How to give yourself the best chance of a good life (Part 2)
Last week, I posted Part 1 of this article . Here are some more straightforward and practical ways to give yourself the best possible chance of living a good life, focusing on what is most likely to produce lasting changes for the better.
Broaden your horizons. Take an interest in something new. Try to meet different people. Explore something that you think isn’t interesting. Read challenging and stimulating books; that’s one of the very best (and cheapest) ways to spread your mental horizons wider. Travel as much as you to experience other cultures. Spend time with people who think very differently than you do. Dull, narrow-minded, parochial types are some of the most boring people that you can meet. Mostly they have boring, narrow lives and boring, conventional jobs too. Don’t join them.
Deliberately keep shifting your perspective. Play around with different ways of looking at the same thing. Try taking the opposite point of view. Play devil’s advocate. Try out unconventional and contrarian types of thought. Play is often the best way to learn. When do humans (and most other higher mammals) most need to learn? When they’re young. How do they spend most of their time when they’re young? Playing. Tiny babies start learning the moment they’re born. We all enter this world capable of amazing amounts of learning. Sadly, many people allow this ability to drift away as they get older.
Try out some unfamiliar options. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you’ve always had—or worse, since circumstances change and yesterday’s sure thing is tomorrow’s disaster. Consider fresh possibilities. Let go of your prejudices. Try something unfamiliar. If you don’t like it, stop. At least you’ve learned something. If you do like it, do it some more. If you habitually focus on mostly short-term, practical things, try focusing on something long-term and visionary. Dream a little. If you’re the strategic type, always looking years ahead, try limiting your focus to today—or, better still, to this very moment. Live in the now for a while. See what you discover.
Whatever the problem or topic is, never assume that you already know all the answers. Nothing shuts down your mental faculties faster. Once of the very worst aspects of today’s macho styles of management is the way that they continually put pressure on people to be right first time, every time, and as quickly as possible. All that leads to is playing safe and sticking with what is already commonest and most well-known.
In place of every human being’s natural curiosity and love of exploration, we are left with timid, risk-averse people who choose the most obvious answer, even if it’s wrong. I’ve seen it described as “management by in-flight magazine,” which describes it very well. Nobody knows all the answers; nobody gets everything right first time. Anyone who claims to is either a fool or a liar—mostly likely both.
Life is full of opportunities to learn, so take every single one that you can. We need to learn. If we don’t, our brains shrivel. It’s “use it or lose it” with a vengeance. Doctors have found that exercising our brains is the best way to prevent degenerative illnesses like Altzheimer’s Disease. Find work that stretches your mind. If what you do doesn’t stretch you mentally, it won’t hold your interest for long. Human beings get bored easily. They’re not good at doing the same thing again and again, without variation; only machines are good at that. Take every chance you can to learn more and develop your intellect. What have you got to lose? You may find that some new piece of learning is the key to an area of work, or a new interest, that will make your heart sing.
If your work and your deepest values don’t match well, you’ll never be happy or make much of a success of your life. Why? Because you need sustained determination, long-term effort, and high levels of energy to succeed, and work that’s out of line with your core values won’t supply any of those. Nor will it engage your enthusiasm to learn. You won’t do well where you feel no passion for what you do nor have some natural strength to draw on.
My own experience suggests that trying to do work that’s at odds with your most important values is likely to produce nothing but misery, stress, frustration, and a long list of health problems.
What do you feel drawn to? What kinds of activities have been most successful for you in the past? What do other people tell you you’re good at? Feeling excited is a good indicator that what you’re doing is a natural strength. People spend hours and hours on hobbies and pastimes. Do they feel bored as a result? Of course not. Do they complain about the time they spend, the effort and money it takes? Nope! Why not? Because they’re so excited and energized by what they’re doing. The best way to balance life and work is to find work that you would choose to do, even if no one paid you. You may not be able to manage it every time—too few of us can—but the closer you get to that ideal, the happier and more successful you’re likely to be.
Last week’s article drew some abusive and nasty-minded comments because I suggested that practicing emotional restraint is useful. It’s hardly a new idea; you’ll find it on the web site of the Mayo Clinic under recommendations to lower stress. I thought of responding directly to those who decided that an emotional and expletive-filled response was appropriate. Then I encountered a posting by a fellow blogger who had suffered the same kind of reaction to an article on a related topic. I decided, therefore, to tackle the whole issue via a piece on my own blog. You can find it here, if you’re interested. It’s called Should you learn not to care—or just not to care so much?