Compromising your own behavior:

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(02/20/13)

This blog will cover a few different human tendencies, but they’re all intertwined and they aren’t strictly about getting or staying sober. My discussion here will be relevant to many things in life: a diet, a workout plan, your education, career moves, financial budgeting, planning for your retirement and relationships with people. The list can go on.

Let’s start with the first one. “You ain’t gonna do shit.” Me saying, “You ain’t gonna do shit” is not a confrontation to argue with you or meant to insult you. It is a phrase intended to extend a challenge. I say this phrase to myself all the time. It challenges me and requires me to seriously think about what I claim I will do. I am by no means close to perfect nor am I able to do everything I say I will. But this challenges me to do what I say I will do.

Hearing someone who’s sitting at bar or at a party reciting all of the things they are going to do can be very entertaining. “I’m gonna write a book. I’m gonna get a new job. I’m gonna run for Mayor. I’m gonna go on a diet, I’m gonna blah, blah, blah,.” You hear them and you think, “You ain’t gonna do shit.” And you’re right, because as they tell you what they’re going to do they order another Rum & Coke. They ain’t gonna do shit.

Even sane, clearheaded, sober people can fall prey to this. It is a strange way that the mind massages itself and massages our own ego. I’m not saying that people are liars. We may have the best intentions, even have plans in place to carry out what we say we will do. But until action is taken, nothing happens. So when you hear yourself making some outrageous (even not so outrageous) claims about what you will do, challenge yourself with the words, “You ain’t gonna do shit” and then prove yourself wrong. Prove to yourself that you WILL do what you say you will do.

I’m not so arrogant to think myself better than humanity. But I accept that 90% of people won’t do what they say they will do. This helps me to be charitable and loving (stop laughing). If I don’t expect you to do what you said you will do, I won’t be disappointed, I won’t feel I’m above that person and I can stop myself from feeling anger towards them. I am able to still love and care about the person. (It helps me avoid unintended revenge—I’ll talk about that shortly.) I can relax and consider that maybe there were circumstance that I’m unaware of that didn’t allow the person to fulfill their word.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing humanity. Talking a good talk is a natural human behavior. A lot of things sound pretty good when coming out of the talk-hole, “I’m going on a diet, I’m going back to school, I’m gonna be President.” Without uttering these intentions out loud you don’t have to live up to any claims. So vocalizing your intentions is important and it may be the first step towards you taking action.

You wanna scare the shit out of people? Do what you say you will do. If you say you’re going back to school then do it. If you say you’re going to be a better parent then work at it. If you say you’re going to finish a project then finish it. Start by fulfilling small promises and the big ones will follow. Again, I am by no means perfect. While I strive to be part of the 10%, I often fall short.

Some people you have to interact with either for business or personal reasons. You must decide to what limit you are willing to expose and invest your time, talent, money or emotions. Here’s where unintended revenge comes into play.

Have you ever been told something by someone and thought, “I don’t believe a fucking word you say. You have never done a single thing you said you would.” Just because you don’t trust them or don’t necessarily like them is no reason to compromise your own behavior or consistency. For example, I have plenty of people who never return my calls or emails. But when THEY need something, I guarantee I will hear from them, they’ll be calling every 5 minutes. I must then control my natural human emotion of “revenge.”  I must keep myself calm, hold off on my snide commentary and not allow myself to compromise my behavior. I will be civil, treat them with dignity and I will be man enough to say “no” if I don’t feel like doing something. But I will not exact my revenge by ignoring them. Usually after enough “no’s” from me they go away anyhow.

And you’re fooling yourself if you say, “I never exact revenge on anyone.” Somebody cuts you off in traffic or is rude to you at a store, you may unconsciously take it out on an innocent person like your spouse, child, coworker, anyone. You are exacting revenge.

Revenge has a path. Sometimes it’s obvious—he did me wrong so I will get even. Most times it follows an invisible path from the unconscious mind (you feel hurt by something someone said or did), then it goes to the subconscious mind (you do something in retaliation that you might not normally do), then it goes to the conscious mind (you tell yourself why your behavior was justifiable). “Oh, so now this fucker calls? He ignored how many of my calls? But now he wants to talk to me. Good luck if I call HIM back.” That’s revenge, and it may end up hurting you.

I’m not saying that you take or return every call or email. There’s only so much time in life. You have priorities and responsibilities which come first. You may be in the middle of doing something you said you would do. Use your judgment.

The unconscious desire to exact unintentional revenge comes from unexpected occurrences. Somebody cuts you off in traffic, a cashier is rude, you get passed over for a promotion, you get a bad grade, you lose money, somebody turns you down for a date, whatever. You feel hurt and you can unconsciously start acting out your revenge. That’s when you may get shitty with your family, cut someone else off in traffic or steal something from work. You begin to compromise your behaviors and then justify them in your own mind. Hey, I’ve done it. This can weaken you to have a relapse. I’ve never relapsed, but when I was drinking I might have had an argument with my wife so I went and got extra drunk. Ooooh, I showed her didn’t I? Relapsing or going and getting drunk is no way to get revenge. You’re just hurting yourself.

Doing what you say you will do has a lot to do with “honor.” I have tried to explain “Honor among thieves” to a few people. Law enforcement has difficulty understanding this concept and so do some legitimate business people. I don’t want to incriminate myself so I will be vague. I have heard of business transactions that are sealed with a handshake. These criminals were good for their word and they would pay what was owed. It was pretty simple: If you didn’t pay your supplier, you were no longer supplied. If you owed the supplier a large sum of money and didn’t pay it back there may be a painful interest penalty. Word would get around pretty fast if someone was a con or a deadbeat. You were required to be a man of your word if you wished to continue in your profitable enterprise. As twisted as it sounds, this type of business relationship instilled honor among the participants.

Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t always go with honor and chivalry. Every career field has its crooks and cons. But that particular industry has an interesting way of policing itself. One must learn to be honorable and do what they say they will do if they wish to be successful. One can take those principles of honor and doing what you say you will do and carry them over into a public enterprises and into the exchanges with family, friends and people in general. I’ve seen it happen.

So what does this all mean? Refrain from making too many grandiose projections of what you will do. Be careful of what you promise, especially the little things. If you promise to call someone, then call them. If you promise to take care of something, then take care of it. If you’re unable to fulfill a promise, acknowledge it. Don’t go on with reasons, excuses and bullshit about why you didn’t do it or why it didn’t happen. Just say you didn’t do it or it didn’t happen. If the disappointed party wants to hear why, they will ask. Then you can recite your laundry list of bullshit.

Being human is not always easy. The desire to catch someone in their flaws is natural. When your flaws are pointed out, it’s normal to want to defend yourself by pointing out your accuser’s flaws. But this may lead you to unintentional revenge or compromising your own honor. “Nobody else does what they say they will, why should I?” Try to be part of the 10%. Do what you say you will do, refrain from exacting unintentional revenge on others and work towards being a person of honor. These behaviors will boost your self-respect and self-esteem. You don’t have to exhibit these qualities to be sober, but I believe they will help you stay that way and help you make the best out of your sobriety.

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