Some General Advice

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I try to focus in this space on productivity and success, mostly in terms of techniques and ways to handle specific situations. But as with most aspects of your work and your life, there are also some extremely helpful general principles that can bring you benefits.

Let’s go over a few of them right now:

Redefine “Failure”

Most people define “failure” as some kind of inadequate or substandard performance. But thinking along these lines creates both pressure and anxiety that impairs rather than aids your ability to deliver. One such dynamic works like this: a fear of failure often produces a curious psychological twist that makes you reluctant to try your hardest.

The plain fact of the matter is that achieving a goal or completing a task often depends on many factors outside your control. So this definition of failure sets up situations where even when you do your best, you can still “fail.”

It’s much more productive to redefine “failure” as something entirely within your control, such as the absence of ambition, adaptability, honesty, and integrity. This gives you more psychological freedom to try your hardest, thereby increasing your chances for success.

For example, the great basketball coach John Wooden rarely mentioned “winning” or “losing.” Instead, he talked about success in terms of a pyramid built from 25 factors entirely within your control. He considered the pinnacle of this pyramid to “be at your best when your best is needed.” As long as you worked at building and sustaining this pyramid, John Wooden would never consider you a “failure.”

His redefinition of “failure” seems to have worked. By following his ideas over 29 years, his teams won more than 80 percent of their games and gathered 26 championships.

‘Nuff said.

Let Your Reputation Build Itself

Everyone wants and needs a solid, positive reputation. But – curiously – the more you try to pump up your reputation, the smaller it becomes.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t take credit for your accomplishments or tell people what you know and how much you can accomplish. You should.

But your reputation will grow faster and stronger if you focus on doing the work that will build a foundation for the reputation you seek. Then you can let others come to recognize your strengths on their own.

Expand Your Envelope

Each of us is bound by limits: some real, some imagined, some feared. Except for the real ones (such as your inability to flap your arms and fly, or to mentally control other people), it’s helpful to regularly work at stretching these limits.

For example, you may feel you have no talent for music, art, or something else. If this has led you never to take a course or try your hand, you’ve been limiting yourself without good reason.

Fear is one of the strongest barriers that limits us. Obviously, there are many things, people, and situations of which we should be afraid. But there are nearly always many more of which we shouldn’t.

Working to identify what you perceive as your limits, and to sensibly expand at least some of them, is a great way to grow as a person and bring more enjoyment to your life. This strategy can also make you more productive and successful.

Cultivate Laughing at Yourself

Not all the time, of course, but when you deserve it, go for it. Be honest: everyone occasionally makes mistakes, does silly things, and looks foolish. At these times, others will be laughing at you – even if only behind your back. Pretending you never deserve to be laughed at will only make you seem pompous and even more laughable.

If you join in the laughter, however, or even lead it, you’ll come across as extra powerful and influential, more charming, and a more attractive person. You’ll also feel less stressed about your mistakes, and happier, too.

Be Grateful

Science is now discovering that gratitude is its own reward. Whether or not you already feel grateful for the good things and people in your life, you probably have room for even more gratitude, along with its benefits. For example:

  • You can pay more attention to the little enjoyments of your life, from the sights and sounds you enjoy to the activities and people who fill your days.
  • You can keep better track of what you’re grateful for, with a journal, a list, or a bulletin board that chronicles events and milestones that have made you happier.
  • You can take a few minutes during the day to do nothing but contemplate the objects of your gratitude.
  • You can volunteer for organizations or activities that give you more opportunities to recognize how good you have it, and to help others gain more to be grateful for, as well.

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