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How thousands have learned to transform their lives

How thousands have learned to transform their lives

Simple ways of discovering the hidden, inner drivers that twist and control your life

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When someone asks any of us to make a decision, we bring all our prejudices, opinions, likes, dislikes, fears, hopes, antagonisms, and bits of knowledge along. The human mind is like a committee—and a pretty bad tempered and cantankerous one too! Like all committees, the mind has some members who have greater clout than others. They hog the floor and shout twice as loudly as the next person. They get together and rig the committee elections so they’ll hold all the power. And once they have a taste of power, like politicians the world over you won’t easily part them from it.

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The only way to break the stranglehold of our habitual behaviors and opinions is to take charge and ignore the baseless fears and anxieties they will erect to try to get their way. Until you do, your life is being run for you, whether the outcome is what you want or no.

Here are four steps that will always transform your day:

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  • Stay alert and make sure you make all choices that matter consciously and in the way that best fits your hopes and dreams. The more deliberately you choose your actions, words, and opinions, the more influence you will have over your life at work and everywhere else.
  • Work to know yourself and then act on that knowledge: the two most basic steps in discovering and realizing your potential. Discover everything about yourself that you can. What do you do best? What gives you most pleasure? What matters to you most? What makes you feel worst? Act on what you find. The only sure way to change anything is to change what is causing it to be the way it is.
  • Be clear that every choice—large or small—is an opportunity to change. Every decision contains the possibility of altering the future. If you ignore chances to influence your life, you must put up with whatever comes along.
  • Don’t let your fears control you. Don’t imagine so many problems that you become distracted and stressed. Instead, look carefully at one option at a time. Follow it through and see where it leads. Then take another option and do the same, directing your attention where you want it to go. If you don’t let your fears make you confused, you can stay focused on positive possibilities and avoid anxiety and stress.

Here’s what to do instead:

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  • Take time to uncover the unconscious patterns in your life. Everyone displays certain automatic, recurring patterns of behavior. They are usually the behaviors that other people think of as “typically you.” Most will have become so automatic and habitual that you may not even be aware of them, yet they govern perhaps half (or more) of your actions. Discover what they are and replace them with conscious choices. That will immediately give you more positive influence over your life.
  • Work out what part you are playing in any situation that you don’t enjoy. Once you see how you’re contributing to each negative situation, you’ll know a good part of what you need to change to alter the outcome. It’s easy to make the comfortable assumption that most of your problems are caused by external events or other people. It’s also almost certain to be untrue.
  • Take some time to decide clearly and specifically what you want from your life at work and outside it. Set firm intentions to make the changes you want. Focus on them with complete concentration. Don’t let anything else get in the way.
  • Use every opportunity to move towards your goals. Don’t just let your attention wander wherever it likes. If you direct your attention consciously and deliberately, you can focus it where it will do most good. Never allow important choices to happen without careful and conscious thought.

Here’s a simple exercise to get you started.

  • Ask yourself if you’re totally happy about your life. If you are not, note down—now—two or three things you want to change.
  • Consider each, in turn, and plan what you can do to change them. Find as many ways as you can to get back in charge of your own destiny. You will need a wide choice, since some will not work and others won’t turn out as well as you wish.
  • Make a start. Don’t wait. Pick an area to change and a set of plans to use. Jump right in. If those plans don’t work, try others. Keep going until you make the changes you want and are happy with them. Then pick the next area for change and do the same.

Take your time. Think! Make careful, rational choices. Do what you can see is best for you, regardless of any attempts to control your behavior from outside. It’s your life, and you’re accountable for it. You can’t avoid that, however much you wriggle. Life is uncertain and you have to deal with it as best you can. It’s up to you whether you do that well or badly . . . or give up altogether and drift along like a jellyfish.

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Have you noticed how many people around you behave like jellyfish—drifting through life at the mercy of chance currents? And how many of them sting too, if you brush up against them? Don’t blame them. That sting is just caused by their misery at their situation, which they wrongly believe they cannot change. You know better.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to find a more way of working and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include How many precious moments are you wasting? and Are you in danger of using work pressures as an excuse?. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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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.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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