It’s a new year, which is the traditional time to start deciding how you’re going to change up your life. As much as I’m a “New Years Resolutions are bullshit” kind of person, I am a fan of self-motivation and sometimes giving an arbitrary date emotional significance is as good a way as any to kick off a self-improvement plan.
Most of the time.
See, there’s one type of person who’s never going to get better, no matter how many plans they make or how many resolutions they pledge. They’re the ones who have what I call “the objection mindset”. You may know one of them. You may be one of them. If you’re the sort of person who is always thinking “This would never work for me because reasons,” or you’re always telling people why you’re the exception to this advice, then odds are good that you have an objection mindset. And that means you’re never going to improve. Unless, of course, you work to overcome it.
Already sounding impossible? Welcome to the self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s talk about how you can change your mind and make some real, substantive improvements in your life.
Why The Objection Mindset Feels Right (And It’s Not)
Someone who has an objection mindset is always on the look out for reasons why they “can’t”. It may be that it’s not “who they are”, that they’ve tried this before and failed, that they’ve done “all they can”, or that there’s simply no way this can work because fate has uniquely singled them out to be the universe’s buttmonkey. Talking with someone with an objection mindset can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re the one trying to help them. After a while, it starts to feel like you’re talking to a toddler who’s just discovered Rage Against The Machine.
But if you’re the one with the objection mindset, this description almost certainly feels unfair and insulting. Your reasons and objections are perfectly legitimate and based on your extensive experience with soul-destroying failure. If I had gone through the same things you have, I wouldn’t be giving you this fairy tale “you’re just not wishing hard enough” bullshit because I’d totally understand.
Here’s the thing though: your objections make sense to you because your brain lies to you all the damn time. One of the quirks of the human brain is that we find it easier to believe the worst in… just about everything, honestly. Our brains are quite literally wired to let those negative thoughts and experiences linger longer and affect us more than positive ones. This is known as the negativity bias and it’s proof that evolution doesn’t give a shit if you feel like dying as long as you don’t actually, y’know, die. Our brains are so weighted towards holding onto shitty, ball-kicking memories that it takes six positive thoughts or experiences to equal the emotional weight of a negative one.
Then there’s the fact that we tend to pay attention to the thoughts and beliefs that conform to what we already believe – what’s known as “confirmation bias”. We tend to ignore evidence to the contrary because we wrap our identities up in what we believe. Challenge those beliefs and suddenly everything about ourselves is put out into play. So… we ignore things that don’t line up with what we expect. As a result: everywhere you turn, there’s going to be proof that your objection mindset is rational and logical. Naturally, you’re going to resist so much of what people have to tell you: your identity is at stake. But this is why:
You Can Argue, Or You Can Improve. Not Both
If you want to improve, accept that you are, in all likelihood, wrong about yourself on a deep and fundamental level and that your brain is going to fight improvement. And one of the first lines of defense against change is going to be trying to argue with other people that improvement is even possible in the first place. You’ll see this all the damn time when it comes to discussions about fixing problems in your life: people will fight tooth and nail about why it won’t work, why it can’t work and why it’s stupid to even try in the first place.
Hell, I’m going to make an incredibly bold prediction and say that at least some of you are doing that right now.
Now, if you are one of the people who’s telling me how very wrong I am, I’d like you to stop and think about just what you’re saying. Not in the “you’re proving my point for me” way but literally “what is your exact argument here?” How much of it is about the substance – that change is possible, if you get out of your own way – and how much of it is about the details? One of the ways that an objection mindset convinces you that change is impossible is by derailing the topic and ignoring the forest for the trees. People with an objection mindset will argue about how something isn’t catering to their very specific circumstances. They may try to out-clever the other person by arguing word-choices or rhetorical flourishes, insisting that if you take a particular metaphor to its “logical” conclusion, then clearly it makes no sense. They may argue about how the tone is unhelpful or accusatory or harsh. They may nitpick endlessly and look for seeming contradictions from other things the person said in order to “prove” that the argument is invalid. They’ll what-if the topic to death with increasingly absurd and specific scenarios that validate their beliefs.
Sound familiar? It does to me. I did all of these things back when I was learning how to get better with women. When you have an objection mindset, you’ll latch onto anything that excuses you from making changes.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dogging on people for objecting1 . It’s a totally understandable (if frustrating) part of the human experience. Change is scary. The potential for failure is even scarier. Misery is comfortable because at least it’s known. When you haven’t tried anything, you can’t fail. Arguing lets you disguise that fear as practicality. If you can browbeat someone into agreement (or at least into dropping the topic) then you’ve gotten them to tacitly validate your obdurateness, which then excuses you from making the attempt in the first place.
The fun paradox of this is that all that energy you just used to justify your not doing anything could’ve been equally applied to working on your self-improvement. Arguing feels like work, seeing as you’re revving your emotional engines in order to just spin your wheels. But as long as you’re arguing, you’re not improving. So next time you’re arguing (excuse me, explaining) why you can’t possibly get better or do the thing, just ask yourself: how’s all that working out for you?
Now with that being said: there’s a difference between having an objection mindset and having legitimate impediments to accomplishing something. That’s why it’s important to…
Acknowledge The Challenges (But Do It Anyway)
I’m not a big believer in “if you put your mind to it, you can do anything,” which may come as a bit of a surprise in an article about self-improvement. It’s important to recognize that not everybody is equally capable and different people are going to have different – but very real – limitations on what they can and cannot do, no matter how much they want to. While I do advocate a certain level of almost delusional optimism in certain areas, it’s equally important to acknowledge reality. If you have social anxiety, you’re going to have a harder time going out and making lots of cold approaches. If you’re neuroatypical, you may have to work harder to connect with people. Cultural narratives put certain ethnicities and genders at a disadvantage because we’re taught that they’re not as desirable. People with more disposable income will have a slightly easier time because they have more flexibility in what they can afford. People who’re more conventionally attractive have an advantage in dating than people who don’t.
It’s important to acknowledge that these difficulties exist because that’s going to affect how we pursue our goals. One-size-fits-all solutions are lovely, but they ignore the reality on the ground. But there’s a difference between something being “a challenge” and “impossible”. The fact that other people have it easier than you doesn’t mean that you’re absolutely and utterly fucked. Nailing Jello to a tree is impossible. Everything else is challenging.
Notice very carefully how I refer to things being a challenge. That’s deliberate. Words matter. How we describe and define things to ourselves matters. The more you tell yourself something’s impossible, the more it becomes so in your own mind. A challenge is something you may have to work harder to overcome, but it’s still possible. We rise to meet challenges. We recognize that failing, even repeatedly, is part of how we overcome a challenge. After all, if we could clear it the first time, it wouldn’t be a challenge, would it?
Impossibilities stymie us. Challenges prompt us to build our emotional resiliency that lets us get back up after we get knocked down or when we run into that seemingly insurmountable wall.
Which brings us to the next step:
When One Door Closes, Blow Open A Hole In The Wall
Having just told you that declaring things to be impossible is a bad idea, I’m going to tell you that yes, some things are impossible. Straight talk: sometimes you’re not going to be able to accomplish something no matter how hard you work or how hard you want it.
At least, not if you’re going about it the same way everybody else did.
I’m a firm believer in Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I didn’t fail; I just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” Part of success and self-improvement means recognizing that just because one thing you tried, even a dozen things, didn’t work, doesn’t mean that what you’re trying to do is impossible. It just means that what you’re doing isn’t working for you. So if doing the same thing over and over isn’t getting the job done, then it’s time to attack the same problem from a different angle. The wonderful thing about being human is that there’s not any One True Way to… just about anything, really.
Sometimes it means learning how to work around your limitations. I mean, shit, you’ve got guys with no arms becoming incredible painters and musicians. Humans are almost insanely adaptable at finding ways around things.
But instead of something quite that extreme – inspiring though it may be – let’s look at something a bit more in my wheelhouse. Like, say, dating and sexual attraction.
Meet Lemmy Kilmister, who has recently ascended to Rock and Roll Nirvana on a cloud of whiskey and face-melting blues riffs.
Lemmy, to put it charitably, had a face like a bulldog chewing a thistle and a voice that sounds like a dude gargling razorblades. He’s also gotten more strange ass than a man at a mutant donkey auction with Donald Trump’s credit card. Why? Because he may not have been the best looking dude in the world or the greatest singer but he was a fucking rock god. You put a bass in his hand and he will blow you out of the damn sky like a thunderbolt from Zeus.
Now, I know that there’s more than a few of you who’re saying “Great, so now we have to be at least as talented as a rock legend to get laid.” A) No I’m not and B) you’re proving my point from earlier. It’s not that you have to have more talent than God, it’s that you have to bring something to the table. Sometimes it’s looks. But if you aren’t the best-looking dude, then work on the other things that interest and attract people – your lifestyle, your talents, your passions. Develop your style and presence instead and work the long-game, which benefits someone who’s not as symmetrically gifted as others. If you have social anxiety and a hard time meeting people in person, making connections in ways that are more comfortable for you – through friends, through online dating or even non-standard approaches like meeting people through MMOs may work better for you.
Lemmy didn’t have the looks, but he put the time into developing himself in other areas.
Other times, it means forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying the things that are so far out of character that you’d never do them otherwise. “Just be yourself” is pretty bullshit advice if “yourself” isn’t working already, after all. For the longest time I believed that I couldn’t do cold approaches – not “chose not to” but literally could not. It wasn’t who I was, I didn’t have the right personality for it and really, how many people were actually receptive to them, etc. As much as I may criticize the PUA industry, I’ve got to give my instructors full credit for putting boot to ass and forcing me to do those “impossible” things that I swore I couldn’t.
Then there’s working at things that don’t seem to directly relate to your goal. What does a public speaking course do for you that gets you closer to being datable? Well, amongst other things, it helps you confront your anxieties about performing in front of others. Acting classes can help you become more conscious about how you’re coming across to others. Partnered dancing (like swing, salsa or ballroom) requires you to be more assertive as well as teaching you how to control and move your body. Developing your interests – finding things that you do – helps you become the sort of person that people want to be around in the first place.
Other times, you just need to change your definition of what success means. No it doesn’t mean fucking up, then pointing to it and saying “I meant to do that,” or “See, that was my real goal all along!” Nobody’s going to believe you, including you, and that just makes you seem pathetic. Changing the definition means finding things that you can accomplish that will put you in the general area of where you want to be. Just because you don’t become a world-famous rock star, for example, doesn’t mean that learning to play an instrument and jamming out with your buddies isn’t rewarding or meaningful in and of itself. The fact that you won’t end up looking like Ryan Reynolds doesn’t mean that an exercise regimen was a waste of your time.
Dating someone who isn’t a supermodel or not having dozens of sex partners doesn’t mean you’re less of a man as long as the people you are dating bring joy to your life. Not being a mega-millionaire or a household name or even more than middle-management doesn’t mean you’re a failure if you have other things in your life that satisfy you.
Even if you completely fail at something: did you learn from it? Yes? Cool, then you’re far more of a success than you realized. Redefining success means being open to happy accidents, to finding non-traditional paths to where you were trying to go or even realizing that what you thought you wanted wasn’t what you actually wanted. My life is full of failures and abandoned dreams and while they may have sucked at the time, they worked out. Failing at being a comic publisher helped me realize that I didn’t really want to be an artist. I got into pick-up in no small part because I wanted to get an ex-girlfriend of mine back. It never happened… and I couldn’t be happier because frankly, that would’ve been a mistake of Biblical proportions. I didn’t realize that all those fuck-ups were going to lead me to where I am today but I couldn’t be happier about where I’ve ended up.
Just because one specific goal or ambition didn’t work out doesn’t mean you failed. It just becomes another twist on the road that ultimately leads you to where you want to be.
The other thing you need to remember to get out of an objection mindset is that…
Forward Progress Is The Only Thing That Counts.
Speaking of limitations…
Part of getting around your limitations means accepting that things may well take longer than you’d like. Part of what makes self-improvement difficult is that we live in a world of limited resources – time, energy, money, etc – and that means having to work around them. Somebody who’s working two jobs in order to make ends meet isn’t going to have as much time to devote to developing a new skill or practicing making cold approaches. Somebody who has physical limitations on their movement isn’t going to be able to exercise the same way that other people are and their progress towards fitness is going to take longer.
That’s fine. One of the ways the objection mindset fucks with you is because we all want results now and not getting them makes us feel like it was all bullshit. But the fact of the matter is: slow progress beats no progress 100% of the time. Even if your metaphorical progress bar seems to be stalled out at the 59% mark, you’re still that much ahead of the people who talk and argue and plan without doing.
The fact that other people get where you want to be faster and easier doesn’t invalidate your advancement. Did you take steps to get towards where you’re going? Yes? Then that’s fucking awesome. You’re moving forward. Yes, it’s slow. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it may take you longer to get there than you’d like. But it will still get you there if you keep at it. Even your failures are progress. Failures mean that you did something. My shitty graphic novel that sold sweet-fuck-all is infinitely better than the perfect one that only exists in somebody’s head because I actually put the time into making it happen at all.
As long as you’re throwing up objections and saying you can’t, you’re not going to get anywhere. Yes, you’re going to face challenges. Yes, you may have to fight harder and longer to get half as far as other people will. But that’s still farther that you were before and you will get there.
Lose the objection mindset. You’re better than that.
- Well… maybe a little. RESPECT MY GODLIKE WISDOM, PEONS! [↩]