Most of us live in a world of, “If only … things would all work out, I’d be successful, and I’d be happy”

young woman pushes the curtainIf only I had more money, all my problems would disappear. If only I loved someone who really loved me, my life would be complete. If only I weighed less and looked better, I’d be happy. If only …. If only ….

Stop for a minute and reflect: How often do you live in a world of, “If only ….”?

The underlying premise of, “If only something were different,” is that most, if not all, of your barriers, obstacles, and difficulties are “out there” in the world. They consist of circumstances and people. Change them and your life would improve. Change them and you’d finally be happy.

The help most people provide to others

Because most people believe this to be true, there are a lot of people offering us help to deal more effectively with people and circumstances. There are several industries that owe their very existence to this idea: psychotherapists, life coaches, personal growth gurus, relationship experts, most management consultants, etc.

Most psychotherapists help us deal better with the situations we have a hard time coping with. Relationship experts help us understand and then deal better with romantic partners. Most management consultants help companies find ways to cut costs, to deal more effectively with competition, to get around the tax code, etc.

As readers of this blog might expect, I disagree that our biggest problems exist “out there.” Yes, sometimes circumstances and people’s behavior can make things more difficult and changing the circumstances and what certain people do or don’t do can sometimes make life easier. But for the most part, our problems are not “out there”; they are in our minds.

Our beliefs about the world and the meaning we give events moment to moment present us with a unique world, one of our own creation.  To a large extent, this world is very different from the world that others are dealing with.  Our problems and our ability to be happy ultimately are more a function of the meaning we give events, not the events themselves.

How we create our own reality

Lets make this real with a specific example. There is something we want to do and we don’t have all the resources we need to make it happen. That’s a fact. But can you get that that event would not be a barrier to someone who believes: Life is whatever I make it. I’m good enough. I’m capable. I’m competent. I can make things happen. I deserve to get what I want. And as she confronts specific situations she gives them the meanings: There’s a solution to this. I can find a way to make this work. There’s got to be an alternative approach that would work.

But what about someone who believes about the same situation: I’ll never get what I want. Life is difficult. I’m not good enough. I’m not deserving. I’m not capable or competent. I’m powerless. And as he confronts this situation he gives it the meanings: This is too difficult.  It’s overwhelming.  It’s more than I can handle. I’ll never find a solution.

Can you get how the ”reality” faced by people with these different sets of beliefs and meanings is totally different? And because their reality is different, the range of actions available to each is different? And because their actions are different, their results would also be different?

You literally can change your “reality”

The next time you find yourself blaming something or someone for being an obstacle in your path, ask yourself what beliefs you have and what meanings you are assigning that have you experience the something or the someone as an “obstacle.” You will realize that the real obstacles are in your mind, not “out there.” Unlearn the beliefs and dissolve the meanings and the obstacles literally will disappear.

Notice that this approach is the opposite from that of conventional psychotherapy, and most personal growth gurus, management consultants, and relationship coaches. They deal with how to deal better with reality. I’m talking about having you change your mindset, thereby changing the reality you have to deal with.

The Steve Jobs mindset

A lot of business executives believe they would be successful if only they had more capital, if only the government would get off their backs, if only they could reduce their costs, etc., etc. Those executives are frequently stopped by those “obstacles in the world.”

On the other hand, there are executives who operate with what I’ve called the “Steve Jobs Mindset”; they see the same events in the world as opportunities instead of obstacles.

I described this mindset in a blog post I wrote shortly after Steve Jobs died:

Jobs did not deal more effectively with the same world most people deal with.  He interacted with a different world—a world in which almost anything is possible, while most people interact with a world in which so many things “can’t be done.”

It is possible for anyone (you don’t have to be a business executive) to develop a “Steve Jobs’ Mindset.” Identify and unlearn the beliefs you have that limit your thinking and behavior. Distinguish between events and the meaning you give those events, so that the meanings (and the feelings that are caused by those meanings) dissolve.

You may not always be able to change the reality “out there.” But so what! You can always change the reality in your mind. And that’s the one that really counts in the long run.


I have been a writer for many years, including freelancing for Fortune and Barron’s and being a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. In recent years I’ve blogged for Amex Open Forum and Huffington Post, in addition to writing almost 300 posts for this blog.

I am now really interested in writing a blog for one of the major business publications, such as Fast Company, Fortune, or the Harvard Business Review.

If you know an editor at these or any other major business publication that uses outside bloggers, would you be willing to introduce me to your contact?


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Copyright © 2014 Morty Lefkoe