Life, this amazing journey to nowhere, is a culmination of our experiences at each moment.
These experiences cause us pleasure or pain. They shape our beliefs and character.
Here’s the interesting part. No two people in the same situation have the same experience. No two people see a situation through the same lens. This makes each person’s life unique.
If each life is unique, it also means no standard textbook can tell everyone how to live. Of course, we can — and should — learn from others’ wisdom. But learning is only valuable when we apply their advice and draw our own lessons.
Over the years, I’ve applied the wisdom of several great minds to steadily make my way through the thick forest of life. By no means am I out of the woods, but I’ve discovered certain depths of life and myself in the process.
Here are ten personal aphorisms I’ve learned in my journey so far:
- The simplest way to earn trust is to keep your promises.
- Value your achievements over your external image.
- Consistency is the best investment you can make in yourself.
- You will be forgotten when you leave.
- An engaged mind is better than an occupied one.
- Don’t neglect your own dreams while helping others build theirs.
- It’s difficult until you do it six times.
- If you cannot contribute to the solution, don’t add to the problem.
- Ask and ye might receive.
- Prove yourself through action more than words.
Now for the details.
#1. The simplest way to earn trust is to keep your promises.
Every species needs a community to survive and to evolve. At the foundation of each community lies trust. It makes the earth go round.
We have to rely on others to move forward. They, in turn, need the assurance that they can rely on us too.
It’s impossible to make progress without earning people’s trust. If your family and friends don’t trust you, your relationships will feel hollow. If your colleagues and seniors don’t trust you, you cannot prove your worth at work.
So how do can you earn and keep people’s trust? The simplest way is to keep your promises.
Everyone makes promises. Few keep them. The latter are people we can rely on. We feel safe when they put their hands up. And we reciprocate by doing whatever we can to help them achieve their own goals.
Keep the promises you make, even if you don’t feel like at that moment. And if you can’t keep them, inform people in advance. When your actions match your words, when people trust you, they’ll reciprocate with no strings attached.
Here’s an additional benefit of keeping your promises. When you do it for others, you learn to do it to yourself too. Which means you learn to take care of yourself.
#2. Value your achievements over your external image.
Each of us is passionate about something. Doing it adds a spring to our stride. But if we hit a roadblock — and we will hit them — we freeze like a deer caught in a car’s headlight.
Why do we wait for motivation during such times, and give up when it doesn’t appear? It’s because of the fear of failure, or more accurately, the fear of what people will say if we fail. We value our image more than our achievements.
But failure is more useful than we think. It keeps us grounded, teaches us to appreciate small wins, to work harder, and to take nothing for granted. Failure and rejection shape us to become better versions of ourselves.
Worrying about your image is as futile as trying to herd cats. Instead, push ahead in spite of temporary setbacks. You’ll discover wonderful traits about yourself in the process.
#3. Consistency is the best investment you can make in yourself.
What’s the one thing people value more than money? Their comfort zone. No wonder they never start the work they rented studios for, complete courses they signed up for, or pursue the goals they hired coaches to help them with.
As soon as our effort pushes us outside our comfort zone, we give up. And in doing so, we do ourselves more harm than good.
Each time we hit the reset button, we must work twice as hard to get back to our original rhythm, which takes the fun out of the work. And the chasm between the elation we hoped to feel after achieving the goal and the regret we feel for giving up makes us feel like shit.
But you don’t need extreme self-discipline to counterbalance this. You need an average pace — the pace that helps you progress but not so much that it burns you out.
And mastery comes from consistency. When you show up every day, you build an average pace. You gain a yard each day until you cross the entire football field.
Consistency matures you. Investing in it is the best reward you can give yourself.
#4. You will be forgotten when you leave.
It’s a weakness to think that anyone is dependent on me. This belief is the mother of all our attachment, and through this attachment comes all our pain. — Swami Vivekananda
Attachments are good in emails. But in real life, they cause anguish.
They force us to assume the responsibility to fix situations and others’ lives. We believe things cannot work without us and wait for people to tell us so. When they don’t, we secretly hope they land in trouble. In waiting for all this, we make our own lives miserable.
We attach our identity to external aspects like our relationships and designations… or, to how we feel about them. The deeper our attachment, the harder we try to control outcomes. (You’d have better luck trying to walk on water.)
The only way out of this mess is to go inwards. Give the present moment your best and move on. The fruit is not in your control.
There’s plenty of talk about a “new normal” on a global scale. But we’ve been living “new normals” ever since we were born. Our lives are in a state of constant flux. People enter and leave our lives. Good situations turn bad, bad ones turn good. Each time, we adapt. We’re a remarkably resilient species.
Likewise, others adapt to our absence. They learn to live without us even if they thought they couldn’t.
You’ll be forgotten when you leave. Today, tomorrow, or six months down. People will learn to live without you. The sun will rise. Life will go on.
You cannot fix the world. You can only fix yourself. Accepting this truth will save you plenty of heartaches.
#5. An engaged mind is better than an occupied one.
In the novella Through the Looking Glass, Alice tells the Red Queen, “In our country… you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run fast for a very long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” the Queen remarks. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
We’re all trapped in Red Queen country today. We run as hard as we can only to stay in the same place. We spend all our energy on maintaining the status quo. And happiness continues to elude us.
But take a moment to think about a time when you engaged in a difficult-but-doable activity. The result probably wasn’t the Sistine Chapel, but the elation you felt at the end was as if you had created something similar, wasn’t it? No amount of chocolates or Instagram likes could match that happiness.
Genuine, long-lasting happiness comes when we work on meaningful tasks that stretch our limits.
An engaged mind doesn’t just get stretched cognitively. It also enters the state of flow. Famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote,
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
This also explains why an engaged mind loses track of time. Three hours feel like 30 minutes to it. And a mind in the flow state accomplishes more in an hour than an occupied mind can accomplish in a day.
Do more tasks that challenge you. Reduce the tasks that make you run in circles. This won’t just increase your potential to succeed. According to research, it’ll also let you experience true happiness.
#6. Don’t neglect your own dreams while helping others build theirs.
This is an extension of the above point.
Working on others’ dreams keeps the money flowing and lets you build skills without risking much. But it also brews dissatisfaction.
See, when people pay money, they get to call the shots. Not just on what they want to do, but also on what you should (and shouldn’t) do. Anything you want to try must get approved by them first.
Working only on others’ dreams might keep you occupied, but it won’t make you feel gratified. It will confine your dreams to a cage.
But the good news is you hold the key to that cage. You can unlock your dreams and give them wings.
Pursue endeavors that let you express yourself without restriction. You’ll learn your own lessons, build a life you’ll look forward to, and offer the world something that’s authentically yours.
The world needs what you can offer. Don’t deprive it or yourself of that.
Make each day your masterpiece. — John Wooden
#7. It’s difficult until you do it six times.
Any new skill feels tough in the beginning. But most people give up before trying enough times. And this is a huge mistake.
Tim Ferriss observed that we must do a task at least six times to truly understand how it works. My experience aligns with his observation.
The beginning of my work as a management consultant felt like a whirlwind. It took working with six clients to figure out the how, the what, and the why of the job.
While learning website development, my skills were as useful as Adobe’s updates. By the sixth site, however, I could go beyond building websites to helping clients improve their design layouts.
When I began learning spider pushups, I struggled to coordinate my movements. But by the sixth practice session, I could move forward and backward while doing them.
Try a skill at least six times before you decide whether it’s interesting and worth your while. Make new mistakes each time. New mistakes a sign of progress.
Eventually, you’ll discover and settle on a handful of activities that you enjoy. The drive to master them will come from within you. And no coach, self-help guru, or book can ignite a fire like that inside you.
#8. If you cannot contribute to the solution, don’t add to the problem.
We don’t have to squint to find the problems around us.
People leave no stone unturned to highlight them and demand that someone does something to fix them. They bash everyone who doesn’t align with their opinions and don’t shy away from degrading name-calling. To top it all, they think they’re behaving like intelligent, responsible citizens. (Give me a break already!)
Anyone can point out mistakes. It’s stupid easy. But rolling up your sleeves to try and solve problems? That’s rare. Because it requires courage.
To go from failure to failure without breaking. To ignore the jeers of whiners and watch the complainers and doomsayers hog all the spotlight. It’s not everyone’s cuppa.
The word doesn’t need more commentators right now. The world needs doers willing to lead with hope, not chaos. — Tim Denning
You can be a doer even if you cannot contribute to the solution directly.
You can form an educated, balanced opinion by researching the facts. You can break the chain of negativity by subtracting your voice from the din. You can save lives by spreading hope instead of staining your hands with someone’s blood by spreading chaos and fear.
Don’t let the herd make you a part of it. You’re better than that.
#9. Ask and ye might receive.
The world functions on the premise of “I need.” We drag ourselves to work because we need money. We get into relationships because we need companionship.
As social animals, we also depend on others to fulfill our needs. This means we have to ask for what we want and negotiate if needed.
But most of us would rather walk barefoot on hot coal. Thoughts like, Will they say no? Will they think less of me? and What will they tell others? hold us back. We would rather not ask for what we want than give someone the power to say no.
Yes, hearing “no” sucks. But if we muster enough courage to ask, we can increase the number of times we hear a “yes.”
Here’s a personal example.
A few months ago, I was porting my family’s medical insurance policy to a different company. The advisor said my father would have to get a medical check-up done at a hospital since he’s a senior citizen. It was a non-negotiable clause in the policy.
But I was concerned about my father visiting a hospital given the COVID scenario. So I took a punt. I shared my thoughts and asked for an exception. Guess what. The company obliged.
Ask for what you want and give honest reasons. The worst that could happen is that your request gets rejected. But the best that could happen is that you could get what you want.
Careful though. When people ask for something, they might feel entitled to a yes. A “no” could make them fly into a fit of rage. I’ve been on that side too. It’s not just unpleasant; it’s also childish. Not among my proudest moments.
#10. Prove yourself through action more than words.
Call it our conditioning, but we hate it when others doubt us. We hate it more when they doubt us despite us doing our best.
We break into long justifications explaining why their judgment is unfair and why we deserve more compassion.
But here’s the thing. Words rarely change people’s minds. If they did, social media would be a peaceful place. Debates about politics and climate-change wouldn’t turn hostile.
Arguments make things worse. More chaos, more anger, more negativity. The only aspects that can change people’s minds, if at all, are results. They speak so loudly that they make words redundant. And results come from action.
Don’t get into a boxing ring when tensions flare. Instead, ask yourself, “What can I do to make this better?” Then do it.
Every person you admire has reached where they are today by working in silence.
Prove your doubters wrong with results. Even if they don’t admit it, you’ll walk away with your head held high. That’s the sweetest and classiest revenge.
Life is not what happens to you. It’s how you perceive what happens and what you do next.
It’s not a 24/7/365 job that requires a manual. It’s a delightful box of Lego blocks that you use to build anything you want.
It’s your box. Those are your blocks. This is your life. Make it something you’ll proudly reflect on when you’re 80.
The best part? You don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission. You can start right now.