Inspiration from Dylan Moran, John Adams, Eric Hoffer, and More

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Dylan Moran on reduced expectations

“People will kill you over time, and how they’ll kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases, like ‘be realistic.'” – Dylan Moran

This is something that I been trying to keep strongly in mind, both as a parent and as an encouraging friend.

In life, we hear a lot about our limitations – especially when we’re children. We begin to believe that we simply can’t do a lot of things, when the truth is that people are simply applying their own self-imposed limitations onto us with their words.

Most things in life can be accomplished with hard work and reasonably good choices. Those are the key ingredients of most of life’s success. Yes, natural talent plays a role and there are a few career paths that have specific requirements that not everyone has (like professional basketball, for example), but almost every career path is open to a person who is willing to work hard and keep their nose clean.

Yet we constantly stack on limitations, both on ourselves and on others. We tell ourselves – and others – about all of the things we can’t do, when we certainly can do it.

The truth? We’re intimidated by hard work and big projects. This intimidation affects our own choices and gradually grows to affect how we interact with others around us.

I’m going to work on stopping this kind of negative talk, both to myself and to others, and particularly to my children. They don’t need my self-imposed limitations applied to them in any way.

2. Judson Brewer on a simple way to break a bad habit

From the description:

Can we break bad habits by being more curious about them? Psychiatrist Judson Brewer studies the relationship between mindfulness and addiction — from smoking to overeating to all those other things we do even though we know they’re bad for us. Learn more about the mechanism of habit development and discover a simple but profound tactic that might help you beat your next urge to smoke, snack or check a text while driving.

Brewer’s simple tactic basically boils down to being mindful in the moment. When you’re aware you’re making a mistake, mindfully reflect on that mistake. Not only should you choose not to do it in the moment, you should also reflect on not repeating it again in the future.

The simple act of considering the moment, reflecting on your instinctive and impulsive choices, and thinking about how to make better ones is a good strategy for all of life, not just breaking a bad habit. Our lives are full of good-but-not-great routines and choices and when we figure out how to improve them, our lives slowly get better and better.

Whenever I’m driving anywhere or getting ready to nod off to sleep, I think about the choices I’ve made during the day – the little ones, to be specific. It really helps.

3. Fyodor Dostoyevsky on lying to yourself

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I think this happens to a lot of people over time as they begin to deal internally with life and career choices that they don’t morally agree with. Over time, they wear down their internal sense of truth and eventually truth does not matter at all.

I often fall into the trap of thinking that other people that I meet share the same values as I have. The truth is, they don’t. Some people have values that don’t match mine, while others honestly have little or no values at all.

How do you navigate in a world like that? The only real strategy I know of is what Dostoyevsky speaks of here. Be true to yourself. Stay true to yourself. Don’t lie to yourself.

4. Time Timer

One of the most effective strategies I’ve ever found for my workday is the Pomodoro technique. For those unfamiliar, the Pomodoro technique is a time management strategy in which you work for a twenty five minute period followed by a five minute break, then repeat that four times before taking a longer break.

It’s really useful, as the long period matches up reasonably well with a person’s ability to focus well on a single task. However, what I’ve learned over time is that different people have different periods for focusing.

For me, that time period is actually about 40 minutes unless I slip into “the zone” (a mental state where I completely lose track of time on a task). I learned this by playing around with timers and seeing when my focus would naturally break. After that, I take a bit longer break than the normal Pomodoro technique – about ten minutes or so.

That’s where Time Timer comes in. It’s just a really great timer for measuring these intervals. I’ve been using the app version and it works like a champ. I just leave it on the corner of my desk and when it goes off, I know I’m done.

5. Eric Hoffer on change

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

This is a perfect explanation of why every person should be a lifetime learner. The moment in which you stop learning new things is the moment in which the world begins to pass you by and the moment in which you start to become less and less valuable in terms of employment.

Learn something new every day. Ideally, you should learn several new things every day. Dig deep into topics that you don’t know about – and especially into topics that you do think you know about because people are often far overconfident in their knowledge.

If you don’t do this, the world will change right under your feet and your skills and knowledge will be useful only to a world that no longer exists.

6. The Specious Present

From the description:

What is the specious present? And how do our brains perceive time?

This was a fascinating video.

The mistakes we make in life always take place in the present, but almost immediately, those mistakes drift into the past.

At the same time, it’s the present that we have control over. It’s the present where we decide whether or not to do something. As soon as we make that choice and begin to act, that decision falls into the past and we’re unable to change it. We just have to live with the consequences.

You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it so that you make better decisions in the present.

7. Marcus Aurelius on finding strength

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius

This quote follows right on with the video above. Again, the power that you have to change the world exists only within this moment and only within your own skin. Only you have the power to make a good spending decision, to make the decision to work harder or study harder, or to do something lazy or destructive to your future.

You can’t control what other people do. However, you can be assured that some of them are out there doing whatever it takes to get better, whatever it takes to make their mark, whatever it takes to get that promotion, whatever it takes to make their business successful.

They don’t get bored and distracted. They aren’t twiddling with their smartphones or watching television.

Every time you choose to give in to those kinds of distractions, you directly give up ground to those other people. The only way you catch up is by working harder, and that decision is entirely yours.

8. Neil Gaiman on making mistakes

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.” – Neil Gaiman

No matter what you do in life, you’re going to mess up. You’re going to make giant horrible mistakes. You’re going to produce some disastrous results. And you’re going to find those results disheartening.

The thing to remember – to always remember – is that those results aren’t a bad thing. For one, they help to show you where you’ve gone wrong and how you can improve. For another, sometimes your mistakes give rise to something beautiful and amazing.

The key to all of this is to try. Make things. Work hard. Don’t give into the temptation to be lazy.

9. Jessica Lea Mayfield

From the description:

These days, Jessica Lea Mayfield is all contrasts, starting with the way she sets her wistful voice against her shimmering guitar. It’s got a harder edge to it than the rootsier music of her past. Then there’s that cotton-candy hair and all the glitter; her guitar glitters, her eyes glitter, her shoes glitter. It’s easier to talk about what isn’t glittered — and mostly that’d be her lyrics. […]

Set List:
“Standing In The Sun”
“Party Drugs”
“Seein’ Starz”

I’ve really fallen in love with Jessica Lea Mayfield’s music. There’s something about the mix of her guitar playing and her voice and the things she sings about – mistakes in life and finding a new way forward from there.

Her earlier music was a bit more… Americana than this, almost akin to folk music. These days, she uses a bit more rock sound in her music, but it’s just as mesmerizing.

She’s on a short list of musicians that I would pay good money to hear in concert.

10. Joe Biden on budgets and values

“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” – Joe Biden

I find this to be true whether it’s individuals, it’s state governments, or it’s national governments. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about what you actually value, but the way you spend your money reflects what you truly value.

Take a look at your own annual spending, if you track it. Does that really match what you value in life? If you claim to value education, how much did you spend on educational endeavors? If you claim to value the environment, how much did you spend on things that will help the environment? Instead, how much did you spend on stuff that, in the end, you don’t actually care about all that much.

The same thing is true when you look at the spending of a government. Politicians can talk all day long about what they value, but look instead at the budgets they propose and vote for and how the government spends its money. That’s what they really value. Take a look at our federal budget – that’s what we actually value.

11. J.K. Simmons’ speech upon winning his Best Supporting Actor award

Here’s a transcript of his speech:

Wow, thank you. Thank you to the Academy. Thank you to everyone involved in the making of Whiplash. And I am grateful everyday for the most remarkable person I know: my wife, the wonderful Michelle Schumacher. I’m grateful for your love, your kindness, your wisdom, your sacrifice and your patience. Which brings me to the above-average children—even though I may try their patience more. Joe and Olivia, you are extraordinary human beings. Smart, funny, kind, loving people and that’s because you are a reflection of your mother. And if I may, call your mom, everybody. I’ve told this [to], like, a billion people, or so. Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

I’ll repeat that key part:

And if I may, call your mom, everybody. I’ve told this [to], like, a billion people, or so. Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Even if you think you “can’t” talk to your parents these days, remember this: for the vast majority of people, they spent eighteen years or so living with their parents, during which their parents provided multiple meals a day, a roof over their head, and clothing. Regardless of what you might remember, your parents spent countless hours working and doing things to provide for you.

You know what? Your parents aren’t perfect. You might disagree with them and be frustrated and angry with them.

That doesn’t change the fact that your parents gave you far, far more than you will ever remember. Even if it wasn’t perfect, it was still a tremendous gift.

Don’t forget that gift. Be the “bigger” person. Give your parents a call.

12. John Adams on his dread of the future

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” – John Adams

We’ve reached a point where allegiance to a party is more important than solving problems, where stepping away from some sort of orthodox beliefs is practically considered to be treasonous, where compromise is a dirty, dirty word.

All this does is ensure that we’ll never solve the problems facing all of us. When we become so subscribed to one set of solutions that we can’t even listen to or rationally talk to people who may be proposing different solutions, the problem isn’t going to be solved.

The same thing is true in our daily life. When we’re so subscribed to our own opinions and beliefs that we won’t even consider what other people think or believe, we’ve lost the ability to grow.

Our founding fathers saw this problem coming a long time ago. It’s kind of a shame that we didn’t heed their warnings.

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