Alex's Top Ten Tips on Achieving and Sustaining Contentment

As I wrote down my “lessons learned” as part of the process of completing Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind, there were a bunch that for a time were relegated to a category I called “miscellaneous.”  Finally, I realized those lessons were about something so fundamental that at one point I considered making it the first chapter.  Ultimately, for lack of a better term, I decided to call those thirty-seven lessons ones dealing with contentment.

Many people talk about so-called work/life balance.  I have never cared for that phrase, as it suggests that work is not a part of one’s life, but something separate to “balance” with your life.  Especially for those of us in mission-driven organizations, work is very much a part of our lives – in fact, it is far more than a paycheck but actually one of the most meaningful things we do.  The trick is to define for yourself how you (and only you) want to balance all of the things you are passionate about with all of the other things you must do. 

I have found that achieving meaningful things while generally being contented is related to adopting mindsets and habits that serve to ground, satisfy and support you and the people around you.  Below are ten of the thirty-seven* such ideas and techniques I have used successfully during the last decade or two of my life. 

1.      Keep in touch with the people who have helped you at earlier stages of your life, and share the highlights of your life journey with them.  Remind them how their assistance continues to shape and benefit you and people in your life.  This can include significant gestures, such as tracking someone down to give them a copy of a book you wrote that was in part inspired by them, and many smaller ones, such as dashing off quick email to let someone know that something you saw them do or heard them say several years ago helped you solve a recent problem.  Doing so will make them – and you – feel better.  It will also give you motivation and confidence to meet new challenges as well as a reminder that we accomplish very little entirely by ourselves.  

 2.      Sometimes, if you think long and creatively enough about a conundrum where you feel you have to choose between two things you want, you will find that you can have both.  Friends and other advisers can often help you see past false dichotomies so you can see both/and instead of either/or scenarios.

 3.      Do your best to keep people around you who can credibly puncture your over-confidence by pointing out that some of your accomplishments are not as unique nor as significant as you believe.  These same people can give you a morale boost when you need it by pointing out the positive things you have accomplished that are much more unique and meaningful than you had imagined.

 4.      Sometimes good is good enough – meaning, perfectionism is sometimes unnecessary, or even unhealthy and unwise.  On the other hand, on occasion good is not good enough; in other words, perfectionism is required.  One of the key challenges of life is to increase your skill in assessing tasks and determining which scenario your most important activities fall into.

 5.      There are many things you should do immediately, while fresh in your mind, rather than procrastinate, perhaps in search of the perfect technique or the perfect mood to do them.  Otherwise, they may never get done.  These include writing and mailing hand-written thank you notes to people who did something for you, providing praise to people who deserve it, and more mundane things like applying to receive promotional rebates that you are due but that many people never collect.

 6.      Identify those things (food, people, experiences, gadgets, etc.) in life that you really enjoy when they are of good quality, and that you often enjoy even when they are not.  Find ways to surround yourself with them.  If they cost money, splurge on them even as you are frugal in most other areas of your life. 

 7.      When you are stuck professionally, emotionally, or in a relationship, identify something easy, fun and/or challenging that you can do to address it, even in a small way.  This action need not be the most strategic or high impact in terms of solving the issue.  Then focus on doing that as a way to get momentum.  You can build to doing those higher impact things once you feel some momentum and confidence.

 8.      Avoid over-reacting to developments that initially appear to be very bad, or very good.  Realize that when something appears to go wrong, it is rarely as bad as you first imagine it to be, and that it might end up being a blessing.  Also, when something appears to be a positive, be on the lookout for how it might end up being a problem or even a curse in some way.   Finally, in moments of frustration, crisis and even despair, remember that many problems, even ones that seem insoluble, resolve themselves if you don’t try to immediately solve them and instead give them time to work themselves out.

 9.      Identify at least one place that allows you to temporarily slip into a different persona and way of living that gives you more or a different kind of joy than you normally experience.  It need not be a physical place.  For me, it is Key West, Florida or listening to live music in intimate venues.  For my wife, it is skiing, virtually anywhere.  For others it is being on a particular stretch of beach, or any beach, or being in a meditation retreat.  Then make it a point to go to these places on a regular basis.  If they stop giving you the joy they once did, then find someplace else that does.

 10.  It is painful when another human being thinks poorly of you or even wishes you harm.  But this is inevitable when you live your life as someone who takes risks, fully expresses themselves, is spontaneous, and is not overly cautious.  Try not to think about those difficult relationships too often, but rather focus on the ones that are healthy and soulful.  However, if you see a way to improve a poor relationship, consider the pros and cons of doing so, and how best to do it, seeking the advice of a trusted friend who knows both of you, if possible. When the time feels right, make a move to improve it.

* If you would like the entire list on this topic, send me evidence that you have bought my book Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind.  If you want all 403 lessons on all the topics, send me evidence that you have bought at least three copies of the book.