A Guide to Effective Self-Defeat
Self-help is all the rage nowadays.
We chase and consume so much advice on how to go through our daily lives, be more productive, improve our careers, unleash our potential, find our purpose, or whatever it is that constitutes winning in life.
One of the hottest takes is the simple Stoic wisdom that it all boils down to how you respond to situations. The pragmatic advice goes: You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you respond.
But isn’t how you respond ultimately a function of your thinking? In other words, what is your mindset towards the situation?
Most of life, then, is a mental game. And we are unique players granted with the freedom to form our mental models.
We can create narratives, tell ourselves stories, and rationalize our behaviors, yet we fail to understand just how powerful this is — How our mindset can make or break us. How the happiness or misery brought into our lives could often be self-inflicted.
So before anything else, this is my advice: Take a step back, take a long hard look in the mirror, and think about how you react to situations in your daily life.
Winning in life requires building a healthy mentality. Here are eight insidious mindsets that are from that.
1. Expect the World from Yourself.
The born perfectionist. People may think you’re too hard on yourself for thinking it’s never enough, but you’ll take the anxiety over the feeling of settling any day. You prize yourself for setting the bar so high that you can’t even see it, much less reach it! But it’s easier to deny that.
An aspiring writer? Don’t stop until you think of the perfect topic! The first draft should be nearly a masterpiece! Publishing it? Settle for nothing less than the most prestigious publications!
New job? You’re supposed to know your shit. You’re supposed to hit the ground running. You’re supposed to be able to answer and blow away your boss when he asks for a recommendation. You’re supposed to kill it in your role from day one.
So you take all the time in the world to craft the perfect answer, perfect outcome, or perfect output. Live & breathe the details lest you end up a disappointment. Make sure all the pieces fit perfectly right here, right now. If you do all of this, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect sensational results (yes, overnight).
2. Consider Everybody Else.
Of course, you’re image-conscious. Everybody wants to take care of their reputation. You’ve heard the saying that people are “born to stand out”, but the unspoken rules of conformity are much louder. At the end of the day, you know that society’s approval matters.
So the only way to get through this life unscathed is to possess a super sense of self-consciousness. It’s exhausting, but you never want to risk crossing the line, doing something “out of character”, violating norms, being judged as someone who tries too hard, getting unwarranted labels, or making a fool out of yourself for the sake of novelty or individuality.
It’s become second nature to you — factoring in what other people think (or you think they might be thinking). Avoid embarrassment and shame at all costs. You are a human chameleon, awesomely blending in with people’s opinions and perceptions.
And hey, if you can’t go after what you want or own up to what matters, at least everybody else who doesn’t matter won’t have anything to say about you.
3. Wait for Right o’clock.
So there’s a guy you’ve been meaning to ask out. There’s also that passion project you’ve been mulling over for years. Add to that your Eat Pray Love dreams to go on a soul-searching adventure. And don’t forget your plans to get that MBA abroad!
Every night you romanticize about all these things and swear to yourself, “One day”, comforted by the subconscious thought that you have the rest of your life ahead of you.
The day will come when the time is ripe. Better to wait and be sure than to jump in scared and unprepared, right? Someday, timing will cooperate and finally do something with your life. Besides, you have faith that the universe will make it happen for you at the right time because of how much you want it. Isn’t that what the whole The Secret thing is about?
But, hey, if 50 years down the road you find yourself in the same place — except for white hair, crow’s feet, five cats, and a long, unchecked bucket list — , you can’t possibly blame yourself, right? Timing is a b*tch, and we’re all at its mercy.
The only philosophy you need for maximum anxiety and surefire mediocrity: Due tomorrow? Do tomorrow!
But procrastinating is how you live life on the edge. They did say that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?
Burning the midnight oil, not knowing if you’re going to make the deadline, scrambling to produce two weeks’ worth of output in two days, going for a buzzer-beater — What a feat. What a rush.
The world may not have discovered it yet but you’re convinced that being a procrastination junkie is genetic. Getting high off of last-minute productivity, taking in an ungodly amount of caffeine — You can’t explain it, but you just work better this way (not that you’ve tried doing things differently). If it’s worked before — nevermind hanging by a thread — , then you can certainly do it again.
Stress-induced acne and deep eyebags are your battle scars. Wear them proudly (because you can’t hide them anyway).
5. Control Social Media, Control your Life.
Like an echo chamber, social media is a great way to be heard. You may be saying or sharing what everybody else is thinking, but at least you’re saying something. Besides, it saves so much time to just rely on your feed. You get access to current events (with the added excitement of not knowing if it’s real or fake news), the hottest stories, the latest trends, and of course, your friends’ lives.
And that last bit is probably the most useful benefit of social media. Your friends’ life status is the gauge by which you validate your own life. Are you as successful as everybody else seems to be? Are you living the best days of your life like how all your friends’ Instagram feeds & stories look like? Or at the very least, are you doing what convention tells you you should be doing?
If the answer is yes, well, good job for whatever story you managed to tell yourself! If the answer is no — which I’m guessing is probably the case — don’t fret!
You can still curate your feed and fabricate a life that looks convincing to your peers (and to yourself). Just remember: You may not have your sh*t together in real life, but your virtual reality is in your hands.
6. Be Always On.
Stacie Orrico said it: There’s gotta be more to life.
And the way to get more is to be more, do more, and ask for more. Take advantage of your energy and say yes to everything, everyone, everywhere. And if it ever feels like you have too much on your plate, the key is to never tire. Be indefatigable.
Respect the grind. Hustle hard. Swallow all that inspirational millennial-speak mojo. Our generation is all about the Boss Life. Don’t take no for an answer. And don’t say no either when asked. Can I get a yes? Or a hell yes?!
Why would anybody want to say no, anyway? Considering it means you have to think twice. It means you have to prioritize, even when you don’t have to because you have all these hopes and dreams, and the limitless fire of youth to take on all of them. And the worst part about saying no? It means acknowledging the opportunity costs of all the things you’re getting into.
That’s not very exciting. But you know what is?
A bold and resounding yes.
7. Hold on to the Victim Card.
You’re no different than anybody else in wanting to be the best versions of themselves. You want to own your life and feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. You have aspirations, ideals, and all those other stuff that people say give life meaning.
The effort and intention are there, but what can you do if life just makes it so damn difficult? You get sh*t done, but life, as always, manages to hand you even bigger sh*t in return. Life isn’t fair.
It’s not that you’re completely helpless, but there are just way too many things outside of your control. You want to eat clean and stay fit but you work in the fast-food industry. You’re unhappy about your role and you could explore a different career path, but your boss is an unsupportive prick. And just when you think you were finally going to get your big break, your teammate screws it up by changing the direction you originally had in mind. Sure, you signed off on it, but it was his idea!
You genuinely want to go far in life, but how can you, when force majeure keep pinning you down? How can you assert what you want when every effort seems to be greeted with resistance from so many directions? Can you do anything if the thought “I can’t do anything about it” has become autopilot?
8. Make no Space for Negativity.
Positivity is your middle name. You always look at the bright side, believe every cloud has a silver lining, and keep your chin up no matter what. Your smile is permanently glued to your face. You’re allergic to sadness. And your greatest secret is that you poop rainbows.
Your ability to suppress negativity is unparalleled. It’s almost like a superpower — how quickly you can shrug it off and “detach” yourself from it. Detect even the slightest hint of bad vibes and just flip your hair, cast it away, and lock it into the deepest recesses of your mind.
Okay, so maybe harboring them inside and denying their existence for as long as possible isn’t synonymous with detachment. But it’s better than lending yourself to emotional attachment. Getting weighed down by disappointment, regretting things — nobody has time for that stuff anymore. You know better.
What was that quote? Everybody wants happiness, nobody wants pain, but you can’t have a rainbow without a little sunlight? Something like that.
The mantra has been and will always be to choose happiness.
So hold the fort. And say it one more time: Ignorance is bliss.
If you can somehow relate to any of these thought patterns, you’re already on the losing end.
But you don’t have to keep shooting yourself in the foot. The choice is yours in this mental game.
You can conveniently stick to your existing mindset with a 99.9% guarantee of experiencing deep inner turmoil & anxiety sooner rather than later.
Or you can make the effort to train your mind to see things differently, change the game, and radically improve your life in the long run.