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?

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victor February 8, 2009 at 2:07 am

Everything is kool except the attitude rule #10. In the matter of security you can’t change your attitude all the time just to make things seem fine that is wishful thinking. My attitude took a long time to construct and refine and changing it just to look at the world with rose colored glasses is dangerous. Seems like the feminists got to you a little because that’s what women need to do to control their powerful emotions, they need to counter it with a dose of rationality but as for men we need to run everything (except sex) in our minds for a least a second, the filter of logic is our birthright and that’s why women come to us when they need help making a decision that seems good emotionally but might have a logical fallacy that might cause disaster in the future. Men are decision making machines and women are the true judges of the world, we are proactive and they for the most part are reactive with a little hint of pro activeness because we are not opposites we are different women are more complicated and waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy more beautiful. But everything else is super. I just feel a little bit weird about the 80-20 rule I think it works for meaningless jobs (like working at walmart) but it wont work while trying to perfect a work of art . In that kind of task you got to give it your all and not half ass it and also in raising a family 80 20 wont work only 100% will work . Sorry for being right but most of the time being wrong means being dead

Knowledge June 20, 2009 at 5:22 am

Actually it is true about your ‘attitude’ it is really about your POV or your Point Of View. Even if something really horrible happens it could always be worse. If you loose an arm, be glad you still have one, cuz some people dont have any. If you get AIDS, of course that is horrible, but you could be dead already. There is always something worse, even beyond death some people would say there are things worth then death. Death before dishonor. Your attitude is all about your point of view, sure you’re in a bad situation, but your situation could always be worse.

Crying doesn’t make it better, action does…

Anonymous July 11, 2009 at 9:37 am

When things go bad I try to remember that none of this will matter in 10,000 years.

Jim Clary February 9, 2009 at 4:36 am

Thanks for the great info. I appreciate great content without a sales pitch.

Jim Clary

susan February 20, 2009 at 10:51 pm

good list. I have been on the positivity bandwagon for decades, and always cheer when someone ‘gets it’. I truly do not understand what negative people get out of that way of living. Lack of hope, I guess, and so they are stuck.

Marcy Webb March 24, 2009 at 1:51 am

Number 10 resonates the strongest with me.

As for mistakes and failure: Yes, they can provide meaningful learning experiences, but, I don’t want to promote/encourage a culture where people don’t strive to do their best.

Honey Singh March 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Thanks for the the nice share.
After analyzing few points i just stumbled and tweeted this post.

Katie Bielefeld March 31, 2009 at 10:55 pm

What an eye opener… here’s another one: The one thing we can control in our lives is our Health and Fitness… how many of us really take the time for ourselves to keep our bodies in top working condition?

Friet April 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Wonderfull tips! When I was 16 or so I often wondered why there was nobody who made some usefull instructions for life in general. Lately I have found dozens of them online, and this one is my favourite so far. The explanations and links really add a lot of value, when you see just a wise sentence you often just think “oh yeah that’s true” and forget about it.


Raphael April 5, 2009 at 4:28 am

Great article. I too, wished I had learned about the 80/20 principle sooner. It makes such a huge difference. Batching, or ‘ ‘chunking’ makes my life so much more doable. Thanks for writing this.

Johl July 1, 2009 at 9:44 am

Hi Raphael,

Can u plz take some time be more specific on how did it help u and what were type of changes u made in ur life.


«MM» April 7, 2009 at 3:19 pm

>get on the saddle again. And eventually you learn how to ride a bike.

I maybe wrong, but I think, it’s called “seat”, not “saddle” when dealing with bikes.

Kris June 21, 2009 at 5:53 pm

He probably got “get back on the horse when you’re kicked off” confused with “get back on the bike” for a minute there.

Anna June 24, 2009 at 5:40 am

Actually I’ve heard it referred to as saddle many times. It’s not uncommon and not necessarily a mistake.

Govind Sharma April 7, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Thank you for such a great post..

Justin April 12, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Real good article. I guarantee anyone who actually accomplishes these attitude changes will go far and be much more happy. I hope to achieve them myself, we all have life stories that more or less impede our progress.

Clinton Skakun April 13, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Hmm, quite a bit of good stuff covered here. Come to think of it 80-90% of things that we’re afraid don’t come true. As for the second rule you mentioned after the 80/20 rule. I think I’ve been using it for a while without even knowing what it’s called. I find that you can get a lot done in a spare 10 minutes. Also there’s a lot you can get done in an 1hr. I used to set a day aside for a task, which had more power over how fast it was done than I had realized. I find that I can write an essay in 1 hr and clean it up in another 1hr. It’s strange but that’s how the mind works.

I’m going to bookmark this article, really good!


waz (fast weight loss) jones May 5, 2009 at 3:43 am

Great article – i found the info very useful

way May 15, 2009 at 3:31 am

Great article. It’s true we often fear a lot when we shouldn’t. It’s nice to dream but being worried all the time is a waste of time. I’m glad it doesn’t happen often.

ggstarling June 18, 2009 at 2:34 am

Hello all!
This evening I have found a very funny cartoon about the office plankton everyday life.
I recommend this for all to lift your mood.
I helped))
You can watch this toon <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QG-cxPKYjM

Dont worry – be smile))

m bamford June 19, 2009 at 11:54 am

Another aspect of the 80/20 rule:
You have an 80% chance of getting what you actually ask for, and a 20% chance of not getting it. So, it stands to reason that it is useful to ask nicely rather than assume that the world is clairvoyant. Another aspect of this is that when you verbalize your needs you clarify them.

Good posting. Thank you.

7amanito June 19, 2009 at 7:10 pm

thanks for the enlightening info man! :D
i surely live according to some of these things wihtout me noticing, i’m an optimist myself.. ! :D

RookieDoc June 19, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Great tips.

I found it useful to have a small black book of important concepts to live by. I’m adding a few of these to that book. #3, #8, & #13 weren’t in there yet. They are now.

I use a corollary to #8 “Assume the best” – meaning to mentally make excuses for what appear to be faults in others. But, I love “Assume rapport”… very helpful.

Thanks for sharing.

hachisuka June 20, 2009 at 5:47 am

You are all going to die and there is nothing you can do about it. It is what it is so stop thinking all your positive bullshit will make a difference anywhere. There will always be good,bad, and no Utopia. Sure you can make something positive but someone somewhere will also make a negative.

Kris June 21, 2009 at 5:56 pm

“Sure you can make something positive but someone somewhere will also make a negative.” And I’m guessing that that someone is you, amiright?

You can live life a depressing old dodder if you so wish, but leave the rest of us out of it.

wow June 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I’m also 28 and reading through this list is actually making me feel empowered.

My mentality has shifted in the past couple years, as I’m sure it does for most people our age, and reading this really put it all into perspective.

Thanks so very much. I will read this quite a few more times I’m sure. :)

Matthew Smith June 20, 2009 at 7:10 pm

So…. in other words…you Wished you had taken a course from Timothy Ferris in high school? :)

Ken June 20, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Fantastic list! It would seem you have wisdom far beyond your 28 years…

LT June 21, 2009 at 12:14 am

loved it!
great work.

Jarrod - Warrior Development June 21, 2009 at 2:53 am

I would add that I wish they told me that happiness can be totally defined by your own internals if you so wish it.

Phil E. Drifter June 21, 2009 at 4:23 am

Fucking weak. Philosophical bullshit.

Should be more like this:

I was all proud i was in all the AP classes in high school, but I never do any work in calculus, or physics, or chemistry or biology today, 10 years later. What I really appreciate from high school is that I took typing 101, which I use every day as I sit at my computer.

Instead of teaching calculus, they should teach you how to manage your money properly, so that you don’t max out the first credit card you get in 3 days. (Some of you may have been lucky to get parents that taught you this tidbit; but some of us did not.)

Brandon June 21, 2009 at 6:41 am

I’ll have to say this article was of much help; great job.

I found that i connect with number 10 the most. In that i can see this in myself sometimes and will be able to change my bad attitude into a better one. It really does open up the world around you and you are more apt. to see happiness throughout and see the good in things.

bunnygotblog June 21, 2009 at 9:21 am

This is great and so true. I only wish I took German in school. It is such a hard language to learn.
Great article here !

Liz June 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm

I’m happy to be able to say that the “Be proactive, not reactive” slogan has been programmed into my brain all through high school by my band director. =]

It’ll be a nice thing to remember as I’m entering college this fall.

Arnold June 21, 2009 at 8:41 pm

First of all, Number #10 is useless, by that I mean the way you wrote it down and the title you gave it lol. And I’m not here to bash your blog or anything mean like that, as matter of fact, I agreed about 90% of it. I wish schools would teach us about saving money lol. It just that in the past I try changing my attitude, but it would only be temporary then I would go back to my old negative ways. After some studying and research I found out that presence leads to consciousness. And I started living in the present moment and gaining consciousness and then, that when reality change for me. Anyways attitude is a thing of the mind, it just doesn’t help. You guys should look up The Sedona Method if you interested.

Simon - Leadership Expert June 21, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Wow, some great life lessons there. You may wish you’d learnt them in school or when you were younger, but at least by blogging about it – kids of that age can discover these rules while they are young :).

deportivo June 21, 2009 at 10:40 pm

i’ve heard a different version of the 80/20 rule.

to get 80% results, you expend 20% effort. the final 20% of results will require 80% of your effort.

Brian Armstrong June 22, 2009 at 3:24 am

Great article! Came here from stumble upon.

It especially caught my eye since I wrote a similar themed article a while back:

Pretty funny coicidence! :)

bethy June 22, 2009 at 5:01 am

awesome post. It’s true that emotions are contagious, but make sure to not hide behind a mask of false emotion.

Beau June 22, 2009 at 7:11 am

This is a wonderful compilation of ideas. I really enjoy the proactive to being reactive idea the most. That has made my life easier, and skyrocketed me in all I do.

Wonderful job

James June 22, 2009 at 9:08 am

Thinks for your sharing ! Learned in school is very limited knowledge, and we only through continuous learning in order to increase our level of knowledge. Learning is endless.

Aum June 22, 2009 at 9:39 am

small typo in the 10th point..jus tot you should know :)

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

GeorgeInDallas June 23, 2009 at 1:44 am

I am delighted with this blog.

I am so sad for those poor souls who feel compelled to drag their negativity into this holy arena.

I am astonished and proud how few have felt the necessity to even respond to their posts – I guess one gets it or not?

adminRLM June 23, 2009 at 4:57 am

Wish I’d learned these by 28. Very thought provoking.

rick June 23, 2009 at 7:11 am

I found this very interesting and very true. I was able to relate to point number 10 the most. My life has improved drastically since changing my attitude, and therefore my perspective. It is now much harder to fall into depression or even have a “bad day.” Despite the fact that it’s a very slow process, it is well worth the pursuit.

i love lucy June 24, 2009 at 9:43 am

although all of these extremely fine points could be tought to you by another..i have found that all of this knowledge is contained inside everyone of us and can be accessed at any point in time simply by consuming LSD…don’t be a robot! THINK FOR YOURSELF

Jenny June 25, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Hi. Just came across your blog through Stumbleupon and thought I’d say hi. Very interesting post. :) Happy thursday

Sam June 25, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Rule #13 above reminds me a quote from Mark Twain: “I lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
Nice post.

sir jorge June 26, 2009 at 11:11 pm

If i become a teacher, i’m going to give out this to my students

anon11 June 27, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Great list…I wish i had know these at 28!!!..you are wise

Simon June 28, 2009 at 4:38 pm

this is cool. i could remember rhonda byrne’s book THE SECRET in this post. Nice point of information you have here!

LanceManyon June 28, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Was the author really only 28? Wisdom beyond his years.

Sarah June 29, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I wish my school had taught me the same thing. Unfortunately, I find that I learn more by not going to school. Weird.

Alicia July 2, 2009 at 5:10 am

Number 10 is so true.

I beat environmentally-induced depression (my environment was having a huge toll on me) by simply changing my attitude. I decided that I was going to move on from everything negative and it changed everything 360. Even the way I think feels different. Never underestimate the power of your own perception. It both creates and destroys opportunities in any given situation.

self-esteem guy July 13, 2009 at 7:37 am

I agree that mistakes and failures are good friends, we all should embrace them.
Lots of pearls in this article. Your attitude changes everything. Yes, your attitude, your approach will create an experience and that’s how you will react to it. It’s all up to you how you interpret the situation you are in. You can gain from the experience or dwell on your mistake and not move forward.

zencontrol.net July 16, 2009 at 9:53 am

Brilliant… great list.

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