OK, so the title’s kind of arrogant. I don’t pretend to know exactly what you need in your life right now. But I’ve found these five things have helped me through a crappy year and kept my life (overall) on an upward swing. I hope they’ll do the same for you.
Be Focused When It Comes To Work
By work I’m referring to specific work projects at your regular job, freelance work, or studying. Anything that’s a task that needs to be done but doesn’t have a specific time frame.
Focusing exclusively on the work at hand is a valuable skill. Not because work is the most important thing in life (it isn’t). But because when you focus exclusively on work, you do it better, AND get it done much quicker. When you’re talking about freelance work, studying, or a gnarly work task you don’t really want to address, extreme focus gets it out of the way faster, and produces a welcome sense of achievement.
Don’t Be Focused When it Comes To Everything Else
Extreme focus at work is good. Extreme focus in everyday life is overrated. In fact, it can be the enemy of balance. One of my favourite observations on this comes from the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Among other things, author Robert Fulghum encourages us to:
“Live a balanced life — learn some and think some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.”
If focus is key to doing work well, variety is probably the key to doing life well. Your brain loves novelty. Mixing things up can be a quick and super simple way of enhancing your quality of life.
Be Careful About Where You Get Your Self Improvement From
Self improvement is big business right now, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with improving yourself. But if you get most of your self improvement advice from YouTube, you’re in danger of falling down a rabbit hole of one related video after another, of varying quality (voice of experience, here). In fact, getting the majority of your self improvement advice from screens may mean you’re simply spending way too much time on your phone (or other device).
Consider getting your advice from other places, like real life experiences or good old print books (read them sitting in nature somewhere beautiful if you can). The infinite scroll of online life probably isn’t improving you much, even if it is making you think. Ultimately you need to take action on all this self improvement advice, and apply it to your health, fitness, work, or relationships. The internet is good at tricking you into thinking you’re making progress, but unless you’re out there in real life situations, acting on the advice you’re getting, it’s unlikely anything is changing much.
Find a Way To Sleep Well
Sleep is so much more important than we realise, in big ways and small. Some of the major disasters of recent years (Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle) were all found to be (at least partially) linked to human error caused by lack of sleep. When we’re tired we make mistakes. But there’s more.
Sleep is linked to physical health in some surprising ways. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that a lack of sleep can seriously undermine our fitness goals. In studying the effects of 8.5 hours and 5.5 hours of sleep on fat loss, it was ascertained that those is the 5.5-hour group lost 55% less fat than the 8.5-hour group. What’s more, the group who slept less actually lost significantly more muscle tone as well. Since muscle is built as part of a break and repair system, it’s not that surprising that sufficient sleep is needed to allow the body to repair efficiently.
Getting a lot of sleep isn’t as easy as it sounds, but if you can improve your sleep hygiene and get more and better sleep, it can literally be an instant short cut to better physical and mental health.
Keep Your Own Counsel
Everyone has an opinion. Many of them are ill-informed and some are stupid. Perhaps the single most important improvement to my life has been learning to trust my own thought process and keep my own counsel.
It’s not easy. It’s taken me 50 years to get here and I’m still far from sure about a whole lot of things. But I trust myself. I make my own decisions. I don’t ask for others opinions on things that I know a great deal about (including most of the decisions I have to make that affect me and my family — how could an outsider possibly understand the nuances). I’ve cultivated emotional self-sufficiency and critical thinking to the extent that I feel satisfied that I don’t have to ask other people how to live my life.
I’m currently taking a course via Masterclass with Neil deGrasse Tyson, called Scientific Thinking and Communication. Don’t be put off by the rather dry sounding title. It’s basically a course on how to think. About everything. I recommend it if you’re someone who doesn’t entirely trust your own thought processes and decision-making skills. I also recommend it if you’re just interested in how we think, how we eliminate possibilities and reach conclusions, and how our cognitive and cultural biases get in the way. If you’re going to keep your own counsel, learn how to think things through so you don’t give yourself bad advice.
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