People are always saying to me, okay, now that you’ve told us what the problems are, what can be done about them?
A good practice is to start by working on yourself. From individual choices and thinking, on matters large and minuscule, emerges the state of mind that leads invariably to broad benefits for us all. Here are a few simple things to try in the new year, if you’re not already doing them:
–Notice what you notice: Make a conscious, deliberate mental note of things you noticed. This is a great technique for writers and reporters, but generally useful for creating more awareness of your life, your world, and the things in it. From awareness springs action. Solutions are to be found everywhere.
–Notice how you feel: What makes you feel good—and why? What makes you feel bad—and why? Most of us are not especially introspective, because self-examination can be painful. But it isn’t so difficult if you start with small exercises. These lead gradually to revelation.
-Identify especially two categories: (a)) The bad things that make you feel good, and (b) The good things that make you feel bad.
First, A: We fill our lives with bad things that make us feel good for a moment, but in the end make us feel bad. The examples are easy to come by: diet, behavior toward others, leisure time choices, etc. Simply doing the opposite, which at first is not as pleasurable, can often add more meaning and long-term pleasure to living.
Then, B: By engaging with some things that make us feel bad or uncomfortable, we figure out how to feel good about them. One example of this is paying attention to the world around us—learning about the problems of the world and what causes them. Initially, this can be depressing, but those who engage regularly and willingly with the complexity of the human condition usually end up feeling engaged, and often find themselves coming up with or being part of the solution.
–Notice what you do: Do you keep getting yourself in trouble? Start consciously noticing what you did that caused that. If you are always in a panic looking for things you lost, start very deliberately pausing and making a mental note when you put them down, or put them away—it will be much easier to find them later. Do you make people angry with you? Identify a few solutions—from small changes in how you speak with people, to being more selective about whom you spend your time with.
–Do something selfless: start by doing the tiniest things. Help others in a way they can’t see you’re helping; pick up some garbage someone else has tossed out onto the street; anticipate a problem about to happen to someone else and quietly prevent it. Do something someone else should have done, without seeking credit.
–Practice being protean—that is, embracing change as normal and good. Learn something new every day; be open to a new fact or a new way of thinking about something.
-Do something fun or playful or inventive every day that those who know you would say is out of character. Surprise others, and surprise yourself.
–Join with other people in a good cause: Whatever it is, it will enrich everyone around you—as well as yourself. It’s a win-win. Good causes are habit forming, but many of us need to start small, and learn to be good at charity.
-Lastly, if you’re inclined, join with us at WhoWhatWhy in our “knowledge revolution.” In whatever way works for you, become part of what we do—visit us often, spread the message, share your skills, resources, or good fortune. Together, we’ll figure this thing out.
Happy 2012 from Russ and the whole WhoWhatWhy Team