Among the thousands of letters and e-mails I’ve received over the years, many of them have asked about how to deal with hopelessness. It’s tough to give concrete advice on this subject, for two reasons. First, everyone’s situation is different and, second, it’s impossible for me to know more than a small number of facts involved any given case.
What’s the person’s age? How’s his health? Is he married … single … divorced? Does he have children? How old are they? Are any of them handicapped? Does he have any cash on hand, or is he dead broke? Does he receive a regular paycheck? (A paycheck can actually be a big disincentive for many people, because it tends to deprive them of a sense of urgency and repress their resourcefulness.) In other words, the number of variables is infinite.
With that caveat, in this article I’m going to focus on the most foundational aspect of overcoming what appears to be a hopeless situation, something I’ve always used as the first step toward getting back on my feet whenever I’ve been down. I call it the Magic Mirror Solution.
As an example, let’s say you’re feeling down because some malevolent miscreant screwed you out of your commission or your share of the profits in a big deal. As a result, you’re furious about what he did to you, which is quite natural — natural, but not good for you.
The problem is that so long as you’re focused on what the other guy did to you, your mind is frozen in the past. And if that’s the case, you shouldn’t even attempt to do anything constructive until you first thaw out your gray matter.
There’s an old adage that warns, “You’ll never smell like a rose if you roll in a dunghill.” Trust me, it’s true. No one in this galaxy has dealt with more certified members of the Dastardly Dunghill Gang than I have, so I’m in a position to speak from firsthand experience.
What the Magic Mirror Solution teaches us is that it’s not the dunghill guys’ responsibility to warn you ahead of time that you shouldn’t trust him. It’s your responsibility to open your eyes and your brain, and not only learn to spot these villainous vermin, but keep them out of your life.
Starting today, make it a habit to forget about what anyone else did to you. Forget about the bad breaks that foiled your best-laid plans. Forget about all the guys who are landing the good jobs and the good deals even though you know, in your heart of hearts, they aren’t good enough to carry your lunch pail.
Does this mean that I’m asking you be a saint? Not at all. What I’m encouraging you to do is be selfish! Rationally selfish, that is — meaning, you’re not out to hurt anyone, you just want to make sure that you actually receive what you’ve earned. That said, it’s decidedly in your best interest to look in the mirror, because that is where the source of your problems resides.
If you choose to live in a self-created world of delusions and see yourself as a victim, you become mentally impotent. After all, being a victim implies that you don’t have the power to change things in your own life — and nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that the person who was responsible for putting you in this hole is the only person who can make you whole. And that person is you.
But let’s be optimistic here and assume that you’ve dispensed with the time-wasting exercise of projecting your missteps onto others. What’s next? Simple: Get mad at yourself. That’s right, yourself. Get really mad.
I cannot tell you how cathartic and powerful this exercise is. The reason it’s so liberating is because it frees you from wasting time and effort thinking about things over which you have no control, such as changing others.
This may be painful to hear, but the guy who screwed you in that big deal doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He really doesn’t. Even if he robbed you blind, he long ago rationalized that you deserved it because of something you did to him — even if you didn’t do it!
I don’t know you or him, but I can tell you this much, sight unseen: You will never get him to admit he did anything wrong. Which is good, because once you understand and accept this reality, you can spend your time focusing on the real enemy in the mirror, which is you.
This is a very easy exercise to practice, so let me spell it out in the simplest way possible: Just look in the mirror and ask, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest one of all?” If the mirror comes up with any answer other than you, get another mirror.
But if it answers back, “It’s you, you idiot!” then you’ve just taken the first step toward turning things around. Trust your mirror’s judgment, get mad at yourself, and vow to become smarter.
Whenever I’ve put myself through this drill — focusing on my own ignorance, my own bad judgment, my own delusions, my own dumb investment decisions, my own irresponsible behavior, my own naïveté — my own everything — it has never failed me. And once I worked up a white heat of anger toward myself, that’s when I knew I was in a position to start turning things around.
Of course, all this is easier said than done, but if your desire to lift yourself out of a self-defeating mental state is great enough, you’ll do it. And once you’ve laid the proper foundation by identifying the real source of your problems and getting genuinely mad at that source, you’ll be in a position to take the kind of action that will transform your thoughts and aspirations into positive results.
Never forget that it all starts with the Magic Mirror Solution, and don’t let your ego get in the way. Just do it.