Are you satisfied with your life? If I were a betting man, I’d make a healthy wager that your answer is “No.” Though some of us are more content than others, human nature draws our attention to brokenness and lack—to our shortcomings and disappointments. As the Steve Earle song plays, we join in, singing, “I ain’t ever satisfied.”
I invite you to recall the last time you drove past a traffic accident. Were you looking at the lovely blue sky overhead and the lush greenery on the roadside? Or, did you crane your neck in a desperate attempt to view the destruction through the emergency vehicles and first responders who were so impertinently blocking your view?
How do some people skip the negativity and thrive emotionally? From an outsider’s perspective, they live a charmed life. When they face challenges we would find disastrous, they turn them into something positive. While there are many explanations, the following captures its essence. Positive people don’t dwell on the present or the past; they focus on their goals.
There will always be a gap between reality and our ideals. When we experience this tension, we have a choice: to adopt a positive or negative attitude. While it’s easy to respond negatively by fixating on our circumstances, a positive response is a better alternative. Instead of dwelling on the situation, we can concentrate on what is achievable.
By taking action today, we can make our desired future not merely possible, but likely.
“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”
Here are seven attitudes and actions that have helped me grow, regardless of my circumstances. I am confident they also will enable you to progress, even when facing significant challenges. We can improve our lives through our mindsets, relationships, and skills. These things are within our control.
1. Trust that Everything Has a Purpose
Your life story is composed of a series of events that may, on their own, seem meaningless. Neither the cup of Starbucks you bought on your way to work nor the pothole you hit on 16th Street has any real purpose, or do they?
Every detail you experience has a profound purpose. Taken alone, the ups and downs of your day are insignificant, but each event offers an opportunity for you to respond. You can choose hope and positivity or despair and passivity. These responses build your life.
So build well.
2. Practice Optimism and Gratitude
Throughout my childhood, I assumed everything I did would fail. With failure expected, anxiety and fear spurred me to work hard—perhaps somehow I could avert the impending disaster. And with all this energy expended, I often succeeded.
But such negativity takes a toll on us psychologically and physically. It shuts down creative thinking and strips our life of curiosity and joy. But optimism does the opposite.
With a positive outcome assumed, we are free to consider creative options we would otherwise overlook. We can include others in the process without being domineering or competitive. We can elevate others and give them credit, and above all, we can be grateful for the incredible wealth of opportunities available to us.
3. Learn a New Skill or Healthy Habit
It’s impossible to stagnate when you’re learning something new that interests you. Last year, I was at a low point in my career. After twenty years of focusing on aesthetic and technical challenges and tight deadlines, I needed to do something different.
After much reflection, I found the primary reason for my discouragement. Though I am not outgoing, I thrive on close, helpful relationships with others. Technical challenges had lost their appeal, but direct investments in people were still rewarding! Following this insight over the last year, I have learned to coach others and improve my written communication while continuing to improve my software development skills.
Joy has begun to re-enter my work life, and I am grateful.
4. Be Curious: Ask Helpful Questions
Discouragement turns us inward as we obsess about our lack. But curiosity always has an outward momentum. Even inquisitiveness about ourselves (inward facing) is open to discovery and growth. Curiosity is vital for success, especially in relationships. We do not bond with others by talking about ourselves. But when we show interest in others, they open up.
To foster personal growth, choose to embrace curiosity. While answering questions about yourself, also ask engaging questions about your friends. Then, watch as your circle of friends and your opportunities expand.
5. Invest in Others or Plant a Tree
Planting a tree is a powerful symbol of hope. A few years ago, I planted two peach trees in the backyard of my suburban Memphis home. I could see the plump, juicy peaches they would bear. Though that fruit would not arrive for a few years, planting those trees brought me joy.
Investing in the next generation, whether children or young professionals in your field, has a similar payoff. As you get to know them, you catch glimpses of who they are becoming and the powerful impact they will have in the future. By pouring your best into others, you empty yourself and are ready to receive unexpected blessings from others.
6. Learn to Say “No”
Our parents and friends often put expectations on us that are more about their unresolved needs than our natural gifts and interests. Everyone we love expects us to be the person we’ve always been, so we don’t rock the boat. Sometimes we arrive at middle age or beyond before we realize life isn’t working for us—the life we’ve created should belong to someone else.
If this is your story, the only way out is through the powerful word “No.” Healthy boundaries open up space for you to grow, but it may take time to find your calling after ignoring it for a lifetime. Dig deep to find the “Yes” that aligns with your values, personality, and strengths. Take your first steps toward clarity today.
7. Find Encouragers and Mentors
Friendship is powerful. Humanly speaking, there is no more powerful force for positive change anywhere in the universe. Who you allow in your inner circle today will shape who you become. And the connections you make with those your gifts are uniquely suited to serve will unlock business or career opportunities that can radically improve your future financially, relationally, and spiritually.
Without friends and family who help us see ourselves, we become disconnected and lose self-awareness. Their honesty and insights position us on a growth trajectory fitted to our true selves. Their faith in us helps us believe in our ability to invest wisely and create a better future.
Start Moving Toward Your Better Future
One of these seven attitudes or actions may be your next step toward a life that aligns with your design—the life that should be. You may find yourself thinking, as I often do, but I already know all of this! If so, your challenge is simple. What will you do about it?
Today is all we have. We write our life stories with small choices in the present. Today, do something that makes tomorrow better. Plant a tree. Start a friendship. Say “No” and say “Yes!” Tomorrow will be better if you start today.
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