Category: Good practices
Good practices and insights for better results
Meeting our future self and being happy or unhappy with what we find.
We all have a tendency to become stuck in the past, which potentially doesn’t help our future self. There is nothing wrong with thinking about the past, analyzing our mistakes and trying our hardest to learn from them. As long as these past experiences, don’t prevent us from growing into our potential future self. It’s obvious, that we would not want to be a lesser person than we are now. Would there be any point in striving for anything, if we thought that might be the case? We can create a “virtual embodiment” now, which enables us to experience the person who we desire ourselves to be in the future. It’s creating a push pull effect, we push ourselves now and in doing that, we also have a pull effect from the future self, we imagine and desire to be.
The flip side of meeting our future self, can be a picture of us sitting in a nursing home, reflecting on the opportunities we didn’t take. Living with the regret of a life only partially lived, being angry and disappointed with the outcome. Which ever way we imagine our future to be, we have to use that vision to fuel our current desire to either be, or not to be that person.
Taking a realistic look at our future self.
Taking a realistic look at our future, can be painful and it’s not something we generally like to do. No one wants to see a future for themselves that isn’t at least as bright, or brighter than it currently is. The goal isn’t to imagine an apocalyptic scenario, although that could happen with bad choices. But to envision what will happen to us, if we continue with our current choices. Almost always, we are going to find, that if we think realistically, we won’t like some aspects of ourselves. The question is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret? I think we are grooming ourselves to become the person we want to be. But through each step of change and experience, our pre-conceived idea of who we want to be, also changes. In fact, the only change that is constant, is change itself.
Our modern world has also become a lot more certain over time, we almost take it for granted, that living to an old age is a birth right. In the pre-agricultural era, when foraging and hunting was all we knew, the future was far from certain, with hardly a thought of reaching old age. The scarcity and uncertainty then, would have led to a short term view of the future. Eating, drinking and indulging in the moment, with no regard to long term health, or personal growth would have been normal. That thought process is still with us but there are even more opportunities available to us now, making it easier, to live a soft unfulfilled life, consuming and indulging more than we need to. Fast food, watching TV instead of going to the gym, spending money rather than saving it, to name a few.
Helping our future self
Our future self would be grateful if we saved for our retirement, looked after our health, bringing long term benefits, we will appreciate in the future. Our aim should be to seek a balance, but not to the point, where we only think about the future. We could end up comfortable but sad, lacking memories of our spontaneous self. I’m sixty six now, so I am already meeting a version of my complete future self, but I have come to realise, that change is the only constant thing we have.
Whether I want change or not, it’s inevitable I can’t stop it, even if I wanted too. I have found investing in activities that cause some discomfort in the short term, can act as a springboard to higher phycological growth. I walk every day very early in the morning, but lately, the cold winter mornings, have been a real struggle. When I hike, I like to take everything I need on my back and camp every night, usually solo. This has improved my patience and organisation skills, also my capacity to spend long periods of time on my own. These small inconveniences, have allowed me to obtain more resolve and a better capacity to tackle larger problems that will always arise. I believe, that I’m trying as much as I can to help my future self, whilst enjoying more contentment than I’ve ever felt before.
What happens when we change direction slightly?
A few Sunday’s back it was Mother’s day here in Australia. My morning walk around the local streets and park was much the same as any other day. It’s my routine, it’s convenient and comfortable. A circular walk lasting one hour and thirty five minutes, give or take a few seconds. I never change my route, my walks are always in an anticlockwise direction. I’m on an invisible railway track. I think back to the time when as a kid, l believed the train driver had to steer the train down the track and how much concentration that must take. I haven’t been concentrating at all I’ve been sleep walking on my track.
Not today though, I remembered the house at the start of my walk with the flower van parked outside. I walk past there everyday and l have noticed the lady filling her van with flowers. Will she be selling flowers from her van ouside her house being as it’s Mothers day. I am nearing the end of my walk, so I will have to change direction and find a short cut back to the only source I know of, that may sell flowers, this early in the morning. I start doubling back on my usual route, even this brings a different perspective as l see things from a different angle. Soon I am in completely new surroundings passing the time of day with other early morning walkers that I haven’t seen before.
A change of direction brings new possibilities.
The lady was selling flowers from the front of her house. Coming from a different direction it seemed odd, not as I remembered it from the start of my walk. The lady recognised me, “I see you walking by every day, it’s nice to talk to you” While I was chatting to her, a thought came to me of something l read once. A train driver was on the same route for many years, his train passed through a village where a lady would wave to him every day from her house and he would wave back. The train driver looked forward to this every day, imagining the woman to be warm and friendly. He even felt an emotional connection after all this time. As he was now retired he decided to walk to the house and finally talk to the lady in person.
The house seemed different to him now, he wasn’t sure that this was a good idea anymore. To late, he introduced himself, “I’m the train driver who you waved to every morning” “I wasn’t waving at you I was waving at the train.” This seemed sad to me, not that this lady waved at me every day. I wouldn’t have noticed anyway, sleep walking on my invisible track. Even the thought I had about the train driver came about because of a change in my direction.
According to google most of us move around in a very limited area, often visiting the same places again and again. I expect you go about your daily life more or less as I do, clamped to an imaginary length of rail track. It’s unrealistic and passive to expect a different experience or to meet someone different, who shares not only your interests and sensibilities, whilst moving within your exact daily routine.
If change seems to much then just stretch your borders a little more.
Go to places you have never been and order food you have never ordered. Also stand in lines you have never stood in before. A directional change can also happen by looking at long held beliefs. “I can’t do that, or l never eat that.” Things that we have not examined for ages, having held them as limiting assumptions for long periods of time, sometimes years. Also things that we have never tried that we automatically assume, are beyond our capacity. I have never snow skied, jumped out of a plane or painted a picture. Sung a song in public, or played a musical instrument. It wouldn’t cost me very much to try, a bruised ego maybe, if l discovered l wasn’t any good. But if I enjoyed the experience it would be worth the change.
I discovered hiking and camping in nature only about three years ago. This simple change of direction has led me down a path that has changed my whole perspective on life. It’s also altered the thoughts that l considered were important to me. The change we may be seeking, must ultimately come from within us. It’s how we interact with the changes we do make, that make the difference. I understand now, when l first read that “some people travel the world and see nothing. While other people never travel and see everything” Observation, curiosity and a slight change of direction is a good place to start. “Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures” (Lovell Drachman.)
Whether it’s good or bad it’s still our responsibility.
When we are children our parents are responsible for us. But their responsibilities cease, after we reach adulthood and we become responsible for ourselves. This means not only for the good parts, which are easy to take responsibility for. But also taking responsibility for the parts we may feel are not our fault, or beyond our capacity to deal with. Taking ownership of every event and circumstance in our past and current life is of paramount importance. Life is short enough without wasting months or years in situations that could have been resolved earlier. Taking ownership though, is not the same as taking blame, ownership means taking and having control over our lives. Even if those choices were made unconsciously, and didn’t yield the exact results that were hoped for.
It’s easy to look back on life and blame other people for the situations we find ourselves in. But, we can’t go back and change our upbringing, so it’s time to stop blaming our school teachers and parents for our hang ups. If we want to make changes, we have to take ownership. We have to accept that no one is coming to rescue us and make our lives better. We have to be an active participant in our growth and do our own “dirty work”. Once we take responsibility for our life and work out what we want, it’s time to make the changes. This comes about by thinking and acting with intention, breaking away from our old story and old patterns that have kept us stuck for so long.
The right attitude in taking responsibility.
We have all run across people who radiate an inner light. These people can be found in all walks of life, and seem to be “good people” . They listen well and make you feel valued, you often see them looking after other people, and as they do, their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about the wonderful work they are doing, in fact they are not thinking about themselves at all. When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But it occurs to me, that even though I’ve achieved a decent level of responsibility and caring. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character. A few years ago I realized, that if I wanted to achieve this, I would have to commit to moral adventures that can form this type of character.
In order to become a capable adult, we have to take and accept responsibility for everything we do and are. It’s no good criticizing other people for what we have or haven’t done. If we want something in life, it’s up to us to reach out for it. Excuses, are rationalizations we make to ourselves about people, events and circumstances. We invent these excuses to defend our behavior, to neglect taking a particular kind of action, or simply as a means of neglecting our responsibility. Excuses are in essence, a means of placing blame for our own internal problems on convenient external conditions, we may find ourselves in.
When we lack control, it’s very difficult to find the motivation to work harder, so our performance suffers. This chain reaction pretty much ensures failure, not just now, but into the future as well. Ancient Romans understood the concept of personal responsibility. After a Roman arch was completed, the engineer who was responsible, had to stand underneath it, when the scaffolding was removed. While you might not get crushed by a giant arch of responsibility, you still have a personal responsibility for the actions you take. If you don’t take steps to get what you want, other people will take these steps for you, which means, this isn’t always going to be in your best interests.
You owe it to yourself and to those around you to take control of your life, otherwise life gets difficult for everyone. Don’t let your struggles define who you are, you are more than your struggles, the future is up to you.
Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction, ends up being the biggest step ever taken that’s Kaizen.
“Kaizen” is a Japanese philosophy, while not having an absolute definition in English, it’s meaning is, continuous improvement, making small adjustments as we go forward. Kaizen, doesn’t represent the new exercise machine standing in the corner gathering dust and now being used as something to hang our clothes on. The new years resolution we made that was broken in the first few days. Business ventures that somehow never get off the ground, because the reality doesn’t fit the dream. Signing up for night classes full of enthusiasm, but after a few weeks of cold weather, missing classes to stay home in the warm. Obviously, there are people who take on these challenges and make it through to their goal. But more often than not, it’s easier to give up, move on and try something else that gives us more excitement, for a while.
Kaizen unnoticed steps
As we keep giving up on our grand dreams, we will be forced to ask ourselves some harsh questions. Why am I such a loser? How could I be so stupid? What’s wrong with me? So not only have we not stayed the distance with our dreams, now we are using our energy to emphasize our inadequacies as well. This is where kaizen comes in, it allows us to bypass the lofty goals that are often doomed to failure. Allowing us to concentrate on moving forward with easier and often unnoticed steps.
The trouble is the “Flight or fight” part of our brain which is critical to register an imminent threat, has in most cases, become a liability. Any new challenge or opportunity, still tends to trigger degrees of fear, but most of the time it’s not a legitimate fear. Although, this still prevents access to the thinking part of our brain which becomes restricted and often shuts down.
Kaizen trying to trick the “flight or fight” mode
Kaizen is making minor adjustments, that are often so small they become almost unnoticeable. The part of our brain that becomes overwhelmed with change leading to fear, is tricked into staying asleep. These little steps of kaizen, are a stealthy solution to the large steps we often set for ourselves, but fail to achieve. Small actions take very little time or money, are very agreeable to many of us who haven’t built supplies of willpower. By outfoxing fear and negative responses, our brain is allowed to build up permanent optimism. This approach may seem strange to us, as it goes against most definitions of personal progress.
As individuals, we are prompted to “Think big. Believe big. Act big and the results will be big”. The results may be big for some people, but not for the majority. Kaizen isn’t about thinking big, it’s about thinking small positive thoughts to eventually get big results. Our attempts to be better usually end in failure, because life-changing goals overwhelm us into inaction, instead of inspiring us into action. Unrealistic goals make it insanely difficult to make any progress, so we become stressed over what is supposed to help us take action. A big audacious goal looks scary to our brain, and when our brain encounters “scary” it goes into “freeze” mode. If we constantly overstretch ourselves, we lose the required energy we need to take the necessary action to get better.
Kaizen in action
We decide to get up an hour early, the first day is fine, but the next day we feel tired and quickly abandon the idea. The kaizen method would be, to get up three minutes early the first day, and increase it to six minutes the day after. Adding three minutes each day until after 20 days we are getting up an hour earlier. Small incremental steps, that our body doesn’t even notice over the longer term.
We like the idea of meditating for half an hour every day. But a half hour meditation isn’t easy, so attempting a half hour block, won’t last for the majority of people. The kaizen way would be to meditate for just 30 seconds the first day, and keep adding 30 seconds each day. In 60 days we are meditating for half an hour, making it easier to maintain over a longer period.
Kaizen as a system
If we have never exercised before, deciding to go to the gym for a hour each day is going to be extremely hard and most likely will end in failure. As we watch television we decide to take the first tiny step. On the first evening, we get up off the couch during an ad break and do a fast walk on the spot until it’s over. And the next night two ads and so on until we reach one hour. It takes a while to get there, but once there, we are more likely to keep going as we have gained the momentum now.
While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives. If we want to achieve our goal every time, we need to create a system that works. Instead of dreaming about the ultimate goal, design a great process. This way makes us a winner, we can enjoy the present moment and most likely, improve at the same time.
Death it’s only natural
Are you feeling courageous? Then take some time out to think about your death and take note of what comes up. Invite the anxiety and the disquiet, feel the supposedly solid ground of your world tremble slightly. Approach the topic with compassion, and remind yourself, that it’s a natural part of life we’re all going to experience. Is there any benefit in thinking about our death, I believe there is. A more meaningful, mindful life and less chance that our story will be included in the next edition of the “Top five regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware. There are so many clichés surrounding death, that now it’s become disconnected from any significant meaning. Unless you are directly involved with or close to the process itself. “You only have one life” “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal” Why worry when you could be dead tomorrow”
It’s only when we are told that we only have a short time to live, that we become aware of how fragile life is. This got me thinking, is it possible to live our life within our self imposed comfort and only face the fear of death when we absolutely have to? While still trying to keep the status-quo in place, and not rock our boat in anyway. But it’s almost impossible to always keep ourselves in a safe place. When change comes, as it inevitably will, we will then be ill equiped to deal with it. In life, there is no turning back and there are no guarantees either. Isn’t it better to realize this, to embrace the fear of death and then use this, to live a really meaningful life.
Use death to live life.
We all have the capacity to live our life to it’s fullest potential. This is not to be confused with everything having to be an adventure, and taking unnecessary risks. We know in ourselves what makes us feel good, this provides us with the feeling of inner contentment. It can be cooking, painting, spending time with family or renovating houses, as long as we don’t get stuck in a rut. We all have our issues, problems and frustrations in our lives, this is all part of being human. But being aware of our death, is one solution to cultivate an intense awareness of the fragility of life. This has helped me to see the big picture, and not get bogged down in the pettiness of many situations.
Everything in life is constantly coming together and then falling apart. There is beauty in the moment, the seasons change, the flowers bloom and then they die. There is an impermanence to everything around us and we are a part of that. The vacation that was so fantastic, is over all too quickly, so we feel sad. The party we went to that was so much fun, that we didn’t want to end. And conversely, the crap party that we wanted to end. We are constantly confronting these types of endings, but while we are waiting for the next beginning to arrive, we are often missing the “Now”.
Death and mindfulness.
The fact that we are going to die, doesn’t create a meaningful life, it’s the wisdom of “knowing” that captures our attention. Then we are more likely to ask ourselves what’s important, and how do we embrace it. Habit of course, has a strong momentum that can carry us through until we die. So the question arises, what habits do we want to cultivate that will cause us to engage more with life Instead of procrastination, worry, and always wondering if we are making the right decisions. We constantly build defences against our vunerability, and death is the ultimate vunerability for us. But when we allow our life to be vunerable, we become more open and allow the world to impress itself on our consciousness.
What ever we have done in our life, is who we are when we die, so everything counts. We dont have to wait for death to find peace though, we can find peace in the wisdom of thinking about death while alive. Allowing these thoughts to guide us in making decisions, that may have seemed outside of our capacity before. Worries that once seemed relevant, are now put into perspective. Every bad day, seems pretty damn good when compared to having no more days at all. When we truly accept our death, we can hold on to that feeling in the same way we think about our grocery list or our plans for the weekend. We start to see what’s worth our time, and never worth our tears.
It’s easier to judge a book by it’s cover.
It’s not right to judge someone or something merely by appearance. Just because the cover of a book is beautiful, it doesn’t mean that the content inside will be. An ordinary looking book though, may contain invaluable information, but we won’t know this, unless we read the entire book. To get to know someone properly, we have to do the same thing, often we don’t and I believe our lives are less meaningful because of it. This is partly because, we live in a world of many books and we don’t want to waste time reading crap. We put people and things into categories, as it’s a useful tool to make sense of our surroundings. This also reveals cognitive biases in the way we look at the world, this is not in tune with reality.
We make inferences all the time, as we compare and evaluate ourselves against the current social mores. I have often done this myself, even though I know at an intellectual level, I could be completely wrong. Couple this with compassion fatigue, as we become overwhelmed with social problems all around us. This leads to a mindset that creates a dangerous situation, which causes many problems in society.
It’s easy to judge people?
I’m on a rehabilitation program again, after the hernia repairs. I’m starting to walk around the local neighborhood, not too far from home in case I need rescuing. It’s the first time I have really walked around the local streets, I’m usually driving by on my way to the park, or further afield. So how do I amuse myself, that’s the question, this is Australia, so walking around the suburbs isn’t the national pastime, not with glorious beaches and beautiful parks everywhere. “Have you run out of petrol, is that why your walking, or have you broken down, do you need a lift?” “No! but thanks for asking,” your judgement was wrong this time, but I can see why you would think that.
How to judge your neighbors?
This is an older neighborhood built in the 70’s, a mixture of different styles. I’m going to make some value judgements, that house with the very formal garden, with well kept lawns and edges. Not sure of the peoples age who live there, they like gardening though, probably retired, and very fastidious. That one over there is very stark, concrete driveway and brick paving everywhere, hardly any lawn or garden. This one’s a bit tougher to guess, they don’t like gardening though, but it’s still very neat. The garage door is up, a caravan, motorbike, surfboards, a younger family live there, and they enjoy their leisure activities. Hence no time for gardening.
Look at the state of that house over there, long grass everywhere. I don’t think that boats been anywhere for years, its almost grown into the landscape. They don’t have any time for gardening either, but for different reasons than the young family over the road. Mind you, they could be renting, people renting don’t look after their houses properly, do they?
Driving home in the early hours of the morning after a social event. I went past the local take away food outlet, some of them are open 24hours. Those kids playing around in the carpark, they can’t be any older than my grandson. And I know, he’s tucked up in bed over in Melbourne, as he should be, at twelve years old. So what the hell are the parents of these kids up to, letting them roam the streets at this time of the night, surely it can’t be very safe for them. Their parents don’t care about them, that’s plainly obvious, in my judgement.
I mentioned this to my youngest son who turns 41 soon. “What’s happening to the younger generation nowadays running around the streets at all hours. We never let you do that, we were responsible parents, not like the parents of the kids I saw.” “Well I know the area your talking about, do you remember when you used to drop me off at my mates house. And then ring his parents to check how we were. We were fine, we used to climb out of the bedroom window when his parents were asleep and meet up with all our other mates, down the very area your talking about”.
The curious thing is, I don’t consider that I do judge a book by it’s cover, but in the day to day, I seem to be making judgements continuously. According to my understanding, fast judgements have helped us in the past. As we needed to assess risks very fast, in order to survive, so we evaluate all new things in the same manner now. I read somewhere, that we have two voices in our head, the judgmental and the empathetic. We simply allow these two “voices” to co-exist. Slowly, we will be able to experience both, our mind’s tendency to judge quickly and our mind’s ability to think more deeply
I often think more deeply, when I give myself the time and space to make a judgement properly. I’m making a judgement now that so many people are doing it tough in this world. Therefore I’m not helping by judging situations, that I know very little about. When we judge people in the moment, we often judge them harshly, “why can’t they do things according to our standards.” The undeniable truth is, we are all a heartbeat away from illness, tragedy and any number of events, that can change our lives instantly. So it’s best to keep it in mind, not to judge a book by it’s cover. Because, there but for the grace of God, go I.
Taking calculated risks sharpens our confidence and wellbeing as we identify ourselves as being stronger. When it comes to taking risks, there’s something to be said for trusting our gut, but too often we confuse gut instinct with fear. We assume, that discomfort means our gut is telling us not to proceed. So rather than step outside our comfort zone, we avoid the risks that can propel us forward. We assume if something feels scary, then it must be really risky, but that’s not an accurate way to measure risk.
Our level of fear, usually has nothing to do with the actual level of risk we face. Most people fear public speaking, being embarrassed, or being laughed at, but none of these instances are risky. We sign up for a get rich quick scheme using our hard earned cash, but we often don’t see this as a risk. On the other hand, we don’t think twice about getting into a car, yet car crashes kill people every day.
Mentally strong people don’t fear taking calculated risks. We know taking the right risks, can be the difference between living an ordinary life and living an extraordinary life. Everyone has a risk muscle, we keep it in shape by trying new things. If we don’t, it atrophies and we’re no longer able to take risks. How many of the wonderful things that happened to me, did I actually have anything to do with? Not very many it seems.
Luckily, some of the best things that happen in our lives, are not governed by our influence at all, they just happen. Most of the time, it would be far better, to get out of our own way and not interfere at all. We can choose to take risks and not wait until we become ill and feel our life force diminishing. We will always have regrets, it’s the regret stage we go through, in which we visit the life we wish we had lived.
Risks with our heart.
It’s a pity that being who we truly are requires so much courage, but it does. Being who we are, whoever that is, sometimes cannot even be articulated at first, not even to ourselves. All we know is there is a yearning within that is not being fulfilled by the life we are currently living. The mind knows no answers. The heart knows no questions. It is the heart that guides us to joy, not the mind. Having the courage to follow it, is where true happiness lies. As the heart grows, life brings more joy and peace our way. A happy life wants us as much as we want it. (paraphrased from a book by Bronnie Ware. The top five regrets of the dying)
What if risks.
Why do we live a life, that is often based on a fear of what if’s? What if I can’t take the consequences? What if I’m too frightened, what if I end up alone, what if this costs me too much money. Well what if ? We have to ask ourselves, how many of our greatest fears ever actually happened. There is no safe path to take, we have to take risks going forwards, whether we want to or not. We can’t allow ourselves to look backwards for guidance, because there is nothing of us back there. The reason we are where we are now, is because that part of our life is over. We can’t look “back” to the past when we are trying to “chart” the new. We risk seeing an image of ourselves, that doesn’t exist anymore, we are not that person now.
20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)
I think the heart does carry us to joy and not our thinking process, if we are willing to follow it. Often, there is an excitement felt deep inside, similar to the feeling we get when listening to music, that we enjoy. Living within this and similar feelings, often makes taking risks easier. The answer, isn’t always dramatic risk taking that drives us forward, often it’s baby steps to where we want to go. While being aware of the direction in which our heart, is trying to guide us.