I don’t like writers.
Stop writing advice books if you’ve never lived through it.
That’s why I asked Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” on my podcast.
Only someone who has been through horror and pain and tragedy would immediately hone in on the word “don’t” in her title. This told me immediately I should read the book.
Everyone else can write about all the great things that one should do. But it’s hard to remember the 87,000 good habits I should do each day.
Should I make the bed or brush my teeth first? Should I do 600 pushups and then avoid breakfast? Should I take the stairs instead of the escalator? Should I make a to-do list and then prioritize and then write down 5 things I’m grateful for?
On and on, the list of things we should do has swarmed the Internet. I’m choking on them.
I want to live a good life but I get stressed out thinking I didn’t brush my teeth eight times today or walk 20,000 steps, or call my friends twice over and remind them how much I love them.
I don’t want to rehash Amy’s tragedies. She does it in her book. She had everything going for her and then the unimaginable kept happening.
She had to learn what NOT to do in order to survive. To fully live life, one has to survive not only physically, but emotionally, creatively, and spiritually as well.
Too many people die at 25 and aren’t buried until they are 75.
Her book has the “13 Things”. But here’s 10 things I learned from talking to her.
I also learned to ask for directions. I’m sorry, Amy, how I was a fool and took you eight miles out of your way after the podcast because I refused to ask for directions.
I should’ve just said, “I don’t know”.
1. SCHOOL ISN’T ENOUGH. YOU NEED TO DO.
Amy became a therapist at 21 years old. And a foster parent by age 23. “I thought my mission in life was to teach people how to be mentally strong,” she said during our podcast conversation. “And I didn’t realize how much I was going to need mental strength.”
None of her “13 Things” can be taught in school. School teaches facts. And it teaches you to memorize facts. And it punishes you if you forget the facts.
But facts won’t help you survive the tragedies of life.
I wish school had taught me how to really live. How to be healthy. How to survive the hardest relationships. How to be creative every day. How to surrender to the things I can’t control.
2. A FEW BAD HABITS CAN DERAIL ALL GOOD HABITS.
“A few bad habits can derail all good habits,” she said. She listed some bad habits:
– mentally strong people don’t feel sorry for themselves
– don’t host a pity party
– don’t look for sympathy
3. AVOID TOXIC PEOPLE.
“You want your core people to be people who uplift you”.
Strengths and weaknesses are contagious and viral. You get to decide who you will associate with.
I was talking to a friend of mine who has finally achieved great success in his field after about 20 years. I asked him what was the “tipping point”. What finally took him over the finish line to this next area of his life?
“Recognizing the good people from the bad,” he said. “Working with those people. Connecting them. That’s a life-multiplier.”
4. DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU FEEL BROKEN.
Amy says the medical health system is broken is because we wait until we’re broken to get help.
If you ask a heart attack victim “Why did you get a heart attack” they never answer, “Clogged arteries”.
Instead they talk about stress, a broken heart, a career situation, family, and so on.
We all know instinctively that our mental health and physical health are connected. But we seldom act on this knowledge.
Avoiding this knowledge can destroy your life.
5. ALL IS NOT LOST.
Amy’s mom died of a brain aneurysm. She passed away at 51 years old. Two weeks later her Dad’s house burnt down. And they lost all her mom’s possessions.
“ I had to remember those are her things but they aren’t her,” Amy said. Three years go by. Then Amy lost her husband, Lincoln, at age 26.
Every card player knows this: play the cards you are dealt. And you will often be dealt bad cards.
This doesn’t mean the game is over. It means the people who play the best know what to do with the bad hands.
In standup comedy, not every crowd is going to laugh. But don’t blame the crowd. Learn how to lean into the silence. Take command of it. Make it meaningful.
6. DON’T AVOID.
“You can’t heal if you try to avoid. You have to take care of it,” Amy said.
She told me she took time away from work. She surrounded herself with a loving community.
Trauma is a tattoo on the soul. It doesn’t wash away…
I thought back to a trauma I experienced recently. Someone close to me really hurt me. I had always been afraid to ask for help before. As if I could survive all trauma by myself. Nobody would ever need to help me!
But when I asked for “help”, I found that so many of my friends wanted the gift of being loving and useful to someone. To me.
Asking for help was like using a magic power I didn’t know I had.
7. YOU CAN ALWAYS DO SOMETHING.
“It isn’t about thinking everything’s wonderful,” she said about learning how to reframe your negative thoughts, “It’s about coming up with something realistic.”
But I asked her, “Why do people always think they’re doomed?” “It’s a learned helplessness,” she said. “And it becomes a habit.”
For me, this is why I always list ten ideas a day. Even if they are bad ideas (which they almost always are). Even if I don’t execute on them (it’s BS that “execution is everything”).
I list them so that when I need them, my idea muscle is a machine that can come up with ideas when I need them.
The muse doesn’t wait for you. You have to constantly romance the muse.
8. NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.
Key mantra: “I don’t have all the answers.”
Everyone has strong opinions these days. It’s so hard to have the opinion of, “I don’t know”. Because it’s so difficult is the reason why it’s so valuable.
9. THE LAW OF EMOTIONAL RELATIVITY.
After her husband died, Amy had a client who told her, “You’ll never believe what happened while you were gone. My husband almost died of a heart attack.”
The client didn’t know Amy’s husband DID die of a heart attack. “I reminded myself that you can’t choose who’s pain is worse,” Amy said. “And overall it just helped me connect with people more.”
I try this exercise when I can. I imagine that everyone I pass on the street is my daughter.
“Don’t do that,” someone once told me when I told her I did that. “It sounds fake.”
Well, I don’t care how it sounds. That’s what I try to do.
10. LIVE LIFE LIKE IT’S EVERYONE ELSE’S LAST DAY.
A friend of mine has six months to live. He’s had six months to live for the past seven years. He just celebrated his seventh “cancerversary”. He’s my age.
Instead of living life like it’s your last day, I try to live life like it’s EVERYONE ELSE’S last day.
The statistics are this: I’ve been around a good 18,000 days, give or take. It seems to me like I’ll never die. I can’t help feeling that way. 18,000 days is a lot!
But if I treat everyone else like today might be their last, then it’s like fuel for me to love them as best I can right now.
The only promise tomorrow makes is: don’t waste an opportunity to give a kiss today.