We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. – The Buddha
Words matter. In particular, the words you say to yourself every day are the most important words in your life.
As you’ll learn later in the Toolkit section, learning is about regular repetition, grooving patterns into your mind over time. As a simple example, think of the majesty of the Grand Canyon. How could water – that gentle, soft, and flexible substance – carve such awe-inspiring grooves in the earth? It is just a tiny bit of force applied consistently over a very long time. That’s all it takes. Words are like the water of your mind, continually reinforcing patterns.
This means that you should spend a lot of time thinking about the words that echo in your head daily. These are the words your life is built on, so it is best to choose them wisely.
“What do I want?” is one of my favorite questions and I find it to be a great starting point for almost any situation. In the case of our minds, I asked myself that question and eventually settled on the following:
I want to have a vibrant mind with enough gratitude, mental energy, focus, discipline, and joy to do any activity I want at any time.
Let’s look at that in detail, so you can see why I specifically chose those words:
- Gratitude: This is the first and most important building block. I tell myself that I am lucky to be here. I have been given a gift of a short time to pursue this curious adventure and I intend to take advantage of it. The great times are easy. The not-so-great times, while difficult to go through, are part of the package. I tell myself that if I don’t have the lows, I won’t realize how great the highs are. Groove the habit of gratitude. If you choose to do one thing after reading this site, this is the one.
- Mental Energy: Energy is the fuel of activity. The more mental energy I possess, the more I can do in the limited time I have. I want to find ways to cultivate that energy.
- Focus: I want to do something meaningful as part of my adventure and I believe that great things require focus, so this is a word that I want running through my mind daily.
- Discipline: A successful and fulfilling life requires work. Our family has adopted the mantra “short term hard, long term easy”, which means that if you do the hard work today, tomorrow will be easier. Easier said than done, I know. To help, I often remind myself that my future self will thank me for doing it now. Train your mind to think of yourself as someone who gets things done.
- Joy: I believe that joy is one of the reasons that this adventure is worth taking and I want as much of it as I can get.
With that as what I want, I’ve also come up with instructions for myself that I try to follow every day:
- Be Compassionate: Just like me, everyone is trying to figure out this adventure called life. Just like me, they make mistakes. Since reality is subjective, I want to choose compassion. People were short with me because they are busy, not because they are mean. Someone cuts me off in traffic? I’ll assume they just didn’t see me or they have an emergency. Whether it’s true in their reality or not, I can assume it’s true in mine. Life is much more pleasant this way.
- Be Present: When I am with someone or engaged in a focused activity, I try to be in the moment, not thinking of things that happened yesterday or things that might happen tomorrow. The only moment that exists is “now”. The more time I can spend there in the moment, the more fulfilling my life becomes.
- Be Observant: Life is fascinating if you just open your eyes and look around. Look for the small things that most people miss. Whether unique sights, expressions or entire worlds that unfold in the corner of a park or high up in the trees, there is something new that you can see everyday.
- Be Active: It’s your life. Whether your current circumstances are what you want or not, the only choice you have is what you are going to do next. Own that decision.
- Be Courageous: Life is an adventure without a rule book. The only way to find out how it works is to try. Try and fail. Then get up and try again.
- Be Resilient: Life won’t always do what you want it to. Get comfortable with boundaries and not getting what you want. Counter-intuitively, if you are comfortable not getting what you want, you have a better chance of getting it.
- And most important… Be Yourself: You are the only one on your specific adventure so live it as the person you want to be.
5th Piece of Advice: Craft your internal dialog purposely and with care. Your mind is the most important tool you have, and you are shaping it every second of every day.
Want to learn more?
Here are a few resources you can check out if you want to explore this idea further:
- Book: Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
- Book: How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb
- Book: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday