As human beings, we have a natural wish to improve ourselves, and are always looking for ways to be more efficient, focused and fulfilled. However, we also have the opposite tendency to cherish certain limitations that prevent us from achieving these exact things! Let’s go into four of these limitations in detail.
1. Imagining the worst possible future.
When something bad happens, our mind often has a tendency to compound it by projecting forward into the future and imagining the worst thing that could happen as a result. Such a course of action can be very tempting, especially if we can portray ourselves as a victim and wallow in self-pity as a result. However, if we can look back on times when we have done this (and we all have at some stage) we can see that these nightmare scenarios have nothing to do with reality. Perhaps that’s where the saying “Cheer up, it will never happen” comes from – because it does never happen!
A very influential psychological model developed by Weiner et al. in the 1970’s suggested that the happiest people are those who see bad things that happen to them as impermanent and changeable events rather than situations that are going to persist forever. That indeed is the key – to try to see any bad situation that happens to you as part of a larger picture that sure enough contains a lot of bad, but a lot of good things too. One very useful exercise can be to visualise all the good things in your life, and to offer a feeling of gratitude that each of them are there. This helps to stop any misfortune that occurs from taking over your view of the world completely.
2. Only seeing others’ bad qualities
When we are annoyed with someone, we often tend to bring their bad qualities first and foremost in our minds until they crowd out any good qualities they might have. This can backfire on us in a number of ways. Firstly, we are all imperfect, so holding others up to a perfect standard of behaviour will definitely contribute to the hurt we feel when something happens to bring us face to face with our own imperfections. Secondly, your negative thoughts have an uncanny way of influencing your dealings with that person in such a way that bring those exact negative qualities in them to the fore, and further reinforce the situation.
You can turn this situation around and gain a more balanced picture of the people you interact with if you can realise the consequences listed above and how harmful they can be to your wellbeing. Try to feel what a waste of energy dwelling on what a bad person someone is and begin a new resolution to focus your attention on the things that matter.
3. Feeling we have all the time in the world.
One common mental failing is imagining that we have infinite time at our disposal. We wake up in the morning with a full day ahead of us, and then reached the evening with nothing much done and wondering where all the time went! We have to value time as a very precious resource. ‘Morning shows the day’, so the saying goes, but very often we tend to start the day engaged in ‘pseudo-work’ like checking emails. But instead, if we can buckle down and get a concrete task done first thing in the morning, we will gain a momentum to move onto the next task. If your mind is creating some apprehension about a big task you have to do, try and start with a little sub-task and imagine you have to do only that. Accomplishing something small – even paying a bill or getting something from the shops – can generate the confidence you need to see the thing through to the finish.
4. “I can’t do it…”
As a child, we were always ready to give anything a try, and we were happy just painting or singing or running without wondering were we any good at it. But as we grow older we develop more fixed ideas about what we are capable of, and we often tend to just summarily decide whether we can or can’t do something before even lifting a finger. But where did we get most of those fixed ideas from? If we look back, we see that most of the time we got them from society and the opinions of other people, or perhaps from one single failure which influenced our attitude for the rest of our lives. When faced with a new opportunity, we need to cast all this baggage aside and just seize the moment.
Often we reinforce this “can’t do” attitude by watching someone who is expert in a certain field – e.g playing a musical instrument – and feeling that it is too late to start practising ourselves because we will never get up to that level. The key to overcoming your lack of confidence in your ability is to just throw away all expectations of an end goal and let your happiness stem from the simple fact that you have started doing it! All good things in life take some time to perfect, and you will have good days and bad days, but don’t attach too much importance to one or the other; in either case, just be grateful for the opportunity to expand yourself and find out what you are truly capable of.