Seven years ago, I wanted to die. I was a drug addict and alcoholic. I lost all my friends and family, and I wasn’t even allowed to see my son. That combined with my extreme depression and crippling anxiety, I was suicidal. I was completely hopeless, but something happened. Something happened inside me, and this switch flipped.
My life isn’t perfect today (who’s is?), but it’s a million times better than it used to be. Since recovering from my addiction and keeping my depression and anxiety at bay, I’ve been trying to analyze myself so I can help others. For seven years, I haven’t been able to figure out what happened to me, and it’s something I think about all the time.
As someone who has found meaning and purpose in helping others, I want to figure out what that secret ingredient is, so I can give it to others. Even if it’s something I can’t give to others, maybe if I figured it out, I could tell people, and it’s something they could work towards.
Well, reading this new book called Super Better by Jane McGonigal, I think I finally figured out what that secret ingredient is, and I guarantee if you can stubbornly refuse to be hopeless, this will help you improve your mental health as well.
Challenge vs. Threat Mindset
A factor in mental health problems is based on our biology, but the problem is that we think it’s the main factor when it’s not. Only a fraction of our anxiety, depression, trauma or other mental health issues is based on biology. Why do I keep telling you this and want it to sink in your head? You’re going to understand when you learn about changing from a threat mindset to a challenge mindset.
First, let’s talk about cognitive appraisals. As humans, we’re some smart mofo’s, but sometimes that’s a disadvantage. Whenever we encounter a situation in our life, we appraise it. Something that gives us a leg up on the rest of the animal kingdom is that we can analyze situations. The problem is, sometimes our appraisals get us screwed up. If you want to learn more about how your cognitive appraisals are absolutely horrible (all of ours are), read Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.
When some sort of adversity comes up in our life, we either have a challenge mindset or a threat mindset. A threat mindset is we look at this as…well…a threat. We see this obstacle as something that can hurt us or our loved ones. It activates our fear and our anxiety. In Super Better, Jane McGonigal discusses various studies that show that when we have a threat mindset, we’re more likely to avoid the problem or feel hopeless.
And you wonder why your life isn’t getting better.
Now, when we have a challenge mindset, things are much different. We don’t see obstacles as threats. We see them as a challenge, and challenges are an opportunity to make some cool stuff happens. Think about a challenge you had that you overcame. How’d you feel afterward? Pretty badass I’m guessing.
This is the secret sauce. As I mentioned earlier, so many of us think that our mental health is mainly based on biology and genetics, but it’s not. The reason you need to understand that fact is because it will leave you in a threat mindset. When you realize how many forms of therapy and things you can do on your own can help with your mental health, you can start switching to a challenge mindset.
If you want to know if you have the challenge or threat mindset and answer the questions.
When My Switch Flipped
Like I said, I was hopeless. Even after getting sober, I was extremely suicidal for months. For the first three months, I was regularly thinking about suicide or relapsing, and I had so many health issues, a relapse would have killed me. Then, something happened. Something switched.
I switched to the challenge mindset.
I’ve always been a competitive person. I played sports throughout high school. I’ve been a gamer since I was five and still play a ton of video games to this day 29 years later. My entire mindset started to switch once I refused to be hopeless and started looking at my sobriety as a challenge.
In each meeting I went to, there were people who were once where I was, and now their life was unimaginably better. During those first three months, I was thinking, “That’s great for you, but I could never do that.” Then, I switched to a challenge mindset and started telling myself, “Fuck that! If they can do it, I sure as hell can too.” I made a cognitive reappraisal, and that’s what I want you to do too.
I cannot stress enough that I am nothing special. There’s nothing I’ve done that you can’t do. This is what helped me the most. When I realized how many people had been through what I’d been through or worse and got better, I realized it was possible for me to do it too, and I accepted the challenge. I want you to accept that challenge too.
Another way I formed a challenge mindset was wanting to prove people wrong. I had so many people thinking I’d never stay sober or turn my life around, and again, I said, “Fuck that! I’m going to prove all you suckers wrong!”, and this got me more into that challenge mindset. Wanting to prove them wrong motivated me to stay on the right track.
No matter what my motivations were in the beginning, it helped. It helped because I started to have proof. The kryptonite for hopelessness is proof. That stupid voice in our head loves telling us what we can’t do and what’s impossible. When we start accomplishing small goals, we’re showing that voice in our head proof that it’s not impossible.
That voice wants to tell us that we can’t get out of bed in the morning.
It tells us that we can’t reach out for help and support.
It tells us that we’re never going to get better or amount to anything.
Well, it’s time to tell that voice to kick rocks and that you accept the challenge.
Ask Yourself One Question
Today, as you finish reading this blog post, I want you to accept this challenge and refuse to be hopeless.
Chances are, you have some obstacle you’re struggling with right now. Maybe it’s setting up a therapy appointment, or getting back into the gym or reaching out when you need help. If you’re lucky, everything is cool right now, but the fun thing about life is it will inevitably slap you in the face, so you’re not off the hook.
“Am I viewing this with a challenge or a threat mindset?”
Whether you’re dealing with a challenge now or not, I want you to start asking yourself one simple questions:
That’s it. It’s that simple.
I don’t care if you have to set reminders on your phone throughout the day or tape something to your bathroom mirror or above your bed. We need to ask ourselves this question every single day as life continues to happen. This is metaphorical ice water being thrown in our face to snap out of it and refuse to be hopeless.
Here’s the trick. Don’t worry about failure, and you’ll start to learn why.
Quick note: I was really excited to write this blog post because like I said, I’ve been trying to figure out this “secret ingredient” for years now. Do me a favor, and if this blog helped you in any way or you think someone could benefit from reading it, please share it with them or share it on social media.
When we approach things with a challenge mindset, there’s no such thing as failure. Even when things don’t go the way we had hoped, when we come at the situation with a challenge mindset, we grow. We can look back at that situation, regardless of the result, and we’re always a winner because we accepted the challenge.
As long as we wake up each day, refusing to be hopeless, and accepting the challenges that life gives us each day, we can get better.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 4, 2019.