In Richard Carlson’s book, Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff, there was a rule that specifically caught my eye.
Over the past few years, I’ve been obsessed in a pursuit to learn what it means to live a good life. I’ve read many self-help books and novels that offer suggestions on how to do so, and this one rule has appeared over and over again.
Knowing a rule and being able to recite it does not mean you’ve integrated it into your personality.
The only way you integrate these rules and make progress into becoming a “good person” is to put them into action in your daily life. Knowing something but passively or actively engaging in opposite behavior makes you a hypocrite.
We may believe that we are wiser by holding information and perhaps sharing it with others, but we are all the more foolish if we decide not to put it into practice.
This is one core lesson that I’ve constantly had to learn over and over again. There was a time in my life where I thought simply knowing all these rules and principles made me a wiser person. I secretly held myself above those who did not read the books that I read or know the things that I knew.
But the truth was that I was always the fool because I was prideful in my unearned wisdom. I did not know what it meant to truly practice what I preached, and I felt like an imposter whenever I found myself repeating what I had read to others.
In order to stifle the negative feelings, I believed that I had to read more books and know more information, which led me to obsessively read the same self-help books over and over again. I tried to drown out the thoughts and emotions by intellectualizing when the answer was always in front of me: simply put what I had learned into practice in my life. Let the results speak for themselves.
Rule 79: Stop Blaming Others
When things go wrong in our lives, we have two ways of looking at the situation.
We can either look around to see who we can blame, or we can look within and see if we had a part to play in bringing about the misfortune.
What’s the benefit of choosing the former? We relinquish responsibility and allow ourselves to become victims. The “woe is me” mentality is attractive because we get to identify as innocent, blameless sufferers. We’re able to pat ourselves on the back and also gain support and sympathy from others for being subjected to undue, undeserving suffering.
Let’s be clear — it’s true that many people are taken advantage of and exploited. It’s true that many people are true victims of malicious and oppressive forces, who use intimidation and violence to subject these victims to their bidding.
Whether it be at the hands of family members, government officials, corporate bureaucrats, or fellow citizens, it’s no question that these people have all the right to shake their fists at the cruelty that they had to endure.
In these extreme and unfortunate cases, I have nothing but sympathy and understanding. But I would say that the lesson I share can also apply to those who have undergone exploitation and tyranny.
Regardless of what has happened to you, you will always have the ability to choose how to move forward. The things that have happened to you cannot define you unless you allow them to. You are a sovereign individual, capable of transcending your current weaknesses, traumas, and limitations.
This message goes hand in hand with Jocko Willinck’s idea of Extreme Ownership. My understanding of his idea is that in every situation, rather than choose to be a victim and blame others for your suffering, you decide to take responsibility for whatever happens to you.
Even if you initially think the odds were stacked against you, even if you think that you were objectively a victim and suffered unnecessary consequences, you must train yourself to think about what you could have done better to possibly prevent a specific incident from happening.
Some ideas are attractive in theory and difficult in practice. But the idea of extreme ownership is undesirable for most in theory and nearly impossible in practice.
We humans have an ingrained idea of justice, and when we feel that our ideas of fairness and justice have been violated, we react emotionally. When we feel betrayed or wronged, we will immediately view ourselves as victims and expect the other party to make things right again.
It is extremely difficult for us to consciously move against this natural instinct. In order to achieve this, we must practice patience and develop emotional stability. We must be conscious of moments when we jump to blame others and replace that instinct with the deliberate thought to focus on the things we can control.
“What could I have done better?”
Imagine you have a fight with someone you care about. The goal is to return to a state of harmony, not to dominate the other person. We know what we want is the former but it seems that in the heat of the moment, we seem to desire the latter.
In order to make peace, it would be ideal for both individuals to separate themselves and stabilize their emotions before reflecting.
Talking while affected by negative emotions will bring hostility into the conversation, forcing both parties into digging their heels deeper into the sand.
Refusing to listen to each other and blaming each other for not listening and communicating, further kindle the flames to disproportionate sizes rather than dissipate them.
In this moment of self-reflection, each person must take responsibility to see how they could do better and what they might have done to make the other person angry.
Perhaps they both could have done a better job communicating their emotions and thoughts. Perhaps they could have refrained from villainizing the other person and speaking in general terms that indicate permanence and therefore no possible room for change or growth (“You always… You’ve always been…You never…”).
Perhaps they could have tried to understand the other side before rushing to conclusions. Perhaps they didn’t have to raise their voices at one another. Perhaps this fight could have been avoided had each side taken the time to clearly articulate what the issues were.
Rather than thinking about what the other person could have done better, let’s try to think about how we could have done better to make the best of every situation. Let’s try to think about how we could have done better to bring out the best in other people. Let’s try to think about what we could improve upon so that fewer miscommunication and mishaps happen around us.
Why should you adopt this mindset, even though it is clearly the more difficult thing to do? Because it is empowering. It tells you that you alone are responsible for your happiness, and you can always do something about it.
Blaming others takes an enormous amount of mental energy. It’s a “drag-me-down” mind set that creates stress and disease. Blaming makes you feel powerless over your own life because your happiness is not contingent on the actions and behaviors of others, which you can’t control.
— Richard Carlson
You are in control of your emotions, and you are in control of your thoughts. Whatever storms may come, you will be a solid, foundational rock that will never budge. Whatever may happen in the external world, your inner world will remain untouched and will remain strong.
“When you stop blaming others, you will regain your sense of personal power. You see yourself as a choice maker. You will know that when you are upset, you are playing a key role in the creation of your own feelings. This means that you can also play a key role in creating new, more positive feelings.
Life is a great deal more fun and much easier to manage when you stop blaming others.
— Richard Carlson
Externalizing the cause of the problems that befall you can only make you resentful, angry, and pitiful. Constantly behaving in this manner will ultimately make you a shell of yourself. Beware of what you consistently practice, for you become what you repeatedly do.
Which image of humanity is more desirable? The shriveled, cowering, resentful human, beaten and rendered useless by the tragedies and suffering of nature and culture? Or the solid, towering, hopeful human, resilient and courageous despite the tragic circumstances of their life?
It’s up to you to determine which image you want for yourself as an individual.