The most pivotal and overlooked component for success is its starting point. Teddy Gross, founder of Penny Harvest, has helped raise over $7 million by collecting the tiniest denomination of currency in the US fiscal system.
But where did Teddy begin? It started with one single penny. Something so common and tiny, most of us don’t even bother to pick one up as we pass it in the street. And yet the collection of pennies has culminated into something truly extraordinary as millions of dollars have been raised for people in need.
None of this would have not been possible without that starting point, without that initial penny. And so one component to what makes actions so valuable is to not underestimate the value of our actions. What at first may seem as trivial and inessential could very well be the building blocks to an extraordinary breakthrough.
When we look at our actions, the only part of it that is truly factual is the action itself. You take a job, you sell your house, you travel to a different country, you make a sales pitch. Those are all facts. What comes after the action are our interpretations and perspectives.
The reasons you take a job could run the gamut. Money, benefits, boredom, satisfaction, travel, fulfillment. As well as whether or not you actually like this new occupation. Variables such as co-workers, location, workload, tasks, interaction, and administration all have their respective roles to play.
The reality of how good or bad our job is – is formed by the perception we create. And so all our interpretations of our actions feed into whether or not something is worthwhile.
But after actions occur what do you think we tend to focus on? Look at the front page of todays newspaper, turn on the news, or simply listen in on a conversation at work. The general scope of perspective is pointed in a negative view.
Out of the 30 most common emotion words in the English language only 6 of them were positive. This focus on the adverse has put on blinders to countless positive possibilities.
When trying to identify choices and actions that have the most value, focus in on the bright spots of those actions. In the beginning stages of Penny Harvest when a few hundred dollars of pennies had been raised, Teddy Gross could have thought, “this is barely anything, this certainly won’t make a difference.”
But instead, he looked at the same few hundred dollars and saw peoples desire to help and built off these bright spots.
Identifying the worthwhile actions isn’t about a full proof plan designed to give you the right choices. It is about finding value in the reality we create.
Shakespeare said, “There is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Realize that behind every decision we make and every action we take there are positive potentials and bright spots to be found. These actions may not seem valuable alone, but together, can create an outcome that is truly worthwhile.
Have you ever done something that you thought really wouldn’t make much of a difference? What are the worthwhile actions in your life? Is there such a thing as a worthless action?
For example, a New York cab driver is out making his usual fairs. Notoriously known for his can do attitude for getting people to their destination in the quickest possible time, he has a habit of…speeding.
So when that traffic light clicks from green to yellow, you will see no signs of hesitation as he steps on the gas to beat the inevitable downward flash to red.
In Ohio, a daily commuter is driving through town on her way to pick up groceries. Driving down a long, winding road she sees the light turn yellow. Without thinking, she squeezes the break, slowing the car down as it stops comfortably behind the cusp of the intersection.
Now, on a long awaited trip to New York, our Ohioan drives through the city streets admiring the massive buildings and observing the everlasting pulse the city seamlessly emits.
Approaching an intersection she sees a yellow light and begins to push her foot down on the break. Behind her is our fast-paced cab driver on his way to drop off his current fair. Seeing the yellow light he speeds up and…crash!
Accident? Perhaps not.
The behavior they engaged in was so well practiced that it was deep rooted in their unconscious. Without even thinking, automatic responses took over and, well, the rest is history.
Automatic responses are how we can interact with the world so efficiently. They are mental shortcuts our brain takes to save time and energy. They are how we group things together in our mind and how we learn to coordinate our body movements in sports.
Well practiced, these behaviors become natural and skip by our preliminary awareness. But the scope of these automatic thoughts runs much broader than driving through traffic lights and catching a baseball.
We can have automatic thoughts on our own abilities and potentials. A reoccurrence of past experiences could leave us at a certain level of inadequacy. We could have certain ideas of our abilities to accomplish or not accomplish certain things.
We may never think of ourselves as an artist just as the cabbie may never think to slow down at a yellow light, but our thoughts are just a result of the small scope of experiences we have exposed ourself to.
To limit ourself to these preconceived notions that we may not even be aware of might prevent us from going after some extraordinary possibilities.
So what do we do?
Shift our awareness to the idea that every situation is a possibility. We have preexisting thoughts and ideas on everything in our world. But our world is our mind, and the amount of perspectives we can put on each idea is limitless.
Someone may hold money the most crucial asset to happiness. While another person looks at money as an endless, unfulfillable lust. Still, others could live in remote islands where fiscal denominations cease to exist.
The perspectives are limitless – and so we must always be willing to challenge our automatic thoughts. The possibilities are as far as the mind can reach.
How does this happen?
Well let’s say this were a speech about politics, and one person was a democrat while the other a republican. Each person would see facts reaffirming their preexisting views backed by their political positions.
The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants.
Awareness is more of a choice rather than a general knowledge.
It’s like a word search and we are looking for the 10 words listed on the side of the puzzle. Even if there are other words filled in, we tend to only see the ones we look for. We use tactics that hone in on the first letter of our targets or chunk a couple of the letters together as our eyes scan the page.
It’s not that other words aren’t there, it’s that we aren’t looking for them, so in our world, they cease to exist.
Say I took that word search and gave five words to one person and five words to another. Like the politicians who listened to the same speech, both would look at the same thing and come back with two completely different lists. We see what we look for.
Go for a walk around your neighborhood and look at all the different styles of doors and roofing patterns. You probably never would have realized all the different colors, styles, patterns, sizes, and textures. And yet you have lived in this neighborhood for years, you must of looked at them. But there is a difference between looking and seeing.
Looking is like breathing, natural and innate, seeing is whole separate level that requires effort and commitment.
What are we really seeing and what are we just looking at?
If life is a chaotic sequence of ambiguous letters, then our frame of reference would be the word bank sitting at the bottom of the page. But how do we grow that word bank? How do we look for new inputs in life?
Step outside your preexisting scope of life. People often drive the same way to work everyday. You see the same things you saw yesterday. Why not take a new way to work everyday? The latter constantly sees new things while the former constantly sees the same old things.
What if you…
- Listened to a radio station you’ve never heard before.
- Order something at a restaurant without knowing exactly what it is.
- Read a magazine you have never heard of.
- Learn to tie nots, read music, throw a boomerang.
- Escape in nature, and look for plants you have never seen before.
- Take up painting. Jackson Pollock throws paint on a canvas so can you!
- Go to a place you have never visited.
- Rent a movie you have never heard of.
- Read a book on a topic you think you’ll dislike.
- Have a wider variety of experiences. Who knows what new words you’ll add to your bank when you start doing different things.
When you diversify the elements of your life, your awareness grows and you begin to see a world of many viewpoints, and a puzzle that doesn’t just hold words, but sentences, stories, experiences, journeys, and adventures. You’ll see a life that holds the most extraordinary potentials.
Have you ever looked at something a completely different way? How do you expand you inputs and widen your frame of reference? What are some things your do to shake things up? Love to hear what you think!
Sometime during my junior year of college, one of my psychology professors began the class with a pop quiz. It was only five questions, none of which were relatively hard until I got to the last one. It read: “What is the name of the secretary in the psychology department?”
My first reaction was this was some psychology study or quirky joke. I mean, I could picture the secretary. I could even hear her voice in my head. She was tall, had short dirty blonde hair and was in her 50’s. But I had no idea what her name was.
I finally gave up and left the last question blank.
When everyone had finished, one eager student sitting in the middle row immediately rose his hand asking if that quiz was going to count towards our grade.
Holding the papers in his hand, tapping them firmly on the desk so all the pages would be in unison, the professor smiled and said, “absolutely”.
“Every person you meet is significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.”
Out of all the questions I have gotten wrong in college, that is the one I remember the most.
Somehow in life, we form this hierarchal period of interaction. It contains preexisting notions of where our attention should be placed.
The problem with this is that majority of our attention resides around the most familiar people and settings.
And so a person like the department secretary gets nothing more than some scripted customary greeting.
We get caught up in seeing roles or job titles, and overlook the value of each person.
The moment we start seeing each individual we interact with as an opportunity for growth, an opening to a fresh perspective, or simply even just a chance to make someone smile – we tap into a community of infinite wisdom and development.
I’ve never forgotten that lesson from college. I also learned that the secretary’s name was Evelyn.
Ever find yourself hanging on to the good stuff in life? We just don’t want certain things to stop. Whether it be an amazing movie, a beautiful symphony, an exciting date, or some quality conversation, all share a common fate – we don’t look forward to them ending.
I catch myself doing this all the time. In the midst of something good, I think, “Gee, I really don’t want this to stop.” Now, instead of continuing to enjoy this pleasurable event, I find myself in this paradigm of temporary good versus inevitable discontinuation. I have directly withdrawn from maximizing optimization, by taking my focus off enjoying the moment, and placing it on worrying about it ending.
How many of us hang on to our weekends, fearing that blaring alarm clock Monday morning?
The beauty of life is change. Being trapped in a two day weekend would be a living purgatory. Change is what makes life so extraordinary. The ending point for one moment is the start of another. It gives meaning and worth to our life while making each moment unique and memorable.
Take a look around. What does this world look like? It is yours to look at, see, and make opinions on, but how are you seeing it? Anthony De Mello, author of Awareness, writes, “We see people and things not as they are, but as we are.”
What a brilliant and enlightening perspective. For is that not the case. What we see reflects ourselves rather then the actual external stimulus we are gazing upon. This is the birth of perspective and the reason for the infinite amount of them. Each person is their own unique self. If we see things as we are, then there are quite a few ways to see things.
But this thought process also has a part to play in why we don’t see a world of beauty and goodness. When things are not going as we want, we want things to change. But those things we want to change are usually people, things, or circumstances. It is not common for us to think we are the ones who need to change.
But if it is our suffering, our dislike for the ugliness in the world that causes our unhappiness, then what must change?
Whenever things are not going well, overcome in negativity, lusting for happiness, we tend to focus on the problems. We explore, dig back to root causes, and try to gain some insight on what went wrong. Not such a bad plan, one that has actually been met with plenty of success. But what if we did not do all that excavating? What if we tossed our mental pickaxe aside and shifted our focus elsewhere?
Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg did just that when they developed a unique and unprecedented therapy known as solution-focused therapy. Instead of focusing on the bad, examine what is good. It is strange, but we think, recognize, and are impacted more greatly by misfortune rather than pleasure.
Out of the top 24 most commonly used emotion words in the English language only six of them are positive. Studies show that people who are shown bad and good events spend more time looking at the bad ones. When people learn that bad stuff has happened to someone they have a more lasting recollection of the adverse rather than the favorable. There is a deeper emotional impact to loosing $200 than winning it.