Wisdom I would tattoo on my arm.

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I try. I fail. I haven’t given up. These are common themes for me.

I have no shortage of regrets, and there are truths about me that burn as deep as any insult. But I have not given up on being better. I have realized that many of my battles are lost or won by a single thought and I want to be kinder and more effective with the remainder of my life, so I am determined to harvest wisdom from my failures. I could have learned any of the following lessons in a book and spared myself, but I acquired most of this knowledge the hard way. They have by their cost to acquire and their everyday effectiveness gained great significance to me. With some of these 2 to 4 word phrases, I have spared myself and those around me the expense of paying for my foolishness. With some of these other short tips, I have learned how to be more effective and creative and to make being around me more pleasant, and sometimes even inspiring. What could be more valuable than those few bits of knowledge that allow you to be who you choose to be?

Here are the lessons I would tattoo on my arm.

1.) WAIT 24 HOURS.

Never act on emotion. This is a hard one, but I know I would have saved a lot of time and money, kept a few more relationships, and avoided many of my biggest mistakes if I had waited 24 hours to act on them. Unfortunately, the first sign that you will do something stupid is the stultifying wave of emotion – the hurt, the anger, the desire to make an unplanned purchase, and the second is just after it blows up in your face. Wisdom seems to take 24 hours, and for the rash, the self-righteous and the foolish the message is often ”You fucked up.”

“Sleep on it” is great advice. Don’t act in weakness. Wait 24 hours for your good sense to catch up with your emotions.

2.) Consider the Cost

This point is related to the last. Every action has a cost, so it’s important to ask what your actions are risking regularly. Do a cost/benefits analysis before entering a debate with anyone. This is such a heated and divisive time and I find myself wanting to throw my hat in the ring and offer my opinion frequently. The desire to be right is a real weakness in my character. Why do I have to prove it? What has proving completeness or reliability of my knowledge gained me? And most importantly, what has proving this cost me? There are times to engage in debate and there are things that are important enough to argue about, but it has to be worth the potential cost. It is not worth ruining an evening or a relationship to stroke my ego. That is too costly.

Socrates wrote about a “Three Filter Test” for speech: Is it true, is it kind, is it helpful? I would add “can you afford it?”

3.) 1, 2, 3, GO!

This is the opposite side of the coin and it amazes me. While my lack of thought steers me toward regret, often an overabundance of thought steers me toward inaction. Steven Pressfield wrote about this phenomenon in THE WAR OF ART. The reason it’s easy to get into a rut and difficult to pull myself out of one Is when it’s time to do the things I know I should do my mind goes to work to run out the clock. So when it is time to do things you know are good for you give yourself no time to deliberate. Don’t think, just say “1,2, 3, GO!” out loud, and by the time you land on that exclamation point be doing it! Start it and keep it going until it is done. This is similar to the concept of the 5 Second Rule, as coined by Mel Robbins. I have taken “1,2, 3, Go!” from a YouTuber named Based Zeus and it works for me.

4.) Yes AND!

As Marcus Aurelius has said, “We are born for cooperation . . . to work in opposition to one another is against our nature.” The “who is right?” frame is artificial. That’s not the way the universe is organized. Instead of competing against or opposing other ideas, you can add to them, support them, and improve them. You can yield to a better idea or improve a bad idea through cooperation. This is an improv term, and it is the essence of what improv is about. With this technique groups of average people have discovered collective brilliance at a frequency and level of dependability that has made many improv groups able to confidently sell tickets in advance for shows where nothing has been prepared. How great is that? Being open is more important than being right or smart and it is better to be a part of a winning team than the star of an ineffective one. Share the creative impulse, discover it together, say “Yes” and then do your part to make it better.

Failing yourself is almost as bad as failing those you care about. Knowing this information has helped me on many occasions to avoid both. Knowing these things have not perfected me, but I am grateful to know them. They aren’t habits so much as checks against those parts of me I will always have to fight to make a better impact on the world.  I’m the kind of person who had to learn that fire was hot by getting burned. This is the information I would love to tell Twenty-Year-Old-Me these things and I wish I could have reminded Myself Last Week about them a few times. I am writing this, in part, to give Tomorrow Me a loving kick in the ass because I want him to be more productive, kind, and effective than those other two schmucks. I hope it has also helped you.

If you have similar bits of wisdom that help you to be a better person I would love to hear about them. (There’s plenty of room on my arm.) Please share your hard-won knowledge in the comments below.

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