Stop Blaming Others for Why You're Not Doing What You Want
You're the one who suffers most when you blame other people or circumstances.
Posted Jun 11, 2018
A cognitive trap that's insidious and easy to get into, is blaming other people or circumstances for why you're holding yourself back from things you want to do.
Note: Here I'm focusing on holding yourself back from what you genuinely want to do, rather than "shoulds" you're not really interested in doing.
We come up with all sorts of mental excuses to justify inaction and staying stuck.
For example, you think:
- I'd like to ask my boss for.... [insert: time off, a raise, to attend a training/conference, a revised job description] but s/he isn't very approachable.
- I'd like to travel, but my kids are little.
- I'd like to have a tidier house, but my spouse is so messy there's no point.
- I'd like to have a closer relationship with my [family member], but she's so passive-aggressive that it's impossible.
- I'd like to try new restaurants more often, but my spouse doesn't like spending the money.
- I'd like to see movies in the theater more often, but I don't have anyone to go with.
- I'd like to be less of a helicopter parent but all the other parents I know are like that, and I feel social pressure to do the same.
- I don't want to be spending so much money on gifts or activities we do together, but my friends expect it.
- I'd like to run for local office, but I don't have a role model. I don't know anyone who has done that.
How to adjust your thinking
Entertaining alternative thinking can help you see when your excuses and justifications are flimsy, subjective, or just not the only way of looking at your situation. Adjusting your thinking is an art as much as it's a science. In this case, one way to go about it is to write out your self-limiting thoughts as I've done in the examples above and also write out some alternative thinking. You don't need to completely buy into the alternative thought (or buy into it at all), you're just starting out with what's hypothetically a different way to think about what you could do. Once you're done, you can try that new thinking on for size, but start by generating new thoughts without evaluating them. To give you idea, I'll write some alternate thoughts for each of the above examples, in order. There's no one correct way to do this. Have a go yourself!
- "I could ask my boss for..... He's a bit gruff, and asking for what I want isn't something I do regularly, so I feel hesitant. However, I could do it. In fact, I could do it on Wednesday when we're....."
- "Having small kids makes some types of trips harder, but there's no reason we couldn't go to Italy or England for a couple of weeks. Those are countries with healthcare available if anything happened, and if I booked red eyes, the kids would probably sleep on the flight."
- "I can't achieve a perfectly tidy house without buy-in from my spouse, but there are improvements I can make."
- "However passive-aggressively my family member acts, I can act in accordance with my values and not get dragged into that. It's worth a shot, since what are the alternatives?"
"Realistically there's nothing to stop me from trying a new restaurant I'm interested in. My spouse might make a comment (or might not), but s/he isn't actually stopping me."
"If I want to see a movie in a theater, I can go by myself. Over time, I can focus on building up friendships with people who like going to movies and whose schedules work with mine."
"It's hard not to fall into social comparison with other parents, but I'm not a sheep. I can think independently and experiment with different types of behaviors."
"Our financial security and stress is so much more important than keeping up with the Joneses. I can be upfront about wanting to stick to cheaper options for playdates and gifts. There's no shame in that."
"I would prefer to have a role model to guide me and help me feel more confident, but if I get involved in local politics, I'm likely to meet role models that way. I can use publicly available information to get started. I'm good at researching and following instructions."
Wrapping Up and Additional Tips
One of the best ways to learn how to think differently is to see lots of different examples of how to transform negative, self-limiting thinking into thinking that's more energizing and constructive. There are many different ways you can construct thoughts that will help you move forward rather than holding you back. Experiment with generating your own alternate thinking, and find new thinking that feels like a good fit for you. For each of your problem thoughts, you can even try constructing a few different variations of alternative thinking to see what feels like it's most helpful. Writing out your current and alternative thoughts, as I've done in the examples, is likely to be the most beneficial way to do this.
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