When it comes to self-improvement, books are one of the most common sources of information. As I’ve read different self-help books, many of the same ideas seem to come up again and again. For example, “focusing more on less” is an idea discussed by Greg McKeown in Essentialism and Gary Keller in The ONE Thing. Wouldn’t it be great if all of the most important ideas and advice could be summarized in one place? Well now, there is (more on that below).
Here are some of my favourite “guidelines” for living a more purposeful life, as supported by numerous best-selling authors.
Live in the here and now
It’s easy to get caught up obsessing about the future and achieving our goals. The fact that you’re reading this says something about you as a person. It says you’re someone who’s interested in self-improvement and are likely to be someone who thinks a lot about where they’re heading and what they want the future to look like. While this is a good trait to have, remember to live in the here and now. Be present and appreciate what you have at this point in your life. When you obsess about the future or dwell on the past, you fail to enjoy what’s actually important. But what is important? What is happening around you right now in the moment?
In The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday shares why living in the moment is important and why we shouldn’t use the past or future as an excuse for giving up:
“It doesn’t matter whether this is the worst time to be alive or the best, whether you’re in a good job market or a bad one, or that the obstacle you face is intimidating or burdensome. What matters is that right now is right now.”
He goes on to highlight that the obstacles and problems we face are only made challenging by the way we perceive them. It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past or what the obstacle could mean for the future. These thoughts shouldn’t influence what’s important—which is making the right decision based on where you are right now.
“The implications of our obstacle are theoretical—they exist in the past and the future. We live in the moment. And the more we embrace that, the easier the obstacle will be to face and move.”
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown discusses how being present helps you prioritize and identify the most important tasks to work on right now:
“When faced with so many tasks and obligations that you can’t figure out which to tackle, stop. Take a deep breath. Get present in the moment and ask yourself what is most important this very second—not what’s most important tomorrow or even an hour from now.”
Now this doesn’t mean you should forget about the future. Of course, what you do today will have an impact on what you achieve a week, month or year from now. But when you feel overwhelmed with things to do, let this all drop away. Focus instead on what’s most important right now. Use the here and now as a filter as a way to identify your most important tasks.
Living in the here and now doesn’t just mean living in the present moment. It also means being more aware of your current environment. In Manage Your Day to Day, Scott Belsky points out how easy it is to distract yourself using technology and challenges the reader to instead focus on being present during the day:
“These days, when a meeting, movie or lecture comes to an end we immediately check in to social channels to see what’s going on. Take a break from checking your smartphone during transitional moments. Open yourself up to opportunity and serendipity. Take the time to see how you’re feeling. Be in the present and chat to someone you don’t know. It’s amazing what secrets you can unlock in your mind and around you.”
As we come to the end of this book, I’d like to leave you with this idea from Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning:
“Give yourself the gift of investing just 30 days to make significant improvements in your life, one day at a time. No matter what your past has been, you can change your future, by changing the present.”
This quote does a great job of communicating something very important; it doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. However, if you want to change the future, you need to focus on the present moment and how you’re living your life right now.
Above all else, remember that if you forget to live in the present, you risk missing all the amazing moments that are going on around you right now. Moments you’ll never get back. You may find you get to the future and it’s not what you expected. You may find yourself looking back regretting not being more present. You’ll be thinking that you won’t make the same mistake again without even realizing that by dwelling on the past you’re missing another beautiful moment. Remember to be present every day. Don’t obsess about the future, stop dwelling on the past and enjoy the here and now.
One of the ways you can be more present is to be a more active listener, which is why I love this next guideline. When talking to others, it’s incredibly easy to let your mind wander as you watch the other person’s lips move without absorbing what has been said. Next time you get into a deep conversation, instead of thinking about what you will say next, listen to their words. Try to appreciate their point of view.
The Importance of Listening
Hearing someone talk and actually listening to the words they’re saying are two completely different things. It’s easy to nod along, hear what’s being said and give the impression that you’re listening. To listen means to understand other people’s perspectives and take action. Even if that action is doing nothing, to understand and have respect for other people’s point of view is a skill that more of us need to master.
In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie talks about listening as one of the fundamental principles to get people to like you:
“If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.”
This doesn’t mean you approach someone with a false sense of respect. If you listen while continuing to formulate your own ideas in your head instead of actually responding to the other persons view point, you’re doing things wrong. You actually have to care about the other person and have an appreciation for what they have to say.
Listening and understanding other viewpoints will improve your ability to win that person over and eventually convince them to your way of thinking (assuming you don’t change your opinion after hearing their words). Marcus Aurelius further supports the importance of listening and understanding other people in his book, Meditations:
“Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds.”
I like this idea of getting inside the other person’s mind. This means really standing in the other person’s shoes, trying to imagine the world through their eyes and really thinking about how they feel.
Fried and Heinmeier, the authors of Rework, discuss the importance of listening in a business context when it comes to dealing with unhappy employees and customers:
“When people complain, let things simmer for a while. Let them know you’re listening. Show them you’re aware of what they’re saying. Let them know you understand their discontent.”
When you show that you care by listening with intent, you’ll be amazed at the response from others. Often, we have to fight to be heard. We go into an argument with the preconceived idea that the other person isn’t going to listen. We think we’re going to have to build a case to win the other person over. But when you’re met with someone who listens and respects your opinion, it almost catches us out by surprise. In response, our respect for that other person goes up. Even if we eventually come around to their way of thinking, the fact that they cared enough to listen, commands great respect.
What is Guidelines?
Reading more is something most people have on their to-do list, but is something that often gets pushed to the side due to a lack of time or other tasks taking priority. To help with this, I’ve created a new ebook, called Guidelines, that summarizes the main lessons learned from 30 best-selling self-help books.
Guidelines lists 27 rules (or guidelines) that help you improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health and succeed in life. The book digests the best points from over 30 best-selling books like The 4-Hour Work Week, The Miracle Morning and The Obstacle is the Way into 27 specific and actionable guidelines.
Guidelines isn’t a replacement for these books (which everyone should read), but it is a quick way to take action on the most beneficial pieces of advice.
If you want to pick up a copy of Guidelines, it’s available as a 68-page ebook and 97-minute audio book. Pick up a copy today.
Do you want ideas, insights, and information on how to craft your time in just one weekly email?
Then you want ATTN: sent to you.
ATTN: is a weekly digest from Productivityist that delivers a week's worth of content in a nice little package directly to your inbox. Just enter your email to subscribe.