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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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