zenhabits : breathe

7 Powerful Ways to Get the Most Out of Any Situation

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Pete Wailes of the Cross Driven Life blog.

It’s always been my belief that whatever you make the focus of your life is what you’ll get.

If you long for money, fame and adulation, then you’ll take action to achieve it, and you’ll get it in the end. If you want to make your life simpler, more efficient and more productive, then similarly you’ll live your life in a way that will drive you to get those things. If you just want a quiet life away from the world, that’s what you’ll find.

And that raises an interesting idea… When you get right down to it, there’s only really one thing you can ever truly control: your intentions. What are the intentions you have for your life? What goals are you striving towards each and every day? What do you do with your life? What are you leading yourself towards?

Big questions to ask yourself, and often no easy answers.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate the point. One of my personal heroes is Jean Valjean, from the book and musical Les Misérables. Here is a man who stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children. Arrested, he is sentenced to five years in prison. Due to four attempts to escape, he actually ends up serving 19.

When he finally gets out, he’s turned away wherever he goes, due to his parole papers. Eventually, a kind-hearted bishop called Myriel takes him in. The man feeds him and gives him wine, and offers him a bed. However, now knowing little more than how to be a criminal, Valjean wakes in the night and steals his silverware.

Soon after, Valjean is arrested and brought before the bishop. Rather than hanging him out to dry though, the man once more takes pity on him. He tells the officers that the silver was a gift, and that he also meant to give him two candlesticks. He then talks to Valjean, telling him to see in this act of mercy a different path for his life, and sends him on his way. Soon after though, he steals again from a young chimney sweep. This time however, something different happens.

Wracked with shame and overcome by grief at what he has become, he breaks his parole and wipes the slate clean. He lays Jean Valjean to rest, and takes the name Father Madeleine. What follows is the story of a man trying to change his life. He slowly changes, trying to outrun his past, never quite being able to do so. Over the course of several decades, he re-molds himself, until finally at the end of the book, he becomes the man he wants to be all.

If you’ve never seen the musical, I highly recommend it, and the same goes for the book. Both are incredibly moving.

I’ve done much in my life that I’m not proud of. Like Valjean though, I struggle to be a better man. I hope you do the same. Always watch your intentions. In every situation, ask yourself “what do I want to get out of this? What do I want to accomplish here?” Control your intentions and focus, and you’ll be the master of your life.

With that in mind, here’s 7 powerful ways to make sure you’re going to get the most of out any situation in life:

  1. In every situation, ask yourself “What do I want to get out of this?”. You need to know what your aim is. Ever get into an argument where you forgot what you were arguing about, but you knew you had to be right? Know what you’re going to try and end up with in any given situation, and you’ll be able to achieve it far more easily, with far less stress and friction.
  2. Don’t assume the worst in people. There’s an old saying, “If a man thinks he’ll die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen.” If you look for faults in your partner, or expect them to cheat, you’ll push them away and only make it more likely. If you expect friends to fail you, you’ll set them up to do it. Try and look for the good in people, and treat them how you want to be treated yourself.
  3. Respect everyone. Not just the people you like, or the people you get along with, but everyone. Forgive the people who do you wrong. Take time to help those who wouldn’t help you. Reach out to people who would harm you. If you see someone sitting alone, take a walk across the room and say hi. Make time for people in your life. You’d be amazed at the difference it makes in your attitude to life.
  4. Walk away when you’re angry. If you’ve got a hot head, you’re not going to be thinking straight. Take some time to cool off, then come back and look at why you got upset, remember that the other person is probably upset too, and then try and see it from their point of view. Always remember, if you believed as they do, you’d probably argue just as hard. Respect their point of view, and let them voice their opinion. That way, they’ll be more likely to do the same for you.
  5. Slow down. We live in a world where we’re used to instant gratification of every desire. However, there’s something to be said for perseverance. Like Guinness say, it takes 119.5 seconds to pour the perfect pint. Some things take time, but that’s OK. Let it come when it’s ready. And while you’re waiting, you can look at whether what you’re waiting for is really what you want.
  6. Tell others what you’re aiming for. If other people know what you’re trying to do, what you’re focusing on, then firstly they might be able to help, and second they’ll be able to hold you accountable. Making excuses to yourself is pretty easy.
  7. Own your actions. If you screw up, admit it to yourself. Taking your eye off the ball is OK, as long as you re-focus, and get back on track. A boat is off course most of the time its en route to its destination. But it still gets there. How? Because the navigator makes tiny adjustments contently, to get it where it’s meant to go. Do the same with your life. It’s not about making one big leap to perfection, but tiny little changes every day, until you get there.

For more from Pete, read his blog, Cross Driven Life, or subscribe to his feed.

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