“I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me.” This was the mantra of Stuart Smalley. A character played by Al Franken – who, crazily enough became a U.S. Senator from Minnesota – on Saturday Night Live in the 1980’s. Smalley was a woebegone self-help expert who relied on positive affirmations as the key to self-improvement. The sketches always went somewhat the same. Stuart would deliver his mantra, discuss how we was keeping things positive in his life then lose confidence and get down on himself when he really took a look at what was going on only to rally at the end by telling himself “but that’s…okay.” He was ultimately incredibly loveable and decidedly inept at his job.
It’s easier to get the gist from watching it than it is from me describing it. Here is maybe the most famous of these bits when Stuart has Michael Jordan, the host of that week’s episode, on as a guest. Jordan was famously one of the most confident athletes in the history of professional sports so the humor lies in Stuart, who’s self-confidence is always a bit shaky, trying to teach Jordan how to be more self-assured.
If you’ve watched movies such as “The Secret” or read books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” the idea is actually the same, though taken much more seriously. Keep telling and envisioning yourself getting and doing what you want and you are on the fast track to getting and doing those things.
So just look in the mirror and keep telling yourself that you’re thin or that you are rich and, voila, you will achieve those things. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, as the kids say.
So What’s The Rub?
We all know that doesn’t work. Simply telling yourself something without taking any actionable steps does not lead to achieving your goals. But does it help in getting you there? Do things like positive self-talk, vision boards and mantras act as first steps towards making your dreams come true?
Well, let’s look again at Stuart Smalley. That character ultimately had a major motion picture developed around him. And the guy who played him went from a writer on a television show to being a Senator. Coincidence? Mmmmm, probably. I’m not even foo-foo enough to believe the fact that a character talking to himself in a mirror led to movie stardom (the movie actually didn’t do very well) and a second career as a politician (Franken worked as a broadcast political commentator for many years after the SNL gig before getting elected into office).
But I do think that there is something to it. That the road to success starts not only with telling yourself that what you want is possible and you are worthy of it but also, and this is the part that most people miss, that you are already grateful for what you have.
The Practice of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude or, more simply, being thankful and focusing on the good things that already exist in your life is so important in our opinion that we made it one of our Commandments Of Fortitude. Let’s keep this short and sweet, practicing gratitude does two things for you: 1) it’s stops you from being an ungrateful dick 2) it helps prevent you from being angry. Go ahead, try practicing gratitude and being angry at the same time. You can’t do it. So if you are someone who finds himself pissed off at your partner or your waitress or at the world try focus on the good in those people, be grateful for the positive things they do and bring you and that anger will disappear. Feel free to send me a check for all the hours of therapy I just saved you.
OK, let’s circle back. We know that practicing gratitude is important and that the first step to achieving a goal is to convince yourself that it’s possible. So how do we kill these two proverbial birds with one stone? I’m glad you asked.
The answer will cost you a whopping $.69.
Salvation In A Spiral Notebook
As already mentioned things such as vision boards or talk therapy or mantras can all work great. But my favorite tool for practicing gratitude and positively envisioning your future is a gratitude journal. Simply go to Wal-Mart, walk down the school supply aisle and pick yourself up a spiral notebook in your favorite color. Or, if you prefer, pick yourself up a leather-bound journal (helps if your apartment is outfitted in rich mahogany) at the local crafts fair. Whatever floats your boat. It’s your money. Set this notebook and a pen on the end table next to your bed. Then, just before you go to sleep for the night, write down three things you are grateful for that happened that day and three things you are grateful for that will happen tomorrow. Try to make these concrete, measurable things rather than pie-in-the-sky concepts that aren’t truly objective. Just put the date at the top, write “Today I am grateful for…” and then complete your list of 6 things. Here’s an example:
January 15, 2017
Today I am grateful for…
- Having a warm apartment to come home to because it’s really cold and damp outside.
- My knee was feeling a little better and I was able to get my squat workout in.
- We signed up two new clients at the gym and are closer to of our goal of capacity
- Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and eat the tastiest bowl of oatmeal I’ve ever had.
- I’m going to stop procrastinating and finish that project at work that I’ve been grinding on for the past week.
- I’m going to safely get my kids to school on time.
Do some of these things seem simple or even trivial? Sure. And yours can be loftier. But for someone who may have been homeless at one time in their life or loves going to the gym but has been working around injury or has a hard time getting projects done or struggles with getting out of the house and getting the kids to school these things can be huge. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to wake up to the tastiest bowl of oatmeal they’ve ever had.
By setting your intentions consciously and concretely you are three steps closer to achieving them than if you would if you just let it mull around in your mind. And if you start putting thoughts like these out to the world you’ll be amazed how much more attention you give them. You’ll begin to believe that you can get that work project done. That oatmeal will taste better. And, you’ll have practiced gratitude so you won’t be angry. Finally, and I’ve seen this a lot, getting these ideas on paper will help you sleep better. And sleeping well, I believe, is so critical to everything else you do during your day that if that is all you get out of it is a good night’s rest than it is more than worth the 4 minutes of effort it takes to get it done.
Do I have a scientific study to prove this works? One might exist but I haven’t read it. When it comes to belief, scientific studies are probably not what we need anyway. There is no study proving the existence of God or that Eminem is the greatest rapper of all time or that Tom Brady is a cheater but I still believe all of these things to be true.
People seem to want complicated solutions to important problems so I apologize that this is a pretty easy fix. And the fact that it is so stupid-simple will likely disqualify many of you from trying it. As Stuart would say, but that’s….okay. For those of you willing to try this hippie, namby-pamby concept put forth by some meathead (and, I promise you, just like everything else I did not come up with this idea or practice myself) I think you will find in pretty short order that it works.
And if you don’t try it, no sweat. I won’t take it personally. I’ll just keep telling myself that I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me.