After doing therapy or life coaching with people for over 35 years, one can’t help but notice patterns. Problems may take different forms, but the core issues often fall into just a few categories. Life doesn’t need to be as hard as some people make it, so I’ve come up with a Top Ten List of things people do to bring problems onto themselves:
- Having kids without thinking. Some people have kids because it’s the thing to do, or because they feel it’s what they should do. Surprisingly few have carefully thought it out in terms of whatever else they might want to do with their lives.
- Waiting for things to happen automatically. We live in an age where a lot of things get done quickly. This has created a sense that competence and achievement are to be expected. That’s OK, but it must be matched with the resolve to create your own achievements. Good things don’t just happen; we have to make them happen.
- Expecting (or needing) to please others. It’s impossible to please everyone. And it doesn’t matter anyway. Most of the time others are too busy caring about their own lives to worry about what you’re doing.
Sometimes the need to please others starts in childhood. Most kids aim to please, and some parents make themselves hard to please. This is fine for kids, but once you’re an adult it makes no sense. In your job or business there are standards to meet, but it’s not your duty to please people other than to do what your customer or your boss pays you to do. If you like what you’re doing, then you’ll like yourself. And when you like yourself, it’s easy to make others happy.
- Trying to change others. This should really be #1! People insist that they don’t want to change others, but then they behave as if they can. This is particularly true with loved ones and co-workers. You can try to persuade, but only if you have first earned attention and respect. Use or abuse of power will never force anyone into lasting behavioral change.
- Acting on impulse. In other words, acting without thought. If/when things turn out badly, you have only yourself to blame. “I had a bad day” doesn’t cut it.
- Overestimating what thought can do. Some of us expect that thinking gives us certainty. You can be certain that one plus one equals two, but there are other things that require experimentation. You might think you’ll enjoy a certain thing, but you won’t know until you try. Thinking is great, but you also have to take action.
- Expecting things to stay the same. Change depends in part on other people. Just because something works well for you doesn’t mean it will work well for others. One man’s comfort is another’s impediment. Always have a back-up plan in case something changes.
- Expecting things to change. This is the reverse of #7 and is similar to #2. Imagine just passively waiting for something to happen. Sometimes waiting makes sense, but you need a back-up plan. Life goes on, and your “ship won’t come in” unless you make it come in.
- Thinking that kindness and reasonable behavior will lead to the same from others. Sorry, but it’s a fact of life that people do what they choose. Kindness on your part may bring it out in those who are already kind, but if somebody is not reasonable, your behavior will make little difference. This expectation can make people resentful and angry. Save yourself the hurt by avoiding unrealistic expectations.
- Don’t fall for the myth of “intrinsic value.” There is nothing wrong with you that corrected thinking can’t change. Your thinking might be flawed, but fundamentally you are not. We are all subject to error, but the good thing about errors is that they’re almost always correctable. And we live a better life by learning from them.