Dragon Ball Z and Conquering Negativity

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Last month my roommates reintroduced me to Dragon Ball Z, a show I enjoyed as a kid but hadn’t watched in more than a decade. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and watch the series from the beginning. I’m already 75 episodes in (please don’t judge) and it’s clear that 24-year old me is an even bigger fan of the show than 10-year-old me was.

One of the main things I love about it is its core theme of good vs. evil. I know that’s a theme in most stories, but there’s something about the way Dragon Ball Z portrays it that really resonates with me.

Goku, the protagonist of the show, is one of the most pure-hearted characters I’ve ever seen. He faces every treacherous villain with an underlying attitude of compassion, mercy, and optimism. And despite being one of the strongest people on the planet and a natural born warrior, he always seems reluctant to fight.

Watching Goku in action got me thinking about the battle between good and evil that goes on inside all of us. I don’t mean good and evil in the moralistic sense, but more in terms of our happiness. There are certain thoughts that encourage well-being and those that promote the opposite. In each moment we have to choose which ones we will let control our emotions and actions.

It’s fear, anger, hatred, selfishness, narcissism, insecurity, envy, and jealousy versus….love, empathy, compassion, gratitude, altruism, genuine confidence, patience, peace, and joy. You could say it’s the battle between our egos and our higher-selves. The worst of us against the best of us.

For most of my early life, my ego won those internal battles decisively. Honestly, they were hardly even battles most of the time. My ego was in complete control and negativity seemed to be my natural state. I had no idea there was any other way to live.

Things have changed in the last few years. Through mindfulness and meditation, I’ve become more aware of my ego and its negative tendencies. It no longer automatically controls my every action like it once did. But that increased awareness hasn’t eliminated my ego and its negative effects from my life. If anything, it has made the “good vs. evil” metaphor all the more accurate for me.

Every day my ego struggles to take back control. It wants to find fault in every situation. It wants to indulge in anger and fear. It wants to win arguments at the cost of relationships. My ego hardly ever wins when I’m at my best. I can observe those negative thoughts inside my head and simply push them aside. But when I’m at my worst, well, it often gets the upper hand.

Some might say that viewing the ego as an enemy to be defeated isn’t very healthy, and there’s definitely some truth to that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that awareness and compassion are the best antidotes for the ego’s negativity. “Attacking” the ego in an aggressive way can only serve to strengthen it.

However, there is something inspirational in the concept of good battling evil, the light overpowering the darkness. That kind of imagery reminds me that we have a choice to make in every moment: we can let our egos run the show or give the power to our higher selves. But making the right choice requires discipline. The ego will fight back like the most ferocious enemy we’ve ever encountered. That’s why it can seem like a battle at times.

I think this applies to our external lives as well. All around the world we are seeing a rise in ego-driven behaviors. There is so much fear and hatred getting thrown around that it can often feel like a hopeless situation. But it doesn’t have to be. We can view ourselves almost as warriors, choosing daily to fight back against all the negativity. This doesn’t necessarily mean fighting in a physical sense, but fighting back with our attitudes. It means looking at all the fear and hatred and rising above it, showing compassion for others, and, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, making positivity louder.

Of course, it all starts with the battle within ourselves.

I know personally it seems unwinnable at times. The ego is an incredibly persistent foe. But I won’t give up. I won’t let myself slide back into a world of negativity. I’ll keep fighting, and letting even silly things like a cartoon character inspire me to try even harder. I know my efforts will eventually pay off.

 

 

Confessions of a Serial Complainer

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Here’s something I don’t like to admit: I’m a complainer. Not just any kind of complainer though. I’m a professional. I complain like Kobe Bryant gets buckets. I complain out loud, under my breath, and in my head. My complaining skills would be a source of pride if complaining wasn’t such a terrible habit.

If I had to take a guess, I’d say my complaining started sometime in middle school. I can vaguely recall a looming sense of dissatisfaction setting in during those preteen years. Maybe it was the hormones, or just my ego establishing itself as the dominant force in my life. Either way, there was a lot I didn’t like and I was more than willing to talk about it.

I really can’t be too hard on myself for that. A certain level of dissatisfaction is probably normal for kids that age. But once I started down the path of complaining, there was no turning back. And as with any habit, the more I did it, the more it became a part of me.

I didn’t see anything wrong with this until pretty recently. Even when I embarked on my self-improvement journey three years ago, complaining was nowhere near the top of my list of things I wanted to change about myself. Like most people, I saw it as a natural part of life. Sure, it could be annoying, but everyone I knew complained. Plus it felt really freaking good. But as I’ve set my sights on becoming a more positive person, my complaining has shown itself to be a truly cancerous habit.

In an effort to cut it out of my life, I’ve had to take a step back and ask, “What does complaining do for me?” The answer is nothing. It never helps me solve a problem. Outside of the initial dirty high I get from whining, it never makes me feel better about anything. No one ever wants to be my friend because of my complaining. The benefits it offers are a big fat zero, yet I can think of a ton of ways in which complaining hurts me.

It makes me a much more negative and reactive person in almost every area of my life. It allows me to play the role of the victim instead of taking responsibility for my thoughts, emotions, and actions. But worst of all, my complaining only ever breeds more complaining. It’s like breaking a dam; as soon as I let even a little bit of bitching and moaning out, it just keeps coming and coming.

Basically, complaining is bad. Really bad. So how am I going to rid myself of it once and for all?

The short answer is a combination of personal responsibility, discipline, and gratitude. Actually, I feel like that’s the only answer. As much as I’d love to be able to read that perfect self-help book that changes my mindset or hypnotize myself so I never complain again, quick fixes aren’t gonna happen. All I can really do is take full responsibility for my complaining and commit to the lifelong process of cutting that shit out and replacing it with gratitude.

Something that has already helped me with this in the past few days is a quote by the renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Whenever I feel myself about to complain about a person or a situation, I remind myself that it in every moment I am making a choice. It’s a choice of whether or not to play the role of the victim. It’s a choice between bitterness and gratitude. Most of all, it’s a choice between short-term gratification and long-term happiness.

 

To end this post I’d like to share a video from Gary Vaynerchuk, one of my favorite entrepreneurs. In less than two minutes he perfectly explains the mindset I’m trying to cultivate.

Taking Care of the Inner Child

The past month or so has been pretty rocky for me. The progress I’m so used to making just hasn’t been there. I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of stagnation in pretty much every area of my life. It seems that no matter how hard I try, I can’t string together more than a couple days of productivity before going back to my lazy habits.

Motivational struggles are nothing new to me. Finding the motivation to go after what I truly want in life has always been difficult. I guess that’s part of what makes my current struggles even more frustrating than usual. However, my inability to generate much momentum lately has made me take a step back and really examine this whole situation.

A while back I wrote a post on the benefits I found in living intentionally as opposed to making a bunch of strict goals for myself. One of the main themes behind that post was my own tendency to be very hard on myself when I failed to reach my goals. At the time, I saw clearly that being overly critical of myself usually made me less productive overall.

It seems I’ve forgotten that message since coming back home. I may not have set concrete goals for myself, but I did have a mental picture of all the amazing things I would accomplish this summer. And this picture left little room for the struggles I’m having at the moment.

What has my response beens? Overwhelmingly negative. Every time I miss a day of writing or end up sitting in front of the TV all night, I compound the failure by mentally abusing myself. “What wrong with me?” “Why can’t I be more productive?” “Do I even want to change at all, or am I just lying to myself?” “If I keep this up, I’m definitely going to end up a failure.” This kind of self-talk has been the norm for me for as long as I can remember. Only now have I stopped to consider that it might be doing more harm than good. It’s not just the words themselves though. It’s the mindset behind them; a mindset that expects perfection where perfection is impossible.

If I were to take some perspective on the past month and a half, I might be able to see a different side to the story. I’ve been so focused on everything I’ve done wrong that I’ve failed to see all the things I’ve done right. I’ve stuck to a consistent gym routine and diet. I’ve been meditating fairly consistently. I’ve been working a ton and I’ve managed to save up a considerable amount of my future travels. While I may not be this perfect productivity machine, those are all things that I should be proud of.

Negative vs. Positive Reinforcement

In the little over a year that I’ve worked with kids (as both a recreation leader and an English language assistant), one major lesson has stood out to me: positive reinforcement is infinitely more effective than negative reinforcement. Focusing less on children’s’ negative behavior and more on their positive behavior can lead, not only to better behavior in the future, but also happier, more confident kids.

Does the need for positive reinforcement go away once we reach a certain age? I doubt it. We may need less validation from the people around us in order to feel good, but there is still a strong need for our own validation at the very least. Yet positive reinforcement is often the last thing we are willing to give ourselves.

Maybe it’s because we are the only people who know our true potentials. We can close our eyes and envision all that we can be and all the great things we can accomplish. With this vision in mind, it’s all the more disappointing when we fail to live up to it. So we get mad at ourselves. We criticize ourselves. We even hate ourselves at times.

But would we treat a child that way? Would we lash out at them every time they make a mistake, every time they don’t know how to do something with the ease of an expert? Of course not. Part of the reason it’s easier for us (at times) to be more understanding with children is because we know they are still learning and growing. Of course they are going to make mistakes; they don’t know everything yet.

But as adults, are we really that different than children? Sure we have more responsibilities and we know how to do a few more things, but aren’t we still learning? Aren’t we still trying to figure everything out? Don’t we still feel lost and confused at times? Maybe I’m alone in this, but a lot of times I still feel like a kid in a really tall adult’s body, still as clueless as I ever was.

With this in mind, what I’m really focusing on lately is giving myself the same positive reinforcement that I would give a child. I guess you could say I’m just trying to take care of my inner child. This means celebrating all of the small victories in my life and not beating myself up for my mistakes and failures. It means giving myself room to be completely imperfect. It means reminding myself daily that I’m still learning and growing, and that progress usually doesn’t take the route we expect it to. Most of all, it means showing myself the same love and compassion that I would show anyone else I care about in my life.

This is a lot easier said than done. My ever-present fear is that, by being so understanding with myself, I’ll just end up patting myself on the back for being lazy and never actually accomplish anything. There is clearly a balance that must be maintained between being compassionate with yourself and pushing yourself to take action. Honestly I’m not sure how to find that balance. I have a feeling it will be a lifelong journey of trial and error.