Fighting the Funk

Posted on February 11, 2014 by Robert Ringer


A reader (“John”) recently asked me a number of questions that I’ve been asked many times before, in one form or another:

I’ve read your book Looking Out For #1 and the part that particularly catches my eye is where you were down to the point of living out of a Ryder truck. … I’d just like to ask, what kept you going through that time?  What convinced you that you would be back and better than ever?  What allowed you to wake up every morning with the belief that things would get better?

Obviously, John is in a major funk.  Of course, I don’t know any of the details of his situation, so all I can do is provide broad-brush answers.  Is he in business for himself or does he have a job?  Does he have a clear picture of what he wants out of life or is he wandering around blindfolded?  Has he given any serious thought to what he enjoys doing and what he’s good at?

The first thing John should understand is that everyone is down and out at one time or another, and many people spend most of their lives in that predicament.  The reason it’s healthy to understand this is because, in an odd sort of way, it’s comforting.  It’s not so much that misery loves company; it’s just that when you realize you are not the only person in the world who is faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, it tends to protect you from the dreaded “poor me” state of mind.

Now, let’s take a look at John’s three questions.

  1. What kept you going through that time?

    To be blunt, it was the fear of permanent homelessness and starvation.  Fear is traditionally thought of in a negative light.  And, indeed, it is a negative emotion.  But for every negative there’s an offsetting positive, and the offsetting positive for fear is that it is highly motivating.Show me someone who has never felt the pangs of fear and I’ll show you someone who probably needs to reexamine his financial game plan.  If you’re moving in the right direction, frequent bouts with fear will not be rarities.

    Bill Gates was notorious for starting each day fretting over what his competitors were doing.  He told his subordinates that he didn’t want to hear the good news at the start of the day; he wanted to hear the bad news first.

    Gates’s fear relentlessly drove him to find ways to eliminate much of Microsoft’s competition.  It drove him to accumulate so much cash that Microsoft could afford to hire high-priced attorneys to fight lawsuits, buy out competitors, and withstand downswings in the economy and the software industry.

    In my case, fear brought me from homelessness to being a New York Times #1 bestselling author in about two years.  Driven by fear, I worked from early morning to late at night, seven days a week.  It’s important to point out, however, that I did not focus on fear; I was motivated by fear.  In other words, I turned fear into a positive and became more resourceful.

    Though I had no experience in any aspect of the book publishing business, I jumped in with both feet and took action.  I did my own writing and editing, my own book layout and cover design, and my own marketing, to name just a few of the items involved in self-publishing a book.

    And, like Jeff Bezos would do twenty years later when he started, I personally wrapped the books I sold through mail order and took them to the post office myself.  When you don’t have any employees, either you do it yourself or it doesn’t get done.  (Again, read up on Bill Gates’s early days at Microsoft.  For years he answered the phone himself and signed all the checks.)

    Everything about my project was so amateurish that today it’s embarrassing to even think about.  To put it bluntly, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.  But I inadvertently proved that doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

    If a person who is going through bad financial times is not motivated enough to take action, he may be falling into the self-delusive trap of believing things are so bad that they can’t get any worse.  Trust me, they can!  That realization alone should light a fire under anyone who has a pulse.

    Human beings are survivors.  If you’re in a financial jam but can’t seem to get motivated to take action, you probably haven’t hit bottom yet and, harsh as it may sound, you may need to suffer more.  Suffering is good for the soul.  Among other things, it gives a person character, self-esteem, appreciation, determination, and resourcefulness — intangibles that are far more valuable than financial resources.

  2. What convinced you that you would be back and better than ever?

    My case may be unusual, but I never doubted that my book would become a New York Times bestseller.  The handful of people who knew about my project thought I was crazy.I think it was more a combination of naiveté and ignorance on my part, because knowing what I know today, if someone in the same position as I was told me he was going to write a book and promote it into a bestseller, I’d probably roll my eyes and smile condescendingly.

    Which is a good reason not to listen to people who offer negative input and assure you that you’re going about things in the wrong way.  If you’ve hit rock bottom, you can’t afford to do things conventionally.  Drastic situations call for drastic solutions.  When you’re in desperate straits, it’s nature’s way of nudging you to dig down deep and become more resourceful.

  3. What allowed you to wake up every morning with the belief that things would get better?

    This is pretty much the same question as No. 2, but a bit more specific.  The reason I woke up every morning believing things would get better is that I was so closely involved in every aspect of my project that I could see, inch by inch, that things were moving forward on all fronts.

    Put simply, I could see what no one else could see, because they had only a superficial view of what I was doing.  My progress was invisible to them, but clearly visible to me.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep negative people out of your life, those whose words can have a negative impact on your belief system.

    I knew the truth, so I had no interest in hearing anyone else’s version of the truth.

Speaking of negative people, I think it’s also important to point out that the easiest thing in the world is to focus on the negatives in your life.  Why?  Because negatives involve pain and pain gets your attention.  If you have a bad back, the pain commands your attention.  If you have a bad bank account, the pain commands your attention.  If you have a bad marriage, the pain commands your attention.

The problem is that we tend to take the good for granted.  Why?  Because good is not painful.  Not having a headache doesn’t command the same attention as having a headache.  Being able to take a vacation doesn’t command the same attention as not having the time to take a vacation.  Having money doesn’t command the same attention as not having money.

Ironically, then, it’s easier to focus on pain simply because pain is hard to ignore.  Which presents a big challenge:  having the self-discipline to focus on solutions to the problems that are causing your pain rather than on the pain itself.

If you (and John) can ace that one, most everything else will pretty much fall into place.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

15 responses to “Fighting the Funk”

  1. larajf says:

    A long time ago, I read Bill Shatner's first autobiography, and in it he talked about after Star Trek (and he didn't make much money from that), he was living in his camper while working dinner theater, IIRC. I think all of his money went for alimony and child support. What kept him going was his conviction that he would break through. He knew inside he was a star and that eventually, that would manifest on the outside.
    Churchill said, "When you're in Hell, keep going."
    And read the story in Think and Grow Rich about R. U. Darby (?) being 3 feet from gold.
    I'm so not perfect about persevering towards my goals, but when I remember those things, I achieve it. And the feeling when you come out the other side is better than just about anything.

    • RealitySeeker says:

      I, too, read Shatner's account of how he became so impoverished that he was reduced to living in a camper and cooking his meals in the city park.

      I really laughed hard when Shatner told the story of how "one day, there was a knock on the door of his camper. 'Are you Captain Kirk,' the little boy in the doorway asked. 'Yes, I am,' a game Shatner replied. 'Is this your spaceship?' the boy inquired. Shatner invited the kid in, showed him the shower where he 'beamed up,' and the dials on the stove he used to guide his spacecraft.'…. lol.

      Did you know that Shatner had become so obscure that the producers of "Star Trek" the movie couldn't even locate him for the purpose of offering the leading role? I heard that a little boy actually approached Shatner with the news as he was cooking outside of his camper on a grill. Shatner didn't believe the boy at first, but the boy aroused his curiosity enough for him to verify the story as true…. The rest is history.

  2. Daniel says:

    Who am I to add to such an erudite man's article? But may I proffer something given to me by one of the wisest persons I've ever known: Roger Woodward. Roger had the distinction of being the only person ever to have gone over Niagara Falls without any survival apparatus; at age 7! But his life's story goes far beyond that event. When I was struggling to make it in sales, he defined "purpose". "Purpose", he said, "is someone or something that, if you had to face (either) in defeat, it would be more brutal than having to face the brutality of being successful." In realizing I had a purpose, I realized that facing the object of that purpose in defeat (losing to it) would be more brutal than doing the work that had to be done to win. It changed everything for me and my family. Thank you, Roger; and thank you Robert Ringer for mentoring us mere mortals and changing our lives.

  3. Learning to use negatives as a roadmap to success is hard to do initially, once you can see thru the pain most times the answer is revealed too..
    Simple mathmatic equation would resemble something like this.
    Pain = why = obstical = action to over come and achieve success.

  4. christovanzyl says:

    Hi Robert,

    I have enjoyed your article thoroughly! I like how the pain instigates the pursuit of less pain, or pleasure. The pain can be one of the greatest motivators! Excellent article – thanks for it!

    Best regards,

  5. Terry Lee Perry says:

    Mr. Ringer, I have heard you say this and have read it in your great books. When you stopping complaining to people about your problems and how rough you have it, just to make people feel sorry for you. When you realize that people just don't care about your problems, they have enough problems of their own, its not that they don't have compassion the truth is they just don't care. When I figured that out I learn to solve my own problems.

  6. Patrick says:

    Great perspective. Seems to run contrary to a lot of this "thoughts equal things" metaphysical philosophy that asserts focusing on the negative will only breed more negative results. Focusing on bad news or what you don't want didn't manifest a downward spiral of bad for Gates, nor did it for Ringer. Congruent with the "pain vs. pleasure" principle of motivation. Thank you Robert.

    • John Thomas says:

      I would point out that Mr. Ringer said he did not focus on what he didn’t want, but that he used what he didn’t want to motivate himself to move towards what he wanted. He differentiated between focusing on the negative (he didn’t) and using the negative as motivation to move towards a positive.

  7. laleydelexito says:

    Extra inspiring post, thank you Robert!!!

    I loved every nugget of wisdom

  8. Amy O'Donnel says:

    Thanks, I needed that. No kidding, I really did. Thank you.

  9. Glenn Jaffas says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. As always.

  10. Tex says:

    Looking back at the first 8 decades of my life, I realize "Victimhood" was not a concept in my vocabulary (unlike the trendy concept it seems to have become these days). Bad things happen to good people. You simply move on and rebuild. I should know – this is my 7th time back up that ladder. My attitude was always "I can out-produce the rat bastards and recover" so I did. Now I'm ready to start investigating what I might want to be when I grow up. Oh – right – I never promised anyone I would grow up – no fun in that.

  11. Gary a says:

    "Looking Out For Number One" is my all-time favorite self-help book. I still have my hard cover copy that I purchased in the late 1970's, including the dust jacket. There's a picture of a young Robert Ringer on the back cover, in running shoes standing underneath a tree. When I was going through the greatest stress of my life, that book provided comfort and hope. The tortoise man was a hero to me. All alone against incredible odds, he fought through it to survive and prosper. I followed his example and did the same.

    God bless, Robert Ringer, you will always be a hero to me.

  12. Gary Waltrip says:

    My comment was posted before I properly signed (regarding "Looking Out For Number One."

    It was signed "Gary a" but should have read Gary Waltrip. I live in Hollister, California.