In my younger and more vulnerable years, people used to drive me nuts, now they just tend to make me sad. Being a high-value person is relatively easy (in that it’s all inside you – not saying it’s not challenging), which makes the fact that a huge proportion of folks are self-absorbed, shallow, vacuous, petty, energy vampires all the more vexing. But I’m a “don’t curse the darkness” kind of guy, so I do what I can when I can to help folks who want to up their game, happiness, and outlook – and in the process selfishly giving me more people to hang out with.
With that in mind, I was noodling on what I’d say if someone randomly walked up to me and said “I want to be a better person, what should I do?” (true, an unlikely scenario , but stick with me). Given that the list of things we can do to improve is literally endless, where would be a good place to start? What things would most impact all of the other things – particularly as it relates to being a person of value? Well, this is what I came up with:
1. Keep your word
This is a little more specific than “being honest with yourself and others” which is the highest aspiration, this is about not being a flake, not being the kind of person others might say “well, their heart’s in the right place” (a well meaning insult – seriously, would you say that about somebody who always delivered on what they said?).
It took me a good long time to figure this one out in my own life, but when I did it transformed how I felt about myself and my relationships with others. Being loose with your word hurts you as much as it does the people you inconvenience. The fact is, you don’t have to say anything…ever! You have the right to say “no” or “I’ll get back to you”. If in doubt whether you can: go to that party, deliver on that deadline, be on time for dinner, make that phone call, whatever, just don’t say anything! The tendency to over commit/under deliver comes from a lot of places – a desire to be liked, a poor grasp of your available time, the bizarre concept that a good intention not executed still earns points. Whatever the reason, if you say one thing and do another, you’re flaky. Other people know it, and they’ll see you as unreliable, or simply immature, definitely not someone to depend on. You know it, and that hurts your self-esteem not to mention that you can’t trust yourself, which is a kind of living hell.
While I’m not 100% a fan of Brad Blanton, his book Radical Honesty is a valuable meditation on the concept of honesty, and how it affects our inner and outer selves – if you’ve got a challenge with the whole “keeping your word” thing it’s a great place to start.
2. Know what you want
Being a vague person, someone who is continuously unsure of what they want, or who changes what they want rapidly, is a freaky thing to be around. It tends to put you in a constant position of a kind of psychic “leaning”, always looking for support, emotional validation or approval. If you’re younger, this posture is a little more understandable, but if you’re on the plus side of thirty-five, well, snap out of it!
If you’re an adult and are still trying to “find yourself” or “discover what it’s all about”, I can dig it – we’ve all been there, but it’s got to stop. Drop everything and read “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca – then make a deal with yourself to choose the life you want to lead. Know who you want to be, what things bring you pleasure, what things extend your intellect, what challenges you want to tackle. Knowing what you want means deciding what you want – and that makes you a person who makes decisions – and that makes you powerful. Wishy-washy, woe-is-me, please-tell-me-I’m-a-good-person type behavior saps your energy, and that of those around you. Know what you want, and you’ll always know what to do next – and you won’t come off like a weenie.
3. Always be Win/Win
When Stephen Covey wrote about win/win he was emphasizing the value of embracing an abundance mentality over a scarcity mentality (which leads to win/lose deals). In day to day use, it’s just a great way to approach other people – and tends to make for better outcomes to any kind of interaction. Since most people approach the world from a fear posture (what’s going to be taken from me), when you bring an honest desire to enrich both yourself and others, they may still not be able to overcome whatever brainwashing controls them but you will know you’ve done your best to create a positive exchange.
Put another way, consciously putting yourself into a win/win head space is a type of mindfulness, focusing your attention on what would otherwise be automatic, unthinking interactions with others. If you can always approach conversations, conflicts, romantic exchanges from a “well, I know what I want, but let me take a second and see what they want” you add a gap, a space before you act/react – and it’ll help keep you from either jumping to conclusions, lashing out like a big baby, arguing, assuming you know what they think – all things we all do, and all things that never end well.
This stuff doesn’t necessarily come naturally, it takes time but it’s well worth the effort. Research this subject, noodle on it, experiment with it – if you come to deeply understand this principle, you’ll transform your relationship to reality. Leaving the world of “I can’t believe they did that” to one of “I wonder what I could have done to change that” – becoming someone who happens at the universe, not one who the universe happens to (you’ll still need to contend with earthquakes, meteors and such).
4. Work on yourself
This is sort of related to number 2, but it’s about the action you take once you’ve decided what you want out of life. From personal experience, saying you want to be a writer but not writing is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Writers write – posers, whiners and complainers talk about how great they’ll write when they get around to it. Continuous learning, continuous curiosity, continuous growth is the key to a healthy inner-self, to embracing the world and not becoming a gnarled, bitter energy parasite. The opportunities and areas for growth are ENDLESS and FREE (well, depending on what you choose – don’t get crazy), you will never run out of things worth doing. The tool I use to remind me of this is Napoleon Hill’s list of “things that make men rich” that follows. Twelve categories of things to pick from if you happen to run out of things to do:
- Positive mental attitude
- Sound physical health
- Harmony in human relations
- Freedom from fear
- Hope of future achievement
- Capacity for applied faith
- Willingness to share one’s blessings with others
- Be engaged in a labor of love
- An open mind on all subjects toward all people
- Complete self discipline
- Wisdom to understand people
- Financial Security
Seriously, read that list and tell yourself you can’t think of anything to work on in your life. Don’t get overwhelmed; take things a step at a time. Seriously people, committing to improving one small part of your life will do more than all the thinking about all the awesome things you could be doing.
Do yourself and the universe a solid, get these four character traits up and running in your life, and I guarantee you’ll be a happier, more centered, more present human.