39 Ideas That Will Make You a Better Human

9 Dec, 2020

A short twenty years ago, you had to go full-on Sherlock Holmes to figure things out. If you wanted a particular recipe or wanted to learn a new skill, you had to go to the library, know the right people, and be in the right spot at the exact right time. Even then, it wasn’t sure you would get the input you needed. Having information readily available was almost a superpower, and if you were a walking fact machine, you were a genius. 

Now, not so much. 

If anything has dropped in value, it’s the availability of information. In fact, we consume so much information, we don’t know what to do with it. Many people suffer the consequences of information overload, such as analysis paralysis and FOMO. We have a goldfish’s attention span and many other conditions and habits that don’t serve our lives well.

That’s the downside. The upside is that we have valuable and life-changing information literally at our fingertips as well. Below you’ll find 39 ideas that have had a profound impact on my life. Most of them explained in a few short sentences, others a bit lengthier. Some as easy as turning notifications off, others on the more existential side of life.

Treat them as Bruce Lee would: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” Come to think of it, this is an idea that has a profound impact on my life as well. Consider it a bonus since it’s not in the list below. 

I stole the idea for this article from the author Ryan Holiday. He wrote an article called ‘33 things I stole from people smarter than me‘, which brings us to the first idea that changed my life: 

1. Steal like an artist – Austin Kleon

Many moons ago, when I still made music, I was driven by the notion that everything had to be 100% original. This led to not doing anything at all since it’s impossible to be 100% original. Everything we do is inspired by work from others. It’s up to us to take these different ideas and turn them into a remix.

The idea for this article is a one-on-one copy of Ryan Holiday’s article. Still, the content is 100% from my brain, consisting of ideas I picked up during my life. The author Austin Kleon calls this stealing like an artist. The trick of stealing like an artist is the artist part: you have to take all the ideas you stole and turn them into an ‘original’ body of work. It’s your vision of things and the way you craft them that make something original.

2. Do the work – Steven Pressfield

Author Steven Pressfield talks about the resistance. The resistance is a force that’s always present and keeps you from doing the work. The higher the stakes and the need to do something, the bigger the force gets. The force is that voice that comes up with million-and-one excuses of why you need to be doing something else instead of the work.

Seth Godin calls this hiding. It’s something we are very good at, but when it’s all said and done, the only thing that matters is if you’re able to do the work or not. The trick is to learn to dance with the resistance. The trick is to use the resistance as a trigger to do the work. So, whenever you need to do something and come up with other things to do to execute the work, ask yourself if you’re hiding.

3. Use the minimum necessary – Derek Sivers

When author and all-around cool guy Derek Sivers was asked what he uses to write his books, his answer was simple; the bare minimum. He uses an old laptop and the most simple text editor there is. He tried all the fancy things, expensive tools, and systems that promise to make your life easier, but it just made it more difficult. 

When Derek writes, he writes. The phone is in another room, and the internet is disconnected. If it’s not, he’s on the internet verifying facts he’s writing about, and while it might be handy to do so at one point, you shouldn’t do it when writing. Tools and fancy things are just distractions from doing the work, and you don’t need them. They are all a reason to not do the work. 

4. What’s it for and who’s it for – Seth Godin

I’ve entirely built this two-step check into my life, and it works for everything. It’s the reason I stopped using social media altogether, for the simple fact I couldn’t clearly answer both questions. This gives you a moment of reflection to check that what you are doing serves the purpose you intended and that the way you present it connects with who it’s for. You can use this on big and small things. 

5. Focus on the 20% that truly matters – the Pareto Principle

Too often, we find ourselves debating minutiae, tweaking little knick-knacks, and focusing our efforts where they make the least impact. These minor tweaks cost a lot of effort and hardly make any impact. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of output comes from 20% input, and vice versa.

This is not a given in every scenario, but the 80/20 rule holds up in many cases. Even when the applicability of the 80/20 rule is uncertain for your specific situation, it’s a great starting point to get to results fast and to get the maximum out of your efforts.

6. The wrong decision is the second-best decision – Theodore Roosevelt

Being afraid to make the wrong decision can have a crippling effect on our lives and lead to paralysis analysis. We analyze the living shit out of something just to be 100% sure we make the right decision. But decision making is never guaranteed, and so we freeze. But making the wrong decision isn’t bad at all.

In fact, it’s the second-best thing you can do after making the right decision. You know the choice you made is the wrong one, and you can pivot and move forward into the next wrong decision or the right one. Also, the effects of making the wrong decision are far less than we expect them to be, and 99% of them can be reversed quite easily. 

7. Don’t work for people you don’t admire – Ramit Sethi

Work is something that makes up most of our day, but somehow we’ve settled for the fact that the asshole boss or the lack of purpose comes with the paycheck. However, you’re in full control, but this means that you have to put in the effort. It might even mean you have to leave a fat paycheck to do work worth doing. 

Since work makes up a big chunk of our day, most days of the week, the impact of deciding not to work for people you don’t admire is literally life-altering. Make work about more than just an income and raise your standard. This will reflect back in everything you do, and it will change the person you’ll become and the life you lead.

8. Even if it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility – Jocko Willink

Or, as Jocko Willink, retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer, podcaster, and an author would say: take extreme ownership of your life. Even when you’ve been taken advantage of and things happened out of your control. For the simple fact that if you take ownership, you have control of what happens to you

9. Find a way to get what you want – Michael Jordan

In the Netflix docu-series “The Last Dance,” you get a glimpse of the mind of Michael Jordan and his relentless desire to win. Losing isn’t even an option in his book; he just wins. One of the ways to get his mind in a winning mentality is to make things personal. Whenever someone does or says something to him that might fuel his competitive edge, he takes it.

When things don’t go the way he likes, he even creates a fictional feud with someone from the other team, which fuels his desire to win, because he knows it works for him.

10. Either hell yes or no –  Derek Sivers

There are multiple versions of this from different people, such as Tim Ferriss, James Altucher, and Ryan Holiday. Still, I think I first encountered this principle from Derek Sivers. Derek’s rule is that if something doesn’t make him say “hell, yes!” he doesn’t do it. This means you say a “no” to most opportunities that come your way, and that can seem scary. But what saying “no” a lot does for you is that it gives you space to wholeheartedly say “hell yes!” to the things you want to do. 

11. Get rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy – Marie Kondo

The Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo takes the same approach as Derek, but on the other side of the spectrum. Her method encourages you to go through all your stuff and really feel if it sparks joy. If it doesn’t, thank it for its services to your life and get rid of it. This goes for clothing and photos, postcards, and although Marie doesn’t talk about it, it can go for friends and other things.

What you’ll end up with is an immaculate and almost empty house, only filled with stuff that makes you happy. You end up with a lot of room with “hell yes!” stuff and have room to add even more hell yesses.

12. Don’t pick up the phone – Tim Ferriss

This straightforward idea from Tim Ferriss has been a game-changer for me. What do you do when you are in the middle of something and the phone rings? You pick it up. The problem here is that the person on the other side has their own agenda and wants something from you.

On the one hand, your flow has been disrupted; on the other hand, you likely get to deal with a problem you didn’t want in the first place. If it’s crucial, they’ll send you an email or letter. If it’s someone you want to talk to, just call back later.

13. Turn off your notifications

While a phone call can disturb your flow and change your mood, notifications are an entirely different beast. All these pings, vibrations, and red dots have been crafted by behavioral masterminds to trigger the right chemicals in your brain to get you addicted. Every time you hear that ping, it’s like you hit the jackpot on the slot machine. You’re literally becoming a junkie with all the detrimental side effects that come along with that. 

14. Stop watching the news

150 years ago, Mark Twain said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” This rings truer than ever. In this fast-paced, chaotic, and clickbait optimized world we live in today.

If you follow the news and believe everything that is said, you’ll believe the world is going to shit, but it has never been a better time to be alive. Sure, this Corona thing is going on, but there’s also less poverty, and people are becoming older than ever. Innovation is at an all-time high, and third world countries are seeing better times. 

The news is mainly negative, and all the negativity sticks with us. This constant negativity makes us scared of the world, other people, other countries, different (sub) cultures, etc. We become biased without exploring things for ourselves. We stop thinking for ourselves. And we buy into the collective mind.

15. Not being for doesn’t mean you’re against

Duality and polarization are at an all-time high, and that’s all because we assume that if you aren’t for, you’re against. When you don’t drink alcohol, it doesn’t necessarily mean you hate alcohol. And while one vegan goes out in the world protesting against meat consumption, the other vegan simply doesn’t eat meat, and the story ends there. This is a liberating thought.

Don’t feel pushed into one of the two opposites. Choosing that something is not for you to pick a side in is perfectly ok. 

16. Be kind to people – Gary Vaynerchuk

The marketing superstar Gary Vaynerchuk sees kindness as a superpower, and I have to agree with him. While being kind to others is nice for them, the ROI is far more significant than what you put in. A simple smile is kindness, so is holding the door open and letting someone go in front of you in traffic.

You might think being kind puts you in a position where people take advantage of you. Still, the exact opposite is true: You avoid 90% of conflicts, and people experience so little kindness, the responses you get are priceless, and it works miracles for your own well being as well. Being kind to others results in being kind to yourself as well, and let’s be honest, you could use some kindness.

17. Love yourself like your life depends on it – Kamal Ravikant

When was the last time you stopped and realized you love yourself? With the constant distractions, negative news cycles, and perhaps even the fact that you find yourself unworthy of love, the answer might be that you have no idea. It just might be that while reading this, you have no clue if you even love yourself.

But you should. Because your life depends on it. Take some time for self-love; let yourself know you matter. Love yourself first. Really, it helps.

18. Changing your mind is a sign of growth

Somehow we think that if someone changes their minds, they are not true to themselves and can’t be trusted. That might be the case in some situations, where people just give answers that fit their personal agenda best at that moment in time. But it could also be that you have an open mind, where confronted with new information that might you decide differently. Or it could be that you’ve changed as a person, and your old conviction doesn’t fit with who you are today.

19. Say “I don’t know” more often

The more conscious I become of myself, the more I realize that I know very little and that a lot of times, I don’t have an answer to a question. When the spotlights are on you, you can feel pressured into coming up with an answer, but “I don’t know” is an excellent answer. I admire people who dare to say they don’t know so much more than people just giving an answer for the sake of having an answer.

20. Be a rebel – Osho

You’ve probably rebelled at something at one point in your life. Whether it was school, your parents, or even society as a whole. But, this isn’t the type of rebellion that Osho talks about. Osho’s version of the rebel is someone who lives fully authentically without hindrance from past experience, religion, culture, and even society.

His life is not decided by someone else; he lives in full freedom. And in the same way, he isn’t bothered by anyone else; he doesn’t interfere with other people’s lives as well. He doesn’t protest against anything; he simply lives his life and finds a way in any situation that works for him.

21. It’s better to apologize afterward than it is to ask permission upfront

This seems rude initially, but it’s actually taking full control over your life and stepping behind the driver’s seat. For starters, you decide what you do and don’t live life at the will of others. That is the not asking for permission part. Secondly, genuinely apologizing when you mess up is taking responsibility for your choices.

Always asking for permission might seem like the right thing to do. Still, you condition yourself into being submissive, and you will never be an authentic human being. You also put the responsibility on someone else, and secretly, you know this. So, if you mess up, it’s never your fault. This is a safe and comfortable way to go through life, but not a framework that sets you up for success.

22. Be. Don’t try to become – Osho

This one ties in with the one about asking permission just above. Often we don’t claim to be something we want to be because we’re waiting for approval from other people. And in that waiting, we talk about how you have the right to be what you want to be and what it should look like, but it doesn’t change a thing. Without the audacity to claim something, we’re just waiting for something to magically arrive; we’re hiding. 

Be a version of what you want to be that sucks in every sense possible and set out to suck a little less with each passing day. As Marcus Aurelius said more than 2000 years ago: “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one”. 

23. Ask your brain the right questions – Tony Robbins

The brain finds answers to any questions we ask, and we usually ask the wrong questions. Questions such as “why is this bad thing happening to me” or “how come I’m not good enough.” The moment you ask your brain these questions, it starts coming up with answers such as “you’re an unworthy person’ and “you don’t have what it takes.”

Likewise, the brain starts coming up with answers to powerful questions as well. Questions that begin with “How can I” usually result in ways to answer how. For example, Peter Tiel challenges people on how they can reach their ten-year goal in six months. Likely, you won’t be able to do that, but the brain will come up with smart ways to reach your goal a lot faster than ten years.

24. Have a hierarchy of personal values – Tony Robbins

Struggle with making the right decision? Often feel conflicted? Then it just might be that you don’t know what’s important to you. Having your values in place is something you need to get in order. This way, you know what’s important to you, and this makes decision making a lot easier and results in a life that you want to live.

Creating a hierarchy in your list of personal values is even better. This way, you’re never conflicted when you have to decide between important things to you. 

25. Wait 24 hours to respond if you’re angry: Osho

Anger is a bad advisor, and so it’s best to ignore it. Sounds easy, but it’s very hard. When we’re furious, emotions take over, and we like to Hulk smash everything that’s within our reach. While the occasional Hulk smash feels incredibly liberating, the after-effects are rarely worth the trouble. 

When philosopher George Gurdjieff’s father was dying, he gave his son a final word of wisdom, which Gurdjieff took to heart. The father said, ‘Whenever you feel angry, never reply before twenty-four hours have passed. Reply, but let there be a gap of twenty-four hours.’ He lived by this rule, and whenever someone made him angry, he would just say that he would come back in 24 hours. This 24 gap resulted in Gurdjieff never replying. The thing that made him mad was always something nonsensical and not worth the effort.

26. Find a role model – Tony Robbins

We have a tendency that our problems and goals are unique. But in reality, there have been many people before you that faced the same problems and had the same goals. The good news is, a lot of this information is documented, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. 

Pick someone that achieved the results you’re after and try to get them as a mentor. While having a mentor is great, the reality is that it’s often not an option. In that case, model someone that has achieved what you want and do what they did. 

27. You’re way less than you could be – Jordan Peterson

Jordan’s notion is both a depressing and a very inspiring one. On the one hand, you know you haven’t lived up to your expectation, and you’re not trying as hard as you think you are. That’s a bitter pill to swallow and enough reasons to feel down and under. On the other hand, there’s still so much room for improvement. With a little more discipline and action, you’re likely to become better rapidly.

The idea that I’m way less keeps me grounded and makes sure I don’t get sidetracked by successful accomplishments. 

28. Most people want the same thing – Jocko Willink

We tend to forget this, especially in today’s era, where polarization is at an all-time high, and the extremes on both ends are magnified. At the end of the day, the vast majority of the seven billion plus people walking this earth want the same thing.

We want to have a peaceful life with a great family, a career that inspires us, and some friends to keep us company. Sure, there are some things left and right to add to that, but at its core, this is basically it. Even in times of war, both sides are fighting to protect that same thing.

29. Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect) – Mark Twain

While it’s tempting to take this lesson from Mark Twain in with the idea that the majority is always wrong – and sometimes that might be the case – it’s really about the ability to think for yourself. Thinking for yourself is hard, especially when the majority feels different. Twain argues that if you’re on the side of the majority, that it’s possible you’re not thinking for yourself. You could be caught in the echo chamber of the collective mind. 

If you find yourself on the side of the majority, take a moment to pause and reflect on if this is really how you feel. It’s just a reality check for yourself to see if you still live according to your own feelings. If you genuinely think that your opinion is that of the crowd, then carry on by all means. If not, you might want to make some changes.

30. If you’re the smartest in the room, you’re in the wrong room – Confucius

Becoming the smartest person in the room is a great goal to achieve. Still, when you finally transcended into becoming that person, it’s time to switch rooms. Being the smartest in the room is excellent for your ego, and it’s comfortable, but, as the saying goes, “You become the average of the people you spend the most time with.” If you’re growth-minded, it’s smart to switch rooms every now and then.

31. Take a cold shower – Wim Hof

I’ve been taking cold showers every day for the last six months. It’s the first thing I do in the morning, and it wakes every cell up in my body, but more importantly, it challenges my mind. 

I start off with a warm shower, and when it’s time to turn the faucet all the way to cold, my inner bitch starts talking. It starts to moan about how the next two minutes and 30 seconds will suck and how I’m not ready and need just a bit more warm water. But then I shut that inner bitch up and take control. 

Apart from all the health benefits of cold showers, it’s a great way to train your mind to just do it. The first 10 seconds are a bit overwhelming, but I take control and ride that two minutes and 30 seconds out with ease after that. I’m in full control and have conquered the first battle of the day, the battle with myself. And as an added bonus, I feel energized and fully awake.

32. Don’t try to be happy, instead find meaning – Viktor Frankl

The old question of how to find happiness has a short and straightforward answer: you don’t. Happiness isn’t something to achieve; it’s the result of doing things that matter to you.  The universal dream of one day being rich and not having to do anything seems like the ultimate destination of happiness, but it’s not.  People aren’t meant to just sit around and be happy.

We are meant to go out there with a clear sense of purpose and doing what matters most to them. People are meant to contribute to something greater than themselves. You won’t find happiness. Do the things that matter, and happiness will find you.

33. Be optimistic and wrong – Elon Musk

This is something Elon Musk brought up in his first Joe Rogan interview. They were talking about the future of AI and how things could go to shit quite rapidly. While Elon is aware of the extreme dangers this can bring, he chooses to opt for the optimistic side. Or as he puts it: “I rather am an optimist and be wrong, than a pessimist and be right.” 

If you opt for optimism, you always look for why something works and set out to get there. Whereas, if you’re a pessimist, you don’t try at all, and if you do, it’s without heart. In the grand scheme of things, the difference in outcome is astounding.

34. You can always choose your own way – Viktor Frankl

Life can feel like a string of meaningless events, or life can feel like it’s living you instead of you living it. But realize, this is all by choice. Even if you feel like you’re not in control, it’s because you refuse to make a decision, which is also a choice. You might say, well, not in my case, since my life is tough.

Imagine these next words, spoken by Viktor Frankl when he laid naked in the snow in Auschwitz, starved, mentally, physically, and spiritually beaten. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” It was at that horrifying moment in the snow that Frankl realized he was truly free. 

35. Imperfection is what makes life beautiful

We are all flawed people, but Instagram filters and media makes us forget we are. As a result, we can live in a state where we feel inferior. But, the real beauty lies in the imperfections. 

The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It’s the crack in the vase, the abnormal bending of wood, the asymmetry in someone’s face that gives something its real beauty. 

Wabi-sabi embraces the natural process of creation and appreciates the flaws that are born along the way. If you work from the concept of wabi-sabi, you don’t try to mask the error you created; you let it be. You embrace the fact that making mistakes is part of life, and if you look at it the right way, mistakes make life beautiful. The flaws that make life enjoyable give people some depth, some resonance to their character. 

36. Remember, you will die – Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics strongly believed that you had to learn how to die if you wanted to live a good and meaningful life. What this means is that if you fully embrace the fact that at one point in life, you’ll die, and in fact, from the moment we’re born, we slowly start dying, you’ll live a life far better. The notion that life is finite has a massive impact on life. It puts things in perspective and makes us much more aware. 

The truth is, many people learn how to die when they reach the end of the line, and that’s too late. After years of caring for terminally ill patients, palliative caregiver Bronnie Ware realized that dying people almost all share five common regrets, which are:

1. I wish I dared to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I dared to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The Stoics would argue that if these people embraced the fact that they would die far earlier in their life, they wouldn’t have had these regrets in the final stages of their lives.

37. Love your faith – Marcus Aurelius

Shit sometimes happens, and when it does, there’s just one thing to do: you have to move on. Whether or not you accept that shit happened, the end result is the same: you still have to carry the burden. So why not do it in a positive state of mind and make the best of it? Better yet, why not enjoy it and learn some lessons from it. The Stoics call this amor fati, which means love for fate.

Picture this: A farmer’s shed went up in flames in the middle of the night. While trying his best to keep the damages to a minimum, he asked his friend to get his wife and kids. Once they arrived, he smiled and said: Look at this and take it all in: this is the most beautiful fire you will ever see.

38. Discipline equals freedom – Jocko Willink

The personal value that stood firm on top of my values hierarchy was freedom. The funny thing is that because freedom was my ultimate goal, I missed out on tons of opportunities and never dared to commit to something. So, in retrospect, I was somewhat free, but the life around me and my options started shrinking. What I sold to myself as freedom, was actually a romanticized idea of what it should look like. A Disney version of what it actually is. A blank canvas on which I could do whatever I want, whenever I want. 

But to add some color to the canvas, you have to commit and take responsibility. What I sold to myself as freedom, was an excuse to not have to grow up and take responsibility. freedom needs to be an effect of discipline and taking responsibility. Only then is it actual freedom and something that gives meaning to life.

Freedom without responsibility is adolescence. Those granted with a life in which they can be free without responsibility wander for eternity in a world filled with distraction and sensation, without ever experiencing meaning or purpose in life. Freedom is having a choice, and choosing means you have something you are responsible for. 

39. Don’t change the world, change yourself – Jordan Peterson

It feels as if the people on this globe have a plan to, once and for all, get rid of the problems we face. Coincidentally, the responsibility for change always lies in the hands of other people. While this gives enough fuel to complain endlessly about minutia, justifies why we are perfectly fine, and how other people make the world a hell hole, it doesn’t change much. 

So, what is one to do? The answer is simple and, as a matter of fact, quite liberating: Don’t try to change the world; change yourself, no matter the situation. What this does, is it frees you from all the endless debates of what the world should look like. It also makes you an active contributor, instead of a passive bystander, to the change you want to see.

After all, what would your street look like if everyone would keep their yard clean? A hell of a lot better than if everyone would complain about how messed up and dirty their street looks.

Photo by Lucas Benjamin on Unsplash