“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Winston Churchill is probably no stranger to anyone. He was an inspirational British leader during the Second World War.
He was also a writer, historian, poet, artist and the only British Prime Minister to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Here are a few of my favorite fundamentals from Churchill on how to improve your life.
1. Focus on what you are doing right now.
“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”
“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.”
When you start to look too far into the future then any task or project can seem close to impossible. And so you shut down because you become overwhelmed and start surfing the internet aimlessly instead. That is one of the reasons why it is good to plan for the future but then to shift your focus back to today and the present moment.
Then you 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.
The thing is, you can’t see the whole path anyway and it will shift and reveal itself along the way. That’s why the best of plans tend to fall apart at least a bit as you start to put it into action. You discover that your map of reality doesn’t look like reality.
2. Be concerned about action.
“I never worry about action, but only about inaction”
Yes, taking action can lead to failure, rejection or making mistakes. There is always a risk for that. But if you stay in inaction then you are pretty much guaranteed that nothing will change or improve.
How can you improve your action habit though? Three tips:
- Reconnect with the present moment. This will help you snap out of over thinking and just go and do whatever you want to get done. It is one of the best tips I have found so far for taking more action since it puts you in a state where you feel little emotional resistance to the work you’ll do. And it puts you in state where the right actions often just seem to flow out of you in a focused but relaxed way and without much effort. One of the simplest ways to connect with the present moment is just to keep your focus on your breathing for a minute or two. Check out 7 more tips in 8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment.
- Lighten up. One way to dissuade yourself from taking action is to take whatever you are about to do too seriously. That makes it feel too big, too difficult and too scary. If you on the other hand relax a bit and lighten up you often realize that those problems and negative feelings are just something you are creating in your own mind. With a lighter state of mind your tasks seems lighter and becomes easier to get started with.
- Start small. To get from a state where you just feel like sitting on your chair and doing nothing much to one where you take action over and over you can do this: start small. Getting started with your biggest task or most difficult action may seem too much and land you in Procrastinationland. So instead, start with something that doesn’t seem so hard. One of my favorites is simply to take a few minutes to clean my desk. After that the next thing doesn’t seem so difficult to get started with since I’m now in a more of a “take action” kind of mode.
3. Be an optimist.
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
Focusing on what helps you sure makes a huge difference compared to if you keep focusing on what is wrong in every situation or what makes you more of a victim. It’s like living in two different worlds.
How do you make the shift to a more optimistic attitude? Well, it takes time. But gradually you can change it. Four of my own most favorite tips are:
- Take care of the basic fundamentals. This is for me the most important thing you can do to maintain and strengthen your positive attitude. How you eat, sleep and workout is huge factor. A good lifestyle, how you live your life on normal days determine how you feel, think and how much energy you will have.
For example, exercising and keeping my testosterone levels pretty high consistently – I do that by focusing on free weight exercises that target many and big muscle groups – is a very simple way to get a lot of positive emotions to flow through my body automatically. A good workout always seems to do the trick.
- Positive influences. Fill your mind and emotional system with positive input from people, music and programs/books. Other people’s thoughts have a big influence and emotions are contagious. Limit your time with negative people. Reduce TV or magazines that may make you feel worse about what you don’t own or your body. Or just create fear and negativity within you (for instance a lot of news shows). Limiting negative influences can make it a lot easier to keep the positive attitude up.
- Set the context for your day. What you do early in the day often sets the context for your day. We have a tendency to want to be consistent with what we have done before. You can use that your advantage in few ways. You can for example do the hardest thing on your to-do list first. When it is done you’ll feel good about yourself and it makes the day feel easier and you’ll have less inner resistance to getting the rest of the tasks of the day done.
- Act as you want to feel. Act as if you are feeling positive. After a few minutes you will actually feel it for real. So smile. Use positive language. And so on. It feels weird at first but it really works.
Just practicing these four things in a consistent way can make a huge difference in your life.
4. Be persistent. Don’t give up.
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential”
“If you're going through hell, keep going.”
Since society often tells us to look for quick fixes it’s easy to make the mistake of giving up to soon. After you have failed perhaps 1-5 times. That’s the “normal” thing to do. But what could have happened if someone just kept going after that? And for each failure learned more and more about what works?
I think people often make a mistake of giving up too early. Your mind probably has a reasonable time-frame for success. This might not correspond to a realistic time-frame though.
It’s useful to take a break from advertised perspectives and let more realistic perspectives seep into your mind. Learn from people who have gone where you want to go. Talk to them. Read what they have to say in books or online. This will not give complete plan but a clearer perspective of what is needed to achieve what you want.
Now, that’s not to say that you should never quit. But it can be helpful to keep going on your current path for a while longer.
And that’s not to say that you should do the same thing over and over in exactly the same manner. It’s better to do and get an experience. Take the lessons you can learn from that real life experience. And then adjust how you do things as you try again.
It obviously helps immensely if you find what you really like to do. And what you really, really want. Then you’ll find the inner motivation to keep going, to get what you want and to build on inner strengths like persistence.
5. Don’t lose the enthusiasm.
“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
It’s very easy to get down on yourself and your results when things don’t go as planned. What was once enthusiasm can quickly become apathy and pessimism.
But how do you do keep up the enthusiasm after things have gone wrong and you just feel like giving up? Well, as I mentioned in the previous fundamental, it certainly helps to have something you really like doing and something you really want.
And the tips found in fundamental # 3 such as keeping your energy up, acting as you would like to feel and keeping away from negative influences work very well here too. A good additional tip is simply to ask better questions in “negative” situations. Instead of asking yourself why this or you suck ask yourself questions that empower you.
- What can I learn from this?
- What is the hidden opportunity in this situation?
6. Remember, most troubles never happen.
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened”
One final, quick thought. But a very important 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 think back and remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more worry from your thoughts.
This makes it a lot easier to start doing more of what you really want in life. And to move through your day to day life with a lighter, happier and more optimistic attitude.
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I like Churchill, he is a practical man.
The normal tendency is to look too far ahead and lose track of what’s ahead immediately. Thanks for such a great article. It’s very helpful in bringing the perspective of life together, especially during these times when life is a bit tough. I like your examples as well to cope with failures.
What a great post! I’ve always loved Churchill’s “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” quote! I think persistence is probably the strongest and most powerful virtue a person craving success can have. With it, even insurmountable obstacles seem to give way and solutions appear out of nowhere.
The key, it seems, would be not to get discouraged by temporary appearances and just keep going, just keep going…until you hit your target in a satisfactory way!
Thanks for a great read, Henrik!
All the best,
Thanks for wonderful thoughts! Everyday, before I start my work routine, I read your blog to be inspired the whole day. I understand that staying POSITIVE in life will not only make me feel good about myself but also will improve my relationship with other people. So again, thank you so much and keep writing!
Great article about Churchill. It would be nice to see more like this. I spent 4 years reseatching Churchill for a book along a similar theme called What Churchill Would Do. It takes his WW2 talents and applies them to modern busimess. It combiness WW2 history and business into an entertaining book that makes you think.
An inspirational leader.
Like most folks, I have a lot of admiration for Winston Churchill, and it’s good to be reminded of these beneficial tactics. I find swimming upstream against other people’s criticisms, doubt and negativity particularly draining, so it’s crucial to find a way to separate yourself from this in order to maintain a positive state of mind and forward motion.
I take issue with No. 6, though. Is this Churchill’s or the author’s? As someone whose life has been stripped bare — no home, no employment, financially destitute, unable to access much needed dental care — I can say that many “troubles” DO happen. And I’m not the only one. The next time you leave your public library at closing, note how many cars don’t leave the parking lot. Sometimes it simply takes grit to be able to accomplish any forward motion when you don’t know where you’ll rest your head next week or next month.
Here’s My Favorite:
“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
– Winston Spencer Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, FRS, …
…and Honorary Citizen of the United States
Hello Henrick, I love your blog. It has been a blessing in helping me deal with my current difficulties. Thank you and please continue writing, I find these articles absolutely brilliant!
1. Focus on what you are doing right now.
How profound and at the same time so simple! I am a dreamer and full-heartily believe that all my dreams will be achieved one day. With that being said the number one key you listed to a successful life speaks volumes to me. I often find myself, as I’m sure others do, looking to far in the future and not giving the present 100%. This is a great reminder to set your long-term goals, review them everyday, but focus on the present and give it your all!
Thank you for sharing a bit of wisdom from a great man.
What a great collection of wisdom, I’m going to put some of these on my wall.
“I never worry about action, but only about inaction” Matches with my own personal mantra, “When you are old and grey, you’ll never regret what you did do, only what you didn’t.”
Thank you Henrik,