We all look back on our lives, and think “if only I had known xyz when I was younger.” That xyz, it tends to add up, and can be depressing if you let it be. Not long ago I was taking stock of those lesson I wish I learned on a “woe is me morning” that I was having, and I decided instead of focusing on the past and what I could not change I would move back into the present (one of the lessons). But I also decided that I would share these lessons, because maybe someone hasn’t learned them yet, and would find them as valuable as I have.
So here we go.
The 7 lessons I wish I learned when I was in school.
Presence and the Power of Mindfulness
Remember that “woe is me morning” I was having. I mean it was just a paragraph ago, so of course you do. You know what took me out of it – presence. Coming back to the present. Now feeling the feels of that woe wasn’t a bad thing. I’m a fan of not suppressing bad feelings and expressing them, however that woe, it was rooted in the past. It was also worry about the future. It wasn’t with me as soon as I returned to the present moment.
When we live in the present moment, are stress levels dramatically decrease. I’m sure that you can be stressed while living in the present. Some present moments are stressful. You know those I’m running away from a tiger trying to eat me moments. BUT most stress is rooted in lamenting the past or fear/worry about something in the future. Whether that something is coming a minute from now or 20 years from now.
We all walk around stressed out of our minds because we don’t live in the present moment. The present moment just is. It’s the action of what you are doing. It’s me typing these very words. As I’m typing these words, I’m not stressed because I literally can’t be (you know unless I’m trying to type these words as my house in fire, but even then if I’m fully focused on the writing/typing then I’m not focused on the fire, so I’m not worried about the fire). Get it?
Stress is not a bad thing, it’s quite often a good thing. However chronic low grade stress, the type of stress that you don’t really ever turn off because it comes from being overworked and constantly worrying/fearing/hating/ one thing after the next isn’t good. It’s the cause of a lot of disease. Stress turns on our fight/flight/freeze response in the amygdala of our brain. When that happens our bodies natural healing and hormonal systems (everything good we got going on in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain that runs those) are “temporarily” put aside and instead our body systems are turned to dealing with the stress. So essentially when you don’t turn off your stress you don’t allow your body to heal itself, which it is absolutely designed to do, in case you didn’t know that.
So how do we turn off our chronic stress? Through being present. How do we be present as often as possible? We practice. How do we practice? We practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. That comes from John Kabat-zinn, the king of mindfulness. I learned a lot from him in my Bulletproof Coach Training course (shameless plug – I do vitality coaching, if you are looking for help getting healthy and/or kicking ass at life). You can check that out on my coaching page here We spent 8 weeks on mindfulness, and I learned the true power of it.
Because even more then being present, being mindfully present has an even greater power to turn off stress. I believe the real key is non-judgemental.
Sure you can say I’ll just practice being present, but if you don’t have tools or a method it’s so easy to fall out of it. There’s nothing to bring you back in. Sure you can practice the guitar, but if you haven’t learned any chords yet, how good are you going to get? Mindfulness is the teacher and the method to make you great at presence.
The best way I’ve found to practice mindfulness is through mindful meditation (which I best describe as paying attention (pick a focus, any focus really) in the present moment, and don’t judge). There are some great apps out there for teaching you mindful meditation. My favorites are Headspace (which you if subscription if you want more then the basics) and Insight Timer. Then once you understand the feeling of mindfulness, you can incorporate it into everything. Mindful eating, cleaning, walking and my favorite – listening.
So lesson #1. The more mindful and present you are the happier and healthier you’ll be. Why do I wish I learned this in school. Well, just think about how stressful school is/was. Homework, sports, clubs, the social media pressures (thank God I didn’t have that in high school), creating and maintaining relationships, ridiculously early start times thus lack of sleep. Any tool to combat that stress, would have done me wonders.
Not to mention mindfulness also makes you more self-aware, and that is just about the most powerful gift you can give yourself. It helps you learn who are, who you want to be, how you feels you know when you feel off. It’s just awesome.
Breathing is powerful and amazing.
Ok, so #1 was pretty lengthy. #2 is pretty simple. Did you know how freaking cool breathing techniques are. They are so powerful and useful!! Your breathe is a tool, and you should use it.
For starters, learn to breathe correctly. A shocking number of us don’t do it correctly. I didn’t, guess when? yup, back in high school. Hence the why I wish I learned this one back then.
So first and foremost, check your breathe.
Where are you breathing from?
- Slow, fast?
- Long, short?
- Shallow, deep?
- Chest, belly?
Are you holding your breath unknowingly?
Put your hand on your belly. Does it move up and down as you breathe? Proper breathing will expand your belly, not your chest. You should also breathe through your nose, and your breathing should be relaxed. Selfication has a wonderful article on how to breathe and why it’s important. Essentially proper breathing is good for your health. Our bodies run on oxygen, and proper oxygen flow is essential to optimal health. Proper breathing optimizes oxygen flow.
So while proper breathing is an important lesson if you don’t do it right, the really cool thing is how you can use breathing techniques to help you do incredible things – like turn off your stress mode, help you sleep, wake you up and energize you. And this is what I had learned. I get so nervous sometimes, meeting new people, networking, anything like that. Giving a speech. If I had learned some breathing techniques I could use before giving a speech in class or going into an interview. I would have saved a lot of nervous tummy trouble.
There are a ton of different breathing techniques out there. My favorite, that I use to help me get into present mode and calm down is this:
Exercise – Calm breathing, also works great as a short presence exercise
- Take a slow breath in through the nose (for about 4 seconds) while closing your left nostril with your thumb (breathing in through right nostril)
- Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds
- switch nostrils, close your right nostril with your index finger
- Exhale slowly through the now open left nostril
- pause a second before taking another breath, breathing in through the open left nostril.
- now switch again, and breath out through the right nostril, then back in the right nostril, switch fingers and breathe out the left
- repeat for 2-3 minutes.
The Power of Positivity
This is where we start getting into that new age stuff. I wish I watched “The Secret” documentary back in High School (You know what, scratch that, I don’t think it was out yet, but still). The truth is, new age thought, it’s freaking awesome, because what it really all boils down to is optimism. The power of being positive. Thinking optimistically, talking positively, making choices that make you feel good and not angry or depressed like negative thoughts so often do.
Our brains are built to pay more attention to the negative input. This is a survival mechanism that helped humans to survive as they evolved (i.e it was more important to be aware of poisonous snakes than to stop and smell the beautiful flowers). Our brains are thus 3 to 5 times more sensitive to negative information than to positive.
When we intentionally pay attention to the positive things in our life we strengthen the neural pathways associated with those positive memories. The more frequently the pathways are used, the more our brain likes to use those pathways, increasing positive thoughts and lessening our focus on negative experiences.
Positive thinking is a mental attitude that perceives situations in a constructive way. It doesn’t mean ignore the negative. It means, a positive thinker acknowledges a situation and looks at it productively.
In the great words of Elle Wood (Legally Blonde)
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.”
Ok not exactly relevant, it just felt like it fit. People that practice positivity are just happier, more resilient. Happy people are less stressed and healthier.
And back to that new agey stuff. Are thoughts are a broadcast out into the world. They attract like thoughts. Our thoughts are not contained inside our head. When we have a negative thought, it’s not just a negative thought bouncing around in our head. It’s a broadcast. In the world of quantum physics, it’s an impulse that will return a similar response (The A string of my guitar activates the A string in yours, right?). What’s the relevance? There could be ten people out there – nine in a positive state of mind, one in a negative. If we send out a negative broadcast, who is going to pick it up? Not the nine positive people – they aren’t tuned to that frequency. Who is going to pick it up is the negative person. What happens if we activate a negative person with our negative broadcast? We bring them into our life!
I’ve always been a pretty positive person, but I still wish I learned the power of positivity and how our thoughts attract and create earlier, because I could have started using that power earlier.
This directly relates to a background quote on my phone.
Helping me to be positive is why I love quotes!! and why I put together a free book of quotes to help pick you up and put you back in a positive mindset when your feeling down. I read this Little Book of Great Inspiration almost every morning.
Have a gratitude practice
Gratitude is awesome, and learning you should practice it is a gift, and actually practicing it is one of the most powerful things you can do. (I’m beginning to realize how often I’m using the word power, but I probably won’t stop. There’s a reason I chose these as the top 7 lessons I learned).
Why? Because gratitude is one of the fastest, easiest ways to practice positive thinking. You can literally “thank you” your way into something being happier.
When you practice gratitude you are learning to reframe negative thoughts. You begin to look for the good, and when you look for the good you find the good. And as I mentioned earlier, in case passed it, good thoughts attract good.
But here’s the big super reason having a gratitude practice is awesome. Gratitude is the first step in forgiveness. So many of us struggle with forgiveness, especially of ourselves I find. But if you can find one small thing to be grateful in a situation or a person that is causing you pain, you begin to make room for healing and forgiveness.
I struggle with forgiving myself, so this is why it’s a key lesson for me. I forgive others really easily. I’m lucky that way. I see the good in others. Sometimes though, it’s really hard for me to see the good in me. It’s hard for me to get past how I wish I had done certain things differently. One time I was on a date with a friend at a wedding. I thought we were just going as friends, but it was kind of actual date, and I totally ignored him in favor of this other guy I met and actually did start dating. But still it took me a long time to not feel bad about myself for that. Some people might not struggle with that sort of thing at all, but have trouble forgiving others. But letting go and forgiveness are so important to health and gratitude is so valuable to that process.
The best way I know how to practice gratitude is to write a gratitude journal everyday. It makes it a practice to think of things you are grateful for every single day, and then you begin to see it more often throughout your day.
Our beliefs are super powerful (there’s that word again) and super changeable (YAY!)
Positive thinking goes a really long way. But really it’s the positive beliefs underneath them that do the attracting of good things and creating of good things in our lives. But positive thinking and positive beliefs don’t go all the way. Because frankly it’s not always that easy. So often our fears and limiting beliefs get in the way. Limiting beliefs are just what they sound like, beliefs that limit us, stop us in our tracks, keep us from getting or doing what we want. An extremely common one, being I am not good enough. Often as young children we pick up that belief from any number of places, friends, families, teachers, coaches. Anyone that probably didn’t mean to but said something that made us feel like we weren’t good enough. And it sticks.
This is a lesson I wish I learned earlier, because the earlier you start recognizing your limiting beliefs the sooner you can change or get rid of them, and walking around believing “I’m not good enough, smart enough, funny enough, etc.”, well it sucks. We all know this first hand, because we all have limiting belief. I definitely struggle with the “I am not good enough” belief. And while I’ve done a lot of inner work, and believe I have successfully eradicated this belief from my core it still comes up in the woe is me hard times in which I’m unconsciously surface level living. No one is perfect. I’m certainly not perfect, but the earlier you start recognizing and eradicating these negative limiting beliefs the better off you’ll be. Because guess what, you are enough. I promise you.
The first lesson comes into play here as well. Remember how I said mindfulness can give you better self-awareness. This is one of the reasons self-awareness is so good for you. You will be able to see your limiting beliefs so much more easily. Simply recognizing your limiting beliefs allows you to pause, and choose a new belief. At least for that moment. The more you choose the new belief you want the more likely it is to stick.
Our beliefs are changeable, and also part of this lesson is the concept of brain plasticity. It’s long been believed that our brains become fixed at a certain age. The old you can’t teach an old dog new tricks adage. Well it turns out that’s not so true. We always have the ability to learn a new trick, to learn a new belief pattern.
The term self-directed neuroplasticity is used to describe the process of intentionally harnessing your brain’s malleability to get the results you want. Some have called this sculpting the brain. By giving your brain the right input, you can train it to be smarter and happier.
Studies within past 10 years have proven you can grown a larger brain (literally the size of your hippocampus through studying and memorizing – proven by London cabbies who memorized all the streets in London) as well as increase your IQ. Human intelligence is fluid, and teaching our kids this can improve their intelligence and happiness. Teaching yourself this can increase your intelligence and happiness. It’s never too late.
So yeah, this is a lesson I wished I learned when I was younger. I may be a dolphin trainer today (or maybe not, now I struggle to even go to zoos without being a little bit sad – I know, I know some do serve great purposes). Point being though that I didn’t think I could learn to swim well enough. If I had learned this lesson, I would of have known I could have. Hard work sure, but definitely possible.
Learn memory tricks.
So the first 5 lessons were all pretty related. These last 2 are a little different, but they are in the top 7 lessons I wish I learned earlier. And I picked 7, because I couldn’t eliminate any more from the list.
In school, we are always taught what to learn, but rarely are we taught how to learn. Repeat til you have it memorized, sure it works, but it’s long and tedious.
Turns out there are lots of great tricks for committing what you need or want to know to memory, and I had no freaking clue until I rather recently. My mind was blown by these tricks. How is this not a lesson or whole freaking class taught in grade school.
Want to talk about reducing stress levels. If I knew just some memory tricks, I could have halved the time it took to study for some memorization heavy tests, and gone into them with a lot more confidence. Not to mention I probably would have stuck with learning French, and be fluent by now. I can’t wait until I have the time to apply vocabulary memory tricks to learning Spanish now.
There are memory tricks for learning names. Great for networking and making a lasting impression at a party/event. Tricks for memorizing numbers. Hey now, that’s a concept. Memorizing phone numbers. But more than just phone numbers. Knowing random stuff can really impress people. Tricks for vocabulary, lists, facts. I truly believe this needs to be a thing taught in school.
It’s a little complicated to teach these tricks in this already long post, but I’m telling you seeking out this information and learning just a couple techniques. They aren’t hard, you won’t regret it. My favorite use for a technique called the loci (location) method is for when I think of something in bed at night that would keep me up or get me out of bed to write it down, instead I use this technique and it’s right there for me in the morning on the foyer table of my memory bank.
I teach this and my favorite techniques in my udemy course, The Resilience, Joy and Power Mindset.
- Passion, Purpose and asking Why?
We made it to the final lesson I wish I learned as a student!! I hope you are seeing why these lessons are valuable.
All these lead me up to something that is a big stressor for most of us, for really most of our lives, and it begins towards the end of high school. What do I want to be when I grow up?
How many of you can’t answer that question?
Not many of us decide at 17 that we want to be astronaut, and then inform the rest of our lives to making that happen, and find themselves on Mars on the age 40.
That’s rare. Most of us spend our lives especially our 20s having no clue what we want to do with our lives. I know I did. Yet we’re stuck with this idea that we should know, that oh I’m just supposed to follow my passion, that will lead me to my life purpose, and then I’ll be happy.
But that is part of the problem itself – this idea of “life purpose” This idea that a career is the purpose, but that’s not always the case. Yes we need to have money and/or income to survive but how we get it doesn’t necessarily need to be our life’s purpose. It doesn’t necessarily need to be based on our passions. And that is a valuable lesson to learn. We get caught up with this idea of “live your passion” thinking so often that means our careers, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Or at least not exactly.
If you know what you are passionate about, and can make a career out of it. AWESOME!! Do it! Do it now. But if your passions don’t so much make a career, that’s totally ok. You can still make a happy career by making sure you have a career that allows time for your passions, but also because it’s not necessarily including your greatest passions, make sure it matches what you value. Do you value teamwork? Do you value alone time? Continued learning? Expressing your creativity? etc. Make sure it includes your strengths and skills (the ones you enjoy expressing and giving of). Make sure it includes the opportunity to solve problems you want to solve or learn skills you want to learn. If you can create a career that includes these and gives times for your passions you can still really enjoy your work.
Though the greatest lesson I learned is trying to figure out what I wanted to do is to ask the question why? Think you know what you want to do? Ask why? Why am I passionate about xyz? Why do I want to study….? Why do I want to work for…? Why do I want to be a …?
I studied Radio-TV in undergrad because I was obsessed with TV when I was in high school. So it seemed like a good idea, making TV. But I never asked myself why I enjoyed TV so much, what was it about it that I loved? If I had I would have realized it wasn’t the story telling and thus making that I loved so much, it was listening to and sharing the stories. When I finally did, that lead me to my grad degree. Librarianship. Something that makes me much happier.
That’s just a quick example of the power of why? Dig deep, keep asking why and get to the core of your passions. It’ll help guide you in the future, because as part of this lesson I learned to when in doubt, choose your passion or what will bring you closer to it.
So yes, I wish I learned these all when I was a student, but hey, I’m still young. I’m grateful to have learned these lessons already, so I can start putting them to use.
Check out my course on udemy.com if you are interested in getting a bit more info + actual exercises to help implement all these lessons into your life. Mindful meditations, more breathing exercises, how to upgrade your gratitude journal, how to get rid of your limiting beliefs, I teach you my favorite memory techniques, as well as questions to ask yourself to help find your passions and guide you on your path to creating a passion-doing filled future. It’s already pretty cheap, but I discounted it even further with this link to make it even more affordable for you.
The Short Of It: