The 20 Most Life-Altering Concepts I’ve Ever Embraced
That’s what personal development is all about — the ongoing search for the truths that will set us free to be who we are and to live our best possible lives.
Through my adult years, there have been many of these concepts that I’ve discovered (or that have hit me over the head) along the way. I’ve chosen 20 to share with you that have impacted me most profoundly. And I’ve suggested a resource for further reading on the topic.
1. The Power of the Present Moment
It has taken me a long time to fully grasp this one, but the power of now is probably the most life-changing concept I’ve embraced. Our entire lives are comprised of present moments, so what we do in each moment and how we choose to view our current circumstances is what determines our happiness. Don’t fritter them away — make each moment count.
Resource: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle
2. Don’t Struggle with Reality
What is happening is supposed to happen because it is happening. That sounds simple, but most of us resist our circumstances and argue with reality. As teacher and author Byron Katie reminds, “If you want reality to be different than what it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark.” When we stop opposing reality, and accept exactly what is, it frees us for creative thought and action based on truth.
Resource: Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie
3. Let the Future Unfold
This is a hard one for those of us who are planners and goal-setters. You can still plan and set goals, but hold on to them loosely. Steer your boat in the direction of your dreams, but then let the current and wind carry you forward. Don’t worry or fret about what’s around the next bend. The future has a way of taking care of itself.
4. Simplify Everything
I spent half of my adult life making things busier and more complicated — only to realize that busyness, things, and complications were sucking the joy out of living. When you do and have few things, you have more time to savor them fully and focus on what affords you the most pleasure and fulfillment.
Resource: Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter, by Ellen St. James
5. Let Go of Attachments
This goes along with simplifying. And the act of simplifying certainly helps you recognize your attachments. You’ll see what I mean when you start to give away a perfectly good suit that you haven’t worn in ten years. Suddenly that suit looks really necessary. But once you do let go, you never look back. And suddenly you are lighter and freer than ever before.
Resource: The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life,by Francine Jay
6. Don’t Believe Your Thoughts
This one was so liberating for me. For the longest time, I believed my thoughts were the definitive truth about reality. If I thought it, it must be the way it is. Now I realize that often my thoughts are completely wrong or just one perspective on truth. It is always good to find evidence to support the opposite of your thoughts, especially negative and limiting thoughts.
Resource: Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas Kida
7. You Can Train Your Brain
The science of neuroplasticity has changed everything about the way I view my capacity for learning and adapting to new things. Our brains are not rigidly mapped as scientists once assumed. Our brains are capable of rewiring to accommodate new learning and reinforce new behaviors well into old age. Even visualizing alone can strengthen areas in our physical and mental lives.
Resource: The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, M.D.
8. Focus on the Task at Hand
This is the most practical and productive concept I’ve embraced. I’ve heard it for years, but my friend Leo Babauta of Zen Habits made it real for me. He showed me how to clear everything off my desk, pick one important thing, and give that one thing the time and attention it deserved for a fixed amount of time. Now I’m not distracted and pulled in other directions.
Resource: Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction, by Leo Babauta
9. Don’t Overthink
Historically I’ve had a tendency to let my mind whir off on over-thinking tangents. I believed I could think my way out of a problem or into a great decision. Some amount of thinking might be required for these situations, but at some point you get stuck like a gerbil on a wheel. I’ve discovered some brain tricks to help me get off that wheel and break free of over-thinking.
Resource: Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life, by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema
10. Find Your Passion
I went for years thinking I didn’t have a passion. Finally, at age 48, I did the work necessary to learn what makes me really happy and how to apply it to my life and work. This work is often ignored or put off, but it is the only way to learn how to create your life by design rather than by reaction.
Resource: Discover Your Passion: A Step-by-Step Course for Creating the Life of Your Dreams, By Barrie Davenport
11. Live Through Your Values
Your core values should be the blueprint for everything else in your life. Until I did the self-work mentioned above, I didn’t give my values a lot of thought. But if your life is aligned with your values, then you have a purpose and guide for every decision and action.
Resource: What Matters Most : The Power of Living Your Values, by Hyrum W. Smith
12. Stop Pleasing People
If your life is defined by pleasing others, winning their approval, or keeping them from disappointment, you are living a false life. You can’t be authentic and live this way. This impossible goal only reinforces low self-esteem and unhappiness. Once liberated from the pleasing addiction, you are free to be yourself and love yourself.
Resource: The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome, by Harriet B. Braiker
13. Whine Less, Give More
The more I talk about my problems and focus on them, the worse they seem — and the worse I feel. I’ve discovered when I feel bad about my life, I go do something for someone else. Then I feel better. It’s amazing how that works — but only every time.
Resource: The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are, by Gary Morsch
14. It’s Never Too Late
Using age as an excuse just doesn’t hold water. We can do most anything we want to well into old age. Why not live every single day learning, growing, and having bold adventures?
Resource: Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese, by Kathryn and Ross Petras
15. Focus on Your Top 20%
Rather than trying to do it all, pick what is most important and spend your time and energy on those things. This all ties in with simplifying and focusing on the task at hand, but it’s the bigger picture. Look at all areas of your life, and decide the top 20%. Let everything else fall away.
Resource: The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less, by Richard Koch
16. Happiness Is (Partly) a Choice
Our genes and circumstances account for half of our happiness levels, but the other half is totally in our control. That allows for a big heap of happiness if we choose it. I learned so much about what can foster happiness from this resource book.
Resource: The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky
17. There’s Nothing to Fear
Unless we are in imminent danger, most fears are projections about a perceived future. By staying the present moment (see #1), you will see there is nothing to fear. Right now, everything is just fine.
Resource: Fearless: Creating the Courage to Change the Things You Can, by Steve Chandler
18. Create vs. React
Most of us spend our lives in reaction mode. Life throws things at us, and we respond accordingly. But you can flip that around and take control. Once you do that passion and value work mentioned above, you have the tools to create an extraordinary life by your design.
Resource: Shift your Mind: Shift the World, by Steve Chandler
19. Action is the Answer
When you don’t know what to do, just do something. When you feel afraid, do something. When you don’t want to start, do something. Any action, tiny action, will give you momentum. And that gets the ball rolling forward.
Resource: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
20. Stay Open to Possibilities
I love author Shakti Gawain’s quote, “This or something better now manifests for me in totally satisfying and harmonious ways, for the highest good of all concerned.” When you aren’t too attached to outcomes and remain open, you might get something better than you bargained for!
Resource: Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life, by Shakti Gawain