You know the ones. Those classic, advice-supplying stock phrases that might be from Shakespeare but could be a religious text and/or folk wisdom, yet we all seem to absorb nonetheless. Those almost-too-simple lines that are always shared by well-meaning people in sometimes appropriate, but usually irrelevant, situations that don't actually apply.
But, I suspect that we all have a few of these that actually do make sense to us. True, "a penny saved is a penny earned," doesn't really resonate with or motivate me. But I know it's a code that many people organize their lives around. Nor do I agree that you should "never go to bed angry." In my experience, nothing gets truly resolved when you're worn out; and sometimes, eight hours of rest is exactly what you need for both of you to realize you got triggered, but you still love each other and the new day is a fresh start. In my view, the better aphorism should be "never have a hard conversation after 9:00pm," because, seriously, no one is at their best when you're exhausted.
But there are a few of these sayings – some old chestnuts and some a bit more contemporary – that I really do say to myself often, and they work for me. So, these are the ones I keep around, and perhaps they'll be helpful to you, too. I'd love to hear which ones motivate you as well.
1. "If You Can Do Something in One Minute or Less, Do it Now"
Hands down, this has been the best thing to carry with me. If it were more poetic, I'd tattoo it on my arm so I'd see it every day.
The reason is: this is not my natural state of being. I can be a distracted person, I tend to get everything out at once, use them, make piles, ignore them for a day or two, and then maybe put them away again. I tend to hold off on things until I can address them all at once and put myself in the right headspace.
But my real, lived-in experience is: seeing all those things throughout the day weighs on me heavily. Knowing they're out there makes it seem like I have so much more on my plate than I actually do. I actually often extend this to two minutes, and, when I remember and actually put it into practice, I feel so much more organized, my house is cleaner, and I'm way more productive.
2. "There's No Accounting for Taste"
I am someone with strong opinions about things. I really love the things I love, whether it be music, literature, home decor, or a plate of food. And because I'm an active consumer, I have, in the past, confused the possibility of connection for what kind of stuff that person likes.
That is dumb. That is what children do. I am not defined by my taste in music, so the people I spend time with shouldn't be either. Yes, it's nice when you and your partner enjoy the same bands so you can listen to them on a road trip, but the truth is: people like what they like. Some people actually believe The Rolling Stones are more important to the history of pop music The Beatles. No matter how wrong I think they are, they have their reasons, and it can make for interesting conversation.
Rather than holding folks to your own aesthetic standards and criticizing their choices, find out why they're drawn to the things they love. It's much better to trust someone to make a good decision and respect their choices, rather that know they'll just make the same decision you would. People with different opinions make for better friends.
Different strokes for different folks. That's what makes the world go round.
3. The Key to Happiness is Liking What You Have, Not Liking What You Don't
I wish this one was a little more succinct and fun to say. In some ways, it reflects a few the basic tenets of Buddhism summed up in the Four Noble Truths. (I do not identify as a Buddhist, but there's some really smart and true stuff in the tradition.) When you spend all your time craving things that aren't in your life, you can't possibly appreciate the things that are. This is true in my life from relationships to woodworking tools to free time to natural abilities and electric guitars.
"Comparison is the thief of joy" sums up the same idea, though it tends to apply to other people rather than what I really struggle with: comparing my current self to some future, idealized version of myself that has a bunch of other/new things.
But seriously, craving stuff you don't have really does lead to suffering.
4. Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well
This may be a crutch of my own struggles with perfectionism, but I think it's more about feeling accomplished. When you set a goal or take on a project, it's an opportunity to learn, to practice, to hone a craft, and to, hopefully, positively affect the lives of others. But it's also an opportunity to set a goal and complete it. That feels great, no matter who you are. Half-assing something leaves you half as satisfied.
5. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. - Arthur Ashe
It's much better to do anything than to do nothing...or worse, sit around and wait for things to be exactly right before you begin. Just dig in.
6. Don't Drink Your Calories
I don't know where this one originated, but I think it's really smart advice. I'm grateful that I'm of a relatively average build, and as long as I eat healthfully and exercise regularly, I can maintain a reasonable weight for my age.
This idea really does help me accomplish that. Drinking anything but water does not make me feel full. Of course, I do drink plenty of things besides water. But if I can avoided unneeded calories by drinking black coffee without sweeteners, having club soda instead of a soft drink, and not keeping fruit juice in the house, then it really does make it that much easier. If I want fruit or vegetables, I'll eat them, because then I get the benefit of the fiber as well. This notion also helps me keep my alcohol servings in check, too. Beside ethanol and all the flavor, those things are made of sugar. That's how fermentation works.
The other health-related one I try to keep in mind is: "it's okay to go to bed a little hungry." It's true, you'll be fine.
7. Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
A gift, in its essence, is a bid for intimacy from someone who cares about you. Whether its an invitation to spend time together, a well-meaning attempt to offer support, or an actual physical object someone wants think you'll like, take it and love it. It doesn't matter if you like it, or if its the perfect one. Gifts are not chances for people to show how much they know you, and or love you, or to give you something you didn't know you needed.
Gifts are opportunities to connect with the person that gave it to you. And nothing interrupts that connection like assessing whether the giver got it exactly right.
Which classic idioms actually ring true for you? Please post your favorites in the comments below.