Photo: Ann Cutting
She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it)." That's what Lewis Carroll wrote about Alice, and it's true of most people. We go through life generally getting good counsel about what's best for us—and then vigorously ignoring it. This explains why I never run out of clients. It's amazing: Intelligent adults pay me for advice so obvious worms can follow it (this, as we'll see, is no exaggeration), then fail to act on it, then pay me to advise them again.
Here and now, out of sheer guilt, I've decided to spell out the best—and, mysteriously, most ignored!—advice I possess. If you follow it, I guarantee the results will be positive. If you don't, at least you won't be alone.
1. What leaves you feeling bad, do less of. What leaves you feeling good, do more of.
This one suggestion is all you really need to find your destiny, form loving relationships, achieve optimal health, and have the best life story in the bingo parlor during your golden years. And it isn't hard to remember, judging by the fact that worms easily take it to heart. Put a worm at the bottom of a simple T-shaped maze, with food in the left side of the top and a mild electric shock in the right, and it will develop fervent leftist inclinations. Yet many clever humans turn repeatedly to the very things that ruin our health and happiness: artery-clogging junk food, alcoholic lovers, soul-crushing jobs.
We do this because, unlike worms, we convince ourselves that there are good reasons to do ourselves harm. We say things like "I had a hard day; I deserve this industrial-size bag of chips." Or "You always hurt the one you love." Or "But I need the paycheck!" Yet I believe all human beings—even politicians—are born with the capacity for suffering and joy for a reason: so that we can navigate the world as well as a worm.
Notice that I'm putting the emphasis on how something leaves you feeling, not on how you imagine it will make you feel. Worms have to experience a maze several times before they start making optimal decisions. Once the experience registers, however, they trust it. Not so with us. We overthink experience—and end up bedazzled by the same electricity that Tasered our last relationship, or disdaining the simplicity of things that reliably nourish us.
Today, try pausing before any action you take and recall how that action made you feel in the past. For example, writing often seems frightening or burdensome to me before I start, yet as many writers before me have said, I love having written. On the other hand, while nothing seems more appetizing to me than baked goods, I know that both wheat and sugar leave me feeling droopy and queasy. Just pausing to vividly recall the past result of each action helps me choose writing over procrastination and bananas over cookies. If you think through how each action leaves you feeling, you'll find yourself more and more able to choose those that add up to your best life.
Next: Why you should take smaller steps
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