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Your Life Is a Mess? How to Fix It and Turn Things Around

Your Life Is a Mess? How to Fix It and Turn Things Around

Your home is a mess, but not even half as messy as your life. Your partner isn’t talking to you, your work life seems out of control, your social relationships don’t go the way you want, and you feel like something is missing in life…

We all go through a point in our life where everything seems out of control. Once you get to that point, it’s hard to know where to start.

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re at this point.

The bad news is that it will be hard. The good news is that you will get through it.

In this article, you’ll learn 3 steps to fix it and turn things around.

Step 1: Recognize the Mess You Have

It’s easy to say that you have to take back control of your life, but how do you actually do this?

If there was one right answer, most people wouldn’t deal with this problem for more than a minute.

The true is there isn’t one. There is no quick solution, but there are ways to deal with it.

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First, you have to recognize that you have a problem. If you tell yourself everything is fine, then there is nothing to fix. The moment you don’t prioritize dealing with your problems is the moment you lose.

It’s possible to get through your days even though your life is a mess. Because maybe your home isn’t a mess. Maybe everything looks alright from the outside. We can still go to work and pick the kids up from school despite our problems, but day by day you’ll become more and more anxious and depressed, until it finally hits you all at a once.

The first step is therefore to take your problems seriously and actively decide to turn things around. Maybe you’re not at a breaking point yet, but you will get there if you keep ignoring the mess.

Step 2: Know What Are out of Control, and Let Go of Them

When your life seems like a mess, it often comes down to a lot of things around us that aren’t going the way they are supposed to. It can be the small things like a messy kitchen and the big things like personal relationships not working out, or bills that are overflowing.

Start out by figuring out exactly where it all seems to go wrong at the moment. Sit down and write down everything that’s been bothering you.

It may seem basic and stupid to spend time on a list like that, because with everything you should be doing – making a list about it just creates even more pressure on you.

But by writing it down, you’ll be able to get a good look at your messy life. Sometimes, we need to see the problems on a paper written down in our own words. My boyfriend keeps cheating on me. I’m way over my budget every month. My co-worker doesn’t like me.

Once you do this, you’ll be able to see that a lot of the things that seems to make your life a mess is out of your control. Underline all the things on the list that you can’t control and then let go of them.

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It’s very normal (and okay) to have a lot of these out-of-our-control things on the list as well as problems that aren’t even really problems. Humans need problems, but we need to be able to solve them.

Mark Manson explains it like this,[1]

“Problems are a constant in life. When you solve your health problem by buying a gym membership, you create new problems, like having to get up early to get to the gym on time, sweating like a meth-head for thirty minutes on an elliptical, and then getting showered and changed for work, so you don’t stink up the whole office. When your solve problem of not spending enough time with your partner by designating Wednesday night “date night”, you generate new problems, such as figuring out what to do every Wednesday that you both won’t hate, making sure you have enough money for nice dinners, rediscovering the chemistry and spark you two feel you’ve lost…”

Problems are a constant in every human life, but stop creating problems you can’t fix.

We get so caught up in small things like our partner liking someone else’s picture on social media. It’s much easier to let our bottled-up anger out on a person about a picture instead of saying you’re not happy anymore and that you should have broken up six months ago.

So, to recap step 2:

Pinpoint all the things that are brining you down that you can’t control. Problems are okay. They are a part of human existence, but if you want to move on and fix your life, then you need to only focus on the problems that can be solved.

Step 3: Don’t Get Lost in Distractions and Fantasies

When your life starts to feel like a mess, it’s often because we’ve been moving forward at a fast pace, but somehow still feel like we’re standing still. You thought that if you just kept going for another week, another month, or maybe even another year, you would get “there”.

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You’re not sure where, but you told yourself that you would know this happy place once you got there.

Then you wake up one day and all the problems are still there. The magic solution you thought would save you from all the negative things in your life was nothing else than a tale.

We tell ourselves that we can overcome problems like having too many bills, if we just find our true love, or that it doesn’t matter you’re alone and miserable as long as you get the promotion at work.

We like to idealize the idea of a few good things in life that we’ve seen in all the movies: the perfect job, the perfect partner… And then we tell ourselves that instead of focusing on the small problems in our life, we should focus on getting those.

It’s in fact delusional to think that one good thing in life can make all the bad things go away. It’s a fantasy.

Even if you do get that one good thing that you’ve put so much pressure on getting, it will end up backfiring and make you feel even more sad once you get it, because you realize that all the other things in your life did kind of matter as well.

Instead of finding a quick fix, or chasing a fantasy, you should embrace the suffering. Mark Manson expressed his concern about today’s society in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:

“I believe that today we’re facing a psychological epidemic one in which people no longer realize it’s okay for things to suck sometimes.”

While it’s important to not spend time caring about all the problems we can’t fix, it’s just as important to care about the things we do have the ability to fix.

Maybe you can run away from your problems for a while — getting caught up in a new relationship that makes you forget that you’ve broken the one with your family, or a new promotion can make you forget that you actually wanted to do something else with your life. Unfortunately, the on-going problems in your life will come back and they will hit you much harder.

The final step is therefore to keep your focus on the problems that can be fixed. The problems in front of you that you are in control of. Embrace them. Deal with them. One day at a time.

Don’t get lost in distractions. They might make you feel better for a minute, but they’ll make everything worse in the long run.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t fall in love or enjoy some good news at work while you’re dealing with your problems. But remember to deal with your pain and problems instead of pushing them to the side.

More to Boost Your Motivation

Featured photo credit: Riccardo Mion via unsplash.com

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Maria Jensen

Specializes in personal and professional development.

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

It has been said that rarely am I short of words, and yet I’ve rewritten this article on positive and negative reinforcement five times. Why?

It’s not as if I have a lack of thoughts on this subject. It’s not as if I don’t spend my days enabling people to communicate powerfully and get what they want in life. So why the rewrites?

I’ve found myself thinking about the diversity of people I’ve coached and how different we all can be. Usually when I write for Lifehack, I’m able to see instant commonality in the subject that means I could share some ideas that would resonate wherever you are in life, whoever you are, regardless of what you were looking to achieve or what adversity you may be facing.

However, with this, it’s a “How long’s a piece of string?” answer, i.e. I could probably write a whole book’s worth of words and still have ideas to share.

Let’s look at some key points:

  • You will have times in your life where you need to get someone to do something.
  • You will have times when someone needs you to do something.

Let’s look at how positive and negative reinforcement would work. In both of these situations, you can face some big obstacles:

  • Someone may resist your desire for them to change.
  • Someone may challenge your authority or leadership.
  • Someone may be at risk of getting hurt.

The important thing to remember is that, in life, we all have to be influenced and influence those around us, and some ways will help us get the result we want, and others won’t. However, that may differ on where you are, who you are talking to, and what you want to see happen!

So, how do we know when positive reinforcement is effective[1], and can there ever be a time when negative reinforcement is good?

Worryingly, if you get positive and negative reinforcement wrong, you can risk your career, your business, your relationships, your reputation, and your brand.

Positive and negative reinforcement each have their merits, so it’s imperative to know when to employ them. Interestingly, despite a ton of evidence to the contrary, we still rely on the wrongs ones in society, business, and even in parenting.

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The 4 examples below showcase the use of positive and negative reinforcement, and whether they personally apply to you right now or not, they will resonate and be very useful to you personally in every area of your life.

For each we will look at:

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. What have you tried?
  3. Now what?
  4. The results!

The Boss

Okay, you may not be a boss, but everyone will have times in their life where they need to get people organized and working together to get the best result. Often, leaders say things like this to me:

  • “I’ve told them until I’m blue in the face not to do that!”
  • “They constantly refuse to use the new system.”
  • “They just don’t listen.”
  • “They don’t respect me.”

What Did the Boss Try?

Often, I hear “We’ve tried everything!” No matter who is reading this, trust me, you’ve not tried everything. (That’s the first thing to accept.) When you accept that, you then need to look at what you have tried to move forward.

The boss has tried:

  • Giving the person training.
  • Spending time with them and showing them how to do it.
  • Telling them it wasn’t good enough.
  • Telling them we aren’t doing that any more.

Now What?

The above situations create tension between the two as you constantly battle to maintain your position on the situation. If you are looking to get someone to do something, and they constantly resist, you need to stop and ask yourself some questions:

  1. What have we tried? This helps you to understand what they are good at, so you can utilize that in the conversation.
  2. From their viewpoint, what could prevent them from doing what I’ve asked? What could they fear, and how will we allay those fears?
  3. What do they want? Seeing their viewpoint enables you to use their terminology and language so they feel listened to.
  4. What do they believe? Do their beliefs prevent them from seeing the benefits? Beliefs can be changed but not by force—coaching is very powerful for this.
  5. How do these answers differ from my beliefs and views? Bridging the gap helps you to see both views and communicate more powerfully.

In my experience, rarely does a boss or leader need to say the word “No.” If someone is not doing what you want them to, the quickest way to see results is to ask questions and listen. Often, when you really listen, you discover a big gap between what you think you are saying and what the other person is hearing.

The reasons why someone is not doing what you want can include:

  • They don’t know how to do what you’ve asked them to do.
  • They are scared to get it wrong.
  • They fear what people will think of them.
  • They don’t have the confidence to come and tell you they need help.
  • They are scared that someone will tell them off.
  • They don’t understand where the boundaries are.

People tell me, “But I said that to them!” If you are too close to the situation, then how likely are they to take notice from you? Here’s what you can do:

  • Get out of your usual environment – Neutral environments make difficult conversations easier. They can take you both off your guard, which can be good.
  • Start by making that person feel safe to say anything. Start with ground rules like “This is a confidential conversation” and “I won’t make any judgement on what you say, I just want to understand.”
  • Be prepared to say “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t realize.” When you do this, positive and negative reinforcement can be used.

Learning how to coach people instead of tell people is key. Enabling the other person to see the benefits of what you want for them (and not you) is quicker than trying to dictate action.

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  • Lay out expected outcomes.
  • Create boundaries.
  • Explain what support and help you will provide.

The Results

This style of reinforcement is about utilizing both positive and negative reinforcement. It enables someone to feel safe to explain why they’ve not been taking action and helps them to overcome the limitations they feel while safe in the knowledge that they will get the support to change with the positive results explained in a way that matters to them.

The Young Child

If you’ve ever found yourself on the wrong end of a relentless tantrum of a small child, you will know it can feel impossible to get through to them. While many elements of The Boss scenario could work, there are times where you may need some negative reinforcement.

What’s the Problem?

My children are now 15 and 18. I can honestly say that, while we have had some challenging behaviors, our parenting means I have two children I’m very proud of–great communicators, great work ethic, kind, funny, considerate. The point is that, for my children, this stuff works. And, to be honest, when I’m with other people’s children, they often say “How did you get them to do that!”

Young children are amazing. It’s like they’ve just woken up in a new body and have been told to go touch, feel, experience everything–every emotion, every taste, smell, experience, texture, the lot! They are curious and keen to know more. They sap up everything, and a lot of that we don’t want them sapping up!

When they go to put a pencil in an electric socket, or let go of your hand as you cross the road, it’s imperative they get the learning and knowledge they need fast. I once was talking to a parent that said I was wrong to say no to my children. I asked, “At what age would you like me to introduce them to that word?” to which they had no answer.

While I agree that there are usually a lot more words than just no for children, “no” is a word that kept you and I safe when we were small.

What Have You Tried?

While young children are incredibly intelligent, explaining the merits of your preferred course of action is not going to keep them safe. Tying them to your waist isn’t working. Punishing them and telling them there’s no more park time until you walk next to me doesn’t work either. So how do you say no and keep them safe?

Now What?

Sometimes negative reinforcement is essential[2]. For instance, my son (who adored Bob the Builder when he was little) was playing with his plastic tool kit and discovered an electric socket…I didn’t stop to explain the merits of how that could be dangerous. I said calmly, “No, that’s dangerous!”

Here’s the important point: It’s not just about your words. With young children, it’s important that your body language clearly says the same.

The Results

I did feel like the luckiest parent on the planet to have two children sleeping through the night, but that didn’t tell the full story. I can remember spending a few weeks calmly picking my daughter up with no eye contact, no overly big hug, no conversation, just saying, “Sorry darling but now’s bedtime, so back we go.” And yes, being the strong-willed girl that she is, there was sometimes a good hour of that until she got the message that Mum really isn’t going to play, turn into a dinosaur, sing, or read a story.

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The thing with positive and negative reinforcement is that you need to have faith it will work, and you are doing the right thing.

Of course, when I went in to get her from her cot the next morning, I had a big grin on my face that said, “Wow, what a grown up girl you are staying in your bed all night!” I used positive reinforcement to get the day started.

The Teenager

What’s the Problem?

If I’m honest, I don’t have problems with my teenagers. However, I think that is in no small part to my style of communication. Having respect for them is key, and appreciating how much change is happening in their lives really helps–as someone who helps large teams of people deal with change, I know how hard it can be.

However, when I wrote the article How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive, I was inundated with stories of hellish behavior from other parent’s teenagers, tales of staying out all night and not phoning home, abusive behavior towards parents and teens–I really felt for all involved.

What Have You Tried?

The problem with teens is they know exactly how to wind you up like a little clock-work toy. And if you’ve had a tough day, the last thing you want is to have to deal with someone who can’t even communicate with words, let alone put their dishes in the dishwasher.

Losing it is never the option, but it can easily happen. Shouting, bribery, and doing it yourself because it’s just easier really don’t work in the long run.

Now What?

If you consider everything we’ve covered, you can see that you need to communicate using positive and negative reinforcement. In life, there are consequences to all actions, and teens have a ton of stuff to learn to become effective, successful, happy adults.

Before you embark on any course of action, consider how the other person perceives the world. What are they going through?

You may have loved being a teen, but that doesn’t ensure your children will. Likewise, in life, there are things you love that others will loathe–seeing the world through other people’s eyes really helps you to understand the best way to communicate.

The only big difference for teenagers is to use emotion with caution. I personally let my children see all emotions–I’ve not hidden my tears when I’ve lost a loved one as it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. However, if a teenager in a foul mood can spot a weakness, they may just take advantage of it.

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The Results

My kids love to tell everyone I’m a scary mom. I’m not, I just have high standards, and I’m not prepared to drop them.

We shy away from telling people what we expect and then wonder why we are getting as stressed as the other party because no one knows where they stand.

I’m happy for my children to take over the TV room and eat far too much sweet stuff and binge on a box set. Just don’t put cups on the carpet, we have places for drinks. It’s having the confidence to say this is the rule.

People think negative reinforcement is a bad thing. However, how can someone change if they don’t know what they are doing wrong? And that’s the issue: so many of us are fearful of saying “Stop doing that!” If you lack confidence, find your voice because people aren’t mind-readers.

Final Thoughts

Before you start considering whether positive or negative reinforcement is best for others, ask yourself what you respond better to.

Personally, I respond far better to negative reinforcement–I can improve and be more successful and happier if I know what I’m doing wrong. Furthermore, I know that sometimes negative reinforcement works better with some clients who really don’t want to look at the issue–but it’s always done with respect and love.

Coaching people is also a great representation of when positive and negative reinforcement is best. We are looking to find ways to increase the positive action with positive reinforcement and ways to reduce the negative results with negative reinforcement–and usually my clients keep those changes for the rest of their lives.

More on Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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