Staying Off the Wheel of Misfortune – The Book in 10 Minutes!
Christopher Kent’s self-help book in nutshell form!
A Note from the Author
In today’s busy world, everyone is pressed for time. As a result, even wonderful books with valuable content often fail to get read. “It sounds great, but I’ll wait for the movie!” is an understandable reaction. Obviously, my 350-page self-help book Staying Off the Wheel of Misfortune isn’t likely to be made into a movie, so I’ve decided to provide you with the next-best thing: a condensed version of the book!
In The Book in 10 Minutes you’ll find 28 of the most important and helpful ideas that appear in Staying Off the Wheel of Misfortune, clearly explained, but without the extensive supporting information and detailed discussions that you’ll find in the book. Hopefully this will get you thinking about some of the key issues in your life that may be working against you without you realizing it. And of course, if you find these ideas intriguing, you can turn to the original book for a more detailed explanation and discussion.
– Christopher Kent, September, 2015
1. Keep your perspective when things are falling apart: A crisis provides the opportunity to make much-needed changes. Most of us think of growing as a slow, steady process. Actually, this idea about how things grow is only partly correct; the natural growth process includes a periodic crisis, in which everything seems to fall apart. Understanding this – and the reason it’s true – can make a big difference in your life, because it gives you a very different perspective when things you care about suddenly go into crisis. That different perspective will help you to make constructive choices instead of despairing and losing hope.
Here’s how this works: All natural entities that are not isolated – including individual people, relationships, countries, economies and even belief systems – follow a natural, repeating cycle of growth. The cycle begins with a long period of slow, steady growth during which the system (a relationship, for example) expands and becomes more complex. However, every system has flaws and weaknesses, and over time the flaws grow as well. For a long time, the problems caused by those flaws can be addressed with simple fixes. But eventually, as the system and its flaws become more complex, a point is reached at which only a fundamental change in the system can solve the problems. At that point, the system goes into a period of collapse.
This period is chaotic, and it may be painful and scary, but it allows big changes to be made – changes big enough to truly solve the big problems. This period of collapse is crucial, because changes of that magnitude usually can’t be made during the slow, steady growth part of a cycle. (Every system prefers stability and predictability, so the system will squash any attempts to make big changes for as long as it can.) Without the part of the cycle where things fall apart, growing systems would end up stuck forever in a dysfunctional rut.
Understanding this aspect of the natural growth cycle will help you stay off the Wheel of Misfortune, because we all encounter times when things we care about seem to be falling apart. If you see this as a natural part of growing – not as the end of something you care about – you won’t despair and lose hope. Instead, you’ll understand that it’s an opportunity to make big, groundbreaking changes and restart things on a better basis. You’ll suffer less, and make far better choices.
2. Choose your day-to-day focus wisely, because the kind of life you live – and how happy you end up being – will be dramatically affected by what you pay attention to. That’s because in life, it’s your experience that matters, and your experience is not determined by the things that happen to you; your experience is determined by what you focus on and how you interpret it. (This is the reason two people can live through the same events and have completely different experiences.) So, if you focus on what you don’t like all the time, your experience will become very negative, regardless of how positive or negative the events occurring around you may be. On the other hand, if you consciously choose to focus more on the things you do like, your experience will become more positive. So, go out of your way to spend some time every day focusing on the things you do like. Your experience of life will change accordingly.
In addition to paying more attention to the things you like in your life, it’s also important to take a little time every day to express gratitude for them. This is not some airy-fairy idea; doing this helps to make the things you like continue to be part of your experience. And, if they do disappear from your experience for a while, it helps ensure that they will return.
3. Don’t buy into the idea that you can’t change for the better, learn new skills or evolve. You can. If you believe that you can’t learn something or change in some way, you’re not only mistaken, you’re putting yourself at a huge disadvantage. Many people believe they’re stuck as they are, and that belief causes them to make all kinds of self-defeating choices. Studies have shown that believing you can’t really change can have a huge negative impact on your life. (It can also cause you to hold other people back, since you’ll assume they can’t change for the better, either.)
There’s a popular idea that contributes to this belief: The belief that talent is something you have to be born with. Many people believe that if they’re not talented now, it’s too late to do anything about it. However, lots of studies have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that this simply isn’t true. What people call “talent” is not something you’re born with. Instead, it’s the result of thousands of hours of focused practice – practice that anyone with sufficient interest can accumulate over a period of time (usually several years). Ironically, many talented people claim that they were born with their talent – because that’s what they’ve always been told! But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that they put in thousands of hours of focused practice. That’s what really led to their remarkable skill.
Once people are shown the proof that anyone can develop talent – or change for the better – their lives begin to improve. So, if you catch yourself thinking that you can’t change or learn something new, you’re selling yourself short. Stop and think again.
4. Don’t take on the role of victim, even if you’ve been victimized. Being wronged does not automatically make you a victim. In fact, you always get to choose whether or not or not you’re going to respond to a negative event by seeing yourself as a victim. Taking on the role of victim does allow you to feel righteous anger, and it may result in your getting help from a few people. However, it can lead to a long list of negative side effects that can cause you grave harm and prevent you from reaching your goals.
Here are just a few examples:
- When you see yourself as a victim, you are positioning the other person as having power over you. In reality, other people only have as much power over you as you give them, no matter what the circumstances. If you refuse to take on the role of victim, that seeming power over you will disappear.
- People who take on the role of victim remain angry about the wrong that was done to them. That anger undermines their physical and mental health and drains their energy.
- Focusing on the harm that was done to you diverts your attention from figuring out how to create a better situation.
- If you see yourself as a victim, other people will pick up on that, affecting how they interact with you. (Some of them will see you as a good potential target for further victimization.)
- If you see yourself as a victim, you’ll be tempted to focus on getting revenge, which usually results in an escalation of hostility and damage. (It may also turn you into a victimizer just as bad as the person you’re angry at – or worse.)
The list goes on, but you get the idea.
Instead of taking on the role of victim, choose to respond to the situation by looking for ways to prevent the situation from occurring again. (Remember: Trying to take revenge will probably have the opposite effect). The less you see yourself as a victim, the more effective your choice of action will be, and the better the outcome.
5. Remember that forgiving someone who has wronged you is not about letting him or her off the hook – it’s about ending your own anger and suffering. Letting go of anger is extremely good for your mental and physical health. It also clears your vision about what action, if any, needs to be taken. If you refuse to forgive someone, you are the one who suffers, not the other person.
6. When you want to communicate, don’t just think about what you’re trying to say; think about what the other person is hearing. The other person’s internal circumstances and past experience can cause them to interpret your words very differently than you think they will, resulting in misunderstandings. Depending on the situation, a misunderstanding can have serious negative consequences.
To avoid misunderstandings, pay attention to the response you get back when you’re trying to communicate. This will usually tell you whether or not the other person interpreted your remarks the way you intended. If the other person’s response suggests that he or she misinterpreted your communication, change the way you’re expressing your message until their response tells you that your meaning was correctly understood.
7. When asking someone to do something, explain the reason you’re making the request – i.e., the goal your request is supposed to achieve. Then, if something goes wrong and the person is unable to fulfill your request in the way you asked, his choice of what to do instead will probably be appropriate and helpful. If you haven’t adequately explained the reason for your request and something goes wrong, the person trying to help you will have to guess what your underlying motive was when he’s choosing what to do instead. If he guesses wrong, you may end up with a result you will not be happy with.
8. If a communication won’t be read or heard until later – when it will be too late to change it – get feedback about your communication from a trusted “feedback person” before sending your communication out into the world. Your feedback person will act as a substitute audience and alert you to the need to make changes before you send your communication out. This can help prevent unexpected misinterpretations later, when it’s too late to do anything about it.
9. When you’re trying to achieve something and your goal seems a long way off, don’t focus on how big the gap appears to be between where you are now and where you want to be. Focusing on that gap will make you frustrated and angry, leading to poor choices that may derail your efforts. Instead, focus on your goal and the individual steps you’re taking to reach it. This will minimize your frustration and remind you that you’re making progress.
10. Treat impulses and gut feelings as helpful guidance from the parts of your brain that are outside the conscious, verbal part most of us identify with. Conscious, verbal, analytical thought is only one of the resources the brain provides us with. Other “subconscious” parts of the brain – which comprise what I call the greater mind – are hard at work nonverbally processing information and details of your experience that would overwhelm the “conscious” part of your brain. Those other parts of your brain can manage a host of tasks that your verbal, analytical mind can’t easily handle. They use their resources to help you make good choices and reach your goals – but only if you let them.
Because those other parts of your brain are not normally verbal, they share information nonverbally. They may do this by giving you an impulse to do something (pick up a particular book, say hello to someone, ask a particular question, or walk down a certain street, for example), or by creating a negative feeling – often in your gut – if something you’re about to do is likely to backfire. So it’s important to assume that your gut feelings and impulses may represent valuable information and try to act in accordance with them, even if they don’t always seem to make sense.
There’s one important exception: Never follow an impulse to do violence. Those impulses spring from suppressed anger, not from your greater mind.
11. Learn to recognize the warning signs of emotional stacks in yourself and in others. When an emotion is repeatedly held inside instead of being expressed, it builds up like a pressure cooker. This is referred to as an emotional stack. Eventually, one small thing can cause that backlog of emotion to explode – the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back – unleashing a reaction that’s far out of proportion to the small thing that triggered it. This kind of explosive emotional release can lead to anger, hurt feelings and broken relationships. (In fact, this may be the most common reason relationships end.)
To prevent emotional stacks from undermining your life and plans, do three things: A) learn how to prevent stacks from arising in the first place; B) learn how to defuse an emotional stack if you realize one is building up; and C) learn how to minimize the damage after the fact, if an emotional stack does build up and explodes in spite of your best efforts.
12. As much as possible, strive to understand behavior – both your own and other people’s. The payoffs are significant, even if you don’t fully succeed. For example:
- If someone’s behavior needs to be changed, the odds of your being able to change it go way up if you understand the reason for it.
- Understanding the reason for people’s behavior makes you much less likely to judge them and much more likely to get what you need from them.
- If you understand the reason for troublesome behavior, you’ll suffer less anxiety and frustration – even if you can’t change it.
- Understanding others’ behavior will help you understand your own behavior, which can be a major source of peace of mind. • The more you understand others’ behavior, the more other people will see you as a capable, intelligent person. That can bring you a host of benefits.
13. If you want to change someone’s behavior, be aware that some behavior is harder to change than others. One of the challenges we often face in life is needing to change behavior – either our own or someone else’s. A key to accomplishing this – and deciding whether or not it will be worth the effort to try – is understanding that repeating a behavior over a long period of time eventually changes the brain. Science has found that the brain is constantly changing in response to our experience, and the longer a behavior continues, the more the brain rearranges itself in response. So, while it is definitely possible to change behavior you don’t like, it may take a lot of effort if the behavior has gone on for a long time. In that situation, you’re not just trying to change behavior; you’re trying to get the brain to undo changes it’s made.
So, if you want to change behavior – yours or someone else’s – consider how long the behavior has been going on before you proceed. This will give you some idea of how much of a challenge you’re taking on.
14. As much as possible, avoid using punishment as a way to try to change behavior. The reason is simple: There are too many ways this approach to changing behavior can fail – and backfire. For example:
- Punishment is most effective when it happens immediately after the behavior (for example, getting burned when you touch a hot stove). That rarely happens in real life.
- Punishment is meant to make the person afraid to repeat the behavior for fear of being punished again. But in most cases, punishment simply encourages the person to avoid the punisher and look for ways to avoid getting caught in the future. (No change in behavior required!)
- The meaning of punishment is in the eye of the beholder. You may see it as just, but the person being punished may see it differently, leading to anger and retaliation.
- Delivering punishment is unpleasant for most people, so it tends to be put off until things get out of hand.
- Punishment sends the message that punishment in general is an appropriate way to try to change someone else’s behavior. That can lead to unfortunate choices and consequences later on.
- Studies have shown that punishment can have very negative long-term consequences for the person who is punished – especially if that person is a child. Children who are routinely punished have far greater risks of depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and mood disorders as adults.
One good way to change behavior that does not involve punishment is to determine the payoff for the behavior. (Every behavior happens because there’s a payoff. The payoff may be difficult to observe, however, because some payoffs result from an individual’s interpretation of events – and sometimes, avoiding something is the payoff.) If you can identify the payoff for the behavior, you may be able to provide that payoff in some alternate way, reducing the need for the behavior you don’t like.
15. Be wary of the “trade-off trap.” Asking someone to change their behavior in exchange for something they want from you – love, payment of a debt, respect, etc. – can backfire big-time. What you’re doing is setting up an equation in the other person’s mind. The equation says: “I’m making an effort to change, but only because I’m getting something in return.”
This may work for a while; the problem is, the equation you’ve set up can be rewritten in a heartbeat. As soon as the new behavior becomes uncomfortable for the other person, all that person has to do is downgrade the value of what he or she is getting from you – your love, for example – to feel justified in going back to what he was doing before you made the “deal.” So the change you wanted doesn’t stick. Instead, the value of what you have to offer ends up being downgraded. It’s a potential relationship killer.
16. Get rid of certainty. Certainty about what we think is true is almost never justified, and it backfires in a long list of ways – even if the thing you are certain about really is true. The certainty itself is the problem; it brings with it a host of side effects that undermine you and those around you.
Some of the most serious negative consequences of certainty include:
- Certainty stops you from learning in that part of your life, because you think you’ve already got the final answer.
- Certainty makes you unable to respond to new evidence because you dismiss anything that contradicts what you are certain is true.
- Certainty encourages negative judgment of others simply because they don’t agree with you.
- Certainty undercuts your ability to sway others to your opinion, because others can tell that your opinion is based on certainty, not evidence.
- Certainty can cause you to divide the world into “those who agree with me and those who don’t,” eventually leading to fear and anger.
- Certainty makes it easy for others to manipulate you! That’s why people who want to manipulate you (politicians, for example) encourage certainty; they know it leaves you with a major blind spot.
Think of it this way: Certainty is not your friend.
Note: It’s important to realize that giving up certainty is not the same as “admitting you’re wrong.” It’s about keeping an open mind and assuming that things are never as cut-and-dried as they seem. There will always be new evidence turning up that suggests what seemed true may be partly in error; if you want to reach your goals, you need to be open to that new evidence.
Deciding never to fall back on certainty will keep you out of a host of traps that others fall into.
17. Always ask questions when something doesn’t seem right to you, even if it’s not the easy thing to do. Letting circumstances (or individuals) cause you to ignore whatever doubts you have about something will not serve you in the long run.
At the same time, remember that asking questions is not the same as demanding answers. Demanding answers can backfire. So if you can’t get an answer right away, don’t give up searching, but be patient.
18. Don’t be sidetracked by things that happened in the past. The past can become an energy sink, in several ways. If you don’t like your current situation, don’t become obsessed with the idea that you’re stuck with it because something in the past set the situation in motion. Remember: The key question is not “How did this situation get started?” but “Why is this situation continuing?”
The past can also become an energy sink if you spend too much time focusing on it – perhaps because you remember the past as being wonderful in comparison to your current situation. The reality is, human memory often paints a far rosier picture of the past than was actually true at the time. In any case, you’ll do far better focusing on what’s happening right now, putting your energy into changing the present to make it better.
19. Don’t be held back by a generalized feeling of fear. Do something about it! If you have nebulous, seemingly nonspecific fears about the future, you may be running “mental movies” with scary endings outside of consciousness. Our minds often do this when we’re worried or afraid. The problem is, even though we’re not conscious of running the mental movie, our emotional reaction to the scary ending can bleed through into consciousness, leaving us in a state of fear and anxiety that has no obvious conscious explanation.
The way to deal with this situation is to recognize what’s happening: You’re repeating a scary mental movie just outside of your conscious focus. To break this cycle, make that mental movie conscious and deliberately write a new, positive ending for it in which you take action and alter the outcome. That will take the negative emotional power out of the mental movie and alleviate a lot of your nebulous fear and anxiety.
20. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that your happiness depends on something in the future. That’s a recipe for being unhappy most of your life! Instead of sweating about achieving something you believe will make you happy, choose a journey that will make you happy. That way, if you don’t reach your goal (or if you do and it turns out not to be as great as you thought) at least you will have been happy while you were striving to reach it.
Ironically, being happy on the journey to your goal will also dramatically increase the likelihood that you’ll reach your goal!
21. Aim to create the optimum amount of what you want – the amount that will work best for you – rather than the maximum amount. This is a trap many people fall into: Thinking they have to have the most money, the best job, the perfect spouse, etc. What you need is the optimum – the amount of something or version of something that will work best for you. Too much of a good thing can come with a host of problems, and is almost guaranteed to make you unhappy, not happy.
22. Be specific about what you want – and choose that goal with care. The surest way to fail to reach your goals is to be vague about them. The more specific you can be, the more likely you are to achieve them.
However, be careful about casually choosing a goal based on popular ideas about what’s desirable. Many of the things that people assume will make them happy, such as being very successful, making lots of money, winning the heart of some particular person or becoming a huge star, don’t end up making them very happy! You don’t want to kill yourself achieving something only to find out it’s plagued with problems. So, before you set your sights on achieving a particular goal, try to talk to someone who is in that position right now, or read interviews or books written by people who were in that position when the book or interview was created. (Note: Information provided by someone who was in that situation a while back may not be reliable. People’s memories tend to erase the negatives.) The reality of having achieved that goal is probably nothing like the stereotype. Finding that out could save you years of effort working to achieve something only to be disappointed.
23. Don’t just expect your goals to miraculously appear; plan specific steps that you’ll take to move toward them, and plan how you’ll deal with predictable obstacles. Plenty of studies have demonstrated that people who are very specific about what they’re going to do to move toward their goal – and when and where they’re going to do those things – actually take those steps and are likely to accomplish what they set out to do. The less specific you are about what you’re going to do, and when and where you’re going to do it, the less likely you are to end up where you want to be.
Also, you’ll do much better in the long run if you plan for obstacles you may encounter as you try to reach your goal. You can’t predict everything that may happen, of course, but you can predict some things. Planning how you’ll deal with the obstacles that are likely to fall in your path will save you a lot of effort and heartache later. That planning may also keep you from making a poor decision, which can happen when an obstacle you could have foreseen takes you by surprise.
24. Don’t make demands of people or of the universe, or insist that you reach your goal by one specific route. Making demands of people – or the universe in general – usually backfires. People (and the universe) respond much better to friendly requests made for understandable reasons. Also, making demands implies fear and uncertainty (and possibly desperation), none of which bodes well for you reaching your goal.
It’s also important to avoid insisting that your journey toward your goal goes exactly as you’ve planned it. The universe often helps people reach their goal by taking them in unexpected directions. Obviously you don’t want to get completely off-track or lose sight of your goal, but you should decide at the outset that you’ll be patient if events take unexpected turns. The reality is, once you reach your goal and look back, you probably won’t have taken the path you expected to take at the outset – and you’ll realize that those unexpected detours turned out to be a good thing.
25. Every day devote a short period of time to visualizing yourself in the experience you want to end up with. This isn’t some kind of New Age silliness; it really makes a difference. Even if you don’t believe visualization can alter future events, studies have shown that visualization can cause real changes in you that can help you get where you want to go. If you regularly visualize yourself as successful, for example, you’re more likely to project that to others through your self-confidence, your posture and your outlook, leading them to treat you accordingly.
Here’s a good way to think of this: You don’t get things in life because you want them so badly; you get them because you imagine yourself having them.
26. Every day take one small step toward your goal. If you don’t, you’re likely to miss opportunities that unexpectedly arise. If you do, you’ll find you’re making steady progress toward your goal.
The other reason to take regular, small steps toward your goal is that if you try to move forward in huge leaps instead of small steps, you increase your chances of failing dramatically and giving up altogether.
27. Be persistent. Despite popular mythology, persistence counts far more than talent when it comes to success. As Professor Randy Pausch (noted for his “Last Lecture” book) said: “Brick walls are NOT there to keep us out. They are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” Persistence is one of the ways you get over those walls.
28. Make sure every action you take is worthy of your ideal goal. When you find yourself having to justify your actions, those actions may not be in sync with your ideals. If they’re not reflective of your best self and your best intentions, they will eventually undermine your chances of reaching your goal. If you find yourself having to justify your actions, that should be a wake-up call: You may be acting on the basis of fear or frustration, especially if you’re worried about not reaching your goal. Stop and consider taking a different path.
To learn more about any of these ideas, please check out the full-length version of Staying Off the Wheel of Misfortune, available at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, on Kindle and as an audiobook (also through Amazon.com)!