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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 December 30, 2018

How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day

How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day

This article is the 2nd in the 6-part series, Lifehack Challenge: Become An Early Riser In 5 Days.

If you’d like to become an early riser, there are some things you should know before you run off to set your oft-ignored alarm clock.

So how to become an early riser?

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Here are five tips I’ve discovered to be most helpful in making the transition from erratic sleeper to early morning wizard:

1. Choose to get up before you go to sleep

You’re not very good at making decisions when you’ve just woken up. You were in the middle of a dream in which [insert celebrity crush of choice here] is serving you breakfast in bed only to be rudely awakened by the harsh tones of your alarm clock. You’re frustrated, angry, confused, and surprised. This is not the time to be making decisions about whether or not you should stay in bed! And yet, most of us leave the first decision of our day to be made in a blur of partial wakefulness.

No more! If you want to be a consistently early riser, try making your decision to rise at a specific time before you go to sleep the night before. This frees you from making the decision in the morning when you’ve just woken up. Instead of making a decision, you have only to follow through on your decision from the night before. Easier said than done? Of course. But only for the first few times. Eventually your need for raw willpower to get out of bed will diminish and you’ll be the proud parent of a new habit!

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Steve Pavlina suggests you practice getting out of bed during the day[1] to get a few of the “practice sessions” out of the way without the early morning fog in your head.

2. Have a plan for your extra time

Let’s say you’ve actually made it out of bed 2 hours before you normally would. Now what? What are you going to do with all this time you’ve discovered in your day? If you don’t have something planned to do with your extra time, you risk falling for the temptation of a “morning nap” that wipes out all the work you put into getting up.

What to do? Before you go to bed, make a quick note of what you’d like to get done during your extra hours the following day. Do you have a book to write, paper to read, or garage to clean? Make a plan for your early hours and you’ll do more than protect yourself from backsliding into bed. You’ll get things done and those results will fuel your desire to build rising early into a habit!

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3. Make rising early a social activity

While there’s obvious value in joining a Lifehack Challenge in order to get you started as an early riser, your internet buddies just don’t have enough pull to make your new habit stick in the long term. The same cannot be said for the people you spend time with as part of your early morning routine.

Sure, you could choose to read blogs for two hours every morning. But wouldn’t it be great to join an early breakfast club, running group, or play chess in the park at 5am? The more people you get involved in making your new habit a daily part of your life, the easier it’ll be to succeed.

4. Don’t use an alarm that makes you angry

If we’re all wired differently, why do we all insist on torturing ourselves with the same sort of alarm each morning? I spent years trying to wake up before my alarm went off so I wouldn’t have to hear it. I got pretty good, too. Then I started using a cellphone as my alarm clock and quickly realized that different ring tones irritated me less but worked just as well to wake me up. I now use the ring tone alarm as a back up for my bedside lamp plugged in to a timer.

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When the bright light doesn’t work, the cellphone picks up the slack and I wake up on time. The lesson learned? Experiment a bit and see what works best for you. Light, sound, smells, temperature, or even some contraption that dumps water on you might be more pleasant than your old alarm clock. Give something new a try!

5. Get your blood flowing right after waking

If you don’t have a neighbor you can pick fights with at 5am you’ll have to settle with a more mundane exercise. It doesn’t take much to get your blood flowing and chase the sleep from your head. Just pick something you don’t mind doing and go through the motions until your heart rate is up. Jumping rope, push-ups, crunches, or a few minutes of yoga are typically enough to do the trick. (Just don’t do anything your doctor hasn’t approved.)

If you live in a beautiful part of the world like me, you might want to use a bit of your early morning to go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of the world around you. If you have a coffee shop open within walking distance, dragging yourself out of bed for a cup of coffee to savor on your walk home as the world wakes around you is a wonderful experience. Try it!

More Resources for an Energetic Morning

Featured photo credit: Frank Vex via unsplash.com

Reference

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