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How to give yourself the best chance of a good life (Part 1)

How to give yourself the best chance of a good life (Part 1)

The greatest and most persistent blockages to your progress in life usually come from a single source—yourself. Here are some simple, practical ways to give yourself the best possible chance of living a good life.

  • Make the time to work out what’s most important to you. What’s so important you wouldn’t give it up, save in the most extreme circumstances? What feels like part of your deepest nature? What would it really hurt you to have to abandon? All these are core values. The more you satisfy them, the more fulfilling your life will be. Only you can truly decide what is a good life for you. Other people will try to decide for you, but all they’re doing is pointing you towards their values, not your own. Ignore them.
  • Keep focusing on your strengths. What you focus on grows. If you focus on your weaknesses, they’ll grow too, because you’ll keep finding more of them. Remember this rule: “To minimize blockages, avoid your weaknesses.” Too many people spend their lives trying to eradicate their weaknesses. That’s like trying to completely eradicate weeds in a garden. It takes so much work that you’ll never have time to enjoy the flowers and vegetables. There will always be more weeds, and you will always have weaknesses. The trick is to minimize them when you can and ignore them when you can’t. A garden full of healthy, fast-growing flowers will crowd out and hide the weeds. A garden of neglected, undernourished flowers will see the few flowers hidden and crowded out by weeds.
  • Stop paying so much attention to how you feel. No one can control their emotions, good or bad. If you spend your attention on how you feel, you’ll be in a constant state of anxiety. If you feel good, you’ll start worrying about how to keep that feeling. If you feel bad, you’ll fret over how to feel better. You feel whatever you feel. Get over it. Just go on doing what you need to do, regardless of your emotions. Don’t mistake excitement for progress. It’s easy to set out in a blaze of enthusiasm, only to run out of steam long before you’ve achieved anything that is going to stick. Decide what you are going to do, then do it. If you get excited, that too will pass. The main thing is to get whatever you want done, excited or not.
  • Bet on continuous, incremental improvements, not sudden breakthroughs. This is one of the biggest differences between Japanese and American ways of doing business. The Japanese tend to work away steadily at many small improvements, never making too much fuss about finding some huge leap forward. American businesses tend to favor the idea of sudden, dramatic breakthroughs. Breakthroughs are great when they happen, but depending on them is a high-risk strategy. A single breakthrough that fails or doesn’t come on time can set you back to square one. In life, as in business, lots of small steps often take you further than one or two huge leaps.
  • Most people get the essentials of life in the wrong order. They expect to feel good (or happy, or motivated) first; then, and only then, begin to tackle what they need to do. That makes all progress dependent on something as unpredictable and fleeting as a feeling. If you do what you need to do first, regardless of your motivation or state of mind, you’re more likely to feel better because you’ve just achieved something.
  • Spend as much of your time as you can doing things that need to be done. Don’t worry too much what they are. Don’t worry about the order in which you do them. The old saying, “success breeds success,” is true. Most people spend far too much time thinking about what they’re going to do—then planning it out, allocating set priorities, and further polishing the plan—and far too little time doing things, even if they come in the “wrong” order. Don’t wait. Do at least something of what you need to do now. Then do some more. There’s no simpler or surer way to turn your dreams into tangible results.
  • Never fall in love with your ideas. More people have found misery and frustration this way than any other. An idea is just an idea—a notion that makes sense at the time. At another time, or in other circumstances, it may make little sense at all. People overrate mere persistence as a source of success. If something isn’t working out, there is going to be a reason for that. Plugging on regardless won’t change that reason. Persistence is only useful when your idea still makes excellent sense and you simply haven’t given it enough time to develop. When people fall in love with their ideas they cling to them long after they should have let them go and moved on to something else.
  • Cultivate an attitude of acceptance. The world is an unsatisfactory place. Things don’t happen as they should. Good people often fail and bad people often prosper. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make things better. It does mean that we shouldn’t become stressed because what happens isn’t what we want. Accept that it happened that way and step back a moment to see what action is called for now. Whether it’s part of your plan or not, do it. If you always do what’s called for at the time, you’ll always be doing something positive. If that changes your world for the better, good. If it doesn’t, you still have the satisfaction that you did the best that you could. And you won’t have wasted too much energy on ranting and raving about the unfairness of life.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He 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 posts on similar topics there include “Want a trouble-free day?” and “When you’re up to your ass in crocodiles, why not get out of the swamp?His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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