I’ve seen a lot of posts on social networks this morning basically saying “Good riddance to the last year!” and how it was a “crappy” year.
A crappy year?
While the past 365 days may have been challenging in many ways, I think it’s important to remember that it is our attitude that helps dictate how we feel about what’s going on in our lives. And if we’re alive, with a roof over our heads, a meal to eat, and still able to make decisions in our lives, then we actually have it pretty good. A large part of the world doesn’t — and our lives, no matter how difficult they may get at times, often beat the alternatives.
Life isn’t always easy — but it helps if you remember that obstacles in your path are there to test you and to help you grow. It is by overcoming obstacles that you develop new skills and new ways of handling what the rest of your life has in store for you. If you’d never had a problem in your life, you wouldn’t be very able to deal with — well LIFE, would you?
Originally written for New Year’s Eve 2010, this list applies today — and every day — as much as it did when it was posted.
Ways to make this year especially awesome.
Remember to smile. It costs nothing, it can be done in an instant, and it can make a difference in not only how you make others feel, but how you feel yourself.
Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live — and that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being? See the video…
Think of those times people made a difference in your life — and remember to tell them. A person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated. Take the time to express your appreciation to everyone who has ever helped improve the quality of your life — even if it was only for a moment and even (especially!) if it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch.
3. Thank you
Remember the last time someone thanked you for something and it stood out because you really felt like they meant it. When you say “Thank you”, take the time to say it like you mean it (because you do mean it).
4. You’re welcome
When people thank you to you, consider saying “You’re welcome” instead of “yup”. Think about how much more meaningful & sincere that sounds than “yup” or grunting.
Remember how you felt the last time you felt like someone was really supportive of something you were doing or wanted to do. Be a source of encouragement. Help people move towards accomplishing their big ideas and the things that fill them with enthusiasm. Be a voice of support — even if their goals are nothing like your own. The world needs people with big ideas and people who “think different”.
6. Remember to remember
Remember how you felt the last time someone contacted you just to say something in their day reminded them of you in a positive way. Remember to do the same for others. People always appreciate knowing you were thinking of them in a good way and it shows that they make a difference in your life. You can make a significant difference in someone else’s life simply by telling them how they make a difference in yours.
Remember how it felt the last time someone told you that they were proud of something you did. If you’re proud of someone, tell them. If you admire something about someone, take the time to communicate how you feel.
Remember the last time someone praised you for something specific and how it made you feel and how meaningful it became because of how they said it. When giving compliments or praising someone’s work, be specific. Remember that praise tends to be much more meaningful & memorable when it has something specific attached to it.
Remember the last time someone helped you accomplish something using a specific skill or talent they had. If you have a talent or personal strength, find a way to use it to help someone else accomplish something — look for opportunities to help. Helping others tends to be just as rewarding to the giver as it is to the recipient — just remember not to expect reciprocation from the person or people you help. Kindness is contagious and your good deeds tend to find a way to come back to you.
10. Focus on the good
Dwell on the good and focus on your personal achievements, no matter how small. A step forward is a step forward, no matter how small and it is worthy of recognition. Avoid comparison with others unless it truly motivates you. Remember how good it felt the last time you were able to check something off a list or to set a personal record.
11. Focus on what’s right
Remember every day is a new opportunity to “get it right”. Focus on what’s right in your life and the world. Share that with others. Look for opportunities to be a bearer of good news and optimism. Remember how you feel when someone shares good news with you or bad news. If you don’t like something, acknowledge it, but unless you are able and willing to change it, move on.
12. Be the change you wish to see
Remember, you cannot control the world, only yourself and your attitude and the things you have a direct effect on in your life. You can be the change you wish to see in the world. If the media is getting you down with bad news and negativity or making you bitter — stop paying attention to it. The world is just as an amazing place full of awesome opportunities as it always has been. In fact, we live in one of the most magical times in history. Look for the magic and good in things and share it.
13. Make a fun list
Remember all the fun things you’ve done in the last year? Imagine how many more fun things you might’ve done if you’d made a list. Think about more fun things you’d like to do in the next year make a list — and then check them off as you do them. Keep a journal of your progress. Include specific people in your activities — tell them what you’re up to. Keep adding to your list, keep checking it off. Find fun new things to do. See how many things you can check off by the end of the year.
14. Slow down
Remember that life is made up of meaningful moments — remember to slow down for and appreciate the ones that truly add value to your life. Take the time to slow down and savor moments. Your senses are an incredible gift — learn to use them actively & deliberately. Don’t just walk by flowers — stop and smell them. Take the time to feel sunshine on your face. Dance in a field. Get lost in the colors of a beautiful sunset. Take the time to truly taste your food.
15. Go and grow
Expand your personal territory. Go somewhere you haven’t been before — just to see what’s there, even if it’s in your own town or a shop or store you’ve never been in. Tell someone about the experience — or better yet, share the experience with someone you enjoy being with. Remember the last time you were able to reminisce with someone about an awesome or funny experience you shared together.
16. Learn something new
Pick something that sounds like fun and learn a new skill this year — even if it’s silly. Learn to say “I love you” or “Hello” in 12 languages. Learn to say the alphabet backwards. Learn to play the guitar, the piano, or the harmonica. Just pick something fun and do it.
17. Really listen
Remember the last time you felt like someone was really listening to what you had to say and taking the time to think it over before responding. Take the time to listen — be patient — stop thinking ahead of what you’re going to say next while a person is talking to you. Wait for them to finish and then respond accordingly. Communication is not a competition. Make it meaningful by truly listening.
18. Be a ripple of kindness
Remember the ripple effect of kindness (video below). Offer to help others — don’t wait to be asked. Get in tune with the needs of those around you. If you know someone is moving, ask if they could use a hand. If someone is trying to accomplish something, ask if there’s anything you can do. Imagine if someone did the same for you and how that would make you feel.
19. Use it
Your body is an incredible machine. Like most things, your body and your brain will begin to decay through neglect or lack of use. Look for opportunities to challenge yourself mentally and physically — even if it’s just sudoku and a walk around the block. No one ever looked back on their life and wished they’d spent more time watching TV or playing video games.
20. Relax & recharge
Remember to give yourself a break — life is not a race to the end. Pace yourself. Take time to rest & re-energize your body and your brain after periods of intense exertion.
21. Eat real food
Remember that while junk food is cheap and exceptionally easy to acquire — it isn’t real food — it’s full of artificial flavors and chemicals designed to trick your system into wanting more of the same, but without providing you with the nutrition your body truly needs. Real food makes you feel healthy and gives you energy. Look for foods with fewer ingredients, low sugar & no corn syrup. Remember your body is a machine — one that you want to last! Treat your body well and put good things into it and you will get good things out of it — and you’ll feel good about it, too.
22. Forget the shortcuts
Delay gratification (video). The best decisions in life are often those that require steady work and patience. We live in a world selling “instant gratification” — buy now, pay later. Take this pill, get this result (and these side effects, too). Remember that these shortcuts often lead to less than desirable results. Resolve to simply do the hard work now and it will pay off later.
23. Be who you want to be
Remember, you’re in charge of your life. Remember who you wanted to be before you may have been pressured into acting a particular way. You don’t have to be what the world may say you are — you can be the person you want to be. Don’t let the world pressure you into being less than you want to be. If you want to be considered a good friend, be a good friend. If you want to be considered generous, be generous. If you want to be considered patient, practice patience.
Remember: what you are comes to you (quote). If you want to attract love and kindness, be loving and kind. “You don’t attract what you want, you attract what you are.” — Wayne Dyer
26. Yes. Yes. Yes!
Say yes more. Saying yes more opens up a whole new world of opportunities — and opportunities multiply as they are seized. You may be surprised at how quickly your life can change when you start saying yes.
You as much as anyone were meant for greatness. And you — yes you — can do some things better than most people (or possibly anyone) on the planet if you truly set your mind to it.
The trick is to discover what those things are and develop the necessary skills to excel at them. You can begin by looking at the things that bring you joy in life and do more of those things. Let your joys help lead you to where you want to go.
But realize, that not everything that everyone is most suited to do in their lives comes in a pre-packaged “box” or with a specific job title. The ideal job for you may not exist yet and it needs you to create it. But the world needs more trail blazers and you can do it if you truly believe in yourself.
If what you truly want to do is get somewhere, be somebody, do something, then keep pushing forward one step at a time and don’t stop.
“To know how good you are at something requires the same skills that it does to be good that thing. Which means if you are absolutely hopeless at something, you lack exactly the skills that you need to know you are absolutely hopeless at it.
And this is a profound discovery — that most people who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing have absolutely no idea that they have no idea what they doing. It explains a great deal of life. It explains, particularly, Hollywood. But it also explains why so many people, in charge of so many organizations, have no idea what they are doing. They have a terrible blind spot.”
— John Cleese (9:00 into the video below)
The quote above is from a talk given by John Cleese about creativity (video below). It’s 10 minutes long and certainly worth watching if you have the time.
I originally posted this video to my facebook page shortly after it was put on youtube in 2009 and transcribed the quote above. I went searching for this quote while writing my post on the Dunning-Kruger effect — as it’s related — but decided it keep it separate from that post (no sense in overwhelming you, right?)…
And as I mentioned in that post, it fascinates me that we can have these huge differences in how we interpret the world — and even more so, as Cleese points out, that we can have blind spots in our awareness. Our level of awareness is what we draw upon to interpret what happens in our lives — from what we see when we look at a photograph or painting, to what we hear in a conversation, or how we interpret events as they unfold in front of us.
If you haven’t seen this Awareness Test video (below) — and there’s a good chance you have, I know I’ve linked to it from various places before — including this blog post from “Day 169” — but if you haven’t seen it, it can be an eye-opener…
It’s amazing how the mind works… and with that in, uh, mind…
Of course you do — it’s easy. I want to see if I can alter your present “reality” and “level of awareness” simply by having you read a couple lines of text…
Ready? Take a moment to relax…
The air going into and our of your lungs — you are now aware of it and the effort you’re expending to breathe it in and out. In fact, you are now breathing manually. In, out, in, out.
You are now aware of the fact your clothes are touching your skin and you can feel them.
You are now aware that every time you swallow you can hear a little crackle in your ears.
You are now aware that your nose is constantly in your peripheral vision.
You are now aware of your tongue and what it is doing — quite possibly looking for comfortable place in your mouth.
So how well that works depends on where you are and whether you’re calm or whether you’re frantically reading my blog just trying to catch up.
But if it worked, then at least one of those things opened up your level of awareness — albeit on a very limited scale. But still — if it can happen on this level, it can happen on others.
Perception is reality — except when it’s not.
Not only are we not aware of things outside of our awareness, there are times when what we actually see isn’t accurate. While I’m talking about life experience, I think this phenomenon is best exemplified with an illusion…
What do you see when you look at the image below — if you are like most people, you see a checkerboard of alternating light gray and dark gray tiles.
No big deal — except that the dark tile labeled “A” and the light tile labeled “B” are exactly the same color.
If you’re like most people, it doesn’t seem possible — clearly they are different colors — but it’s true, they are the exact same color.
Now imagine if you were unaware of this illusion and the checkerboard wasn’t labeled. Imagine if someone told you that those two tiles were exactly the same color — you’d probably think they were crazy — except you’d be wrong.
Now imagine a time when someone presented you with some information you found very difficult to believe, but they swore it was true.
It’s easier to see that they are exactly the same color if you connect them:
Freaky, isn’t it?
And I assure you, there is no “trick”. For my own, uh, reality check, I brought the image into photoshop and compared the colors — they are the same.
Awareness & Personal Bias
So not only do we not see everything — some of how we interpret what we do see isn’t even accurate. Except we don’t even know it’s not accurate — basically, we have no idea that we have no idea it’s not accurate — so it’s very possible to believe something as true, even when it’s false.
Part of overcoming blind spots is simply education and experience — the more you learn and are willing to open yourself up to different points of view, the more you are able to see and be aware of in life. But gaining an education in a particular area doesn’t necessarily show you things that you consciously (or unconsciously!) gloss over or block out because you don’t accept them.
Research shows that people have a tendency to avoid information that contradicts what they already think or believe. It is also why we have a tendency to hear what we want to hear in conversations (for good or ill) and filter out the rest.
The research, published in this month’s Psychological Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological Association, analysed data from 91 studies involving nearly 8,000 participants.
It was focused on trying to reach a definitive answer to what has been a longstanding debate among psychologists over whether people actively avoid information that contradicts what they believe or whether they are simply exposed more often to ideas that conform to their own because they tend to be surrounded by like-minded people.
“We wanted to see exactly across the board to what extent people are willing to seek out the truth versus just stay comfortable with what they know,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores Albarracín, who led the study.
The research found that people were in general twice as likely to select information that supported their own point of view as to consider an opposing idea, with two thirds going for supportive views as opposed to a third going the other way.
Some people, particularly those with more close-minded personalities, were even more reluctant to expose themselves to differing perspectives.
They tended to opt for information that corresponded to their views nearly three quarters of the time, argued Albarracín.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people were more resistant to new points of view when their own ideas were associated with political, religious or ethical values. (Full article)
When it comes to reading personal correspondence, when ambiguity exists in the information presented, a reader often projects how they are feeling at the time into the text being read — regardless of how it was intended.
So if you receive a text message while in a horrible mood, you are much more likely to interpret the message differently than you would if you were having a fabulous day. I know I’ve experienced this — I’m sure most people have.
And in the case of face to face communication, research suggests that nonverbal communication can account for up to 80% of communication — think about that!
It’s not what’s being said so much as how it’s being presented (body posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, and eye movements) — and that leaves an awful lot of communication open to interpretation.
Unspoken Communication (comic)
On the highway of life, if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.
That’s what it says on the back of many tractor trailer trucks — and it’s true. While you may clearly be following them, they cannot see back there if you cannot see their mirrors. Truck drivers are aware of their blind spots — they want you to be aware of them, too.
As human beings, we all have blind spots — but as has been pointed out, we don’t know what we don’t know. But there are there are a number ways to increase our vision…
One of the most important ways is simply being aware that we have blind spots — and even if when we’re not dealing with our own, we might be dealing with others’. It helps to actively be on the lookout for instances in which we (or those we are communicating with) might not be seeing or experiencing everything there is to see & experience.
For example, if you were presented with another video awareness test — or if you had already watched the awareness test above — you would likely be more inclined to look for more than what you were being told to direct your attention to.
In my own efforts to minimize blind spots, I’ve devised a personal “blind spot check checklist” — no, it’s not the best title, it didn’t need one until now — and it kind of reminds me of woodchucks…
“If a woodchuck had a blind spot check checklist, how many blind spot checks could a woodchuck check off his blind spot check checklist?” Orrrrrr, maybe not.
Do I have all the information about this situation or experience?
Am I seeing everything there is to see — is it possible I am not aware of everything?
Is it possible that I’ve been misdirected?
Is it possible that some bit of information I take for granted could actually be false or misinterpreted?
Another key to opening one’s awareness is maintaining an open mind. In fact, I think the questions above actually require an open mind. I mean, if you’re not open to questioning your own perspective and what you think you know or see to be true, then there’s very little chance that anyone or anything is going to come along and change your mind (as the study published in the Psychological Bulletin suggests).
And yet another key to expanding one’s level of awareness — I think — is integrative thinking. Oooh – a new term. Yep.
I only recently became aware of the term after researching an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
And — as I interpret it — that’s what integrative thinking is, the ability to hold two (or more) diametrically opposed ideas in one’s head without immediately settling on just one or the other. This balancing act is also a sign of an open mind.
Roger Martin, the author of “The Opposable Mind” (which is on my reading list) puts it this way: [Integrative thinking is] “The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.”
I realize I’m a bit squirrely today — jumping from “awareness/perspective” to the Dunning-Kruger effect to John Cleese’s talk on creativity to integrative thinking — and heck, let’s throw in group social dynamics, too — but they’re all related (at least in my mind — and more specifically than just “Psychology”).
Demonstration of people with clearly different levels of awareness…
This has always been one of my favorite scenes from The Bourne Identity. I understand it’s fiction, but I think it clearly demonstrates differences in level of awareness — Jason Bourne being at the extreme end of the spectrum:
Jason Bourne: Who has a safety deposit box full of… money and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for an exit.
Marie: I see the exit sign, too, I’m not worried. I mean, you were shot. People do all kinds of weird and amazing stuff when they are scared.
Jason Bourne: I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?
Question your sources, question yourself.
I could write several pages about this, but I’m going to spare you from me adding any more to this long post.
Instead, I bow to Siddharta, who I think says it best…
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
— Buddha (Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.)
Knowing how faulty the system can be, we should know that what others say or think about us isn’t always true — and yet we often give these things more consideration than they deserve.
In fact, there’s is a good chance that there are people in your life that you allow what they think (about you) to control — to some degree — how you feel about yourself or how you act in their presence (rather than just “being yourself”).
It is a fact that no two individuals interpret an experience in exactly the same way. Any number of people can watch an event take place and none of them will share exactly the same story with exactly the same details about what they saw or felt.
What each of us experiences in life is only an interpretation — our interpretation.
Have you ever witnessed something that didn’t turn out to be what you thought it was? Now imagine that you never realized that it wasn’t what you thought it was. You’d be believing a distortion of reality, but to you it was absolutely true.
No one person can see the world through another person’s eyes or experience the world through another person’s body.
The point is:
You are not what other people say about you. And you are not other people’s opinions of you unless you choose to accept them. You don’t have to let the stories that other people tell about you become your own.
It’s your life and you can choose to write your life story any way you wish, but to do so, you must make the decision to not to let other people write your story for you.
Remember, we teach the people in our lives how to treat us by how we act and what we are willing to allow. As such, it is important to set your own personal boundaries and not let others do it for you.
Extraordinary doesn’t just happen. If you want something “spectacular” or “extraordinary” — you either have to make it happen, go out and get it, or let it into your life when it knocks on the door. If it feels the same and looks the same as everything else, it’s not extraordinary.
So before you go slamming the door on it, take some time to make sure it truly isn’t what you are seeking. “Different” does not equal “bad” — be smart, but open to the unfamiliar.
Only change leads to progress. And change means different.
“Every really new idea looks crazy at first.” — Alfred North Whitehead
Everything we have is a result of someone who thought differently — and anyone who thought differently and pursued an unusual idea was first considered crazy or strange because of it.
And many of the best ideas were first resisted and protested.
It’s only after different thinking people have succeeded that they are considered “geniuses” or revolutionary. So maybe that “weirdo”, original thinker, or person who dances to a different beat should be celebrated instead of feared.
So hey — if you want something different in your life — a more fulfilling job or relationship, let me encourage you to do yourself a favor and stop slamming the door on things that are different than what you’re used to.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”
We often fear change — but change is the only thing that leads to progress. Why not try something different and experience the full expanse of what life has to offer?
If you’re truly going after your heart’s desires and you truly believe in yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish, then it doesn’t matter what other people think because you’re not doing it for them — you’re doing it for you.
“Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.” — Robert Brault
20 things I’ve learned about determination & commitment in 333 days.
1. It means focusing on your heart’s desire(s) and not giving up on your goal(s) when you are forced beyond your comfort zone or when inevitable setbacks or disappointments happen.
2. It means focusing on changing the things you can and not complaining about or focusing on the things you cannot.
3. It means taking action and doing what is hard & necessary to get things done and not expecting others to do it for you.
4. It means facing your fears and battling doubts, but refusing to give in to either.
5. It means making mistakes, falling down, or suffering embarrassment — but learning from these experiences and using them to push forward towards your goal — not letting them weaken your resolve or overcome you.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” — Calvin Coolidge
6. It means taking steps every single day, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and no matter how small your steps may be, to move towards your heart’s desires.
7. It means focusing on the bigger picture — making sacrifices and delaying gratification in order to invest in where you intend to go.
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
8. It means letting go of trying to please or be “friends” with everyone.
9. It means potentially (likely) stirring things up, causing a “ruckus”, drawing complaints, or attracting “haters” due to your actions — and pushing forward regardless.
10. It means dealing with the criticism from friends, family, colleagues, competitors, or anyone at any time who may cross your path and judge you or laugh at you or tell you “you can’t” or “you won’t”, but not letting it stand in the way of you and your goal.
“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.” — Gail Devers
11. It means living with integrity — sticking up for your beliefs & values and being honest with yourself and others — even when it’s uncomfortable or your views or goals appear unpopular.
12. It means constantly seeking ways to improve yourself and your “craft” and better ways to do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal.
13. It means not giving up when a door is slammed in your face or you are told “no” 99 times — instead, you focus on finding alternative paths to your goal — some way, somehow to get to the person behind the 100th door that says “yes”.
14. It means if you are offended, betrayed, or belittled by people who are close to you or you discover others working against you, not letting it derail you from reaching your ultimate goal.
15. It means continually and deliberately reaching beyond your comfort zone and doing what others won’t in order to achieve your goal.
“With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.” — Thomas Foxwell Buxton
16. It means understanding both your strengths and your weaknesses — and maximizing one while trying to minimize the other.
17. It means fueling your own fire and being a significant source of your own motivation — utilizing your passion for what you’re doing to achieve your goal.
18. It means finding a way, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable what you’re doing may be, to enjoy and learn from the process & journey — to live in the present and appreciate what you’re doing or any positive impact it may have on others.
19. It means believing in yourself and a goal that may appear “unrealistic” or against the odds to many — but knowing deep down that it’s not only possible, but that you can do it.
20. It means living up to your own standards.
Giving up is the easiest thing to do. In fact, many times people are happy to accept quitting as long as one appeared to put in some effort — even if it wasn’t their best — “It’s ok, you did the best you could.”
Some may even tempt you with, “No one will think any less of you for quitting.”, but…
If you’re truly going after your heart’s desires and you truly believe in yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish, then it doesn’t matter what other people think because you’re not doing it for them — you’re doing it for you.
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” — William Feather