Eight Ways To Be Better, And Live A Better Life
I’ve been reading and making a lot of lists lately. Eight ways to overcome your fears. Five ways to kick start your day. Twenty ways to improve your public speaking. A million ways to write list that everyone will want to read.
One thing that all these lists have in common is that they are about being better. Being better people, getting better at what we're doing, and getting more out of life. Whether that’s financial, professional, emotional, personal, mental… whatever. I love finding ways I can be better. Better at identifying and tackling problems. Better at enjoying life. Better at looking after myself. And you can find ways to improve any aspect of life if you look hard enough – it’s fun, rewarding, beneficial and addictive. But it’s not new.
We call them listicles, but for thousands of years people have been looking at ways of improving themselves, of getting closer to each other and to the divine energy of the Universe, whatever that might be. Why do you think religions exist? Where does storytelling come from? Even the ancient and modern Olympic games come from the search to be the best at what we can do.
While we can be as specific as we like when it comes to listicles (five ways to get better at laundry, ten steps to achieve mastery in mocktail mixology etc.), I thought I’d draw on the wisdom of the ancients and write something a bit more general. So here, for your reading pleasure, are eight ways to be better, and to live a better life. Tick off the first seven and number eight should look after itself. Call it a blueprint for harmonious living, call it an exercise in list-building, call it whatever you like – I hope there’s something here to enrich your life and help you get the most out of each day.
1. Be a good person
This step is about how we conduct ourselves day to day, in particular in our interactions with other people. It’s about compassion, ethical and moral standards and about treating people – no matter who they are or what they do or how they behave – in the same way that we would wish to be treated. See beyond the exterior, and understand that others feel and struggle just as we do, and we can find harmony and live much less stressful lives.
2. Be disciplined in your own self
This second step is about having your own practices and actions, that you carry out with regularity, and the conviction, responsibility and maturity to do them routinely. But it also means nurturing the flexibility to be able to break from that routine if you need to knowing that you have to strength to return to it later. And then actually returning to it. These actions can be tiny things like choosing the healthy option for lunch each day, or drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up. Or it could be something more profound like taking time to consider your response to a situation rather than letting your emotions cause you to react reflexively. Or it might be something like developing new, beneficial habits, and not indulging in old harmful ones. Perhaps most importantly, this step is also about taking time to reflect and think about your own thoughts, actions and how well you’re practicing this and the rest of the eight steps!
3. Be kind to yourself
You might also call this the “body is a temple” step. It’s about looking after yourself, making sure your body is healthy, that you’re compassionate and kind to yourself, that you are grateful to yourself, and that you show as much love to yourself as you do to others. By practicing these things we can become much more effective in the way we go about our daily lives. Getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, exercising, forgiving ourselves for the mistakes we make, but vowing to learn from them so we don’t make them again – all of these things belong to this step, and if we can do this, then we are already on the way to hitting our goals.
This crops up in pretty much everything I write. It may sound daft, but breathing is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. When we find ourselves backed into a corner, under pressure, or in a situation where we can feel our emotions starting to take over, we can simply choose to breathe, to interrupt our thought pattern and change our state. And if we can change our state, then we can own the moment.
5. Detach yourself
It’s no accident that this comes after the law of breathing, as that as it’s breathing that helps us to detach. Detachment gives us the power not to be controlled by external or internal stimuli. It’s the thing the stops us gorging ourselves on burgers every time we pass a McDonald’s, it allows us to be calm in a situation where others get angry or upset, and it allows us to be aware of what’s going on in and around us, but not to be controlled by these things. Instead it’s the power that enables us to use all the information at our disposal to control our responses and choose the best course of action.
6. Embrace mindfulness
When people hear to word mindfulness, they either take immediate interest because they know how effective it is, or they roll their eyes because they think it’s wishy washy mumbo jumbo. But it really works and it’s not to be sniffed at. Mindfulness is about recognising our thoughts and our feelings as objects that, despite being part of us, are not us. Our thoughts can be observable and, if we wish, we can step aside from them and prevent them from influencing our moods and our actions. By practicing the previous steps laws we can develop a strong ability to recognise feelings and thoughts as independent as entities independent from us – not facts, not truths and not things that define who we are or what our personalities are like. This empowers us to give energy to thoughts and emotions that are useful to us, and take power away from those thoughts and feelings that are not. It also gives us the power to see these things coming and interrupt their arrival before they begin influencing our state and controlling our actions.
Some of the most successful businesspeople in the world swear by meditation, and others probably don’t even realise they’re doing it. Meditation is the practice of calming the mind and turning down the volume on our thoughts. It’s about taking a break from all the thoughts that can sometime run out of control, pressing pause on the chaos and saying to ourselves “this mental space is mine.” It takes a lot of practice, and for most of us is nigh on impossible to achieve, but the practice is the point. When you’ve got a million things going through your mind, and multiple projects on the go at once, this is about finding some time for yourself to calm your mind and find peace. Even if it’s just for a minute or two.
This last step is all about seeing the results of your hard work. This happens when notice the changes in your perception which have occurred by practicing the other seven steps. These changes will have led to a more positive outlook on life, you will be happier, more contented, and life will start to not only appear to be better, but it will actually be better. And so will you. It’s about the satisfaction that comes from seeing victories – big and small – and celebrating them. And when you see what you’ve achieved, you’ll begin to understand that you have the power within you to achieve even more. Call it enlightenment if you like, but when start acing the other steps this one will look after itself. Look after the process and the results will come along naturally.
For some of you these steps will sound familiar, but for others they’ll be completely new. Ultimately, they are a simple set of principles that flow from one into the next. They are a methodology for taking ownership of ourselves and our lives, and for knowing when we’re on the right track, and when we’re veering off it. If we can apply the first seven lof these steps, then we will see the realisation of our goals – and with that will come the understanding of just how much power we have to shape our realities and create the lives we want. Positive lives that not only benefit us, but benefit those around us too.
And our worlds, and the worlds of all the people whose lives we touch, will appear brighter, more colourful, and more joyful almost immediately.