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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 June 18, 2019

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Making Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More About Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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