Change The Language

I guess December has been a month of little revelations here and there on this blog. I suppose the reason for that is, I've had a few little opportunities (and one really huge one) to evaluate and re-evaluate life and all its little nuances. And while I usually try to temper my "you can do it!" style posts with some juvenile antics and pithy rants, I figure since there's already a pattern and there's only 4 days left in December... Fuck it. I'm going to spend the rest of this month trying to fix you.

One tool I've found that drastically changed my life and how I live it: I changed the language I use about myself. I used to be horribly self-effacing -- and not just for effect on this blog and in my books (which, you should know, I'll probably still do, because come on... It's funny). I used to genuinely put myself down, count myself out, and write myself off, both in word and in thought.

Then one day, Drew Curtis (my boss at Fark.com) changed something I never really paid attention to. Our internal mail list for staff was nicknamed "Assholes." The joke was that when something broke, you'd just email the assholes at fark -- thus, Assholes@fark.com was the address we chose. We used that address for quite a while. Then, one day, Drew randomly emailed all of us and announced we needed a new name for ourselves.

"The simple fact is, words matter, especially the words we choose to describe ourselves," he wrote. His theory is that the more we called ourselves assholes, the more we could begin to believe we really are assholes. So we changed our name to The Gnomes Which Run Fark. And you know what? I can attest that mentally picturing myself as one of several little gnomes banging a wrench on things definitely changed how I perceived my role at Fark. I was no longer the bad guy. I was a little helper man.

A little light went on in my head.

I'd heard for years about positive mental attitude, and believe in it whole-heartedly. Think good, be good. Point yourself in positive directions and positive things happen. It's just a fact. My entire career is a testament to it (and if you're sitting there brooding about how you've "totally tried it" and it's "all a bunch of shit," well... You're kinda fucking it up right now).

But I never applied that mentality to myself. And with Drew's inadvertent advice, I began changing the language I used when describing myself, at least out loud. It was hard, and it still is, but I forced myself to refrain from saying things like "I suck" and listing off all the ways I am talentless, and instead started saying things like "I admire the talent it takes to do [whatever]" and "I'll have to work on [aspect of myself]."

And slowly, changing how I spoke about myself began to change how I felt about myself. The language in my head began to change. And that's something that's both cool and odd about how our brains work: we don't realize when we're out of pain until we are in pain again. And when I started feeling down on myself after a while, I remembered that, for a while there, I was feeling quite good about the work I was doing and the things I was writing and the pieces I was drawing. Sure, none of it measured up to the highest talents in any industry... But who cares?

Drew obviously thinks highly enough of my talents as a carnival barker and designer to let me go talk to folks about non-intrusive marketing and design the things I come up with. You guys obviously think highly enough of my writing to read it every day and buy my books. Some of you think highly enough of my ability to draw that you tossed money at me last Christmas.

And I realized: why would I presume to know better what you think of me than you do? It's true that we all know ourselves better than anyone else could possibly know us, but at the same time, we are usually the worst at figuring out what others think about us... Which is why it's sad and strange that we dedicate so much time to that pursuit.

It's a challenge to change the words you use about yourself, that's for sure. At first, you'll find yourself thinking "This is silly. I feel ridiculous." I suggest those be the first words you change. Think instead that you are taking a new course, especially for yourself and by yourself. No one else can hear the thoughts in your head, so to them, your choice of more positive language about yourself has no context. It's just what you said about yourself. And while eventually you won't care what other people think, during this time that you still do, know that you leave them with an impression far better than the one you leave when you bag on yourself.

Even if they don't leave thinking "That was a pleasant conversation," at least it's not "Wow, that guy really hates himself. What a shame."

And after you master the art of stopping yourself from ripping yourself to shreds verbally, you'll begin to see that your brain actually rewires itself. It's conditioning. You're conditioning yourself to not hate yourself.

If you're miserable; if you're constantly feeling down and worthless, ask yourself: Do I WANT to be happy? Don't ask "Do I deserve to be happy" because right now, you'll just answer "no."

Just ask if you want to be happy. And if (when) the answer is "yes" give yourself a present. Give yourself the gift of trying to be happy. Trying to be happy is a gift that's yours to give AND to receive, and no one can ever take it away from you. Will you be happy? My answer is yes, and I stand by it. Trying to be happy will make you happy. Doing things for yourself will make you happy. Seeking new ways to think positively about yourself will make you happy.

For 2012, try changing the language you use about yourself (and, if you want an extra challenge, try changing the language you use about others as well... I've failed at that challenge, but mostly because everyone else sucks). Let me know how it goes.