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How to Transform Envy into Motivation for a Fulfilling Life

Photo Credit: Malcolm Lightbody

What’s interesting to me is that when presented with the same set of circumstances, some people will feel envious whereas others will feel inspired.

For example, when some people hear that I’m in a loving, healthy romantic relationship that started when I was 55 and he was 60, they envy me. Others are inspired by me, especially if they know it’s my first healthy relationship ever.

Another example is in the recovery community when someone has a decade of long-term recovery. Some people envy them, and others are inspired by them.

This intrigues me, and I’ve set out to figure out what the difference is between seeing things like late-in-life healthy romance and long-term recovery as something to be envied vs. something to be inspired by.

I think the main difference is that those who are inspired believe it’s possible for them. Those who are envious do not believe it’s possible for them.

The envy-ers (I just made that word up!) believe there’s something so uniquely special about them that they cannot have what others have. That’s so sad.

So what’s that about?

A huge part of recovery is learning to change our perspectives. There's a lot of thought work involved in recovery because we have beliefs and thoughts about ourselves, other people, the world, and God that are just not true. Recovery (and coaching, btw!) help us unearth those beliefs, challenge them, and change them.

We change them when we realize they’re either not true or they’re just not serving us. That is, you believe that what’s possible for the person you envy is just not possible for you.

This is why perspective is so important. It’s so important that it permeates the way we do science. The reason we have double-blind scientific studies is that the perspective of the scientist affects the results of the experiments.

There’s also a theory by Thomas Kuhn that it’s almost always people who are new to a scientific field who come up with major discoveries. That’s because the people who've been in the field for a long time dismiss the evidence as not relevant or impossible. After all, they've been so immersed in the thinking of the field for so long. That means they can’t see what they can’t see. They’re unable to see things that are patently evident to people who are new to the field.

In other words, the more seasoned scientists have been believing things for so long that facts don’t matter to them.

That’s what was going on with me when I got into recovery. I believed things about myself and the world that were just not true. I have no doubt that there are things you believe that are just not true. The trick is to discover those things. So if you’re envious of something positive someone else has that you don’t, perhaps it's because, deep down, you don’t believe you can have it.

There's a saying by Henry Ford, and it's this:

“Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.”

What that means is if you think you can't do something, you're not even going to try to do that thing. So you’re right, you can’t.

But if you think you can do something, then nobody can stop you. You’ll just keep trying different things until you accomplish what you set out to. And you’ll be right – you can do the thing.

This idea that we need to change our perspective is super important because we can't move forward toward the life we desire if we are not open to the idea that our perspective might be wrong.

If we keep thinking, “I can’t have what she has,” you’ll make yourself right by not taking any action to change things (like your beliefs, which guide your behaviors, which lead to your results, which confirm your beliefs). But if you’re open to the possibility that you COULD have what she has, then the possibilities are endless!

We have to be open-minded to the idea that there is something that we don't know, there’s something we haven't tried or some belief we have that’s holding us back.

When we envy someone instead of being inspired by them, the belief is likely that we think we can’t have what they have. It’s not possible for us. Whether it has to do with recovery or finally finding a deep, meaningful relationship, this is a false belief. It’s just not true.

Let's take a look at my particular situation. Until I got into recovery, I had a decades-long string of dysfunctional relationships behind me. Recovery helped me look at that and see that I had 28 different relationships. These included brief dating relationships all the way to people I lived with for years, one of whom I was engaged to. Yet it wasn't until my 29th relationship at the age of 55 that I finally got into a healthy fulfilling relationship.

Yet there are people who envy me because of my relationship as if they can’t have what I have. That belief cannot be based on the idea that there's something special about me if you look at the facts. We typically say, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” so by that logic, the chances of me ever being in a healthy relationship are practically nil. Yet here I am, in a 5+ year loving, healthy relationship.

I’ve demonstrated very clearly that before recovery, I did not know how to have a healthy relationship. For decades!

The fact that I’m in one now shows that change is possible. And that includes changing your mind about what is possible.

There was much recovery that enabled me to change my deeply entrenched patterns of behavior so I could attract and maintain a healthy relationship. Building healthy boundaries has the biggest effect since boundaries permeate every area of your life (including what you think!). One of the things that attracted me most to my sweetheart was his healthy boundaries. He knows who he is, what’s okay with him, and what’s not. It’s a lot easier to be in a relationship with someone like that!

I guess what I’m saying here is that if I’ve changed, you can too. But it starts with believing it’s possible.

Now let's take a look at the people who hear about my relationship and see it as an inspiration, especially if they’re significantly younger than me. They may take the wisdom I share and think, “OK, I can do this. If I make the changes Barb suggests, then I too might be able to have a healthy romantic relationship.”

It is possible for you, dear reader.

Whether you think you can or you can’t, you're right!

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