One-question self-assessment tool

Great questions may be the most powerful tool we have for honest introspection. The most transformative questions are usually simple while being the most difficult to answer.

All of us know of people or scenarios that continue to cause us emotional pain. Blaming others (even when it’s warranted) is not helpful. It doesn’t mitigate future issues, and worse, it allows you to side-step any of the blame.

Here is the most profound question I’ve learned to force honest introspection when history repeats itself in a negative way: How am I complicit in creating the conditions that I say I don’t want?

Becoming a nicer person

One thing that keeps us from being a nicer person than we would be otherwise is our tendency to judge others.

Next time you catch yourself judging someone for their clothing, their hairstyle, interests, or hobbies, ask: Do I have similar attributes that could be judged by others? Then ask yourself the more important question: Why does this matter?

The more you train yourself to not care about the personal preferences of other people, the nicer and more relaxed you become as a person.

Gratitude via negative thinking

The mental subtraction method is an alternate way to elicit the feeling of gratitude.

As an alternative to looking at the bright side or paying attention to all that you have for which you feel grateful, try visualizing the absence of the people, things, and moments in your life that make it most meaningful.

Force yourself to consider the impact on your life without the the people, places, things, and experiences that are so valuable. Returning to the present moment after a short time contemplating these negative thoughts offers an unconventional but useful way to spark gratitude.

It’s all been said

Imposter syndrome creeps up on those of us who communicate (hopefully useful) ideas publicly. Although I share advice online, I’m aware that it’s all been said – probably by people smarter than me. So who am I to advise others?

It’s important to understand that execution matters just as much as ideas. I’ve read multiple books on a topic only to have something finally click with me when I stumbled on a particular perspective.

It probably has all been said before. But perhaps not better, or in a way that resonates with and inspires people.

“Free” and “Available”

When I worked for a Fortune 10 company, our team had mutual access to each others’ calendars. Naturally people scheduled meetings in open time slots. It makes sense – open spaces on a calendar were viewed as “free” time, and an invitation to schedule something.

Since then I’ve learned to guard my time and create meetings with myself, not only to allow time for my own creative or professional or deep work, but even to plan my social or otherwise “free” time, in an intentional way.

Don’t confuse someone’s free time with their availability.

Seizing the moment

“Seize the moment” is trite and pervasive wisdom.

But if we observe our thoughts we’ll find that most of the time we are future-planning or past-regretting. This creates anxiety over what may (or may not) come to pass, or disappointment over what already did.

Cliche or not, it makes sense to remind yourself multiple times per day to be centered, present, and essentially…where you are.

Making things actionable

One thing I enjoy doing is distilling complex ideas into actionable concepts.   That is in fact one of the objectives of this blog.  No matter how much you read or how many opinions you consider, in the end, you’ll have to decide what to do with all of it.

Since not everyone’s brain works in a way that allows them to simplify, here are some questions you can ask – preferably to the most knowledgeable experts – to extract something actionable:
1) Given all that you know…what action would you encourage me to take?
2) What do you think is the risk of not taking that action?

Anger is dangerous

Anger is a useful emotion if we need to physically defend ourselves. Outside of that, nothing good comes of it. Regardless of how warranted it is, you’re not affecting the subject of your anger.

To paraphrase the historical Buddha: Anger is a hot coal that you hold onto while waiting to throw at someone.

Let it go for your own well-being.

Rethinking cause and effect

The “cause vs. correlation” problem can be summarized like this: Just because A and B are related doesn’t mean that A caused B. We are often quick to assign meaning to any two pieces of data that seem to be connected.

A book called Spurious Correlations points out dozens of things that are correlated, but for which only a lunatic would believe there was a causal relationship. Among my favorites: It turns out that between 2000 and 2009 the divorce rate in Maine is perfectly correlated with the per capita consumption of margarine.

Before concluding that consuming margarine causes divorces in Maine, perhaps we can think to ourselves: Did A really cause B?  Is there even a connection here?

Timeless principles

To paraphrase Jeff Bezos: I can’t predict what people will want in the future, but I can predict that no one will say “I want to pay more money for things and wait longer to receive them.”One of the reasons that some companies lead trends is that they accept that they can’t predict everything, but that certain principles are timeless and predictable. 

We don’t know what will be considered commonplace in the future, in terms of education, jobs, or relationships.   But we can bet that people will still want and need to acquire skills, trade those skills for money, maintain healthy adult relationships.

Just thinking this way opens a virtual buffet of portable, valuable problem-solving skills you can acquire regardless of what new tech, tools, platforms, or trends emerge.