First things first: Alan Cohen is hilarious. I have no idea why it took me so long to discover his work, but I’m glad I did.
In addition to being laugh-out-loud funny, Cohen is also wonderfully wise. He’s a remarkable storyteller, and in Why Your Life Sucks: And What You Can Do About It (Jodere Group, 2002), he presents the top-10 reasons your life might be less great than it could be. Here’s a sampling of just a few of the most common “sucky” habits that tend to bring otherwise smart folks down.
Giving Your Power Away
When you don’t trust yourself, or you “make someone or something outside of you more important than what is inside of you,” writes Cohen, you’re on the fast track to a sucky life. “Since everything you need is inside you and no one can know more about your path and purpose than you do, any power you ascribe to external authorities must eventually explode in your face and leave you feeling worse than when you started.”
If you fall into this category, your “quest is about peeling away the lies and illusions you have been told — and went on to tell yourself — that have kept you living smaller than you deserve.”
How do you peel away the lies? Cohen offers this advice: “Imagine a radio station that we’ll call KNOW broadcasting sound advice from somewhere deep inside you 24 hours a day. Then imagine you have a tuner capable of receiving its signal. If you set your tuner to the right frequency, you hear the broadcast and pick up vital information. If your dial is set elsewhere, you miss the message.”
The source of your strength is inside of you. Stop trying to “import power” from outside relationships, start tuning in to KNOW, and trust yourself!
Expecting Your Life to Suck
Did you know that goldfish are kept tiny by their little tiny bowls? If we let them swim in a lake, they’d grow 100 times larger. It’s the same with humans, writes Cohen.
“We have all been hypnotized into thinking that we are smaller than we are. Just as an undersized flowerpot keeps a mighty tree root-bound or a little fishbowl keeps goldfish tiny, we have adapted, adjusted and accommodated to the Lilliputian life. . . . Unlike the tree or goldfish, you are not dependent on someone else to move you. You have the power to move yourself. You can step into a broader domain and grow to your full potential.”
When you expect your life to be small and sucky, you will get what you expect. “Your real enemies are the self-defeating thoughts, paltry expectations, and beliefs that you must live at less than full throttle,” writes Cohen.
To find freedom from these destructive thoughts, he advises us to act like bouncers — strongmen who “stand at the doorway of your mind and monitor your thoughts. Notice which ones lift you and which ones drag you down. Then, like a bouncer at an exclusive party, admit only those on the invitation list and send the others back where they came from.”
This idea comes up in different ways in so many of my PhilosophersNotes on great wisdom books of all kinds; it is that essential to happiness. So it’s time to get your inner bouncer working the velvet rope in your mind. Don’t let negative thoughts crash your party!
Wasting Your Energy on Thoughts That Suck
Most people are reasonably careful about how they spend their money, observes Cohen, yet they are far less careful about how they “spend” their attention. He points out that in the long run, though, “how you spend your attention affects your life far more profoundly than how you spend your money. Your attention is the strongest currency at your disposal. If you squander it, your life will result in one big overdraft. If you invest it in things you value, you will collect interest big time — and be interested along the way.”
Cohen uses an analogy (a modernized version of an oft-quoted Native American story about two wolves) to drive home this point: “Imagine two lawyers in a courtroom inside your head. One is arguing for your possibilities and you achieving your goals. The other is arguing for your limits and why you don’t deserve what you want. Who will win? The lawyer who you pay the most. The way you pay these lawyers, however, is not with money; it is with your attention.”
The perceptions, goals and priorities you entertain are incredibly powerful influences on your life. “Whatever you think and talk about paves the runway for what you will create,” Cohen asserts.
What are you focusing on right now? If it’s not the things that matter to you most, it’s time to pay that other lawyer a higher salary!
Trying to Prove Yourself
Want a sucky life? Try to prove yourself to others or please everyone around you.
“Let’s get one thing straight right now,” writes Cohen: “You will never, never, never, ever, ever . . . get everyone’s approval all the time. Jesus didn’t do it, nor did Gandhi or Princess Diana. Even very good people could not get everyone to like them. No one ever has and you won’t be the first. You won’t be able to get everyone to like any one thing you do, and you won’t get any one person to like everything you do. So give up your quest for universal admiration right now; it is never-ending, infinitely frustrating, and it sucks. If you are ever going to receive the approval you seek, it is going to have to come from you.”
Lots of people will have opinions about your choices. They’ll have ideas of what you ought to do or not do. But those ideas don’t have much value for you unless they match the vision you have for your own life.
So stop and ask yourself: Is my life an expression of my heart’s desire? If not, it’s time to give up the quest for universal admiration and seek the approval of the only person who matters: you.
Get a free MP3 of a guided meditation designed to put you in a less “sucky” state of mind. Download “I Am Optimistic” at www.blissitations.com/ExpLife.
Brian Johnson is a philosopher and (professional) student of life. He used to build businesses. Now he reads a lot and has fun integrating universal truths into his day-to-day life. He also likes to hike, laugh, write, think, teach and hang out with his wife, Alexandra. Learn more at Philosophers Notes.com.