22 Meaningful life lessons

by | Personal Effectiveness

Precisely 22 years ago, around 02:30 A.M on the 20th of February, I was born into this world. Since then, I’ve grown a bit taller, gained a pound or two and made a humble attempt to learn from experiences that took place in my life.

By no means have I learned all there is to learn but since I never expect to achieve such enlightenment, I’ll just go ahead and share 22 of the things I’ve learned so far.

1. You can modify yourself

While this may intuitively sound logical, realizing that we can modify most of our behavioral patterns has made a lot of impact on me. It’s possible—among other things—to improve how we look, how we feel and how we communicate. Benjamin Franklin, an important historical figure who many consider to be the founder of modern self-improvement, lived his life accordingly.

He famously defined 13 virtues in his journal and worked on them consistently. Among these virtues were industry (productive work), frugality (waste nothing), sincerity (authenticity) and tranquility (calmness). Franklin made considerable improvements in these areas throughout his life, showcasing the possibilities of self-improvement to the rest of us.

2. Feedback is a gift, not an attack

As with anything, we need feedback to improve our behavior. However, while we’re soon to accept feedback when learning a particular skill, we become defensive when we unexpectedly feel criticized. Unwanted feedback is often met in similar fashion as a declaration of war; by loading up on guns… and bringing one’s friends.

I believe this to be wrong. Throughout my life, feedback on my blind spots has on many occasions proven extremely valuable. Hence, I believe it should be received with the same heartfelt gratitude that you feel towards someone who notifies you of your open zipper.

3. Quantify yourself

To measure is to know. Don’t make assumptions about the way things are and gather objective data instead. Our smartphones can help us produce lots of data, use this to your advantage! You can learn about your sleep quality, caloric balance, financial behavior and much, much more. Gaining insight in my behavioral patterns has helped me live healthier, reduce depth and increase my energylevels.

4. Accept so that you can let go

This has always seemed very paradoxical to me. When somebody wrongs us, logic tells us to hold on to a grudge; acceptance would mean approving of what happened right? WRONG! Acceptance is about letting go and giving yourself permission to move on to better things. Remember the wise words of the Buddha: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

5. You are what you think you are

Reality is an intra-individual experience and greatly (if not completely) influenced by your worldly beliefs. Sometimes self-improvement is simply the process of letting go of some of them. Letting go of beliefs like “I can’t do it”, “I am not attractive” or “I’m an introvert” went hand in hand with a steady rise in my confidence.

6. Working with people trumps working alone

There are several reasons why working together beats the shit out of working alone: – Social activity is pleasurable and often desirable above being alone – You are much more exposed to receiving feedback, the importance of which has already been stressed – You get to have multiple views and opinions on a matter, this is often extremely valuable.

No matter how competent you think you are, adding the talents of others to the equation will always add up to something greater. Just make sure that you work with enthusiastic, capable people. Can’t find any? When writing this article there were 7,295,424,706 people living on this planet. How many of them you think suit your needs? Keep looking.

7. Make power moves

A power move is the act of convincingly deciding to take a certain action. It can be very liberating to tell yourself that you will certainly do something, or not do it. Indecisiveness often triggers a state of worry. Preserving this energy by making power moves can prove useful, even when it means saying no at times. Deciding not to do something has on many different occasions resulted in me doing more effective and rewarding work.

8. Plan your life

While some productivity gurus may deny to be affected, procrastination is a daily occurrence for most of us, including myself. That being said, consistently planning and reflecting on that planning has helped me become increasingly productive. I highly recommend that you write a daily journal and plan and reflect on your every day, week and month. It’s worth the effort.

9. Habits shape your life

In their book on willpower Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney say that “people with strong self-control spent less time resisting desires than other people”, “these people have less need to use willpower because they’re beset by fewer temptations and inner conflicts.” “They’re better at arranging their lives so that they avoid problem situations.” Going about your normal life doesn’t require any willpower, while trying new things does.

Solidifying my habits by consistently executing them has improved my life without taking too much willpower. Over the years, keeping a list of daily tasks has worked wonders for me. Try using the app Coach.me, pick some tasks to do each day (max. 3 new ones at a time), keep track of them and get community support along with it.

10. Learn moderation

We’re often afraid of things that can potentially be addictive to us. At the same time, we’re naively ignorant of many addictive things like sugar, alcohol and the internet. Most of us are probably struggling with some addiction in some way. Perhaps it’s therefore less important to avoid the addictive and more important to learn moderation. 

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink every now and then, but while funny to bystanders, drinking yourself into a state of retardation isn’t desirable nor appropriate. Keep in mind that life itself is the ultimate experience.

11. Don’t let technology dictate your life

In today’s world we have beautiful technology that can make our lives either easier or more complicated, often a combination of both. Don’t reject technology but make sure to keep it from dictating your life. Putting a time limit on Facebook and other websites that I didn’t want to spend half the day checking has worked well for me.

12. Make what you want to do the most accessible

Want to get yourself to do something? Make it easier for yourself, make the alternative more difficult or both. If, for example, you would like to play more guitar; leave your plugged-in Strat on the couch and hide the TV remote. When I want to work without distraction I often turn off my phone, put it in a locked drawer and hide the key under my couch. This is usually enough to resist the temptation to quickly check for messages. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have someone duct-tape me to a chair and … (OK, that’s a joke).

13. Be a connoisseur

Life’s too short to not enjoy it fully. I therefore encourage you to take on the mindset of a connoisseur, meaning that you critically appraise things and enjoy what you consider good. The first step is to do just one thing at a time and do it consciously as multi-tasking intervenes with true enjoyment. You should also fully use your senses; when you listen to music, truly hear it and enjoy all its nuances. Since you have a nose and tongue, savor any flavor! Form a critical opinion of everything you sense, you’ll get much enjoyment out of it.

14. Looks matter

Part of my self-development journey was the discovery that one’s anatomical features are not all that important. There is, on the other hand, definitely a need to present yourself well. The way you feel can determine to a great extent how you look, but the opposite is true as well. I believe it to be worthwhile to educate yourself on concepts like grooming, body language and timeless fashion.

15. Spirituality requires rationality

This year involved many experiences that made me more spiritual and I’m very grateful for that. At the same time spirituality can be very overwhelming and I quickly found myself drowning in the depthless sea of the unknown. Many things remain unexplained by science, this however is not an argument for abandoning all reason and taking on far-fetched superstitions. Sam Harris, neuroscientist and philosopher, made it very clear in his book ‘Waking Up: Spirituality without Religion’: “The fact that it is possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself should be a great finding for the field of psychology, but it lends absolutely no credence to the claim that Jesus was the son of God, or even that God exists. Nor does it suggest that the “energy” of love somehow pervades the cosmos. These are historical and metaphysical claims that personal experience cannot justify.”

The earth we inhabit might be an electron flying around in an atom of some extremely complex molecule that is part of an organelle in a cell that is part of an organ that is part of another conscious being that lives on yet another planet in another solar system in another universe. But until there is solid evidence to support such a claim, I would never present it as being factual. Furthermore, I think a belief should help your life flourish and otherwise be altered or rejected completely. We simply don’t know why we exist and tormenting ourselves, or making illogical claims about reality, is no longer serving us. All we know is our own personal experience of this moment. Now, let’s take what we’ve got and make the best of it.

16. Eat fat to burn fat

I’m not a stranger to diets. When competing in Mixed Martial Arts, I always tried to eat as low in fat as possible. Alas, this never stopped me from lacking energy, or gaining weight, regardless of my goals. Then, when I stopped avoiding high fat products and started to avoid products high in sugar, I suddenly lost weight and my energy increased. Try for yourself and see what works for you.

17. Stop chasing passion and start being excellent

In his book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ Cal Newport stresses the importance of not overly focussing on discovering an intrinsic passion of yours (which may not even exist) and rather focussing on being good at what you’re currently doing. Stop thinking about where you want to be and start excelling where you are. You may accidentally bump into what you were originally looking for all this time.

18. Choose connection over being right

My father always taught me this and it’s only now that I’m starting to understand what he meant. Listening should more often than not be done on an emotional level, not just a rational one. What a person says is often not just about the words but also about how they feel. If you fail to hook on to that, you fail to communicate properly.

19. Arrogance and cockiness are merely the result of inexperience, which sufficient strong winters will rid you of

This one is self-explanatory. The older I get, the humbler.

20. You can open people up by opening up yourself

Open your heart up to people. Accept and allow them to show themselves. Be kind towards their insecurities and learn to love their shortcomings. After embracing this principle I started having much deeper relationships with people, even people that I never would’ve originally expected it from.

21. What a man doesn’t do is equally important as what he does

For everything you do, there is a thing you can’t. Deciding to do thing A equals not doing thing B. Treat your time as money; spend it wisely, on the right things and with the right people.

22. Everyone has their own path

In an interview (around 21:30) the singer/songwriter Ben Howard was asked to advise aspiring musicians. He says to believe “that everyone learns everything from themselves and that that’s what creates [their] path”, he “never wanted to preach ideas at people” and advises to “believe in what you believe and learn what you learn along the way, that’ll take you places where [he hasn’t] been.”

This very much inspires me. Not because it’s the best advice I ever heard, but because I have the tendency to quickly advice and tell people what to do. This interview serves as a humbling reminder to myself; everyone has their own path and I have yet to learn a thing about it. Stop complaining and start, like Gandhi said, to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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