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January seems to be the worst time of year for realizing how screwed up your life is. Everyone is talking about resolutions. You're recovering from all the money you spent on the holidays. Taxes are coming up. It's the month your parole gets repeatedly denied. It's the month that says, "Here's a shitload of enormous problems. Oh, yeah, and here's a grocery list of crap you need to change about yourself, because the rest of the year you are an overindulgent, self-destructive child."

Big change -- the type you have to make in order to pull yourself out of a turd landslide -- is different. It's scary and requires a hundred times more work than just regular living. Digging yourself out of a hole isn't about survival ... it's about pulling ahead. In doing that, there are some basics that, in my experience, have to happen. Or at the very least, they make the shoveling a whole lot less brutal. For instance ...

You Have to Hit a Breaking Point

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Some of you just read that title and screamed directly into your monitor, "No shit! I've had so many breaking points in the last few years, my life has turned into a movie about undercover cop surfers! I hate you!" It seems obvious to the point of being insulting, doesn't it? Trust me, it's not. I've seen, more often than not, people (including myself) who get so used to a shitty situation, they simply surrender to it. "That's just life being a dick to me once again. Guess I'll take off my pants and get this over with."

We consider our breaking point to be that moment when we get super pissed off about the catastrophe and snap like an overstretched cock ring. What we tend to overlook is that frustration isn't an action ... it's a reaction. And while that reaction is totally necessary and justified, it's not a breaking point any more than shitting rainbows when things are going well is.

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My God, they've snapped. Exterminate them.

Going a step further, most people will follow up their "this is bullshit" moment with a declaration that they're finished living that way. Although it's still not the breaking point, it's a very, very good start. It doesn't matter what the situation is -- bad relationship, addiction, financial buttfuck -- without that decision to improve it, you're going to stay exactly where you are, or worse.

I stayed in this rut for 30 years before I finally realized that the breaking point isn't real until you combine it with action. Not the decision to act, but full-on "get off your chair right now and put your ass into motion" action. No, I'm not talking about twerking, unless your breaking point is realizing that you don't twerk nearly enough to live a happy, productive life. In which case, you're my kind of people.

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"Yeah, what y'all know about sprinkler twerkin'? STREET!"

So you get mad, you make a plan to change your situation, you get up and start enacting that plan, and three weeks later, you're right back where you started. What happened? Has karma just doomed you to a life of suck? Why even bother putting in all this work if you're never gaining ground? Well ...

You Have to Accept That the Process Is Slooooooow

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Here's some quick math for you: I just said that it took 30 years for me to have my legitimate breaking point. I am 39 years old. I've only been in a good place financially and emotionally for about four years. What happened to the other five?

The intimidating truth is that big changes like this take time. Sometimes, as in my case, it takes years. If get-rich-quick schemes worked, if breaking up or fixing a relationship was easy, if ending addiction just required willpower and a decision to quit, nobody would have problems ever again. We'd all be rich and grinding genitals with virtual deities. It's insanely hard, and it takes time.

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You might want to start a hobby to help pass the time.

That's why you have to start now. It's why that breaking point doesn't mean anything until there's action ... because without that action, it's just you bitching about your problems. The sooner you start building your monster truck of life, the sooner you can start ramping and running over shit with it. Nobody is going to drive one up to your door and hand you the keys.

It becomes a huge trap to many people, because it feels like you're doing 10 times the work for zero change in status. You're working extra hours, but you're still broke at the end of the month. You've worked your ass off to mend a fractured relationship, but you still fight all the time. No matter how many times you do the Han Solo dance, you can't get your hips to swing effeminately enough.

There are so many positive changes that take place under the radar that you won't really notice them until you look back on it from a safe distance. "I'm making $500 extra per month. Where the hell is it going?" Oh, that's right, you started actually stocking your refrigerator with real food. You filled up your tank instead of pumping $3 worth of gas. You paid back all the mafia bosses you owed money to instead of letting them take a finger like you usually do.

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You Have to Be Willing to Change Yourself

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By far the biggest excuse I've heard (and used) to avoid escaping a shithole is "I don't want to change who I am," or the variation, "I don't want to become something I'm not." I'm not going to pussyfoot around with this -- that's a dumb, bullshit reason built totally by a general fear of change. If you don't get over that right now, you might as well resign yourself to your current life forever. It's not just a hurdle. It's a flush row of skyscraper-size dicks between you and your goal.

It's the hardest thing to accept, let alone put into action, because I don't think a lot of people realize that their personality is in a constant state of evolution. When they imagine themselves in the future, their success is packaged as a soulless movie villain who forgot how to enjoy life, their "true self" having been lost to years of work and sacrifice. You start to wonder if your dream of having surgically implanted Wolverine claws is even worth it.

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"Just give him Freddy Krueger claws. He won't know the difference."

It is dumb. Crazy dumb. Goddamn, motherfucking, shit-throwing, cock-punching dumb. "Staying true to yourself" does not mean "never changing anything about yourself." It means allowing your mind to grow and improve, like it was designed to do. It means keeping the good parts of yourself intact and weeding out the bad shit that holds you back.

This is not an unfortunate truth. It is an extremely fortunate one, because it means that you don't have to be an emotional hoarder, saving back every scrap of experience and all the bad habits you've picked up because "that's just another part of what makes me who I am." Bullshit. The bad stuff is what's preventing you from achieving what you're capable of becoming. If "being yourself" ever comes with a cost, such as living in poverty or fear or misery, it's time to re-examine and redefine what actually makes you who you are.

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It's probably cheeseburgers. You are cheeseburgers.

And sometimes, that means ...

You Have to Question Lifelong Beliefs

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Hundreds of people in my life have told me that the only person I can ever count on is myself. Hundreds of movies and songs have told me that I have to learn to trust and depend on others to help me out of bad situations. Churches point to God. Governments point to their own systems. Kanye West ... well, he's the same as the church example, except he points his finger at his own chest.

Who is right?

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Not so fast, messiah.

The truth is, it's all a soupy mix that changes from person to person. That's what you have to examine. Have you avoided shooting for your dream job because you've been told all your life that being rich is a one-way ticket to spiritual doom? Are you with an abusive or destructive person because you have a kid together and are now "morally obligated" to stay? Or maybe there's a drug that's destroying your life, but you keep doing it because you've always been told that it's harmless ... your problems have to be coming from somewhere else, right? Maybe it's that you're too perfect.

Maybe it's time to biopsy those tumors and find out if they need to be removed.

Examining these beliefs is not a small deal. If I had hung on to every lesson my family taught me, I'd be a racist drug dealer, calling in sick to a factory job that I hate and dealing with DCFS every other month. I'd be stealing money from my grandmother and teaching my kids about sex by showing them a hardcore porno. You have to be willing to question it all ... even the stuff that seems innocent and correct. What worked for your parents isn't necessarily going to work for you.

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Come on, Dad, it's July.

This is part of what makes the whole process so slow. Beliefs are ingrained into your personality like nerve endings. Changing or removing them doesn't happen overnight. It can take years of personal experience to modify, because beliefs aren't just something you choose to agree with -- they're something you know for a bona fide fact. Even if they're wrong. You have to be open to the idea that maybe they are.

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You Have to Accept That There Is No Finish Line

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Since I started working for Cracked, I've made enormous financial leaps that I didn't even know were possible for a guy like me. I've been making steady changes to my personality for half a decade because depression has been punching my balls for my entire life. I've far surpassed the goals I set for myself four years ago. So I've made it, right? My problems are resolved and it's just happy, happy, happy, roll credits?

Remember that whole "evolution" thing I talked about earlier? That never stops. That's the nature of the human brain. You don't stop playing the game when you hit Level 2. You get better armor and more badass spells, and you move on to the next quest. I still have financial problems, just in new ways. Are they as bad as when I used to buy gas with pocket change? Hell no, I wouldn't go back to that at gunpoint. But the problems are there -- I'm just better equipped to deal with them now. It's the same with depression. I still deal with it, because that's not something you just "cure." It's something you manage.

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Usually by pulling off your own eyebrows.

If you're not prepared for this fact, you're going to find yourself woefully disappointed in five years when you look back and tally up your progress. You'll be so used to having the things that you once considered luxuries (like being able to use the air conditioner or buying underwear) that you'll overlook them and think, "I have no more money in the bank now than I did five years ago. What the hell?"

Or maybe in the process of working on your relationship you've learned how to argue without being assholes to each other. Once you're used to that style of communication, it's easy to look back and say, "We put so much work into this, but we still argue about everything. Should I set the house on fire?" You're not realizing the enormous progress you've made in how you communicate. All you will see is "We're still just casting spells at monsters," and all that progress won't feel like progress at all.

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But the outfits will look fucking sweet!

But that's how we grow. You just have to recognize it when it happens. You've stopped battling pigs in the forest, and now you've moved on to demons in the sprawling dungeon. I sincerely have to stop playing World of Warcraft.

John is an editor and columnist right here at Cracked, with a new article every Thursday. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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