General Strategies for Success

Strive to learn and follow best practices for being present, effective, and grounded. Here are ways to be more secure, successful, and satisfied.

  1. Cultivate patience.

    Practice this in every setting: home, work, transit, and social. For some of us, being hasty is a natural tendency. It does not usually serve us well. Take the time to learn how to be more patient, and consider it a lifelong effort.

  2. Listen more in all aspects of life.

    Nearly everyone can be a better listener. You are a better negotiator if you listen to what the other side really wants. People like you more if you listen to what they are saying and are not thinking about your response while they are talking. Bosses want to be listened to, as do partners, friends, parents, and children. Listen to people whom you respect, and heed their advice.

  3. Practice self-discipline and control.

    Bad habits are easy to fall into. Good habits take commitment, persistence, and repetition.

  4. Be inclusive.

    When in doubt, invite that extra person to the lunch, ask what the person sitting near you thinks, talk to the new person at a gathering. You learn and engage more often with this mind-set. Others appreciate it.

  5. Have some continuity.

    Pick at least one thing you like and stick with it. This could be in your work life or personal life. It is good to have some stability in your life for a sense comfort and accomplishment. It could be a sport, a specialty, a hobby, a place you go, a tradition.

  6. Play the hand you are dealt.

    Use the cards you got and those you picked from the deck. Own your chosen pathways. Starting over too many times is tiresome, and harder than building on what you already have in place. Leverage your local network, a credential, a language skill, whatever it may be. Consider how to use your past as a bridge and building block to next pursuits rather than starting from scratch. Whatever you end up doing, learn it, work hard, and then map out pathways to transition to the next thing using what you have under your belt.

  7. Do not overthink the small decisions.

    Focus your time and energy on life’s bigger matters. For example, if you are checking out at a store and see the tissues in the little rectangular packages and want them but feel like it is a waste of money, just buy them. They are more convenient and more elegant to use in front of others than a wadded up tissue from a big box. It is a small amount of pocket change that you will not miss. This applies to one-off inconsequential decisions, not giving yourself license to regularly go overboard on bad habits or spending.

  8. Trust your own judgment.

    “A sandal might look beautiful to an observer, but only the wearer could tell if it pinched.” This is a quote from Plutarch, nearly 2,000 years ago, telling the story of a Roman man’s response to a friend who chastised him for leaving a seemingly good wife (cited in the book Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz). Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. But the way something feels and impacts you matters more to you than it does to anyone else.

  9. Practice mindfulness.

    Living in the moment is powerful, freeing, and hard! There are many resources that help cultivate mindfulness. They are well worth trying, revisiting, and trying more. It is a lifelong journey to understand one’s own mind better, learn to hold the presence of thoughts and emotions in new ways, and be gentle and caring toward yourself.

  10. Balance ambition and satisfaction.

    Stay aware of the interplay between inertia and advancement. Think about the tension between bettering yourself and enjoying your life. There can be cultural influence to constantly want the next bigger thing—whether a gadget, home, car, or relationship. My grandfather has lived in the same humble house since the 1950s. He is one of the happiest people I know, and always has been. Too many choices can cause insecurity and anxiety. Recent data reported in the media from Facebook showed that people in American cities with the most people (New York, San Francisco) are the least likely to move to committed relationships. Perhaps there are too many singles playing the game for individuals to feel sure they are getting the “best deal.” It is similar with housing and jobs—contentment is elusive. Many people today have more opportunities that can improve our self-satisfaction and personal economics than in the past, yet at times we may be better off making peace with where we are rather than constantly shopping for something else, moving again, starting over. I like to go to the smaller grocery store in my area because there are just a few choices for each item. It takes less time and is less taxing. Choose simplicity over the “rat race” mentality. Savor the daily pleasures of what you have.

  11. Forgo extreme individualism.

    Consider how tilted society is in favor of the individual compared to most times in history. It is okay to reject this thinking. Give of yourself to others. Lean on others. This does not mean you are weak or not being your true self. It means you are a good human. Life is not always easy. That is okay. There is a deep sense of self that comes from showing up and staying during the hard times. And it makes those days of joy and leisure more appreciated. Today’s society often glorifies the opposite: those who look out for themselves first. Be one of the people others call. You will need others too at times. Independence is hard, lonely, and overhyped. Sharing responsibilities allows more time for the best parts of life. The old saying “it takes a village” is true.

  12. Live in gratitude.

    Any practice that shows gratitude and helps you keep it in mind is energy well spent. A classic technique is to list three things a day for which you are grateful, perhaps each night before bed. Send thank-you notes often to those who help you. Say “thank you” more often.

  13. Exercise.

    It is good for our health in so many ways. We know this, but it can be hard to fit it in. Walk, jump, do anything you like and can manage. Prioritize it before social activity, or combine it socially whenever you can.

  14. Own your time.

    Do not be afraid to cut out distractions. Eliminate excess time on activities like reading the news, watching television, shopping, or other unproductive ways of spending time that do not further goals or help you relax.

  15. Aim for being a participant in life more than a spectator.

    This takes constant effort at first. But once you get in the habit, it can feel better and more normal to do something active, productive, reflective, social, or otherwise engaged than to watch others (or fictitious others) go about their lives on TV, in sports, or in books. Some downtime is great. But if you have a constant nagging feeling of wishing you were doing more, your time-spend ratio may be tilted toward too much observing and not enough doing.

  16. Pick up new life skills constantly.

    Whether it is keeping up with technology changes, checking a car engine’s fluid levels, learning to hem clothes or cook a meal, or saying basic greetings in a new language, it only helps to know how to do things. Pay attention while watching others and note techniques. You do not know when a skill might come in handy, or even be necessary. Keeping up with technology changes will be a never-ending effort. Programs, devices, and their integration into all parts of life are ever-changing, and it is better to be a person who can figure it out rather than need to ask others.