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You are what you choose

You are what you choose

Always making fully conscious choices is the key to a positive life

Living your life consciously isn’t a once-and-for-all action. It’s a way of being that will make everything you do more vibrant, more alive, and more fun.

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Destiny is made of choices. Most of what will happen to you depends on the choices you make and their consequences in the future. Careful, conscious choices produce positive outcomes; hurried, poor choices lead to regrets. Some people make poor choices about continuing in education and find themselves blocked from worthwhile jobs. Others choose to give up instead of persevering with difficulties and live to regret it.

Choices offer options to respond differently than you have in the past and try new things. Knee-jerk reactions almost always block your opportunities to learn and grow. Making conscious choices restores your freedom to choose your own way.

The interaction of your choices with events around you produces your future. Choice is the ultimate human freedom, but your automatic habits usually block it. Remember these key points and you won’t be blocked again:

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  • Every choice is a priceless opportunity to seek out new possibilities and change your life for the better. Even ordinary choices may conceal options that will transform your future. Never allow yourself to make choices without thinking them through.
  • Other people sometimes give poor advice. Don’t be the kind of person who’s easily lead. Thank people for their views and help, but always make up your own mind.
  • Don’t allow habits to rule your life. If you do, you’ll miss crucial new experiences. All you’ll do is what you’ve done before—again, and again, and again.
  • To be able to learn from your experience, you must make sure you’re fully conscious of what you’re doing and why. If you can trace the patterns of cause and effect, you’ll know how to repeat what you’ve learned when you need it again. If it goes wrong, you’ll have some ideas about where to look to find out why.

Always look for alternatives
One of the many oddities about the human race is our reluctance to deal with options. People don’t like having too many choices. It makes them anxious.

Every alternative means more complexity, harder decisions, and more opportunities for messing things up. That’s why many of folk are more concerned about not being wrong than they are about being right. They’re always looking for the one, right answer—which makes them oh so vulnerable to manipulation by con-artists; and, when they don’t find it, they let their habits narrow down their alternatives to one or two familiar ones. It’s much less stressful.

If you want to transform your life, re-establish conscious choice in place of all those automatic, habitual decisions. This will give you back your ability to find fresh options to replace worn out habits; permanently increase your opportunities to learn; and free you from repeating past mistakes.

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Think about what you’re doing about your future. What alternatives have you been ignoring? Which ones have you skipped over? Write them down. You don’t have to follow them, but thinking about them sure beats rushing ahead blindly.

Stay in charge of your life
You nearly always have more good options than you think. Whenever something happens, you have a choice about how to respond. That’s your choice. No one can take it away.

Let’s look at some areas where simple choices can transform your day:

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  • Try choosing to listen longer before giving a response. Most of us are too keen to talk and not willing to listen carefully enough before we do so. Better listening will save you from many screw-ups.
  • Try never to take action when you’re feeling emotional. Step back and wait until you’ve calmed down. Anger, frustration, jealousy, fear, or revenge make poor advisers.
  • Try seeing things from the other person’s point of view. It might look very different.
  • Try to avoid making snap judgments. We’re all too eager to rush into deciding who’s right and who’s wrong. Do you like people making such judgments about you? No? So why do it to them?
  • Don’t tell yourself what you can’t do. As soon as you do this, it’ll be true. Try telling yourself it’s okay to try it and find out.
  • Don’t take yourself so seriously! Mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They’re so common, anyone can make them. Just remember the person who never made a mistake, never made anything else
  • Don’t be a wimp! Don’t be afraid to be bold, try new things, take a few risks. That’s the only way to create a life worth living.

Revisit your unused options
Many people find it really helpful to take an objective look at themselves and their past choices from time to time. It may seem silly to think about what you haven’t done as a source of things that might help you transform your life in the future, but it’s not.

You may be surprised to notice how many of those unvisited and unused options are either still available, or suggest ideas for solving your current issues. The good news is that maybe the majority of poor choices can be undone or reversed. All it takes is to stay aware of what you did, why you did it, and what the outcome was.

There’s really no point in making mistakes unless you learn from them; and no point in learning unless you do something differently as a result.

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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 build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on related topics include Why procrastination is sometimes the very best course of action and Chickens, eggs, and happiness. 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.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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