16 Things I Wish They Had Taught Me in School

by Henrik Edberg

I am 28 now. I don’t think about the past or regret things much these days.

But sometimes I wish that I had known some of things I have learned over the last few years a bit earlier. That perhaps there had been a self-improvement class in school. And in some ways there probably was.

Because some of these 16 things in this article a teacher probably spoke about in class. But I forgot about them or didn’t pay attention.

Some of it would probably not have stuck in my mind anyway. Or just been too far outside my reality at the time for me to accept and use.

But I still think that taking a few hours from all those German language classes and use them for some personal development classes would have been a good idea. Perhaps for just an hour a week in high school. It would probably be useful for many students and on a larger scale quite helpful for society in general.

So here are 16 things I wish they had taught me in school (or I just would like to have known about earlier).

1. The 80/20 rule.

This is one of the best ways to make better use of your time. The 80/20 rule – also known as The Pareto Principle – basically says that 80 percent of the value you will receive will come from 20 percent of your activities.

So a lot of what you do is probably not as useful or even necessary to do as you may think.

You can just drop – or vastly decrease the time you spend on – a whole bunch of things.

And if you do that you will have more time and energy to spend on those things that really brings your value, happiness, fulfilment and so on.

2. Parkinson’s Law.

You can do things quicker than you think. This law says that a task will expand in time and seeming complexity depending on the time you set aside for it. For instance, if you say to yourself that you’ll come up with a solution within a week then the problem will seem to grow more difficult and you’ll spend more and more time trying to come up with a solution.

So focus your time on finding solutions. Then just give yourself an hour (instead of the whole day) or the day (instead of the whole week) to solve the problem. This will force your mind to focus on solutions and action.

The result may not be exactly as perfect as if you had spent a week on the task, but as mentioned in the previous point, 80 percent of the value will come from 20 percent of the activities anyway. Or you may wind up with a better result because you haven’t overcomplicated or overpolished things. This will help you to get things done faster, to improve your ability to focus and give you more free time where you can totally focus on what’s in front of you instead of having some looming task creating stress in the back of your mind.

3. Batching.

Boring or routine tasks can create a lot of procrastination and low-level anxiety. One good way to get these things done quickly is to batch them. This means that you do them all in row. You will be able to do them quicker because there is less start-up time compared to if you spread them out. And when you are batching you become fully engaged in the tasks and more focused.

A batch of things to do in an hour today may look like this: Clean your desk / answer today’s emails / do the dishes / make three calls / write a grocery shopping list for tomorrow.

4. First, give value. Then, get value. Not the other way around.

This is a bit of a counter-intuitive thing. There is often an idea that someone should give us something or do something for us before we give back. The problem is just that a lot of people think that way. And so far less than possible is given either way.

If you want to increase the value you receive (money, love, kindness, opportunities etc.) you have to increase the value you give. Because over time you pretty much get what you give. It would perhaps be nice to get something for nothing. But that seldom happens.

5. Be proactive. Not reactive.

This one ties into the last point. If everyone is reactive then very little will get done. You could sit and wait and hope for someone else to do something. And that happens pretty often, but it can take a lot of time before it happens.

A more useful and beneficial way is to be proactive, to simply be the one to take the first practical action and get the ball rolling. This not only saves you a lot of waiting, but is also more pleasurable since you feel like you have the power over your life. Instead of feeling like you are run by a bunch of random outside forces.

6. Mistakes and failures are good.

When you are young you just try things and fail until you learn. As you grow a bit older, you learn from – for example – school to not make mistakes. And you try less and less things.

This may cause you to stop being proactive and to fall into a habit of being reactive, of waiting for someone else to do something. I mean, what if you actually tried something and failed? Perhaps people would laugh at you?

Perhaps they would. But when you experience that you soon realize that it is seldom the end of the world. And a lot of the time people don’t care that much. They have their own challenges and lives to worry about.

And success in life often comes from not giving up despite mistakes and failure. It comes from being persistent.

When you first learn to ride your bike you may fall over and over. Bruise a knee and cry a bit. But you get up, brush yourself off and get on the saddle again. And eventually you learn how to ride a bike. If you can just reconnect to your 5 year old self and do things that way – instead of giving up after a try/failure or two as grown-ups often do -you would probably experience a lot more interesting things, learn valuable lessons and have quite a bit more success.

7. Don’t beat yourself up.

Why do people give up after just few mistakes or failures? Well, I think one big reason is because they beat themselves up way too much. But it’s a kinda pointless habit. It only creates additional and unnecessary pain inside you and wastes your precious time. It’s best to try to drop this habit as much as you can.

8. Assume rapport.

Meeting new people is fun. But it can also induce nervousness. We all want to make a good first impression and not get stuck in an awkward conversation.

The best way to do this that I have found so far is to assume rapport. This means that you simply pretend that you are meeting one of your best friends. Then you start the interaction in that frame of mind instead of the nervous one.

This works surprisingly well. You can read more about it in How to Have Less Awkward Conversations: Assuming Rapport.

9. Use your reticular activation system to your advantage.

I learned about the organs and the inner workings of the body in class but nobody told me about the reticular activation system. And that’s a shame, because this is one of the most powerful things you can learn about. What this focus system, this R.A.S, in your mind does is to allow you to see in your surroundings what you focus your thoughts on. It pretty much always helps you to find what you are looking for.

So you really need to focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. And keep that focus steady.

Setting goals and reviewing them frequently is one way to keep your focus on what’s important and to help you take action that will move your closer to toward where you want to go. Another way is just to use external reminders such as pieces of paper where you can, for instance, write down a few things from this post like “Give value” or “Assume rapport”. And then you can put those pieces of paper on your fridge, bathroom mirror etc.

10. Your attitude changes your reality.

We have all heard that you should keep a positive attitude or perhaps that “you need to change your attitude!”. That is a nice piece of advice I suppose, but without any more reasons to do it is very easy to just brush such suggestions off and continue using your old attitude.

But the thing that I’ve discovered the last few years is that if you change your attitude, you actually change your reality. When you for instance use a positive attitude instead of a negative one you start to see things and viewpoints that were invisible to you before. You may think to yourself “why haven’t I thought about things this way before?”.

When you change your attitude you change what you focus on. And all things in your world can now be seen in a different light.

This is of course very similar to the previous tip but I wanted to give this one some space. Because changing your attitude can create an insane change in your world. It might not look like it if you just think about it though. Pessimism might seem like realism. But that is mostly because your R.A.S is tuned into seeing all the negative things you want to see. And that makes you “right” a lot of the time. And perhaps that is what you want. On the other hand, there are more fun things than being right all the time.

If you try changing your attitude for real – instead of analysing such a concept in your mind – you’ll be surprised.

You may want to read more about this topic in Take the Positivity Challenge!

11. Gratitude is a simple way to make yourself feel happy.

Sure, I was probably told that I should be grateful. Perhaps because it was the right thing to do or just something I should do. But if someone had said that feeling grateful about things for minute or two is a great way to turn a negative mood into a happy one I would probably have practised gratitude more. It is also a good tool for keeping your attitude up and focusing on the right things. And to make other people happy. Which tends to make you even happier, since emotions are contagious.

12. Don’t compare yourself to others.

The ego wants to compare. It wants to find reasons for you to feel good about yourself (“I’ve got a new bike!”). But by doing that it also becomes very hard to not compare yourself to others who have more than you (“Oh no, Bill has bought an even nicer bike!”). And so you don’t feel so good about yourself once again. If you compare yourself to others you let the world around control how you feel about yourself. It always becomes a rollercoaster of emotions.

A more useful way is to compare yourself to yourself. To look at how far you have come, what you have accomplished and how you have grown. It may not sound like that much fun but in the long run it brings a lot more inner stillness, personal power and positive feelings.

13. 80-90% of what you fear will happen never really come into reality.

This is a big one. Most things you fear will happen never happen. They are just monsters in your own mind. And if they happen then they will most often not be as painful or bad as you expected. Worrying is most often just a waste of time.

This is of course easy to say. But if you remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more of that worry from your thoughts.

14. Don’t take things too seriously.

It’s very easy to get wrapped up in things. But most of the things you worry about never come into reality. And what may seem like a big problem right now you may not even remember in three years.

Taking yourself, your thoughts and your emotions too seriously often just seems to lead to more unnecessary suffering. So relax a little more and lighten up a bit. It can do wonders for your mood and as an extension of that; your life.

15. Write everything down.

If your memory is anything like mine then it’s like a leaking bucket. Many of your good or great ideas may be lost forever if you don’t make a habit of writing things down. This is also a good way to keep your focus on what you want. Read more about it in Why You Should Write Things Down.

16. There are opportunities in just about every experience.

In pretty much any experience there are always things that you can learn from it and things within the experience that can help you to grow. Negative experiences, mistakes and failure can sometimes be even better than a success because it teaches you something totally new, something that another success could never teach you.

Whenever you have a “negative experience” ask yourself: where is the opportunity in this? What is good about this situation? One negative experience can – with time – help you create many very positive experiences.

What do you wish someone had told you in school or you had just learned earlier in life?

If you like this article, please give it a thumb up in Stumbleupon or a vote on Digg. Thanks a lot! =)

Like what you've read? Then get email updates (it's free)

Join over 59,426 awesome subscribers who receive exclusive happiness and personal development tips every week!

Click here to get started!

Print Friendly


Jonathan Overly July 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Henrik – awesome. I’m going to absorb this over the next couple of days (printing and reading) and likely forward to some of my comrades in the alternative fuel/sustainable transportation field.

Mario Lat July 29, 2009 at 7:42 am

Yes, I agree. I wish they taught us these things in school. Schools should start teaching them; the earlier the better. Thanks!

Cesar August 1, 2009 at 12:59 am

Great article! Thanks for sharing these bits of wisdom.

Sarah August 11, 2009 at 3:27 am

i’m having trouble wih some friends and a lot of this applies…like my attitude…i yell a lot more than i usually do because i have all this anger and i couldn’t sum this up any better….

BJ September 2, 2009 at 8:16 pm

‘Live your life with open arms’ – that’s a big one for me
‘the 3 second rule’ is also a big one – talk to a new person you meet in 3 seconds so you don’t get nervous and the other person doesn’t think you’re a creep. Whenever I see an interesting person, for instance in the train, I try to say ‘hi’ or whatever pops in my mind in 3 seconds. Later on, if I actually want to start a conversation, it’s easier because the initial ice is already broken. Ice builds up over the time you haven’t made contact yet when you’re in the same room together. So just get it over with :)

jeri September 10, 2009 at 2:50 am

#8- Assume Rapport -could not be more true. For my job I go into strangers’ homes and photograph their children, many of whom are newborns. So it takes a level of trust for these parents to even allow me into their home. And as awkward as it is for them, it is also awkward for me. To make it less awkward, I treat every parent like an old friend that I’m catching up with. So I crack corny jokes and tell them about my family so they’ll tell me about theirs. If they have a dog, I mention my dog. It just makes things go a lot smoother.

sam September 14, 2009 at 1:00 am

so you have read the 4 hour work week then?

Luke September 17, 2009 at 2:44 am

Thank you.

B September 30, 2009 at 11:37 pm

I didn’t understand what #9. “Use your reticular activation system to your advantage.” was about. If you’d taught me that at school, I wouldn’t have understood it then and I don’t understand it now.

#12. Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is a good one. I have only just learnt this one recently, but it’s quite difficult not to do, when you feel like everyone else is better than you. It’s difficult not to compare and feel inferior. Some of these things are easier said than done.

Tristan January 20, 2010 at 10:21 am

The reticular activation system is more or less the biological system that organizes your perspective on life. All this means is that if you are constantly thinking of screwing up or what possible failures await you, then all you will see are those possible failures and anxieties around every corner; missing the positive opportunities in your environment. To change how you see the world, and how your R.A.S translates your thoughts to your eyes, start being a more positive, optimistic person. Good luck to both of us! i need to take my own advice sometimes =X

Darshan Chande October 9, 2009 at 3:51 pm

These things will never be taught in schools. Schools would only teach how to make career and earn loads of money. If schools were making great persons then every one in the world who goes to school would be great!

Kyle Barker October 18, 2009 at 12:03 am

People don’t realize whats right in front of them. You can do anything, if you really believe in yourself. I have just hit a point in my life where i realize all the things you just said. Its kinda weird actually how similar your thoughts are to mine. If only there were more people to take action and just try that little bit to make at least one persons life better, the world would be a much better place to live. Until people spread this knowledge, the world is gonna stay the way it is and there will always be people living in fear and confusion. Well said

Kyle Barker October 18, 2009 at 12:04 am

schools teach success, not happiness or the keys to life. They are missing a huge part of life which should be taught to everyone

Tuesdy May 16, 2010 at 6:23 am

You’re right. Our education system has so many flaws.

Nick October 25, 2009 at 1:17 am

I have been practicing 14 (don’t take things too seriously) and 16 (learn from all experiences, especially bad ones) for a couple of years now. I’m 19 and because of just those two things, I feel much more enlightened than my peers.

Level09 November 6, 2009 at 6:32 pm

This is one of the Best Articles I’ve read.

Rob November 9, 2009 at 1:51 am

Very fitting the 80/20 rule is #1. Just implementing this in your life will make a huge difference in your effectiveness. There are so many distractions in our day-to-day lives that you have to focus on the right stuff. Great post

Percival J. Meris November 9, 2009 at 11:39 pm

This is a very beautiful article. It consolidates all the things that experience had taught me in life. Now, I can keep a handy reference in my pocket to refer to, whenever situations in my life arise. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous December 8, 2009 at 7:57 pm

very clever

viagra December 15, 2009 at 7:11 am

I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. I’ve been experiencing this very same problem with a new WordPress installation of mine. I’ve spent weeks calibrating and getting it ready when all of a sudden… I cannot delete any content. It’s a workaround that, although isn’t perfect, does the trick so thanks! I really hope this problem gets solved properly asap.

Social Improvement December 25, 2009 at 1:57 am

I like number 6. that mistakes and failures are a good thing. School tries to teach us not to fail. Not very often will you fail a test and then get a better luck next time, retake it again tommorow and hopefully you do better. No We have to ace the test the first time and then you get rewarded for your good deed. We get marked off for failures and at times chastised for it. Failure is good, that is truly the only way we can learn.

Joel January 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm

great list, I’ll try my hardest to bare them in mind. And kudos to Viagra’s comment lol

dennis January 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Hi Henrik! Your blogs been really helpful. No fancy tricks just plain and simple realization. It did need a person like you to emphasize it and explain even further…. add me to the list of those you have helped a lot. God bless and More POwer.

simplistic thoughts January 20, 2010 at 7:46 am

Great list. I think the sad thing is that they don’t teach any of this in school.

vnomous January 22, 2010 at 2:55 am

Congrats! One of the best stumbleupons! =]

Ed January 22, 2010 at 11:01 pm

No.10 sums it up for me. My attitude last year was one of fear of loss. This year it is one of gratitude and realising everything I need to live the life I want I have right now. I have already lost 4 kilos this year and feel great. I have always found losing weight a problem but this year I have changed my attitude towards my health. It has made work outs enjoyable and stopped me over indulging in food and alchol. If you are looking to lose weight http://www.weightnolonger.com has some useful tips.

selina January 25, 2010 at 9:30 pm

hii Henrik!! first of all i must say that you are doing a great job.I’ve put into practice many of your tips and they have helped me immensely.But many a times i tend to self-pity a lot.I keep on thinking about the opportunities and potential friends that i lost due to my negative thinking and self-doubt that i once had..i feel as if i’ve wasted my life and such opportunities won’t come again even though am a much better person now..i think i acted very foolishly and by my free-will i chose to be away from my true destiny which was meant for my happiness..is it possible? i understand that its useless to think about the past as its gone now and nothing can be done..but i just cant get this out of my head..please suggest me something so that i can be at peace with myself…eagerly waiting for your reply!!

Sonia January 29, 2010 at 2:08 am


those wishes are really nice, you can share your wish with others at http://www.wishblog.net


Mighty March 4, 2010 at 2:25 am

This is an amazing list! :D I’m 27 years old and I wish I had learned all these things earlier, too.

Oscar March 11, 2010 at 3:05 am

Nice post. http://www.positivityblog.com is amazig.

Shane March 21, 2010 at 12:38 am

I go into a lot of homes looking for money. When I meet someone I by accident then I assume rapport immediately or it gets a little awkward. I love how you said that value thing. Love! it! Any who… good job on the the website it looks good…. thanks.

saanthavi April 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm

awesome work……….!!!

Layla April 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

i have been doing a lot of reading lately, but this post just amazed me becuase it was very clear. Usually after I read such posts I am left with some questions, or basically ways to claim that the topic that the post was about is just something that doesnt apply to me, that I will not be able to do and so on…but this one is very easy to follow and i hope it will help me in the future…thanx a lot

sarit April 24, 2010 at 6:37 am

how do you have such control over your emotions? you make it sound so easy…those are things i think about every day but they never seem to be my first reaction..

CompleteLifetime April 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I absolutely love this. Especially “4. First, give value. Then, get value. Not the other way around.” This is especially true in the gym or a diet plan. You need to workout and eat in an outstanding fashion if you want to have an outstanding body.

Rhalmi Mohamou med May 21, 2010 at 1:26 am

Thank you for the fantastic article. Very informative.

Steph Suarez May 28, 2010 at 7:52 pm

this is sounds alot like kabbalah!

Oduyemi Adesayo June 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm

This is really good, i think every body needs to know about this

Justin Popovic July 1, 2010 at 4:15 am

Awesome post. #3 about Batching is a huge one for me. I always give myself way more tasks than I can complete in a reasonable amount of time so the annoying small tasks pile up until I can batch them.

But batching works so well. It reminds me of when I was 19 and I worked in a cement packing factory. For one week, I had this job to cut the dark filler material that goes between sidewalk slabs to prevent the cement from cracking. It was actually a very complicated process at first. The first hour or so I was barely able to accomplish anything. But it was a repetitive job. Soon, I kind of got into a rhythm and I became very very good at this job (despite the fact that I HATED it and wanted out of there lol). The point is, when you batch the annoying small jobs, you can work yourself into a rhythm and get it done way quicker than you had built it up in your head.

sara432 July 5, 2010 at 10:36 am

thanx alot for that life changing article >>>.

jzygpa July 27, 2010 at 1:51 am

This is really special. But what is it that we are all trying to become more effective at?

Saving the earth?
Feeding the hungry children?
Stopping wars?

Kaori August 5, 2010 at 4:54 am

This makes so much sense and has really made me re-think what I am doing and how I am doing things. A lot of these self-help books I find are filled with advice that doesn’t seem relevant or are glib and skim over things because they think it’s what people want to hear. But this is great, practical advice.

Much appreciated! Thank you

organic green August 20, 2010 at 11:48 pm

9,6, and 3 are my faves right now. Number 2 is pretty useful. I wish they had taught me in high school that I’m going to forget all this, even the sweetest experiences. And, all I’ll take with me is the joy that came from as many moments as I had re-discovering love, fun, and harmony.

{ 6 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: