Focusing on what I hated about my life was the best motivation.
There are many gurus out there for whom the word “aspirational” is a real turn-on. These folks want you to be the best version of yourself, work the hardest, and reap the most reward. And that’s all fine and dandy (I’m looking at you, Jillian Michaels), but as I discovered when I wrote my first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, a lot of people aspire to have and to do less, not more.
Less work, less stress, fewer commitments — and a lot more time, energy, and money to spend on the things that really make them happy. Such things could include finally writing the novel you’ve been talking about for 10 years or learning a new language. Then again, maybe you just want to take more naps. In any case, giving fewer, better fucks will free you up to do so.
But what happens when you have the time, energy, and money, and you still can’t seem to park yourself behind your laptop or in the front row of “Portuguese 101?” It’s like knowing you have a cavity versus getting your front tooth knocked out: the first of those situations comes with a low-level, back-of-the-mind gotta make that appointment. The other leaves you no choice, but to get on the phone and get to the dentist.
I DON’T BELIEVE IN ALL THAT ASPIRATIONAL BULLSHIT.
My new book, Get Your Sh*t Together, is all about creating that kind of motivation — short of punching yourself in the face, of course. And the way to create it is with what I like to call the Power of Negative Thinking. I don’t believe in all that aspirational bullshit, like, “See it and be it!” or, “Manifest your dreams!”
The author in her old office.
I believe in looking yourself in the mirror today and dealing with what’s reflected back at you — letting it make you angry and then make you act. Don’t try to imagine a different you off in the distance and then go chasing after it like it’s some pretty little butterfly. You will rarely catch a flying insect in this manner, and it just makes you dizzy.
Instead of daydreaming about a theoretical future of being richer, thinner, or tidier, focus on not being broke, fat, and messy in the here and now. As it turns out, goal-setting and motivation doesn’t have to be about aspiring to what you want to be, so much as putting an end to what you don’t want to be. Channeling rage at the things that annoy you is a great motivational tool for getting your shit together! Well, maybe not “rage,” per se, but displeasure. Discomfort. Unhappiness.
In the last two years I made some Big Life Changes, going from New York City corporate ladder-climber to sipping-frozen-drinks-on-the-beach-freelancer. My motivation was that I was really, really unhappy in my job and my life, and instead of wallowing in fantasy-land, I got angry and got to work. These were my goals:
It may seem counterintuitive, but until I focused on the negative, I couldn’t find my way toward the positive. I had no idea what freelance life or moving to a foreign country would entail, but I knew that staying in the frozen Northeast for another winter would definitely make me cold and miserable. What I had was a highly recognizable, constant state of unhappiness (and low core temperature), so the only goal I could really wrap my head around was to make it stop.
It was less aspirational and more GET ME OUT OF THIS NOW I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.
So I looked at what was upsetting me and resolved to change it, one step at a time. I hate meetings, conference calls, and bureaucracy — and complaining about it while still showing up to the office every day was not going to change any of that. I knew I had to get out of the corporate world. And I’d need a cushion in my bank account when I quit, so that I’d have time to start bringing in freelance income, probably three months’ worth of expenses. I took that number and divided it by 30 days to see how much I’d have to save each day to hit my goal and quit my job in a month. Nope, impossible. 180 days? Still didn’t think I could swing it. But 12 months — that was doable.
I made a chart with 365 blank squares, stuck it on my fridge, and every day for a year, I moved a small amount of money from my checking to my savings account, colored in a corresponding square with a red marker, and turned my hatred of conference calls into positive cash flow. On Day 366, I walked into my boss’s office and gave notice.
During that time, I prepared for a freelance career in other ways, like amassing contacts for work and building a website. My husband and I researched warm countries we could move to, where the cost of living would be lower and the average daily temperature would be higher. Much higher.
Today, I’m writing this column from the chaise lounge on my outdoor terrace in the Dominican Republic. And I’m totally not wearing pants.
So if you’re unhappy, say, living in debt, carrying 20 extra pounds, or using the backseat of your car as a mobile laundry hamper — if it makes you sad or frustrated or angry to live this way — I suggest you harness the Power of Negative Thinking in 2017 and channel those feelings into action. Rather than chasing after a cloud of pretty, aspirational butterflies, why not stomp a few unsightly cockroaches that are right there on the floor in front of you?