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FIND SOMETHING BETTER TO DO
All human beings have two main drives.
Everybody wants to be happier, and we don't want to be sad, mad
or anxious. Given your own devices, you, like every other human
being, would like to do things that are fun to do, that make
you happy, that bring you up, that improve your spirits. And
you shy away from anything that brings you down or has some pain
I know something else about you: You want
to make progress. There might be a few people sitting in a monastery
someplace, totally content with their lives, but I'll bet you're
not one of them. You want to make progress. You want to make
gains. You want to have something more in your life than you
have now. You want to make more money, you want to have a better
relationship, and you want your body to feel better. Those are
the big three. You want to make gains. And when you're making
gains, you feel good about yourself. We do not want to have loss,
or trespass or danger.
When we say "Find something better
to do," we're saying, "Look, you only have 16 hours
in your day (given a 24 hour day and you sleep for eight). How
you fill these up, and what activities and people you put into
those 16 hours is what your life ends up being." So the
ideal, the most incredible, wonderful thing you can do with your
time is toward what you want (that is fun and pleasurable to
do) and that makes gain. That's the very best place to
spend your time doing something you enjoy doing and that
simultaneously moves you toward something you want.
Given the two vectors 1) you want
to feel good, and 2) you want to make progress you have
four possibilities. You can do something that feels good and
makes progress, you can feel good without making progress,
you can make progress without feeling good, or you can do something
that doesn't feel good and doesn't make any progress.
We'll call those four possibilities the four quadrants.
One time a friend of mine and I were sitting
around one afternoon having a great time talking to each other,
and I noticed she seemed distracted. Turns out she wanted to
get her lawn furniture painted because she was having in-laws
over for a party. So we decided to do it together. We had a wonderful
time because we were in this quadrant getting something
done she wanted to get done and we were having fun talking with
each other while we were doing it. That's a wonderful place to
spend your time. And if you can spend hours of your life doing
things that are fun and move you toward a goal, the more of that
quadrant you can use, the better your life is.
Of course, we have to be realistic. There
are some things in life you have to do that aren't any
fun, maybe even painful or frustrating. Do you like doing your
taxes? But you have to do it. So there are some things that move
you ahead but they're not very much fun to do. But when you're
done with them you feel pretty good. Licking the stamp and putting
it in the mailbox feels pretty good. You may not have liked the
several hours of trying to figure out, or even comprehend the
form, but when it's over, you have the satisfying feeling of
The point is, there are things in your
life that are unpleasant to some degree, but they move you ahead,
and they're worth it. Sometimes telling the truth is painful,
but when you do it, your life is better off. Exercising, working
at your job, etc. There are things you do in your life that are
going to cause you a little pain or stress, but if they leave
you better off, they're a good thing to do.
You can also do something that's fun but
it has no gain to it. It's just fun to do. We're entitled to
do that as human beings. In fact, it can have a positive effect
on your health to do it, so I guess in that sense, there is a
gain. But it is not directly gain-seeking. When it is, it isn't
in this quadrant. This is stuff you do just for fun, not for
the gain in health.
An afternoon out with a friend, having
tea and going shopping, would fall into this category. It doesn't
accomplish much. Going to the movies or going out to dinner doesn't
get the dishes done at home, doesn't get the IRS forms done,
doesn't make you any money or help you lose weight, but it lifts
your spirits, and there are some valuable things about lifting
The one quadrant that we should avoid at
all costs is moving in a direction that is no fun and produces
no gain. And that's where you'll find the people who bring you
down. They're not fun to be around and not only do you not gain
much being with them, but sometimes you're actually put back
a little bit and have to recuperate from the damage they've done.
When you find yourself in this quadrant, when you find yourself
in a bad mood and not making any progress, find something
better to do! In other words, do something any one of the
other three quadrants.
The very best thing you can do is ask yourself
if there is something fun you could do that would help you make
progress toward your goals. If you can't think of something like
that, find something unpleasant or at least non-enjoyable and
productive and do that. It is something better to do. It's better
to experience discomfort and have something to show for your
trouble than it is to experience discomfort and use up your
time and gain nothing at all. It will at least distract your
mind in a productive way. You're better off going to a movie
or reading a book than being around someone that brings you down.
You will have a certain amount of the fourth
quadrant. People who bring you down already occupy a certain
amount of your life. There's no way you're going to have a life
that doesn't have people like that in it. But if you worry on
the way home about them, you've given them more of your life.
And if you go home and talk to your spouse about them, you've
given them more of your day. And if you sit in the bathtub that
night pondering how you can get even with them, you've given
them more of your day.
You're not going to be able to eliminate
all of the moments in the fourth quadrant, but as much as possible,
crowd them out of the rest of your life. When you find yourself
upset about someone, tell yourself there's got to be something
better to do. Ask yourself, "Can I do anything that's
fun and moves me ahead? Can I do anything that just moves me
ahead? Can I do anything that's just fun?" And then find
a tactful way to go do that. Just find something better to do.
If Aunt Mildred is on the phone, and she does nothing but whine
and complain, you can tell her, "I promised myself I'd get
that closet clean today, so I've got to go clean the closet now
because tonight I won't be able to because I have to take the
kids to soccer practice. Sorry Aunt Mildred, but I've got to
go." Realize it is more important to you and you'd probably
be better off if you went and cleaned the closet rather than
talking to Aunt Mildred.
Do it graciously. But find something better
to do. That is the key core technique.
TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF
If you have spent time with a person who
brings you down, you have been damaged. To be fully responsible
for that, you need to say, "Okay, I'm in a bad mood now
after interacting with that person. I need to do something to
compensate for that." An automatic, natural response to
these people is to try to find a way to diminish the person
who is bringing you down, to make him smaller and less capable,
because if he's smaller, he'll hopefully have less energy for
stinging, berating, complaining or crazymaking. You want to stop
him from bringing you down. If you're not careful, you'll focus
your time and energy on how to make less of people who bring
you down. But that approach is self-defeating and counter-productive,
because you have to take part of your 16 hours to do it and the
process itself will bring you down.
You can't fight your way out of quicksand
with effort. In fact, you dig yourself in deeper the more you
fight it. In the same way, you can't bring another person down
enough to make him stop bringing you down. It will just get worse.
You're not only wasting a precious portion of your sixteen hours,
but you are compounding your problem by trying to fix it.
It's like trying to fall asleep
because you have to get up early. Have you ever done that? You
toss and turn and keep looking at the clock and get more and
more upset that it's getting later and later and you will be
tired tomorrow and you really need to get some sleep! You are
compounding the problem by trying to fix it. The more you try
to go to sleep, the more awake you are.
With some things in life, the more you
try to make something better, the worse it becomes. This is one
of those. The activity of trying to being someone down to prevent
him from bringing you down will bring you down.
And the other person will tend to retaliate by bringing you down
It is very difficult to change someone
else. Have you ever noticed that? It's as if they are inside
a room and the only key to that room is locked inside with them.
They can change their life when they decide to change their life,
but probably you're going to put out dollars and dollars and
get back maybe a couple pennies worth of effect. It's a poor
investment of your time to try to change somebody else. What
you can do, and what you have total control over, is making yourself
higher (improving your mood) so you become a bigger, more capable
Let's make it like physical size. When
you improve your mood, it is like getting bigger. You become
smarter, stronger, healthier, more successful, and have more
integrity. There is more of you. And when you come down, you
get smaller. Using this as the analogy, let's say when you meet
someone who brings you down, you are equal in size. If they bring
you down, you become smaller. If you try to handle it by somehow
suppressing them, it will bring you down and they will
bring you down all the harder. The more you fight it, the worse
it gets. It is more effective and much easier to simply take
good care of yourself.
You know when you're in a really good mood,
things don't bother you as much. You can be in such a good mood
that people can't get to you. Think of something that would make
you supremely happy: Winning the lottery, meeting the perfect
mate, whatever. Imagine someone trying to bring you down in that
state. You are immune.
Taking good care of yourself if like building
an immunity to people who bring you down. They are less able
to infect you.
As another example, let's say you keep
pulling back muscles every time you pick something up. So you
start a weight-lifting and back-stretching program. When your
back is strong and flexible, you can lift the things you were
lifting before, only now there's no pain.
Concentrate on bringing yourself up and
you strengthen and immunize yourself against people who at one
time could bring you down.
The same principle applies to the part
of you who brings you down. You know that radio station in your
head that never stops and is always commenting? You have things
about yourself you don't like, right? And there are also things
about you that you like. Imagine a balance scale with a pan on
The object of the game is to make it so
there is more good than bad. There are two ways to go about it
and the way that comes most naturally is to try to get rid
of what's wrong. It's human nature to be negative. That's
why people complain so much. That's why you find fault with people
so easily. It's why people watch the news even though it's depressing.
So you see what's wrong with you and you
try to change it. If you spend all of your 16 hours on this,
you will have a pretty miserable life. Plus, when you're finished,
even if you manage to eliminate some of the things you don't
like about yourself, you've diminished your life and made it
The other way to go about it is to say,
"Okay, I'm not perfect. But I like some of these things
over here that I do, so I'm going to try to make more of it.
I'm going to try to make the best of that strength or that asset.
I'll take a class or spend some time practicing. I'm going to
keep trying to make there be more good to me."
So one way is to take away things on one
side of the balance scale (the things you don't like), and the
other way is to add to the other side (strengthen the things
Trying to put more good in your life is,
first of all, a pleasant process. Most of the time when you're
doing something that makes you happy, it's a pretty good time.
So you fill up those 16 hours with enjoyment. And you end up
with a bigger life with more options, more abilities, and more
Over a period of time have you ever
noticed this? some old people have tiny, narrow little
lives. They got it by getting rid of what didn't work, getting
rid of what they don't like, getting rid of people that disagreed
with them, and so on. Now they've got a tiny life that works
pretty good. That's one way to go. In our opinion, life is too
short to waste that way.
There's a billionaire in the United States
that always wears cowboy boots because he never learned to tie
his shoes. Is he a dope because he can't tie his shoes? He didn't
let it stand in his way. And you're always hearing success stories
of people who have major faults Thomas Edison was such
a trouble maker in school, he was kicked out after three months.
He became the world's greatest inventor with a total of three
months of schooling! Some of Galileo's friends thought he "ruined
himself by being so much in love with his own genius, and by
having no respect for others." Walt Disney went bankrupt
Remember we were telling you earlier that
good moods strengthened your immune system and bad moods weaken
it? In an experiment by Arthur Stone at the University of New
York, a new angle has been uncovered. A good event like an enjoyable
time with a friend or getting a compliment on your work increases
your body's production of immune cells for two or three days.
On the other hand, something negative, like criticizing yourself
or arguing with someone depresses your immune system, but only
for one day. That means it is in your best interest to focus
your attention on the good stuff it is twice as powerful!
Other research has shown that you are less
likely to catch a cold because of an increase in unpleasant stress
than because of experiencing fewer pleasurable experiences. The
things that bring you up do more good than the bad of things
that bring you down. So fighting the bad is unwise. Enhancing
the good is the way to go.
There are four things you can do to make
yourself bigger and more able to handle the people who bring
1. Do something good for your body because
your body has been damaged.
2. Do something good for the world you
live in because depression is a conviction that you're helpless.
3. Do something to learn so you're more
able to handle the situation you're in.
4. Get it said.
The first one is do something good for
your body. I used to deal with depression quite heavily, so much
so that for a brief period of time in my life I was suicidal
and under psychiatric care and taking drugs so I wouldn't kill
myself. When you're at that state in life, first of all, you're
very aware of who brings you down because they are the ones who
push you closer to the edge. So you have an advantage. You look
at people differently when you're that far down.
And you start noticing also what takes
you away from the edge. Walking is literally, for me, a gateway
to sanity, because when you start walking, first of all, you
get a new perspective. If you're in a room or an office, and
you've got trouble in that room, one of the best things you can
do is get out of that room. Change your perspective. Go for a
When you first start going for a walk,
don't worry about how fast. Don't worry about what you look like
or how far you're going to go. Just get out and start putting
one foot in front of the other and maybe notice some things on
the ground. As you start to walk, raise your sights a little
bit and start noticing some bushes and trees, and you'll start
changing your attitude. Sometimes when you are bummed you have
a tendency to look down. Looking up changes your attitude all
by itself a little.
They took clinically depressed people and
told them to stand up straight and look up. That's it. You know,
there's an emotion that goes with that. And what they found was,
simply standing up straight and looking up made them feel less
So when you go out, try to raise your spirits
up a little bit and start looking a little farther and farther
away. As you walk, you'll find that you'll start feeling a little
bit better. I think you'll be impressed with how well this works.
I've gone for a walk feeling so bad I was crying, and 45 minutes
later I'm smiling. That's an incredible transition to make in
only 45 minutes. The more you walk, the better you feel, and
the better you feel, the more you feel like walking, so don't
worry about how fast you go in the beginning. Just get started.
For anyone whose body is fully grown, moderate
exercise will give more of an improvement to you than strenuous
exercise. Strenuous exercise damages you slightly, which you
then have to recuperate from, and leaves you open to injuries.
This is not my opinion, but a tested conclusion based on well-conducted
scientific studies. So if you're going to go out and walk to
exercise, you should always be able to talk, to carry on a conversation
while you are walking. If you can't talk, you are walking too
If you're uptight, or upset and you need
to mellow out, go for a slow walk. They did a study where they
gave one group of people a tranquilizer and another group went
for a slow 20 minute walk. The slow walk was more tranquilizing
than a tranquilizer.
On the other hand, if you feel sluggish
and you don't have any energy, go for a brisk walk. Walk so you
feel warm and you're breathing deeply, but not panting, not hot,
not out of breath, and that form of moderate exercise will give
you more gain than trying to go faster, harder, heavier. When
you exercise like that, your body produces encathalins, which
are mood elevators and mood stabilizers. By exercising, you've
raised your mood and stabilized it.
The second thing that happens when you
exercise enough to be aerobic is that your body starts producing
extra endorphins. That's a coined word meaning endogenous
morphine. It means morphine that your body medicates itself
with. The wonderful thing about endorphins is that they soothe
physical and emotional pain.
When you walk briskly, you will experience
less physical pain your back or hip that was bothering
you when you first started out probably won't bother you as bad
when you come back (if it hurts worse the more you walk, stop;
if it happens every time you walk, make an appointment with a
physical therapist), and it will help ease your emotional pain.
If you're going through trouble, it' is a great therapy. You'll
come back in a better, more stable mood with less physical and
Anything you do to improve your body will
help you counteract someone who brings you down.
Get enough sleep. That's another way to
do something good for your body.
Eating healthy food is another way. When
you change something like your eating habits, try small changes
rather than large changes. A little upon a little. If I decide
to improve my diet a little bit and I decide to go from 2% milk
to 1%, I can probably keep that change in my life long enough
to get used to it so much so that later I'll drink 2%
and it won't taste good to me. It's a small change. Not drastic,
but a move in the right direction. And it is better to move a
little and keep it than to move a lot only to lose it. You will
feel a little better knowing you've improved your health. Yes,
you may be able to make a bigger change and feel even better,
but greed is not good even this kind of greed. It pushes
you closer to the edge where you are more likely to fall off.
Don't be greedy about it, don't be impatient about it. Go for
the small changes and keep them. This is sane, practical, hard-won
Three things to stay away from are white
sugar, white flour, and chemical additives. These are bad for
your mood. They conspire with other people to bring you down.
The largest nutritional research project ever done was on over
a million students in the New York City school district. They
chose a school district because the researchers can control what
food is served there. They found that when they increased the
amount of complex carbohydrates and decreased the amount of white
sugar, white flour, and chemical additives, there was a dramatic
improvement in the students' attention spans.
Another place where nutritional intake
can be controlled even more tightly is in jails. Stephen Schoenthaler,
Ph.D. has been studying the diets of offenders doing time in
jail. He found that when the subjects ate more fruits, vegetables,
whole grains and less refined carbohydrates, sugary desserts
and chemical additives, there was not only an increase in attention
span, but a significant decrease in depression, anxiety, tiredness
and confusion. In other words, it improved their moods when they
improved their diet.
Treat your body well: soak in a hot tub,
get a massage, get a haircut, take a shower, have your nails
done do something to make your body feel better or look
Just ask yourself, "Is there anything
I can do for my body that will put me in a better mood?"
When you're in a better mood, you're better off, and the people
you love are better off. And it makes you more able to deal with
the challenges you face.
If you can't make the challenges smaller,
you can make yourself more able to handle them. You will definitely
be more able to handle them well rested and feeling good.
to Handle People Who Bring You Down,