In my first major failure in life – and there have been many – I was told by one of my friends that I really suck at life, and that stuck with me. Who wants to hear that? I wanted to stop hurting my friends and family. I wanted to be trustworthy.
Through a series of poor life choices from the ages of 19 to 23:
- I moved back in with my family three times because I couldn’t cut it on my own
- Got my car repo’d
- Got evicted from several apartments
- Got fired from countless jobs
- Got dumped by two serious girlfriends
All the while I was partying, drinking, and playing with too many drugs. I knew I was smart and had potential, but I thought I could live for my own pleasure 24/7 and think the world was going to promote me because I was smart. I was so wrong.
Eventually, after losing my job, girlfriend, and apartment for the last time, I was broken. I hit rock-bottom financially and emotionally. I was sleeping on a friend’s couch every night.
I didn’t know who I was exactly, but I knew that I didn’t like him.
I started seeking God again. I started to let Him chisel me, chop off anything in me that didn’t need to be there. My mom, God bless her, told me that I needed to learn wisdom. I learned later that was probably a nice way of saying that I was being an idiot.
Soon after, at 23, I rededicated my life to Christ.
I started living a bit like a hermit – reading Emerson, Plato, the book of Proverbs, taking copious book notes, writing out my thoughts. I wanted to learn to think for myself.
Over a decade later, after much more study and trial-and-error, I think I’ve succeeded. I’m happily married, built a great career, have a solid church family that respects me, we have a beautiful apartment and nice cars…I’m happy. A long way from eating ketchup packets because you can’t afford food.
This is the information I wish I had when I hit rock-bottom. In it you’ll find encouragement, principles, and nuggets of wisdom. I hope the lessons in it start to transform your life as it did mine.
Warning: I like quotes (a lot)!
Step 1: Be Humble, Confront Yourself, Love Wisdom
“If one man conquer in battle a thousand times thousand men, and if another conquer himself, he is the greatest of conquerors.”The Dhammapada
“As someone thinks within himself, so he is.”Proverbs 23:7
“Times will change for the better when you change.”Maxwell Maltz, Psychocybernetics
“Men do not attract what they want, but what they are.”James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”William Shakespeare
“If you come to me with a cup that is already full, how can you expect me to give you something to drink?”A Zen master
You can’t correct what you’re not willing to confront.Unknown
In order to change your results in life, you have to change yourself.
If you find that your life has a long string of failed jobs, relationships, finances, or are living with bitterness, anger or a host of other negative emotions, the problem might start with you. Your attitudes, beliefs, actions, thoughts, and decisions are what brought you here.
We plant the seeds for our results in life.
Of course there are exceptions, where things happen to you and you feel negative emotions because of injustices and things outside of your control.
But you’d be surprised how much in your life is actually within your control. We are very quick to blame others for things in life. But if we’re honest, many of those things are our own doing.
To change your life, you need wisdom. If you’re reading this, you might already be acutely aware of this. If you are not truly convinced of your need to learn wisdom, you will just keep getting the same results.
A couple questions:
- Are you happy with who you are right now?
- Are you happy with where you are right now?
Chances are, you said “no” to both. I did. But I had to get real honest about that before I could truly change.
When the consequences of not changing are big enough to you, you will do whatever it takes to change.
When you don’t want to hurt one more person, you don’t want to fail again financially, when you don’t want to let one more person down…that’s when you’re motivated enough to learn what it takes to make yourself better.
As I mentioned before, before I started truly turning my life around, my mom told me I needed wisdom.
I took that to heart. I became ravenously thirsty for wisdom. I started reading Plato’s Dialogues, Emerson…anything I could get my hands on.
I learned that philosophy means “the love of wisdom”. I liked the thought of being a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. I even hand-copied every quote in the book Everyday Greatness by Stephen Covey (which is literally just a big book of quotes from famous thinkers) into a journal.
I hope that you too, will become thirsty—a lover of wisdom. Because that is what’s needed to turn your life around.
But it takes humility to recognize you’re being foolish.
I lived too much of my young adult life in ignorance of how desperately I needed wisdom. I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. I was all ambition and positivity and intuition and delusionally confident. I snapped at people, got offended frequently, and in general had terrible emotional intelligence.
I wasn’t humble, and therefore I wasn’t truly learning, and therefore wasn’t truly getting anywhere. Humility helps you realize how much you don’t know, which helps you actually learn something.
If you’re not humble, you’re not learning.
If there is nothing else you learn from this article, that would be ok. Be humble and learn to love wisdom passionately. This is truly most of what you need to know to get your life back on track.
The amazing thing is too, there are so many resources in the world to satisfy our thirst for wisdom. There’s:
- Blogs, podcasts, Youtube videos
- Hoopla and Libby (lifechanger!)
- Public libraries
- Online mentors you could reach out to
- Books are cheaper than ever on Amazon
- Free online courses on pretty much anything (including philosophy, psychology, life skills, etc)
- Lynda courses are free through your library
There are few limitations to how quickly and easily you can absorb the wisdom you need to make drastic improvements to your life.
And depending on your location and situation, you could get help from organizations like Love INC, who can give you the one-on-one coaching you need to improve your situation.
2. Critical Journaling
There might be another term for this kind of journaling that I don’t know about, but there’s something I’d like to introduce called critical journaling.
It’s using critical thinking to assess your life, through means of a journal. It’s not like writing a diary—It’s journaling on steroids.
Critical thinking is similar to analytical thinking. You may not be analytically inclined. That’s ok. I believe it’s a skill that anyone can learn and get better at over time, no matter if you’re “gifted” at it or not.
But I will say, you must learn critical thinking. Without it, it will be extremely hard to change your life for the better.
The great thing is, you don’t need to take a college course or read a book about critical thinking in order to learn it. You learn to think by thinking. Shocking, I know.
Tools of the trade? A comfortable thinking chair, a journal, and some patience.
So yes, this is where the journaling comes in. I’ve journaled thousands of pages over the years since I decided to change my life (mostly digital pages, don’t worry about the trees!).
This process of assessing and re-assessing your life via critical journaling should become a near-daily habit. This isn’t just a one-time practice and you’re set for life. This discipline should become a part of you. There are few other things you can do on a regular basis that will help you navigate your life so fruitfully.
So how does it work?
Like a diary, we can write down what happened today, what we feel today, etc. But in critical journaling, we take it much further.
We can ask:
- Why did this happen today?
- How did I treat people today? Why? How could I have done better?
- What am I feeling?
- Why do I feel this way?
- What do I believe that is creating that feeling?
- How can I reconstruct a more useful and truthful belief?
- What do I really want out of life and how do I get there?
- What does God want to form in me?
- What’s holding me back from experiencing God’s peace, love and joy?
Critical journaling is a way to dissect, understand, and take control of your thoughts and life.
Where this really becomes powerful is when you start to nest your bullet points.
For instance, let’s say you want to analyze what types of jobs you’d like to go after. You can start listing them out, then weighing the pros and cons for each:
- I have good experience in this area
- Not fulfilling though
- Not much experience in this area
- Writing and philosophy
- Could potentially be lucrative
Or, let’s say you want to analyze and repair certain negative patterns in your life. You can start to list out both the good and bad behaviors you showed in the previous day:
- Was generally very positive and patient with people at work
- Was very productive and focused
- Got impatient with Bob when he interrupted my work
- Why did I get impatient?
- Poor sleep last night
- Body could be inflamed from eating junk food last night
- Feeling more stressed and anxious lately. Why?
- Work has been stressful
- Family conflict
- Financial stress
- More social media than usual
- Why did I get impatient?
So then as you start to identify some of the ways you could improve your character, you can start to tweak, remove or improve things in your life – minimizing social media, for example, which could help you be less anxious and thus less impatient with people.
Many people wade through life, making decision after decision without much thought or reflection, muddying through and hoping for the best. This is not the way!
Critical journaling is a way to gain clarity in life. To understand exactly why we do certain things, why people around us do things, to weigh decisions accurately, to understand why things happen so we can constantly improve our lives.
Critical journaling, done the right way, is a superpower.
“Writing for yourself is a powerful search mechanism: there’s no better way to find out who you are and what you know and what you think.”William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Now, in essence, critical journaling is about asking the right questions.
“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”Tony Robbins
The question of “how did I get here” should be especially fruitful. Take your time with it and start identifying any bad decisions you made, attitudes you had, or actions you took that have brought you where you are.
Get honest about where you’re at now, decide what you want, and make a plan for how to get there.
One important thing to keep in mind here is that your beliefs drive your actions. So if you can look at your negative actions and the negative beliefs behind them, and change those beliefs, you can change your life.
Here are a few behaviors that can create bad results in your life:
- Narcissism & Pride—Blocks you from learning new things, accepting criticism and feedback that can help you
- A negative attitude
- The need to manipulate others to feel in control
- You can’t say no
- The need to create a more positive perception of yourself to people than is real
- Taking offense where none was intended
- Blowing up at people
- The belief that you’re not good enough
This is all talking about our psychology. If we can use critical thinking to assess and improve our psychology, that will affect everything in our lives.
Psychology is so important! What’s happening inside, overflows onto our lives. Make sure your psychology, your emotions, and your spiritual state are always improving, and you will see results.
A note on journaling: Some people are verbal processors. They like to understand their circumstances and emotions by talking it out with another person. And that’s great. Everyone is different. Journaling works for me.
Another benefit of journaling is that if for any reason you don’t have someone to talk to temporarily, you can still work on sifting through your life on your own.
But, I can’t tell you how many times just talking something out with someone has “unjammed the logs” for me, much faster than spending hours trying to figure things out on my own in a journal.
Ok, I just got done talking about learning how to think more effectively via journaling. Not thinking, not doing—is just as important.
I’m talking about seeking God through silence and solitude, or at least practicing meditation.
If you don’t have a spiritual practice, now’s a good time to start. If we aren’t spiritually centered, we are more likely to rush things, make poor decisions and snap judgments, snap at people, and generally be a subpar human.
There are many great apps to start learning meditation – Headspace, for instance. Your meditation practice doesn’t have to be complicated. You can sit on your couch or chair, be still, practice deep breathing, and meditate on infinite love, joy, and peace (what I call God). Sometimes calm, instrumental music helps too. Find what works for you!
The key is to know that peace, what I call God’s peace, is nearer than you think. For Christians, it doesn’t have to involve rigorous Bible reading or prayer where you’re the one doing all the talking. God is here. Be still, listen, enjoy His presence without expectation.
We are constantly bombarded and overstimulated in this society. We need equally powerful methods for spiritual centering.
4. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional ignorance and lack of self-awareness are some of humanity’s biggest flaws right now, and something I want to help rectify. People sabotage their careers and relationships without even realizing it.
Many of us don’t understand why we feel certain emotions, we don’t understand the beliefs behind those emotions, we don’t understand how our biases affect our emotions, and we believe that just because we feel angry about something, we must be right. We can do better!
Additionally, our emotions, improperly managed, can sabotage us.
All it takes is us lashing out at our boss one time for us to get fired, lose our income, and be one step closer to living on the street. So the more intelligent we are about our emotions, the faster we can turn our lives around and the more fruitful our life will be.
Journaling, which I mentioned earlier, is a great way to identify how you can improve in this area.
“Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.”Anthony de Mello
“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.”Thich Nhat Hanh
“Awareness is a key ingredient in success. If you have it, teach it, if you lack it, seek it.”Michael B. Kitson
“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.”Billie Jean King
“Awareness precedes change.”Robin Sharma
According to a study by Cornell in 2010, self-awareness was found to be the strongest predictor of overall success of leaders.
Here’s a few reasons why:
- Awareness of our strengths and challenges enables us to work with others who have different strengths than us
- We are also more able to accept the idea that someone else may have better ideas or abilities than us, which we can benefit from
- A lack of self-awareness can alienate others because we don’t understand how our actions impact others
Related to emotional intelligence, self-awareness helps you be aware of your emotions so you can manage them more effectively, and helps you assess yourself honestly so you know how to improve.
6. Change Your Beliefs
After being aware of your emotions and then understanding those emotions, it’s time to change the beliefs that underlie those emotions.
For instance, if you have a pattern of getting angry quickly and having a short fuse, why is that?
Maybe it’s because in the moment you’re afraid of losing control, or feeling dominated. But why do you feel that way? There’s probably a moment, or many moments that happened to you since childhood, that made you feel afraid to lose control.
By getting to the root cause—the belief that drives your behavior—we are making it less likely in the future for you to exhibit that same negative behavior again.
Things have been said to you, and things have happened to you, that have “stuck” to you over time, creating this belief. But that belief can be changed, which can change your behavior.
Instead of being afraid to lose control, reaffirm a more positive replacement belief to yourself. Say things like “When things don’t go my way, I’m still in control of my thoughts and emotions”, or “people love me and support me, they don’t want to take control away from my life”.
The second thing we can do is during actual situations where that particular emotion flares up. It comes down to choosing a positive response when tempted to respond negatively.
For instance, when someone makes you angry, recognize that you’re angry. Be aware of it, don’t ignore it. The simple act of being aware that you’re experiencing a negative emotion, automatically helps you think more objectively. And it expresses the emotion, which already makes you feel better. Then you can start thinking, “Ok, I’m angry. If I act on my anger, I could blow up and make this whole situation worse.”
Then you must simply choose a better response to your anger. I say simple, but that does not mean it’s easy. But acknowledging in the moment that you’re angry will help you think objectively enough to respond in a healthy way.
It’s interesting how when you’re not able to acknowledge in the moment that you’re experiencing a negative emotion, you don’t recognize when the emotion has taken control of you completely. Acknowledging your emotions puts you in charge.
Like I mentioned before, acknowledging your emotions to yourself in the heat of the moment gives expression to those emotions.
Many times, we express our emotions in an unhealthy way because we don’t feel like we can express our emotions at all. In the heat of the moment, or over time, we bottle up our emotions and feel like we can’t express them, so then it all erupts like a volcano, causing destruction to the situation. Acknowledging the emotion to yourself is a healthy way to express yourself in a small way, so you don’t blow up on people.
One thing to remember is that in the heat of the moment, you can still express your emotions more assertively, besides just acknowledging the emotion to yourself. It’s ok to tell the other person that you’re angry, or maybe that something they did made you angry. The key is to express your emotion, without letting the emotion control how you express it.
Key questions to ask yourself in heated moments:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Am I justified in feeling that way?
- How can I express myself in a healthy way?
Yes, when you’re in a confrontation, it can be hard to take a step back and think through your emotions. It’s easier just to be angry and say what you have to say and call it good! But it’s wiser to do the hard thing and be smarter about our emotions.
The point of all of this is to learn how to express your emotions in a healthy way. If you treat others with kindness and maturity, and live life with gratitude, your life will improve.
Too many people get offended, or angry, or jealous, or whatever the case may be…but then they act too quickly on those emotions. They let their emotions control them, and not the other way around. They lash out in anger, they say things they regret when jealous, they attack other people’s character when they feel victimized. Their emotions sabotage their lives, their jobs, and their relationships.
If you want to turn your life around, don’t be that person!
Another aspect of self-sabotage is in life management—what am I doing that is sabotaging my finances, my living situation, my quality of life? Could be as simple as budgeting, or something else. But self-awareness and journaling will help you identify what you might be missing.
This is just a primer for how to start turning your life around. Trust God, be patient, and the results will come. It took me several years to get the results I wanted out of life, and I’m still learning all the time.