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ten good habits

At the beginning of 2015 I asked myself what habits I wanted to create this year.

In the first nine months–or 2/3– of 2015, I’ve created 10 new habits. I honestly believe that adopting these habits has made me a stronger, happier, and better person. That is, I’m now better than I was when the clock struck twelve on December 31st, 2014.

The ten habits that I have to thank for helping me to move up a notch–or two–on the ladder of life in the past nine months are the following:

1. Following a Morning Routine. By creating the habit of following a morning routine I’ve been starting my days off right. My morning routine consists of the following:

  • As soon as I wake up I give thanks for the day that’s about to begin.
  • I make my bed.
  • I brush my teeth and scrape my tongue.
  • I have a glass of warm lemon water.
  • I eat a healthy breakfast.
  • I follow a ten minute routine which is very similar to Yoga – it’s called the Five Tibetan Rights.
  • I meditate for ten minutes.

Once I’m done with my morning routine I shower, brush my hair, and get dressed, and I’m ready to go out the door.

2. Weight Lifting. Although I’ve been exercising on a regular basis for years—I’m an avid runner—, weight lifting was not part of my exercise regime. However, after reading about the myriad of benefits of weight lifting, I decided to reduce the amount of cardio that I was doing and start hitting the gym three days a week.

Since mid-April, I’ve been doing the following:

  • I run outside three days a week, for roughly an hour each time.
  • I lift weights at the gym for about 50 minutes, three days a week.

As a result of creating the habit of weight lifting I’ve lost weight, and I look—and feel—more fit and toned. In addition, I’ve grown stronger.

3. Reading. When I was growing up, and all through college, I read voraciously. I’ve always loved reading. However, once I got into law school I lost the habit of reading for pleasure (I had more than enough reading to do for school).

I never really picked up the habit again, until about four months ago. That’s when I started setting aside one-hour-a-day to read quality fiction, every day. In fact, I started a “be well-read project”. So far, I’ve read the following:

  • Macbeth (1611) by William Shakespeare – A story about ambition, greed, and betrayal.
  • Leaf Storm (1955) by Gabriel García Márquez – A colonel does what is right, even though it will incur the wrath of the town.
  • No One Writes to the Colonel (1961) by Gabriel García Márquez – A colonel spends his life waiting for a pension that never comes.
  • Big Mama’s Funeral (1962) by Gabriel García Márquez – A collection of short stories.
  • In Evil Hour (1962) by Gabriel García Márquez – Someone in the village keeps leaving pamphlets all over town exposing the locals’ shameful secrets.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) by Gabriel García Márquez – The masterpiece of this Nobel literature laureate.
  • The Oedipus Cycle (approximately 420 BC) by Sophocles –A trilogy about the life of Oedipus, King of Thebes, and his children.
  • The House of Bernarda Alba (1936) by Federico García Lorca – A tragedy written by the most important Spanish playwright of the 20th century.

4. Writing 1000 Words a Day. This year I’ve created the habit of writing 1,000 words a day (at least), whether I’m inspired to do so, or not. I either write an article for this blog, or I add another section to whatever eBook I happen to be working on at the moment. Here’s why this is an important habit to adopt:

  • The more you write, the more you prime your brain to come up with writing ideas quickly.
  • Creating a habit of writing strengthens your writing muscles, so it becomes easier to transform thoughts and ideas into sentences and paragraphs. That is, you become a better writer.
  • The small goal of “write 1000 words today”, turns into a 60,000 word eBook in just two months.

Why did I adopt this habit? Because I’m a writer, and writers write.

5. Drinking Water Throughout the Day. Panama is hot all year-round –it often feels like a furnace. In addition, as I’ve already pointed out in this post, I exercise a lot. However, I’ve never been very good about drinking the amount of water that my body needs to stay hydrated.

This year, that has changed. I got myself a Lifefactory glass water bottle—which I highly recommend (mine is red)—and I created the habit of carrying it around with me all day long and drinking from it regularly.

In addition, I tie eight rubber bands around the bottle’s handle. Every time I finish all of the water in the bottle, I take a rubber band off, and refill the bottle. My goal is to have taken all eight rubber bands off by the end of each day.

As a result of creating this habit I don’t get drowsy while I’m working like I used to, I have more energy, and my skin looks fantastic.

6. Dwelling on Positive Experiences. Whenever something positive happens to me throughout the day—I get an email from someone saying one of my eBooks changed their life, a friend compliments me, or I move one of my goals forward—I stop and let it sink in for at least thirty seconds.

I adopted this habit in order to combat the negativity bias – the brain’s tendency to pay more attention to, and remember more vividly, negative input from the environment. By dwelling on the good I’m rewiring my brain for happiness.

That is, my new habit is counteracting the negativity bias and has made me a happier person.

7. Reading the News. A lot of people feel that reading the news is a waste of time –after all, they’re reading about things that are outside their circle of influence. If there’s nothing they can do to influence world events, why bother knowing what’s going on?

Well, I’m not one of those people. I think it’s important to be informed. That being said, I don’t spend a lot of time reading the news: I spend just enough time to be aware of the most important issues and news of the day. Here’s what I read:

  • Every morning I get “The Ten Things You Need to Know Today” from The Week delivered to my inbox.
  • Every morning I get “The Brief” from Time Magazine delivered to my inbox.
  • I skim the two most important Panamanian newspapers: La Prensa and El Panamá Amèrica.

Creating this habit has helped me to ensure that whenever I’m with a group of people and they start discussing current events, I can jump right in and make a smart contribution to the conversation. In addition, I believe that knowing what’s going on in my country–and abroad–makes me a better citizen.

8. Performing Random Act of Kindness. Every day I’m consciously on the lookout for something positive that I can do for someone else that day. It’s usually something small, like the following:

  • Holding the elevator door for someone.
  • Racing little kids when I go out for a jog – my jogging route is a promenade that’s always full of families hanging out in the evenings, and little kids will often start running beside me as I jog by.
  • Getting a cup of coffee, a chocolate, or some cookies for the guard downstairs.

There’s a lot of research out there done by positive psychologists that shows that being kind to others raises your levels of happiness. Therefore, just like dwelling on the good things that happen to me each day, this is a habit that I’ve adopted in order to increase my happiness levels.

9. Applying the 20-20-20 Rule. Near the beginning of the year I noticed that my eye sight was getting blurry. I concluded that this was because of all the time that I spend staring at a computer screen, and I decided to research how to fix the problem. That’s how I found the 20-20-20 rule.

The rule is as follows: every 20 minutes, take a break for 20 seconds, and look at an object that’s at least 20 feet away. I’ve been doing this for about two months now. As a result of adopting this habit, my vision has become a lot less blurry.

10. Following a Night Routine. Just as creating the habit of following a morning routine has helped me to start the day off right, creating the habit of following a night routine has helped me to end the day the right way. My night routine consists of the following:

  • I get everything ready for the next day – I prepare breakfast, set out my clothes, pack my bag, and so on.
  • I dissolve half a tablespoon of Natural Calm plus Magnesium-Calcium Drink in a glass of water and drink it.
  • I review my day and write down ten things I’m grateful for.
  • I plan for the next day.
  • I do a ten minute session of Spring Forest Qigong to unwind.

When I’m done with my night routine I brush and floss my teeth, wash my face, put on my pj’s, and I’m ready for bed.

Conclusion

There’s only one-third of the year left to adopt the habit, or habits, which you promised yourself you would create at the beginning of the year. Be a better person by the end of 2015 by creating at least one new habit. Live your best life by adopting positive habits, such as the ten I outline above.

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Baltasar Gracian

The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a collection of strategies for making ones way in the world.

Early 16th century Florence had Niccoló Machiavelli, and 17th century Spain had the Jesuit scholar Baltasar Gracian. Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom is comprised of 300 precepts which teach us to temper the innocence of the dove with the wisdom of the serpent.

The German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer were both great admirers of The Art of Worldly Wisdom. Here’s what they had to say about it:

  • “Europe has never produced anything finer. . . in matters of moral subtlety.” – Nietzsche
  • “Absolutely unique. . . a book made for constant use. . . a companion for life. [These maxims are] especially fitted to those who wish to prosper in the great world.” – Schopenhauer

I just finished reading The Art of Worldly Wisdom and have summarized what I understood from the book as the 35 pieces of life changing wisdom–that will make you more powerful and successful–which you’ll find, below.

1. Always Keep Learning. Actively cultivate knowledge in areas that are valuable to you. You are what you know. Wise people can do anything.

2. Keep People Wanting More. People will always want something from you, and when you give it to them, they will always want more. However, it is always up to you to decide how much you give to others. In addition, it’s wise to always hold something back.

After all, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom Gracian brings up some important truths about human nature.  He says, “Hope remembers and gratitude forgets.” Also, he reminds us that “He who has already drunk turns his back on the well.”

3. Strive for Excellence. Continuously strive to improve yourself, and continuously work on your craft. In terms of working on yourself, motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that, “Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development”.

When it comes to perfecting your craft, Malcom Gladwell explains in “Outliers: The Story of Success” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world-class. Put in the hours and strive to become one of the best in the world in your field.

4. Go Big or Go Home. People want to be thrilled; they want to see something they’ve never seen before. Fame, as Gracian points out, is the sister of giants. Don’t color inside the lines: go to extremes.

5. Be Pleasant and Courteous. People do business with people they like. How you do something is as important as what you do. Be pleasant and agreeable, and win the goodwill of others. In addition, courtesy will always be your best calling card.

6. Work Hard. You’ve probably heard the saying that “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” It doesn’t matter how talented you are: you won’t succeed if you don’t work hard.

7. Don’t Raise Other People’s Expectations. Gracian points out that when you raise people’s expectations, reality will never be able to catch up to their imagination. Instead, promise what you’re sure you can deliver, and then make sure that you live up to that promise.

In addition, although it’s common to hear that you should under-promise but over-deliver, a recent study by University of Chicago business professor Nicholas Epley shows that there’s little value in over-delivering.

Epley speculates that promises function as a mental contract: they nail down our expectations. We expect the promise to be kept, but we don’t anticipate more than is promised. Over delivering doesn’t have much of an impact, so don’t waste your efforts.

8. Make Yourself Lucky. In my post, “How to Make Yourself Lucky”, I explain that there are steps that you can take and mental attitudes that you can adopt in order to make yourself lucky. You can make yourself lucky by doing things such as the following:

    • Have a positive mental attitude.
    • Take the initiative instead of passively waiting for what you want to come to you.
    • Meet new people.
    • Put yourself out there: write articles on your subject of expertise; showcase your talent on YouTube; create an online portfolio; etc.
    • Be of service to others.
    • Craft a compelling story for yourself.

And, of course, be prepared, for “Readiness is the mother of luck”.

9. Be Informed. It’s important to have practical knowledge of current affairs. Of course, you don’t want to become oversaturated with information that is irrelevant to you, but you need to know what’s going on in the world and have an informed opinion on important issues.

10. To Persuade Others, Find Their Motivation. The art of persuasion involves more skill than determination. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the other and determine what it is that they want.

As Gracian points out, everyone wants something. It can be being well thought of, making money, and so on. The trick is to identify what sets people in motion, and then appeal to those desires.

11. Focus Your Efforts. You can’t know it all, you can’t do it all, and you can’t succeed at everything. However, you can be very knowledgeable in one or two areas, as well as develop your expertise in one or two fields. Go for depth instead of breadth. As Gracian points out, “Intensity leads to eminence”.

12. Know When to Say “No”. The only way you can “yes” to the most important people and activities in your life is by saying “no” to everything else. Say “no” to the following:

  • Causes you’re not deeply committed to.
  • Networking events that will have a negligible impact on your career or sales prospects.
  • Taking on more work than you can handle.
  • Doing work that other people should be doing.

Follow Gracian’s advice: “Don’t belong so much to others that you stop belonging to yourself.”

13. Identify Your Strengths. The only way to achieve prominence is to identify what you excel at—that is, identify your strengths—and then focus your efforts on improving those strengths. Master you areas of greatness, what comes naturally to you and you do well, and use your gifts to help others.

The more you can differentiate yourself from the competition, and the better you become at using your strengths to solve the problems of others, the more successful you’ll be.

14. Quit While You’re Ahead. When you’re doing well you may be tempted to think that your luck will last forever. However, as Gracian points out, “A long run of good fortune is always suspicious.” Don’t overstay your welcome, and know when to cash in your chips.

15. Do Good. Speak well of others, and do good deeds. Help create the kind of world you want to live in. To quote Gracian, “Speak what is very good, do what is very honorable.”

16. Think Before You Act. There’s a difference between being bold and being rash. Although you should have a bias for action, never act incautiously. In addition, if you doubt the wisdom of an undertaking, it’s safer not to act at all.

17. Be Diligent, But Once You Decide On a Course of Action, Act. Once you have a plan of action, work your plan. A brilliant idea that is not executed is worthless. Dale Carnegie once said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.”

Instead of dwelling on the difficulties, act.  If you need to, move slowly, and feel your way forward. Here’s a motto which Gracian recommends you live by: “Make haste slowly.”

18. Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks. It’s foolish to take unnecessary risks. Instead of jumping into the deep-end of the pool, wade into the shallow end taking steps slowly. Here are some practical ways to apply this precept:

  • Conduct market research to determine if there’s a demand for your service before you quit your job to start your own company.
  • Create a prototype of your product before investing heavily in materials and equipment.
  • Invest in adequate insurance.
  • Acquire the necessary knowledge before acting.
  • Float your ideas by people whom you trust and whose opinion you value.

19. Never Lose Your Self-Respect. A common saying is to live as if the entire world were watching your every step. However, Gracian argues that this isn’t necessary, because you’re watching everything that you do, and that fact alone should be enough to keep you on the right path. After all, what matters most in the end is the reputation that you have with yourself.

20. Never Lose Your Composure. The only thing you can control in life is yourself. Learn to master yourself thoroughly. Impressive credentials won’t do much for you if you lack poise and if you can’t remain calm under pressure. Emotional self-control will help you get far.

Here’s a quote from Gracian:

“Control yourself, especially your sudden impulses. It takes much reflection to keep a passion from bolting like a horse; and if you’re wise on horseback, you’re wise in everything.”

21. Adapt To the Situation. Not everything requires your best effort or the same amount of resources. Gracian notes that “The good falconer uses only the birds he needs.”

In addition, everyone has a different temperament. Adapt yourself accordingly. As Gracian advises, “Whether you’re with a serious person or a jovial one, follow the current, and politely transform yourself.”

22. Always Keep Them Wondering. Niccoló Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that good news should be given a little at a time; that way you stretch out the positive impact of the good news.

For example, if you’re going to offer your employees ergonomic chairs, give them an extra day of paid vacation, and treat them to a meditation class, don’t let them know about all three things at once. Instead, do the following:

  • Tell them about the chairs.
  • A month later, once the novelty of the chairs starts to drop, let them know about the extra vacation day.
  • Three months later, let them know they’ll be getting a free meditation class to help them de-stress, be more focused, and be more creative.

Just think of all the goodwill this approach would generate: every so often your employees get a bonus. At the same time, Gracian recommends that you follow a similar approach when it comes to revealing your talents and skills to others. He says the following:

“Don’t show off every day, or you’ll stop surprising people. There must always be some novelty left over. The person who displays a little more of it each day keeps up expectations, and no one ever discovers the limits of his talent.”

Make your skills and talents limitless by displaying them a little at a time.

23. Give It a Try. Wayne Gretzy once said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” A lot of people don’t achieve their goals because they don’t even try. You can’t achieve your goals, and you can’t succeed, unless you try.

24. Choose Your Friends Wisely. You are the company you keep. Here’s another quote from Machiavelli:

“There is no better indication of a man’s character than the company which he keeps; and therefor very properly a man who keeps respectable company acquires a good name, for it is impossible that there should not be some similitude of character and habits between him and his associates.”

And here’s one from Gracian:

“Put the right people beside you. The company you keep can work wonders. Customs and tastes and even intelligence are transmitted without our being aware of it.”

25. Save For a Rainy Day. Life moves in cycles. In the summer, prepare for the winter. During times of plenty, store up supplies for times of scarcity.

26. Look the Part. Although it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, most people do. The world judges people not for who they are, but for who they seem to be. As Gracian indicates, “Do, but also seem”. He also says, “Have merit, but know how to present yourself.” Make sure that your exterior reflects your inner excellence.

27. Think Before You Speak. Be careful with what you say. Once you’ve said something, you can’t take it back. Look at the following: Before you speak, T.H.I.N.K.:

  • T – Is it true?
  • H – Is it helpful?
  • I – Is it inspiring?
  • N – Is it Necessary?
  • K – Is it kind?

In addition, there’s no need for everyone to be aware of your affairs. Stop divulging all of your plans to anyone you come across. The less people know what you’re up to, the less likely it is that they’ll be able to dissuade you, sabotage you, or stand in your way.

28. Beware of Your Weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses, and it’s important to identify them as such. Seek to minimize your weaknesses so that they don’t tarnish your strengths. In this way, you’ll be turning moles into beauty marks.

If you don’t identify your weaknesses, you can be sure that others will. After all, people are quick to notice faults in others. And once they’ve identified your faults, they’ll use them against you. Therefore, know how to deal with your weaknesses so that you can be on guard.

29. The Best Revenge is Massive Success. Thinking of ways to get back at those who have hurt or wronged you is a waste of time. Instead, direct all of your efforts toward setting and achieving worthy goals. After all, success is the best revenge. Gracian says it best:

“Each of your successes will be torture for those that wish you ill, and your glory will be hell to your rivals. This is the greatest of punishments: to turn success into poison.”

30. Never Compete With Someone Who Has Nothing to Lose. Don’t risk your reputation by arguing or competing with someone who has nothing to lose. People who have nothing to lose will resort to shameless ploys, mudslinging, derision, and so on.

Even if, in the end, you win the argument, you will have lost –time, respect, and so on. Always remember, “You don’t have to attend every argument to which you are invited.”

31. Don’t Be Overly Sensitive. You don’t want to be so fragile that people have to walk on eggshells around you. Don’t do the following:

  • Be quick to take offense.
  • Have a long list of resentments.
  • Be easily annoyed.
  • Insist on having your own way all the time.

You should demand respect, but don’t hold on to a silly sense of honor. As Gracian would put it, don’t be made of glass.

32. Don’t Put Others On a Pedestal. Stop telling yourself that those in a position of authority are so far above you that their life is unattainable. Don’t think so highly of others that you allow them to manipulate you and take advantage of you.

If you feel that your value is not being recognized, walk away, regardless of how important or powerful the other person may be (or may appear to be).

33. Live and Let Live. The best life is a peaceful life, and the way to live a peaceful life is to live and let live. Stop meddling in things that don’t concern you. Avoid unnecessary conflict, don’t speak about the affairs of others, and don’t worry about things that don’t matter.

34. Be Realistic. It’s a good thing to have a high opinion of yourself and of your abilities. However, be sensible and have a clear vision of reality. If your expectations are too high, when experience fails to deliver you’ll be miserable. Aim high, but not so high that you continuously miss the mark.

35. Always Have Goals. Always have something that you want to learn, do, or experience. In order to be happy, keep hope and curiosity alive.

36. Be Shrewd. A shrewd person knows that there is malice in the world and that others are often deceitful. Therefore, they’re prudent in what they do and say, and they practice discerning awareness. In addition, shrewd people know how to make the most of their resources and circumstances.

Gracian warns to be shrewd, but not cunning. That is, don’t be devious or treacherous.

Conclusion

Gracian demonstrates Machiavelli’s know-how, with scruples. Use his precepts to become wise, powerful, and successful. Live your best life by following Gracian’s timeless wisdom.

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George Washington

George Washington’s rules of civility are more than just etiquette.

When George Washington–the first president of the United States of America–was about 16 years old, he copied out by hand a list of 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”. The rules are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in the 16th century.

Although at first glance the rules appear to be simply rules of etiquette, in the book “Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace”, the author explains that “the rules seek to form the inner man (or boy) by shaping the outer”. That is, they’re a way of molding your character by shaping your behavior.

There’s a quote attributed to Emily Post that says the following:

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

That’s what Washington’s rules of civility and decent behavior reflect. The rules are about focusing on other people, instead of just thinking of our own narrow self-interest. In addition, they’re about being willing to make small sacrifices for the sake of living in a community and getting along well with others.

Although there’s 110 rules, I’ve chosen the 32 that I consider to be most relevant to today’s day and age. You’ll find them below (keep in mind that some of the language is a bit antiquated).

1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

2. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

3. The gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

4. Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind of thereof.

5. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

6. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savors of arrogancy.

7. Let your ceremonies in courtesy be proper to the dignity of his place with whom you converse, for it is absurd to act the same with a clown and a prince.

8. When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it.

9. Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, and presently or at some other time; in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no signs of cholor but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

10. Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts.

11. Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.

12. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.

13. Play not the peacock, looking every where about you, to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stockings sit neatly and clothes handsomely.

14. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.

15. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ’tis a sign of a tractable and commendable nature.

16. Utter not base and frivolous things among grave and learned men.

17. Speak not of doleful things in a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them, change if you can the discourse.

18. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.

19. Deride no man’s misfortune though there seem to be some cause.

20. Be friendly and courteous.

21. Give not advice without being asked, and when desired do it briefly.

22. In things indifferent be of the major side.

23. Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to parents, masters and superiors.

24. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

25. When another speaks, be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not nor prompt him without desired. Interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.

26. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof.

27. Be not curious to know the affairs of others.

28. Let your carriage be such as becomes a man grave, settled and attentive to that which is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others say.

29. Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

30. Be not angry at table whatever happens and if you have reason to be so, show it not but on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.

31. Let your recreations be manful not sinful.

32. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Conclusion

There’s a TV show called “Sleepy Hollow” in which the main character, Ichabod Crane, comes from the time of George Washington. His manners are impeccable, and it’s a pleasure to watch how he behaves himself and relates to others.

The world would be a much better place if we all behaved in accordance with Washington’s rules of civility and decent behavior. In case you’re curious, you can read all 110 precepts here. Live your best life by being well-mannered.

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what to do when you don't know what to do

Sometimes you just don’t know what to do.

You’re a grown-up. So, you’re always supposed to know what to do, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Look at the following situations:

  • You have a problem at work, and you don’t know what to do.
  • Everything is going as it should. Then, something unexpected happens that derails your plans, and you don’t know what to do to get your plans back on track.
  • Your business is not doing as well as you had hoped, and you don’t know what to do.
  • There’s a goal that you would like to pursue, but you keep procrastinating on getting started because you don’t know what to do.

First, accept that it’s OK not to know everything. Then, look for a way to get back in the game. Below you’ll find five things to do when you don’t know what to do.

1. Get More Information. Whatever problem you may be having at this moment, you can rest assured that someone else has already had that problem. And they’ve solved it. In addition, they’ve written a book or an article about the problem and what they did to solve it, or they’ve created a YouTube video explaining what they did.

Look for that information and use it to plan your next step.

2. Find a Mentor. One of my favorite TV shows of all time is “The West Wing”. It’s fast, it’s entertaining, and I learn something new every time I watch an episode of the show, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before. In one episode, Leo—the Chief of Staff—tells the following story to his assistant, who’s going through a hard time:

“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.

 “A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

 “Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

 “Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”

When you’re facing a problem and you don’t know what to do, find a friend or acquaintance who has already been in the hole you’re currently in. Then, ask them for help getting out, or for some advice or ideas on what to do.

3. Act, Learn, Build, Repeat. The Harvard Business Review has an article in which they lay out the process that you should follow when you don’t know what to do. The process they recommend is the following:

  • Take a smart step as quickly as you can. A smart step is one which you can take quickly with whatever means you already have at your disposal. Make sure that the step you’re thinking of taking could not result in a loss that’s greater than what would be acceptable.
  • Reflect on the results that you get once you take the smart step. Every time you act you get some sort of information or feedback in return. Are you now closer to your goal? Did taking the step reveal that there’s something else that you need to do? What did you learn from the action that you took? Build on the results that you got by acting.
  • Repeat until you solve the problem or achieve the goal. Act, learn, build, and repeat until you achieve the results that you’re after.

 4. Do The Obvious. The other day I came across a booklet called “Obvious Adams: The Story of A Successful Businessman”. It was first published as a short story in the Saturday Evening Post in April, 1916. The story was an immediate hit and soon became a business classic.

Oliver B. Adams was an ordinary man. He was not particularly bright, good looking, or charismatic. However, he was in advertising—which is a very competitive field—and he managed to rise to the very top of the world of advertising. He did this by having a knack for the obvious.

Here’s what the author of the booklet, Robert R. Updegraff, once said about doing the obvious:

“The trouble is, the obvious is apt to be so simple and commonplace that it has no appeal to the imagination. We all like clever ideas and ingenious plans that make good lunch-table talk at the club. There is something about the obvious that is–well, so very obvious!”

Adams succeeded because at every step of his life, he did the obvious thing. That is, he did the thing which most people miss because it’s so simple. Instead of coming up with long, drawn out, complex plans, he would look for the most common sense approach to solving the problem before him.

The next time you don’t know what to do, follow Obvious Adams’ lead. Ask yourself, “What’s the obvious solution or the obvious next step?” Then, do the obvious. (You can read “Obvious Adams”, for free, here.)

5. Find a Bright Spot. In their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain that one approach to solving problems is to look for bright spots. That is, find out what’s working and do more of it.

For example, suppose that your child comes home with their report card. The good news is, he got an A+ in English. The bad news is, he’s barely passing science. At that point, if you’re going to follow the bright spot approach, you would do the following:

  • Ask your child what he’s doing in order to get such good grades in English.
  • Then, brainstorm ways in which he could apply those same strategies to studying for science.

When you’re facing a situation in which you don’t know what to do, think of problems that you’ve solved in the past, or think of goals that you’ve been successful in achieving. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did you solve those problems?
  • What strategies did you use?
  • What did you do to achieve those goals?
  • How can you apply what you’ve done in the past to achieve your goals or solve problems, to the problem that you’re facing in the present?

Figure out what to do, when you don’t know that to do, by thinking of the bright spots in your life and looking for ways to clone or replicate them.

Conclusion

Stop allowing the phrase “I don’t know what to do” to paralyze you. Instead, do one of the five things explained above. Live your best life by having a strategy for those times when you don’t know what to do.

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inner peace

Peace comes from within.

I did a Google search on the term “inner peace”, and I found a passage which identifies the 12 symptoms of inner peace (the passage is attributed to Saskia Davis). These are the symptoms of inner peace:

  • A tendency to think and act deliberately, rather than from fears based on past experiences.
  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  • A loss of interest in judging others.
  • A loss of interest in judging self.
  • A loss of interest in conflict.
  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
  • A loss of the ability to worry.
  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
  • Frequent bouts of smiling.
  • An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others, as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
  • An increasing tendency to allow things to unfold, rather than resisting and manipulating.

Those symptoms sound fantastic to me, so I decided to investigate further in order to discover how I could catch “inner peace”–which apparently is incurable once you’ve caught it, and you spend the rest of your life infecting others with it. The following is the list that I came up with of 25 ways to bring more peace into your life.

1. Sit in meditation each day.

2. Read something inspirational each morning, even it’s just a short quote or passage from an uplifting book.

3, Stop taking things personally. What others say and do is about them, it’s not about you.

4. Spend time in nature.

5. Find reasons to praise others instead of criticizing them.

6. Keep the following quote by Eleanor Roosevelt in mind: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

7. Pause often and be aware of how your life is made easier by others: the farmer who grew your food, the waiter who brings you water, the dentist who looks after your teeth, the garbage collector who picks up your trash, and so on. Think of how awful your life would be without these people.

8. Read good news. Here are two places that publish good news: Good News and Good News Network.

9. Know that everyone is doing the best that they can. Socrates taught that there is no evil in the world; there’s only ignorance. People act in the only way that they know how, based on their life experience and what others have taught them. If they knew how to act in a better, kinder, more loving way, they would.

10. Shift your perspective from thinking that things happen to you, to thinking that things happen for you. Everything contains a hidden gift, a not-so-obvious opportunity, or an important life lesson.

11. Transform your desire to get, into a desire to give. Instead of asking how you can get more money, ask yourself how you can give more value. Instead of wondering how many ebooks you can sell, wonder how you can share your knowledge with as many people as possible. As Michael Jeffreys indicates, giving opens the heart, while wanting closes it.

12. Train yourself to look for the beauty and goodness in your surroundings.

13. Listen to good music, read good books, and admire beautiful works of art.

14. Make a conscious effort to radiate an energy of serenity and peace.

15. Remember that just as the wave can’t separate itself from the ocean, we can’t separate ourselves from one another. We are all part of the same whole. Your right hand would never consent to hurting your left hand, so why would you consent to hurting another?

16. Continuously ask yourself. “Would I rather be right, or would I rather be happy?”

17. Stop identifying with your ego, and begin to identify with your soul.

18. Even if all evidence appears to the contrary, see the potential for a new world being born all around you.

19. Be kind to yourself.

20. Be kind and courteous to others.

21. Replace the belief “more is better”, with the belief “I have everything that I need”.

22. Before responding to a perceived slight from another, take a moment to smile and breathe.

23. Let go of the thought of competition. Instead of competing for what you want, create it.

24. Make the following your favorite time management tip: being unhappy, looking for someone to blame when things go wrong, and constantly retelling stories of victim-hood is a waste of time.

25. Count blessings instead of counting grievances and resentments.

Conclusion

I’m going to close this post with a quote from the Dalai Lama on how to achieve world peace:

“We can never obtain peace in the world if we neglect the inner world and don’t make peace with ourselves. World peace must develop out of inner peace.”

Live your best life by bringing more peace into your life.

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bring more music into your life

Listening to music makes us feel good, and has myriads of benefits.

One of the easiest ways to improve your life is to add more music to it. When you listen to music, your brain releases the “pleasure chemical” dopamine. This is one of the reasons why music has played such an important role in societies throughout history. It’s also why people often list music as one of the top five things that is most pleasurable to them.

Music has many benefits in addition to releasing feel-good hormones. Here are some of them:

  • It reduces stress and lowers anxiety.
  • It can bring us back to the present moment. That is, it makes us mindful which is one of the keys to happiness.
  • It increases motivation.
  • Listening to music can help reduce pain.
  • Research shows that people who combine music with a healthy diet and exercise get better results in achieving wellness.

However, with our busy lives, listening to music is often something that gets pushed to the side. The good news is, there are ways we can incorporate more music into our lives.

Below you’ll find 12 easy ways to bring more music into your life.

1. Wake Up to Music.

One of the keys to becoming an early riser is to make waking up in the morning as painless as possible. And one way to achieve this is to wake up to music. Luckily, there are apps for that.

Some apps, such as the Alarm Clock Xtreme app, let you choose any music as your alarm tone. The volume slowly increases until you have no option but to get up (or wake up your entire household). If you’re not sure what song to choose for your morning alarm, here are three options:

2. Integrate Music Into Your Morning Routine.

Evan Carmichael—founder of Evan Carmichael Communications Group–explains that turning on music is part of his morning routine. The music gives him energy which he’s going to need to fulfill his mission of making the world a better place. Carmichael has a playlist consisting of about 20 songs which he calls “The Believe Playlist” which he plays in the mornings.

In addition, as I write in my “30 Time Saving Hacks, Strategies, and Techniques” post, time yourself as you get ready in the morning by making a playlist of songs that you like and using the songs as a timer. Here are two examples:

  • Give yourself one song to brush your teeth and scrape your tongue.
  • Give yourself one song to make coffee and prepare breakfast.

3. Play Music During Your Commute.

For a lot of people, their daily commute is one of the biggest energy and happiness drains of their day. In fact, studies show that cutting out an hour-long commute each way gives people the happiness equivalent of making an extra $40,000 a year. It would stand to reason that making your commute more pleasant will go a long way toward making you happier.

Although you may feel that you have to be productive during your commute and get some work done, given how destructive your commute can be to your well-being, it’s probably a better strategy to do something you enjoy during that time.

A great idea is to use your commute to listen to music that you love. After all, there’s research that shows that listening to music increases happiness. Having a more positive commute will help you to be more productive, and put you in a better mood, for the rest of the day.

4. Make Routine Chores Fun With Music.

Most people hate routine household chores, such as cleaning, folding laundry, and putting away the groceries. Therefore, they tend to procrastinate on doing these things. In my post, “Stop Procrastinating By Making It Fun”, I explain that when a task bores you to tears, one way to get yourself to carry out the task is to ask yourself how you can make it more fun.

One way to make routine chores fun–or at least more fun– is to turn on some music. In fact, you can select a few songs that you love and tell yourself that you can only listen to them as you clean the kitchen. You’ll probably end up having a kitchen that’s so clean, you could eat off the floor.

5. Play Music As You Exercise.

Studies have shown that listening to music while you exercise does all of the following:

  • It distracts you from the physical discomfort of exercising.
  • It makes you less aware of your exertion.
  • Songs between 120 and 140 beats per minute (bpm) make you work out harder.

If you don’t know the BPM of a song, look it up online. You can use the site Song BPM.

6. Play Music at Work.

Listening to music at work increases accuracy and speed. However, the kind of music that should listen to depends on the type of work that you’re doing.

  • If your work involves numbers or attention to detail, listen to classical music.
  • Listen to pop music if your work involves data entry.
  • If your work involves solving equations, listen to ambient music.
  • If you need to problem-solve at work, listen to dance music.

7. Take Music Breaks

As I explain in my post, “25 Ways to Have Fun at Work”, most people need an energy boost in the afternoon. Why not do as Microsoft does? They blast music at three o’clock when everyone’s energy is starting to slump. Some people get up and dance, and everyone claps when the song is over.

Convince your boss that this is a good way to raise morale and foster camaraderie in the office.

If you work at home, give yourself music breaks. For every 50 minutes of work, get up, turn on some music, and dance around for ten minutes. You’ll be getting a mini-workout and you’ll be giving yourself an energy and mood boost.

8. Listen to Music Before Bed.

Studies show that songs with a slow tempo can help you to fall asleep. Lyz Cooper of the British Academy of Sound Therapy explains that you should look for songs that have 60 beats per minute (BPM) or less if you want to relax. She adds that you should ideally choose songs that remind you of a happy time.

9. Use Music Strategically to Control Your Moods and Emotions.

In the book Your Playlist Can Change Your Life: 10 Proven Ways Your Favorite Music Can Revolutionize Your Health, Memory, Organization, Alertness and More, the authors recommend that you use music strategically throughout the day to control your moods and emotions.

They suggest using a five star system to rate the songs that you listen to, based on different emotional states, such as the following:

  • How relaxed does this song make me feel?
  • How happy does this song make me feel’
  • How energized does this song make me feel?
  • How motivated and inspired does this song make me feel?
  • How focused do I feel when I listen to this song?

You’ll be creating awareness of how different songs influence your feelings. Then, create a playlist for the different feelings and emotions that you want to feel. For example, a “Pumped Up Playlist”; a “Relaxation Playlist”; a “Get In the Flow Playlist”; and so on.

Match your playlists to specific daily tasks so that you can use music to function at your best throughout the day.

10. Play a Musical Instrument.

As I explain in my post, “How to Make Yourself Smarter In One-Hour-A-Day”, what’s even better than listening to music is learning to play a musical instrument. Playing an instrument does all sorts of good things to your brain, and multiple brain areas are enhanced. Plus, who doesn’t want to be able to call themselves a musician?

11. Choose Music Venues on Your Nights Out.

When you go out on the town with your friends or your significant other on the weekends, do something music-related. You can go dancing, go to a jazz club, go to a concert, or even go to the symphony. Bond with the people you care about over music.

12. Create a Music Bucket List.

Create a bucket list—or a list of life goals– just about music. You can include things such as the following:

  • Build a classical music library.
  • Become an expert on your favorite music genre.
  • Form a band.
  • Go to a Celine Dion concert.
  • Learn to dance salsa.

The possibilities are endless.

Conclusion

Use the 12 tips above to add more music to your life. And, since my last post was on “17 Must Read Books By the Ancient Greeks”, I’m going to finish this post with a quote about music by Plato:

“Music is moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Live your best life by adding more music to your life.

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Greek Classics

We should all learn from the ancient Greeks.

I’m creating a reading list for myself for my “becoming well-read” project, and I’ve started by identifying the books by the ancient Greeks that I want to read. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they all sound incredibly interesting (as you can see for yourself by reading the descriptions below).

Why study the Greek classics? Because studying the Classics–including the Roman classics, which I’ll deal with later– is fundamental to understanding western civilization. We got all of the following from them:

  • Democracy
  • Philosophy
  • The concept of the Republic.
  • The concept of history,
  • The West’s first literature.
  • Medical and legal terms.

In addition, reading the Classics helps you to develop intellectual rigor and analytical skills, as well as a better understanding of the world you live in. Here, then, are 17 must-read books by the ancient Greeks:

1. The Iliad by Homer (mid-8th century BC). Poetry – Greece

The Iliad

The “Iliad” is an ancient Greek poem in dactylic hexameter widely attributed to Homer, author of the first known literature of Europe.  First committed to paper in the 8th century B.C., “The Iliad” focuses on the hero Achilles, the greatest warrior-champion of the Greeks, and the climax to the ten year Trojan War.

2. The Odyssey by Homer (end of the 8th century BC). Poetry – Greece

The Odyssey

Homer’s “The Odyssey” is roughly the second part of “The Iliad”. It’s an epic poem about Odysseus–King of Ithaca–and his ten year struggle to return home after the Trojan War. While sailing home, Odysseus faces numerous obstacles, including monsters and temptations.

Once home, Odysseus has to win a contest to prove his identity and fight off the suitors vying for the hand of his wife, Penelope. In the end, he regains his throne.

3. Poems and Fragments by Sappho (610 – 580 BC). Poetry – Greece

Sappho

Sappho was a Greek lyric poet from the island of Lesbos. She was known in Antiquity as a great poet. Plato referred to her as “the tenth Muse”. Although it is said that her work filled nine papyrus rolls in the great library of Alexandria 500 years after her death, only a small and fragmented body of her lyric poetry survived to the present day.

Aeschylus

4. The Orestia by Aeschylus (458 BC). Drama – Greece

The Oresteia

There are only three Greek tragedians whose work has survived to this day: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Aeschylus was a prolific playwright who is often referred to as the father of tragedy. However, only 7 of the perhaps 90 plays that Aeschylus wrote are preserved.

The Orestia is a trilogy which was originally performed at the Dionysia festival in Athens in 458 BC. It’s considered to be Aeschylus’ best work. Here are the plays that comprise the trilogy:

  • The first play of the trilogy is Agamemnon, which details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting for him is his wife Clytaemestra, who had begun an affair with Agamemnon’s cousin, Aegisthus. Clytaemestra kills Agamemnon and she and Aegisthus proclaim themselves the rulers of Argos.
  • The Libation Bearers is the second play of The Orestia. It takes place a few years later. Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytaemestra, kills Clytaemestra and Aegisthus to avenge his father. He’s immediately pursued by the Furies, spirits that avenge injustice.
  • Eumenides is the third and final play of The Orestia. Orestes, tormented by the Furies, flees to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. There, the Furies surround him but Athena intervenes. She calls on twelve Athenians to join her in forming a jury that will judge Orestes.

The Orestia deals with the concept of vengeance vs. justice, and breaking the cycle of violence.

5. Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus (450–425 BC). Drama – Greece

Prometheus Bound

This play is based on the myth of Prometheus, a Titan with the gift of prophecy who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity, an act for which he is condemned by Zeus to perpetual punishment.

The play begins as Prometheus is being reluctantly chained to a boulder by the god of fire, Hephaestus. There, vultures will peck out his innards every day, only to have them grow back at night. Given that the protagonist is chained throughout the play, the play contains little action and is made up mostly of speeches.

Sophocles

6. The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles (about 420 BC). Drama – Greece

The Oedipus Cycle

Sophocles is the second of the three Greek tragedians whose work has survived to this day. He wrote 123 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in their entirety. His most famous work is the Oedipus Cycle, which tells the story of the life of Oedipus and what happens to his children soon after his death.

Oedipus arrives at Thebes a stranger and finds the town under the curse of the Sphinx, a monster who had been sent by the gods. The Sphinx will not free the city unless her riddle is answered. Oedipus solves the riddle and, since the king had recently been killed, becomes the king and marries the queen.

Here are the three plays of the Oedipus Cycle:

  • Oedipus Rex: At the beginning of the play, Oedipus is the King of Thebes. However, he discovers that–just as the oracle had foretold–he killed his father and married his mother. The grief of this discovery leads him to take his own sight, and he’s later exiled from Thebes.
  • Oedipus at Colonus: After many years of wandering, Oedipus arrives at Colonus, where he dies.
  • Antigone: Antigone is Oedipus’ daughter. Her two brothers killed each other in battle, and one of them was given a hero’s burial. However, the other brother was  labelled a traitor, and the king denies him burial. Antigone ignores the king’s order and buries her brother.

Euripides

7. Medea by Euripides (431 BC). Drama – Greece

Medea

Euripides is the third of the three Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. Medea is his most famous play. It’s based on the myth of Jason, leader of the Argonauts.

Jason marries Medea, a barbarian, and fathers her two children. However, he leaves her for a more favorable match. Medea takes vengeance by killing her children, as well as Jason’s new wife. She then escapes to Athens to start a new life.

8. Electra by Euripides (around 410 BC). Drama – Greece

Electra

The plot of Electra is roughly equivalent to the plot of The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus, which has already been discussed. In Euripedes’ Electra, Electra has been cast out of the royal house and married to a peasant. Although she comes to care for her peasant husband, she deeply resents that her mother sent her away.

When she’s reunited with her brother, Orestes, the two avenge the death of their father, Agamemnon. They kill the two people who murdered him: Aegisthus and their mother, Clytaemestra.

It’s interesting to note that Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides each wrote a play about the story of Electra, and all three plays survive to this day.

9. Hippolytus by Euripides (428 BC). Drama – Greece

The Hippolytus

This Greek tragedy is based on the myth of Hippolytus, an illegitimate son of King Theseus of Athens. The play is set in the coastal town of Troezen. Theseus is living there while serving a year’s voluntary exile after having murdered a local king and his sons.

Hippolytus has lived in Troezen since childhood. He takes a vow of chastity and snubs the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite takes revenge by causing Phaedra, Theseus’ wife, to fall madly in love with Hippolytus.

Aristophanes

10. The Clouds by Aristophanes (423 BC). Old Comedy – Greece

The Clouds

Aristophanes was an acclaimed comic playwright of Ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. His work defines the genre of Old Comedy. In The Clouds, Strepsiades, an elderly Athenian mired in debt, enrolls his son–Pheidippides–in Socrates’ philosophy school. He hopes his son will learn the rhetorical skills necessary to evade their creditors.

However, when Pheidippides returns home he uses what he’s learned to outwit his father and kick him out of house. This leads Strepsiades to burn down the philosophy school in disgust.

Herodotus

11. The Histories by Herodotus (440 BC). History – Greece

The Histories

Herodotus is known as the “Father of History”. Before him, no one had made a systematic, thorough study of the past or tried to explain the cause-and-effect of its events. In The Histories, Herodotus gives an account of the Greco-Persian Wars, a conflict between the Greeks and Persians which took place between 499 and 479 B.C. Here’s how he begins his work:

“Here is the account, of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus in order that the deeds of men not be erased by time, and that the great and miraculous works–both of the Greeks and the barbarians–not go unrecorded.”

Plato

12. Plato: Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo by Plato (roughly 380 – 360 BC). Dialogue – Greece

Plato Five Dialogues

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were the most influential of the ancient Greek philosophers. Plato was Socrates’ student, and Aristotle was a student of Plato. Although both Plato and Aristotle wrote extensively, Socrates didn’t write anything himself.  All we know about Socrates comes from two sources: Plato’s writing and Xenophon’s memoirs of Socrates (Xenophon was another of Socrates’ students).

Plato was born in Athens in 428 or 427 B.C. to an aristocratic family. Most of his writings survived. His works are in the form of dialogues, where several characters argue about a topic by asking questions of each other. Socrates appears as a character in many of the dialogues. It is widely accepted that Plato wrote 26 dialogues, and most scholars classify them as early, middle or late.

Plato’s dialogues have been used to teach a range of subjects, including philosophy, logic, ethics, rhetoric, religion and mathematics. Here are five of his most famous dialogues:

  • Euthrypto: This dialogue takes place during the weeks leading to Socrates’ trial. The dialogue features Socrates and Euthyphro, a religious expert. They discuss the meaning of piety, or the virtue of living in a manner that fulfills one’s duty to the gods and to mankind. This is of particular interest since Socrates has been charged with impiety.
  • Apology: This is an account of the speech Socrates makes at the trial in which he is charged with not recognizing the gods recognized by the state, inventing new deities, and corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates is not apologizing,  but defending himself.
  • Crito: This dialogue takes place in Socrates’ cell, where he awaits execution.
  • Meno: The dialogue begins when Meno asking Socrates whether virtue can be taught, and this question occupies the two men for the entirety of the text.
  • Phaedo: The dialogue is told from the perspective of one of Socrates’ students, Phaedo of Elis, who was present at Socrates’ deathbed. Socrates explores various arguments for the soul’s immortality.

13. The Symposium by Plato ( 385–370 BC). Dialogue – Greece

The Symposium

In this dialogue, the nature of love is examined in a sequence of speeches given by men attending a symposium, or drinking party. The conversation revolves around questions such as the following: What is love? From where does it arise? What is the purpose of love? In this dialogue, Socrates advocates transcendence through spiritual love.

14. The Republic by Plato (380 BC). Dialogue – Greece

The Republic

In this dialogue, Socrates and a a group of friends discuss the nature of justice. They also consider whether the just man is happier than the unjust man. They create different imaginary cities “in speech”, culminating in a city called Kallipolis–the ideal state– which is ruled by philosopher kings.

The participants also discuss other matters, such as the theory of forms, education, and the roles of the philosopher in society.

Aristotle

15. Metaphysics by Aristotle (350 BC). Philosophy – Greece

Metaphysics

As a young man, Aristotle studied in Plato’s academy in Athens. He later went on to tutor Alexander the Great of Macedonia.

Metaphysics is the first major work of the branch of philosophy  known by the same name, which studies existence. This branch of philosophy answers the question, “What is?” Metaphysics holds that reality is absolute and has a specific nature independent of our thoughts or feelings. Every entity has a specific nature and acts in accordance with that nature.

16. The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (350 BC). Philosophy – Greece

The Nicomachean Ethics

This is Aristotle’s best known work on ethics. He argues that the highest good and the end toward which all human activity is directed is happiness. In addition, happiness is attained by leading a virtuous life and through the development of reason. He adds that, in general, the moral life is one of moderation in all things except virtue.

17. Politics by Aristotle (350 BC). Political Philosophy – Greece

Politics

Aristotle believed that politics is the science of creating a society in which men can live the good life and develop their full potential. Politics is one of the most influential texts in the history of political thought. It presents issues which  confront anyone who wants to think seriously about the ways in which human societies are organized and governed.

Conclusion

I’ve already read the Oedipus Cycle–which I had read in school but didn’t remember well–and I loved it. I’m looking forward to reading the other books on this list. I hope I’ve inspired you to create your own list of Greek classics you want to read. Live your best life by reading the books of the ancient Greeks.

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failure stories

Robert F. Kennedy once said that “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

When any of us fail at something, it’s hard to keep things in perspective. On the other hand, it’s easy to fall prey to catastrophic thinking along the following lines:

  • That’s it; I’ll never get another chance again.
  • Everyone will know that I’ve failed and no one will ever want to work with me again.
  • I guess I just don’t have what it takes.

That’s where stories about other people who have failed, and then went on to win big-time, come in. They help us to think the following:

  • If they could get through that, I can get through this.
  • They got a second chance, and I deserve one, too.
  • Maybe if I persevere, like they did, I’ll also achieve my goals and dreams.
  • I will take this risk. If I fail, I’ll use that failure to do better the next time.

In the spirit of looking for ways to turn failure into a springboard to success, below you’ll find 16 wildly successful people who failed before becoming superstars.

1. Fred Astaire. The man who evaluated Fred Astaire’s first screen test wrote, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Thank goodness that didn’t get Astaire to stop dancing.

Astaire went on to star in several successful musical comedy films with Ginger Rogers from 1933 to 1949, and he continued to do well even after the duo split up. “Top Hat”, along with “Swing Time”, are his most famous films. They’re still being watched today.

2. Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley, one of the most iconic entertainers of the 20th century, drove a truck after graduating from high school. At the same time, he auditioned whenever he could. After auditioning as a vocalist for a popular Memphis band, he was told: “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”

3. Katherine Hepburn. Katherine Hepburn—who went on to win four Oscars–was once on a list of actors considered to be “box office poison” due to a series of film flops.

Always an aggressive, go-getting type, she acquired the film rights to “The Philadelphia Story”, gave herself the lead female role, and staged her comeback. The film was a big hit. Hepburn had taken control of her career and it paid off big. She went from failure to success.

4. Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez. Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. There are few people who have not heard of his seminal work, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. However, he had difficulty getting his first novella, “La Hojarasca” (Leaf Storm), published.

In the early 1950s, García Márquez sent his novella to the most important publishing house in Latin America at the time: Editorial Losada in Argentina. The editor, Guillermo de Torre, rejected it and sent it back with a note informing the young García Márquez that he didn’t have a future as a writer, and he should look for a different profession.

5. Dr. Seuss. Theodor Geisel—known as Dr. Seuss—had his first book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” initially rejected by over 20 publishers. Finally, Vanguard Press agreed to publish the book. Today, Dr. Seuss’ children’s books are classics – most of us will remember having read “The Hat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham” when we were kids.

6. Walt Disney. When Walt Disney was a young man, he was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Disney’s next failure came in 1922 when he started his first film company. Along with a partner, he bought a used camera and made short advertising films and cartoons under the studio name Laugh-O-Gram. The company went bankrupt in 1923.

Later, Disney was told that Mickey Mouse—who has become one of the world’s most beloved animated characters–was a bad idea because women were afraid of mice. When visiting one of the many Disney amusement parks that exist today around the world, or watching the Disney movies, it’s hard to believe how many times Walt Disney failed before succeeding.

7. Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill was Britain’s lord of admiralty (secretary of the navy) during World War I. He made the decision to attack Turkey at Gallipoli on the Dardanelles coast, despite  being advised by people more knowledgeable than he was in warfare that it was a bad idea.

The battle lasted eight-and-a-half-months; it resulted in 250,000 casualties for the Allies; and the Allies withdrew in disgrace. Britain was humiliated.

Churchill was dismissed from his cabinet position. In an interview given many years later, his wife explained that after the Gallipoli debacle, Churchill had almost died of grief.

Then, during World War II, Churchill saved Britain from the Nazis. However, in another surprising failure for Churchill, British voters ousted him from office just two months after Germany’s surrender in 1945.

Nonetheless, in 1951, 77-year-old Churchill became prime minister for the second time. He stayed in the position until he retired in 1955. The “British Bulldog” who had so many ups and downs in his life, ended up on top.

8. Larry King. For twenty-five years, from 1985 to 2010, Larry King hosted the nightly interview television program Larry King Live on CNN, a show that had over one million nightly viewers. However, in 1971 he was arrested for grand larceny.

King didn’t go to jail because the statute of limitations had run out. The man who accused him, Louis E. Wolfson, succeeded in getting King fired from his job at the Miami TV station WTVY, by claiming that he was a ‘menace to the public’.

The scandal almost destroyed King’s career. It took him four years to get his life back on track.

9. Colonel Sanders. Harland Sanders—who went on to become known as Colonel Sanders—was in his sixties when, due to unforeseen circumstances, he found himself penniless. He hopped into his car and started driving around the US, visiting restaurants and trying to franchise his chicken business.

In exchange for his “secret” chicken recipe—with eleven herbs and spices—he wanted a nickel for every chicken sold. He was rejected over 1000 times until, finally, he sold his first franchise to Pete Harman of Salt Lake City. Things picked up from there.

In 1964, Sanders sold the franchising operation for $2 million. Today, that operation is KFC—a multibillion-dollar international company.

10. Sidney Poitier. Sidney Poitier grew up in poverty in the Bahamas. When he first auditioned for the American Negro Theatre, he spoke in a heavy Caribbean accent and botched his lines. Poitier was told by the casting director:

“Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?”

Poitier worked on his craft and went on to win an Academy Award for best actor.

11. Bill Gates. In 1975 Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. He started a business with Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data. It flopped. Undeterred by their failure, Gates and Allen tried their hand at business again and created Microsoft.

12. Milton Snavely Hershey. Miltson S. Hershey–founder of Hershey’s chocolate–started four candy companies that failed, and he filed for bankruptcy, before starting what is now Hershey’s Foods Corporation. His fifth attempt was clearly successful – Hershey’s Kisses are known the world over.

13. William McKinley. McKinley—the 25th President of the United States–went bankrupt while serving as Ohio’s governor in 1893. He was $130,000 in the red before eventually straightening out with the help of friends. He won the White House after having gone through this experience.

14. H.J. Heinz. H.J. Heinz started the partnership of Heinz and Noble with his friend, Clarence Noble, when he was twenty-five years old. They produced horseradish and other bottled products. However, the market was soon flooded with horseradish, and the company went bankrupt.

Heinz plunged back into the bottled food business a year later. Of course, we’re all familiar with the Heinz Company, which today manufactures thousands of food products in plants on six continents.

15. J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling is the first billionaire author, thanks to the Harry Potter books and franchise. It’s hard to believe she once lived on welfare and was so miserable she contemplated suicide. Here’s a quote from her 2008 commencement speech at Harvard:

“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless … By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

16. Rowland Hussey Macy. Rowland Hussey Macy was the founder of the world famous Macy’s department store chain. Between 1843 and 1855, Macy opened four dry goods stores, including the original Macy’s store in downtown Haverhill, Massachusetts. They all failed.

It was not until he opened his Macy’s in New York City that he succeeded. Today, Macy’s covers an entire city block and is a must-see NYC landmark.

 Conclusion

Aren’t you feeling better about your failures now? I know I am. Live your best life by recognizing that failure is just a stepping stone to success.

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take Moocs

MOOCs–Massive Open Online Courses–allow anyone to become an independent learner.

A little while ago I started a “Become Well-Read” project. I read quite a lot in high school–as well as at Georgetown–, but I decided I wanted to read certain books that were left out of my education, as well as re-read others which I read at some point but are now just vague memories.

In addition, I decided to supplement my reading by taking MOOCs on literature. That’s how I came across a MOOC taught by La Universidad de Los Andes (Los Andes University) in Bogota, Colombia. It’s called “Reading Macondo”, and it’s about five of the books written by Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez.  I’m currently taking the course, and I’m loving it. In addition, taking this MOOC has inspired me to write a post on how MOOCs can improve your life.

Below you’ll find 10 ways taking MOOCs can improve your life.

1. Fill the Gaps In Your Education.  Let’s face it, we all have a list of things we wish we had learned in school, but didn’t. This can include things such as the following:

  • How to Network
  • Study Skills — Learning How to Learn
  • How to Negotiate
  • How to Make Decisions

Whatever gap you feel there is in your education, chances are high that there’s a MOOC you can take on that topic. Find it, take it, and fill in the gaps.

2. Improve Your Resume. Add a “Professional Development” section or a “Skills” section to your resume and include any job-related MOOCs that you’ve taken.

  • First, this tells employers that you’re intellectually curious, as well as proactive–both of which are highly valued skills.
  • In addition, you can add a short explanation on how the skills that you acquired by taking the MOOCs relate to the job that you’re applying for.

If you really want to knock the socks off of prospective employers, do the following:

  • Complete a project by using the skills that you learned through the MOOC.
  • Create a portfolio showcasing your newly acquired skills.

Both a project that showcases your skills, and a portfolio of your work, speak much louder than a certificate of completion. Another thing to consider is that there are web sites that allow you to upload your MOOC certificates, as well as sites that allow you to create online portfolios.

Here are some of them:

3. Decide Whether To Pursue a Particular Career. Suppose that you decide that you want to change careers. After conducting some research you decide that computer science sounds interesting, and that computer scientists are in high demand, so you start looking for a program you can enroll in.

Once you find a good program you quit your job, you ask your relatives for a loan, and you enroll. Then, a semester into the program, you realize that you absolutely hate computer science. But now you’re stuck. This scenario doesn’t sound too good, does it?

A much better approach is to enroll in a few MOOCs on computer science. By doing this you’ll get a good feel for the area and be able to make an educated decision on whether or not it’s an area that you really want to pursue.

4. Dabble in Different Fields. This point is related to the point above. If you know that you want to move in a new career direction, but you’re not sure which field to pick, take MOOCs in several different fields and see which one you like best. You may be surprised to discover that you hate the law, but love engineering, or vice versa.

5. Become an Expert. It’s often said that if you want to become an expert in a subject, relative to the general population, you need to read five books on the subject. Obviously, it takes more than that, but it’s a good start. Gain more knowledge in an area in which you’re interested in becoming an expert by taking MOOCs.

What do you want to be an expert in? Do the following:

  • Read the top five books in the field or area.
  • Identify the top five MOOCs in that area and take them, from start to finish.
  • Read the top five articles you find online in that area.
  • Watch the top five YouTube videos in that area.

Then, you can go on to prove your expertise by helping someone else with your knowledge. Finally, share your expertise with the world by creating a blog, an eBook, a product, or a service.

6. Learn Business Skills. You hear it all the time: someone wants to start a side business or turn their hobby into a start-up. However, they complain that they can’t do it because they didn’t go to business school, and, therefore, they don’t have any business skills. Well, now all those people who use the “but I didn’t go to business school” excuse can stop whining.

They can acquire any business skills that they need by taking MOOCs (on refining your idea, on marketing, on finance, on accounting, and so on), and launch their business. It’s even possible to get a No-Pay MBA by taking MOOCs.

7. Be a Lifelong Learner. I’m a lifelong learner. I love learning new things. Right now I’m reading “La Hojarasca” for the “Reading Macondo” MOOC that I mentioned in the introduction above. Is that going to help me make more money or look great on my resume? Probably not.

But I’m doing it because it makes me happy to learn, and doing something just because it makes you happy is a good enough reason to do it.

8. Get An Ivy League Quality Education. Many people dream of going to an Ivy League school. Nonetheless, for most people, that’s not going to happen.

The good news it that many Ivy League schools are putting several of their courses online. This means that you may not be able to say that you went to Harvard or Yale, but now you can say that you’ve taken Harvard and Yale courses by taking the MOOCs that they offer.

9. Achieve Your Goals. One reason you may not be achieving your goals is because there’s a skill –or more than one–that you need to have in order to achieve your goals, which you lack. For example, one of your goals may be to be financially free.

However, you lack the financial knowledge that you need to manage and invest your money wisely. In that case, find a MOOC on money management, as well as a MOOC on stock and bond investing, and take them. Doing this will allow you to acquire the skills that you need to achieve your goal of financial freedom.

Do the following:

  • Ask yourself what your three most important goals are.
  • Identify the skills that you need in order to achieve those goals which you don’t currently have.
  • Take MOOCs that will allow you to acquire those skills.

10. Keep Your Brain Sharp. Challenging the brain can keep the mind and memory sharp. And one way to challenge the brain is by learning new things. Keep learning through MOOCs and keep your brain strong by being mentally active.

Conclusion

If you haven’t taken any MOOCs yet, I hope this post has convinced you to do so. And if you have, I hope it convinces you to take more. I know that I have three more MOOCs that I want to take lined up for when I’m done taking “Reading Macondo”. Live your best life by taking MOOCs.

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create the meditation habit

Developing the habit of meditating is potentially life-changing.

Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk; he’s been acknowledged as the UK’s foremost mindfulness meditation expert. In his book, Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, Puddicombe explains that meditation can be used for all of the following:

  • To treat a wide range of stress-related symptoms including anxiety, depression, anger, and insomnia.
  • To improve your focus and concentration.
  • To improve your emotional stability and your relationships with others.
  • To be happier. Unhappiness has been linked to a mind that’s constantly wandering. Meditation helps to cure you of wandering mind syndrome by increasing your mindfulness.

In my post, “How to Make Yourself Smarter In One-Hour-A-Day“, I explain that meditation can increase your brain’s gray matter and thicken your pre-frontal cortex, both of which give you more brain power. Here are more ways in which your brain benefits from meditation:

  • Meditation can increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, an area of the brain in the middle of the skull that is crucial for memory.
  • Meditation improves your working memory, which is the ability to hold and manipulate information in your head.
  • Meditation shrinks the size of your amygdala–the brain’s fight or flight center, which makes people feel less stressed and makes them better able to handle life’s challenges.

Doesn’t all of that sound fantastic? Do you meditate? If you’ve toyed with the idea of starting a meditation practice, or if you’ve tried meditating in the past, but failed, this post is for you. Below you’ll find 10 practical tips for creating a meditation habit that sticks.

1. Know Why You Want to Take Up Meditation. In order to give yourself the necessary push to get started with your meditation practice, you need to be clear on the reasons why you want to take up meditation. The stronger your reasons “why”, the more likely it is that you’ll take the plunge and give meditation a try.

As an example, the following are bad reasons to start meditating:

  • “Well, everyone else is doing it, so I thought I might as well do it to.”
  • “My spouse wants me to.”
  • “I love Marelisa’s blog, and she says I should meditate, so I’m going to.” :-)

These, on the other hand are fantastic reasons to start meditating:

  • “I’m unfocused at work and my productivity is suffering as a result. I’m going to start meditating so I can improve my ability to focus and concentrate.”
  • “I don’t sleep well at night. I’m going to try meditation to see if it helps with my insomnia.”
  • “My mind is always going at a million miles per hour. I’m going to take up meditation to try to calm my mind chatter.”

Knowing “why” you want to start meditating will give you the motivation that you need in order to get started.

2. Start Small. Try Mini-Meditations. I meditated daily for a long time. Then, I stopped. Things got hectic at work and I made the wrong decision and stopped meditating. For the longest time I wanted to take up meditation again, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it.

Then, at the very start of 2015, I made it one of my New Year’s resolutions to start meditating again. However, the first week of January went by, then the second, and then the third, and I wasn’t meditating. Then, one day during the fourth week of January I got fed up with myself and my inability to create a meditating habit. I was having breakfast and I told myself:

“That’s it. As soon as I’m done eating breakfast I’m going to close my eyes right here where I’m sitting and I’m going to meditate for 30 seconds.”

And I did. So I told myself that’s what I would start doing from that day on. That same day I mentioned to my sister that I had started meditating for 30 seconds a day, and she looked at me like I was nuts. But, guess what? It worked. It got me to start meditating again.

After meditating for 30 seconds for a few days, I increased my meditation time to one minute. Then, I increased it to two minutes, and then to three minutes. I kept increasing my meditation time, one minute at a time, until I got to ten minutes.

3. Tie Your Meditation to a Trigger. You can’t just say, “I’m going to start meditating” and leave it at that, because then you won’t do it. In order to create a meditation habit, you have to schedule it. Better yet, tie it to something that you’re already doing.

As you can see from the point above, finishing breakfast became my meditation trigger. Eating breakfast is something that I do every day. And as soon as I finish breakfast, I know that it’s meditation time, and I do it.

4. Set Up Your Environment To Help You. Although initially I was meditating at the table where I eat my meals, I decided to stretch out a yoga mat on the living room rug and start meditating there. Every night I set out the yoga mat for the next day. This does two things for me:

  • I walk past the yoga mat in the morning as I head for the table to have my breakfast. This re-enforces that I’m going to meditate right after I eat.
  • Once I’m done eating breakfast I don’t have to get up and search for my yoga mat, since it’s already laid out where it should be.

This means that I know when I’m going to meditate, I know where, and everything is set up so I just have to get up from the table, walk a couple of feet to the yoga mat, and sit down. My environment is set up to help me.

5. Choose a Meditation Method. Suppose that you, too, decide to meditate on a yoga mat, in your living room, right after breakfast. As soon as you’re done with breakfast you sit on the yoga mat and are ready to get started. Now what?  Well, you have to have decided ahead of time how you’re going to meditate.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of meditation methods you can try. Here are just a few you can choose from:

  • Take 100 breaths and count them. Try not to think of anything else.
  • Follow along with a guided meditation. Choose one from Amazon or search for a free guided meditation on YouTube.
  • Try visualization. Close your eyes and imagine that there’s a door in front of you. You open the door and it leads to a beautiful garden. What do you see? Is it filled with fruit trees? Is there a pond in the garden? What do you hear? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear the breeze ruffling the leaves? Create the most beautiful and peaceful garden that you can, in your mind, and stay there throughout your meditation.
  • Try a meditation app such as Headspace–which was created by Puddicombe, the former Buddhist monk I referred to in this post’s introduction. Another app you can try is Calm.
  • Chant a mantra, such as the popular “Om Mani Padma Hum“, the mantra of Chenrezi, the Buddha of compassion.

As you can see, there are many meditations methods you can choose from. Try as many as you like until you find one you feel you can stick to.

6. Make Meditation Fun. Let’s face it, if something bores you it’s just a matter of time before you’ll stop doing it. Therefore, try to make your meditation time as much fun as possible. Here are some things you can try to make your meditation sessions more fun and ceremonial:

  • Light a candle that gives off a scent that you love. Old Factory Candles are a popular choice.
  • Get some incense.
  • Turn on some meditation music or nature sounds.
  • In some Buddhist practices, singing bowls are used as a signal to begin and end periods of silent meditation. Get yourself a Tibetan Singing Bowl and strike it to signal the beginning and the end of each of your meditation sessions.

The truth is, you don’t need any props to meditate. However, if candles, music, and so on will help to make your meditation experience something that you look forward to, then, by all means, use them.

7. Find a Way to Hold Yourself Accountable. One of the secrets to habit success is being held accountable. If you want to succeed in creating a meditation habit, find a way to create a negative consequence if you don’t follow through.

A common form of accountability is to start a habit with someone else. Then, if you fail to follow through, you lose face with that person. Do you know someone who also wants to start meditating? If so, agree to send each other an email every day right after meditating. That way, you’ll hold each other accountable.

8. Do It Every Day. In order to make your meditation habit stick, do it every day. Andy Warhol once said the following:

“Either once only, or every day. If you do something once it’s exciting, and if you do it every day it’s exciting. But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it’s not good any more.”

By meditating daily you can avoid having the following debate in your head every day:

  • “Should I meditate today? I’m not sure . . . I have a lot to do today. I won’t meditate today. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
  • “I meditated three days in a row, so I’ll just take the day off today.”
  • “I’m not really in the mood to meditate today. I’m just not feeling it.”

Skip the mental debate by making meditation a daily habit.

9. Track Your Progress. In order to stick to your newly formed meditation habit, track your progress. Do the following:

  • Put an Om sticker on your wall calendar every day that you meditate.
  • Keep a meditation log.
  • Use an app that helps you track your progress toward the completion of your goals. For example, you can try Coach.me.

10. Give Yourself a Reward. In my post, “Eight Ways to Build New Habits and Make Them Stick“, I explain that every habit can be broken down into three components:

  • The cue: For our purposes the cue is the trigger to start meditating (in my case, it’s finishing breakfast).
  • A routine: Here the routine is your meditation ritual.
  • A reward: Once you’re done meditating, reward yourself.

For me, meditation is its own reward. I feel calm and at peace while I’m meditating, and meditating gives me a mood boost which I can then carry with me throughout the day. However, I realize that this is because I’ve already been meditating for a few months.

When you’re first starting out you’ll probably want to give yourself a reward each time that you meditate in order to turn meditating into a habit that you’ll stick to. Here are three ideas on how to reward yourself:

  • After each meditation session, have a piece of dark chocolate (with sea salt, if you can get it).
  • When you’re done meditating switch from the nature sounds to your favorite song and dance along with it.
  • Have a cup of flavored coffee.

There’s an infinite number of ways you can reward yourself for meditating. Get creative.

Conclusion

I can tell you from personal experience that meditating is one of the best habits that you can adopt. Make the meditation habit stick by applying the tips I share above. Live your best life by creating the meditation habit.

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