9. Stop Broken Thoughts | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the ninth in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.

9. Stop broken thoughts. Broken thoughts are those subtle patterns that aren’t quite big enough to fall into the bad habits category. This means that despite their harmful effect they often escape under the radar. Broken thoughts often take the form of justifications. Examples? I’m just going to leave my dish here by the sink, I’ll wash it later (when you know your spouse will end up washing it). I’m bookmarking this article to read later (how often do you ever go back and read old bookmarked articles?). I’ll hang my shirt up later (when you know it will be there for a week before you touch it).

At first it will be hard to recognize broken thoughts since they are so ingrained into our world views–they are things we do every day and we’re so used to doing them that we don’t even recognize that they are harmful to ourselves or those around us. If you make an effort to find them soon you’ll notice broken thoughts everywhere which might be negative if weren’t so easy to fix!

Often broken thoughts are the result of procrastination–anytime you hear the word later pronounced by your inner-voice let it be a trigger that alerts you to the possibility of a broken thought. The other big one is offsetting responsibility to someone else. If you’re leaving something because someone else (your wife/husband/mom/dad/co-worker) will pick up your slack it’s a broken thought–improve their life and yours and take care of it yourself.

The great thing about these broken thoughts is that fixing them generally takes a day or two–they’re not like bad habits that can take years to cure. It’s such a good feeling to see a noticeable improvement so quickly. It keeps you on your toes and keeps your actions in sync with your values.

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8. Recognize What Makes You Happy | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the eight in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.
Pondering

8. Recognize what makes you happy. Reflect on the parts of your day that bring you real satisfaction. Everyone is working towards something, but what makes you happy now? Rate your overall satisfaction with your quality of life for each day on a scale of 1 to 10, focus on the things that happened that pushed the number higher rather than what made it lower. Try to incorporate more of what made you happy yesterday into today.

I think that too many people pass through the happiest times in their lives without recognizing them as such. Live in the moment–savor the things that bring you true satisfaction. If you’re in school focus on the opportunity you have to spend every day learning and improving yourself rather than on how hard it is to have so much homework and so little free time. If you’re starting your career relish the opportunity you have to shape your path rather than focusing on how good it will be once you have a raise or a better position.

Taking time each day to rate it will help you realize either that you’re already living a pretty happy life or it will help you recognize the specific things you can do to improve your life by incorporating more of what brings you real and immediate satisfaction into each day. Take small steps that will lead towards longer term improvements. Remember that serving others and making the lives of those around you better directly contributes to your own quality of life.

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7. Go Outside | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the seventh in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.

Trees

7. Go outside. If you don’t naturally spend time outside, make it a point to do it more. There’s something about the expanse of the sky that will bring out your inner philosopher. Consider this passage from Tolstoy in War and Peace as Andrew lies on the field of battle at the point of death:

…how differently do those clouds glide across that lofty infinite sky! How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanity, all falsehood, except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing, but that. But even it does not exist, there is nothing but quiet and peace. Thank God!..’

Outside is where ‘real’ stuff happens. Read Lonesome Dove (read it outside of course) and you’ll know what I mean. If you paint, do it en plein air. If you write try writing on real paper outside. While you’re out there, count the bugs. Become a bird-watcher, catalog the plants you see. Learn the constellations. Everywhere you look outside you find things the the combined human knowledge can’t explain–so many mysteries, so much to discover.

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6. Spend Time With a Child | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the sixth in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.
Swinging
6. Spend time with a child. If you have one, consider yourself lucky, if you don’t, I bet you have friends who would be happy to let you borrow theirs for a few minutes (or hours). It doesn’t matter what age they are, children see the world entirely different. Look at it from their eyes. Be their hero. Appreciate what they appreciate. Enjoy the simple things again. You’ll love it and they’ll love you for it.

Take the time to just do the things they want to do rather than being a teacher. With my son this would usually include one of the following:

  • Playing with sticks or dirt
  • Reading Where’s Waldo
  • Playing with Play Doh
  • Swinging at the Park
  • Playing the “talking car game”

Children will help you appreciate the simple things in life. They’ll keep you on your toes with questions that you can’t even begin to answer. They’ll amaze you with the seemingly endless levels of energy they have. After spending time with a child you’ll also realize just how much of an influence you are over their moldable minds–they almost worship you. It is a humbling experience.

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5. Debate something | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the fifth in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.

5. Debate something. If you think you know about something, nothing will prove it like arguing it with someone who’s smarter or more informed than you. Find a friend you can debate with who has ideas that are different from your and who won’t be offended by debating them–this is easier said than done, but it can provide you with some of the best mental stimulation possible.

It’s healthy to raise your voice every once in awhile in a heated discussion. Debating is a way to introduce controlled tension into your life which is good for you. Arguing will spur you on to learning, it will challenge your beliefs and forcing you educate yourself.

Everyone is part of groups that dictate at least to some degree how we think. This could be your political affiliations, religion, university, career etc. To a degree it is okay to accept what these trusted sources tell you without feeling the need to prove every fact, but finding it out for yourself through research and debate will either serve to strengthen your affiliation with the group through gaining your own knowledge or help you gain the courage to distance yourself from groups you would rather not be associated with.

Be passionate. Seek truth. Be willing to accept being wrong to arrive at the greater goal of knowing the truth.

If you don’t have anyone to debate with, challenge yourself mentally. Always think a step deeper. Know something? Are you sure? What caused it? What comes after that? How would someone who “knows” something different dispute what you know?

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4. Learn something new | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the fourth in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.
Books

4. Learn something new. Pick a topic, preferably something you know nothing about and learn something about it. A good source of inspiration for this can be the newspaper or Wikipedia. It helps to retain it if you have time to make a note of what you learned or explain it to someone else, but even if you don’t get the chance to do that, your brain will thank you for the new patterns you introduce as you learn something new every day.

Learning something new daily will can:

Once you’ve got new ideas rolling around in your head you will be surprised at the patterns that start forming. Connections will be made from seeming unrelated topics–that’s the stuff from which innovation comes. If you’re not doing it already, learn something new every day.

If you need somewhere to start, check out the following books that I’ve found to be good inspiration for learning:

“On Intelligence” (Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee)
“Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means” (Albert-Laszlo Barabasi)
“Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye” (Michael R. LeGault)
“The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few” (James Surowiecki)

As you’re searching for books, don’t forget to turn to the classics as well. Have you read Don Quixote? War and Peace? These are books that will change the way you think forever.

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3. Do Something Bold | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the third in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.

3. Make it a point to do something bold every day. Step out of your comfort zone, leave the routine even if for only a second. This might mean talking to someone that you generally wouldn’t talk to or starting a project that you feel intimidated by. There is no need to plan it in advance–though that might help at times, usually though you’ll find a point during the day when ‘two paths diverge in the woods’ and you have the change to take the one less travelled by. Take it. When there is something that we aren’t accustomed to doing we naturally set up mental barriers against it to protect ourselves from the thought of doing it. It takes a bold move to act and break those barriers.

Doing something bold every day doesn’t mean changing the world, it just means making a conscious effort to do something that will get your adrenalin pumping for a second or to by changing your routine. Taking calculated risks is healthy.

If you want to track your progress (which is always good) write down the bold thing you did in your journal. It will be fun to look back after time and see what you considered bold a week, month or year ago.

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2. Get in the Zone | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the second in a series of 10 articles that give suggestions meant to improve the over-all quality of your life.

2. Get in the zone. This is also called “achieving flow.” There is a lot out there on what it means to ‘get in the zone’ or how to achieve it–it’s something you have to discover for yourself. Look for the formula that lets you ‘get in the zone’ by experimenting and once you’ve found it, apply it to your work or play every day. Not only will these be your most productive moments in life (the 20% of the time where you accomplish 80% of the results) but it will be a boost to your confidence that will alter the decisions you make elsewhere in life.

The concept of Flow was introduced by a scientist named Csikszentmihalyi. Here is a simplified list (adapted from the Wikipedia article) of the conditions that help achieve a state of flow and how you’ll know you’re in the zone. Your results may vary.

To get into the zone:
1. Have clear goals for what you want to accomplish
2. Create an environment where you can concentrate completely
3. Make sure you can get immediate feedback. You should be able to tell what is working or what isn’t so you can adjust your behavior quickly to keep in the flow.
4. The activity shouldn’t be either too easy or too hard.
5. The activity should be intrinsically rewarding.

You’ll know you’re there when:
1. You experience a distorted sense of time–”has it really already been 2 hours!”
2. You have a sense of complete personal control over the activity
3. You have a loss of the feeling of self-conciousness, the merging of action and awareness.

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1. Think Daily | Ten Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

This is the first of a series of ten articles that are written as a follow-up to a previous article on this site. In that article written a year and a half ago I gave 10 suggestions for ‘jump-starting success.’ This is a continuation and improvement on that list.

Once a day a post will be published containing a new step offering a suggestion of something that can be done every day (or as often as possible) that will improve your over-all quality of life. This means that if you put these suggestions in practice you’ll be happier, smarter and more fulfilled than you were ten days ago. If you continue after that, I believe these simple suggestions will be life changing.

I’m not an expert on the subject–in fact, my only qualifications are that it’s something that I’ve thought a lot about, read about and tried. If you’re only here for the software and tech articles, bear with me as I wander off into the realms of self-improvement, this will only last 10 days… that having been said, here’s the first:

J-1

1. Think daily. Meditate. Call it what you will but spend time each day alone with your thoughts. This surely isn’t the first time you’ve heard that advice, there’s a reason for that! There’s also a reason that this is the first step in the list. Doing the other things in the remaining nine suggestions without taking some time to reflect almost negates any benefit gained elsewhere.

When you schedule your thinking time, bring a pen, this is when your best thoughts and ideas will unfold. Things previously confusing will be clarified in your mind.

I’ve tried various ways of doing this–meditating with an ‘empty mind,’ meditating with a mantra, praying, just sitting and thinking or even lying in bed thinking. They all work to varying degrees, and it’s interesting to try different styles of thinking to see what results from each.

With the amount of entertainment with-in easy grasp (cell-phones, tv, audiobooks, radio etc.) it is so easy to constantly stay in a state of either stimulation (when learning and doing new things) or vegetation (watching tv). It’s easy to go through several days, weeks or years at a time without truly pondering life, exploring your mind and seeking for meaning. Making it a point to think daily will prevent you from losing chunks of your life to the routine and mundane.

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Web Based Collaboration Tools

Tonight I wanted to collaborate with a few friends on a diagram–basically just an org chart. This being the age of online collaboration, we tried all the web-based tools we could find which were:

We quickly discovered that they are all lame. This is why.

Thinkature – Once we got several shapes on there I was no longer able to move things around without things jumping all over the place. It was also very limited in that you can’t cut and paste or duplicate sheets. Really this was probably the best of the bunch for what we were trying to do, but not because it was good.

ConceptShare – This one looks really nice, but it’s not made for flowcharting so maybe I shouldn’t even include it in this list. I will say that they did a great job on the interface and I imagine that it serves its purpose (sharing designs) well. One thing I noticed, and the reason I’m including it is because I wanted to comment on this, was that the lowest priced for-pay plan is $19 a month… that’s $228 a year and you can’t even custom brand it at that price. At the $1188 a year plan you get that feature. I think I’ll stick to posting an image online and making a conference call to discuss it.

Imagination Cubed – This is a fun toy. There is no built in chat, no undo and just not enough features to make it feasible for our purposes despite the smooth interface.

Vyew – By far the most featured, you can share desktops, add maps, draw lines and shapes etc. but you can’t have a box with text in it… at least not without using one of the plugins which is frankly almost better than nothing at all in its current state. Vyew might have potential, but right now the tools are very awkward and it’s nowhere near as easy to use as OmniGraffle or Visio. TechCrunch called it ‘fantastic,’ I’d call it passable.

In the end what did we end up doing? Nothing really… we spent the time pondering the lameness of web based collaboration and we’ll probably just make it in some desktop application and email the file back and forth. I’d be happy to know if anyone else has found a better option.

[EDIT]
Ahh. I knew I’d given up too soon. Not to disappoint readers on a blog called “Best Tool for the Job,” I felt obligated to continue the search (thank me later :)). I just re-found Gliffy.com and it works like a charm. The collaboration part isn’t real-time–it looks like you have to click a revision in the list on the right to get updates and there is no built in chat, but otherwise it works really nice.
Gliffy ROCKS

It has (almost) every feature we need and even some fun ones we don’t. Nice.