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Monday, December 17, 2007The best way to get a better answer is to start asking a better question
"The best way to get a better answer is to start asking a better question.”
One of the biggest challenges you will ever face in your life is to look above all the minor distractions of today and envision the bigger picture. Unfortunately most people are so caught up in the minutia of daily life that they neglect to ask the right questions. I hear a lot of questions from people wanting life to be easier or for more success.
In my opinion asking for ease or success is asking the wrong question. I think these questions are based off the idea that the most satisfying life is the one with the least troubles and the most results. I disagree. I would say the best life is the one that is the most interesting. As you approach your own end the ease of your life or sustaining results won’t matter nearly so much as how you lived the process.
Here are nine steps for taking a dull or mediocre existence and creating a life that is actually worth living. A life that is interesting.
Step One: Meet More People
One of the best ways to make your life more interesting is simply to have a larger social reference group. Each connection you make with another human being is like a small opening into their world. If that connection is valuable then many of the interesting events, ideas and growth they experience can be shared with yourself.
Some people who are poor at meeting new people justify this outlook with an elitist attitude. Other people are inferior (ignorant, unkind, shallow, mean) in some way so as to justify not meeting them. Unfortunately this attitude corrupts every relationship you form and you become stranded on a social island.
I disagree with the psychological hypothesis that says our tendency towards meeting new people and forming relationships is fixed and unchangeable. I am incredibly outgoing today but this wasn’t always the case. I can remember times just a few years before where I had trouble sustaining more than a few friends, now I know hundreds of people and have strong ties with a few dozen. Socializing is a skill that may come from birth but can certainly be learned through practice.
Step Two: Take Up New Hobbies
Remember that activity you always wanted to try but never had time for. Do it now. Life won’t wait for your schedule to clear up so you need to take the initiative. I’m not saying you need to abandon all your duties, but you need to actively invest some of your time in trying new things.
Don’t stick to one hobby for too long either. Most hobbies are non-essential skills so achieving a mastery level of them generally doesn’t yield much more benefits than proficiency. If you love your hobby stick with it, but it is important to keep trying new things to keep your life interesting.
Not sure where to start? My personal advice for a ‘hobby’ everyone could benefit from is to go stop by your local Toastmasters club. Communication is the key to life (and meetings are fun too). Besides if you enjoy it you might just complete steps one and two at the same time. You can find a club in your area here.
Step Three: Be Spontaneous
I must say that my ability to be spontaneous was incredibly low until just recently. I was a big fan of having a fixed schedule and sticking to it. Only later did I realize that by sticking to a rigid schedule I missed as many opportunities as I capitalized on by using it. Spontaneity isn’t a hard skill to learn, it is combining flexibility with discipline that is difficult.
Successful flexibility comes from having a very strong inner sense of discipline. This is the ability to act upon opportunities knowing the costs associated. Without this inner discipline it is too easy to waste time pursuing opportunities when demands are placed on you.
Ironically the key to practicing this discipline has to start with a fairly rigid approach to productivity. From this point slowly act on more and more spontaneous opportunities all while adhering to the things you need to do. Eventually you should be able to recognize the costs associated with taking up an opportunity or not without requiring extreme rigidity.
Step Four: Tackle Fears
The ultimate enemy of an interesting life is fear. Boredom is just another symptom of fear because you are limiting yourself within a box of ‘safe’ activities. When you build up your courage to taking down fears your life suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, challenging and most of all satisfying.
I’ve written fairly extensively about overcoming fears already, so if you would like to so you can check it out here.
Step Five: Do Things You Won’t Like
This may seem like a very bizarre step, but it is essential to creating an interesting life. Every once in awhile you need to step outside your zone of preferred activities and test the waters of activities you dislike. You might be displeased or you might just discover something you now enjoy. Many of the things I now love I once though I would hate.
Have no rhythm? Take some dancing lessons. Not an athlete? Join a community sports team. Everything you make in the kitchen starts on fire? Try some cooking lessons (and pick up an extra fire extinguisher).
Step Six: Add Some Spice
What’s the spice of life? Variety of course! If there is one thing you can do to create a more interesting life it is to add more variety. Humans are habitual creatures and readily settle into patterns of behavior good or bad. You need to mix up your life by breaking out of these patterns and doing something completely different.
This may seem like a complete turn around from someone who wrote an entire series on forming habits. I trust you it isn’t. The amount of habits you consciously choose to install will be less than 1% of all the habits you use every day. Most of these habits are neutral or worse and could use a good shaking to add some variety.
So take a different route to work next morning, try a different breakfast or listen to a radio station you have never heard before. And that’s just before you get to the job. There are endless ways to add tiny bits of variety and while it might seem trivial, it is essential to make each day worthwhile and memorable.
A friend of mine introduced me to an interesting challenge to add more variety. Next time you go to the grocery store, head over to the imported foods aisle and pick out one item you have never had before. Last week I had plantain chips and guava juice. Today I have grass jelly juice cooling in my fridge.
Step Seven: Orient Purpose Outside Yourself
You want to know what it is the best way to feel awful and miserable all the time? Keep thinking about all your problems. Maybe it is time to stop worrying about that garbage and instead focus on helping other people solve their problems? Not only does this make others appreciate you more and strengthens relationships, but it makes your life more interesting as well.
Many people wrongly assume that helping others is something you do purely out of altruism. This is incorrect, you help people because helping others helps yourself. Why do you think your body is hardwired to feel good after being charitable? Because being charitable helps you as well. It’s win-win!
Solving others problems doesn’t usually bear the negative weight that tackling your own does so it is a great way to add interest to your life without the burden of more and more challenges. Even if it is as simple as trying to make people laugh or feel good. When you orient the purpose of every interaction outside yourself you get to experience an interesting life.
Step Eight: Abandon Dead-End’s
Pursuing goals is a great way to fill your life with more passion and interest, but there comes a time when your goals no longer inspire or hold the same fire they once did. Abandon any pursuit that no longer holds the value it did when you started. There is no honor in finishing something that has lost meaning. The person who said, “Always finish what you start.” must of had a very boring life.
I’ve made the mistake of giving up on goals because I felt they were too hard. This was a bad mistake, but I usually take up a new challenge when I grow restless. Unfortunately a bigger mistake is to keep pursuing a goal that has lost value. I’ve done this and wasted solid months and years pursuing things that when I finally arrived at them resulted only in emptiness. Abandon a dead-end and keep every moment interesting.
Step Nine: Never Settle
When most people tell you not to settle they mean don’t give up until you have exactly what you want. Although this is an important lesson I’m using the term settle in a different way. When I say don’t settle I mean don’t lock your life into a set of behaviors and experiences. Your life should always be growing, expanding and fresh.
Now I know what you’re thinking, sure this is fine advice coming from a young man with no commitments but I have a spouse, children and mortgage payments. Of course we all have varying responsibilities which we need to uphold, but what you are really offering is just an excuse. You can grow and expand in any setting no matter the restrictions, so long as you have conscious power.
Being in a situation with more responsibilities simply means you need to be more creative in keeping life fresh. Nobody will care that you wasted your life because you had to. If there isn’t a way, make one. Don’t excuse yourself out of a great life.