The goodness inside you is like a small flame, and you are its keeper. It’s your job, today and every day, to make sure that it has enough fuel, that it doesn’t get obstructed or snuffed out.Every person has their own version of the flame and is responsible for it, just as you are. If they all fail, the world will be much darker—that is something you don’t control. But so long as your flame flickers, there will be some light in the world.
A long To-Do list seems intimidating and burdensome—all these things we have to do in the course of a day or a week. But a Get To Do list sounds like a privilege—all the things we’re excited about the opportunity to experience. This isn’t just semantic playing. It is a central facet of the philosopher’s worldview.Today, don’t try to impose your will on the world. Instead see yourself as fortunate to receive and respond to the will in the world.Stuck in traffic? A few wonderful minutes to relax and sit. Your car broke down after idling for so long? Ah, what a nice nudge to take a long walk the rest of the way. A swerving car driven by a distracted, cell-phone-wielding idiot nearly hit you as you were walking and soaked you head to toe with muddy water? What a reminder about how precarious our existence is and how silly it is to get u...read more
Today things will happen that will be contrary to your plans. If not today, then certainly tomorrow. As a result of these obstacles, you will not be able to do what you planned. This is not as bad as it seems, because your mind is infinitely elastic and adaptable. You have the power to use the Stoic exercise of turning obstacles upside down, which takes one negative circumstance and uses it as an opportunity to practice an unintended virtue or form of excellence.If something prevents you from getting to your destination on time, then this is a chance to practice patience.If an employee makes an expensive mistake, this is a chance to teach a valuable lesson.If a computer glitch erases your work, it’s a chance to start over with a clean slate.If someone hurts you, it’s a chance to practice forgiveness.If something is hard, it is a chance to get stronger.Try this line of thinking and see whether there is a situation in which one could not find some virtue to practice or derive some benefit. There isn’t one. Every impediment can advance action in some form or another.
Sometimes our habits get stuck in a bad pattern that pushes us further from our natural, healthy selves.
Viktor Frankl, the brilliant psychologist and Holocaust survivor, cured patients suffering from phobias or neurotic habits using a method he called “paradoxical intention.” Let’s say a patient couldn’t sleep. The standard therapy would have been something obvious, like relaxation techniques. Frankl instead encouraged the patient to try not to fall asleep. He found that shifting focus off the problem deflected the patient’s obsessive attention away from it and allowed them to eventually sleep normally.Fans of the TV show Seinfeld might remember an episode called the “The Opposite” where George Costanza magically improves his life by doing the opposite of whatever he’d normally do. “If every instinct you have is wrong,” Jerry says to him, “then the opposite would have to be right.” The larger point is that sometimes our instincts or habits get stuck in a bad pattern that pushes us further from our natural, healthy selves.Now you shouldn’t immediately toss out everything in your life—some stuff is working. But what if you explored opposites today? What if you broke the pattern?
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Yet that’s exactly what most people do. They tell themselves: Today, I won’t get angry. Today, I won’t gorge myself. But they don’t actually do anything differently. They try the same routine and hop it will work this time. Hope is not a strategy!Failure is a part of life we have little choice over. Learning from failure, on the other hand, is optional. We have to choose to learn. We must consciously opt to do things differently—to tweak and change until we actually get the result we’re after. But that’s hard.Sticking with the same unsuccessful pattern is easy. It doesn’t take any thought or any additional effort, which is probably why most people do it.
“The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is so we might listen more and talk less.” —DiogenesAmerican author, Robert Greene considers it a law of power: Always Say Less Than Necessary.We talk because we think it’s helping, whereas in reality it’s making things hard for us. If our spouse or friend is venting, we want to tell them what they should do. In fact, all they actually want us to do is hear them. In other situations, the world is trying to give us feedback or input, but we try to talk ourselves out of the problem—only to make it worse.So today, will you be part of the problem or part of the solution? Will you hear the wisdom of the world or drown it out with more noise?
Plans, as the boxer Mike Tyson pointed out, last only until you’re punched in the face.
It would be nice if someone could show us exactly what to do in every situation. Indeed, this is what we spend a good portion of our lives doing: preparing for this, studying for that. Saving for or anticipating some arbitrary point in the future. But plans, as the boxer Mike Tyson pointed out, last only until you’re punched in the face.Some do not seek to have the answer for every question or a plan for every contingency. Yet they’re also not worried. Why? Because they have confidence that they’ll be able to adapt and change with the circumstances. Instead of looking for instruction, they cultivate skills like creativity, independence, self-confidence, ingenuity, and the ability to problem solve. In this way, they are resilient instead of rigid. We can practice the same.Today, we will focus on the strategic rather than the tactical. We’ll remind ourselves that it’s better to be taught than simply given, and better to be flexible than to stick to a script.
Just because you’ve begun down one path doesn’t mean you’re committed to it forever.
In The Dip, Seth Godin draws an interesting analogy of people you see in line at the supermarket. One gets in a short line and sticks to it no matter how slow it is or how much faster the others seem to be going. Another changes lines repeatedly based on whatever he thinks might save a few seconds. And a third switches only once—when it’s clear her line is delayed and there is a clear alternative—and then continues with her day. He’s urging you to ask: Which type are you?Seems Seth is advising us to be this third type. Just because you’ve begun down one path doesn’t mean you’re committed to it forever, especially if that path turns out to be flawed or impeded. At that same time, this is not an excuse to be flighty or incessantly noncommittal. It takes courage to decider to do things differently and to make a change, as well as discipline and awareness to know that the notion of “Oh, but this looks even better” is a temptation that cannot be endlessly indulged either.
Don’t spend much time thinking about what other people think.
How quickly we can disregard our own feelings about something and adopt someone else’s. We think a shirt looks good at the store but will view it with shame and scorn if our spouse or a coworker makes an offhand remark. We can be immensely happy with our own lives—until we find out that someone we don’t even like has more. Or worse and more precariously, we don’t feel good about our accomplishments or talents until some third party validates them.While we control our own opinion, we don’t control what other people think—about us least of all. For this reason, putting ourselves at the mercy of those opinions and trying to gain approval of others are a dangerous endeavor.Don’t spend much time thinking about what other people think. Think about what you think. Think instead about the results, about impact, about whether it is the right thing to do.
Truth is truth. In this case, the truth is one we know well: the little things add up. Someone is a good person not because they say they are, but because they take good actions. One does not magically get one’s act together—it is a matter of many individual choices. It’s a matter of getting up at the right time, making your bed, resisting shortcuts, investing in yourself, doing your work. And make no mistake: while the individual action is small, its cumulative impact is not.Think of all the small choices that will roll themselves out in front of you today. Do you know which are the right way and which are the easy way? Choose the right way, and watch as all these little things add up toward transformation.