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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 January 2, 2020

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

    Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

    But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

    Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

    Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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    Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

    It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

    They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

    To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

    2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

    Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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    Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

    3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

    Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

    Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

    4. Be Who You Are

    It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

    You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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    You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

    Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

    5. Slow Down and Let Go

    Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

    Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

    Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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    So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

    When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

    The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

    Final Thoughts

    What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

    To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

    If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

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    Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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