5 Life Lessons I’ve Learned through Reading and Reflecting

By Jimmy Warden

I haven’t always taken the stance of a learner throughout my life. I wasn’t always eager to go to school growing up, nor was I always excited to go to my classes in college. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve rediscovered my joy for learning. I’ve started to enjoy learning again, not only for the benefits that it brings me, but also the benefits it can bring other people. I try to read and absorb information across an array of topics and medias to try to provide insights that would be beneficial to others when it comes to their own lives, so naturally, I have begun to be more reflective in my recent years, too. But enough about me, let me tell you about five life lessons that I’ve learned through reading and reflecting over the years.

1.) Perception isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

When I think of the term perception, I think of the neurobiology aspects of how we experience our senses, but I also think of how subjective that the psychological experience of sensation can be. For example, let’s say two people touch a hot stove with their right hands. There are pain receptors in their brains that will send a signal to their right hands to alert them that they are touching a hot stove. However, if they were to rate how painful their experience was on a scale of 1-10, there is a good chance that their answers would be different. Therefore, they are perceiving the same pain stimuli, in this case heat, at a different magnitude.

This is an absolutely fascinating occurrence because it can be applied to just about any context. Another great example is food. There are so many different foods that people can eat (or in some cases can’t eat) and yet we all experience them in such a different way. One might say they like tomatoes, while another might say don’t come near me with that weird fruit vegetable hybrid. Even though the tomato activates taste receptors, each person’s experience of eating a tomato varies tremendously, hence why some people like them while others would prefer to use them as a projectile.

Having a better understanding of how others are perceiving the world around them will help us better understand them as a person. A lot misunderstandings between people occur due to a lack of understanding of how the other person is perceiving the same situation. The more we can understand others, the more we can try to find common ground with them, and have productive dialogue in our conversations and in our relationships.

2.) The narrative you have with yourself drives what you do, think, and feel.

We all have an internal dialogue with ourselves. A lot of people refer to this voice as their “conscience” or “gut feeling”. This internal dialogue knows what our morals are, what we value, and when they’re at a crossroads. For example, we might have morals to be a healthy person, so therefore we value self-care. These two ideas come to a crossroads when we are stressed out and are looking for a quick bit of stress relief, so to relieve that stress, we turn to something that comforts us and makes us feel good in the moment. Technically, t feels like we’re taking care of ourselves by relieving our stress in the moment, but in the long run that stress relief choice is not a healthy choice for overall health, especially if we make a habit out of indulging in impulsive pleasure.

It is our narrative that dictates what we do at the crossroads. Sometimes, we have a back and forth dialogue before we make our final decision. We ask ourselves: Do I stick with my morals and say no to the impulsive pleasure or do I engage in the momentary release of stress? The stronger argument in that moment will win. We convince ourselves we need a drink or a sweet treat because it will relieve the stress the day brought us, even though we know we should do something more demanding like exercise, meditation, or reflection.

Not only do we convince ourselves of what to do, we also convince ourselves what to think and feel with the personal narratives we have. When we fail, a lot of us might say something like, “I am a failure” or “I am not good at _____”. Each time we say something like that to ourselves, we identify ourselves as a failure and someone who is incapable. This is a voice that gets repeated each time that we fail, and over time, we begin to identify ourselves as a failure. When our sense of self is damaged, we damage our emotional well-being. We make it harder for ourselves to feel positive emotions and feel good about ourselves because most of our associations have brought negative worth to our psyche.

So be aware of what you’re saying to yourself about yourself. You just may be bringing yourself down more than is necessary.

3.) Motivation wanes and is unreliable because our narrative changes

In order to stay motivated, we need to have a motivated narrative , but with all the interference life brings on a daily basis, it is a large challenge to stay motivated all the time. Life responsibilities, pop-up responsibilities, distractions, and fatigue are all interference factors that manipulate motivation levels. And when motivation levels get affected, the narrative gets affected too.

When we tell ourselves we are tired or we have too much to do, our motivation to do something productive plummets. We convince ourselves we don’t need to exercise after work because the day was too tiring; we have too many chores to catch up on, or we still have extra work to do after we’ve punched out for the day. There are also two large distractions we all face: television and smartphones. Those distractions prevent us from keeping our motivation sharp. It is much easier to turn on a show or catch up on social media than it is to exercise or do something else that is mentally or physically taxing, so we often tell ourselves to partake in what’s convenient. We convince ourselves that that’s what we need because it will satisfy short-term needs even though it’s not helpful in the long term.

There are also events that “pop up” every so often that fill our calendars. We’ll have formed a plan to exercise or work on a project for ourselves, when all of a sudden, our family is coming in from out of town, or our friends want to get together for a dinner. Then, we have a decision to make. A lot of us will cancel our personal plans in favor of the family gathering or the friend dinner because we’ll tell ourselves we’ll be missing out if we don’t. These types of occurrences happen a lot at work, too. We’ll have made plans to do something for ourselves after work, but our boss asks us to stay late to work on one more task or make one more phone call. Instead of politely refusing, we’ll say yes because we think saying no makes us unreliable. And that could move down the pecking order.

So be wary of the narrative you tell yourself. It will be a large influence on your level of motivation, for better or worse.

4.) You are not your thoughts; your thoughts are a decimal of you

This particular idea I’ve given some thought to for quite some time. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really tried to consider how it affects our self-esteem. For reasons I am still figuring out, our thought stream about ourselves often has a negative tone. “I’m so stupid!” “Why did I fall for that?” “I can’t believe I caved in again!” These are just a few phrases that a lot of us (myself included) have said to ourselves at one point or another. The challenge is that we often repeat these phrases when we come into similar situations that made us say it in the first place. The more that we say these phrases about ourselves, the more that we identify ourselves as such and set ourselves back.

For example, let’s take the phrase, “I’m so stupid!” We may have said that amidst a mental blunder, but each time we say that phrase during a mental blunder, the more that we solidify in our minds we are stupid. Another common phrase we mutter or shout is, “I can’t do this!” Statements like that paralyze us from taking any action towards our goals. Their strength is omnipotent. That is why it’s important to recognize we are not our thoughts, but rather a decimal of them.

Sure, we all make mistakes, but that doesn’t make us a bad person. To begin differentiate mistakes from our who we are, we have to separate action from person. Meaning, if we do something stupid, it is merely that. We acted in a stupid way. That doesn’t mean we are a stupid person. That’s why there is the saying “hindsight is always 20/20”. It isn’t until the mistake is made that we can reflect and learn about what could’ve been done differently in the situation. This is also why we should forgive ourselves for not knowing the best action to take because we’re often trying to do our best with the knowledge we have at the time.

Therefore, the things that we think about ourselves, whether they are positive or negative, are merely a small decimal point of our whole self. The actions we take are a better compass for determining who we are.

5.) Patience is a virtue

This life lesson may come as no surprise to some, but it is one that is still worth mentioning. We live in a world where we pride ourselves on not just being the best, but also being fast. We want the results of our goals and dreams to happen overnight, we want to accomplish all of our daily tasks in a specified amount of time to allow us to stop working. We also live in a time where we need instant gratification to keep going.

Nothing worth having ever comes easy and the outcomes we want take time to achieve. When we are impatient in the process, we are not allowing ourselves to see it through to the end. Our impatience hinders our performance. We become too frustrated and agitated to perform at our best. This frustration and agitation pops up because things are not happening quick enough for us. The more we can be mindful of the big picture and know that the more patience we exercise daily, we will be able to get to where we want to go. The pace may not be that of a freeway, but it will be a scenic route where we can take everything in.

So just try to remember, if you’re not where you want to be, you may have yet to reach that point in your life’s drive.

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