“Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”
“With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”
Even if you are not an American – like me – you’ve probably still heard of Abraham Lincoln. He was the president who introduced and worked on measures to free the slaves and led the country through the Civil War. A war that had just ended when Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre.
But what can Abraham Lincoln help us with today? Well, here are 10 powerful and timeless fundamentals. I hope you’ll find something helpful.
1. See the positive in people.
“If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.”
“The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself in every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to hinder him.”
What you focus on you will find. In a situation, in a person. There is always plenty of good things and plenty of bad things to discover.
So you need to keep your focus steadily on what you want to find. Don’t let it waver just because you are in a “negative” situation or someone just said/did something “negative”. If your focus gets scattered, try to get it back into a more useful place as quickly as you can.
You can develop whatever view of the world and people that you like. You can go looking for the negative in people and feel a short burst of good emotions as find something negative about a person and feel like you are “right”.
Or you can develop a habit of looking for the positive. A habit where you can expect people to treat you in a positive way.
Because we do to a large extent teach people how we want to be treated. If we expect other people to help us and treat us well then they are more likely to do so than if we are negative and expect to be treated poorly.
This may sound a bit weird, but how we expect to be treated can have a big effect on how the world sees us.
2. Be honest.
“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.”
This is a pretty practical thing. Being honest will for several reasons work better in the long run. Of course, you don’t have to go out of your way to be honest and hurt people though. You can just as well choose to be silent if you like. Here are just a few practical reasons to minimize or just stop lying altogether.
- Your words aren't everything. Words are only a pretty small part of communication. The rest are body language and your voice tonality. And it’s through those channels that the real you will shine through. People will in some way sense that something is wrong, that you aren't being honest and authentic if those other ways you communicate aren't in alignment with your words. So lying is just a short term solution. Sooner or later people will pick up on it.
- Poor self-image and stress. Cultivating a self-image as someone who lies will make you feel worse about yourself. You’ll feel like a fake and your self-esteem plummets. And if you on the other hand are honest you don’t have to feel like someone that is trapped or on the high-wire all the time.
- People really appreciate authentic communication. What separates people is to a large extent the walls that they build up between themselves. When you put aside personas and lies you can build real connections between you and other people. If you remove these walls of insulation then the people or you are interacting with are likely to reciprocate. And so your relationships can improve and are less likely to be damaged by miscommunication.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Ego excludes and divides. The ego loves to make someone “the other” to strengthen its own power. It want’s to feel “more” than someone else. More clever. Prettier. Cooler. Wiser. Or more like a victim.
And by making the other even more wrong in your mind the ego grows stronger. However, the ego boosts of good feelings are just temporary. You have to reinforce them continually, just like a caffeine habit.
Consciousness and intelligence includes and accepts. You don’t have to be seduced by your ego’s wish to make people other than you. You can look at the positive in them and at the things you agree about. And be accepting.
When your thoughts are buzzing around in your head and telling you to exclude or divide in some way then you most often are listening to your ego. It may tell you that paragraphs just above this one are cheesy and stupid. You may not want to take such thoughts too seriously. You don’t have to.
The most useful advice I’ve found so far to get a handle on the need to divide is to not identify so much with my thoughts or feelings. That doesn’t mean that I stop thinking or feeling. It just means that I realize – and remember in my everyday life – that the thoughts and emotions are just things flowing through me. And that I am the consciousness observing them.
When you realize and remember this it enables you to control the thoughts and feelings instead of the other way around. It enables you to not take your thoughts too seriously and actually laugh at them or ignore them when you feel that your ego is acting out.
When you are not being so identified these things you become more inclined to include things, thoughts and people instead of excluding them. This creates a lot of inner and outer freedom and stillness. Instead of fear, a need to divide your world and a search for conflicts.
4. Create a friend where there is none.
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
This is similar to tip #1 and # 3. But slightly different, seen from a slightly different perspective. It is a helpful and a bit unusual way of looking at people who you might perceive as different or other than yourself.
Turning an enemy or someone we don’t like into a friend is difficult because first impressions can be powerful. Our concept of a person can remain intact if we don’t push further and question and explore. But if you get to know someone better you can often find out quite a few positive and interesting things about them. People are often more intriguing than your first impression of them.
Of course, since the ego needs to tell you that you are right and someone else is wrong then it can be hard to change your opinion of someone. That opinion of him/her is tied up in your ego and fuels your sense of being “right”. Again, the key and the way out here is to not take your thoughts or emotions too seriously.
This can allow you to open your mind to a change in the relationship.
Now, how can you make him/her your friend? One suggestion would be to follow tip # 1 and start looking for the positive in the person. Then to take the first step and give some kind of value – like help for instance – to that person. And then to take more steps if s/he is not convinced that you want to change the relationship.
5. Believe in and go after your own success.
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
If you think you can succeed then you can. Your belief in your own ability to succeed is essential and does not only motivate you to keep going.
You may have heard that you have to believe that you can achieve something to do it and that the how you will do it will then present itself along the way. Well, that is true in my experience. Whatever you focus on persistently you will find in your world. So be careful what you focus on. Remind yourself to keep your focus on what you want to make solutions and people who can help you “pop up” out of all those things and pieces of information that is the background noise of your world.
And don’t wait for too long. Procrastination may just leave you with the crumbs or sometimes nothing really. Taking action is awesome. But taking action with little delay will increase the probability of you actually getting what you want before the window of opportunity closes.
So develop a Just do it! habit. Learn to do some planning but then to take action quickly despite what excuses or other negative things your thoughts and emotions may put up in your way. Know that they may just want to protect you from uncertainty and risks. But also know that you are in charge of them and not the other way around.
“Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.”
Persistence might not exactly be the sexiest sounding quality. It might not sell a lot of products to people looking for the magic pill. But it is an immensely helpful quality to cultivate and put to use.
If you fail, what do you do? You dust yourself off and try again. If the success you are looking for won’t come that quickly – a pretty likely scenario – then you have to persist. Persistence may be one of the most useful qualities one can have. Not only because you will still be out there in a less competitive playing field as lot other people have given up and gone home. But also because developing patience and being persistent will enable you to get what you want. It may just take a little longer than had hoped for.
7. Sharpen your ax.
“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.”
Instead of just starting to chop with a blunt blade for hours on end it’s a whole lot smarter to first sharpen the blade and then take on the physically harder task of bringing the tree down. This goes for everything.
If you are prepared then it will often be a whole lot easier to get something done. Sometimes it can be the thing that separates people that either keeps chopping until they can’t take it anymore and give up and the people who could get the job done.
So success is not just about doing hard work. It’s also about sharpening your ax at regular intervals and learning new and better ways to take down the trees in your life. And it’s about remembering what trees you want to take down rather than just any tree. However, you don’t want to get stuck in this stage and never take action. As with all things, you have to find a balance by experimenting.
Four suggestions for sharpening your ax are:
- Educate yourself. Do some research into the whatever you want to achieve. Look for the most common mistakes and smart things people do. Read books and online. Talk to people who have already been where you want to go.
- Do. Fail. Learn. Do. Knowledge from external sources is great. But to really understand you have to do things. And learn from your own failures and successes. And then do again with your new understanding in your mind.
- Manage your energy levels. You don’t just have increase your knowledge and understanding of things. You also have to have the physical energy to get things done when you find your opportunity. Otherwise you may just fall into a procrastinating pattern or back down. So workout. Eat enough. Sleep enough. Basic stuff of course. But if you do it consistently then you’ll increase you chances of succeeding when it’s time to start chopping down your trees. With a high energy level it will be easier to persist until you are done.
- Remind yourself where you are going. A lot of not so important busy work can dull your ax. You need to regularly review your plans and remind yourself of your goals and what you really want. If you don’t keep your eyes on where you want to go you might wind up somewhere completely different.
8. Take a responsibility for your own life.
“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”
When we are kids people take care of us. They take responsibility. But to become an adult – and not just a kid in a grown up’s body – one has to take responsibility for oneself. There is no other way. Sure, letting someone else take the responsibility may be easier on you.
But without taking responsibility for yourself how can you be free?
How can you really live up you own potential and dreams?
It can be hard to break out of the comfort zone of having other people taking responsibility for us. But if you don’t then you will be trapped by other people’s standards, expectations and limitations. You have to set your own rules for your life. A bit scary. But also liberating.
9. Happiness is optional.
“Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.
One big upside of taking responsibility for yourself is that it lets you decide where the standards and limits are set. When you take responsibility for what you do you will also feel that you deserve to do what you feel is right for you, in your life.
And our control and responsibility not only goes for what you do out in the world. But also for your thoughts and emotions. You are to a large extent in charge here too.
When you realise this then you realise that you don’t have to play along with your old patterns of thinking and feeling anymore. You don’t have to play along with is “normal” or common thinking. You don’t have to take your thoughts so seriously. You can choose to not feel insulted when someone says something. You can choose to not to be angry whilst stuck in traffic. You can choose to see the positive in people. And you can choose how happy you will be.
Pain is inevitable in life. But how you choose to process or think about things – and if you let them get stuck in your mind or not – is up to you. Suffering is therefore to a large extent optional. And so is happiness.
10. Live your life fully.
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
This one is just beautiful. And I don’t really have much to add. But it might be useful to remind yourself of this saying regularly. Maybe when you feel like you are veering off track. Or when heading into things like small-mindedness, laziness or complacency. Perhaps you want to write it down and put it in a highly visible place so you don’t forget about it.
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