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16 Things I Wish They Had Taught Me in School

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?

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  • stine

    that was many good edvice =)
    hehe.. even thou I new some of them before =)

  • Rebecca

    My first rule is “rise above”. Whatever unpleasant situations you may find, life is more fun if you tell yourself to rise above the ugliness.
    My second rule is to try to use the phrase, “I can do that”. Sometimes you can’t realistically say that, but if you can make it your default response, life will be more rewarding.

  • I remember being 28. At the time, I felt very old. We all had lived a lot in a few short years. I remember thinking about these 16 things. Maybe not broken down in essential parts, but knowing them.

    I’m 60 now and learning them still. I have won and lost so many times I can’t count them all. I greet everything with enormous gratitude. I continue to re-invent myself. It’s just in the last few years I have stopped comparing myself and what I have to the accomplishments of others. I love and am loved. Everything else is pure ego.

  • walk on by

    You only know who is your true friend in times of crisis

  • Great post, thanks a bunch for sharing !

  • Great list! Seems that I am guilty of some things you mentioned here. I should focus more for ex. And the 80-20 rule…

  • To be fair to your teachers and schools, almost all of those sixteen things are the sort of thing you have to learn by experience, nothing else will do. There are a lot of life rules you can sort of understand on an intellectual level if someone tells you about them, but their full import will never be understood until you’ve lived the lessons, yourself. When I sat down to blog about my experiences being homeless and being a high school dropout, I started to realize how few of the things I was saying could be truly understood without having the life experience to put them into context, and I think the same applies to much of this list.

    That doesn’t mean these things aren’t worth sharing, though. If even one of those sixteen lessons sinks in and helps one person, then you’ve done a service to your readers. That’s what I hope to accomplish on my blog, as well.

  • John Doe

    He seems to be right. I remember when I was still back in high school where I really tend to lose my cool most of the time because I was either egoistic or I was just taking things too seriously. I had to learn not taking thing too seriously and not worrying all the time the hard way as I grew older and more mature. Man, those stuff was never taught at school. I had to find it out myself out of getting tired of all of life’s stresses. If somebody had made me realize these things earlier, I could have been happier back then. Well there’s no use in regretting it so just look forward to the future with open arms, whether it’s the one you fear that’s gonna come. ^_^

  • It’s quite amazing when looking back (I’m 27) all the things you THOUGHT would happen after high school that didn’t. I had a horrible time with bullying in school. Although I knew it was just a school thing and as soon as I got out of there it would be “a lot better” I didn’t think of it as “100% better” as people don’t do constant barrating and name calling like what happens in schools.

    Some things I wish were taught in school: I forget the percentages but something like when you are in a class, immediately you are going to forgot half of it. Within a year you’re going to forget 90% of what you learn and/or experience. Basically to focus on what you most cherish from any moment and hope that’s the 10% you still remember.

    Nothing is free. Something happened to my train of thought within the past couple years that now whenever I sign up for some service or someone offers me something for free I ask myself “what are they getting from this?” With my brother, for example, always like to give me stuff he no longer uses, which was nice and all. Problem is he never let me forget that. Whenever he wants something in return that cost me money and I don’t want to give up (say copying a game) he starts pulling out “but I gave you …”. When signing up at websites I try to guess what is their motivation. Is it ad revenue? going to charge later on? Now for some people, the “fee” is just knowing so many people use your service and benefit from it. Other’s want to monetize it.

  • Jasmine

    Wow. Great article! I am a grade 8 student, and some of the points here were real eye openers to me. I think i’ll look into the 80/20 rule and Parkinson’s law. Very interesting..

  • Mike

    I’m 49 and when I look back at my life I can think a few things for your consideration:
    Take a chance. Life’s an adventure and if you risk nothing, your reward will be nothing.
    Live your love life to the fullest…ask out the beauty queen but remember that beauty is skin deep, so the just ‘pretty’ girl might be a far more fabulous catch. And, looks can grow on you.
    Don’t be a sleaze bag. Sex is a deeply emotional and beautiful experience between two, not dozens.
    Have fun.
    Keep an upbeat attitude (it bears repeating.)
    Enjoy your work or find another job.
    Learn how to tell a joke; conversely, learn to listen to and enjoy someone else’s joke. Try to remember several slightly risque ones and even more silly ones.
    Strive to see the absurdity in life and laugh at it.
    Learn how to compromise.
    Learn how to give for the sheer joy of giving.
    Tell the truth.
    Be punctual.
    Help the elderly, for you will be elderly one day too.
    Be satisfied with your best efforts.
    Be a leader but learn to follow.
    Sometimes luck is just persistent hard work. (I stole this one but it’s true).

    Well, that’s my .02 good luck in life.

  • Henry

    I found this article through Stumble upon and it appealed to me. I read the whole thing and I’m glad I did. Very nice work. I really enjoyed this. 🙂

  • S.Vanamali

    I am turning 28 on the 29th of this month… #14 was a real eye opener…

    I’ve known other points, but 14 is very relevant…

    Thanks for sharing this with all of us.
    God Bless you.


  • good list! learned some new stuff like the reticular activation system. Putting these all into practice will be fun though I’m already applying a good number of them in my life.

    Count your blessings! keeps me grounded. 🙂

  • Daisy

    I think the only thing I would add to this very excellent article is the suggestion that your school didn’t teach you this because it was not their job and because to some extent they couldn’t teach it to you. All of the things you listed should have been taught or “caught” in normal everyday life, interactions with others, casual observation, conversation with your parents, etc. My question is why isn’t society passing down these common sense principles to the next generation?

    from a nearly 40yo.

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