Seven tips to fight back for a better tomorrow
Howard applied to designer-label graduate schools but ended up admitted only to his safe school. He applied for cool jobs but landed only fair to middling ones. He tried to find the woman of his dreams but ended up with the woman of his realities. He hoped his kids would be awesome but they turned out pretty-much average.
And now Howard is 65 and just left the doctor’s office with a warning that he needed to lose 30 pounds, for real.
So as he drove home, he contemplated his life, which was far more over than ahead. But after just a minute of woulda-coulda-shoulda reverie, he snapped himself to attention and thought, “What the hell can I do now, today, tomorrow, this week, this month—other than go on the damn diet?
Howard decided to be nicer to his wife, for example, assiduously clean up, but ask that, in exchange, she be nicer to him, for starters, really listen to his brainstormings.
He wanted to give himself more pleasure but found that harder than he expected:
He thought about getting a new car but decided that it wasn’t worth the cost and risk to his financial security. Besides, his wife would resent it: “You tell me to watch my spending and then you go and buy a new car while the old one runs perfectly well?”
He thought about doing some traveling but also decided against it, feeling that it was more a should than a want. Besides, whatever positive thoughts he had about travel were colored by selective memory of past vacations and, to his chagrin, images in commercials, for example, a couple in pre-orgasmic ecstasy as they cavort in preternaturally blue water, without a sign of a raindrop, let alone a mosquito.
The best pleasure enhancer that Howard could come up with was to spend a little more time on his existing hobbies: photography, building model rockets, baking, and watching videos on YouTube.
Perhaps surprisingly, Howard decided to work more hours per week. Not withstanding society’s lauding work-life balance, he derived greater pleasure, a sense of contribution, and yes, more money, by spending discretionary hours working.
And yes, he’d try to lose the weight and keep it off. How? No fancy systems. He’d just try to stay conscious when hungry, eat judiciously, and stop when he was no longer hungry rather than keep eating until he was stuffed.
At age 70, Howard felt his life was okay. Although moments of “Is that all there is?” occasionally intruded, more often, he felt some gratitude that it could be far worse.
The following tips were embedded in that story:
- Wallowing in your life’s past woes is likely to be less pleasurable let alone efficacious than forcing, yes forcing, yourself to get distracted by asking yourself, “What’s my next baby step forward?”
- We can decide to be nicer. Key is to identify specifics you want to be nicer about and remain vigilant.
- Adding pleasure to your life will more likely derive from doing more of the activities you already enjoy than to try something different or buy something expensive.
- Today, the normative exhortation is to work less. We even pathologize hard workers as “workaholic,” implying it’s akin to alcoholic.” Rather than succumb to the herd’s wishes, do what you think is WISE for you.
- The best system for behavior change is often the simplest one because you’re more likely to keep it top-of-mind, plus you won’t get bogged down by some burdensome protocol.
- Sometimes, forcing yourself, which has a bad reputation, is what’s required to push yourself to do what you believe is, although not fun, wise.
- Unhelpful thoughts will intrude. That’s okay. Just try to quietly banish them, replacing them with constructive thoughts such as gratitude and the aforementioned, “What’s my next baby step forward?”