I am a firm believer in in the power of people. The more smart, healthy, worry-free people we can get working together, the better our world can be. But to keep believing this way, I have found, takes constant work of reflection on my part. The news cycle is and forever seems to be filled with death and destruction. Though I do my best to try to avoid it, sometimes I just can’t look away. In those times I always feel a little depressed and hopeless. It is sometimes enough to shake my belief in humanity and makes me wonder why anyone even tries at all. A few hours of wringing my wrists are just about enough to sink me into a bad mood and ruin my day. In these moments I try to think up some special cues that help me get back to thinking positive again and I have found that most of the time these are thoughts that relate to some kind of medium to long term goal I have for myself, my immediate loved ones or for society.
If you have true goals – meaning you are active in their pursuit – you can think about them and focus on those in which you can see progress. Trying to think this way switches your mind from negative thoughts to positive ones, from things that suck to things that, are awesome. Like pretty much everything that takes effort there is a learning curve in training your mind this way. At first you have to really try and think of some goals you are progressing in and then really focus on how cool it is that you’ve accomplished something instead of despairing on how much work is left. As you can tell there are a couple of parts to this mind trick.
The good news, as I have just recently discovered in finishing Charles Dunigg’s great book “The Power of Habit,” is that focusing your mind on a repetitive task enough times will, in a way, program the brain to recognize a cue and launch a newly formed routine almost automatically (whether mental or physical) in it’s ever searching quest for rewards. When I read this I thought ‘Wow! We actually have the power to program our own brains any way we want to!’ Of course it doesn’t take the finishing of the book to know that this habit forming ability of our minds can have some downsides as well. We are all aware of some bad habits that we can hardly remember picking up but seem to be with us now, forever and always. The true gem in Dunigg’s book, however, is that if you understand the way habits work – like the flow of electrons in the creation of electricity – you can begin to exert control over them.
Having said this, it’s no secret that I highly recommend this book as it is one of those reads that I feel I will always carry a little piece of with me long after I’ve forgotten it’s contents. But I digress… Lets get back to to thinking about those good vibes. Firstly, in order to think about the good things in your life, you have to have good things happening. Thinking about things you want to accomplish is the first step in having those good things but the hard part is actually making them happen. This is where humanity’s greatest invention comes into play: grab a pen and some paper and make a list of things that you want in your life and start thinking ‘progress report’. You want some concrete evidence that that you can refer to for measurement of said progress.
The best way to keep track of progress in your goals is to find ways to measure it. Personal finance is fairly simple in this respect because it involves numbers and it is easy to check your account balance to see how it compares to before. Weight loss and dieting can work in much the same way, or say you want to exercise regularly every day, you can count how many sit ups you do and set targets for yourself every week or month. Whatever goals you have try to stick a number next to them and progress will be much easier to measure.
There are of course those goals that are hard to stick a number on. Things like creativity or raising great kids can be hard to quantify. I definitely get that greatness can’t always conform to the rigidity of 1,2,3… but usually if I concentrate hard enough on a goal I can come up with some steps to take (and count) to get closer to it. If you can achieve this feat of being able to quantify your goals you can start the process of repetition and once you start to keep track of those repetition you will have a nice crutch to lean on when you need a little more good news in your life while giving yourself a target to beat for next time. Keep doing this until you are so used to beating your old score that it becomes a habit. To me there is nothing like a good target to take my mind off the world crumbling around me – which it isn’t.
“This week I: stretched 4 times, I did 200 push ups and 200 sit ups, I saved $600, I ate fruit every day”