Not all advice is equal. Sure, reading the lessons from wise people is a great habit, but a lot of it blends together — eat well, get to know yourself, never stop tinkering with ways to improve your sleep. This advice is useful. But it’s hardly surprising.
That being said, there have been times when I’ve come across a thought from someone that seriously changed how I looked at either myself or the world we live in. Below are the three pieces of less common advice that have most impacted my life with the hope they may do some good for yours as well.
#1: Pay attention to your tears
“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.” ― Frederick Buechner
As an adult, I always tear up when I set foot in a church.
I was raised Catholic but my family and I were not really what you would call “church people” — with the exception of my grandma.
I remember accompanying her to Mass a few times. I miss her, and my feelings about stepping inside a church are tangled up with my love for her.
When I cry, it gives me a chance to reflect on who she was and what she meant to me.
But there’s another layer to it, too.
The memories I have about going to church with my grandma are some of the most vivid images left over from my childhood. These were innocent times when I could fully live in the moment and embrace the full range of my emotions. I don’t have many unfaded memories of it.
The tears I shed in churches are a reminder.
They tell me to look at the world through the eyes of my inner child.
Opening my perception and widening my awareness brings back the bright smile I lost in the process of growing up.
#2: Zoom out
The author Richard Carlson wrote: Ask yourself this question: ’Will this matter a year from now?’
The other day — it was unusually warm and sunny for winter — I was sitting on my balcony, a cup of coffee in my hands, the gentle sun on my face.
And instead of enjoying the moment, I was thinking about my hair. Specifically, here’s the dilemma that was haunting me: “Should I wash my hair now? It’s starting to feel greasy. Or should I wait until tonight? It hasn’t been 48 hours yet since I last washed it, and I don’t want to damage it by washing it too often.”
It’s stupid. I know now that it’s a very stupid thing to worry about. But in that moment, it felt important, and it was ruining my peaceful moment on the balcony.
To my luck, Carlson’s words drifted into my mind. Would my hair-washing regimen matter a year from now? Of course not, that’s absurd. So I let the weight of the decision melt away. Whatever I did, my hair would be fine.
This is just one example of the stupid discussions that are constantly running through our minds. It’s just ourselves talking to ourselves about ourselves, and it’s keeping us from enjoying life.
You get stuck in traffic and start calling people names. You have an argument with your spouse about the dishes, and you’re still seething about it hours later. Your inbox is overflowing and it’s making you nervous.
Ask yourself whether the situation is really as important as you’re making it out to be. Are the voices in your head so important you need to give them any attention? Often, the answer is no.
“A most dangerous temptation is the temptation to prepare to live, instead of living. The future does not belong to you. Therefore, remember to live the best way you know now.” — Leo Tolstoy.
#3: Don’t look at the clock
There comes a time in your life when you realize you’re going to die one day. From that moment on, you start counting your time out like it’s a small pile of coins. You can no longer live your life the way you used to — you can’t escape from the knowledge that each day brings you one step closer to the end of your life.
Students of stoicism might say “Memento Mori” (remember you’re going to die).
And I’ve tried to keep to that advice, but all it did was increase my anxiety. I know I’m gonna die one day. I don’t want to think about it all the time, because it just makes me panic about everything I’m missing out on.
I ranted to a friend about this. He said simply, “You know what you should do? Replace Memento Mori with Carpe Diem! That’s how kids live, and they’re happier than us, so they must be doing something right.”
“Seize the day” is advice I’d heard hundreds of times before, but never like this.
My friend is absolutely right. Children measure time by its quality rather than its quantity. We should try to do the same.
When you were a kid, you never had to worry about the passage of time. There were no deadlines, no bills that needed to be paid right now (or else!). Your summer vacations seemed endless.
The time you had your first taste of chocolate, the time you fell off your bike and scraped your knee, the time you jumped in your parents’ bed after a nightmare… Those were the building blocks of who you are now. They were your foundation. And they filled your life up completely. They weren’t tainted by worrying about the past or the future.
Give yourself the gift of time
As we grow older, we develop a sad relationship with time. It becomes all about productivity, not living, but optimizing, the present moment.
But we can change that if we want to. We can embrace our pasts, zoom out from the present, stop fretting about the future.
Let your tears move you if you feel the need to grieve for what you lost. Try to remember the carefree innocence of your youth, and let it shape you again.
Eric Sangerma is an entrepreneur, founder of TrulyScaled.com and Wholistique.com and co-host of The Wholistique Show which explores how to reach peak personal and professional performance while living a minimal and balanced life. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Tyler Lastovich.