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10 HARD Ways to Make Your Life Better

10 HARD Ways to Make Your Life Better
10 HARD Ways to Make Your Life Better

    Some of the most worthwhile things in life aren’t easy. One of the things I dislike most about “power of positive thinking”-style personal development philosophies (such as “The Secret”) is the implication that if you just have the right attitude and the right state of mind, the rest will just fall into place. I think it causes a lot of hurt and disappointment in people who invest their time, effort, and of course, money into these systems and find themselves, one or two or five years down the line, exactly where they were before.

    “You must not have wanted it badly enough,” the authors of these philosophies seem to be saying. “There must still be something wrong with you.”

    I don’t think that, ultimately, God or the Spirits or the Universe or the world “provides”. I think a lot of times the world puts obstacles in our way, and no amount of positive thinking makes them go away. And I think that a lot of the people who are “successful”, by whatever standard you want to use, have as much “wrong” with them as a lot of the ones who aren’t successful. Maybe more.

    In any case, wherever the motivation comes from, the things that really make our lives worth living can be quite difficult. (And who knows, maybe thinking positively helps take some of the edge off of doing the hard stuff?) What’s more, they can take a lot of time to do, and even more time to get right. But I think that doing is the important thing, not the result — throwing yourself into something with all your heart, mind, and soul is the success, not the “growing rich” part.

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    Here, then, are ten things that are really hard to do but which have an incredible power to make your life better.

    1. Start a business

    My dad, who has been self-employed almost all his life, used to tell me that “Only jerks work for jerks.” Working for someone else puts you at their mercy and subjects you to their whims — and often their poor management skills. Not only that, but the profit of your labor goes into their pockets.

    Starting a business puts you in control of your work life, and your money. It’s hard — small businesses fail every day. But the rewards of even a failed venture can far outweigh the risk. Just knowing that your failure was the result of your own choices — instead of a decision made at a corporate office a thousand miles away — can be liberating.

    2. Organize a group

    What makes you passionate? Chances are, being around other people who are passionate about the same thing would make you even more passionate about it. Often the only thing keeping you and them from coming together is that nobody’s put out a sign saying “Come and talk!” Getting a group going is a tremendous challenge, and very often the personality of the founder leaves a tremendous mark on the group as a whole. Seeing a group grow and take off can be tremendously awarding — but even failing can teach you important things about leadership.

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    3. Volunteer

    I don’t mean spend Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen, though that can often be challenging enough. What I mean, though, is to make a long-term investment in your community by joining school committees, donating three hours a week in a shelter, hosting a monthly read-along at the library, tutoring at-risk children after school, teaching adult literacy classes at a local prison, or any of a million ways to play a role in the lives of people who need you. Perhaps the most pressing need in our society is for people to take an interest in and engage with their communities.

    4. Take an active role in your children’s’ activities

    Pick one thing your child does and commit yourself to it. Coach their team, become a Brownie leader, spend a weekend day in the workshop with them, buy a bike and ride along with them — make their passions your own. Don’t crowd them — especially if you have teenagers — but show them that you value something they do by giving them your time and interest.

    5. Start a family

    I don’t mean have kids. That can be all too easy! Make the decision to have a family, which means to give of yourself fully to another person or several people. Risk being vulnerable by sharing your fears, quirks, and failures with someone else; you might find it makes you stronger than ever before.

    This transcends marriage and parenthood. There are lots of people who can’t marry because the law prevents it. There are people who can’t have children. These are not the essential ingredients of family. The essential ingredients are love, mutual respect, trust, and open giving. Find (or make) someone you can share that with.

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    6. Write a book

    It feels really, really good to see your name on a book cover, but it feels even better to know that someone, somewhere, might find his or her life changed by something you’ve written. Share your particular expertise, whether it’s story-telling or woodworking, with the world — or just your family. Time isn’t the big issue (though it is an issue — don’t let the positive thinkists tell you otherwise!) but if you commit yourself to a page a day — a couple hundred words — within a year you’ll have a pretty decent-sized manuscript. That’s something to work with!

    7. Learn an art

    Take painting lessons, a pottery workshop, a music class, whatever — learn to express yourself and you might find a self worth expressing. Don’t settle for being a “Sunday painter” — devote yourself to an art and master it.

    8. Run for office

    The world needs smart, dedicated, and upright people to take care of all the fiddly details of making things run. As it happens, running for local office isn’t as challenging as you’d think (which isn’t to say it’s easy) — Michael Moore, the filmmaker, ran for school board while he was still in high school. Just for kicks. And won! It’s fine to have your heart set on the White House or Capital Hill, but try your hand at city councilperson, county registrar, or something closer to home first. And be clean — run for the experience of putting your community on a better path, and not for the power.

    9. Take up a sport

    Enough with the working out already! Sure, you want to be healthy, but the whole treadmill-running, iPod-listening, 45-minutes-after-work thing is a little anti-social, don’t you think? OK, you want some solitude once in a while — fine. But at least add a sport, something you do with other people. You’ll be spending time interacting with others, while also developing team-building and leadership skills. And, you might learn something from your fellow players.

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    10. Set an outrageous goal — and achieve it!

    The nine tips above are only a handful of ideas about how to make your life better. Maybe you want to record an album, climb a mountain, make the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca), see 20 countries — don’t just settle for tiny goals, push yourself all the way to the edge and figure out how to make the craziest thing you can think of happen. Yes, you’ll have to learn a lot along the way, and plan months or even years in advance — that’s what makes outlandish goals worthwhile.

    I don’t want to suggest that you need to do all these things to be happy — doing just one is quite a handful! But if you’re unhappy with your life, if you want to make a change for the better, you need to think big and you need to be ready to put in the work to make it happen. It’s easy to “visualize success” and to “think positively”; it’s not so easy to throw yourself into the unknown and make it work. But if you can make it work, you’ll gain far more than you can imagine.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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