Ten Ways to Become a Better Conversationalist

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen (Photo credit: Kraemer Family Library)

Doesn’t it seem like some people have lots of friends and others have very few.  You might say that it’s unfair.  However, you may have found some people are more fun to hang around with than others.  Why is that?  Well, it may be personal chemistry or the fact that they’re positive, upbeat people.  There may be many other reasons for this, but the one factor that I would like to zero in on is conversation skills.  Conversation skills often make or break potential relationships and may help or harm existing ones.

Why?  One who is fluent with words and can confidently express their feelings or insights on a specific topic and at the same time, entertain their audience, is a good conversationalist.  Such a person attracts people and makes friends easily.  Not only are they interesting to listen to, but knowledgeable on what subject they speak about.  Also, once one realizes they are good listeners, she is likely to turn to this person again and again for advice or feedback.  People will seek out that great conversationalist time and time again.

Before we can understand what makes a great conversationalist great, we must focus in on the poor conversationalists.  I would like to categorize poor conversationalists into two groups: the quiet and the blabbermouths.

Quiet People

The quiet person typically has nothing to say.  He just sits there silently and may or may not pay attention to what is being said.  Rarely, if ever does he have anything worthwhile to contribute to a conversation and when he speaks, his responses are usually monosyllabic in nature (“yeah” or “no”) or single sentences.  They usually speak in a monotone voice.

Getting this person to speak is a big challenge.  He’s like the “are we having fun yet?” type of person.  He appears to be apathetic and may be thought to lack intelligence.  It seems like he has no opinion about anything.    He often annoys people in one-on-one situations because he leaves it up to the other person to make all the effort in keeping the conversation going.  Such an individual is often a loner with few, if any, friends.

Usually, the quiet type is not too sociable.  If they see someone they don’t know or care for, they won’t stop and say “hello.”  Many of them are introverted.  Since they lack self-confidence, they feel it’s best just to remain quiet.  Some are shy and unwilling to volunteer to help others in need.  Likewise, if they see something that is going wrong in a public environment (such as a mechanical failure in the workplace), instead of reporting the problem to authorized personnel, they assume someone else will.

Blabbermouths

Then there are the blabbermouths.  Blabbermouths dominate conversations.  They are dying to get noticed by others.  Likewise, they don’t like to listen and may not care how you feel.  They talk and talk and talk whether you care what they’re saying or not.  At the same time, they go into great detail on subjects sometimes to the point where you want to tell them to shut up.  Some go on and on and don’t care if you get a word in edgewise.  Once you finally respond back, they interrupt you before you can finish.  Most of them can’t seem to express all of their thoughts fast enough.

Usually these people are extroverted and are rarely, if ever afraid to say what’s on their mind.  Such people are typically sociable and crave attention from others.

Blabbermouths can be subcategorized:

First are the whiners/complainers.  They just have to complain about something and in the meantime, assume you want to hear their personal beefs.  Most likely, they want you to feel sorry for them.

Second are the know-it-alls.  These are people with overinflated egos who want to convince you that whatever you know about any particular subject, they know even more.  Any experience you have lived through, they lived through a worse one.   Any place you’ve been, they’ve been there too and seen more than you did.

Third are the gossipers.  In order to gain recognition and approval by personal acquaintances, they put others down.  I cover them more in my article: Gossiping Is Annoying and Immature.   Unlike the other blabbermouths, they are willing to listen, hoping they’ll learn more about the people around them.

Fourth are the self-lovers (for lack of a better term).  Like the know-it-alls, they have false, overinflated egos.  While they like to go on and on bragging about themselves,  but deep down inside they feel insecure or unhappy.  They must justify that by trying to get others to notice them.  They are often annoying and don’t want to hear about others.

My Social Anxiety as a Poor Conversationalist

Up to my late 30s, I have been the quiet type.  Trying to find things to say was typically next to impossible.  Afraid of making a fool of myself, I remained motionless and quiet.  In social situations I seldom contributed to conversations.  Although I dreaded personal gatherings, felt too antisocial if I missed them.

While sitting at a table with others I was usually the only one with nothing to say.  This was especially true when coworkers would go out for lunch or drinks after work.  Work meetings were unpleasant for me as well.  I would listen to others and noticed everyone there had things to say, but not me.  As a result, I would become sweaty and shaky and turn red in the face.

I later realized I had a form of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).  Not only did I feel inferior in front of groups of people, but also felt that if I did one little thing wrong, I would be adversely judged by them.  I had a low self-esteem because it seemed like I had very few if any friends.  I have had jobs working in offices where I noticed coworkers stopping at each others’ desks and talking, but never stopping to talk to me. I was worried that people thought I was a boring person.

I remember going out on dates in my mid 20s.  On some dates, making conversation was difficult.  It’s like I let some potentially great women slide through my hands because neither one of us knew what to say to each other.  One woman even constantly fidgeted with her straw wrapper because she became bored.  Needless to say, we had only one meeting and that was it.

How to Improve Your Conversation Skills

Being a good conversationalist is a valuable personal art indeed.  This is one component of humanity that makes a person popular and successful.  Still, no matter how prosperous and well-liked people are, most everyone has room for improvement.

Making great conversation isn’t always easy because people have different lifestyles and interests.  Why some may be extremely compassionate about a particular subject, say astrology, others will find it absolutely boring.  Hence, there is no one formula for making great conversation, but there are tactics that can make a discussion more fulfilling.

Imagine that you see someone you don’t know but would like to get acquainted with.  How do you approach him or her?   Say you see someone of the opposite sex you might want to take out on a date, how do you strike up a conversation?   Or when you’re alone with someone you know and want to pass the time away talking.

As you already know, strangers are not willing to talk to others unless they have to.  Making small-talk or chatting about the weather never leads anywhere (unless perhaps, there was a bona fide storm in your community).

Here are additional tactics:

  1. Speak with emotion – Have some vocal variety in your voice.  Speaking in a dull monotone voice will never get you anywhere.
  2. Talk about something you have a genuine interest in – The more knowledgeable you are about a specific topic, the more prepared you are to talk about it.  Don’t pretend you know about something you don’t and don’t make assumptions.   After all, you don’t know who you’re talking to.  If you make a guess on how something works and the other person realizes that you’re “dead wrong”, you’ll look like a big horse’s ass.  For example, when CDs first came out, I guessed how sounds were transmitted by the players.  Though the signals are composed of only 0s and 1s, I thought every digit from 0 to 9 was used.   Little did I know, I was talking to a computer engineer.
  3. Present an object – If you have something in hand that people like to look at such as magazines, photographs or souvenirs, this is a good place to begin.  People love touching and looking at things, even the not-so-talkative folks.  If you do present an object to a stranger, keep it in good taste.
  4. Tell a story – People love to hear stories about tragedies, mishaps, or controversial subjects.  Likewise, they love to talk about things pertaining to their personal interests.  Nobody wants to hear about matters they can’t relate to or ordinary life stories.  They love to hear about setbacks or troubles one has experienced.  Such examples may be traffic accidents, run-ins with the law, or terrible mistakes one has made.  Subjects as politics and sports are great providing the other person has an interest in them and you remain neutral.
  5. Ask questions — By asking a question, you can solicit a response from the other person.  Such questions may start out with: “How do you feel about…?”, “Did you know that….?”, or “What if…?”   Ask only open-ended questions.  Yes or no questions drop a conversation dead in its tracks.  If you have trouble coming up with a question, ask someone something that you already know just to hear what they have to say.  If you want to know more about something, ask questions, but not unless you “get the ball rolling.”
  6. Follow the topic — If the person starts talking about another aspect of the subject, talk about that aspect too.  If you don’t know much about it, gently sway them back to the original subject.
  7. Be polite – Talk as if you’re talking to someone at a formal occasion such as a wedding or funeral.  Don’t use profanity or make sexist, racist, or any other negatively opinionated remarks.  Even though a subject may upset you, don’t get emotional, especially if they say something you strongly disagree with.  If you already know the person, you are free to them in their own language.  Don’t get sarcastic or run down people in other walks of life.
  8. Stay positive – People would much rather talk to an optimist rather than a pessimist.  By bringing up the positive side of an aspect, you give them a better impression of you.
  9. Don’t interrupt — Never, ever cut a person off before she is done talking.  After all, they would like to get their point across to you just as much as you would like to get your point across to them.  Interrupting them is a sure sign that shows you don’t care about what they have to say.  Also, never try to dominate the conversation.
  10. 10. Keep them entertained – Don’t bore a person with long, uninteresting details or technical jargon they’re not familiar with.  Talk only about things that are likely to affect them directly.  Use some humor, but keep it in good taste.

Join Toastmasters

If you’re an extremely poor conversationalist or you just want to improve your speaking skills, you may want to join Toastmasters International.  For those of you not familiar with this organization, they are simply a group of members who get together once a week to sharpen their skills on speaking in public.  This club helps its members overcome their fear of speaking in front of audiences while helping participants further excel in their professional careers.

Here you will give five to ten minute speeches, evaluate other speakers, or participate in table topics.  Table topics are random subjects each member speaks on for about one minute, but nobody knows what their topic will be until they are given it.  This teaches members to speak effectively “on their toes.”  Sometimes, you’ll be assigned to evaluate a speaker.  Best of all, people learn to speak by watching others and learning from their mistakes.  This is a great club and everyone has fun attending it including myself.  It has helped me sharpen my conversation skills.

Toastmasters Int. is a worldwide organization with clubs in most all major cities and suburban areas.  With a little research, you can find one in your community.  There is a fee to joining, but it is about $50 a year or less.

Learn, Learn, Learn

The more you learn about life and the world you live in, the more you’ll know.  The more you know, the better a conversationalist you will be.  Keep up on the news in your town and current events.  If you want to know more about a particular subject, research it or seek advice from those who know it well.  It goes without saying, the internet is a great source of information with social media sites (as Facebook) and libraries of articles.  Finally, listen to how good conversationalists talk and try to follow their examples.

Other Articles:

Gossiping is Annoying and Immature

Speaking In Front of an Audience/Brave Rooney

The Damaging Remark

Thou Shalt Not Compare

Small Ways to A Happy Life

Positive Thinking – Part 3: What to Know Before Purchasing a Self-Help Course

money back guarantee

money back guarantee (Photo credit: lonely radio)

This article is NOT an advertisement for a positive thinking course.  I will not post a link that will bring you to a website selling you such a program.  I am not out to sell anything: just give you good advice and save you money and dismay as well.

Forms of Self-Help Programs

As you know, there are lots of self-help systems and books out there that promise a great transformation in your life by adopting positive thinking techniques.  Such courses promise success in your career, business, wealth, marriage, and overall happiness.

You’ll see them advertised in infomercials and hear testimonies of how people improved their lives by this course.  These infomercials are typically long and created to draw and retain you attention while playing on your conscience that by not trying their program, you’re throwing away a great opportunity.  Either you purchase their course or just go on living the fruitless life you’re living now.  Such courses are advertised indirectly through luring web advertisements that promise overnight changes for little or no money.

Hence, all you need to do is complete “our” course and BAM, you’re a brand-new person.  Right?  I would not make such an assumption!

On the flip side, I’m not saying they’re full of bogus information.  Every course touches down on good points such as making affirmations and adapting positive “self talk.”  However, before you can actually benefit from one of them, you must be willing to dedicate time for listening and put forth great effort on your behalf.

Meditation, Yoga, and Religion

There are other commercially sold techniques to promote positive thinking.  Some are based on meditation, yoga, or other exercise programs.  People will push religious materials at you as they promise overnight changes in your life.  They will ask you to read the Bible on a daily basis, attend weekly church services or studies, and preach the word to everyone you know, converting them to “born again Christians.”  I am not bashing religion, but it comes with no guarantees.  In fact, most of us naturally shun religion and its practices because while growing up we were conditioned to do so.  I suggest one reads the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner.  It is widely available wherever books are available to the public.

These Courses Are Financial Traps

Frankly, they’re all just a waste of time and money, even the cheap ones.  Take it from me, I tried some when I was young and naïve and my life hasn’t changed.

Most of them come in the form of audio books with numerous tapes or CDs plus workbooks and DVDs.  Seeing their complete self-help kits on TV or on the web will make you think, if that amount of media is necessary to teach positive thinking, then this program has to be highly effective.

Some advertisements will display the price of their course on the TV screen.  If they don’t, this should raise a red flag that a bull can spot from a mile away.  Others will disclose a flat rate of say $99.  Then they’ll follow up with a prompt like: “Call in the next 10 minutes (or respond online by a certain date) and we’ll slash the price by 50%.  Next, they’ll offer to add in free supplements as additional books, CDs or DVDs “Absolutely Free!”

Don’t forget the “100% satisfaction money-back guarantee.”  This leaves most gullible consumers with the conclusion: “What have I got to lose?  I can always get my money back if I don’t like it!  I’ll try it.”

The trouble with money-back guarantees is they are for a limited time only and require a seemingly great amount of effort to act on them.  Not only is there the repackaging and sending the content back, some fear that their return will be rejected.  Still, some say they’ll try the course thoroughly but don’t or forget how long the trial period is good for.  With all the potential problems, many just keep the course and rarely, if ever use it.

So you call to order the $99 course mentioned above, thinking you’ll get it for $49 (plus taxes).  Right?  Wrong!   Once they got you on the line, they’ll make you feel like you’re doing a mighty great deed by trying their program and your life from this moment on is on the up and up.

Next thing you know, they’re making additional recommendations to supplement your course as in subscriptions to magazines, newsletters, listings of seminars to attend, etc.  Without them, the course won’t be fully effective.  If you’re not hard-nose enough to say “no” a hundred times or hang up, your cost of $49 turns into say $249.  Ouch!  You hang up the phone and ask yourself resentfully, “What the hell did I just do?”

Their sales team reps pray on people who don’t realize that all this information is already available at their local library.

Others are free local seminars or perhaps, webinars.  Though they are seemingly free, just wait until you get your foot into their door.  You’ll sit through a 3-hour talk session just to find out it ended with a recommendation to buy their program.  If you don’t buy it, you’ve invested 3 hours of sitting and listening-all for nothing.  Next thing you find out, the price of the program is astronomically high.  What do you do, whip out a “piece of plastic” (credit card) or just walk out.  I recommend the latter.

Why Positive-Thinking Courses Don’t Work

I’m not saying you can’t succeed at one of these programs.  They do offer great pieces of advice that you may never think of yourself.  Still, you must devote a lot of time and effort on your behalf to make their info work for you.  If you don’t do the work, you don’t reap the results.

However few people ever succeed for the following reasons:

  • We expect instant results: If we don’t see positive changes, right away we become impatient and abandon the program.   Although the advertisements profusely promised overnight changes, for few if any individuals, such changes come about.  What we don’t realize is that these changes happen over time.
  • The time commitment:  This may mean lying in bed for a few hours a day or meditating in a quiet place at home for 15 or 30 minute sessions where you won’t to be disturbed by the ringing of the phone, crying babies, the doorbell, etc.  You must lie down, close your eyes, breathe deeply, follow along with their sessions, and hope your daughter doesn’t suddenly barge in on you.  For most of us, our busy lives are much too busy to take on new activities.
  • Awkward activities:  For example, you may have to do therapeutic talk sessions with others.  This may require interacting with family, friends, co-workers, relatives, etc, that’s if you know very many people to begin with.  Those you do know are always busy, unwilling to change, or don’t believe in self-help programs period.  Most likely, you’ve had unpleasant experiences with family members and relatives which caused you guilt or remorse.  Thus, these people are hard to approach and likely to refuse to participate.  Friends and casual acquaintances are not willing to participate in such activities unless maybe you can sweet talk them into doing so.  Some may resent you for asking and think of you as another solicitor.  This just might damage a few relationships.
  • Self-consciousness:  Many of us naturally shun infomercials and the products they sell.  Others are strongly convinced that they are overpriced garbage.  Therefore, the individual who purchases the course must establish a mutual agreement with their significant other and others they respect.  They must agree that purchasing the course is financially feasible and well worth it and doing the activities will not interfere with others in the household.  Finally, the course will suggest its trainees to post notes and pictures around the house as reminders of keeping certain things in mind throughout the day.  These notes say things like “I am just as worthy as anyone else” or “Nothing in my past can affect me today”, etc.  For some, posting notes is not their style, especially for immaculate people.  Others may worry about what household members or visitors would think if they saw them.  For the self-conscious, such a practice may not be an option.
  • Unresolved emotional issues:  People who turn to these programs for help sometimes have unaddressed and unwanted emotions.  Some have pent up feelings of guilt or inadequacy that stems from rejection, failures, or mistakes, etc.  Feelings of anxiety, guilt, or worry have a nasty way of hanging on for years and cannot be dismissed at one’s free will.  Others suffer from depression, mood disorders, or adverse behavioral conditions that may stem from a natural chemical imbalance.  Self-improvement courses only make positive suggestions, but do not offer psychiatric advice.  Therefore, those with emotional problems must successfully undergo professional counseling before attempting to complete the course.  Nobody can sell you a solution to your emotional problems.  If you fail to seek treatment, your feelings will only hamper your progress in the course.
  • Change in attitude:  Attitude is essential in success, even if you’re not affected by any of the previous conditions.  Some may just get sick of the course after awhile or form opposing beliefs towards its content.  Such people are likely to make excuses as why it’s not feasible to complete the course or that they’re not the type of person it was intended for.  They will just abandon it and continue to live as they always have.

If you are absolutely serious about developing positive thinking habits, by all means go for it.  Rather than purchasing an online or TV course, resort to resources that offer free or low cost books or audio books on the subject.  This may be your local library or online.  If you feel you need professional help, don’t refrain from getting it.  Worst of all, don’t deny it.  If you have negative emotions pent up inside or lack of confidence, seek advice on how to deal with or remove them.  Research forums or other venues of information on those who have the same problems you have.  You may be surprised at what you find out.

Remember, money can’t buy you happiness.  Self-improvement courses are often overpriced and sold for profit only.  Not only are you paying for the materials, but you’re paying the overhead in producing and selling them.  That includes the costs of renting rooms in convention centers, traveling expenses incurred by the reps, TV advertising time, professional speakers, and all other affiliated prices.

All the publishers really care about is turning a profit-not how much (or little) their program benefits you. Pitching in for these expenses will never improve your outlook on life.  Why not check out a book on positive thinking at the library where you can read it for free?

Please feel free to comment on this blog.  If I said anything incorrectly or left something out, please let me know.  Genuine comments only please.

Positive Thinking – Part 2: Accepting Things We Can’t Control

2012 Behaviour Matrix copy

2012 Behaviour Matrix copy (Photo credit: Robin Hutton)

No matter what happens, you were not born to have an unhappy life.  After all, you have superb qualities and good intentions.  You strive to be as independent as possible and avoid being burdensome to those around you.  You don’t intend to hurt or cheat others.  In fact, you like to help others out whenever possible.  However, you must put yourself first and look out for your own survival.  If all these things I mentioned about you are true, you have more self-worth than you realize.

All the good things that happened to us or we have done become eventually become invisible or overshadowed by the bad.  It’s like they’re hiding peacefully in the background, never making a sound.  On the other hand, the bad things we have done or have happened dart out, shout at us, or just stick out like sore thumbs.  Hence, all we see is the bad and rarely, if ever, the good.

Dealing With Things We Cannot Control

Still, we must learn to accept things we have limited or no control over as:

  1. News events as wars, poverty, or crime.
  2. Environmental problems as pollution or global warming.
  3. Taxes.
  4. Unfavorable economic conditions.
  5. Societal changes or behavior.
  6. Bad weather and natural disasters.
  7. Actions or behavior of others.
  8. Health problems or ailments.
  9. Job-related circumstances.
  10.  Laws, rules, or regulations.
  11. Accidents, mishaps, or disasters.
  12. Bodily flaws
  13. Failures or defeats.
  14. Wealth
  15. Financial setbacks
  16. Depreciation of our possessions.
  17. Personal weaknesses or faults.
  18. Bad luck.
  19. Events that don’t go as planned.
  20.  Unwanted emotions

Hopefully, these 20 things I mentioned cover everything.  If I left anything out, please let me know.

We must not let these unfavorable circumstances affect our self-esteem or happiness.  There is no way we can fault ourselves over things we cannot control.  If something bad happens, if it doesn’t affect you directly, accept it as it is.  If it does, find a way around it.  Whatever happens, your fate and ego should remain unaffected.

You’re Only Human

Another thing to remember: you’re only human!  As humans, we’re SUPPOSED to make mistakes.  No matter how hard we try to be perfect, we never will.  In God’s eyes, we are humans, or just another species of animals and all animals have natural flaws.

Sure, our modern-day society conditions us not to make mistakes or they will cost us big time.  Unfortunately, the damage done by our mistakes cannot always be reversed so we must learn to live with it.  This is especially true if we say or do things that hurt others.  All we can do is try to button things back up the best we can as we bring the plaintiff back to status quo, and pretend the mishap never occurred.  In most cases, things are never 100% as good as before the unfortunate event.

Likewise, we all have weaknesses and faults.  Some of them can be corrected by simple changes in habits, but others require drastic measures that we may be uncomfortable in undergoing.  It’s not always easy to admit we’re wrong or to face our fears so we don’t always attempt to do so.

Finally, fatigue, anxiety, or boredom gets the best of us at times.  We also let our responsibilities in life overcome us.   Some nights we cannot sleep and some days we become tired at work or during our daily chores.  When one or all of these things happen, we naturally tend to neglect things, compromise our job performance, or commit selfish acts.  We’re only human.

At the same time, we turn to indulge in harmful substances as cigarettes or caffeine-based beverages to get rid of these unwanted feelings.  Some of us fool around when we should be working while others take extended breaks.  I’m not knocking people for doing these things, because I’ve done them myself (except for smoking).  Although such behavior is not good for our health or well-being and is generally coined as improper, we just can’t help that.  We’re only human.

Boredom is natural and a hindrance in our lives.  When we become bored or consumed in some personal matter, we find it hard to focus and pay attention.  This makes it hard to listen and perform as we should.  In some instances, we go out and shop or engage in some other form of entertainment just to cure our boredom, but that doesn’t always work.  Such behavior can take a toll on our finances.  I’m not condemning this behavior.  After all, we’re only human.

As the saying goes:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Keep this prayer in mind whenever something goes wrong.

Positive Thinking – Part 1: Understanding Negative Thinking

Pessimism

Pessimism (Photo credit: Ankher)

If you read books on self-help or self-improvement or listened to audio tapes, you know they all basically say one thing: positive thinking can change your life.  Such guides stress the importance of being an optimist instead of a pessimist.

It’s Hard to Be an Optimist

Are you kidding?   How can you be an optimist when things seem to be going wrong all the time?  In the past, you tried to plan events (like parties, weddings, or vacations) or hoped to complete tasks (like home repairs, presentations, or college courses) successfully, but it seems that almost always, you encountered a road block somewhere along the way.

Wouldn’t you know it!   Something would have to happen to put a damper on your plans or spirit.  Things happened that prevented you from succeeding in many things you tried to do.  People let you down, the weather turned bad, somehow you weren’t able to get what you needed or some disaster or accident happened that ruined your plans.

Such examples may be planning to take a drive only to discover your car has a flat tire or arranging an outdoor party and when the day comes, it rains.  Speaking of rain, it seems like God is out to rain on your parade.  When things go wrong, you might make inferences as “it’s just my luck” or “I wasn’t meant to do that.”

Maybe it’s just Murphy’s Law.

What Causes Negative Thinking?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to answer that question.  There are a countless number of things that cause you to be a pessimist.  One need not go too far to find them.  Worst of all, mishaps can crush your self-esteem.  You feel like a failure or your life overall is ill-fated.  Some of them may have more dangerous effects than you realize.

You’re not the only one who feels this way.  There are many factors in our lives that promote negative thinking.  Such things may be:

  1. Bad news from others or from the local news.
  2. The bad economy and inflation.
  3. Receiving too much information or advice that is hard to follow.
  4. Increasing demands or stress.
  5. New rules or laws making it harder to obtain the things you need or enjoy.
  6. Difficult people you must deal with daily.
  7. Personal failures.
  8.  Seemingly unfair circumstances that affect you.
  9.  Being treated unkind or unfairly.
  10. Embarrassing, stupid, or regretful things you’ve done.
  11. Disappointment from others.
  12. Bad things happening in your community.
  13. Being affected by the declining morals of our modern society.
  14. Annoying or unhealthy habits of others.
  15. Financial problems.
  16. Doing tasks you hate.
  17. Troubles with loved ones.
  18. Troublesome relationships.
  19. Potential problems.
  20. Deaths to loved ones or pets.
  21. Accidents, mishaps, or disasters.
  22. Dissatisfaction with yourself and your life.
  23. Unfavorable changes in your life.
  24. Being degraded or criticized by others.
  25. Getting robbed, cheated, or assaulted.
  26. Being turned down for loans, grants, or other financing.

There, I’ve named 26 things that cause negative thinking to occur and hopefully I covered all of the bases without overlapping or repeating things.  Anything you can think of should fall under one of these categories.  Hopefully, I didn’t leave anything out.

Add all these things up and you may feel that living a happy life is hopeless.  You strongly believe there is no use in trying to get what you want because you’ll likely face disappointments and unconquerable road blocks.  No matter what you try to do, you firmly believe you’ll live a grim or mediocre life.  You’re thoroughly convinced that whatever you do, nothing will make a difference.  Are you hopelessly doomed?  No.

Launching a Business or Career

Going into business often seems enticing.  The thought of making lots of money while doing what you do best makes you motivated to try. But once you get started, there will be unexpected barriers that make it seem impossible.  Unless you have previous business experience and extensive resources at your disposal, moving onward can seem intimidating.  All at once, you need lots of capital, a team of knowledgeable people, and in depth skill or experience in your trade.  Likewise, you’ll need to know how much competition you’re up against and create a strategy to get around it.

If this is your first time running a business, congratulations for having the courage to launch it.  Most likely, you’re proud that you’ve taken your first step towards financial independence and now you can be your own boss.

Commercially produced self-help guides insinuate that the total difference between succeeding versus failing depends on your mode of thinking: positive or negative.  Of course you must think positive when starting such a venture.  This will motivate you to find ways around potential problems and create better products (or services).  Negative thinking will surely sabotage your business.  As you have little or no hope of succeeding, you’ll lose motivation and eventually give up.

As time goes on, what seemed to be easy at first turned into a barrage of overwhelming demands and high costs.  On top of that, you must become extremely proficient at your trade and learn how to handle problems in the most effective manner.

It seems that you’re now on an ocean in a small boat of your own. Though you’re the captain of your boat, you wonder if you can handle the turbulence of the wind and waves without capsizing your boat.  Quite often you’ll wish you were on a ship controlled by an experienced captain instead.  Fear of sinking can seriously impair your likelihood to survive.

Hence, those who start their own enterprise are positive thinkers-or else they wouldn’t attempt it.  Even though you have high hopes, there are many other variables to consider.  If you’re not skilled or prepared to deal with all the demands, you’re not too likely to succeed.

Attending college is another endeavor that requires positive thinking.  First, you must believe you have the potential to pass all the courses and earn your degree.  Just wanting a high-paying job in a few short years is not enough.  You must have a deep interest in what trade you want to pursue.  Like a business, positive thinking will ensure success in earning your degree, but will not guarantee it.  Failing to earn a degree often makes people feel worthless and unintelligent.  Hence, dropouts feel they’ll never earn a good income or live the lifestyle they desire.

Being unsuccessful in such ventures can really hurt one’s self-esteem and bring on negative thinking.  Some will make the conclusion that they’re total failures and don’t deserve success.  Everything they try from now on, they’ll only fail at.  How they suppose to adopt habits of positive thinking?

Thou Shalt Not Compare

Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem (Photo credit: @Peta_de_Aztlan)

The vast majority of us, especially teens, have one nasty habit: comparing ourselves to others.  Such a mode of thinking is natural, but poses a bona fide threat to our happiness and self-esteem.  We tend to see someone with skills, merits, relationships, or possessions that we don’t have and then form a sense of envy towards that person.  As we covet such a person, we either react in jealousy or choose to make our newfound nemesis an example by which we can follow.

The tenth commandment of The Ten Commandments is: Thou shalt not covet.  This simply means one should not be envious of whatever it is that another person has.  Such thinking is destructive and can hurt us in more ways than we realize, even subliminally.  Comparing ourselves to others often creates a belief that we are inferior to them.  Having an inferiority complex causes us to ignore or maybe even write off our finer traits, but at the same time, makes us work harder to improve ourselves.

For some, this type of behavior can become extreme.  We find ourselves taking drastic measures in attempt to equal ourselves to those we covet.  This might go as far as working ourselves to death and/or creating huge financial debts, all just to raise our standards of living.  For example, some purchase new homes or automobiles they can barely afford, just to equal themselves to those they worship.

I’ll admit that I fell into the same trap until my therapist made me aware of it.

Misconceptions About Admiration

At the same time, we are likely to develop false beliefs about those we admire such as:

  • This person is successful in everything he/she does.
  • This person is more worthy of happiness than me.
  • This person always feels good about themself and is usually happy.
  • Since I am not like them, there must be something terribly wrong with me.
  • Everybody loves him or her
  • He or she glides through life with minimal resistance
  • They were just born that way

None of the above statements are true.  Sure enough, the person you’re comparing yourself to encountered problems and obstacles along the way.  No matter how deep their feelings may seem, acquiring their finer trait(s) was no walk in the park by any means.  More than likely, they’ve made mistakes and suffered setbacks as well.  Who knows?  They may envy someone who does better.

One’s Overall Value Can’t Be Appraised

Is there a formula by which we can measure our self-worth?  Absolutely not!  Humans are complex beings comprised of a variety of components, that when combined, make each person what he or she truly is.  Such components may be one’s state of health, gender, culture, geographic location, genetics, background, skills, personality, strengths, weaknesses, habits, likes, dislikes, religion, convictions, and personal values, just to name a few.  Each person is unique in his or her own ways.  Likewise, a person’s traits are formed based on their upbringing, past experiences, lifestyle, education, and how they have been affected by those around them.  Wealth (or lack of it) also is a factor that greatly influences one’s quality of life.  The degree of discipline and ambition one has also determines their final outcome.

One who grows up in a supportive, positive environment is more likely to be successful than another who was raised in a condemning, negative setting.  How we were treated since early childhood greatly influences our self-worth and personal outlook on life.  If we were raised with adequate guidance and support, our end product is likely to be superior to those who were not.

Yet another factor arises: our personal value systems.  From early childhood, each individual develops their own unique set of interests, hobbies, and convictions.  Our systems are influenced by our experiences, past accomplishments, and the conditioning we receive from those around us.

For example, some love sports and thus feel the need to perform well during games while others value attaining intellectual qualities.  Hence, because an athlete is more concerned about being a good team player, he may not care about how great (or poor) his math skills are.  Likewise, one who excels in math, English, and history courses may not care how physically fit she is.  Those who love fast, powerful motorized vehicles, feel that it is important that they own a nice car or motorcycle.  On the other hand, one who wants to become a musician feels it is most essential to have a nice electric guitar and audio gear.

So, the point here is, being that each individual is made up of thousands of unique pieces, is there a single value that each person can be assessed at?  Absolutely not!  While we can assess property values on homes or blue-book values on cars, there is no single, simple appraisal system we can apply to human beings.

Comparing one person to another is like comparing one tool to another.  Can we really say that hammers are better tools than saws?  Are wrenches better than screw drivers?  No.  If you need to drive a nail into a wall, a screwdriver obviously won’t work as well as a hammer.  Then, could we say that a hammer is overall a more useful tool than a screw driver?  For that particular job, yes, but for all jobs, no.

Hence, comparing a hammer to a screw driver is much like comparing ourselves to other people.  Each person has their own unique set of values and skills like each type of tool has its own purposes.  There is no one single tool that does everything.  Likewise, there is no one single person with every skill and quality.

OK, let’s make the comparison fair.  Imagine comparing one football player to another.  While both players love football and excel at it, one is not necessarily a better player than the other.  While the first player may make a great tackler, the second may be able to run fast and throw the ball far.  Although one player has helped his team score more touchdowns than the other, the overall self-worth of the first is not greater than the second.  Can you truly say that one is more deserving of a loving relationship than another based on how they perform on the field?  No.

Comparing both players is as foolish as comparing ourselves with others.

What Separates You From the One You Envy?

Unless you’ve known this person all of your life, this question may be impossible to answer.  Why does he/she have some quality you lack?  There could be a number of reasons for this.  Possibly he or she:

  • Knows people who have helped him/her achieve this quality.
  • Has worked at developing this trait longer than you have.
  • Had or has access to resources that have benefited him/her (such as training, coaching, books, software, equipment, etc) that you don’t.
  • Has had more positive support from peers.

Hence, it is absolutely foolish to compare yourself to this person.  Trying to keep up with or outdo this person is like racing a race car with a pickup truck.  Of course, the race car will win because it was built specifically for racing while the truck was not.  Does that make the pickup truck totally worthless?  No.

Next time you catch yourself comparing yourself to another, STOP!  You are not of lesser value, but are just different.  Remember, you have qualities this person lacks.

Anything I left out or could have said better?  Comments are appreciated.

Small Ways to A Happy Life

conquest of happiness

conquest of happiness (Photo credit: the waving cat)

There are 15 simple things you can do to bring happiness in your life.  While most of them are free, those that aren’t don’t cost too much.  No, this isn’t another one of those work out, diet, and lose weight posts.  In fact, the Internet is inundated with such articles.  The content in this article consists of little things that you can do to make your life more pleasant.  Unfortunately, not everyone thinks about them.

  1. Spend time outside at night — Most everyone loves to spend time outside after dark.  This is a great time to get out of the house and venture into a local park or the wilderness.  Doing this is great in the summer, especially after a hot and humid day.  If you take someone along, you two can freely talk about anything and feel like an adventurous outdoorsman or hiker at the same time.  Most of all, you are not faced with the worries or cares of your daily environment.
  2. Call someone you don’t contact regularly — Calling someone you rarely ever talk to can seem daunting.  One reason people don’t stay in touch with those who are no longer a part of their daily lives is the fear of making fools of themselves by not knowing what to talk about.  These people may be former coworkers, old friends, former neighbors, those you once dated, etc.  No doubt, it is hard to get the ball rolling at first, but once you do, you will be happy with the results.  You will also learn more as their feelings about things and what they’re doing now.  Likewise, they would like to know how you’re doing as well.  Meanwhile, you both can learn about things neither one of you knew before.  I call people just to let them know how I am doing and what’s happening in my life.  I am always happy afterwards and have made the person I called feel more worthy knowing I am thinking about them.  Never have I wound up in a nowhere conversation.
  3. Create a weekly entertainment routine – Set aside a specific day of the week to do something that you truly enjoy.  It must be something that you do only once a week and only on one specific day of the week (ie: Sunday only).  Better yet, make sure this activity is scheduled for a certain time of the day (ie: evenings only).  For example, go bowling every Saturday afternoon with your friends, take your family to a matinee each Sunday evening, or attend a community club that takes place on Tuesday nights.  For this to work, you must set a strict schedule, unless perhaps, your activity entails building or enhancing your knowledge or skills.  By doing so, you have something to look forward to each week.  Doing such an activity several times a week and different times of the day lessens the joy of it and can even take its toll, not to mention that you soon will become sick of your routine entertainment.
  4. Clean up your living space – If you’re like Felix Unger on the Odd Couple where you have everything neatly organized and in its place, skip this section.  If your house (or apartment) is cluttered or messy, more than likely you’re unhappy living like this and perhaps, have a low self-esteem for being a slob.  I know it’s hard to get motivated to clean because it seems like hard work, but once you get started, you will find it’s not as laborious as you thought it would be.  You can even make it fun by turning on some music.  As you clean rooms and organize closets, you’ll find things you forgot you even had.  Quite often people find miscellaneous household goods such as receipts, documents, cleansers, paint thinner, etc that they thought they ran out of or threw out.  If that’s the case, you can save yourself money and grief.   While owning a home, I would choose a nice spring day to clean the yard or garage.  It was a good reason to be outdoors and enjoy the nice weather and have fun while doing these chores.
  5. Do someone a nice deed – It could be your mother, your spouse, or a stranger in trouble.  No matter who they are, if there is some little way you can make someone happy without a significant sacrifice, then do it.  For example, you can show up unexpectedly to mow your parents’ lawn, buy a bottle of wine and flowers for your wife, or help a motorist whose car is broken down on the side of the road.  Every so often, I give $5 to a homeless person because I know they need to eat just like the rest of us.  By doing this, I feel better about myself and if someone should offer me help, I feel I deserve it.
  6. Splurge – What comes to mind when you hear the word “splurge”?  For some it may mean eating something one’s diet does not permit or spending a small fortune on a nice item.  You need not defy you diet or break your budget to splurge.  If you are broke, you can simply take extra time out to do something you enjoy or just to relax.  Go ahead and let your chores slide for an hour or two.  Spend an extra hour lying in the sun on the beach or joy surfing on the Internet.  Allow your chores or cares to slide for an hour or two, unless they’re extremely time sensitive.  Taking that extra time out will make you feel better later.
  7. Elaborate on your favorite hobby or interest – Think about something that truly interests you and find ways to elaborate on it.  Don’t worry about what others might think.  If you truly love doing a specific thing, then by no means is it worthless.  For example, if you love nostalgia and would like to know what your community was like 50 years ago, do some research.  Go to your local library or city hall and request information.  On the other hand, if you love to let off steam about things people do that bug you, join a chat forum or create your own blog.
  8. Take a pleasure walk or drive – Being cooped up in the house too long can make you feel unhappy.  Getting out takes you away from the daily doldrums of your everyday life.  Playing music as you venture out makes your little journey even more enjoyable.  Visiting a locality that you haven’t been to in years may be interesting.  Best of all, you can leave your worries at home for a few hours.
  9. Volunteer your time – Here is an opportunity to learn more about your community while taking part in some industrious activity.  Knowing that you’re helping out less fortunate people than yourself will make you happy as well as raise your self-esteem.  Better yet, you can show others your finer skills and even make new friends.  Someone will appreciate your presence and contributions you make.
  10. Take on a constructive project – This can be a number of things depending on what you’re skilled at or like to do.  For example, those with carpentry skills may add electrical fixtures or fix things that are falling apart in their homes.  Those that enjoy sewing or crocheting may want to make articles of clothing for loved ones or wall-hangings.  My dad would buy run-down, antique wooden furniture and refinish these pieces to look really nice.  Whatever it is, after starting your project, you may be elated by the progress you’ve made.  At the same time, you can impress others with your art or skills. Most likely, you have just found a way to improve your home.
  11. Visit your local library – Going to the library doesn’t appeal to many people.  Some think libraries are strictly for children, scholars, or nerds who love to read.  Even if browsing the library isn’t your “cup of tea”, you may be surprised at what you’ll find there.  Nowadays, libraries offer much more than just books: they offer CDs and DVDs available to check out.  If you don’t have a computer with Internet access, you can spend an hour on one of their machines.  You can also read magazines or the local paper and even read back issues on days you missed.  And if you just want additional information on a particular topic, feel free to browse their shelves.  You may be surprise at what you may find.  Best of all, you can save yourself a few bucks by checking out books or media rather than buying them.  Try it, you’ll like it.
  12. Engage in creative writing – Here is an opportunity to let your imagination run wild.  Write something.  It could be anything that affects you deeply.  If you have a computer, whip out your word processor and type away.  If not, a standard notebook and pen will do.  Write whatever comes to mind.  Sure, it may be hard to get started, but once you do, you may not want to stop.  Do this whenever your imagination is fired up, even if this means taking a few seconds away from your chores every now and then.  Jot down ideas as they come to mind and elaborate on them when you have the time to do so.  Once you have begun, more and more ideas will come to mind.  Some will more likely require research.  Think up ways you can get the additional info you need.  This may be looking things up in newspapers, magazines, asking people, consulting reference books, or surfing the Internet.  Once you found these facts, you’ll know you have learned something.  In the end you’ll feel better about yourself as you now externalized you inner feelings and desires.
  13. Enrich your knowledge – Is there a particular subject you would like to know more about?  You may learn things about it by finding sources on it.  Just stop for a moment and ask yourself: “Where can I find more info on this topic”?  This may mean browsing your local library or bookstore for a book or magazine.  As you know, the Internet is an endless venue of information and if you don’t like to read, there are videos and other visual materials available.
  14. Make your chores fun – Instead of approaching a chore with the attitude, “I don’t want to do it, but I have to”, find a way to make it interesting.  So your wife has been nagging you for months to clean the garage.  All the while, you’ve been making excuses like, “I don’t have the energy” or “I am too busy”.  Make this chore fun and interesting.  Think up ways you can help prevent the garage from becoming messy again.  For example, you can add shelves, install drywall, add lighting fixtures, put in ceiling hooks, or apply a finish to the floor that will make it look clean enough to eat off of.  If you don’t have the money or skills to renovate it, make it a reason to get out and enjoy the weather while blasting your radio.  Think about how much nicer your garage would be if everything in it was organized and easy to find or how much more room you’d have if you got rid of the excess junk.  Once you start such a job, you will come up with creative ways to make it more interesting.  The next thing you know, the job you once dreaded becomes the project you can be proud of.
  15. Play a game – Take some time out and play a game.  With the vast amount of games available these days, there is no excuse for not finding a game you enjoy.  If you have a computer or gaming machine, great.  If not, there are a countless variety of puzzles along with traditional board games.  I love crossword puzzles, especially when I have a dictionary handy or am near a computer where I can look up the answers.  While completing them, I learn interesting things.   I also found that putting together a jigsaw puzzle while listening to the TV makes me more attentive to what is being said during the news.

If you’re still reading this, more likely you have an open mind and believe my suggestions are real.  You are then apt to try one or more of them because you truly want to be happier than you are now.  And best of all, you believe you can.

For those who’ve scanned over this post and left it, chances are, they are thoroughly convinced that none of my suggestions will work.  These readers are very much set in their own ways and might not have the courage to do any of these things for fear of failure.  Yet for others, they may firmly believe that they’ll never enjoy these activities and that they’ll deprive them of their precious time.

As human nature is concerned, we are mainly influenced by stimuli in our daily environments.  Often, it’s other peoples’ actions that influence ours.  For example, you can ask someone to learn to play guitar, but if this person never picked up a guitar in his entire life or never knew anyone who has, more likely he has no motivation to learn.  However, if family members or friends of his play guitar regularly, he might be enticed to try.

Hence, beginning a new activity is never easy.  Many fear that it either takes too much effort or that it might end in unfavorable results.  Others feel that a new activity will only create a nuisance in their lives, preventing them from watching their favorite TV shows or doing their chores.  Those with an open mind will find a way to form a sense of balance between their cares and their leisure time.

So please try one of these activities or create one of your own.  What have you to lose?  If it doesn’t work out you can always quit.