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What do you do now that you should have always done?

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About six months after I got my first guitar, I had reached a stage where I knew a lot of chords and I could play recognizable bits of songs, but I couldn’t play even the simplest song (Wild Thing?) without flubbing chord changes all the way through. It felt like I hadn’t actually begun to learn at all.

I found some comfort in online guitar forums for beginners. Hundreds of others shared my frustration, believing that they were every bit as bad as they were the first day they picked up the instrument.

One day, a slightly more experienced player thaught us a trick that makes it 100% clear how far you’ve come since you started. You rotate the guitar so that your fret hand becomes your picking hand and vice-versa. Then you attempt to play anything you know.

This puts you exactly where you were when you started — your fingers have to find entirely new positions and make entirely new motions, and you recognize how much skill and nuance you’ve gained since that first day, which is the last time the guitar felt that unfamiliar and awkward to you.

When I have discouraging moments other areas of life, I use a similar trick to remind myself how much more capable a person I’ve become.

I think about where I was exactly a year ago, or two years ago, or five years ago today — what was going on in my life and what my biggest dilemmas were. I then imagine being given a chance to deal with those issues knowing what I know now, today, as 2013 David. A lot of the time today’s Me would make short work of those problems, even if today’s Me isn’t on top of all of today’s problems.

This exercise reveals real growth, and that kind of personal growth tends to come in little breakthroughs. These little breakthroughs have two ingredients: 1) you learn something you didn’t know, and 2) as a result, you try doing something differently than you used to do it. 

Sometimes these attempts lead to lasting change, and sometimes they don’t, but they all come from some kind of behavioral experiment, either intentional or accidental. If you insist on doing things the way you’ve always done them, life will get easier and more fulfilling only very slowly, if it does at all.

So it’s reasonable to expect that people who try new approaches more often tend to grow more often, and tend to find a way to live their values earlier in life.

These breakthroughs also tend to be dramatic. You can’t believe you didn’t do it this way before. You wish you’d made this change years ago. You find it amazing others still live the way you used to.

My biggest breakthrough this year has been the way I approach money and income, and life is a lot lighter and brighter now. The Me of 2013 would make a cakewalk out of most of the financial dilemmas of my past. Almost certainly, the Me of 2014 would make short work of some of today’s dilemmas, because of some new habit I will end up trying in the coming year.

Everyone has had the experience of making a change in their behavior that gave them an immediate and lasting advantage over the rest of their lives. We’ve all know what it’s like to make a simple change that is so clearly better than the old way that we wonder how it took us so long.

I want to know what obvious-in-hindsight changes you’ve made in your life in the past year or two. What did you try that made you wish you’d done it years ago? Say so in the comments. It doesn’t have to be big — it could just be a better way of grocery shopping. All that matters is that it’s so much better than your old way that you wish you’d always done it.

Even if you don’t normally comment here, I urge you to share this time. Think of how much time and frustration we could all save each other by exchanging our breakthroughs here. Let’s trade our best in-hindsight wisdom. Share yours, then go try something that worked for someone else.

I’ll add mine later in the comments.


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