February 24, 2016

Guidelines on Staying Focused, Productive, and Satisfied

I've seen dozens of checklists -- like the one below -- that are chock-full of advice on how to be happier, richer, more popular, etc. A friend sent this one to me, and for some reason, it really registered. I received it a week ago and saved it. Since then, I've reviewed the suggestions several times... and should probably post some of them on my bathroom mirror.

The author, Geoffrey James, is a contributing editor at Inc.com, where this list first appeared.

Enjoy!

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1. Assume people have good intentions.

Since you can't read minds, you don't really know the "why" behind the "what" that people do. Imputing evil motives to other people's weird behaviors adds extra misery to life, while assuming good intentions leaves you open to reconciliation.

2. Avoid using negative words.

Stop using negative phrases...such as "I can't," "It's impossible," or "This won't work." Stop using profanity, too. What comes out of your mouth programs your mind. When you talk trash, you're transforming your brain into trash.

3. Avoid spending time with stressed-out people.

You may not realize it, but your physiology is programmed to mirror the physiology of those around you. In other words, you can "catch" stress from other people. So although it may not be possible to avoid stressed people all the time, avoid them as far as possible.

4. Begin each day with expectation.

If there's any big truth about life, it's that it usually lives up to (or down to) your expectations. Therefore, when you rise from bed, make your first thought be, "Something wonderful is going to happen today." Guess what? You're probably right.

5. Breathe more deeply.

Breathing deeply calms you down but, more importantly, it helps ensure that plenty of oxygen is getting into your lungs and into your blood stream, where (among other things) it helps your brain work more efficiently.

6. Celebrate more frequently.

The small and large successes and accomplishments in your life deserve recognition. It's a mistake to head straight for the next task or the next goal without celebrating, even if it's only patting yourself on the back.

7. Daydream more frequently.

The idea that daydreaming and working are mutually exclusive belongs back in the 20th century. It's when you let your thoughts wander that you're more likely to have the insights that will make you both unique and more competitive.

8. Decide that you MUST achieve your goals.

When you approach a task that leads toward your goal, never start out by saying, "I'll try...." When you use that phrase, you're giving yourself permission to fail. Instead, phrase your action in terms of "I will...!" or "I must...!" No wiggle room allowed.

9. Define "failure" as "failing to take action."

Regardless of your goals and milestones, you don't have control over anything except your own behavior. Redefining failure as "failing to take action" puts failure (and therefore success) within your control.

10. Deflect partisan conversations.

Arguments about politics and religion never have a "right" answer but they definitely get people all riled up over things they can't control. When such topics surface, bow out by saying something like: "Thinking about that stuff makes my head hurt."

11. Don't waste energy on hate.

Hate is an emotional parasite that eats away at your energy and health. If something is wrong with the world and you can change it, take action. If you can't take action, you're better off to forgive and forget.

12. Don't take calls from strangers.

Unless you're working in telesales or product support, there's no reason you should ever take a call from somebody you don't know. After all, when was the last time you took an unexpected call that was truly important? If it's important, they'll get you through email.

13. Don't take yourself seriously.

The ability to laugh at your foibles not only makes you happier as a person, it makes you more powerful, more influential, and more attractive to others. If you can't laugh at yourself, everyone else will be laughing behind your back.

14. Don't try to win every argument.

Some battles aren't worth fighting, and many people are easier to handle when they think they've won the argument. What's important isn't "winning," but what you, and the other people involved, plan to do next.
15. Don't succumb to malice or gossip.
Before you tell a story about anybody else, or listen to such a story, ask yourself four questions: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it kind? 3) Is it necessary? and 4) Would I want somebody telling a similar story about me?

16. Don't worry what others think about you.

You can't mind-read and you don't have everyone else wired into a lie detector. Truly, you have NO IDEA what anyone is REALLY thinking about you. It's a total waste of time and energy to cling to your own idea of what that might be, especially if it's negative.

17. Drink more water.

Even a tiny amount of dehydration can "drain your energy and make you tired," according to the Mayo Clinic. They recommend that men drink roughly three liters (about 13 cups) and women 2.2 liters (about nine cups) of total beverages every day.

18. Eat a big breakfast.

There's truth to the old saying that you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a merchant, and supper like a pauper. Fueling up early makes you less likely to need that extra jolt of sugar at about 10:30 a.m.

19. End each day with gratitude.

Just before you go to bed, write down at least one wonderful thing that happened. It might be something as small as a making a child laugh or as huge as a million-dollar deal. Whatever it is, be grateful for that day because it will never come again.

20. Exercise your eyes.

While working at a screen, periodically stare at something that's far away, like out the window. If necessary, get up and find a window or at least a hallway so that you can focus at a distance. This keeps your eyesight from degenerating.

21. Find the right job for YOU.

While some work environments are inherently difficult, if you're consistently miserable, it's your fault. You owe it to yourself and your co-workers to either find a job that makes you happy or make the best of the job you've got.

22. If it's scary, do it now.

Being successful means taking risks, and risks are inherently scary. Rather than letting fear keep you from taking action, use it as a signal that it's time to actually take action. It may sound trite, but there's real truth the old saying: "Feel the fear, then do it anyway."

23. Know and keep your personal limits.

While your job might sometimes seem like the most important thing in your world, you're killing a part of yourself if you let work situations push you into places that violate your privacy and your integrity.

24. Let go of your results.

The big enemy of happiness is worry, which comes from focusing on events that are outside your control. Once you've taken action, there's usually nothing more you can do. Focus on the job at hand rather than some weird fantasy of what might happen.

25. Listen to something inspiring.

Your ears are the pathway to your brain. When doing something visually boring (like driving), listen to audio books or motivation talks. When you need some extra energy, listen to music that "pumps you up."

26. Make a public commitment.

To provide an extra oomph to your efforts, make a formal public commitment to your goals. For example, you might want to sign up for a charity race that you couldn't possibly run without first getting yourself in tip-top shape.

27. Make peace with your past.

Focusing on past mistakes or wrongs inflicted on you is like driving a car while looking in the rearview mirror. You'll keep heading in the same direction until you collide with something solid.

28. Make your goals pervasive.

Post your goals everywhere you spend time. Post them on your bathroom mirror, right behind your computer screen, and on the dashboard of your car. The more you see your goals, the easier it will be to achieve them.

29. Monitor your progress.

Keep a record of what you've already accomplished. Review this when you're feeling discouraged or unsure--it's an instant confidence builder and helps you focus on the positive.

30. Never argue with strangers.

When you're driving, you're going to see people driving in ways that are stupid, dangerous, and annoying. Even so, you're wasting your energy getting upset about what they do, much less reacting to it by honking or flipping the bird.

31. Never attend agenda-less meetings.

Meetings are only useful if people know why they're meeting in the first place. An agenda provides focus and purpose. The lack of an agenda guarantees meandering conversations that dive into ratholes. They're a waste of your (and everyone else's) time.

32. Realize that YOU are responsible for your emotions.

Your attitude isn't controlled by the outside world. While truly sad things do happen, most of the time your attitude is the result of how you're viewing the world, rather than what's happening in it.

33. Remember that everything will change.

The nature of the physical universe is change. Nothing remains the same; everything is, as the gurus say, transitory. Whether you're celebrating or mourning or something in between, this, too, will pass.

34. Remember that rejection is an illusion.

Rejection is an emotionally-loaded term that people unwisely use when they fail to achieve a goal that involves another person. Nobody feels "rejected" when they set a goal to, say, run a four-minute mile, but then only end up running it in five minutes.

35. Set achievable yet inspirational goals.

If you don't believe your goal is achievable, you won't take action to achieve it. Therefore, any goal that you set must be within the realm of possibility and tied to actions that you can actually take.

36. Set measurable milestones.

Big goals are easier to achieve if you break them up into smaller chunks or milestones. Achieving milestones gives you more confidence, strengthens your motivation, and helps you build momentum.

37. Smile and laugh more frequently.

Contrary to popular belief, smiling and laughter are not the RESULT of being happy; they're part of a cycle that both creates and reinforces happiness. Find reasons to smile. Never, ever suppress a laugh.

38. Stop comparing yourself to others.

Everybody, and I mean everybody, starts out in a different place and is headed on their own journey. You have NO idea where someone else's journey might lead them, so drawing comparisons is a complete waste of time.

39. Stop complaining about not having enough time.

You get the same amount of time every day as everyone else. You may feel you're short on time and that you desperately need more, but when the day started, you got your fair share: 24 hours. Nobody got any more than you did, so stop complaining.

40. Stop listening to and leaving voice mails.

A voice mail message consumes minutes of your time (more if you have to replay) to communicate information you could absorb from an email in seconds. Explain in your outgoing message that you don't use voice mail and provide your email address.

41. Stretch regularly.

Your body is not well suited for sitting down for long periods of time. Quite the contrary, the human body evolved so that it's optimized for running around in the woods, whacking animals with a stick.

42. Take a walk after lunch.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that a walk after a meal improves your digestion, helps you regulate your blood sugar, and increases your mental acuity. It's the best way to avoid that "heavy" feeling that often follows a meal.

43. Take action immediately after setting a goal.

Once you've gotten your goals set into your mind, it's time to take action. Approach each action with confidence that you'll eventually succeed. The more action you take at the beginning, the more momentum you build.

44. Take power naps.

Lack of sleep is disastrous to your health and numerous studies show that people are more productive at work after taking a quick nap. Don't fall into the trap of working when you're sleepy. You'll get it done faster if you give your brain a break.

45. Take the stairs.

While stair climbing doesn't consume all that many calories (about 300 if you're average height and weight and climb five flights, five times a day), it does cause your heart to work harder, thereby improving your circulation and your overall health.

46. Take time to plan and prioritize.

The most common source of stress is the perception that you've got too much work to do. Rather than obsess about it, pick one thing that, if you get it done today, will move you closer to your highest goal and purpose in life. Then do that first.

47. Think of rejections as steppingstones.

When I wanted to publish my first business book, I sent the proposal to dozens of editors and got plenty of "rejection" letters. Rather than feeling discouraged, I started each day by laying out the letters on the floor and walking on them as if they were steppingstones.

48. Throw out things that aren't useful or beautiful.

You'll be spending about a third of your waking adult life at work. Why would you want to fill your work environment--and that part of your life--with objects that are useless and ugly?

49. Treat setbacks as success signals.

Most people treat setbacks as mini-failures, and often use them as an excuse to give up...and therefore fail. Learning what doesn't work is an essential part of learning what does! Setbacks are a sign that you're making progress.

50. Turn off background TV.

Many households leave their TVs on as background noise while they're doing other things. The entire point of broadcast TV is to make you dissatisfied with your life so that you'll buy more stuff. Why subliminally program yourself to be a mindless consumer?

51. Turn off depressing news.

So whenever there's a news story that starts to make you angry or upset, change the channel--unless it's 100 percent relevant to your life--or click to another page. Why torture yourself needlessly? You're only draining away your own energy!

52. Turn off your computer alerts.

Doing something creative, talking to somebody important, or absorbing complex information are all impossible if your computer and phone are chirping and beeping for your attention. Whatever it is, it can wait.

53. Use more positive words.

When asked "How are you?" respond with "Terrific!" or "Fabulous!" or "I've never felt better!" rather than a depressing "OK" or "Getting by." Rather than saying, "I'm enraged!" say "I'm a bit annoyed"--or, better yet, "I've got a challenge."

54. Use technology to stay focused.

Set reminders in your email and calendar programs to keep you focused on achieving your goals rather than just noting activities that pop up throughout your daily life. Harness technology to focus your efforts rather than distract them.

55. Work 40 hours a week (or less).

Workaholics may think they're accomplishing more than the less fanatical worker, but in fact, long hours result in stressed-out people who get too sick to work and produce sloppy results that must be either scrapped or redone.

56. Write your goals down on paper.

Talk is cheap, so goals aren't real unless they're written down on paper, by hand. This subliminally tells your mind that these goals are IMPORTANT and DIFFERENT, as opposed to a text email that you send to yourself, which is soon composed and soon forgotten.

57. Write your goals out every day.

The more frequently you write your goals down on paper, the more power they've got. When Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, wants to achieve a goal, he writes that goal down 10 times every morning.

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