How to Make Sure You Never Ruin Your Life
No one wants to ruin their life intentionally, but some people manage to do it. When we see it happen, whether it’s a celebrity or someone we know, we’re often surprised, but when we look closer, it’s most often been a slow burn on the way to the wreckage.
That intrigued me, so I asked about 100 people, all over the age of 50, “What is the best way for someone to slowly ruin their life?” The word “slowly” adds a provocative nature to the question — it implies the possibility of hope because if something takes place over time, there is a chance to catch it, reverse it, or stop it before it’s too late.
Imagine a pencil rolling slowly across a table to the edge — you can see it; you know it’s going to roll off. You can grab it and save yourself the trouble of bending over and picking it up, or you can just let it continue rolling until suddenly, it’s gone, over the edge. It’s like the answer given by a character from the Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises. When asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” the character answers, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
Apparently, the question was easy to answer. Within minutes, I received dozens and dozens of responses, some of which I have included below. They fell into three categories:
Having a negative mindset.
Responses: Being cynical, blaming others for one’s behavior, looking at everything you don’t have, having a harsh inner critic, worrying about the past or future, letting fear run your life.
Responses: lack of interest in your inner world, inability to slow down, lying to yourself, ignoring your intuition, allowing others to define who you are, a constant focus on gratification from your outside world, which you think you can control, linking your happiness to others’ perceptions and expectations of you.
Ignoring mental, spiritual, and physical health.
Examples: eating unhealthy foods, poor physical health habits, escaping into addictions, staying in toxic relationships, putting yourself in compromising situations.
Common sense says if you don’t want to ruin your life, then do the opposite of everything listed above: Be positive, not cynical, don’t blame others, take responsibility, don’t live on junk food, eat healthily. All certainly helpful. However, I wanted to get below the surface and address the mindset, attitudes, and beliefs that underlie destructive behavior patterns.
Here are the themes I found that can help make sure you don’t ruin your life, and if you do get off course, they’ll help you get back on track too.
Face the wind
Denial is a dangerous job.
When we’re hiding from something we don’t like, part of ourselves, or the situation we’re in, we invent distractions. We escape confronting the issue by anesthetizing ourselves with activities that initially appear harmless but take on a destructive life of their own.
For example, we can deny the toxic relationship we are in is acceptable; or our compulsive behavior or addiction to something is just temporary and will end soon, or the long work hours we’re putting in are necessary, even though we know it’s an escape from an unfulfilling relationship.
Left unchecked, these excuses become addictions, ingrained habits, or accepted ways of living detrimental to our well-being.
When I’ve found myself on the wrong side of the tracks, the turnaround began with facing the brutal truth. Without doing that, nothing would have changed.
Accepting your circumstances as they are, looking in the mirror, admitting what is happening is the first step in breaking the cycle of denial. Putting things off, minimizing the impact of unhealthy habits, and convincing yourself there is some redeeming benefit to what you are doing, knowing full well it’s not good for you, is flat-out denial, lying to yourself, as one person told me.
Facing the wind with your eyes open to the truth will keep you honest and a critical step to get yourself heading in the right direction if you aren’t.
Ask yourself: “What am I allowing in my life that is no longer good for me?”
Facing what you don’t want to deal with is not easy at first.
There is courage within us; we have to find and make friends with it. I found courage through prayer, asking for help, and digging deep inside myself to find my heart. When I found my heart, I found courage. The heart knows what is right and is our inner guidance system. The heart doesn’t care about the future or the past — it only cares about what is best for you and doing the right thing.
When we face a challenging situation, it’s often necessary to make hard choices, and sometimes to get what we want, we have to let go of something significant. For example, if you choose to leave a marriage and have children, you know changing the structure of the family unit will be difficult, but the reasons to do so are more critical than keeping it intact. That is not an easy decision.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
― Nelson Mandela
Enter your cave
The cave is our inner world. It’s the part of us that contains our fears, false beliefs, lies, guilt, and shame. When we first enter the cave, we’re usually afraid of what we will find in the shadows and darkness. Courage lights the way and steadies us as we go deeper into ourselves. It’s not unusual to find a guide, a friend, a mentor to offer assistance on the journey.
When you enter your cave and face your darkness, it’s more important than ever to pay specific attention to the situations you're in, the people you encounter, and the messages you receive from them. What may seem like a coincidence is not. Once you start the process of transformation to wholeness, help will appear in new and seemingly unusual ways. Don’t ignore it.
Sometimes we think we don’t have the power to be the person we want to be. But we do. That person exists already within us, hidden in the shadows, waiting to come out. The darker it gets, the brighter the light on the other side.
Know what you want
Knowing what you want in life ignites movement toward the vision. Without knowing what you want, how can you move towards it? The vision might be a few words as simple as, “I want a loving relationship,” or “I have a life of abundance.” Don’t underestimate the power of intention. How things are going to happen, and the details are not necessary at this point. What is essential is freeing yourself from being held captive by false stories and limiting beliefs.
The stories you tell yourself make or break you.
The Stories You Tell Yourself Make or Break You
Discontentment begins and ends in your head
Tell yourself you are amazing, you’re good, you deserve everything possible, you want the best life has to offer, and that’s there is nothing, nothing at all, that can stop you.
Be a warrior
Warriors walk the middle path- the path of poise, balance, and inner strength.
There is a wise warrior within you, the warrior archetype, the part of you that completes complex tasks, persevering in the heat of a challenge, getting things done, and solving problems. Warriors speak honestly without being hurtful, they’re confident without being arrogant, and they’re humble without being timid.
Warriors manage their inner world, think clearly, speak truthfully and act with respectively. They face difficult situations knowing they can only control what they do and say. The truth is most important — looking good and being right is not important at all. Their mission is not to please others or to fit in. Their mission is to be true to themselves. The word ruin means to damage irreparably, destroy completely, or spoil something. Warriors only ruin that which seeks to harm themselves or others.
Warriors aren’t cynical about life; they fully embrace life, don’t blame others, wish they had more than they do, criticize themselves or let fear run the show. Warriors take an interest in their inner world, pay attention to their intuition, take care of their body, knowing life is short. They focus on what it’s their control and know real contentment is in the heart.
Life is all about choices — we get to choose what we think about, how we show up, and what we do. It’s the little things, the small decisions that make our life great or not. Make the best ones you can, every day. It’s all we can do.
If you enjoyed this, you might like a previous article where I asked 100 people over 50 how to make the most of your life.