you deserve happiness (which you do), doesn’t the world deserve the best you can give it?

 

4. Realize Doomsdaying Doesn’t Accomplish Anything

My crazy doctor has a great line he delivers whenever I start spinning out on “What if” scenarios about a situation: What does this do to help you?

I can kid myself into believing that bracing for the other shoe to drop will somehow prepare me better in the event of said shoe-dropping — but in reality, all it does is steal the joy from the present moment on behalf of worst-case scenarios that might not ever happen.

Worrying over a grim future that may or may not come is not being proactive; it’s being stingy with the present you have for certain right here in front of you. It’s a waste of energy and heart. It’s the least productive way to spend your time.

 

5. Know That Choosing Happiness Is a Bold, Brave Decision

In a world where our most common form of self-expression is complaining, where “meh” is the dominant attitude and the stories that make headlines are the depressing, fear-mongering ones, making the deliberate decision to choose happiness is a wildly brazen act. (Tweet!)

It takes courage to believe in a better situation. It takes strength to embrace the positives in spite of the negatives. It takes determination to continue to pursue the things that will lift you up when it’s so much easier to just fall victim to the things that drag you down.

It also pays off way better than the alternative, which is living a stunted, closed-off life full of monsters in the closest and enemies at the door.

Optimists have power.

Positivity is a muscle.

Happiness is one of the fiercest things you can strive for, because it takes a lot of guts to both go after it and to live gracefully with it when you have it.

I’m trying to work on my own ability to let happiness live in my life. It’s not easy; I have years of second-guessing it to overcome, but I think it’s time I start reprogramming myself.

Because waking up without dread each morning? It’s kind of a nice feeling, and I’d like it to stick around for a while.

How are you when it comes to accepting happiness in your life? Have you struggled with any of these mindsets? (And, more importantly, what can you do to get over them?)

Image:  kelsey hannah. / Flickr

 

5 Signs You’re on the Way to Burnout City (and How to Escape If You’re Already There)

Midway from ennui to nervous breakdown, at the junction of “I Can Do This” road and “Are You Sure About That?” highway, lives a crappy little town I’ve spent way too much of my life in. (And you may have, too.)

It’s overpopulated, but no one really wants to be there.

Its souvenirs friggin’ suck. (You know those “all I got was this crappy shirt” shirts? Yeah, not even those.)

It’s been the ruin of many a poor hustler. And its name?

Is Burnout City.

Fortunately for all of us, there are plenty of telltale signs that let you know when you’re headed for it and give you the opportunity to turn tail. If you notice any of them creeping into your periphery, or several of them have accumulated already, take heed:

 

1. Everything Annoys the Crap Out of You

Hell hath no fury like me when I’m hangry. I carry a decorative tin of almonds in my purse at all times to escape the low blood sugar crazies, which usually tend to hit smack dab in the middle of a crowded Target shopping trip.

But when I’m burnt out? Hoo boy. It’s downright ugly.

I snap at my husband for the dumbest little things.

Everyone else on the road is a bleeping idiot.

Sidewalks rise up to trip me, toilet paper rolls run out precisely when I’m in the bathroom, and it feels like the entirely universe is conspiring to piss me off as much as possible.

When you’re totally and utterly burnt to a crisp, you have no buffer left to soften all the little annoyances and inconveniences you’d normally be able to shake off. You’re one big raw nerve, and everything grates on you. If you find yourself getting disproportionately annoyed at the stupidest little things, it could be a sign you’re heading to Burnout City.

 

2. The Things You Used to Love Now Seem Stupid

Your boyfriend. Your face. Your boyfriend’s face. That book you picked up droolingly from the bookstore three months ago but haven’t been able to turn a page of since.

You normally love going out with friends to grab a drink and unwind, but the idea of dressing up and being social for several hours seems so exhausting to you that just thinking about it makes you want to hide under the bed.

Your hobbies have all slid, you haven’t really felt excited about anything since you can’t remember when, and you’re having trouble mustering up effort for anything but the most essential daily activities.

Nothing is calling to you (except perhaps your bed, which you’d prefer to stay in for the rest of the foreseeable future). Eventually, you even stop caring about how little you care. You just can’t summon up the energy.

 

3. Your Standards Have Seriously Slipped

Once you lose the drive to pursue your passions and interests, the next thing you lose is your drive to maintain a basic standard of living as a civilized human being.

Takeout becomes your go-to because the thought of actually shopping for and then preparing a decent meal feels so overwhelming it’s just not worth it. Eventually, the thought of ordering, paying for and picking up takeout also seems like way too much effort. Meals become whatever you can cobble together from your quickly dwindling pantry. A handful of stale Cheerios and a slice of American cheese? Whatever. It’s food, kind of.

Things like making the bed and actually washing the dishes (rather than rinsing out that coffee mug you’ve used three times and calling it good enough) go out the window. You find yourself consuming a dinner of two stale bread-ends (from mismatched loaves) haphazardly smeared with crunchy peanut butter (which you spread with the back of a travel-sized spork, because it is literally the only utensil in your whole kitchen not waiting to be washed.)* *This has actually happened to me.

And don’t even get me started on showers. You’re just gonna get dirty again tomorrow, so what’s the point?

 

4. Your Demons and Gremlins Come Back to Haunt You

Your bad habits and old crutches start to revisit you. Caffeine? Alcohol? Nail-biting? All-weekend-Netflix binges in your increasingly grungy PJs?

Check, check and mate. You devolve into a previous version of yourself, before upgrades like “exercising more” and “going out in public once a day” ever took hold.

In a similar vein, your personal gremlins also stop by to say hey. If you tend to struggle with self-doubt, social anxiety, body issues, you name it, now’s the time they will show up unexpectedly on your doorstep with presumptuous plans of staying for a while. And, because you’re in a weakened state, you won’t have your usual ability to slam the door in their face. Instead, you’ll slump down in defeat as they saunter in and start unpacking in their old room.

 

5. Your Body Is Revolting

(As in, revolting against you, although I suppose your body being just plain revolting could also be a consequence.)

When I’m rounding the bend to Burnout City, my body lets me know in no uncertain terms that it does not approve.

Headaches. Stomach aches. Jaw pains from too much clenching. Shoulder and neck pains from too much hunching. Anxiety attacks. Often all within the same 24-hour cycle, for many days in a row.

Our body is pretty wise to what’s going on in our life. While we can trick and justify our mind around all sorts of unhealthy situations, it’s not so easy to fool our body. Physical ailments are its ways of letting us know we’re not taking care of ourselves properly. Listen to it. It’s trying to tell you something’s wrong.

 

6. You’re Always in Fight-or-Flight

You can try to check out of Burnout City, but as long as you stay within its radius, you can never truly leave. Everything feels like an emergency, and your mind and body are poised to react accordingly.

You may try to sit down with that book you’ve been meaning to read, but you won’t be able to focus.

You may be eating a lovely lunch outside at your favorite café, but your jaw is still clenched and your shoulders are still tight.

You feel fires around every corner and burn up all sorts of energy imagining the ways you’ll have to put them out, whether or not they ever actually materialize. It’s freakin’ exhausting. You’re simultaneously totally tapped out and so revved up you’re past the point of knowing how to turn it off.

 

How to Escape From Burnout City

So. You think you’re on the way to Burnout City—or you know for a fact you’ve been there for a while now. How do you get out?

The first step is to be extremely gentle with yourself. You’re in a breakable state right now, and you need to handle your mind, body and spirit the way you handle any fragile thing—with lots of love, care and patience.

Next, adhere to this escape plan:

 

1. Don’t Make Any Major Decisions

Life decisions, career decisions, relationship decisions… When you’re fried, it’s next to impossible to view sensitive topics objectively. And because you’re seeing things with a skewed perspective, now is not the time to take action on anything major.

As David Cain says in an awesome post on surviving bad moods, “Similar to ‘Don’t drink and drive’ is ‘Don’t fret and decide.’ Wait until you sober up. Sleep it off.”

 

2. Go Into Energy Saver Mode

When your computer’s overheating, you don’t try installing new programs and multitasking several windows. You step away, let it cool off, and come back when it can handle all that extra work.

Similarly, you need to give yourself a break and go into energy saver mode, performing only system-critical tasks and letting everything else slide. For more on how to do this, click here.

 

3. Give Yourself Time to Heal

Recently, I set aside the months of June – August to deal with my own burnout. And, sure as pumpkin spice lattes in September, when the beginning of August rolled around, I found myself itching to jump back in the game. I felt somewhat “better,” and that was enough for me to be raring to go.

But burnout needs time to heal, and if you push yourself back into action too soon, you could have a swift relapse. When you’re healing a broken ankle, you don’t start running marathons again the instant it no longer hurts to put weight on it. You ease yourself back in, making sure that ankle is strong and whole before you try exerting any real pressure on it. Your psyche operates the same way. You need to give it time to mend and re-gel before you try testing it again.

Once you hit that point where you begin to feel normalish again, when you can taste food and see colors and the thought of doing stuff no longer makes you want to curl up into the fetal position, that doesn’t mean you’re 100% recovered. It just means you’re recovering. Give yourself plenty of time to linger in that feeling of being o.k. again and assimilate it into your very core before you try pushing yourself again.

 

4. Learn From Your Stay

The best way to make sure you don’t find yourself in Burnout City again is to figure out what led you there to begin with. What were you taking on that you shouldn’t have been? What attitudes need adjusting? What people, places and things are hurting you more than they’re helping you?

Study the points that pushed you to the edge, and you’ll know how to adjust your roadmap for the future. Burnout is the result of something (or several somethings) being askew in your life, whether it’s taking on too many projects or not taking care of your health or trying to live up to unreal expectations. Don’t make your stay in Burnout City pointless. Learn from it so you can live better in the future. (Tweet, tweet!)

Fellow Burnout City citizens: Are you currently in Burnout City? Have you recently escaped? Share your stories—and your tips—in the comments!

Image: Flickr

Your Happiness Depends on You

We all want to be happy, yes?

We all want to make changes in our lives to that lead to more happiness than we currently have?

(If not, then you may be on the wrong blog. Might I suggest this instead?)

But, no matter how much we all want to be happier, how many of us are allowing our happiness to be dictated by things that are completely arbitrary, unimportant or out of our control?

I’ll make it easier for you—I am currently raising my hand. I have been an expert at letting my happiness fall to the whims of all sorts of external factors that have no right having anything to do with how much joy or satisfaction I get out of life.

It’s extremely easy to do. It’s also extremely easy to fail to realize you’re doing it. So, in the confessionalistic spirit of this blog, let me show you how many stupid mistakes I make in the hopes that it helps you see how not to make them yourself.

 

The Dumb Things I’ve Let Control My Happiness

Here are some of the things I’ve allowed my happiness (or lack thereof) to hinge on over the last few years (annotated list, as full list is redonk):

  • The weather.
  • The amount of sleep I’ve gotten.
  • My dogs getting sick/scared of thunder in the middle of the night and disrupting said sleep.
  • My husband’s social plans.
  • Other people’s social plans, and whether or not they include me (sometimes being invited is an annoyance, sometimes not being invited is an affront. Depends on my hormones and level of current craziness.)
  • How many comments my various blog posts are or are not getting.
  • How many emails I’ve received. (Sometimes too much is bad, sometimes too little is bad. Depends on my mood and the size of my to-do list.)
  • How much I’ve eaten/had to drink recently.
  • What I’ve eaten/had to drink recently. (Both bullet points, incidentally, being totally within my control.)
  • The amount of money I’ve billed clients for.
  • The amount they’ve actually paid me.
  • The amount of bills due at the current moment.
  • The size of my to-do list.
  • How quickly doggie fur balls take over my house.
  • The songs Pandora is currently choosing to play me.
  • How many @mentions I’ve gotten on Twitter.
  • The general tone of the Facebook posts my friends are posting today.
  • Whether my stomach pudge seems to be trending upward or downward.
  • What has come in the mail that day.

None of these things are important enough to have a say in how happy I am at any given moment. But it’s so easy to let them have control, because being reactive is easier than being proactive. Rising and falling with the waves in a dead float is easier than paddling doggedly in one direction, despite the tides and the choppiness.

But who wants a roller coaster of moods that rise and fall randomly based on which way the wind is blowing? You’ll never really be “happy” that way—at least not for very long. But if you take control of the reigns and resolve to choose your own happiness, then… well, then we’re talking.

Because happiness isn’t a mood; it’s a choice. (Tweet!) And it’s one you have to get to make every single minute of every single day. You can always reset. You can always right the ship.

 

The Way to Play It

Your happiness, like so many things in your life, is completely and totally up to you. No, you don’t have all-encompassing power over everything in your life, but you have power over how you choose to react to things.

External circumstances will influence your mood. We’re human. It happens. If you get sick and feel like poo, of course that’s going to bring you down. If some jerk on the road smashes into your car because they weren’t paying attention, you’re gonna be pissed. It’s only natural.

But, regardless of whatever shit is circling around your general vicinity, you have the power to frame your outlook. You have the power to say, “Damn, this sucks, but there’s no point being miserable over it” or to crumple into a ball in the corner and decide the rest of your day (slash-week, slash-life) is going to be crap.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: For me, one of these choices comes out the clear winner. It may not be easy to look at a shit storm and say “Fuck it, I’m going to be happy anyway,” but if the alternative is being miserable, then guess what?

 

I’ma Choose Me Some Happiness

So maybe we’re in the red this week because I no longer get steady biweekly paychecks. But you know what? I also don’t fall into a deep, day-long depression around noon every Sunday because I’m dreading the week ahead down to my marrow. That’s worth being happy about.

Maybe I’ve got too many to-dos and not enough time to to-do them in. But that means business is growing, and this whole cockamamie scheme to work for myself really is proving itself viable. That’s worth being happy about.

Maybe my husband’s Fibro is flaring up, but at least he’s got the chance now to rest whenever he needs to rest, to not have to push himself to the breaking point. If he needs several days in a row, it won’t destroy us because he doesn’t have a job to lose anymore. And—ups and down and all—we’ve found a way to keep the bills paid in spite of that. That’s worth being happy about.

There will always be shit storms. There will also always be those constant little gnats of annoyance and disruption that can make a day fluctuate wildly up and down on the “Am I happy now?” scale.

But when you see happiness more as an attitude you choose the face the day with, a deliberate reaction to your circumstances instead of an elusive “mood” that depends on them, then it becomes less elusive. Then you’re onto something.

Who are you depending on for your happiness?

 

Image:  Flickr