Do you believe that your actions matter at all?

Nothing like a good self-help post on Hacker News to get people worked up. This morning, I posted a story to HN about my experiences with The Greatest Secret in the World and the kind of effect it’s had on me over the last year. I expected it would either just die or attract a lot of ire and negative comments, but neither happened. It hit #1 on the homepage within a couple hours of being posted and managed to attract a large number of positive comments. Even the negative comments were mostly thoughtful and well-reasoned. And I do understand people’s skepticism. I’m a pretty skeptical person myself, and I tend to discount most of what that I find falls under the self-help banner. However, that’s not to say that I don’t think any of it has any value. To the contrary, I think habits and ways of thinking about the world can have an incredible effect on our ability to accomplish the things we want to accomplish.

Most people I know, when pressed, could point to dozens of things in their life that they’re unhappy with. Their jobs, their financial situation, their relationships, their health, etc. In many cases, these are things they’ve been complaining about for a long time, burdens they’ve born for years. So why haven’t they changed? There may be external circumstances that preclude a change, but in the majority of cases, it’s simply an internal issue, a way of thinking. It’s the result of habits and beliefs that they’ve built up over a lifetime. That person who complains about needing to lose weight could start right now, start eating only healthy food and working out every day. That person who hates their job could quit today and start working towards their passion.

Now, I’m not saying that’s the right approach for people who need to lose weight or hate their job. Sometimes the approach is a more nuanced one, but it almost certainly starts with some action. And most people don’t take action at all, let alone any bold actions. How hard is it to find people who are unhappy? Not hard at all. In the words of Tyler Durden, many of us are “working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need.” So why don’t people change?

On the other hand, we all know that person who breaks this mold, who takes action and does all they can to shape their life to be what they want. I know several people like this, and I’ve looked up to them for years. They’re proactive and assertive about their lifestyle, and if something bothers them, they deal with it directly, rather than complain and hope it will resolve itself. Most importantly, when they decide to do something, it’s as good as done. What makes these people different?

It’s simple: they have a deep belief in their mind that they can change the world around them through their actions. This seems too simple and obvious to be true, but so many people apparently lack this belief. Yes, they might know it, but they don’t really believe it, way down in their gut, where it counts, where it can have an effect. You have to really believe that following your passions is important to quit that high-paying job that bores you. You have to really believe that perseverance is the key to success to not give up on that side business you’ve been trying to get off the ground for a year. You have to really believe, not just know, but believe to the deepest core of who you are, that a successful marriage can get through hard times with hard work. If you just know these things because you’ve heard them a few times and they sounded good, you’ll fall prey to your emotions when the time comes to make a decision.