I’VE ALWAYS HATED that overly motivational type at work — the one who is quite obviously not a naturally energetic person, but was told by the corporate office that they had to “motivate and inspire” their employees. So they were sent off to some seminar, and they came back with pumping fists, ear-to-ear smiles and an unnatural use of the word “fantastic.” It’s like they had been bitten by Richard Simmons under the light of the full moon, and now they must spread the sickness in order to keep the beast at bay.
I’m not one of those guys. I’m not going to give you a big, bullshit motivational speech, expecting you to back flip out of bed and charge into work, teeth gleaming and shooting everyone Fonzie thumbs until the whole office is farting rainbows. But I will tell you with all honesty that today isn’t going to suck. No flowery, theoretical horseshit. No cliche, eye-roll-inducing plays on words (“To win at living, you have to live for winning”). Just five very human, very realistic reasons. Today isn’t going to suck because …
#5. You’re One Step Closer to the Finish Line
Now ask yourself what you’ve done today to get yourself closer to that goal. You want a new car? Fine, what have you done today to earn the extra money? Have you worked extra hours? Put out applications for another part-time job? Asked for a raise? Sold a kidney?
It’s the same for anything. Take losing weight, for example. I know tons of people who get so caught up in the idea of losing weight, they never actually make it to the “work your ass off” stage. Instead, they spend countless hours researching the right type of exercise equipment, diets and exercise regimens. And in that first week, they’ve yet to do a single situp or even take that first step of burning down their Twinkie shed.
I get questions from budding writers all the time asking me how to get published. When I ask how much they’ve written, I usually get the same answer: “Well, I don’t have anything down on paper yet, but I have this idea that I think is pretty good.” Now, I’m not going to pretend I know anything about the publishing industry besides what I’ve talked about with David Wong and learned about his experiences. But I do know this much: In order to get published, you’re going to need an actual book.
Instead, they get stuck wondering about the correct way to contact a publisher and worrying about whether or not they should hire an agent. They spend weeks learning the correct format, font type and size. They practice the wacky entrance they’ll use on their Conan O’Brien appearance. And they still have yet to type a solitary sentence of content.
That’s what today is for, and why it’s going to suck so much less when you put the planning and organization on hold and actually do something that gets you closer to achieving that goal. Are you wanting to move up in your career? Awesome. Make an appointment to sit down with your boss and let her know your intentions. Ask her for feedback. Want to lose 30 pounds? That’s great, stop right now and do 10 situps.
Focusing on how long it’s going to take to type 80,000 words or see a visual difference in your body or save up for a down payment … it becomes so easy to just keep putting it off or to give up altogether. That planning stage is brutal, and if you let yourself linger in that perpetual procrastination, your dreams are just going to stay dreams. The world is full of people with good intentions, but I’ve yet to encounter a bill collector who let me slide, explaining to their boss, “Well, his heart is in the right place.” No, they didn’t let me off the hook until I started doing things that moved me up the ladder and brought in the money to pay them.
And when your day winds down and you look back on what you’ve actually accomplished, I promise you that the suck level will drop several notches. The key is, that has to happen today. The reason is because …
#4. Small Chunks Are Easy to Swallow
It is infinitely easier to envision yourself conquering a single day than an entire lifetime. We know when days begin and end because we’ve experienced thousands of them. The same isn’t true with the latter, so we have to take astronomical leaps of imagination to understand the concept. It’s why so many 12-step programs tell addicts to “just quit for today.” Then repeat that action tomorrow. Thinking about doing anything for the rest of your life is too daunting and unrealistic, and that makes it incredibly easy to just give up.
I’ve worked some pretty shitty jobs in my life, and one of the best ways I found to get through them (besides rubbing my balls on all the coffee mugs) was to divide it into quarters. You start at 8 a.m. and bust out as much work as you can. When 10 a.m. rolls around, you file that section away. “Oh, awesome. I’m already through the first quarter of work. Lunch will be coming up soon, and I’ll be able to re-nut the mugs.” It may sound simple and even a little ridiculous, but I’m telling you, when you dread even walking through those front doors, the thought of spending eight hours in that shithole is like spiritual constipation. But smaller, two-hour bursts — even though it’s the same amount of time, overall — are so much easier to handle. Your day is going to suck a whole lot less if you can use little ways like this to whittle away the dread.
Don’t think it’s all about getting past the bad parts, though. One of the symptoms of success, especially in a career, is that more and more people demand your time, and you will reach a point where budgeting that time is more important than budgeting your bills. Getting used to the idea that a day isn’t very long is critically important, because it strikes a sense of urgency to get shit done.
It’s also not about being so busy that you worry yourself into an ulcer. There’s something to be said about “stopping to smell the roses,” but when you’re making steady progress in your goals, even doing that is something that has to be scheduled and squeezed in, because “Oh, fuck, the day is winding down, and I still have all this shit to do. Maybe I can bump rose-smelling to after lunch.” That’s a good thing. It tells you that you’re on the right track.
Those smaller chunks are what prevent the day from becoming overwhelming. If I get up in the morning and think about all the things that have to be finished before I go to bed, my brain would lock up, because it doesn’t seem like there’s any possible way to make it work. Believe me, it’s going to suck a whole lot less if you can stop, take a breath and say, “OK, this first project should take about two hours. Go. Now.” Then at the end of the day, it comes full circle when you can be proud of the things you’ve accomplished. Fuck smelling the roses. I’d rather plant them.
#3. It’s Not as Bad as You Think
Let me make this perfectly clear right off the bat: One of the things that will make me instantly want to choke a person is when they counter one of your problems with “It could be worse.” It’s such a dismissive, shallow, dumbass thing to say. Of course it could be worse. I could have woken up being teabagged by Carrot Top while Nickelback pissed on my children.
“It’s not as bad as you think” is completely different. Think back to the last dozen times you’ve listened to a friend vent about their shitty day. Remember how upset they were? They were so close to their breaking point that you were sure even the most minor setback would be the trigger that made them shit into a pillowcase and storm into the office, swinging it at people like a morning star.
But to you, everything they’re describing sounds so insignificant. “First, I had to deal with this customer who was just a total prick. After five minutes, my boss finally took over and sent me to the back. Then I tried to print out the sales report, but the toner was out. Then a moose broke into the break room and licked all the butter off of my toast.”
I’ve seen my fiancee come home from work on the verge of tears because of days like this. With the exception of legitimate, life-changing emergencies, almost every bad thing you encounter is based entirely on your perception of it. The asshole customer put you in a bad mood. So now the toner problem seems twice as bad because you’re going into that problem still coping with the last one. Every minor thing you encounter after that gets exponentially larger until you feel like you’re going to snap — even though in reality all of those things are easily solvable or simply swept under the rug.
When everything starts to snowball like this, it’s easy to slip into a full-on depression. By its very nature, that depression is what distorts your perception of the events in the first place, and it’s incredibly easy to get buried under the stress of a thousand little things that would otherwise mean nothing to you.
An incredibly helpful thing to do when you find yourself in one of those snowballing days is ask yourself, “Will I remember this in 10 years?” Unless it’s something huge, like a family member dying or getting fired or accidentally crippling someone with your enormous penis, then chances are you’re not. In fact, you’re going to find that you’re not going to remember most of this stuff by the end of the week because it’s not important enough for your brain to hang on to.
If you’re still holding on to stuff like that after 10 years, you sincerely need to seek help.
It’s why when you wake up the next morning, it all seems kind of silly. Time creates separation, and that separation means everything when you’re in the heat of a breakdown, which is why your boss sent you to the back instead of letting you continue speaking with that dickhead. It’s why it’s easier to apologize for an argument after you’ve slept on it — and why the phrase “I don’t even remember why we were arguing in the first place” has become such a cliche. It’s because the content wasn’t important enough to remember. You were just a victim of escalation.
Though to be honest, you were probably arguing because you’re a being a dick. Stop being a dick.