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How to give yourself the best chance of a good life (Part 2)

How to give yourself the best chance of a good life (Part 2)

Last week, I posted Part 1 of this article . Here are some more straightforward and practical ways to give yourself the best possible chance of living a good life, focusing on what is most likely to produce lasting changes for the better.

  • Broaden your horizons. Take an interest in something new. Try to meet different people. Explore something that you think isn’t interesting. Read challenging and stimulating books; that’s one of the very best (and cheapest) ways to spread your mental horizons wider. Travel as much as you to experience other cultures. Spend time with people who think very differently than you do. Dull, narrow-minded, parochial types are some of the most boring people that you can meet. Mostly they have boring, narrow lives and boring, conventional jobs too. Don’t join them.
  • Deliberately keep shifting your perspective. Play around with different ways of looking at the same thing. Try taking the opposite point of view. Play devil’s advocate. Try out unconventional and contrarian types of thought. Play is often the best way to learn. When do humans (and most other higher mammals) most need to learn? When they’re young. How do they spend most of their time when they’re young? Playing. Tiny babies start learning the moment they’re born. We all enter this world capable of amazing amounts of learning. Sadly, many people allow this ability to drift away as they get older.
  • Try out some unfamiliar options. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you’ve always had—or worse, since circumstances change and yesterday’s sure thing is tomorrow’s disaster. Consider fresh possibilities. Let go of your prejudices. Try something unfamiliar. If you don’t like it, stop. At least you’ve learned something. If you do like it, do it some more. If you habitually focus on mostly short-term, practical things, try focusing on something long-term and visionary. Dream a little. If you’re the strategic type, always looking years ahead, try limiting your focus to today—or, better still, to this very moment. Live in the now for a while. See what you discover.
  • Whatever the problem or topic is, never assume that you already know all the answers. Nothing shuts down your mental faculties faster. Once of the very worst aspects of today’s macho styles of management is the way that they continually put pressure on people to be right first time, every time, and as quickly as possible. All that leads to is playing safe and sticking with what is already commonest and most well-known.

    In place of every human being’s natural curiosity and love of exploration, we are left with timid, risk-averse people who choose the most obvious answer, even if it’s wrong. I’ve seen it described as “management by in-flight magazine,” which describes it very well. Nobody knows all the answers; nobody gets everything right first time. Anyone who claims to is either a fool or a liar—mostly likely both.

  • Life is full of opportunities to learn, so take every single one that you can. We need to learn. If we don’t, our brains shrivel. It’s “use it or lose it” with a vengeance. Doctors have found that exercising our brains is the best way to prevent degenerative illnesses like Altzheimer’s Disease. Find work that stretches your mind. If what you do doesn’t stretch you mentally, it won’t hold your interest for long. Human beings get bored easily. They’re not good at doing the same thing again and again, without variation; only machines are good at that. Take every chance you can to learn more and develop your intellect. What have you got to lose? You may find that some new piece of learning is the key to an area of work, or a new interest, that will make your heart sing.
  • If your work and your deepest values don’t match well, you’ll never be happy or make much of a success of your life. Why? Because you need sustained determination, long-term effort, and high levels of energy to succeed, and work that’s out of line with your core values won’t supply any of those. Nor will it engage your enthusiasm to learn. You won’t do well where you feel no passion for what you do nor have some natural strength to draw on.

    My own experience suggests that trying to do work that’s at odds with your most important values is likely to produce nothing but misery, stress, frustration, and a long list of health problems.

    What do you feel drawn to? What kinds of activities have been most successful for you in the past? What do other people tell you you’re good at? Feeling excited is a good indicator that what you’re doing is a natural strength. People spend hours and hours on hobbies and pastimes. Do they feel bored as a result? Of course not. Do they complain about the time they spend, the effort and money it takes? Nope! Why not? Because they’re so excited and energized by what they’re doing. The best way to balance life and work is to find work that you would choose to do, even if no one paid you. You may not be able to manage it every time—too few of us can—but the closer you get to that ideal, the happier and more successful you’re likely to be.

Last week’s article drew some abusive and nasty-minded comments because I suggested that practicing emotional restraint is useful. It’s hardly a new idea; you’ll find it on the web site of the Mayo Clinic under recommendations to lower stress. I thought of responding directly to those who decided that an emotional and expletive-filled response was appropriate. Then I encountered a posting by a fellow blogger who had suffered the same kind of reaction to an article on a related topic. I decided, therefore, to tackle the whole issue via a piece on my own blog. You can find it here, if you’re interested. It’s called Should you learn not to care—or just not to care so much?

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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 there on similar topics include Why slowing down is the best way to get there faster and Why changing your self-talk could lower your stress. 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!

    More About Stepping Out of Comfort Zone

    Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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