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The Simplest Path to Success

The Simplest Path to Success

Let’s imagine a person whose life is in a mess. We’ll call him Chuck. Everyone around Chuck can see how bad his lifestyle is. It’s making him miserable. Here’s the problem: Chuck can’t see it himself. He goes on feeling wretched, but is completely unconscious of the cause—the mess in his life.

Of course, so long as Chuck remains unconscious of the cause of the problem, he’ll be unable to help himself. No one else can help him either, since pointing to the way his life is means pointing to something he cannot see. He rejects such advice and say there’s nothing wrong with the way he lives. His problem is something else; something outside his control, like his bad family background and upbringing, his poverty, and the prejudice against people like him who weren’t born in the right place or with the right color of skin. Because Chuck also spends many hours watching TV (he’s frequently out of work or feeling sick), he’s now become a connoisseur of medical terminology. He’s sure he’s suffering from ADHD, Restless Legs Syndrome, and probably undiagnosed emotional problems. But he’s too poor to get treatment, so he’s condemned to lifetime illness, as well as poverty and unhappiness. How could changing his actions do any good against such overwhelming problems?

This sad fellow has a sister, Martha. She’s also miserable and her life is as much of a mess as his is. But Martha can see the problem. She knows her way of life is making her wretched. She sees the causes of her unhappiness clearly enough, but does nothing about them. Why? Martha is convinced she has to “get herself straightened out inside” before she can tackle the mess and muddle of her life. So she avidly consults self-help books and magazines . She’s always analyzing her emotions, reviewing her past mistakes, and delving into her family history—which is, of course, as dysfunctional as Chuck’s. She too blames the external world for much of her misery, noting all the neuroses and traumas it’s left her with: problems that prevent her from moving forward until she can finally discover how to make them go away. Chuck tells her about his medical problems, and she agrees she shares most of them. Once she can get herself sorted out mentally and get some money, she plans to go to a suitable specialist. In the meantime, she takes vitamins and herbal remedies, since they’re all she can afford.

Chuck and Martha are becoming Mr. and Ms. Normal in our world today. They’re unhappy and they know it, but they either blame it all on problems outside their control (like Chuck); or have become convinced they must first sort out their emotions and thoughts (like Martha) before they can do anything about the mess they’ve made of their lives.

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Let’s look as Lois instead. Lois’s life is just as much of a mess and she’s at least as miserable as Chuck and Martha. She can list a string of handicaps, from poverty, through an abusive parent, to boyfriends who beat her and the last one who made her pregnant, then disappeared. One morning, just after the birth of her daughter, Amy, Lois wakes up and decides—seemingly for no reason—she has to stop her life being such a disaster area. She’s miserable, she’s poor, she has no confidence in herself and her emotions are a nightmare. She’s certain she won’t be able to cope with anything complicated, so she looks at her life and seizes on the simplest, most obvious thing to do—and she does it.

That’s how it goes on. Each day, Lois does the next most obvious thing she can see to improve her life. She has no plan; no long-term objective or vision of a better future. If you ask her what she’s doing, she’ll tell you she has no idea and it’ll probably be a mistake anyway. But, rain or shine, feeling good or feeling wretched, Lois plods on, doing whatever she can and whatever is most obvious to her.

Months pass. Lois still feels bad much of the time. She’s still poor. When she has time to consider her emotions, she can see they’re just as volatile as they always were. Still, her baby is well fed, properly clothed and healthy. They live in a small apartment. It’s not a wonderful neighborhood, but the place is clean, the rent is paid and they have food, warmth and basic security.

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After a year, Lois can look back and notice how far she’s come. It makes her feel good. After two years, she has a job she likes, enough money to ensure Amy has a comfortable childhood, and she’s attending the local college to better her education. That makes her feel even better.

Five years pass. One morning, Lois wakes up with a jolt. Her mind is in turmoil. She doesn’t know what to do. It’s just dawned on her that she’s happy. What’s more, her life is no longer a mess. She has a happy, healthy daughter. She has a great job. She even has a boyfriend who cherishes her and Amy and has never offered either of them anything but love and respect.

At work that day, Lois confesses her confusion to her closest friend, Juanita. Juanita is fascinated and wants to know Lois’ secret for real lifestyle improvement.

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“I don’t have one,” Lois tells her. “I never did. I’m as puzzled as you are. I just kept doing things. Most were really small, dumb actions. The kind of things anyone with half a brain would have seen needed to be done. I’m not clever enough to come up with proper plans. I guess they worked out.”

Too many of us swallow the prevailing myths of our society: that our problems all lie outside ourselves; and we have to spend time getting our minds and emotions in order—or motivating ourselves—before we can tackle the problems in our lives. Believe either of them and you’ll never advance much beyond where you are today. Actions alone make a difference. Not necessarily big, dramatic ones either.

You don’t need a life plan. You don’t need motivation, self-confidence, peer support or even luck. All you need is the willingness to take the next most obvious step—then repeat the process again and again, regardless of how you feel. Try it. Happiness comes from seeing the results of your efforts. You don’t need it before you start.

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Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on October 9, 2018

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

Most of you made personal, one sentence resolutions like “I want to lose weight” or “I vow to go back to school.” It is a tradition to start the New Year with things you want to achieve, but under the influence resolutions are often unrealistic.

If you’re wondering when will be a good time to write a mission statement, NOW is the time to take a personal inventory to make this year your most productive year ever. You may be asking yourself, “How am I going to do that?” You, my friends, are going to write personal mission statements.

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A large number of corporations use mission statements to define the purpose of the company’s existence. Sony wants to “become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products” and 3M wants “to solve unsolved problems innovatively”. A personal mission statement is different than a corporate mission statement, but the fundamentals are the same.

So why do you need one? A personal statement will help you identify your core values and beliefs in one fluid tapestry of content that you can read anytime and anywhere to stay on task toward success.

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For example, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire came to the realization that he had lost track of what was important to him. After writing a personal mission statement, we saw him start his own business and he got the girl, Renee Zelleweger. Not bad, wouldn’t you say? A personal mission statement will make sure that, through all the texting, emailing and constant bombardment of on-the-go activity, you won’t lose sight of what is most important to you.

Mission statements can be simple and concise while others are longer and filled with detail. The length of your personal mission statement will not be determined until you follow this simple equation to create your motivational springboard for 2008.

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To begin your internal cleansing, you will need to jot down the required information in the following five steps:

  1. What are your values? Values steer your actions and determine where you spend time, energy, and most importantly, money. Be specific and unique to yourself. Too much generalization will not be as effective. It is called a “personal” mission statement for a reason.
  2. What are three important goals you hope to achieve this year? Keep your list of important goals small and give them a date. It is better to focus on the horizon and not the stars. Realistic goals are keys to ultimate success.
  3. What image do you hope to project to yourself? How you see yourself is how the world will view you. Think about this carefully. Your image should encompass what you look like and feel after you have achieved your goals.
  4. Write down action statements from each value describing how you will use those values to achieve your three goals. Start with “I will…”
  5. Rewrite your statement to include only your action statements. Make portable copies for your wallet, car or office.

If you followed the steps above, congratulations! You have just written your first personal mission statement. Your personal statement will change over the years as your goals change. You can have more than one statement for the different compartments of your life such as your career, family, marriage, etc.

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Writing a personal mission statement is an effective method to ensure your productivity is at its peak. It is an ideal tradition to start so that when next year rolls around, the outdated practice of resolutions will be something you permanently left in the past.

Featured photo credit: Álvaro Serrano via unsplash.com

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