Since 1975 I have sat on my office couch talking with clients in person and on the telephone about their lives and relationships. Most of my clients are contributors to society, hold jobs, raise families, and generally want to do the right thing. Yet, over and over again I see the same kind of life and love defeating attitudes and behaviors. This list of Ten Life and Love Enhancing Attitudes and Behaviors came directly from my observation of the common mistakes people make that rob them of love, success, and happiness.
One: Be willing to endure “healthy suffering”.
“Healthy suffering” is the kind of suffering that comes naturally when you are attempting to accomplish something of virtue that is difficult. For example, quitting smoking, disappointing someone with bad news, writing a book, or correcting a mistake are difficult tasks where we experience some kind of discomfort. Life is choked full of difficult problems to face. If we don’t face them because we want to avoid the discomfort that comes with them, we actually create other, often more difficult problems. These new problems create “unhealthy suffering” and will continue until you honestly face the original problem.
Decide that you are willing to suffer for a higher good.
For example, if you don’t want to quit smoking because you don’t want to gain weight, decide that you are willing to gain weight if that’s what happens. Take the weight off later after you are secure as a non-smoker. Be willing to suffer the sadness that comes with a betrayal, the embarrassment that comes with a mistake, the anger that comes with unfairness, and the fear that comes with risk. If you try to sweep pain under the carpet, you will suffer more. If you face it, you are free to go on with your life. Decide that discomfort and suffering are a natural part of life. Don’t run from it. Move through it. It will lead you to resolution, increase your self esteem and feelings of empowerment, and even bring you enlightenment.
Two: Be direct. Ask for what you want.
Many people are able to ask for what they want when they are relatively sure that they are going to get it. Even so I am amazed at how difficult it seems for many people to just tell another person what they want. It is equally important to ask for what you want in the face of difficulty, when you feel vulnerable, or unsure of the results. For example, when you are faced with what appears to be a difficult or unreasonable person, do not hesitate. Calmly ask for cooperation and help. More often than not this approach opens a door for positive negotiation. Do not expect that others will see what you need and offer it automatically. Slow down. Calm yourself. Think of positive ways you can ask for help and support. Offer your help and support in return. For more on this read “Say What You Want“.
Most people avoid the easy direct route to filling their needs. It’s as though they are waiting for someone or something else to fill their needs, offer the solution, or provide the opportunity. Many people “beat around the bush,” never saying what they really want and never taking the necessary steps to reach their goals. In fact, they may work toward other people’s goals more readily than their own. They put off, unwilling to suffer the discomfort of doing the job. I remember a client whose husband wanted to go on a skiing vacation. She did not want to go. However she did not tell her him. So she calculated the amount of money the trip would have cost and spent it redecorating her living room, even though it didn’t need redecorating. She knew that after she spent the money redecorating, her husband wouldn’t spend money on a trip. She couldn’t simply say to her husband, “I don’t want to go on the skiing trip.” All her communications were similarly indirect. No one knew what she really wanted. What an unhappy way to live.
Directness is a sign of maturity. It allows others to know how you feel, what you need, and what you expect. There are no confusing mysteries. Directness opens the door to more aliveness and creativity. Be direct. Be kind. Be respectful.
Three: Decide that all your communications will be win-win.
We have been raised in a competitive world of win-lose attitudes. We grow up with the notion that there is only so much love, only one prize, and a limited supply of anything we value. Without even knowing it we learn to communicate defensively or offensively, automatically discounting any possibility of negotiating a win-win solution. We do this simply because we subconsciously assume that others don’t care if we get our needs filled. I know this perhaps sounds extreme, but observe yourself and others for a while. See what you learn.
Adopt the attitude that everyone can and should win. Be willing to negotiate until everyone is satisfied. Don’t stop until everyone wins. Be willing to make reasonable compromises. Never aim to defeat or withdraw without a win-win resolution. You will find that most of the time everyone can win.
Four: Set healthy boundaries and limitations with reasonable consequences and be willing to enforce them.
People often get overwhelmed and defeated by circumstances that they have set up themselves. For example, scheduling too many things in a day, allowing inappropriate people into personal business, or allowing others to take advantage can produce some serious problems that may not go away.
Decide what is truly important, appropriate, and healthy for you. Do not allow yourself or anyone else to go over those lines. Do not allow yourself to be seduced or intimidated into experiencing something that is not in line with your personal ethics. Communicate your boundaries and the consequences of broken boundaries to others. When it is right, say “No,” even if it may seem to hurt another. Follow through with the consequences you have set up even when it creates problems. Be willing to deal with the problems. Remember that enabling or allowing another to take advantage of you is ultimately harmful for that person and erodes their character, not to mention your own.
It seems that we humans have our own agenda and that instead of fully listening to others we are busy with our own opinions, needs, and attitudes. Some people may appear to listen, but are actually silently preparing for what they want to say next. Good listening takes effort, sometimes even strenuous effort. Partial listening isolates us and sets up a win-lose relationship with others. One cannot truly connect with another unless one listens.
When another is speaking set aside your own agenda for a while and really listen. Focus your attention entirely on the speaker for a time. This is work, but be willing to do it. Being a good listener does not mean that you have to give up expressing yourself. It means concentrating on what the other is attempting to say for a time. Then you can weigh the message, attitudes, and needs of the other person more intelligently and respond more responsibly. Good listening allows you to connect with others, expands your horizons, and offers the opportunity for real viable solutions to everyday problems. The pay off is big when you really listen.
Six: Do not let your fear of loneliness or of being alone run you.
Some people will endure unthinkable pain and abuse just to avoid loneliness. “But if I do what I want I might end up all alone.” I have heard this so many times. What is your life purpose? Is it to live for other’s desires, to do anything just to avoid possible pain or loneliness, or to live so others will approve of you? If so, you are not really living. You are just surviving. If your life purpose is to experience a high level of integrity, love, and creativity, you can be sure that there will be times when you will be alone and feel lonely. This is a small price to pay for being fully alive. What a waste it is to just survive a life.
Be willing to suffer the pain of loneliness. If you stick with it, in time you will find someone that you can always depend upon and give you great company – yourself. You will learn that loneliness is a part of life. Every person feels it. Being alone and loneliness is not a sign of incompetence or inadequacy. It can, however, be a sign of self-responsibility and creativity. Learn to spend quality time alone. For example, take long walks where you can think through things, sit quietly and reflect on your life, or do some mindless task like weeding the garden while you reflect. This is quality alone time and will support you on your journey through life.
Seven: Be willing to delay your gratification.
Instant gratification is the culprit of much unhappiness. By taking the quickest, easiest, cheapest, or shortest route, you most often guarantee that you will get inferior quality. You are cheating yourself out of real value and often will have a price to pay for it. Some people pay the price of their very lives.
Be willing to wait a little longer and effort a little harder. Do not settle for less than you deserve. Don’t take strawberry when you want chocolate. Don’t stop at a high school education when what you want to do requires a college education. Don’t allow lesser people to take your time when you deserve quality people in your life. Take the long road if the long road will take you to a better place than the short one. By delaying your gratification you are building your character, exercising and developing self-discipline, increasing your self-confidence, and increasing your happiness quotient. Delayed gratification is an act of love, an expression of how much you care about yourself.
Eight: Speak respectfully even when you think you have been wronged.
Speaking disrespectfully to another not only hurts another but it hurts you, too. When you do this you shift your focus from what is virtuous to what is low. Where you focus, you follow. When you respond with respect your focus has to be of a higher nature and that is where you will automatically go.
Refrain from “joke shaming” or sarcasm. “Joke shaming” is putting someone down or revealing their weaknesses under the guise of a joke. Many people are unaware that much of what they communicate includes joke shaming and sarcasm. The end result is often a combative relationship that breeds silent resentment and lacks essential respect. Do not attempt to motivate or “teach” others by putting them down, no matter how amusing the joke or justified the sarcasm. It is better to say what you want and need in a direct and kind way. Support people by showing them this kind of respect. They will return it in kind.
Nine: Keep your word even in little things.
Sometimes people say, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and don’t; borrow something and don’t return it; say, “I’ll buy you lunch next time,” and forget; or say, “I’ll come to your event,” and cancel at the last minute or simply don’t show. This behavior reflects a lack of sincerity and integrity that subtly undermines trust. When you give lip service to something not only do you confuse and undermine the trust of others, you do so as well with yourself. Do what you say you will do no matter how small or inconsequential it seems even if it is inconvenient. Don’t make casual promises you can’t keep just to look good in the moment. It doesn’t really pay in the long run. People learn not to trust you and you learn not to trust yourself.
Ten: Prioritize your tasks. Do first things first. Start now.
This has something to do with your “healthy suffering.” People procrastinate because they don’t want to feel the discomfort that is associated with doing something inconvenient, distasteful, or difficult. As a result new problems arise often causing more discomfort than the original task.
Keep this as a rule of thumb: Do the things you resist doing first. Then you will be free to enjoy the rest of your day. Adopt an attitude of setting your feelings of resistance aside and forge ahead in spite of those feelings. You will still feel them. You just are not giving them power to choose your actions. Now you are in control, not your feelings.