The Most Life-Changing Advice I Ever Received

The Most Life-Changing Advice I've Ever Received | ZenShmen

Do you wish you had a fail-safe way you could count on to pull yourself out of a serious funk? Even one that has been dragging on for a long time? Hell yes.  If you’re anything like me, what you read here today will be very useful for you and can help you move on from a situation you are feeling stuck in.

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I received this advice at a time in my life when I was very unhappy. I was overwhelmed with work stress, family conflicts, constantly getting sick, sleeping poorly and not ‘showing up’ in my friendships.

To make matters worse, I was not communicating and expecting too much from my husband.

Finally, I was such a far cry from the patient, fun-loving and kind mother I want to be that the quote below haunted my thoughts almost daily:

A Happy Mom Who Enjoys Life - quote by Janene Wolsey Baadsgaard | ZenShmen | Happier Person | Happier Parent

I did not feel like this kind of mother


Little did I know at the time, not only would the advice I received at this time pull me out of a very, very deep rut… it would completely transform my life.

I believe that we learn the lessons we are meant to learn at exactly the right time in our lives, but boy, do I wish I had known these truths 3 decades ago. From teenage-hood well into adulthood, I could have saved myself from so much heartache, stress, anxiety and depression.

Between you and I, I could have done with fewer nights crying myself to sleep believing that things were completely out of my control, or that life is just hard, or that I just had to sit there and wait (and wait… and wait…) it out.

I’m not a psychologist or mental health specialist, I’m just a regular person.  This concept was explained to me by a psychologist and author named Stephane Bensoussan, and I’m retelling it here as it was told to me, coloring in some illustrations as I understood them.  I’m passing it along to you because I believe more people should know about the power and hope they can harness within themselves — and Stephane has agreed to share this outward so more people can learn it. 

I hope it brings you as much insight and comfort as it did to me.

Please don’t hesitate to pin it / bookmark it / come back to it whenever you need a refresher (as I often do), and to send it along to anyone you think could benefit from it.

So here it is, the most life-changing advice I’ve ever received:

In life, there are two states you can find yourself in: one is at the mercy of everything that happens to you, and the other is at the source of everything that happens to you.

Now, what does this mean exactly?


Being At The Mercy

The Most Life-Changing Advice I've Ever Received | ZenShmen - At the Mercy


When you’re in this state you’re primarily reacting to events in your life. You can sometimes feel like a victim of your circumstances, or that life is unfair, frustrating, overwhelming. You may also be experiencing any number of these other decidedly unhappy things: interpersonal conflict, disrespect, bad luck, injustice, health problems, financial insecurity, abuse, being taken advantage of.


What It Feels Like To Be At The Mercy


Finding yourself in these circumstances — often despite your repeated attempts to resolve your aforementioned problems — can lead to feelings of fear, sadness, stress, anger, resentment, depression, guilt, anxiety, confusion, uncertainty, jealousy, envy.

It’s a spiral of negativity that spins on itself, gaining momentum and sucking energy from its surroundings into itself. Others nearby (you can think of them as innocent bystanders) can and do get sucked into this vortex as one person’s unhappiness rubs off on those around them.

It can sometimes feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Your path may seem unclear; or perhaps you’ve been struggling internally with an unresolved dilemma for a long time.


Your Day-to-Day When You’re At The Mercy


Beyond the mix of depression and anxiety you might be feeling, some other common by-products in your daily life can include feeling:

  • tired/exhausted
  • stressed out, can’t seem to unwind
  • overworked
  • uncreative/no new solutions/quick to refuse any suggestions received
  • impatient/having a short fuse
  • not being as compassionate or as kind as you’d like
  • sleeping poorly

You may be self-absorbed, ungrateful, quick to judge, or complain regularly about things that bother you (the weather, the traffic/bad drivers, coworkers or bosses, the news, the poor service you received, etc.) 

These all feel like things outside of your control, things that happen to you and seem to be designed to annoy you greatly.

FUN FACT: when you complain for long enough, over time you strengthen your brain’s neural pathways for these negative thoughts and essentially train yourself to find the negative. In other words, you become an expert at finding crappy things to focus on. So good, in fact, that you hardly notice you’re doing it at all.

The Science Behind This:

An excerpt from the article “How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity (And How to Break the Habit)”

Most of us may have been unintentionally reinforcing the nasty habit of complaining, by virtue of… complaining.

There’s something called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” which is the continuing creation and grouping of neuron connections in our brains that take place as a result of our life experiences.

Neuroscience teaches us that neurons that fire together, wire together. Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, coined that phrase back in 1949. What this means is that whenever we think a thought or have a feeling or physical sensation, thousands of neurons are triggered and they all get together to form a neural network.

With repetitive thinking, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.

So, if you keep your mind looping on self-criticism, worries, and how nothing is working out for you, your mind will more easily find that part of your brain and will quickly assist you in thinking those same thoughts again.

This shapes your mind into greater reactivity, making you more vulnerable to anxiety.

Imagine a truck driving down a muddy road. The wheels create a groove in the mud, and each time that truck drives down that exact spot, the groove gets deeper and deeper.

The truck might even, eventually, get stuck in that mud rut. But it doesn’t have to. Instead of repeating the same negative complaints, we can drive our thoughts on a different road so we don’t get stuck in that negative mud rut.

Read the rest of the article on Tiny Buddha here.

If you’re curious, you can also check out this video for a very brief overview of how complaining rewires your brain.

Now let’s talk about…

Being At The Source


The Most Life-Changing Advice I've Ever Received | ZenShmen - At the SourceIn contrast to being At The Mercy, when you’re At The Source of what’s happening in your life, you are proactive. You are creating. You are generating something that propels you forward to where you want to go. You feel energetic, you feel engaged, you feel positive. You might experience genuine respect from those close to you, support, even admiration. You may feel lucky, enjoy optimal health, reap financial abundance.


What It Feels Like To Be At The Source


When you find yourself ‘in your groove’ so to speak, you can be on the receiving end of genuine love and other healthy relationships, find success in your endeavors, feel generally happy. Internally, you draw even more strength from confidence, calm peacefulness, clarity of purpose, quiet inner power.

In other words, being At The Source is a cycle that spins in the opposite direction, one where these positive mental states are radiating outwardly from you and affecting/uplifting/raising the frequency of all those around you.

Your Day-to-Day When You’re At The Source


When you’re in this state you might find yourself feeling:

  • empowered
  • courageous
  • energized
  • quick to laugh, easy-going
  • good company
  • bring joy to others
  • hopeful
  • optimistic
  • curious and interested

“Okay, I get it so far,” I said to Stephane. “So how do I get from the blue spiral to the yellow spiral?”

“I’m glad you asked,” he said.

The Best Advice I Ever Received | Happier Person | ZenShmen

It’s deceptively simple.

There’s a bridge between the two states.

At any time — and in any circumstance — you can begin working on the 5 steps that make up the bridge that crosses over to the other side.

There is, however, one important distinction to make:

No one is ever 100% At the Source, or 100% At the Mercy. We’re all made up of both. This may change from year to year, from month to month, it can even shift over the course of a single day. So instead of seeing it as black-and-white — ‘my life is totally perfect’ vs. ‘my life is in the toilet’ — it’s a ratio, like for example 70/30 or 80/20. You must check in with yourself regularly and take a read of where things are at. The goal is, of course, to feel more At the Source than not.

Crossing that bridge is in fact quite easy… once you know it’s there.

Keep in mind, as you learn about the 5 steps that make up the bridge, which I’ll describe below, the reverse is also true.

The bridge goes both ways.

When you stop doing these 5 steps, eventually things can unravel and you can easily revert back to your predominantly unhappy state. It takes upkeep… And there are no shortcuts!

Still, as you’ll see in a moment, they’re not quite ‘steps’ the way we commonly use that term these days — like a program to do, or homework to complete — so much as a wake-up call to what we should have been doing all along.

The Most Life-Changing Advice I've Ever Received | ZenShmen | Graphic by Stephane Bensoussan |

To print this image, simply right-click to save it to your desktop, and then print as usual.

The 5 Steps That Make Up The Bridge

The 5 steps of the Bridge are called the D.A.R.E.S. (Don’t worry, it’s not like the game truth-or-dare, it’s simply an acronym to make the steps easier to remember!)

D – Stands for Decision.

When you find yourself primarily at the mercy, you feel powerless. It can often feel like you have no choice, or that things are decided for you, or that all your time gets eaten up by things required by other people, not for you. So in this first step, you must make a decision. We start with small, low-stakes decisions: maybe it’s taking a different route home from work than usual, or ordering something you’ve never tried off a menu. The point is to simply decide something, because when you’ve felt powerless for a long time, you’ve got to re-learn how to flex that muscle and give it a bit of a workout. Which brings us to the next point:

A – Stands for Action.

What’s a decision without any action following right behind it? It’s basically nothing. A brain fart. A non-decision. This is why we start small, we don’t try to make any sweeping life-altering changes right from the get-go. (*More on this in a moment.*) We make small decisions that we can follow through on with relative ease and, with practice and the passage of time, we begin to see the spiral changing direction and momentum beginning to move toward the positive.

R – Stands for Risk.

Here we aren’t talking about anything dangerous. We’re talking about taking a mental risk — stepping outside of our comfort zone, doing things that give us butterflies. This might mean finally reaching out to a mentor, signing up to try something new, putting something in motion for ourselves that we’ve been procrastinating on, unleashing a creative project out into the world, making an investment in our health, etc. 

E – Stands for Expression.

This is where us people-pleasers of the world can struggle. But the rewards of self-expression are so, so sweet. You must speak your truth — even if your voice shakes — if your boundaries (personal, professional, parenting, emotional, spiritual, etc) are being breached; if you’re unhappy or uncomfortable with how things are; when your ideas are not being heard; and — this is a big one — saying yes when you want (and need) to say no.

Givers need limits | Quote by Irma Kurtz | Most Life-Changing Advice I ever Received | Zenshmen | HappierPerson


S – Stands for Self-care.

You know it, and I know it (but often forget) – you can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-care is all about healthy eating, taking time to rest, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, looking after your personal needs, feeding your mind with rich new ideas and learning new skills, and, if you’re creative, always carving out ample time to create.

How do we define self-care?

“Activities and practices we engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and enhance our well-being.”

If curious, you can read more about The Dimensions of Self-Care in a great post I found over at The Blissful Mind.

In Closing

To sum up, this simple (and yet profound) interpretation of how things work has really helped me, and all those close to me whom I’ve shared it with.  And now I hope it helps you and your loved ones.

The game-changer here is that anytime we find ourselves in a super unhappy state — we have the power to simply take a small step in the other direction.  The first of many steps that will slowly begin reversing that spiral to spin upward rather than continue downward.

We won’t be able to change everything at once, but we can absolutely make a small decision and start somewhere.  If I had known this earlier in life, my story would be very different.

The power to make a decision — and act upon it — is yours for the taking.

It always has been.

Please take this with you:

It’s important to remember NOT to make drastic life decisions when starting from a super unhappy state.  Let’s say, for example, that you feel disrespected, are in conflict with those around you and are in financial hot water (like in the blue spiral); then doing something drastic like quitting your job from that starting point is not a good idea. You will simply be attracting more of the same: more disrespect, more conflict, and more financial strain (more blue spiral).

It would be better to buckle down and take steps to improve your overall situation and outlook, as outlined in the D.A.R.E.S. above, so that when the time comes, you can make one of these big-impact decisions much more confidently, from a place of strength rather than one of weakness. In other words, make major life decisions from when you’re in the yellow spiral!


Loving this topic? Here’s Some Recommended Reading

Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill 

This far-reaching book, perennially listed among the favorite books of highly successful people, is much more than a book about becoming wealthy.

It’s about the immense power we can harness once we realize we can take control of our thought processes.  Also, #realtalk: there are a lot of riches in life that are not money.

Recommended Ted Talk

“Happy Maps”

Daniele Quercia, a map researcher at Yahoo! Labs in Barcelona, Daniele Quercia and his colleagues imagine new ways to use online maps to improve our lives.

This researcher’s talk is about the journey that led him to place more value in happiness over efficiency. He has designed maps in various cities around the world that not only on get you from point A to point B but also offer you crowd-sourced (and science-backed) alternate routes that will for instance show you a happier route, a quieter route, a more beautiful route, etc., sometimes adding only a few extra minutes to your travel time.  

We touched earlier upon the simple decision to take a different route to/from work — this beautiful idea takes that one step further.  Check out if your city has any of these kinds of maps!




Now over to you

I’d really like to know your thoughts on this in the comments below:

Do you find this worldview helpful?

Has it inspired you to make a small decision, and then follow through on it?

Was there one part in particular that struck a chord for you?

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Val Lonergan is the founder of, where she shares happiness hacks for purposeful people. To get the ZenShmen cheatsheet to jumpstart your joy - 10 easy things you can do right this minute to hack your way to increased happiness - join the free newsletter.
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