10 Ways to Radically Improve Your Life by Becoming More Aware
10 Ways to Radically Improve Your Life by Becoming More Aware
The concepts that I am about to share with you are the foundation on which I’ve build my life in the last couple of years.
If you stick to the end, you may unlock the secrets of the universe. You may also discover the secret of happiness. Am I over promising?..
Before I learned of these ideas, I was apathetic, sour, miserable. Lonely, detached, scared. Unhappy, devoid, empty.
I was first snapped back to reality on a trip in the Amazon jungle, where I rediscovered the wonders of life. The truth is, I had a full year before going there, during which I was searching for a reason to care. I wanted a why. I wanted a reason to be motivated. To do something with my life, because ofthat thing itself, and not because of money, or status, or power, or because it was easy, or because everyone else was doing it. That’s what I’d done in the past 20 years, and it had left me with nothing to show for it. That’s where I first found what I was looking for, and I’ve since been doing my very best to share what I’ve discovered.
These might not turn out to be the secrets of the universe for everyone who reads this, but they are the most precious concepts I’ve learnt so far, and so I share them with you, with the humble hope that they can be at least one-tenth as useful to you, as they’ve been to me.
1. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a huge topic in-and-of-itself, but I feel obliged to briefly discuss it here. It is one of the philosophies that has recently taken the world by storm. Everyone has a version of what it is and how it can help. To me, it is all about maintaining constant awareness of your body, mind, and feelings.
Mindfulness is meant to create congruence between how you feel and think, and how you act.
A lot of people actually lack a simple back and forth in this regard. For example, they will have their meal, and completely miss the point when their body was signaling to them that they’d had enough. Consequently, they’d overeat and regret it later. It comes out of a lack of awareness of one’s body. Or, they will be working, bent over a desk, only to feel pain in their neck and shoulders, at the end of the day. Only then, will they realize that they’d been sitting hunched over, and feeling discomfort throughout the entire time.
Most of the things I am about to cover can help you improve your mindfulness, but perhaps the best way to do so directly is through meditation. Try to devote several sessions out of your day to do this.
The way I do it, is by closing my eyes and trying to completely clear my mind of all thoughts. I only focus on my breath and as soon as something creeps in, I try to let it go. It’s surprisingly difficult, yet refreshing.
2. Always try to see something new in something old
This one I also like to call my secret to happiness. If you actually pay attention you will see that no two moments are ever the same, even if you are doing the same thing for the five-thousandth time. There is always something completely unique about the present.
What’s great about this is that it also satisfies one of the six human desires, according to motivational guru and personal development coach, Tony Robbins - the need for variety. He correctly points out that the human mind requires not only a certain sense of stability to function, but also variety, excitement, and new experiences.
The great thing about seeing something new in something old is that you don’t need to seek out variety, because you can always see it around you. You can never look at a thing in the same way twice, and that helps you appreciate every moment that much more.
I was first introduced to this idea, when a mentor of mine gave me the advice to completely cover my ears the next time I am in the shower. This forced me to experience this thing that I was doing every day in a completely new light. I could suddenly hear very clearly, the water dancing off of me and hitting the floor in an entirely new way for the first time; that sensation stuck with me even after I had removed my hands. I had turned something ordinary, into something magical.
There are tons of ways to create a habit out of this, but starting small is always a great option. Perhaps the shower trick will help you see the value in it as well.
3. Place yourself in other people’s position
This concept gained a lot of prominence due to Harper Lee’s iconic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but it has been around since the Native Americans. As she put it, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. Or, as they put it, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”.
Whichever way it is you prefer the sentiment, there is little doubt that applying this concept will allow for some much needed perspective in tough situations. To remind yourself often of this, is togrow and expand your capacity for empathy - arguably one of the most important skills in today’s world. Studies have shown that it is the key component of emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence?
“[It] is defined as the ability to perceive and express emotion accurately and adaptively, the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge, the ability to use feelings to facilitate thought, and the ability to regulate emotions in oneself and in others” (Salovey & Pizarro, 2002).
So ask this question often, and consider what it can help you uncover about your peers.
4. Ask why 3 times
I’ve written about this at great length before here, but it is important enough to shortly discuss it again.
With anything you do in life you first have to start with ’why’. Chances are you’ve heard someone say that before you do anything, you should decide what you’re trying to get out of it. That’s true, because when you do something with a clear focus and intent, that is a clear sign of your awareness.
The opposite is also true - when we see people around us acting like sheep or zombies - not truly thinking and not really living - it is almost always because they fail to think about ’why’ they are doing the things they are doing. I know, because I used to be exactly like that.
This idea of asking why changed everything. We all do it when we are young, but we are often told to stop asking questions, or our questions are dismissed way out of hand - “you don’t know enough about this world yet, if you are asking this”, we are told.
At my last job, they were doing things in the most inefficient way possible. It took a newcomer like me, willing to question why, to shake things up. Asking why is the best way to ensure you don’t get set into ineffective patterns.
Start to apply this and you will see how much of an impact a simple thing can make and how surprisingly few people do it.
5. Think about how things work
This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to increase one’s capacity to actually think. Regurgitating the facts is one thing, and is about as far away from thinking as it goes. True thinking is about connecting the dots. To do that you have to first know what makes up the dots.
If you spend some time to consider how things come together and what makes them work you will become much better at noticing the underlying patterns that make up this world. You can see what direction things seem to be headed and plan accordingly. You can grasp a new idea much quicker and be able to consider its significance. That’s what true innovation is all about. Finding an application for a new idea in such a way that seems obvious after the fact, but that others hadn’t even thought of before.
I’ve noticed my capacity to connect different seemingly unrelated things improve greatly, by simply thinking about how things work. I like to spend some time each day to just relax, not do anything and let my brain wander around. I find this sort of deep thinking invaluable.
6. Look at the implications
So, first you ask why, then you ask how, and finally you say, “so what”. This goes off of what I was saying about how things work. If you know the how, and you know the why, it is much simpler to connect the dots. These components are what makes up the whole innovation process.
It is also what makes up the learning process. Think about it. When you learn a concept successfully, it tends to start with you realizing that it is important to learn in the first place. This is the why. Then you know it is important, so you decide to learn how it works. Finally, for true learning you have to be able to place it within a context. How does it all fit with everything else you already know? It is nearly impossible to forget something learnt in this comprehensive manner. That is how you build up your mind map - the framework you use to guide you throughout your life.
7. Become super curious
I’ve just outlined a way to think for yourself, by using why, how, and so what. Now, I want to say a few words about the thing that helps kickstart the whole process - becoming really curious.
Quick quiz, you are most likely reading this on a computer - without looking or pressing the button, what does F5 do?
I’d venture to bet that most of you had no idea - that’s okay, neither did I, when I was first asked this question. It made me realize that there is this amazing technology, that most of us use every day, perhaps much more than is healthy or useful, yet I didn’t even know what the buttons do. The least I could do was learn how this thing works, why it behaves the way it does, and get more familiar with what it can do.
It is a shame, and it is not because the F5 button will save my life, or because it is crucial knowledge. It is because, I’d never even thought to consider it. I’d never even cared to wonder. The shame is in the pattern of thought I was building up. The world has a lot of wonders to offer, and there are tons of things to learn. BUT, learning doesn’t happen without curiosity. If I never take a second to become curious, how can I hope to expand and fulfill my potential. How can I improve and better myself, and my life?
8. Turn hardships into opportunities
“It ain’t about how many times you can get hit, it’s about how many times you can get hit, and keep getting up”.
Every single thing that happens to us can be viewed negatively, or positively. Remember, life is not so much what happens to us, but how we respond. How you choose to perceive an experience, often determines that response.
I had a friend in high-school, who could use both of his hands equally well for everything. I was quite surprised, and impressed, because I can’t even draw a proper stick figure using my left hand.
When I questioned him how he is so good with both of his hands, he responded that it was because he had broken a hand when he was young, so he forced himself to learn using the other one. It’s quite the attitude. Consider that 95% of us, would’ve most probably just taken it as an opportunity to relax and evade work.
Being able to adapt like that and use a disadvantage as simply a chance to improve, is an invaluable skill that can stick with you. It’s inarguably a much better way to live.
Hence, when something unpleasant happens pay attention to the way you respond, and try to control it. If you can’t do that from the very beginning, at least pay attention to why not, and to how it made you feel. It might be hard in the beginning, but after a time, it will become automatic.
9. Slow down
All of these topics are important enough for their own post, and this one specifically already has onedevoted to it. The point is, that doing something slowly, requires you to use your full attention on that thing.
The key is that you can only do your work slowly if you do it deliberately and that means to focus on the process and on the current moment.
By slow, I don’t mean to do everything in such a way as to bore yourself. I mean at a speed that will allow you to pay absolute attention to what you are doing at any moment. The paradox is that even though it will seem that you are doing the task slower, since all of your energy is being channeled into what you are doing, it gets accomplished much quicker and with less effort.
Working slowly goes against everything we’ve been taught. You will see as soon as you try it that your whole mind is revolting, screaming at you to start doing things faster. However, by maintaining your concentration you can silence your brain and produce truly outstanding work.
You will know you are there when your mind is no longer panicking that the results are not coming fast enough, because you are so engrossed with the process. Anything you do in a rushed state is much easier when you slow it way down. There is no more rush, no more stress, only success.
Any list like this, that attempts to do something so important, would be incomplete without a fair warning - all of this is useless, if you forget to reflect on your experiences. You can’t read this once and remember, learn, and implement everything, all the time.
The greatest teacher is yourself. You have no ulterior motive - you will only do this step, if you truly want to improve - nobody can force you to do it, and nobody is going to blame you if you don’t, except perhaps, you.
Incorporate the idea of experimenting into your life. There is a reason that scientific breakthroughs happen after extensive testing - it’s good to have a goal, but if you are not experimenting with ways to achieve it, testing, and writing down your results, you can’t hope to nail down what will get you there.
For example, I had the idea last year that I needed to get much more out of my day, so I researched for ways to achieve that. I found something related to polyphasic sleeping (sleeping several short times a day, instead of one big time at night). It seemed like a tall task, but I knew that I would never forgive myself if I didn't try.
So for the next two weeks I followed the schedule to the dot - I slept for two 40 minute periods during the day, and one hour and 30 minute period at night. By the end of the first week I was feeling terrible, I was walking around like a zombie, and I was extremely close to the point of simply falling asleep at random points during the day, even while walking. So, I terminated the experiment after a while and I instead looked for ways to get more out of my day, through using the time I had better, instead of trying to create more time.
The important point is that I had an idea, I went for it, I tested it, and I saw for myself whether it would work for me or not. Nobody is going to do all the hard work to see what works for each and every one of us - we need to do it for ourselves.
My advice is to set up daily, weekly and monthly goals, for each of the things that matter to you. Set up clear criteria for what success would mean and what failure would mean. Then, record what worked out well and what didn’t. Adjust and repeat, adjust and repeat.
My second night in the Amazon, I was sitting at the middle of the campground all alone. I looked up, it was pitch black, yet you could still see all the stars. I’d never seen so many stars. I truly saw them for the first time in my life. Then, I truly heard for the first time, the sounds of the jungle. The crickets in the night. The buzzing of life. I truly felt the breeze for the first time. It was pulsating from the trees around me. I realized then, that the jungle itself was alive, and its heart was beating in unison, with all the animals, the stars, the wind, the sounds. Thump, thump, thump.
Things seemed to have a purpose for the first time in a long while. I realized that this jungle was bigger than me, and it was bigger than all of us; that left me in awe. I had found my why.
It all started with awareness. I’d searched ever since then for ways to bring that sensation to life and amplify my experiences. These are my conclusions thus far. Naturally, they are all immensely vast topics, and I’ve tried to keep it short here, so as to not let this turn into a full-length book. I hope they can help you, as they’ve helped me.