The more consistent I’ve been in my pursuit to better myself, the more I’ve noticed that no matter how many different versions of self-help I come across, there are really only a handful of things that have shown real results in how I think.
Three things, to be exact.
The myriad ways available to us to evolve as people and expand our capabilities as individuals are all essentially the streams and creeks that when followed, lead us back to one of three main rivers of growth.
What’s more important, is that when you follow these three rivers to where they started, you’ll find the source of peace you’ve been searching for the entire time.
I was lucky enough to consciously feel these three things align the other day and so I thought I’d do my best in trying to convey that feeling. I’ve experienced each on their own before, each having their own benefits. But it wasn’t until I consciously experienced each simultaneously that I saw what the combination was really capable of doing for me.
These, to me, are what make up the trifecta of self-improvement.
I’ll use the moment I experienced recently to illustrate my point.
I work in a kitchen as a sous chef. I do not like it. It pays the bills and helps me save money, but for years I’ve allowed this line of work to keep me frustrated, resentful, and surrounded by the kind of toxic behavior you always find in the restaurant industry. If you’ve ever worked in the industry, you know what I’m talking about.
Because I’ve been at this particular job for a few years now and have become pretty essential to the small crew we have, I’ve set myself up nicely to have the schedule and autonomy I want for the most part. I’ve done my best to make myself as close to irreplaceable as I can, that way I can get the things I ask for and have some leeway when I need favors.
This includes wanting a three-day weekend, which I have.
I don’t work Tuesday through Thursday every week and let me tell you, for all of you who only experience three-day weekends when the odd holiday rolls around, it is an absolute Godsend.
Having those three days to recharge and do as I please every week has been the cornerstone of joy and relief for me over the past few years. I’m able to write as much as I want, go to the beach, exercise, have lazy time, and just generally feel like a human being without the shackles of obligation and responsibility (granted, I DO still normally deliver packages for a few hours on these days off, but it’s just for extra cash and since it’s through an app, I can do it when and, more importantly, if I want). By the time work shows up again on Friday, I am much more ready and willing to return and in a much better mood for it.
The thing is, I was relying so heavily on having those days off to provide my happiness that when one gets taken from me, as was the case recently when I needed to cover a Wednesday shift, I get profoundly upset. As soon as I got word that I had to come in and work an 8+ hour shift in the middle of my luxury weekend, I was boiling.
God damnit! What’s wrong this time?! I can’t believe this shit! I swear to God I’m going to quit. I can’t deal with this shit anymore!
These are just a small handful of thoughts I had when confronted with the reality that one of my three precious days was being taken from me. Forget the fact that I still had two full days to spend how I pleased when other people I work with only have one, sometimes not even that.
I had become spoiled with what I had gotten used to and held onto the gift of time so tightly that when it was taken from me I threw a mental tantrum like a toddler whose toy had just been snatched away.
In comes perspective.
Throughout Tuesday, the day before I had to go in, I slowly accepted the fact that I had to cover the shift and painfully got over the reality of my stolen time by understanding how lucky I was to even have the schedule that I had in the first place. It was a luxury I was taking for granted and, especially with this being in the wake of Covid, I should count my blessings that I could even work at all.
I stepped back from my completely unfounded and immature anger, took a higher vantage point, and saw my situation from a better perspective. I had forgotten how much of a privilege it was to have a job at all in times like this, let alone one where I got to eat for free, listen to music, and occasionally even have a few beers.
Most people would think that’s a pretty sweet gig compared to what they have to deal with on a daily basis, and even talking about it now makes me again feel just how much of a whiney brat I was being. It’s honestly embarrassing.
Too much routine for too long can ravage your sense of perspective by shrinking your world and blinding you to where you really are and what you’re really doing.
It’s only by allowing yourself to have a better perspective on a given situation that you’re able to see it for what it really is outside of your individual experience.
Okay, so I had gotten a better perspective about my so-called “tragic” loss of time and had accepted that I would be stuck in a hot, sweaty kitchen for eight hours when I would normally be doing, ya know, whatever.
Around the time I would normally be preparing to go home — my shift was from 10–6 pm and I’d normally take off between 6–7 — I was informed that the dishwasher had called off sick and of course, there was no one to cover him.
All eyes on me.
I knew what was about to happen and I start mentally preparing to accept another gut punch.
Fine. I’m already here, it’s fine. Everything’s fine.
I tried to contain my swelling anger at the fact that I’m going to have to not only stay a little later, but stay all night washing dishes and closing up the restaurant, essentially being the last person to leave.
My coworkers could see it in my face — I was not happy. They offered their sympathies and offered to help me out as they had all been in similar positions before.
Restaurant schedules can be like playing hot potato, only instead of everyone continually passing around that hot root veggie quickly enough to not be burned, sometimes someone just takes that steaming starch ball and chucks it into your face making your skin sizzle and turning your eyes into tater tots. It may as well be in the job description.
I stood around for a while trying to calm myself down. I felt like Dante from Clerks, compulsively wanting to say “I’m not even supposed to be here today” as an answer to anything anyone asked me.
Admittedly, in past situations like this, I’d say fuck it, head next door to the liquor store, and grab a few beers to make the shift a little more bearable. The manager wouldn’t mind. Half of the employees were going to be casually drinking anyway, it was the usual M.O. of a slow, annoying day. Nothing out of the ordinary, to be honest. In fact, I was offered a drink from someone else almost immediately (like I said, if you‘ve worked it, you get it).
But, I then took stock of how that was going to really make me feel. I knew that in the past when I had done that, I would drink more than I should, get really tired by the end of the night, get home exhausted, stay up later than I wanted to, and my entire next day would be spent feeling groggy and unfocused.
The next day was my last day off before my actual work week started again, and I had just been upset about losing a day to be there, so did I really want to lose another one because my frustration led me to use alcohol and anger as a crutch to get through a few hours of simple labor? Not really.
Side note: I know that this feels like there are undertones of more important causes for these problems such as alcohol/substance abuse, but that’s not the case, honestly. Alcohol isn’t always my go-to. I rarely drink outside of work, it’s just a readily available option in that environment so it can be easy to “accidentally” have more than one or two. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sauce, but I also know that I can occasionally love it too much, so I do my best to keep the boozehound at bay. I also understand that the entire industry has a tendency to produce not only food but well-worn addicts of every flavor. But that’s a topic for another article.
I asked myself, Am I really just going to be angry all night? Is that what I want? Do I really want to just be pissed off, and then get pissed drunk? What is that really going to do other than waste another full day of time that I was so vehement about protecting in the first place?
I decided right then that I wasn’t going to drink. I honestly didn’t even really want one, but through routine and complacency, it had become ingrained as an instinctual reaction to dealing with work B.S.
I also decided that being angry about something I couldn’t really change was a complete waste of my energy. I didn’t like being angry, and I didn’t like how reactionary I was being about the entire situation.
Nothing my mind was doing felt voluntary, so I made the choice to not be angry about it.
That sentence feels strange if you’re the type of person that doesn’t understand how to choose your feelings. That kind of thing takes a lot of practice and is only something I’ve gotten marginally better at over the years, but this time it really felt like I took a massive step forward in better understanding the power my conscious choices have.
After I made that conscious choice to not be angry and not use alcohol as a crutch, I almost instantly was in a better mood. A great mood, in fact. I felt free of the burden of negative emotions and the desire to distract myself with inebriation and pointing blame. It had all just disappeared.
I’m not trying to make this out to be as easy as it sounds. I was just as surprised at this working as you might be apprehensive to believe it, but it’s true.
I felt great. I felt healthy and capable of deciding how I was going to exist in that moment, regardless of my circumstances. The fact that I was so surprised at how drastically my mood changed only compounded the feeling, making me even more lighthearted and jovial the entire night.
I had accepted my food-mucking fate, joked around with my coworkers, listened to music, and was even thrown a few bucks at the end of the night as a thank you for sticking around (I wasn’t going to accept it, but then again a grateful guy’s still gotta get that green, feel me?).
Becoming fully aware of the power of my choices turned a self-imposed hell into a joyful experience in the same way choosing to flick a light switch will fill a dark room with light.
If you can bring yourself to clearly see the potential of your decisions — your real decisions, your conscious choices — you’ll be able to actually feel the power you have to shape your present reality into almost any form you desire.
This one only sounds easy because we hear the advice so often.
Practice gratitude, they say. Start a gratitude journal, count your blessings, let’s all say what we’re thankful for, etc., etc.
It can sound like a baseless platitude when taken at face value. Giving thanks is just the cheap way to stave off bad karma, right? It’s just the Hallmark card we send to the Holy Head Honcho before we tear into our dinner like a child forced to say Thank you, Grandma, before shredding their Christmas present open and littering the living room with red ribbons….right?
Yes and no.
Yes, things like thankfulness and gratitude have become such a basic response to goodwill aimed our way that many of us have failed to see the actual utility behind it. But no, it is not a mere platitude only meant as common courtesy.
The people who practice gratitude often know this. They know that when you take the time to truly appreciate who you are, what you have, and what is still possible for your life, a profound sense of grace falls over you. You feel lucky to be alive in that exact moment, thinking those exact thoughts.
It’s not just saying Thank You to the universe, you actually feel like the universe sees you acknowledging it and is nodding its head as if to say No, thank you for finally seeing me. Here’s a pinch of happy for the road. I know it’s tough out here…my bad.
After I had inadvertently taken the previous two steps of having a better Perspective about my situation, then Choosing to not let negativity control my existence regardless of circumstance, I felt more connected to myself, more in control of my life, and more Gratitude than I ever have before for simply being able to have had the experience.
The gratitude I felt compounded the previous two feelings even more, making the entire thing one perfectly balanced state of content presence; a state of mind that so many of us struggle to reach, but continually aim for.
By simply acknowledging the power within me to overcome the pettiness of my so-called “problems”, I was able to truly feel appreciation for my fortunate circumstances in this world amidst so much chaos and confusion.
It allowed me to see just how lucky I really was, how far I had come in my own personal journey and the possibilities that were still available to me.
I actually felt younger, like time had slowed down a bit and I could see the expanse of my life before me like a forest of potential. I may have found a few gems and trinkets here and there, but there was still so much treasure to be discovered. In that moment I was able to replace the ‘dis’ in discouraged with a healthy and hopeful ‘EN’.
The Holy Trinity
That may be a religious term and I’m not necessarily one for dogma, but now that I think about it, it does sort of have the same mechanism going on.
If you’re so religiously inclined, go ahead and plug in God for gratitude, Jesus for choice, and personal perspective for the holy spirit, it still works pretty well, actually. You thank God for your blessings, choose Jesus as your savior from temptation, and use the power of the holy spirit to shift your perspective to help and forgive others.
Did I just discover the foundations of religion without all the guilt and fear? Who would have thought…
Anyway, it was only when all three of the previous steps were taken that I was able to reach this state of presence and “power,” if you want to call it that.
Now, I’m not saying that I was suddenly transformed into some spiritual sorcerer capable of controlling every emotion I’ll ever have again. I’m just some guy. I ride the emotional roller coaster of daily life like anyone. But for a brief moment, during the course of a single night, I was finally able to see what it really meant to choose how I see the world and feel a profound sense of thankfulness that I was capable of doing so.
I also understand that every individual situation is going to be different and some are obviously much harder to overcome than my silly example of having to go to work when I didn’t want to.
I’m sure some of you were reading this going Really? How spoiled are you? Trust me, I get it. Step one really shined a light on my little boy blues. But then again, really, it’s all relative.
I know I don’t have kids clawing at my clock, and I’m not desperate to work as much as possible to cover bills, but I’ve crafted my life that way for a reason. My time is as sacred to me as anyone’s is to them, so when it’s taken from me it’s easy to slip into the static of anger and resentment. This trinity works for anyone, regardless of your situation, you just have to be aware enough to see it with an open mind.
Most of the topics of self-help, in my eyes, are essentially distilled versions of these three main feelings. There has never been the need to make something so simple so unnecessarily complicated.
These three things are all great on their own, and all have a myriad of sub-categories we could get into if we wanted, but if we can manage to find our way back to these three main rivers and follow them to where they all stem from, we can find that serene lake of conscious living.
A lake with a surface like rippled glass, where we can lay on an innertube and simply float with our feet in the water, soak in the heat of a benevolent sun, and exist to our fullest in the presence of an endlessly divine moment.