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6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously

6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously
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Every day you are faced with a million little traps that encourage you to take your life way too seriously. The frustrations of 21st century living come in many forms such as slow internet connections, people who drive at a snail’s pace, and choosing what to wear to an event with an ambiguous dress code. It is easy to get caught up in perpetual flow of decisions and events that make up our lives and to forget that most of the challenges we are faced with are only as stressful as we choose to let them be. Next time you are tempted to smash your computer or lash out in a fit of road rage, remember these reasons not to take life so seriously.

1. The world is ridiculous

Objectively speaking, civilization is ridiculous. Next time you are at a scenic overlook or an elementary school Christmas pageant, take a second to look around and count the number of people who are experiencing the beauty of nature or the adorable miscues through small LCD rectangles instead of with their own eyes.  If that isn’t enough to convince you that our lives are ridiculous, consider the fact that it is customary for businessmen to tie a piece of cloth around their necks every day for no apparent reason, or that every suit they wear has a row of pointless buttons on the cuff. If you can stop and laugh at every day absurdities, you are two steps ahead of the game.

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2. Relationships are all that matter

Time and time again when researchers have tried to figure out what makes people happy they have come to the same conclusion: personal relationships make the biggest difference. If we valued our happiness over money (as many of us claim to) we would do everything we could to spend time with friends and family and not worry so much about putting in extra time at work. When you look back on your life, you won’t reflect on the time you spent at work; you will remember family dinners, great vacations, romantic dinners, and your wedding. Prioritize people over your career.

3. Rich people aren’t happier people

Spending more time at home or with friends will probably have a negative impact on the balance of your bank account. Just reading that sentence probably sent a wave of panic through some of you, but consider the fact that wealth is not correlated with happiness. In fact, once you have enough money to satisfy your basic needs, money makes very little difference in your overall well-being. The only exceptions are if you give your extra money to charity or if it significantly boosts your social rank.

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4. Worrying isn’t productive

Some of us even end up stressed out in situations where it is totally unwarranted. For example, you might find yourself visiting a new city like London or Paris and end up thoroughly confused by the transit system. You can’t find out how to get where you want to go and it makes you want to scream. But what are you accomplishing by stressing yourself out? Nothing. Take a step back and laugh at yourself. Go with the flow and end up where you end up. Getting lost in a new city will lead to a way better story than going to some stuffy museum anyway.

5. Your time is limited

If worrying is unproductive and money doesn’t make us happy, why do we waste so much time on those things? You only get to live one life. If you’re lucky enough to make it to age 90 you still have less than 800,000 hours between the time you are born and the time you die to cherish and enjoy all the things that make up life. One third of that time you won’t even be awake for, so you had best make the most of the remaining chunk. Do what you need to do to live a happy and fulfilled life, and forget what anyone else tells you.

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6. You are a speck

Finally, if you need a reminder that your problems aren’t as big as they seem and you want to readjust your perspective, get out of the city and look at the stars. The universe is larger than you can imagine. It is filled with burning balls of gas, galaxies and solar systems beyond counting, and (in all likelihood) thousands of other civilizations fighting their own wars and facing their own challenges. In a very real sense, you are insignificant. What better reason could there be not to take your life to seriously? The only thing that really matters is enjoying your life as much as you can and helping other people do the same.

Featured photo credit: Loren Kerns via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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