UG3: Self Management and Development

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot” Michael Altshuler

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Introduction
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What you make of your life is as a result of what you try to make of your life. Either you happen to life or life happens to you.

It is up to us to make the most of our lives, rather than forever looking for excuses or blaming other people.
'Manage your time and make best use of your discretionary time'
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How we schedule and handle our days is how we live our lives. Plan the productive use of most of your discretionary time, the time that is available for you to choose what to do with, otherwise it will simply pass by to no useful end.

Plan for how you are going to achieve your long-term goals. Your long term goals should be broken down into sub-goals and sub-sub-goals where appropriate, in a way that then enables you to identify those things you should be doing in the short term: weeks and months.

Have a calendar organizer, digital or paper, whatever works for you, into which you can put appointments. Make extensive use of appointments with yourself for doing short term activities and actions that take you towards your goals. Have regular planned times for progressing what is important to you. You are far more likely to do something if you have a planned time for doing it rather than just intending to get round to it sometime.

If you find you don’t have enough time for doing what is important, look at how much time you are squandering. How much time do you spend watching TV, internet browsing, or interacting through social media? There is an opportunity cost in everything you do in that you could be doing something else.

When you get stressed and overwhelmed, take a walk. When you have a tough decision to make, or a problem to solve, take a walk. When you want to be creative, take a walk. Talking a walk relaxes you and can help you think something through. However, stroll rather than take a fast walk. A fast walk leads to a deterioration in our thinking ability.
'Be organized'
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Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place when not in use. This includes having places for commonly used items such as keys and phones, which is where you put them when you are not carrying them around with you. In the medium to long term it takes much less time to get and stay organized than it does searching for things you can’t readily lay your hands on.

Checklists are enormously powerful productivity tools. You can make use of other people’s experiences in addition to your own, and by keeping them live you can ensure they, and you, are continually improving. Their use ensures you don’t forget things, particularly when in a rush or in a stressful environment. They also free up your consciousness to focus on other things.

Do not rely on your memory: our brains are not particularly good at remembering things. Write things down, set alarms, use lists and checklists, keep and put things in the same place, physical things and digital information, put things where you can’t forget them. Always have a means with you for writing down or recording something you want to remember.
‘Pay attention to your health and well-being’
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Your health is your greatest asset and good health outweighs almost all other considerations. Look after it. Good health is mostly about keeping reasonably fit and eating healthily. It does not require an excessive fitness routine or a strict diet. All it requires is you start right now, not tomorrow, doing the right things.

Eating healthily is about moderation and good habits. Change the bad habits that lead to you eating and drinking fatty and sugary foods and drinks and eat more fruit and vegetables. Persist with improving your eating habits and it will get easier: good nutrition makes for better willpower. Don’t give up just because you don’t magically instantly change your eating and drinking habits. Just keep at it.

Look after your teeth. If you have trouble sleeping then look to do something about it, without having to make regular use of tablets. Don’t take life too seriously. See the funny side of life from time to time.

If you have an addiction that is doing you long term harm – such as smoking, harmful drugs, excessive alcohol, excessive gambling, a tendency towards anger, or one of a range of behavioral addictions - then break it. Get professional help if you can afford it, but ensure it is working. Mostly persevere. With perseverance you will succeed. Know that it gets easier.
‘Pay attention to your thoughts’
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Your thoughts dictate who you are. You can choose what types of thoughts linger in your mind. Become an observer of your own thoughts: look for harmful or negative patterns and change them.

It is your interpretation of events and your unrealistic expectations about the way other people should be and behave that upsets you and preys on your mind. Adjusting how you think about them is entirely within your own gift.

Get negative thoughts and worries out of your head. Write them down on a piece of paper, and add afterwards ‘What are my options?’ Much of what we worry about doesn’t happen, and even if it does why carry around the extra burden of worrying about it.

Make peace with your past so that it doesn’t spoil your future. What’s done is done.

Keep the things that matter to you at the forefront of your mind - write them down and regularly read them back to yourself - and your mind will help you to more often instinctively react in a way more attune to what you believe to be important.
‘Deal with your problems’
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If you feel regularly under stress it will be harming your health and will be interfering with your ability to work productively and appreciate life. If you are regularly under stress, deal with it. Don’t keep getting annoyed that someone else isn’t dealing with something that is stressing you.

Much of what stresses you comes from not keeping the commitments you make to yourself. The best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up.

Many of the things that stress you should just be put aside. They relate to your unrealistic expectations of how the world should be and how other people should behave.

Don’t expect worries to instantly resolve themselves just because you make a start at dealing with them. But persist and they will gradually be resolved.

If you have a tendency towards feeling down or getting a mild depression, then get some exercise. Just three or four aerobic exercise sessions a week for half an hour to an hour at a time can make a big difference to how you feel.
‘Don’t just do, think, and then do’
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Your ability to think is your greatest asset, a greater asset than your ability to do. Albeit thinking then doing will have the greatest payback.

Thinking leads to a greater likelihood that you are doing the right thing rather than just doing something.

Use your thinking to draw upon the experience of others, though adapt it to your own possibly unique circumstances.

Whilst the things you do, and the things you don’t do, have consequences, they are often not unforeseeable consequences if you spend a little bit of time thinking.

Look to understand and play to your strengths. Look to make as much use as you are able of your comparative advantage relative to others.

Great ideas which are not capable of being followed through, or are not followed through, are of little value, and are certainly of less value than more mediocre ideas which can be and are followed through.
‘Seek to become better than you were’
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You are as you are. Accept without embarrassment or shame that you have shortcomings, just like everyone else. You don’t have to, and indeed can’t, do something about all your shortcomings. But you can do something about some of them.

You can get better at almost anything you set your mind to. There may be physical and physiological reasons why you can’t reach some particularly high standard in something but you can get much better at almost anything, and you can get very good at almost anything if you have the right physical and physiological characteristics and you make the effort.

Every day you have countless opportunities to learn something and to practice being a better person. Get into an ever improving mindset.

Difficulties, problems, irritations, and challenging circumstances are learning opportunities. We get better at solving problems or dealing with difficult circumstances the more we try. Indeed we only really grow when we do things other than what comes naturally and most easily to us. Circumstances that initially seem highly disadvantageous shake you out of a complacent mindset that makes you blind to the potential for doing things differently or doing different things.

Learn from others. Ask people how to do things or for their advice. Through books and the internet you have ready access to learning information and advice on almost anything from those who are amongst the best in the world.
‘Take control of the moment’
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Be in your life. Don’t let your life just rush by in a blur of being busy working and doing chores, watching TV, needing to keep up with every bit of breaking news, and constantly interacting through social media. Regularly stop and reflect on the present moment, and become self-aware. And take advantage of your being self aware to remind yourself of what is important to you and take the opportunity to turn the moments you are about to waste into something more productive.

There is only ever the present moment in which to act. Seek to make it a habit to always act in the right way.

Take opportunities to pay attention to everyday things you normally don’t give a moment’s thought to: focus on their detail and notice things you haven’t noticed before. As you go about your daily routines, make more use of those senses you use less often: smell, taste, touch.

Take a walk in the woods, or a park, or by the sea, and immerse yourself in your surroundings. Notice very specific little details. Imprint specific moments on your mind such that you can bring them back to mind long into the future.
'Develop your ability to focus and concentrate'
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An ability to focus and concentrate will enable you to get far more done far more effectively. You can increase your ability to focus and concentrate on a given task by being very clear about the task you are about to do and clearing your mind of any concerns about doing other tasks at the same time, by removing clutter from your workspace, and by removing any distractions likely to interrupt you.

Anything that occupies your working memory interferes with your ability to focus or concentrate. If you have things ‘in your mind’ which are not related to the topic you are seeking to focus on, then write them down as a reminder for later. Get them out of your mind.

Practice your focus and concentration on any task in front of you no matter how small. If you can focus on small tasks you can focus on big tasks.

Set deadlines for any task you wish to get done. If it’s a big task break it up into a number of smaller task deadlines. Deadlines help keep us focused on a task.
'Develop your self control'
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Self-control, the application of willpower, is about doing the harder but more valuable ‘right thing’, when you have the option of doing the lazy or easy ‘wrong thing’. People with better self control are able to keep their commitments to themselves and as a result are happier and healthier, have a greater peace of mind, and experience less stress in their lives.

You can significantly increase your self-control and change your behavior if you choose to do so, make the effort, and persist in trying to do so.

As a result of our limited willpower we cannot do everything we want to do all the time. Ensure you put your ability to exert your willpower to best use. A highly effective use of your willpower is to develop good habits which become ingrained such that they no longer require willpower to sustain them. Persistence will lead to you succeeding in ingraining good habits.

Use your willpower to ‘do the right thing’ at certain moments during the day when you have the option of doing or choosing one thing or another. Learn to catch yourself before you do ‘the wrong thing’ through becoming aware of the present moment and reminding yourself of your life’s goals and the need to be working towards them in small ways whenever you can. There are hundreds of opportunities every day for seeking to do the right thing. Don’t get despondent because you don’t always succeed, just keep trying.

You will be better able to exert self control if you sleep well, eat healthily, get some exercise and you are well organized.
'Develop good habits and eliminate bad habits'
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Habits are the instinctive behavior patterns that we follow because of the way our brain is wired. But our brains are highly malleable and we can rewire our brain and we can change our habits through self-aware conscious effort. When we do anything repeatedly our brain cells will physically grow new connections. Doing so for a period of about a month, applying where necessary self-control and willpower, is usually enough for alternative pathways to be formed and for continuation of the habit to then be largely effortless.

Creating good habits is essential if you are to live a healthy, happy, rewarding life. Change your habits, change your life. See specific ‘Changing Habits’ guidance.
‘Configure and manage your environment’
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We are strongly influenced by convenience, and the vast majority of what we do is an instinctive response to our environment. But we can shape our environment. We can shape both our physical environment and our social environment. Remove from your environment the things that trigger you doing the things you would rather not, and put into your environment things that make it easier for you to do the right thing.
‘Don’t let negative emotions dictate your words and actions (1)’
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You cannot help the fact that you get emotional, and that particular circumstances give rise to particular feelings, but you can help how you think and what you say and how you behave in response to those emotional feelings.

The extent to which your emotions give rise to overt responses is dependent upon whether or not you’ve learned to control your automated response to emotions, something we are all able to do if we make the effort, and which is a far more effective path towards positive relationships than expecting others to understand and have sympathy for our outbursts.

Ways of combating the destructive outcomes that arise from emotional outbursts are: to change our mindset such that we become less emotionally charged in response to certain situations; to avoid getting into certain situations which result in our emotional outbursts; and learning to better control our responses in the light of experiencing certain emotions.

Think of the way you react to your emotions as habits, and treat particular responses to particular emotions as specific habits which can be changed, should you consider they are not in your best long term interests.
‘Don’t let negative emotions dictate your words and actions (2)’
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The way we think about certain people and issues predisposes us towards strong emotions. Whilst we can’t help having emotions, many of the emotions we have and the intensity of some of them arises from the way we think about the world and other people, a way that can be changed. If you expect the world in general to arrange itself around your needs, if you expect other people to be ever attentive to your moods and wants, if you expect others to conform to your values and moral code, if you believe you are being unfairly treated either as an individual or as part of some group to which you belong, then you will be far more susceptible to strong negative emotions in response to what goes on and the people around you. If you adopt a more realistic, balanced and tolerant view of the way the world is and other people are you will find yourself less prone to strong negative emotions.

If you are prone to emotional outbursts that you later regret, then spend a bit of time understanding the circumstances under which that occurs and look to avoid them, either by not getting into them in the first place, or through early recognition and then backing away before the emotions take hold.

If you find yourself in a situation where a negative emotion is taking hold, emotions such as anger, frustration, annoyance, resentment, apathy, and despair, then you should look to adopt strategies that seek to ensure you don’t lash out or respond in a way that you might later regret. You can learn to be self-consciously aware of the onset of a negative emotion, and consciously name it to yourself, and disrupt the manner in which it takes control of you. You can deliberately calm yourself by taking, for example, deep breaths, or counting slowly to ten, and potentially physically backing away or otherwise responding in a more constructive manner.
‘Seek to understand others’
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Other people are not as you would like them to be. They are as they are. Better to understand them as they are than to pointlessly wish they were different.

Other people are not perfect, any more than you are. They are subject to the same cognitive biases, poor thinking habits, emotional responses, and susceptibilities to being influenced, as you are. And they are just as dismissive of being so as you are. Most of their beliefs and actions are based on past influences, instinct and habit and driven by particular contextual circumstances and short-term emotions rather than the result of considered and pre-planned action. Accept that fact, and rather than get annoyed at them for being the way they are, seek to understand and interact with them as they are.

Be cognizant that when someone behaves in a way you don’t think they should, it will be for a reason. It’s just that you don’t know what it is. Look to understand the motivation for why someone is behaving the way they do. You are less likely to hate someone for their behavior once you understand their motivation for doing so, since generally you will recognize that in similar circumstances, and with a similar background, you would probably behave the same way.
'Learn to work well with others’
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Make the effort to learn to work well with others. Engaging in a collaborative and successful enterprise with others is one of the most satisfying feelings we can have.

People are more positively disposed towards each other if they find something to which they can both relate. It doesn’t take much for us to find something in common with another person, but we do need to listen to them to find it.

Compromise is necessary when different people have different wants or needs, as they usually do. Compromise can lead to better solutions in that diverse views can be taken into consideration. Effective compromise is not about simply looking for a mid-point or least worst solution acceptable to all parties, but looking for how to bring together the best points from different views.

If you want to get on better with someone, spend more time with them. Repeated exposure generally makes people like each other better.

In order to interact well with others, you need to communicate well, both in having other people understand your viewpoint and what you want, and also in your understanding other people’s viewpoints and what they want. The single greatest risk to effective communication is our own assumptions and the belief that we already know everything and have the answers, and as a result we don’t really listen to others.
'Do today what can and should be done today’
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Do today what can and should be done today. Sometimes, later in the day, it might be best to leave a more intellectually complex task until the next day when your brain might be better able to tackle it. However there are many tasks that can just as well be handled today as they can tomorrow, and you should try to get into the habit of doing so, and leave tomorrow free for other tasks.
'Care for those close to you'
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Our relationships with others bring most of the happiness and most of the pain in our lives.

Accept that the people close to you are not perfect, just as you are not perfect. They have faults, and they are susceptible to cognitive biases and poor thinking, just as you are. Love them despite their faults rather than because you don’t believe they have any.

Those you care about invariably have habits or traits that annoy or frustrate you. This can be a source of conflict, and often a source of growing conflict which can and often does lead to a breakdown of relationships. You do however have choices. You can learn to dial down your emotional response to instances of these habits and traits. You can learn to focus on the positive rather than the negative. You can learn to tolerate the frustration you feel when they hurt or disappoint you: taking deep breaths rather than respond in kind to emotional outbursts. You can also seek to help people change their habits and traits, assuming they should.

Don’t take those around you for granted. Spend time with them. Actively seek out ways of pleasantly spending time with them. Tell your family regularly that you love them, and avoid getting into petty squabbles.
'Seek to simplify your life’
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We need far less than we think we need and far far less than we want.

Note that simplifying your life is not about ‘going back to basics’. A life where you attempt to live without many of today’s mod cons is unlikely to be a simpler life. There is nothing ‘simpler’ or ‘better’ about spending hours washing your clothes by hand for example.

Be clear about the things that matter to you, and that make you glad to be alive: relationships, personal interests, self-cultivation, making a contribution. Then ask yourself if you are making enough room and time for them in your life and what it is that you are spending time on that is either not a necessary part of your daily life or is otherwise not something that really matters to you. In particular cut down on activities such as TV/video/streaming or spending hours at a time on social media/internet browsing/news watching. As well as wasting time, such activities are cluttering your mind and distracting you from what is important in your life.
'Identify and manage your personal risks’
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Personal risks relate to the possibility of undesirable things happening to you, or those you have some responsibility for, such as you getting burgled, or having a major health problem, or your computer crashing without you having an adequate back up. By explicitly recognizing and writing down that such things can happen to you, things that worry you, you can take action either to reduce the likelihood of them happening or reducing the impact should they happen.

For the most part we don’t think that bad things are going to happen to us, and we don’t like to think about the fact that they might. However bad things do happen to lots of people, and often it is simply bad luck. You can’t and shouldn’t try to list out all the risks of what might happen to you, there are far too many, it is however worthwhile identifying and explicitly listing out a number of risks, maybe ten or so, that are particularly relevant to you, either because they are relatively common, or as a result of your health or circumstances.

Having recognized the possibility of a particular risk, think through, and write down, what you might do about it, either to reduce the likelihood of its happening or to lessen the consequences should it happen. You don’t have to do everything that you could do, there is an opportunity cost with anything you do, but you should look to do the things that potentially have the most benefit. If you do identify things worth doing, follow through: it is all too easy to ‘put it off’ and never actually get round to it.
'General life skills'
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General life skills and topics that everyone should make the effort to improve include:

• improving your focus and concentration;

• improving your clear thinking skills in general, and gaining a better understanding of cognitive biases, basic probabilities, and logic and fallacies;

• improving your ability to appreciate moments of calm or happiness;

• learning to control any emotions or behaviors which bring you into negative conflict with others;

• improving your communication skills;

• improving your creativity, through trying new experiences, going to different places, watching and reading things you wouldn’t normally watch or read including ‘classic’ books;

• learning a bit of history, a bit of geography, a bit of astronomy.

Always have a notebook with you to jot down thoughts and observations as they occur.