When I write I try to avoid clichés. But for life, I have a few sayings that are easy to remember and encapsulate the values I try to live by. I use them as little mantras to remind me of the attitude that I want to take when it comes to challenging situations or when there’s a decision to be made.
I’ve written a post about using mental scripts to help shape your behavior, and I use these sayings as the catch-phrases in my script.
The rising tide lifts all boats
This was originally a JFK quote referring to the idea that general improvements to the broader economy will benefit everyone. It has come to be used in a wider context however, and I like to use it to remind me that all individual actions have an impact on my quality of life.
I’ve seen this with my health and wellbeing habits – regular exercise, good diet and in particular drinking more water has not only left me feeling good day to day, but has also improved m performance at work, my relationships and my ability to handle stress.
Writing this blog has improved my posts (or at least made them quicker and easier for me to write!) but it has also elevated my writing across other aspects. I find I’m writing clearer emails, the material I put together for my job seems to be better quality, and it’s given me the confidence to start some freelance writing.
It works both way though – junk food and binging on trash TV on a regular basis will not only affect your health, it will make your conversations less interesting and damage your ability to think critically.
I try to use think of this saying when I feel like skipping a gym session, or can’t seem to feel the immediate benefit of a positive change.
Eat the frog!
This is a Mark Twain quote that means you should do the thing that you most dislike (but need to do), first thing. It has helped kick-start my productivity on many a sluggish Monday morning, and focused my energies on what actually needs to be done. The idea is that if you do the hardest thing on your list first, the day gets easier from there.
For me, at work this is making the hard phone calls and having conversations where I know there is going to be conflict. Elsewhere, this is getting my gym session in or the first sentence to a new writing project.
Before I get tempted to look for distractions, I tell myself to ‘eat the frog’ when I’ve got the highest amount of energy and concentration, I have coffee in hand, and the rest of the day if needed. First thing is when I have the best chance of completing the hardest task.
Don’t let perfect get in the way of good
This is a great saying for those of us that are a little OCD or are completists. It works two ways for me – it makes me stop and consider what the value is of pursuing that last little bit of perfection, and it prevents me from giving up on something when I can see I’m not going to achieve perfection.
I’ve found this really useful when I’ve been tracking my health and wellbeing habits, using a traffic light system. I give myself a ‘green light’ for the month not when I’ve had a perfect run of workouts or diet choices, but when I’ve hit 75% of my goals. It keeps me much more motivated and allows me to set up a realistic, long term lifestyle.
It’s also been a great mantra to use in my professional capacity. I’m more comfortable sharing work early on to get better feedback and early agreement, and I’m also better able to judge which tasks I’ve put enough effort into and which need more of my attention.
Sharpen your axe before chopping the tree
This phrase comes from the parable about two men who decided to have a competition to see who was the best lumberjack. Whoever could cut down the most trees in a day would be the winner. At sunrise, the first man immediately set to work chopping. The second man however, spent the first hour sharpening the blade on his axe. At mid-morning the first man was ahead, but by lunch the faster pace of the sharper axe had the second man catching up. By nightfall, the second man had chopped twice the trees of the first and won the competition.
The lesson is all about the importance of prepping your tools before starting a task. This might be refining your skills, organizing your work space or adding that one thing that gives you a step-change improvement. It applies to all level of activities – the training course that propels your career forwards or taking the time to fix the janky lock on your front door to save you thirty seconds every morning and evening.
If you don’t like where you are, move, you are not a tree
Self-explanatory, but I still like to use it as a mini mantra. Whenever I feel like complaining about my situation, or bemoaning something that I feel is missing from my life, I remind myself that I’m in the fortunate position where I can take action and do something about it.
The action required might be a bit uncomfortable, or it might be unclear what is needed to achieve the desired outcomes, but at the end of the day the ball is in my court. If you have a dream, work towards it. If you want to make a change, do it if you really want it.
There is always a hurdle to get over, but if you truly want something it should be surmountable. And if it’s too scar or you’ve decided it’s not worth it, that’s also fine, but stop talking about it!
It’s all about the journey, not the destination
I’ve written an entire post about this phrase and how I’ve applied it. For me, it’s my most important value.
Life is not a video game. You can’t guarantee that if you find all the keys, you will unlock the next level. But you have to recognize the growth and development that comes about with going to find those keys in the first place. This not only helps you accept the disappointment of not winning something, it also helps to keep your mind focused when you are in the process of trying to win something. Instead of being distracted by the external validation of the ‘prize’ you can stay in the present and concentrate on doing the best on the task in front of you.
The tennis player, Rafael Nadal, has talked about this mentality in interview. He says he enjoys the hunt more than the kill, and it’s not about the next championship, it’s all about the next point.
The journey itself is what builds you, and what takes you to the most interesting places. I’ve experienced this literally many times during my year backpacking in South America. I’ve met the most interesting people on trips that I thought were only about getting me from A to B, and had the best experiences when I was firmly in the moment and not thinking about the next destination.
It’s a reminder to me to stay in the moment and enjoy life.
Do you have any mini mantras that you use to live by?