Just one nugget of wisdom

It’s hard to overstate the value of a useful perspective or piece of advice that comes at the right time. If I read an entire book, listen to a podcast, or even attend a seminar, and all I glean is one great nugget of wisdom, I consider it a worthwhile investment.

It may be easy to scoff at the time-cost of a three-hour book reading session that only delivers one great idea. Until you find that one idea has you starting a new side business (or deciding to bail on the one you have), saves your company money, or stops you from going into a career or Master’s program that you would have regretted.


Priorities

The etymology of the word “priority” is interesting. It’s over 600 years old, but only about a hundred years ago (the industrial age) did a plural form of the word appear. “Priori” essentially meant “before all else”. Asking what someone’s priorities were would have been like asking: who is your one best friends?

Unless there’s an urgent threat to our lives, we can’t expect to hold one single priority in modern life. But it’s worth considering that some of the most important things are sacrificed at the cost of things that are simply urgent but to which we never assigned a high priority. If we’re “busy” but not feeling accomplished it may be useful to take a step back and review our priorities, narrowing them down as much as possible. 

Make the news!

Most of the media we’re exposed to in a 24-hour news cycle is not positive. Everyone knows that fueling outrage will obtain far more clicks than the human interest story of a stranger who did something kind for one of her 7 billion neighbors.

Because negative news is more pervasive, it’s easy to think that destructive things and people are the norm.

You probably won’t make the news by doing kind things for strangers with no regard for what they may get in return, but you will help instill faith in humanity and cancel out some of the damaging behavior of others.

A simple question that can change your path

I’m a big fan of simple mental models or thought experiments in the form of a question that immediately put things in perspective. Here’s one with many alternates that can serve to put you on the right path:

“Is what I’m about to do going to move me closer or further away from what’s important?”

Modify any of the words to get to the same version of the question. For example, “Is what I’m about to decide going to move for closer or further away from the person I aspire to be?”

Results over effort

We don’t judge the quality of a book by the number of hours it took the author to write it. When a friend recommends a great movie we don’t ask what the film’s budget was. 

When we hire companies to do landscaping or cater a party, we don’t interrogate them about the tools they use.  And we don’t evaluate their work product by asking how many years they’ve been in business. We care about and discuss the thing that matters: the outcome.

When hiring someone to do anything, you get the best result when you review their work and have a human conversation that maps their interests and past performance to the outcomes you desire. Hiring a graphic artist? Don’t ask what software they prefer or how many years they’ve done work. Discuss and review their most comparable work product to the one you seek.

Deciding who to hire, work with, or work for

Given the choice of who to hire, work with, or work for, always choose character over skills. It’s possible to learn a lot from someone highly skilled in any discipline, but it’s easier to address skill gaps than it is to manage the devastation from lapses in character or integrity.

Anyone who thinks skills and experience can compensate for a principle like integrity has never witnessed the financial (and psychological) damage done to organizations that stem from toxic bosses or colleagues.

Freedom to and freedom from

We tend to think of freedom in terms of the options we have. This is “freedom to…” While we may not have all the resources that give us freedom TO do all we desire, we can recognize the opposite side of the coin, which is “freedom from”: any of the pressures, stresses, or life-deranging things that don’t plague us at this moment.

As you contemplate all you have the freedom to do, give thanks and perhaps give yourself credit for the harmful and even traumatic things that you have freedom from.

Investing in tomorrow

Remember when you first learned about compound interest? It wasn’t intuitive that starting with a penny on day one and doubling it each day for 30 days would net so much money. Investing time and attention works in a similar way, compounding, even if it’s not exponential.

One powerful lesson from any investment that repeats and compounds is that real progress or growth isn’t immediately obvious. Knowing this allows you to adjust your expectations and stay in the game.

Citing the above penny-doubling experiment, after 10 days (1/3 of the way!) you only have $10.24. What do you have on day 30? $5.4 million. 

The antidote for mixed signals in our bodies

The feeling of hunger tells us when we should eat (now), not how much we should eat. Bright lights close to bedtime tell the body that it’s still daytime, as our eyes are the most important medium for delivering info to the mother ship (the brain) on the time of day.

Our bodies can misinterpret signals, and our conscious minds can convince our bodies of a false story. Two keys to correcting this:

  1. Self-awareness is a strong antidote to better interpret these signals. Are you eating more because you’re still hungry?
  2. Change your environment – if we know we’ll get better sleep by avoiding certain kinds of light at night, and exposing ourselves to light in the morning, we can make the right changes.