Make room for the big rocks first. It’s easy to let your time and energy be sucked up by trivial errands and tasks. You find you no longer have space for the things you thought were most important. Don’t do that. Always carve out time and attention for those people and activities you value most. If the house doesn’t get clean because you were hanging out with a friend, so what? If you didn’t mow the lawn because you went to the gym instead, that’s a good thing. Tackle the important, then the trivial.
You can have anything you want — but you can’t have everything you want. Everything is a trade-off. You have limited resources. When you choose to spend — time, money, brainwidth — on one thing, you’re also choosing not to spend on others. Do your best to spend only on the things that matter most to you. If you don’t really have a passion for Big Bang Theory, why are you wasting your valuable time watching it? Spend your time and energy on something you do care about.
You’ll be happier if you focus on efforts and attention only on the things you can control. Each of us has a large number of things about which we’re concerned: our health, our family, our friends, our jobs; world affairs, the plight of the poor, the threat of terrorism, the current political climate. Within that Circle of Concern, there’s a smaller subset of things over which we have actual, direct control: how much we exercise, what time we go to bed, whether we leave for work on time; what we eat, where we live, with whom we socialize. You’ll be happier and more productive if you dedicate yourself to your Circle of Control and ignore your Circle of Concern.
You have the freedom to choose how you respond to any event. In the classic Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Fankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He based this philosophy on his personal experience in a Nazi concentration camp. When that jerk cuts you off on the freeway, you get to choose if you’ll get angry or give him the benefit of the doubt. When you get stuck behind the old lady in line at the grocery store, it’s up to you how to respond. When those stupid kids next door vandalize your lawn, you get to choose how you feel about it.
Staying in a relationship out of a sense of obligation or pity is not a good reason. Sometimes you really do have to walk away — from a friendship, from a family member, even from a romantic partner. Yours isn’t the only story in this world; sometimes it’s better to be somebody else’s villain than to make yourself miserable.
Happy people almost never criticize, says Steven Pressfield in The War of Art. “If they speak at all,” he writes, “it’s to offer encouragement.” This is true in my experience, as well. Being sarcastic and cutting doesn’t mean that you’re smarter than the people around you. Most of the time, it simply means you’re an jerk. And that leads me to the next lesson…
When good things happen to people you know, help them celebrate. Their success does not diminish you. Be happy when your friends and family achieve something cool. If a co-worker gets a raise, be supportive and not jealous. Approach life as if it were a win-win game. Because it is.
Give without the expectation of return. Help other people — even if it costs a bit of money or time. Don’t always expect a financial payoff. Don’t get offended if your effort isn’t acknowledged or appreciated. Help because it’s the right thing to do, not because you want to be noticed.
You’re more likely to regret the things you don’t do than the things you do. That’s not to say you should be an inconsiderate jerk, or that you won’t regret making big mistakes. But generally speaking, you’re more likely to be sorry that you didn’t introduce yourself to the barista at the coffeehouse, didn’t go bungee-jumping with your friends, didn’t stay in touch with your friends.
Action is character. If you never did anything, you wouldn’t be anybody. Superman is a superhero because he does heroic things, not because he talks about doing them. And a writer is a writer because she writes, not because she talks about writing. What we say doesn’t matter; it’s what we do that counts. We are what we repeatedly do.