The best advice is often the simplest. I’ve noticed most of my favorite snippets of advice are around four words long, though the impact they’ve had on my life is huge. I’ve compiled just a few pieces of four-word advice, that are particularly relevant to the way we live our lives today.
You are your choices
People misunderstand this concept all the time. They point out that they didn’t choose to get sick, lose their job, or have their spouse cheat on them. And that’s true, of course. Not everything that happens to you is your choice, but every time something happens to you, you make a choice about what to do next. That’s where your life is shaped. In the decisions you make when you have no choice but to make a choice.
Pick your battles wisely
When you decide to stop fighting over every little thing and focus on the things that truly matter to you, something big happens. You start to get what you really want. Notice I said you get what you really want, not everything you want. There’s a big difference.
The reasons are twofold. You’re focusing your energy, time, and resources on fighting for what’s most important, and by only fighting for what’s important, you cut out the noise. If you rarely make a fuss about anything, those around you know that if you’re making a fuss, this is not something you’re prepared to back down on.
It’s not about you
Some things are about you, but the overwhelming majority aren’t. Stop taking it personally. Stop focusing inwards. Assume, unless you have an excellent reason to think otherwise, that people act the way they do because of their own priorities, emotions, and goals. Not because they’re out to get you.
“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” — Olin Miller
Collect experiences, not things
I don’t have a lot of stuff. I don’t value things that much. I once moved to a new continent with hold luggage (and my family, because people, like experiences, matter much more than things).
I do have a lot of experiences. World travel. Sky diving. Bungee jumping. Swimming with dolphins. Snorkelling with whale sharks. Climbing mountains. Hiking trails. Crewing a yacht (well) beyond the sight of land. Working weird jobs. Studying interesting subjects. Reading great books. Living in different countries. Marriage. Raising children. Watching sunrises.
Buying things rather than experiences is one of the big mistakes we make because the human brain is hopeless at predicting what will make us happy. Experiences shape the person you become. Things are mostly just a waste of space.
Always pay it forward
When you get, give. When you have more than enough, share. When a stranger shows you kindness, pass it on. When you learn something mind-blowing, teach it to someone else, or several other people. The internet is full of platforms you can share your thoughts on. There’s no excuse.
Listen more, talk less
Listening is a valuable skill. In daily conversations, important negotiations, or much-cherished relationships, if you feel you’re not connecting, or putting your point across, stop talking and start listening.
Almost everything is temporary
Whether you’re loving your current situation or hating it, it will pass. So enjoy the good, learn from the bad, and embrace the transience. Very few problems are completely without solutions. Very few mistakes are irreversible.
Taking responsibility creates empowerment
I believe three of the most empowering words in the English language are ‘It’s my fault”. The moment you take responsibility for a situation you give yourself the power to change it. If it’s someone else’s fault you have no power to change it, no ability to fix it, no opportunity to learn from it and do something different next time. Maybe “It’s not my fault” are the saddest words in the English language.
Have a plan B
Things don’t always work out how you’d like them to. Sometimes they don’t work out at all. Have a plan B (and C, and D). Don’t assume that just because it’s not your alpha plan, it’s the wrong one. I’ve found that usually when plan A doesn’t work, that’s the Universe trying to draw your attention to how much more awesome one of your other plans could be.
Actions count, words don’t
Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it:
“What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say.”
What you do is so much more important than what you say. I’ve come to realize that when we talk about what we want, we’re often talking about what we wish we wanted.
If you say you want an amicable divorce but you’re fighting with your ex over money, then the money is more important to you than having an amicable divorce. If you say you want to get your degree but you’re out partying every night instead of studying, the partying is more important than the degree. If your actions are at odds with what you claim to want, maybe you don’t want it enough.
Fortune favors the bold
I borrowed this one from Virgil, but I fully concur. All the ‘lucky’ people I know are brave beyond measure. They jump at opportunities others fear. They take risks with their life, relationships and business. Being bold is the first step towards having amazing experiences.
Think before you speak
If you have time, use the THINK acronym. Ask yourself if what you’re about to say is:
It’s a big ask (but definitely something to strive for) to say something that’s all those things. If it’s clearly none of them, shut up.
No pain, no gain
This doesn’t just apply to physical workouts. Emotional growth is painful too. Change, in general, is painful (often) and achieving anything worth doing usually involves a big dollop of pain too.
Dance like nobody’s watching
In fact, do everything like nobody’s watching. After 20 years (on and off) of being a writer, I’m finally learning to write like nobody’s watching. Either others like what I write or they don’t. If they do, that’s wonderful. If they don’t, they should probably go and write their own stuff.
You can’t please everyone
The world is full of people who love to tell you: “You don’t want to be doing it like that”, or worse, “You can’t do that.” Take it from me. You probably can do that. I’ve come to realize that when people say “you can’t do that.” They almost always mean “I can’t do that”. Don’t worry about what other people can do, or what they think you should be doing. You really can’t please everyone. So please yourself, and those who matter to you.
Work smart, and hard
The web is full of articles telling you to work smarter, not harder, and many of them contain good advice. Working smart is vital, but it’s not always an alternative to working hard. Often, you need to work smart, and hard.
Find your true north
We all need something to aim for, something that guides us through life. It should be something that’s more important than us, to give us an emotional anchor and help us make our best decisions. Without it, we’re slaves to our emotions and prone to making important decisions on a whim. Maybe your true north is your child, a life philosophy, or a value you believe in above all else. Find it. Follow it. Consider it every time you have to make a decision.