Yesterday my wife asked me to take out the trash. It was the weekend, and I had slept too late, and I was annoyed at myself because now I wasn’t going to get as much done as I had planned. I was trying to run out the door to cram in a half-assed workout, so that I could get to my afternoon commitments on time. I was already behind schedule, and now Kirsten wanted me to take out the trash? And there were multiple trash bags, and some of it needed to be re-bagged, and it was raining, and I didn’t have time for this, dammit!
In my impatience, I snapped at her, which in the moment didn’t seem like a big deal. Didn’t she see I was scrambling to get out the door? But I knew I had hurt her feelings in that moment- so I felt like a schmuck for the rest of the day.
Later that night I apologized, but even as we went to sleep I could sense she was still upset. She had been trying to get the house clean for our dinner guests, and I was griping about a 5-minute chore. As if she were somehow at fault for asking me to do a simple thing.
In my car later on, I was listening to a speech by Tony Robbins. Tony said something that hit me like a ton of bricks:
In the beginning of a relationship, when your partner says, “Will you take out the trash?”, what do you say? “Take out the trash? HAPPILY!”
So if you want a relationship to last, do what you did in the beginning.
(For the full effect, watch Tony deliver this at 15:40)
Now Tony Robbins gets a bad rap. Yes, the guy is a maniac, and yes, he’s completely bombastic. He’s sort of your prototypical 1990s infomercial self-help guru. But he’s also helped millions of people all over the world change their lives for the better. He’s helped me, too. One of the most powerful things Tony Robbins has said is this:
What’s wrong is always available- and so is what’s great.
In other words, the quality of your life is determined by where you direct your focus. If you focus on what’s wrong- and you can always find something that’s wrong- your life will be characterized by constant frustration, irritation and anxiety. But if you put your focus on what’s great- and you can always find something that’s great, like your health, your loved ones, your steady employment- then you can live from a center of joy and gratitude.
I remember using this mental trick on myself about a year ago, when Kirsten asked me to help out at a concert she was directing. I was feeling grouchy because I had other things I wanted to do, but I also knew that I should go and support her. I found myself in an irritable mood as I was driving to the concert, so I slapped myself (not literally).
“Wait a minute,” I said to myself. “Why am I complaining about this? If we had just started dating, and she asked me to help out at her concert, how would I respond?” That line of thinking got me into the right headspace. I realized that at the beginning of our relationship, I would’ve been thrilled to show up and support her. And not just to make a good impression. I would’ve been excited that it was me she wanted there.
It’s easy to let our fleeting moods govern our lives. Sometimes it takes effort to get into that state where we’re excited, passionate, and fully engaged. But it is possible to recapture that feeling- and not just in relationships.
If you need a kickstart in any area of your life- relationships, health, career- do what you did in the beginning. Go back to the fundamentals. Forget about who you think you’re supposed to be. Forget about your titles, your degrees, and whatever box you’ve put yourself into.
Buddhists call this Shoshin- “beginner’s mind”- and it’s a powerful way to rediscover your passion and purpose. Reconnect with the things that got you excited in the first place, and watch how your whole experience of life changes.
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