One Goal To Rule Them All

Those of us trying to improve ourselves might all be after the same thing without realizing it. I think we want to be able to take in experiences the way we want to take in those experiences. If we did that, we'd feel better more often and we would act more like the people we really want to be.

How many times have you been frustrated or upset or angered by something and wish you could have the perspective you have at your better moments?

Two different people experiencing the same objective event may not respond in the same way. One might get upset, the other might instantly forgive and forget.

The difference in responses is the difference in how the different people took in the experience. Now, ideally, you would take in experiences the way you do in your better moments, right?

That's what you're really after. You want better moods, you want personal growth, you want ______ (fill in the blank). Whatever you're after, it all boils down to a single goal: You want to take in experiences better. And there are lots of ways to accomplish this.

A cognitive therapist would help you discover your own irrational beliefs and help you see those beliefs as irrational. A positive thinker might tell you to look on the bright side. A Zen master might try to help you experience the precious fleetingness of this moment. And all those different methods ultimately accomplish the same thing: They cause you to take in the events of your life in a new way. Hopefully, a better way.

We want to be better people. Nobody wants to be grumpy. Nobody wants to be rude or hurt others' feelings. And yet we have done these things.

You want to be wise and kind. You want to have a bigger perspective at times. You want to take in experiences the way you would at your very best, and you want to do that more often. The key factor is the way you interpret events.

How do you interpret — what do you do internally with — the outward event? If you interpret events well (as you do at your very best), your internal reaction is more likely to be what you want it to be, and your behavior is too.

But you don't want your better interpretation to be forced. You don't want to make yourself, through gritted teeth, look at the event in a "positive" way. You don't want to make yourself act in a way that you don't feel, either. You want to be open and relaxed and compassionate and to genuinely see things that way.

How can you get better at this? There are hundreds of ways. Thousands. One reliable long-term answer is daily meditation. Another is improving your ability to connect with people. But many tools work for different situations. One way to go about improving the way you take in events is to start with something you want to be better at dealing with and apply a method that works for that specific situation.

But the method isn't our topic here. The reason I brought this up is to point out that while we are after better moods here, we're actually aiming at something more important. A better mood makes you feel better, but it also makes you respond better. It makes you more like the person you want to be.

Anyway, it's a good idea to be clear about the real goal. A better mood is the immediate, short-term goal. The more meaningful, long-term goal is becoming the person you really want to be more often. The ultimate key is the way you take in your experiences.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated and Principles For Personal Growth. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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