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10 Small Ways to Make the World a Better Place

10 Small Ways to Make the World a Better Place

An important part of our growth and motivation as people lies in contributing to the greater good, being part of something greater than ourselves. While “making the world a better place” often calls to mind images of great leaders at the head of mighty social movements, white-coated researchers developing new medicines or energy sources, or geniuses dreaming up theories that explain the world around us, there is plenty of room for less lofty acts that create small measures of happiness in the lives of those around us. Little gestures can create or strengthen our sense of community and of shared humanity, lightening our burdens for just a moment and giving us something to smile about. And that’s no small matter.

Here are ten little gestures, all of them easily within our grasp, that can spread goodwill in our own communities, as well as increase our own sense of mindfulness about the people around us and our relationship to them.

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  1. Tip generously: As often as you can afford, leave a tip of 25%, 50%, 100%, or even more. (Obviously this applies mostly in countries where 15% tips are the norm.) Unless the service was simply awful – and even then, it might pay to consider what your server goes through – leaving as large a tip as you can afford not only puts a little extra extra money in your servers’ pocket, it tells them that they’re appreciated, a message that often slips our minds in our demanding, service-now society.
  2. Compliment someone: Tell someone how much you like the job they’re doing, their outfit or new haircut, their singing voice – whatever. Be honest and sincere. I like to practice “drive-by compliments”, sending an out-of-the-blue email to someone whose website, post, or comment on a post I really liked. Don’t expect anything in return, just let someone know that something they’re doing works and move on.
  3. Be totally open with someone: Let someone know exactly how you feel about something on your mind (though not something negative about them – there’s a different “protocol” for that sort of thing). We often keep too much to ourselves; letting someone into your confidence can be a great way to show your trust and appreciation of them. Of course, you have to judge what is and isn’t appropriate – it is possible to move past openness to dragging others into your problems, and that’s not making the world a better place.
  4. Give someone a book you’ve read: Making a gift of something you’ve read and enjoyed is more than just a nice gesture, it’s a way of showing someone that a) you think of them, b) you understand them, and c) you want to share something with them. The moment doesn’t end when they take the book – once they’ve read it, you can talk about your reactions together. Don’t do this with people around you who don’t read, though – you’ll build up an obligation that will be painful for them to discharge.
  5. Make something for someone: Bake an extra batch of cookies, draw a picture, decorate an extra Christmas ornament, and give it to someone for no good reason. Like giving someone a book, it tells them that you were thinking about them and wanted to do something nice for them, and that it’s something you made adds a nice touch. Give without expectations – whether they return the favor or not, whether they like it or not, whether they’re nice to you or not, these are all irrelevant.
  6. Send a letter, email, tweet, or text message out of the blue: Email someone you haven’t spoken with for a while, or text someone you see every day just to be nice. Maybe they’ll respond, maybe not – it’s beside the point. They just need to know that they’re important to you.
  7. Commend an employee to their manager: It’s one thing to tip or compliment someone for their service, it’s another to contact their manager and tell them what a great job they’ve done. If you don’t have time at the time of service, note the employees name and call, email, or write a letter later.
  8. Teach someone how to do something: Share your skill or talent with someone by showing them how to do something. Not so they won’t bother you with it, but so they can move a little bit towards improved mastery of the world around them. Have patience and respect for the person you’re helping – you’re giving them a gift, not compensating for some lack in their character.
  9. Let someone shine: Put a spotlight on someone else’s talents by letting them take over a presentation, deferring to their wisdom, asking them advice, or otherwise flex their “talent muscles”. Especially if they are junior to you, giving them a chance to strut their stuff shows that you trust them and appreciate them, as well as allowing them to get the attention they deserve (and which might often be obscured by your own shadow).
  10. Connect like minds: Introduce two friends or colleagues who you feel have something to gain from each other. You’ll be letting them know you value them – and maybe creating a partnership that will make everyone better off.

You’ve probably heard the saying “Practice random acts of kindness”, and that’s basically what I’m talking about here. Anything that shows people you care about them – something we can be mighty stingy about most of the time – has the potential to make the world, or your small corner of it, a better place.

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Do you have anything to add? What little gestures do you do, or have others done for you, that have brightened the world even just a little bit? Let us know in the comments.

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

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”.

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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The power of habit

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 six 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.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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