Throughout your life, you've learned many lessons that have changed the way you think, act and live.
But no matter how valuable the lesson, it is not fun to learn it the hard way.
Some say these learning pains are unavoidable and necessary for the learning to stick. This may be true for some people but for many of us, the same lessons can be learned without having to the suffer.
To learn lessons the easy way, you need three things:
- Awareness of the lesson to be learned
- Intellectual understanding of the lesson and how it applies to you
- Belief that it does apply to you
This article can help you with the first two criteria. The third part is all up to you.
If you prefer to learn your lessons the hard way or if you believe the lessons of others don't apply to you, feel free to stop reading now.
For those of you who want to save yourself some time, money and energy, here are my top life-changing insights:
1. The effectiveness of your communication is measured by the feedback that you get.
How effective you are as a communicator has nothing to do with your intentions. It has everything to do with the other person's response. I used to believe that as long as my intentions were good, any miscommunication was the fault of the other person. How can it be my fault if they don't get it?
I've come to realize that I was wrong. If you're not getting the response you want, YOU need to change YOUR approach, not the other person.
If you have a nagging parent, you've experienced this firsthand. They remind you to do this and to do that, all with the best intentions in mind, but how often do you listen? How often are you grateful for these reminders? Nagging parents rarely get the response they're looking for. They don't realize that they're the ones that need to change. Instead, they use their noble intentions as an excuse for continuing their ineffective actions.
To measure how effective you are, forget your intentions and look at the feedback you're getting.
2. Follow your passion using your strengths to get the best return for your time and energy.
We are all allotted 24 hours every day. What you achieve with your life depends on how you use those 24 hours. Unfortunately, there are so many options that it is easy to choose activities that do not give you the best return for your time and energy. Walk into any corporate office and you can easily find examples of people engaging in low-return activities.
To have an impact in the world and to live to your full potential, follow your passion and support that passion with your interests and strengths in a sustainable way.
- Your passion tells you WHY you're doing what you're doing.
- Your interests will decide WHAT you should do to achieve your WHY.
- Your strengths will determine HOW you're going to accomplish WHAT you set out to do.
Focus on activities that use your strengths because that will give you the most return for your time. Improving your weaknesses usually don't pay because that time can be better spent working on your strengths. If you have activities on your to-do list that play to your weaknesses, either remove them or find someone else to help you with them.
If you're not sure where to begin, I recommend following these step-by-step instructions:
- Start by looking within. Think about your values and beliefs and create a personal mission statement that answers WHY you believe you've been put on this earth. There is no right or wrong answer. If you don't have a personal mission statement, take some time now to create one. If you are uncertain, choose one for now knowing you have the flexibility to change it as you learn more about yourself.
- Identify your top interests and strengths along with the activities that use those interests and strengths to move your mission forward. If you're not sure what your strengths are, take an aptitude test or check out The Strengths Finder. To pin down some of your interests, think of personal experiences where you lose track of time because you were so engaged or books you can't put down.
- Analyze the activities you've just identified and select the ones that people are willing to pay you to do so you can sustainably continue to do them.
Get started on these steps as soon as possible. Every minute you delay is another minute being wasted on low-return activities. Give yourself a reality check by tracking how you are currently spending your time. Do this for a few weeks and analyze your time logs. How much time do you spend using and honing your strengths to move your mission forward?
3. People do the best that they can with what they know.
This insight has greatly improved my interpersonal relationships. I have realized that people, who are rude, disrespectful or exhibit any other negative behavior, really don't know any better. Their actions stem from strategies that they truly feel are the best ones to handle the current situation.
This can be extremely frustrating if you have access to better strategies. The key is to understand that the other person didn't have the same experiences and insights that you've had and therefore should not be held accountable.
It's like blaming a two-year old for drawing on the walls. They really don't know any better and it's unfair to blame them for being ignorant of the impact of their actions. They are doing the best that they can with what they know. Realizing this may help you give other people the benefit of the doubt and empathize with their situation. This was a game changer for me.
One application of this insight is to give other people a break including those from your past who have wronged you. Your parents, your former bosses, even random strangers did what they thought were the right things to do. Forgive, truly forget and move on.
This rule also holds true when dealing with yourself. Don't be so hard on yourself - you're doing the best that you can with what you know.
The best way to cure ignorance is through education. Keep learning new things. If you're dealing with difficult people, empathize and be curious about their strategies. By taking the initiative to listen and understand, you open others up to you and your ideas. When they give you permission, recommend a book, a movie or a person that will expose them to better strategies for life. Just be careful not to cross the line from being helpful to preachy.
4. There is no such thing as "can't".
I've written about this insight in detail (click here to read).
5. Change happens only when the other person perceives real value for them to change.
Face it - you're never going to change anyone who doesn't want to change. The only way someone will change is if they truly believe your proposed behavior or idea is more beneficial to them than their previous behavior or idea. They make this decision based on their values, not yours.
We are all selfish in the sense that we care about our well-being. We're wired to adopt the best strategies that will help us in life. When you ask someone to change, you're telling them that your strategy is better than their current one. If they agree with you then you'll get change. If they don't agree with you, then nothing will happen.
Look at the different times in your life when you've accepted and rejected change. How did you decide one way or the other?
If you're looking to change someone, clearly show them the benefits they'll receive from adopting your proposed behavior. In addition, help them see that your way is better than other alternatives including their current strategy. To do that effectively, you need to understand what they valued in their old strategy. This won't be easy but if you can get them to accept your strategy as being better, they will gladly change their behavior.
6. Money is an amplifier.
Many people, my mother included, view money in a negative way. The pervasive view is that it's bad to be rich because money corrupts people. It's not hard to see why they would feel that way when the media shows ample examples to support their views.
Despite all the press, I've come to realize that money is not evil. It merely acts as an amplifier. If you want to do good things, money will allow you to do more good things than you can without money. If you want to bad things, money will allow you to do more of that as well. To make a significant impact in the world, you need a good amount of money. That's just how the world, at this moment, works.
Are you financially free? If not, what is your plan for financial freedom?
If you don't have one, why not?
The simple but arduous road to financial freedom involves:
- maximizing income,
- minimizing expenses,
- saving as much as you can and
- investing those savings so it can grow beyond inflation.
The earlier you start, the faster you'll become financially independent. For those of you who are against denying yourself the finer things in life, think of all the grander things you are missing out on because you are not financially free.
7. The identity you give yourself is who you become.
Who you are on the outside is directly connected to the story you tell yourself on the inside. If you tell yourself that you're a successful business professional, you'll dress, talk, walk and act in a way that mirrors that belief. If you believe you're inept, then your actions will confirm that as well. Your self-identity dictates who you attract, who you socialize with, how you act relative to others, etc.
The common misperception is that identity is fixed. People often say that they're "keeping it real" to excuse their bad habits and behaviors. They try to hold on to their identity without realizing that from the minute they were born, their identity has been continuously changing on many levels. They went from baby to toddler to teen to worker to parent. They've gone from student to the new guy to the seasoned veteran.
Aim high when you decide on your identity because you will live up to the expectation and image that you set for yourself. Tell yourself the story of success that you want and your reality will reflect that. You can decide what your identity is at any time. Don't give that power away to others. If you don't like where you are now or where you're headed, jumpstart your life by reinventing yourself.
8. When truth is relative, being right is irrelevant.
I can believe something to be true and someone else can believe a contradicting idea to be true and we may both be right.
Sounds a bit strange, doesn't it? Shouldn't the truth be absolute?
It's easy to think that life is black and white. If we all have the same facts, we should all draw the same conclusions. This might work if we all had the same brain, lived in the same way with the same experiences but we don't. By the time outside stimuli reach our brain for processing, it has already been put through our personal filters. What gets analyzed by my brain is very different from what gets analyzed by your brain despite the same stimuli. This allows for both of us to come up with equally valid conclusions even if they contradict.
Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, is right when he said,
"We have an unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance".
Before I realized my ignorance, I spent a good amount of time trying to prove that I was right. Understanding now that everyone is entitled to their own truths, it doesn't make sense to argue about right or wrong. The focus should be on getting what I want. The next time you are arguing with a loved one or colleague, ask yourself, "Am I trying to build a stronger relationship or am I trying to be right?" This will help you resolve your argument fairly quickly (hint: being right is often wrong).
The difference between strong communicators and weak communicators are those who are curious about the other person's views and can build a bridge from their own view. Ask yourself - what assumptions is the other person making that makes their story true? Resist the tendency to think the other person is either slow or missing information and that is why they are coming up with faulty conclusions. In many cases, we may be the slow one that's missing information.
Dogma is dangerous.
Consider the idea of relative truth (or not).
9. Other people's values and traits rub off on you.
Whether you like it or not, the people you surround yourself with will have a strong influence on you. It doesn't matter how old you are or how resolute you are in your beliefs and identity, you will end up adopting the thoughts, values and behaviors of the people you spend the most time with.
We all want to belong and we subconsciously behave in ways that gain the approval of those around us. You don't realize this because it happens incrementally. You are constantly taking one step closer to the group until you eventually fall in direct step with everyone in the group. There are examples all around you. Think of your friends who've changed dramatically because they began spending time with a very different group of people.
Siblings prove this point well. Same family, same upbringing, very similar genes and yet siblings can be very different. If you look carefully, the difference that makes the difference is the people they spend most of their time with.
"When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends."
- Japanese Proverb
Who are the people you spend most of your time with? Do they embody the qualities you look up to? If not, what are you going to do about it?
Make a conscious decision to spend less time with people you don't want to become. If some of these people are your close friends, you may feel disloyal. This is normal. Just understand that they will rub off on you just like you will rub off on them. What might help you feel less guilty is knowing that people spend less time with their close friends all the time and they don't get judged negatively for it.
- New parents spend less time with their single friends.
- College students spend less time with their childhood friends.
- Those who work spend less time with those who don't.
You don't have to feel guilty. Just because you don't see each other often, doesn't mean you can't stay friends.
Use this rule to your advantage. Be selective with who you spend time with and choose people who are already where you want to be so you grow when you conform to the group. The key is to find groups that will pull you up as opposed to those that will pull you down.
10. The choice is always yours and that makes you completely responsible.
Almost everything that happens to us is a result of our choices. Whether our life is good or bad, we're a direct contributor. This insight has had the most impact on my life.
The minute you hold yourself accountable for your life's results, you become empowered to resolve issues and take pride in your accomplishments. Those who don't take responsibility remain helpless because they blame something or someone else for their troubles. Their lives never get better because they've already decided that it's not their fault and there is nothing they can do about it.
Many first meetings I have with clients are whine and pity parties. They complain about how unfair it is that their boss or company mistreats them or their colleagues take advantage of them. Just before they go into their well-rehearsed rant of being underpaid and overworked, I stop them and ask, "Why don't you just quit? There are plenty of other companies out there."
This usually opens up a floodgate of excuses for why they can't quit - weak economy, bills to pay, waiting for retirement, etc. After they finish, with empathy I point out that it's still a choice that they've made and they're paying the consequences of that choice. Those who accept the idea become my clients and we work on a game plan to transition into a better situation. Those who continue with "Yeah, but ..." get their coaching fee refunded in full and an offer to contact me after they stop playing the role of victim.
If you want power over your life, frame everything that happens to you as a consequence of your choices. If you truly believe that, your life will improve.
11. No one is coming to the rescue.
This is a bonus insight for finishing the first ten. I'll keep it short and sweet.
Stop waiting for someone to solve your problems.
Everyone is busy with their own issues.
No one is coming to save you.
Take control of your life.
Any help is bonus.
You can do it.
Take time to read through these insights again. Print them out. Highlight helpful points. Share this article with your friends, family and colleagues.
Also, think about how these insights might apply to you. Learn them the easy way by understanding each insight and believing that it applies to you. Try one on each month and see if they fit. If you get through all of these principles, you may want to check out 13 more from Matthew McConaughey.
I'm always interested in learning lessons the easy way. What strategies or ideas have significantly improved your life?
Photo by Tony Webster
Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.