No one wants to ruin their life, but some people manage to do it. Ruin, by definition, means to “damage irreparably,” and I’ve seen doctors, attorneys, promising young writers self-destruct as a result of unmanaged bad habits, drug and alcohol abuse, and illegal behavior. When we see it happen, whether it’s a celebrity or someone we know, we’re often surprised, but when we look closer, it’s most often been a slow burn on the way to the wreckage.
That intrigued me, so I asked my friends on Facebook and my contacts on LinkedIn, “What is the best way for someone to slowly ruin their life?” The word “slowly” adds a provocative nature to the question if something takes place over time, there is a chance to catch it, reverse it, or stop it before it’s too late.
Imagine a pencil rolling slowly across a table toward the edge you can see it; you know it’s going to fall. You can grab it and save yourself the trouble of bending over to pick it up, or you can just let it continue rolling until it’s gone over the edge. In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” The character answers, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
Within minutes of posing the question, I received over 100 replies, some I’ve included below. Responses seemed to fall into three categories:
Responses included being cynical, blaming others for one’s behavior, looking at everything you don’t have, having a harsh inner critic, worrying about the past or future, letting fear run your life.
Responses included lack of interest in your inner world, inability to slow down, lying to yourself, ignoring your intuition, allowing others to define who you are, a constant focus on gratification from your outside world, which you think you can control, linking your happiness to others’ perceptions and expectations of you.
Ignoring mental, spiritual, and physical health
Examples given included eating “unhealthy” foods, ignoring your body’s natural cues, escaping into addictive behaviors, toxic relationships, gravitating toward compromising situations.
Common sense says if you don’t want to ruin your life, then do the opposite of everything listed above: be positive, not cynical; don’t blame others, take responsibility; don’t live on “junk” food alone. All certainly helpful. However, I wanted to get below the surface and address the mindset, attitudes, and beliefs that underlie destructive behavior patterns.
Here are the themes I found that can help make sure you don’t ruin your life, and if you do get off course, they’ll help you get back on track too.
Face the wind
Denial is dangerous. When we’re hiding from something we don’t like, part of ourselves, or the situation we’re in, we invent distractions. We escape confronting the issue by anesthetizing ourselves with activities that initially appear harmless but take on a destructive life of their own.
For example, we can deny our toxic relationships, or convince ourselves our compulsive behavior or addiction is just temporary or the extreme work hours are necessary—even though we know these are unfulfilling forms of escape. Left unchecked, these excuses become ingrained habits, accepted ways of living that are detrimental to our well-being.
When I’ve found myself on the wrong path, the turnaround began with facing the brutal truth. Without doing that, nothing would have changed. Accepting your circumstances as they are, looking in the mirror, and admitting what is happening are the first steps in breaking the cycle of denial.
Putting things off, minimizing the impact of unhealthy habits, and convincing yourself there is some redeeming benefit to what you are doing, knowing full well it’s not good for you, is flat-out denial, lying to yourself, as one person told me.
Ask yourself, “What am I allowing in my life that is no longer good for me?”
Facing what you don’t want to deal with is not easy at first. There is courage within us; we have to find and make friends with it. I found courage through prayer, asking for help, and digging deep inside my heart to find my courage. The heart knows what is right and can be our inner guidance system. The heart doesn’t care about the future or the past — it only cares about what is best for you and doing the right thing.
When we face a challenging situation, it’s often necessary to make hard choices, and sometimes to get what we want, we have to let go of something significant. For example, if you choose to leave a marriage with children, you know changing the structure of the family unit will be difficult, but the reasons to do so are more critical than keeping it intact. That is not an easy decision.
Enter your cave
The “cave” is our inner world. It’s the part of us that contains our fears, false beliefs, lies, guilt, and shame. When we first enter the cave, we’re usually afraid of what we will find in the shadows and darkness. Courage lights the way and steadies us as we go deeper into ourselves. It’s not unusual to find a guide, a friend, a mentor to offer assistance on the journey.
When you enter your cave and face your darkness, it’s more important than ever to pay specific attention to the situations you’re in, the people you encounter, and the messages you receive. What may seem like a coincidence is not. Once you start the process of transformation to wholeness, help will appear in new and seemingly unusual ways. Don’t ignore it.
Sometimes we think we don’t have the power to be the person we want to be. But we do. That person exists already within us, hidden in the shadows, waiting to come out. The darker it gets, the brighter the light will be on the other side.
Know what you want
Knowing what you want in life ignites movement toward the vision. Without knowing what you want, how can you move toward it? The vision might be as simple as, “I want a loving relationship,” or “I want to have a life of abundance.” Don’t underestimate the power of intention. The details are not necessary at this point. What is essential is freeing yourself from being held captive by false stories and limiting beliefs.
The stories you tell yourself make or break you. Tell yourself you are amazing, you’re good, you deserve everything possible, you want the best life has to offer, and that’s there is nothing, nothing at all, that can stop you.
Be a warrior
Warriors walk the middle path the path of poise, balance, and inner strength. There is a wise warrior within you, the part of you that completes complex tasks, perseveres in the heat of a challenge, gets things done, and solves problems. Warriors speak honestly without being hurtful, they’re confident without being arrogant, and they’re humble without being timid.
Warriors manage their inner world, think clearly, speak truthfully, and act with respect. They face difficult situations knowing they can only control their own words and actions. Their mission is not to please others or fit in. Their mission is to be true to themselves. The word “ruin” means to damage irreparably, destroy completely, or spoil something. Warriors only ruin that which seeks to harm themselves or others.
Warriors aren’t cynical about life; they fully embrace life. Warriors don’t blame others, don’t wish they had more than they do, don’t criticize themselves, or let fear run the show. Warriors take an interest in their inner world, pay attention to their intuition, and take care of their bodies, knowing life is short. They focus on what it’s their control and know real contentment is in the heart.
Life is all about choices we get to choose what we think about, how we show up, and what we do. It’s the little things, the small decisions that make our lives great. Make the best ones you can, every day. It’s all we can do.