By Justin Wright
There are many characters in popular culture, film, and novels who do things we often disagree with but who we support nonetheless. Many of the most relatable main characters are those who exhibit qualities we frown upon, but we understand why they take certain actions. Their motivation is understandable because these characters are often shockingly human, exhibiting all of the negative qualities we share but may be embarrassed by.
While every classic hero has a fatal flaw or weakness, the anti-hero often has more flaws than positive qualities. An anti-hero is defined as, “a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.” For those who grew up reading the Harry Potter series, Professor Snape was the quintessential anti-hero. In more modern times, Ser Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones is another excellent example.
We grow to love these characters as much for their flaws as for their actions. They often create a strong, emotional shift in us. At first they are despised because their negative qualities are overpowering, and they often clash with the story’s true hero or protagonist. They are not true villains, although at first they exhibit the characteristics of one. As we get to know these characters more, their true intentions and motivations are revealed. It is when we understand why they act the way they do that we forgive them. This is where a deep, emotional connection often occurs.
I would expand this concept to include any person in life who teaches us who we should become by acting as a stark example to the contrary. In a twist on the classic example of an anti-hero, any person who helps show a path that we shouldn’t follow is just as helpful, if not more helpful, as a mentor. If we can avoid ruin and disaster using the example of someone else, then we can more fully align our actions with a better reality.
Struggles lead to success
In my own life, my father played this role. He abandoned our family when I was still a baby, and I struggled with this reality like so many others who grow up in a single-family home. While difficult in the short-term, I would argue that this ultimately was a long-term advantage. I had a very clear, personal example of qualities and characteristics I did not want to have as I grew older.
Malcolm Gladwell delves into this topic in his book David and Goliath. Gladwell argues that seemingly disadvantageous situations often provide the tools necessary for success later in life. Out of great pain comes great determination. Those who are able to rebound, bounce back, and grow are often the ones blazing a trail in their fields.(1) If we can use our bad memories and experiences to chart a better path into the future then these hardships become valuable. Again, knowing where we have been and where we do not want to return can provide great examples for how to move forward.
If we take this anti-hero concept a step further, we can directly relate it to goals and habits. The reason that we can use hardships or negative individuals as examples is because we can analyze the scenarios and habits that created these individuals. There are many factors that go into developing someone into who they eventually become. Environment plays a role, but it ultimately boils down to the actions that person has taken on a regular basis. If we inspect these actions on a deeper level, we can gain a better understanding of how to correct course in our own lives.
The anti-habit, then, is an action we must specifically avoid in order to be successful. Destructive behaviors that take away from our other goals have no place in our routines. It is just as important, if not more so, to understand exactly what actions or thoughts we must ignore. Sometimes the most useful habit we can develop is one that steers us away from some other action.
This positive growth requires a great deal of self-reflection and introspection. The defeatist mentality pervades modern society where, upon facing hardship and struggle, most would rather concede and start something new. There is a great deal of challenge in soldiering on in the face of adversity, but those who ultimately wish to succeed must persevere. Fortunately, many of the strategies I have written about in the past are the antidote to this negative mindset.
In order to know what to avoid, we must first look internally and become aware of behaviors or activities which impede our ability to drive forward. There is a reason that the first, and often hardest, step in any addiction recovery program revolves around becoming aware of, and admitting that there is a problem. This awareness then allows for positive change to occur surrounding these negative behaviors.
When creating your list of daily and weekly tasks, focus on the major items that can derail progress. If there are addictive behaviors that pull you in, aim to avoid these behaviors at all costs by understanding what factors precede them. Gaining a greater understanding of these triggers will allow you to steer clear of their influence.
It is also important to maintain a positive mindset when going through this exercise. The point is not to dwell on the negative influences in our lives but to gain an understanding of things we must maintain control over. Knowing our weak points or what activities have the potential to derail us are vital to long-term success. If you know where you are likely to falter, you can bolster your defenses against such missteps.
A common example of an anti-habit would be limiting the number of days per week you go out to a bar with friends. I have worked with many clients who adhered to their diet strictly during the week, but each weekend night saw them going out with friends and completely losing sight of their long-term health goals. The negative influence of being at a bar, having drinks, and the subsequent environment created would lead them astray and affect other aspects of their wellness. These nights out often led to poor sleep and food choices.
By placing a limit on the number of nights out per week or per month, you can regain control over these influences. We are all human and likely to make mistakes, but reflecting on the things we must limit gives you the power to create change. Tracking these anti-habits makes you acutely aware of whether or not you are being influenced in a negative way. When you notice that you are, you can put your foot down and realign your behaviors with your goals.
A balancing act
Success boils down to the balancing act between doing what you should be doing most of the time while also avoiding the things you know you shouldn’t be doing. The difficulty lies in the fact that what we shouldn’t be doing is often more fun and enjoyable in the short term. Maintain a long-term focus and aim to identify and eliminate the anti-habits in your life currently. These routines often hold us back in ways we cannot realize until we stop doing them. By purging yourself of the negative habits holding you back, you may be amazed at the progress you can actually start making each week.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. (2013). David and Goliath, New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.