Improve Your Life
The O Pine

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© 2001 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Stop seeking help from total strangers.
You've seen the e-mail. That piece of spam with some trite "words of wisdom" like stop to enjoy the scenery or always wag your tail when you're happy, then follows up with some hocus-pocus explaining why you need to propagate the spam so that good things will happen to you. Well, it seems to be pretty effective for the e-mail, so we thought we'd try it on this webpage.

This webpage is magical. If you forward it to ten friends, you'll be ten times blessed and good things will happen to you. If each of those ten friends forwards this webpage to ten more friends, you'll be blessed 110 times and great things will happen to you. And so on and so forth, until everything in your life is blessed and good, and our hit counter will suffer from exhaustion-induced Pentium depression, hunt you down, murder your own computer's microchip and assume its identity, and screw up next year's tax return by doing the division wrong.

Not only that but your computer's clock will never be right again. Oh, your clock is wrong now? Better upgrade before next year's taxes are due...

Be that as it may (whatever the heck that is supposed to mean), we do have ten suggestions to make your life better in small increments, whether this page proves to be magical or not. And, as they say, to move a mountain you must start with a pebble, and work at it for a thousand ye-- no, never mind that last part. Start with a pebble. Here are ten.

1. Stop answering the phone.
Now, don't take this to a ridiculous extreme such as getting rid of phone service -- unless you really want to -- or always screening all calls that you receive. That's not life improvement; that's paranoia. If you're afraid to answer your own phone, you need to address that little hangup (so to speak) before you end up like our hit counter. No, this suggestion is for the situation where you're busy doing something and the phone is interrupting you. Many of you stop what you're doing and run for the phone. Why? The phone is the intruder here. Get used to the idea that answering machines work just as effectively when you're home. Let the machine get it. Call back when you're not so busy. ("But sometimes they don't leave a message!" comes the cry from the peanut gallery -- tough on them for not wanting you to know they called.)

2. Stop taking sales calls.
Quit playing games. No hanging up on them, wasting their time, flinging insults, or other "retribution". You don't want to play games. You want the calls to stop. Step one: Get an unlisted number. Anyone who you'd want to have call you should already have your number, or know someone who has it. No need for it to be public information. Step two: When you do get a sales call, tell them you want to be put on their "do not call" list immediately. Some states require telemarketers to maintain these lists by law. They are taken seriously. Get on the lists. Step three: Never forget that you don't have to answer the phone if you're busy.

Yep, our first two items are both telephone-related. Telephones bring a lot of aggravation. Reduce this aggravation by reminding yourself, until you believe it, that your possession of a phone is a convenience for you, not for potential callers.

3. Stop watching so much television.
Boy, is this a broken record suggestion or what? Everyone says to stop watching so much television, and yet most people still watch lots of television. We know you're not going to stop watching your favorite shows on our say-so, but we want to give you some food for thought. The entire purpose of TV programming is to make you do things you wouldn't otherwise be inclined to do. Whether that's an attempt to persuade you to buy certain products that you'd otherwise never consider, or to accept political views that you'd rationally reject in a reasoned debate, or simply to watch entertainment that you'd never sit through if you had to go somewhere to see it, television's sole existence is to manipulate you. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to recognize the intent before you can turn it to your advantage. Most people are so used to having a television around the house that they can't fathom simply selling their TV outright, so we have a suggestion for a painless weaning: As your favorite shows are cancelled, don't pick up a new one. So, for example, when Frasier ends, don't go looking for a replacement for that timeslot. Take that time back for your own use.

While you're at it, it wouldn't hurt to walk away from your computer every now and then, too. But now that you're less beholden to machinery, let's consider some personal issues you might want to reevaluate. After all, you can't spell "change" without the "you need to" and "right quick".

4. Stop being so practical.
Life doesn't have to be rational all the time. Buy the car you really want instead of the one you think you need -- cars cost enough, might as well make it good! Read a paperback instead of high-brow intellectual stuff. Sure, brown-bag it most of the time, but go get a steak for lunch once in a while. Go on a weekend getaway on a moment's notice. Keep your passport current in case British Airways has a good deal. Life is here to be enjoyed. Responsibilities exist to provide the means for you to enjoy life. Don't let responsibilities become your life.

5. Stop worrying.
You can't do anything about it. And even if you can do something about it, fretting endlessly won't help you. Chances are, you already know what to do about the problem but you are putting off the inevitable by tricking yourself into thinking otherwise (or you're tricking yourself into thinking that you have some control over a situation that, frankly, you don't). The world is going to keep ticking along regardless. Call your shots and keep playing the game. You can think more clearly if you stay focused on the problem, and not on how you feel about the problem.

6. Stop rolling with the punches.
It's all well and good to cut people some slack and to not get aggravated over the small bumps of life, but there comes a time when you just have to say "now wait a minute, that's plain wrong." Whether this means fighting back when you're attacked, or demanding that the restaurant serve you a new burger when they mess up your order, raise your expectations a little and have the guts to hold the world to it. This goes hand in hand with not worrying so much -- get used to the idea that you're not going to let the world beat up on you, and you'll spend less time worrying about whether the world is going to beat up on you.

7. Stop being the sucker.
We all want to be helpful; some more so than others. But sometimes what happens to the really helpful people is that others learn to rely on them for things that should be occasional favors at most. This could be extra work assignments ("I'm soooo swamped; can you help me with...") or a constant sounding board ("I had another fight with my boyfriend last night; let me tell you...") or last-hope entertainment ("I can't find anybody who can go out tonight; wanna go..."). These kinds of things are fine on an occasional basis, but sometimes people of a more helpful bent find themselves swamped with such requests. The time to stop them is now. If you don't want to take it on, don't. No explanation necessary -- you don't have to apologize for your life. I can't -- sorry. That's all they need.

8. Stop working so hard.
Number four touched on this a little bit. We are not here to work. Work exists to provide the means for you to do something that you love to do. By all means, keep a job and do it well; but don't allow yourself to be defined by your employment. Work honest hours but keep time to chase your own dreams. And if you don't like your job, start figuring out what job you'd rather have and how to get it. If you're one of those lucky buggers who gets paid for doing something that you'd do as a hobby anyway, congratulations! But that doesn't change the fact that you still need a life outside of work.

9. Stop thinking about what other people think.
Somebody out there thinks you're crazy. Somebody else thinks you're boring. Lots of people think lots of things about you, but frankly, not as often as you think. Step back from it all and think about what you think of you. And if you see something that needs improvement, improve it. Never mind what others think. Once you take care of your self-image, the image you present to others will take care of itself.

10. Feed the goldfish.
Find a park with a goldfish pond. Feed them bread. Happy fish. Happy people. Happy soul.