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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged happiness
What My House Looks Like

My kitchen table has crayon on it. The upholstered chairs have sugary milk seeped in, puddling just below the surface. There is a smear of paint on the back door, left there two weekends ago after my daughter and I came back inside once we painted the stool on a patch of mulch near the fence. Fingerprints dot the area around most doorhandles and if you look for just a minute, that's a plastic chicken leg there by the couch leg. Its partner - mashed potatoes - is probably under a cushion. And his accomplice - peas - is nowhere to be found.

The pile of stuffed animals is getting higher. We have more Lego's than bin space to store them now. Those helium balloons she got for her birthday? They'll be floating quietly in our living room until they finally droop to the floor (around the time her next birthday gets here).

My home looks nothing like a catalog with those septic white rugs and no sight of dust. Nothing here is at a right angle and you'll find a wrinkle in most everything. Our shelves are cluttered and so are our lives.

My home looks nothing like the fake living rooms you find at IKEA or in a West Elm window. Here we have milk rings on counter and chocolate chips beneath the highchair.

My home looks nothing like I pictured, but it looks every bit like a family lives here. It looks like a place where my daughter is growing up, where she plays and runs and falls and rests. It looks like a place where my wife and I are making a life together, where we crash at the end of the day, where we lay to talk about where this is all headed and how we'll get there.

This place looks like life to me.

The Power of No

I'm beginning to learn more and more the power that comes with saying "No." I detail how (and why) to say "no" in Simplify Your Life, but I'll admit - turning down opportunities and offers is a constant struggle of mine. But, the feeling of saying "no" at the right time is powerful. Doing so can free you to focus on what matters and focus your energy on the tasks and events you're most exited about.

I wasn't sure whether to detail the following scenario here or in my Speak UP newsletter, but after much thought I concluded that the lessons I learned by saying "no" recently could benefit all my readers.

Last week, I turned down an all-expenses-paid trip to India. To speak. With entrepreneurs. Thousands of them.

I know what it looks like. I still can't help but cringe a bit as I type. I said "no" to a free trip to India to do what I love.

When the offer appeared in my inbox and I followed up (which was then followed by a bit of online research and poking around in my network), I was excited. But then the details began to shake out.

The event was at a time when I really need to be home with family. The travel - while paid for - would be long and not so glamorous. The time I'd actually have in India would be very limited. I wouldn't be compensated for speaking. The media opportunities promised might not work out in the best way. All in all, to have said yes would have been a significant cost in terms of money, time, and relationships.

After digging, it became easy to politely say "no" to this opportunity.

As soon as I hit send on the email declining the host organization's offer, I waited for the onslaught of regret to wash over me. But it never came. I thought I'd soon kick myself for wasting a chance to speak in India, but I never felt it.

I didn't feel regret because saying "no" was the right decision. My mind and body and heart and soul were at peace. I said "no" and moved on.

And here's the power of saying "no" to the opportunities that don't fit. There is no regret when you make the right decision. If the opportunity doesn't fit, doesn't help you, doesn't play to a strength of yours, or isn't all it seems to be, then declining it is okay. In fact, saying "yes" to it could be detrimental to your career, your sanity, or your family.

Best of all, saying "no" reinforces your values, both to others and yourself. When you say "no" to something, you're making a claim about what's important. In my case, saying "no" reinforced my commitment to my family and the time I'm spending to grow my speaking career. Many times, saying "no" conveys what we believe as much as saying "yes" does.

The main trick when we say "no", however, is to move on. Not all decisions will be as easy as mine. Some decisions will be much tougher and we could feel some pangs of remorse after turning someone or something down. In order to fight through that, we have to put the instance out of our minds. We said "no" and the case is closed. We can't look back and wonder.

If we do, we might inadvertently ignore that perfect "yes" that's coming our way.

When have you said "no"? Any stories about saying no and it being the perfectly right decision?

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Why Flow Matters

One of the better books I've read in the last few years is Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. It's a doozy. The author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, does a fantastic and thorough job of showcasing how doing something that's a bit of a challenge makes you happier and more successful. This is a welcome idea in an age where everyone is telling you to chase your passion (including yours truly). Ultimately, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that we're happiest and best when we are pushed and we overcome some kind of obstacle. Of course, we must find this delicate balance of the "right" amount of challenge at work and at home, otherwise we can get very discouraged very quickly. In fact, the right challenge can give your life deep and incredible meaning.

His idea of "flow" is what's commonly meant when it is said that an athlete is in "the zone." Action and awareness merge such that nearly everything comes naturally.

Flow is a thick read, but well worth your time. Here are some quotes for you:

About Life and Leisure

  • A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.
  • The information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life.
  • There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better.
  • Because enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules, and challenge well matched to skills, there is little opportunity for the self to be threatened.
  • Compared to people living only a few generations ago, we have enormously greater opportunities to have a good time, yet there is no indication that we actually enjoy life more than our ancestors did.
  • A person who rarely gets bored, who does not constantly need a favorable external environment to enjoy the moment, has passed the test for having achieved a creative life.
  • Purpose gives direction to one's efforts, but it does not necessarily make life easier. Goals can lead into all sorts of trouble, at which point one gets tempted to give them up and find some less demanding script by which to order one's actions. The price one pays for changing goals whenever opposition threatens is that while one may achieve a more pleasant and comfortable life, it is likely that it will end up empty and void of meaning.
  • Activity and reflection should ideally complement and support each other. Action by itself is blind, reflection impotent. Before investing great amounts of energy in a goal, it pays to raise the fundamental questions: Is this something I really want to do? Is it something I enjoy doing? Am I likely to enjoy it in the foreseeable future? Is the price that I - and others - will have to pay worth it? Will I be able to live with myself if I accomplish it?

About Focus and Self

  • The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer.
  • Every piece of information we process gets evaluated for its bearing on the self. Does it threaten our goals, does it support them, or is it neutral? News of the fall of the stock market will upset the banker, but it might reinforce the sense of self of the political activist. A new piece of information will either create disorder in consciousness, by getting us all worked up to face the threat, or it will reinforce our goals, thereby freeing up psychic energy.
  • It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines. Only when a doubtful outcome is at stake, and one is able to influence that outcome, can a person really know whether she is in control.
  • Optimal experience is a form of energy, and energy can be used either to help or to destroy.
  • When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces.

About Why You Shouldn't Watch So Much TV

  • In the roughly one-third of the day that is free of obligations, in their precious "leisure" time, most people in fact seem to use their minds as little as possible. The largest part of free time - almost half of it for American adults - is spent in front of the television set.
  • Although average Americans have plenty of free time, and ample access to leisure activities, they do not, as a result, experience flow often. Potentiality does not imply actuality, and quantity does not translate into quality. For example, TV watching, the single most often pursued leisure activity in the United States today, leads to the flow condition very rarely. In fact, working people achieve the flow experience - deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction - about four times as often on their jobs, proportionately, as they do when they are watching television.
  • The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere.
  • Most jobs and many leisure activities  - especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media - are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving only feeble husks.

About Work

  • Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind.
  • The reason it is possible to achieve such complete involvement in a flow experience is that goals are usually clear, and feedback immediate.
  • Any skill worth developing requires that one invest psychic energy in it at the beginning.
  • Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal.

About Relationships and Community

  • Quality of life depends on two factors: how we experience work, and our relations with other people.
  • Every relationship requires a reorienting of attention, a repositioning of goals.
  • A true friend is someone we can occasionally be crazy with, someone who does not expect us to be always true to form. It is someone who shares our goal of self-realization, and therefore is willing to share the risks that any increase in complexity entails.
  • A person is part of a family or a friendship to the extent he invests psychic energy in goals shared with other people.
  • A community should be judged good not because it is technologically advanced, or swimming in material riches; it is good if it offers people a chance to enjoy as many aspects of their lives as possible, while allowing them to develop their potential in the pursuit of ever greater challenges.
  • Contrary to what we were led to believe, it is more satisfying to help another person than to beat him down, or that it is more enjoyable to talk with one's two-year-old than to play golf with the company president.

About Writing

  • The point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along.
  • Having a record of the past can make a great contribution to the quality of life.  It frees us from the tyranny of the present, and makes it possible for consciousness to revisit  former times.

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10 Things You Can Do To Live Longer

If you want to be happy and healthy for longer, try any of these things, all proven to help you live longer:

Shorten your commute

Doing so by 20 minutes lessens your risk of heart attack by 300%.

Smile regularly

Frequent smiling could add seven years to your life.

Volunteer

Lending a hand to genuinely help others can help you live longer.

Get married

Being in a consistent relationship for a long time can help you live longer.

Walk daily

Walkers live longer.

Work standing up

Sitting for more than six hours a day increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Have a close group of friends

Close ties with friends can boost your health.

Drink wine or coffee

Moderate drinking of either could help lower your risk of death.

Get religion

Going to church or spiritual gatherings could help reduce your risk of death by 20%.

Stay positive

A positive attitude and sense of humor can help you live longer.

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8 Things That Do Not Exist

In addition to unicorns and Big Foot (maybe), here are eight things that don't exist. So, stop hoping you'll find them:

  • Getting rich quick

  • An overnight success

  • Something that is easy to do and worth doing

  • "It's not personal, it's just business."

  • That which is valuable or meaningful that came about effortlessly

  • A life without regret

  • The perfect man/woman/child

  • Having it all

What else doesn't exist?

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Clutter is Holding You Back

The reason you're not happy or able to nimbly chase down that big dream of yours may be right in front of you. Take a look around your living room, office, or bedroom. How much crap do you have? Are you offended that I called your stuff crap? Are your things not junk? If you're labeling a general mass of objects as stuff, things, junk, or crap, then it probably doesn't mean that much to you. And if it doesn't mean much, why do you have it?

Watch any episode of "House Hunters" (they're all the same). Every person hunting for a home wants the same thing (other than an open floorplan and space to entertain): plenty of storage.

Is this what it's come to? Our quest for a place to live now includes a place to put our crap as a chief priority?

But don't worry; if your new house doesn't have room for your stuff, junk, or crap, just rent a storage unit. It's perfect for all the crap you still want, but don't want to look at.

Clearly, we need to do something about all of our clutter. In my mind, the answer is simple:

Get rid of it.

It's time. Your clutter is holding you back. Here's why:

It gives me something else to do before I start.

Sometimes, I feel motivated to sit and write for hours or begin that project idea that's been brewing in my head. And just when I'm ready to start typing or dreaming, my crap calls to me and begs me to organize it, move it around, or rifle through it. As long as I have clutter, I have a distraction. There willl always be something to look at, something to take my mind off of what matters. Eliminating clutter will keep me focused.

I waste time looking for stuff.

The bane of our modern existence is that we all own six pairs of scissors but never know where any are when we need them. Are they in the junk drawer? What about the shelf with all the stuff? No? In that other drawer? Having places full of clutter means that we're spending valuable time looking instead of quickly getting what we need to do what we must. Organization won't just make your house look like a catalog; it'll save you time.

Stress increases as it feels like the walls are closing in around me.

Didn't your house seem so much bigger before you put all your stuff in it? The easiest way to junk up a room is to put a bunch of crap in it. And when you do that, the room feels smaller, which could even lead to increased anxiety for you, as you get the impression that the walls are closing in around you. Tear down those walls by eliminating what you don't need.

Crap is worthless unless I sell it.

If $500 is all that's standing in the way of you and a dream, I'm willing to bet that you can find that $500 as soon as you start selling your crap. Whether you plan a yard sale or do it online, your crap can quickly become someone else's treasure. Remember: we have to sacrifice what can be sold in order to earn what can't be bought.

What about you?

How do you deal with clutter so you don't put off accomplishing something big?

And, as a shameless promotion, my book Simplify Your Life has many practical ways to clear clutter out of your life. Best of all it's only $3.99 on the Kindle (which won't add to your already overflowing bookshelf)!

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Dose Is Coming

I'm excited to announce that starting tomorrow, I'm offering a new email newsletter subscription to those who want to stay motivated, inspired, and challenged. Dose is a daily dose  - a shot in the arm - of a thought, quote, or idea to keep you energized and focused.

A few promises:

  • It's free - there's no cost to subscribe to these doses.
  • It's daily - like eating or taking a shower, we need motivation daily.
  • It's short - no long diatribes here. Less than 100 words each morning to help you start your day fresh.

Sign up by clicking here or by using the box on the right. You can also unsubscribe at any time.

So, give it a shot for the first week and see what you think. Thanks for your support.

The World Needs You to Live Your Passion

A few weeks ago, I heard a keynote speech by Rodger Dinwiddie, CEO of STARS. He said:

We don't need to just teach self esteem in schools; we also need to teach empathy. Prisons are full of people with high self esteem but low empathy.

When I heard this, I thought the same thing about passion.

It's not enough to merely have a passion; we need to live it as well.

The world is full of people with a passion, but so few people live it out. Remember: this doesn't mean that you turn your passion into a career. It simply means you chase it down, whether its on the weekend or for a week each summer.

When you begin to live out your passion, you live more passionately. And this is what the world needs.

I need you to live out your passion, to be your best self, and to fulfill your destiny. When you do, I become better, too.

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Stop Doing Math

I was watching a TV show last week and the couple was doing relationship math. You know the drill:

I took the trash out last week! I washed the car yesterday! Oh yeah? Well I took the kids to school three Tuesdays ago!

It can also be personal:

Stop leaving toenail clippings on the floor! I will when you learn to wash dishes! When will you clean the bathroom?!

And on it goes. This kind of relationship math, where one is always trying to equal one, is a waste of time. All it does is inflate tempers and leave both people trying to one-up the other. In the end, the only resolution is to agree that tasks and responsibilities in a house aren't  meant to be kept track of like a resume. This isn't a job. It's your life. There will be no second act, no promotion, no ladder to worry about climbing.

My advice? Stop doing the math. If you need help keeping something clean or on time or complete, then ask for it. Asking for help is way better than trying to prove to your husband or wife that you're a better parent or spouse.

You didn't get into this game because you like keeping score. You got into it because you wanted to live alongside someone, toenail clippings and all.

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No Such Thing

I don't know why, but at some point, compliments were turned into insults. We got sucked in and started believing that the good things about ourselves were bad things. Let's said the record straight.

There's no such thing as being too generous.

No one can spend too much time with their kids or be too good of a parent.

You can't be too smart or too careful.

You can't have too many friends or fall too deeply in love.

You can't care too much.

It's actually impossible to be too nice or even too concerned about your neighborhood, job, country, or church.

Don't think you can ask too many questions.

And while you can spend too much time watching TV, you can't spend too much time reading books. There's no such thing.

There's also no such thing as someone who goes out of her way too often to help people.

Questions or ideas can never be too big. In fact, many of our dreams are never big enough. You can't have a dream that's too large. Dream bigger.

You can't be too passionate.

You can't try too hard.

Food is never too delicious, music is never too beautiful, and you are never not worth it.

What else doesn't exist?

Leave your thoughts as a comment below.

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How Bad Do You Want It?

I know you've heard this one before:

An energetic young business man meets a guru one day while walking along the beach. It's the same guru so many have told him about. Apparently, this guru is the wisest and most thoughtful person in the world, but usually inaccessible. Knowing how to interpret fate, the young man asks the guru a question:

"What must I do to be successful?"

The guru glances at him in that zen, guru-like way and says he'll share with him how to be successful tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. at this same beach.

The next day, the man shows up, nicely dressed and finds the guru near the shoreline. He asks the guru the same question. The guru responds by asking the young man to follow him out into the water. The man is confused at first, but figures the guru must know what he's doing, so the two wade into the ocean together.

The guru turns and says, "Let's keep going." So, they walk in until the water is up to their knees, then their waists, then their chests. The man, suit soaked, now asks, "Guru! What does this have to do with success?"

"Do you want to be successful?" the guru asks.

"Yes! Of course I do," the man replies.

Just then, the guru dunks him under the water. The young man fights to get back above water, but in addition to being wise, the guru is also strong. After about 15 seconds, the guru lets him back up. Confused and infuriated, the young man rails, "What was that?! What are you doing?!" Immediately, the guru pushes him under and holds him down again. After about 15 seconds, he lets him up.

The man is irate now. "What are you doing?! I asked you how to be successul and you're trying to drown me!"

The guru calmly replies, "Do you want to be successful?"

Frustrated, the man looks at him and says, "Yes, I want to -"

Before he can finish, the guru dunks him a third down, holding him down longer than before. He finally lets him up. The man is gasping for air now, trying to regain his bearings.

The guru states, "Until you want success as badly as you wanted air just now, you will never achieve it."

It's an old story, but still has a critical point: until we want our goals and dreams to come true more than we want any temporary distraction, we will never achieve them.

You will not lose 15 pounds if you want the late night candy bar more than you want to slim down.

You will not start your business if you want your current way of life more than the way your life could be in five years.

You will not get the chance to ask her out if your fear prevents you from going over to say hello.

Many times, we think we want something. In reality, we act very differently. You want to get out of debt? Stop shopping. You have to want a debt-free life way more than you want a new sofa, wardrobe, or TV. As long as you keep shopping, it's clear you want new stuff more than you want to save money. Say what you want; the way you live your life will always speak louder than the words you are saying.

Lip service to wants is the stuff of amateurs. You can make a wish list a mile long. Merely writing something down doesn't make your dreams any closer to coming true.

The real trick is to move from want to need. Just like the young man had to realize his success would come when he felt a visceral need for it, we, too, must realize that we need to have our dreams come true. We need to set a goal and reach it. We need things to be different than we are now.

When a want is unmet, we may feel uncomfortable. We might get sad or upset. Life can continue. But when a need is unmet - we suffer. We cringe, react, and are thrown off course. Something is amiss and we have to set everything else aside until we fix it.

Get rid of your wants. Start needing your dreams. Until you can't go another day without chasing a passion, you'll never lace up your shoes and get going. Once it becomes crucial to your happiness and wellbeing, then you're ready to run.

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