Mark Twain’s Guide to Living an Awesome Life: 7 Essential Tips

by Henrik Edberg

marktwain



“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

“Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident.”

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Back in 2009 I wrote an article with some great quotes from Mark Twain – lecturer, satirist, humorist and author of classic books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – and it became a favorite for me and many readers.

A sequel to Mark Twain’s Top 9 Tips for Living a Kick-Ass Life has been in my ideas folder for some time. But today I have completed it.

I hope you’ll find the result, these 7 essential tips from Mark Twain inspiring and helpful.

1. The secret of getting ahead…

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

This is a very good tip and one of the best ones I have ever discovered and used to handle procrastination.

When you start to look too far into the future any task or project can seem close to impossible. And so you shut down because you become overwhelmed or fearful (of success or failure) and start surfing the internet aimlessly instead.

So instead, break that task into small and practical steps.

Then just focus on taking the first step today. That is all you need to focus on, nothing else. By taking the first step you change your mental state from resistant to “hey, I’m doing this, cool”. You put yourself in state where you become more positive and open, a state where you may not be enthusiastic about taking the next step after this first one but you are at least accepting it.

And so you can take the next step. And the next one after that.

Until you have arrived at your destination and completion.

2. Less talking, more doing

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often”

“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”

It’s often easy to talk but developing the habit of being a person of action is quite a bit harder.

Being in the habit of breaking down your task into smaller pieces is one of the most effective things you can do to take more consistent action. Two other habits that work very well for me are to:

  • Start your day with a good morning routine. This is probably the most important factor for how much action I take during a day and how the day turns out in general. A good start often leads to a good day. A bad or indecisive start often leads to a pretty mediocre day.
    So create a morning routine with a good breakfast, perhaps a short work out or a short meditation and other things you find gets you off to a great start. Then add doing the most important task of your day at the end of that morning routine.
    Or if you, like me, may feel low in energy, unmotivated or have extra inner resistance to taking action on some mornings then start small and do something easy and simple.
  • Take one small action right away to get the ball rolling. What is one thing you can do to pretty much make sure that something will get stuck on your I’ll-do-that-when-I-have-the-time list for a long time? Read about something and get excited about it. And then do nothing about it or tell yourself that you will take action tomorrow.
    Instead, take one small action today, as soon after you have read about whatever you are excited about. Make a plan, book an appointment, do something concrete.

3. Be courageous in the face of fear

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

Being courageous can be difficult but if you want to live the life you want to live then sometimes you have look into the face of fear and get going/keep going anyway.

And although it is rarely easy to be courageous I have found a few ways to make it easier.

  • Ask yourself: what is the worst that could happen? Really think about. Don’t just think about it for a few seconds. Sit down with a pen and piece of paper, your laptop or cellphone. Write it all out and think about what the realistic worst-case scenario would be. Then write down a plan for how you can come back from such a scenario.
    This step brings clarity, defuses fuzzy fears and helps you realize that you can most often bounce back pretty quickly even if the worst-case scenario somehow becomes reality.
  • Share your fear with someone. By sharing your fear you can relieve inner pressure. By just keeping it on the inside it’s easy to build it up into this massive nightmare and extremely dangerous thing.
    By sharing and by getting some input from a levelheaded friend or family member he or she can help you to alleviate the fear and inner pressure. And you can gain a much healthier perspective on things again.
  • Accept the fear. It is a natural impulse to try to deny the fear when shows up in your life. Perhaps you try to not think about it, you try to push it away. I have found that in many cases it is actually better to just accept that fear is here right now (although it can be hard to sometimes convince your brain that this is a good option).
    By doing so you stop feeding more energy into the fear and you stop making it strong. After a few minutes of fully taking in this uncomfortable feeling and accepting it then it starts to lose steam. It just seems to float away – or at least becomes smaller – and you feel more open and centered.

4. A good compliment is a wonderful thing

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Compliments are awesome. But make sure you make it a genuine one. Make sure you really mean it or it may have the opposite effect as your insincerity shines through. Find something a bit unexpected – like great taste in old soul music rather than looks – and something that is important to the other person and make a positive, appreciative comment about that.

5. Keep positive company

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

I have mentioned this many times. But it bears repeating.

Spend more time with positive people, books, music, movies and websites. Spend your time in an environment that lifts you up. And spend less time or no time with the negative sources out there. Make a conscious choice and start to shape your environment instead of just going along and reading, listening to, watching what people in general or people around you may be in the habit of consuming.

6. Focus on what is truly important for YOU

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”

Like with your environment it is important to make a conscious choice to focus on what is most important in YOUR life. And not on the things that various companies may tell you are the most important things.

Like I mentioned little more than a week ago, a note with the 4 most important things in your life smartly placed where you will see it every day – in your workspace etc. – helps you to keep your mind consistently on your top priorities.

And if you want a couple of practical tips that will help you to declutter your ad/information intake then:

  • Ask yourself: is this useful? If for instance a TV-show or magazine isn’t bringing me anything useful – fun, fascination, useful tips etc. – then why am I spending my time on it? It’s kinda easy to just fall into a habit of doing stuff or consuming things without really having much of a reason for doing so.
  • Find out what you really like to do. That will probably be more interesting that surfing the internet or TV-channels randomly. And so these less exciting things just tend to fall away from your life as you find – or spend more time with – things that you really like to do, like for instance a new hobby.
  • Shut off the sound during commercials. And talk to the person beside you on the couch. Or read a couple of pages. Or record the TV-show or movie. Then skip through the commercials.

7. When emotions are exploding… wait.

“Time cools, time clarifies; no mood can be maintained quite unaltered through the course of hours.”

It’s easy to make bad decisions when you are full of negative emotions. And it is very easy to become riled up, angry or defensive when you, for instance, receive some criticism or when someone is attacking you verbally. This is not a good position to be in to fire away a reply if you don’t want to wind up making the situation worse.

And to lash back at this person or to not be the better person here can really hurt your self-esteem. It might feel good for a while to do so but it is a dirty high that comes with a hangover of feeling worse about yourself and subtle or not so subtle self-destructiveness.

But how do you control the impulse to attack, overreact or make a hasty decision?

  • Remind yourself of the potential consequences. I don’t want to hurt myself, my self-esteem or make bad decisions with negative consequences. By repeatedly reminding myself of these potential consequences thoughts about those consequences will also often pop up automatically when I receive criticism or when I am angry.
  • Count to at least 10 and take a few belly breaths. Then respond. This simple way of calming yourself down and regaining some perspective can save you a lot of trouble and help you avoid saying something you can’t take back. It’s a good approach to avoid creating unnecessary problems and to cool down just a bit and to feel more balanced before you reply or take action.
  • Accept how you feel. If you have a little more time than under a minute then take a look at tip #3 again and try to accept how you feel to lessen the big emotions more quickly.
  • If possible, wait until tomorrow or at least later today. By then the most negative feelings will most likely have lost their steam and you can see things with more clarity and cool. And take action in a better and smarter way.

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{ 24 comments }

Katie January 24, 2012 at 5:44 am

I recently read an article written by Mark Twain titled “A Presidential Candidate.” This article was in the New York Evening Post on June 9, 1879. What this article consisted of was not at all what I expected from the title. Yes it is about Twain running for President, but you would be shocked by his campaign strategy.

Mark Twain takes a very forward approach. In this article he lays out clear and simple every bad, and I mean bad, thing he has done in his life. From shooting his grandfather in the leg from snoring too loud to burying his Aunt under his grapevine to use as fertilizer. He feels he hasn’t done anything in his life that are grounds of not becoming President.

Twain makes it clear that he feels events such as running away at the battle of Gettysburg should not cost him the election. Referring to the place he buried his Aunt Twain says, “No other citizen was ever considered unworthy of this office because he enriched his grapevines with his dead relatives. Why should I be selected as the first victim of an absurd prejudice?”

Like I mentioned before Twain writes in this article, for the country to see, the fact that he was simply scared during the Battle of Gettysburg and therefore ran away like a coward. He could have said it was “for the purpose of imitating Washington, who went into the woods at Valley Forge for the purpose of saying his prayers” as his friends told him to say.

Twain’s best asset and what he was trying to convey in this article was that he is a straight forward person. Yes he has skeletons in his closet, but who doesn’t? He is airing his skeletons before his opponent had the chance to. This shows that Twain is honest and forthcoming and he won’t lie to the country or beat around the bush. But was honesty in a President the main concern for the people at that time? Well we all know Mark Twain never became President so the answer would have to be no.

Twain had a refreshing approach but ultimately ineffective. Personally if I was alive in 1879 choosing which Presidential candidate to vote for I would probably choose the other guy. Twain is an amazing writer, but he seems a bit crazy in this article and that’s not who I would want leading my country.

True, Twain never murdered, stole, committed adultery, or any other acts that would be definite grounds for not being elected. Well not that we know of but I bet he would have put it in the article if he did, he didn’t seem to leave anything out. However, shooting someone for snoring even in the leg is a pretty fine line.

Twain also talks openly about the fact that he doesn’t care for poor people. He sees them as a useless intake of resources. He mentions if the poor man were “cut up and properly canned, he might be made useful to fatten the natives of the cannibal islands and to improve our export trade with that region.” He even jokes that his campaign strategy could be ” Desiccate the poor workingman; stuff him into sausages.” A little morbid for my taste.

I suppose you could say Mark Twain lived an awesome life which would make the article above useful and valid. Although, he has done some pretty extreme/crazy things so personally I don’t know if I would want to take his advice. It does seem pretty straight forward, but I wouldn’t base my life on his “7 Essential Tips”

I think Twain should have stuck to writing and not attempted running for President. He is a beloved writer to this day and that is what he will be remembered for. I didn’t even know he ran for President until reading this article, but he probably opened the eyes of some voters and made them take a closer look at the person they choose to elect to office.

Henrik Edberg January 24, 2012 at 11:13 am

Thank you for sharing this interesting view on Twain, I did not know about several of those things. I don’t know if I would have wanted him as leader for my country either but I do think he had some good things to say about life.

Agatha Tefora January 24, 2012 at 8:08 am

Negative people at times ruins you. As much as possible, don’t mention to them your goals and dreams because they can kill your hopes. Better choose the people you share things with.

Henrik Edberg January 24, 2012 at 11:16 am

Thank you for the comment! And good advice, it is quite often smart to be careful about how you share your hopes and dreams.

Amyjlou January 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Hi – I have just discovered this site – some great stuff – I had googled – ‘taking responsibility’ originally. I really agree with your thoughts above but there is one aspect I often come across that I have some questions about and I’d love to hear your thoughts – on keeping positive company – it is difficult to shed those that drain us but I sometimes feel I want to come beside and befriend those who haven’t such a positive experience and outlook on life as myself. How do we marry that looking after number one attitude with drawing alongside those who are suffering?

Henrik Edberg January 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

Hi! Thank you!

That is not an easy question but I have a few thoughts that may be helpful. First, I guess it depends from time to time in life how we balance these two things. Sometimes you may have to focus more on yourself and at other times you may have more strength, time and energy to help others.

Another important factor is that you both give and receive some kind of value in the relationship. Just giving without hardly getting anything back doesn’t work well in the longer run.

A third thought, that is very important for me, is that the other person may have a negative attitude or be critical but is also willing to be a bit open to changing that and to try ways to do so. If you try to support or help someone and it is like running into a brick wall every time or it just drains you then at some point – maybe not in all cases but in many – it becomes time to focus more on other relationships.

IB January 25, 2012 at 4:45 am

Thanks for the piece. Great advice. Number seven can make or break your day, especially when it comes to handling anger. The worst of the emotions. In addition to the steps you list, I’d try writing down an email to the person who made you angry, then putting that email aside. Read it two hours later and you’ll be glad you didn’t send it. Ninety percent of the time, you’ll see that you would have escalated a skirmish into a war and the victim of that war would’ve been you.

Henrik Edberg January 25, 2012 at 10:59 am

Thank you! And thank you very much for adding that excellent and very practical tip.

Noch Noch | be me. be natural. January 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

I agree – just simply by getting started. it’s the most important but sometimes the hardest step
once started though, we need to keep doign instead of just talking. we might have to sacrifice time for other things to do what we are hoping to. But it will all pay off
Noch Noch

Neil | Butterfield January 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Great post. Thanks for sharing this. I strive to do this each day and at the end of the day I appraise how the day went. If there was any improvement then it was a good day. I am also mindful to give myself a pat on the back when it is due.

Justlife January 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

The secret of getting ahead… reminds me of a quote by Zig Ziglar: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” So true~ Any great dreams or goals are useless if we don’t actually start to do it. Even it’s just a tiny step, that will get things going.

zeus January 29, 2012 at 3:08 am

Great advice.

Gillian January 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Brilliant words of wisdom from Mr. Twain! The quote about surrounding yourself with supportive people is particularly compelling — thanks for this post.

Deeone January 31, 2012 at 1:13 am

Hi Henrik,

I’m a huge fan of your blog and have even in the past backlinked to a post of yours. Love the energy here… the name pretty much says it all. :)

I really enjoyed reading this post, and loved each of the quotes you shared here. My favorite would have to be, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

Fear is a paralyzing entity that many fail to understand is a killer of our dreams and goals. If Mark Twain wrote about it, this should let us know that fear is able to be mastered. It never goes away, but by facing them it allows us to know that what seems impossible is very much possible; we need to only adorn ourselves with courage.

Great stuff, Henrik! Thanks for sharing! :)

Nea | Self Improvement Saga January 31, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Mark Twain clearly had some great advice. I think the quote about courage is the most powerful one here because a lot of people think that they need to become fearless, which is impossible. Even the most courageous person of all has to face fear. It is the fact that s/he does indeed face it that warrants the label of being courageousness.

Zac January 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Really useful tips that are perfect lessons to follow. I have started on my positive journey this year and hope to go twelve months fighting negativity. My diary will be recorded on-line. This is a great blog and one I will use when the going gets tough. Thanks for sharing and glad I found you.

Amber January 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Love it, love it, love it!!!! A much needed reminder of how I am choosing to live my life. Thanks!

Positive Thinking February 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm

great article . we all have to work hard to get the success in life and always think positive.

Regel February 6, 2012 at 5:24 am

Thanks a lot for the timely advised!
A while ago I wanted to explode because of some issues with my girlfriend, but thanks to you…. I am now trying to control myself.
a million thanks for the words of wisdom you’ve shared. More power to you!

Jason Fonceca February 8, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Again, an excellent article Henrik.

Twain was a brilliant man, and his wisdom lives on. Thanks for gathering it and explaining for us here.

Some of them remind me very much of Tony Robbins (“chunking”, “taking action”), I wonder if Tony read Twain :)

Tathata February 13, 2012 at 8:33 am

Firstly, I’ve been reading enjoying reading your blog. I found it earlier this evening and have just been going through your posts and smiling. I agree with a lot of what you have to say, and it’s nice to see what I believe in affirmed by another person.

Step 3 in #7 really struck a chord with me: ACCEPT HOW YOU FEEL.
This has been huge in my own life lately, and I think it fits for any type of emotion. So many problems arise when one tries to fight the emotion they’re having; to make it go away, to think it’s inappropriate. The simple act of accepting it and believing it’s ok and that it will pass…… simply allows it to pass, and for one to realize that in actuality, very little bad is actually happening to them.

Leto February 14, 2012 at 6:12 am

One more great and inspiring post for me today!!! I have copied of of the tips to print it out later and put on my wall to see it every morning!!!

James February 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm

What a great blog. Have spent all evening reading your interesting posts. Very inspiring!

Number 5 does it for me! Theres nothing better than staying positive. Surrounding yourself with positive people and things.

Thank You!

Nevaeh Mccluney February 21, 2012 at 10:46 am

I am so grateful for your blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

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