I have been reading a great (but hard to find) book called “The Search For Serenity” by Lewis F Presnall. In it, he has a chapter on self-pity which I found fascinating.
It occurred to me that in the past when I had no motivation, it was indeed because I felt sorry for myself. I felt like I was stuck and it didn’t matter what I did because I convinced myself that my situation was hopeless. As a result, it didn’t make sense to waste energy trying to improve the situation.
This was a big problem for me when I was young. Think about it and see if that idea resonates with you.
Mr. Presnall makes the argument that we all feel sorry for ourselves from time to time but usually we get over it. However, when these feelings take over, we deprive ourselves of the life we deserve. If that’s the case, we need to motivate ourselves out of the mud.
I thought I’d share a few of Presnall’s ideas and apply them to finances. If you are stuck and can’t get out, these tools could just do the trick:
1. The Reason We Feel Sorry For Ourselves
Life can be difficult and sometimes it’s much more difficult for some people than for others. None-the-less, there are many people who have suffered great tragedies yet they are able to put themselves back on their own two feet.
The people who are stuck sometimes confuse “difficult” with “impossible”. Or they confuse “impossible right now” with “impossible forever”. According to the author, these people are often afraid of failure so they are unwilling to even try. As a result they convince themselves that all is lost and try to get everyone around them to support their conclusion. That was pretty much my life when I was young.
2. How To Get Rid Of Self Pity
The book suggests that the first step to improve the situation is to admit the truth; that our self-pity is a result of our thinking and not our circumstances. Along with that admission, list what you can do rather than focus on your limitations.
This will lighten your load and invigorate you. The next step is to get into action despite the risk of failure. If things are bad now and you try something different, the worst outcome is that you’ll be in the same situation. Right? If that’s the case, you actually have nothing to lose. Give it your best shot.
Self-pity is depressing and dark. It limits you from your potential and you have no good use for it. Here’s how I suggest you put Mr. Presnall’s ideas to work:
Do you feel sorry for yourself?
Some people know they feel sorry for themselves but others don’t realize it. You may not think you have a negative attitude but you could be wrong about that. I suggest you ask three honest friends if they think you often feel sorry for yourself or not and if so, about what?
Identify the Problem
If you do feel sorry for yourself find out why. Do you feel stuck in a job? Do you feel trapped by your debt? Are you unable to accumulate assets fast enough? What exactly is eating at you?
My friend Nancy has a great poster in her office. It asks, “What would you do today if you knew you couldn’t fail?” I love that question because it opens up the possibilities from the limits we place on ourselves.
Without thinking of your limits, try to answer this question. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Would you apply for that dream job? Would you start investing despite being anxious? Would you start working out a plan to get rid of your debt? What would you do?
Now that you have you have a list of possible solutions, you have your action list. All that you need to do now is get to work.
But let me ask you something. You went through the exercises. You admitted you feel sorry for yourself, you identified the exact nature of the problem and then listed all the possible solutions. Do you still feel stuck? Do you still feel self-pity? My guess is that you feel better. Why? Because you took action towards a solution rather than allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself.
Have you ever been stuck in a rut? How did you get out of it? What other tips can you share?
I was surprised to see that you had no comments!
I liked this post a lot because I think personal reflection is critical to self improvement.
The only additional point to add is that Yom Kippur is about seeking forgiveness for sins against G-d and equally about sins and wrongdoing to other people. I think this is driven home by the actual act of asking forgiveness from people – there is a traditional/scripted general statement that you are supposed to make to a quorum of others but any words that are meaningful suffice.
I think this goes along with personal finance as we have to acknowledge the mistakes we’ve made in the past that affect ourselves, our families, and our friends. Only then can we begin with a “clean slate” to improve our decisions.
Neal Frankle says
Mike, thanks. I was also surprised by the lack of comments. It could be because folks were still reflecting! I agree w/your observations and wish you a sweet and healthy year!