Better living through exercising your personal sh*t, part 1

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This inspiration came from a student of mine. I like to say there are at least 100 reasons I decided to become a teacher. One of the reasons that is presently on my mind is that I find when I help students share how and with what they are inspired by, I too am inspired. Furthermore, seeing ‘the light’ of understanding and inspiration in their eyes really cannot be matched.

While this work of inspiration is not originally by my student, he did help bring it to my attention. “20 Essential Life Lessons for Happiness and Success” by Laura Shin, for

To save you time, here is the short list. However, please read on for my thoughts and experience with each point.

  1. Know that what you focus your mind on grows bigger.
  2. Don’t take things personally.
  3. Express gratitude — daily.
  4. Stand up for yourself, but don’t act entitled.
  5. Ask for 100% of what you want from 100% of people 100% of the time.
  6. Learn to like rejection. 
  7. Recognize that money gives you freedom.
  8. Always negotiate. 
  9. Start investing early. 
  10. Do one thing at a time.

I think that these points are exceptionally relevant for my year of improvement. As I move forward, I will attempt to keep these points in mind. Sit down and strap in for safety.  

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1. Know that what you focus your mind on grows bigger.

All the books on improvement that I have read in the last few years have perhaps mentioned this the most. This fits nicely with number three. For example, if you focus only on the sadness and tragedy in the world, that is what you will notice and likely see more of it around you. 

As a young adult when I would have a bad day, I taught myself, because of my tendency toward anxiety, to find the good in the day. This was from the overwhelming feeling that this bad thing snowballs into others and ruins the day. Some days that is true, but not every day. By finding the good in the day, even if it was only one moment out of thousands, I could focus on the positive and better deal or address the bad

2. Don’t take things personally.

I’ve learned that most people, but luckily not all, spend a lot of time in their heads and are not reflective of their actions, which leads to flying off the handle either randomly at school pick-up or in traffic, or because of a perceived slight. In a nutshell, this usually has nothing to do with you. Or to put it another way, it says more about them than it does you. 

Both growing up and unfortunately recently I have had toxic people in my life who left me constantly questioning what I had done to illicit such strong responses for otherwise minor or nonexistent actions. Now don’t confuse this with sometimes being an unobservant twat – it happens to the best of us. What is important there is that you attempt to be reflective friend, family member, partner, employee, or boss, so that when you are a jerk, you can learn from your mistakes and not be the same kind of twat in the future.

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3. Express gratitude — daily.

A suggestion that I have heard often is to keep a ‘gratitude journal’, which could mean simply writing what you are thankful for in your regular daily planner, or dedicating a whole journal to this activity. 

This could mean writing one thing every day that you are thankful for, or literally writing a page of reflection. The point is to find a way to practice this skill and build the ability to be more thankful in general and to see more good in the everyday.

4.  Stand up for yourself, but don’t act entitled.

A few of my favorite tips in this department include ‘waiting the other person out’. It isn’t always possible in every situation, but I like the idea that people dig their own holes and prove themselves wrong if you just let them keep talking (and spewing their venom/BS/word salad). This is a tricky one to navigate as many of us have the distinct desire to retaliate if attacked.

Another is taking a moment to attempt to figure out what is really bothering you. This is a tricky one, but really worth the effort if that rub can be truly pinpointed. It is also grounded in communication, you have to tell other people how you are feeling or they will never know. I know this point can be challenging. I often suck at it. Okay, let’s be honest, I mostly suck at it, but I am trying to be better. Mind reading is not a real-world skill. Sometimes I think it would be a great skill to have and other times I absolutely do not want to know. 

I mean, honestly, I think about my cat all the time too. From Twilight, 2008 (Summit Entertainment)

Finally, the one I think I have the most trouble with is to ‘clarify without attacking’. It requires taking a moment to think clearly and not instinctively return with a knee-jerk reaction/attack. Then, put those thoughts into as clear and calm words as you can possibly muster, before listening – really attempting to listen to the other person’s response.

To learn more about this, here is this article from Success, or this one from Psychology Today

5.  Ask for 100% of what you want from 100% of people 100% of the time.

Clarity. What a sweet and fickle thing. I think the main problem is communication styles, or even lack of communication. Some people think if they are direct and ‘just telling it like it is’ without considering their tone, how their message is to be received, or the others feelings – you might just come across as insensitive or even a bit of a butt. This can make ‘clarity’ a bit of a minefield. But, attempting to find it for yourself, through a values checklist is a good first step.

I really like Brenè Brown’s values list from her phenomenal book Dare to Lead and her instructions for individuals that go along with the list. Brown lists 100 values, plus she leaves you space to add your own. In the adaptation of her exercise I have used with my students I ask them to identify five core values. This can take my students anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes to do. They always find it really challenging. So much so that sometimes I assign this as homework. The hardest part is that they have to identify why. Once they have their five, I tell them they really can only have two, so they must narrow their lists down further. This causes much hand ringing and grumbles, but again I ask them to state why. Once they get down to their list the students can usually identify their top two in a matter of minutes.

The point of the whole exercise is, collectively, we think we need to have many values, but when we are able to really become clear about the values that really matter to us, then can we gain greater clarity about what drives us. Or in other words, we value everything, then we really value nothing.

Values that are important to me are cooperation, authenticity, wholeheartedness, learning, creativity, perseverance, resourcefulness, and equality. Narrowing this down to just two, I choose wholeheartedness and equality. Why? Wholeheartedness because for me, this incorporates cooperation, authenticity, learning, creativity, resourcefulness and perseverance. Equality because growing up in America and learning about the world, not to mention living in it – I’ve come to learn that the world is a rather unequal place.

This is an interesting take via Jacob Sokol with Sensophy on ‘clarity’ that differs somewhat from the advice listed here.

6. Learn to like rejection. 

Rejection is tough. It can lead us to believe we are not good enough, but it can also help us grow. When we receive a no, it means we can say yes to other, possibly better things on the horizon.

As a student teacher and graduate assistant I had to learn to take criticism. It was an important lesson to learn. Also, I have been rejected from quite a few jobs in my life, but I have also had a surfeit of jobs in my life too. If you are rejected, feel free to mourn, but remember other opportunities are available if you can be open and aware of them.

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7. Recognize that money gives you freedom.

See number nine below. Also, what this really means is that if you manage your money well, you can have the time to do what you want instead of trading eight to ten hour days for a paycheck. By managing your money well, it works for you instead, leaving you the time and energy to pursue your dreams and passions and not working because you have to.

8. Always negotiate. 

Women don’t always negotiate. In part because they don’t always know how, but also because it isn’t necessarily seen as a ‘woman’s act’. This mindset needs to change as it is founded in sexism and bias. Here is a piece from Harvard Business School on women and negotiating, with tips for success as well as tips for overcoming bias. Their first tip, be non-threatening, meaning state your demands clearly and concisely but with positive body language and facial expressions. also has other resources and tips for women.

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9. Start investing early. 

My father is a wizard. I am not. I did heed this advice and am afraid as I metamorphose into the wild, carefree and sophisticated woman I am meant to be, I will have to pay for this. ‘Later’ just always seemed the better option because it was always around the corner. Suddenly I am not in my twenties, or thirties anymore and I wish ‘later’ wasn’t so darn convenient. When is the next best time to start other than yesterday? Now.

10. Do one thing at a time.

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” – Lord Chesterfield, in the 1740s.

We all think we can multitask, but we cannot, really. It fragments our thinking and focus so we end up getting less done or at least done less well.

Our devices are meant to be multitasking tools right in our pockets, but they really are time sucks of anti-productivity. Driving and texting or even using the phone is illegal in many places. “Workers distracted by email and phone calls, suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” The BBC stated citing a report that had been conducted in 2005. In other words, multitasking just makes us less smart.
To do more, do less. The more we learn about multitasking, the more it is turning into a dirty word and a dirtier act to promote.

This article by Christine Rosen, in the New Atlantic, from 2008 while a little dated now is remains relevant on this point.

Okay, that is the first ten points of the twenty originally shared. Check back for part two, or deux, coming soon.

Which points are most important for you to maintain. Which do you think are hardest for you to deal with?

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