I recently received an e-mail from reader David C. that said, in part:
“I need advice on keeping hope alive from someone whose been as close to hopelessness as one can be, yet still held on to it.”
Among the thousands of letters and e-mails I’ve received over the years, a significant percentage of them have read, to one extent or another, much like the one above. It’s tough to give concrete advice to someone like this, because everyone’s situation is different and I’m not privy to more than a small number of the 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? Is he now receiving 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.)
As you can see, the number of variables is infinite. With this caveat, and due to space limitations, I’m going to focus on just the most foundational aspect of overcoming what appears to be a hopeless situation — something that I’ve always used as the first step toward getting back on my feet when I’ve been down. I call it the Magic Mirror Solution.
As just one example, let’s say you’re feeling down and out because some malevolent miscreant screwed you out of your chips 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. If so, you shouldn’t even attempt to do anything constructive until you first thaw out your brain.
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 deal with them. 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.
Forget about what anyone else did to you. Forget about the bad breaks that foiled your best-laid plans. Forget about all those guys who are landing the good jobs even though you know they aren’t good enough to carry your lunch.
Does this mean that I’m asking you be a saint? Heck, no. I’m asking you to be selfish! Rationally selfish — meaning, you’re not out to hurt anyone, you’re just interested in acting in your own best interest. And 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 only the person who was responsible for putting you in this hole can make you whole. And that person is you.
But let’s be optimistic here and assume that you have dispensed with the time-wasting exercise of projecting your problems 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. Honestly, he 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 that he did anything wrong. Which is good, because now you can spend your time focusing on the real enemy in the mirror — you.
This is a very easy exercise to practice, so let me spell it out simply for you. Just look in the mirror — with no one around, of course — and ask: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest one of all?” If the mirror answers you by saying that you’re the fairest of them all, 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. This isn’t an exercise in masochism. Trust your mirror’s judgment, get mad at yourself, and vow to become smarter.
Whenever I’ve gone through this drill — focusing on my own ignorance, my own bad judgment, my own delusions, my own atrocious investment decisions, my own irresponsible behavior, my own naïve choices when it comes to selecting business partners — 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 funk 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 mad at that source, you’ll be in a position to take the kind of action that will transform your thoughts and aspirations into reality.
Just remember, it all starts with the Magic Mirror Solution. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Do it.