1. Document your life. – Spend no more time wondering how to keep a journal, searching for methods, or reading reviews on notebooks and digital note apps, just write. Write something down about this day, then do the same thing tomorrow, then the next day. Don’t tell yourself you need to start at the first of the year, or the month, or the week. Start on a random Thursday, and don’t stop.
I have written something about every day in my personal journal since October, 2012, and there is likely not a day that I wouldn’t remember if I read it. How did the habit start in my case? By writing a few bullet points about the day and nothing else.
2015-11-05 – Saturday
- Had lunch with John at Cracker Barrel.
- Worked on Project until my computer broke and I had to fix it all afternoon.
- Walked through the neighborhood and spent time reading Mark Twain before bed.
2015-11-06 – Sunday
- Sunday dinner with Megan’s family.
- Cowboys lost to the Eagles.
- Talked to Bart on the phone before bed.
That’s all you need to remember a day when you’re getting started, especially if it’s surrounded by simple data points from other days. Start small and sustainable.
Nothing is as satisfying as looking back over a whole year and knowing how you spent your time.
(That’s one purpose of a journal. Another and significant purpose is to express emotions and quiet your mind. Do this as needed, but burn when done.)
2. Take time to reflect. – Once you document your life, stop and look at it. Are you spending your time like you want to? Many of us remain sedated in the rhythm of life and are afraid to take inventory. There is no more healthy thing you can do than to stop and ask if you’re doing now what you will want to have done.
A second major benefit is remembering the good. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to think of only the negative things and how unnatural to recall the positive? Gratitude brings happiness but takes effort.
3. Develop a tolerance for pain, discipline, and consistency. – When we google “how to lose weight,” we’re actually looking for shortcuts to results without discomfort. Focus on developing patience with the discomfort and you won’t need shortcuts. Modern living is convenient and makes us think we can accomplish amazing things without sweat, but it’s a lie. Resistance is built in to meaningful progress. It will never eradicated, so it should be embraced.
4. Develop an intolerance for pleasure, procrastination, and indifference. – We cut ourselves way too much slack. Those who are disciplined have learned to envision the consequences of inaction while they are still invisible. We don’t remember that we’re going to die, not acutely. We will run out of time, but daily life hums us to sleep and we forget. The feeling only arises at certain moments, like when the seasons change or on New Year’s Eve.
We don’t often consider that life can change, sometimes very quickly, and the easiest time to start on a thing might be now. We waste many days in a vague motion with no clear direction, and we can’t see how this will be bitter in the end. We’re like cars idling through neighborhoods, looking at Christmas lights, taking it as it comes, when we should be like the lead driver in the secret service—our routes are memorized, our destination is certain, and absolutely nothing matters more than getting there.
5. Always remember you don’t know the full story. – Always in such a hurry to judge situations, we forget the most basic truth: we don’t know everything. We don’t know what has made a person the way they are. We don’t know why the man on the side of the road is begging or why a person was rude to us on the phone or why we smiled and said a jovial “Take care!” to the cashier and she didn’t even look up at us. What if she buried a family member yesterday? Well then, she has the right to be distracted. Every time you feel the judging instinct rise up (and if you’re like me, this is often), remember that you don’t know the full story.
6. Assume people know more than you. – Which also means expecting that they can teach you something. Think this about everyone, especially the people you’re prone to look down on or overlook. This is even helpful if your specific purpose is to teach the person. Knowledge is attractive when shared in humility.
7. Appreciate your friends for what they are. – Don’t make them what they aren’t. Don’t withhold yourself from them because they don’t fully fit your preference. One friend might be really good at certain kinds of conversations you like, but you may have another kind of conversation you don’t relate on. Don’t throw them away because of the part you don’t enjoy.