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Artwork by John P. Weiss

Productivity

This is how to achieve more: A simple strategy

So many of us want to accomplish more in our lives. We’re bombarded with media images of success, affluence, physical beauty, celebrity and happiness.

We eye our neighbor’s possessions. We envy the physiques of personal trainers in our local gym. We troll social media, wondering if the Facebook pictures are true. Are other people living better lives? And so we look in the mirror and take stock.

That’s not fair

Perhaps it all started in childhood. When our sister got a larger portion of dessert. Or our brother received a better Christmas gift. How many times did we cry foul? “That’s not fair,” has been uttered by all of us in our formative years. In our adult years, too.

A certain percentage of life is a crap shoot. You can do everything right and still lose. Sometimes.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl knew something about unfairness in life. Frankl’s wife and parents perished in the concentration camps. Frankl survived, and attributed part of it to his existential outlook that suffering has meaning. As Frankl put it:

“What is to give light must endure burning.”

Frankl would go on to write his famous book Man’s Search for Meaning. He taught that sometimes we have no choice about what happens to us, but we have complete power over how we chose to respond.

I would add that there are techniques we can adopt that will strengthen our responses.

So now what?

I share the story of Viktor Frankl for a reason. Before we can start achieving more in life, we need to set aside the “It’s not fair” mantra.

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. Lord knows, in my law enforcement career I’ve seen awful things happen to good people. Our criminal justice system tries to right wrongs, but outcomes aren’t always perfect. In the end, victims must ask themselves “Now what?”

Certainly therapists can help the emotionally scared. Lawyers can sometimes find compensation for those wronged. But eventually, life continues and people come back to that important question, “Now what?”

It’s a good question, because it implies a sense of forward momentum. To increase that forward momentum and achieve more in life, you need to embrace this:

The Magic of Proximity

Close by and in your life

The things we love most we tend to hold close. Our family members, friends and pets. Even special, personal items. Like that letter your Dad wrote you when you graduated from college. Or that beautiful sweater your grandmother knitted for you.

These special people and sentimental items empower us and give meaning to our lives. By keeping them in close proximity, you cocoon yourself in a protective layer of love.

Even if a loved one is not near you, the thought of her can bolster your spirit. Or by visiting his Facebook page while he’s away, you can feel close to him.

Life may not always be fair, but keeping loved ones close by and in your life will strengthen you. It’s why people used to carry little lockets with photos of their loved ones. It’s what kept Tom Hanks’s character going in the movie Castaway.

When we are emotionally in a good place, we are better equipped to perform at our highest level. That, in turn, leads to more successful outcomes and the chance to achieve more.

What a bowl of fruit teaches us about achievement

The other day I came home for lunch and found a bowl of miniature oranges on the counter. My wife, a consummate gardener, picked the little oranges off her tree in the backyard.

I’d noticed all those oranges on the tree lately, but never thought to pick a few. Before I knew it, I was peeling one and took a bite. It was perfectly ripe and watery. Absolutely delicious. So I ate twenty nine more (okay, maybe more like ten).

Remnants of my orange bender!

Location, location, location. That’s what all the realtors say when talking about businesses and homes. Where stuff is located matters a great deal.

Just like the orange bowl my wife placed strategically below our kitchen cabinets. Because it was in plain site, in the kitchen, I couldn’t resist snacking on them. Had my wife left a bag of potato chips in the same location, chances are I would have busted into those.

The power of habit

Author Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit talks about something called “the habit loop.” First, there is a “cue” or “trigger,” such as oranges in a bowl in the kitchen.

Second, there is a “routine,” or the actions you take. Like eating the oranges. Finally, there is the “reward.” In the case of the oranges, they satisfied my hunger and made me feel good that I was eating some healthy fruit.

For me, the most important part of the process is the cue. And that’s where the magic of proximity comes in. Because the bowl of oranges were right on the kitchen counter, they were readily available to eat. They were in plain site and “cued” me to go ahead and enjoy eating them.

One of my favorite bloggers, James Clear, has written extensively about the power of habits and routines. I can’t wait to read his new book, “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.

Create cues to start good habits

The orange bowl example can be duplicated in other areas of our life. Say you want to get back into jogging or playing tennis. By setting your running shoes or tennis racket beside the front door, you leave a strong cue to trigger that healthy habit.

As an artist, I’ve designed my studio to be conducive to painting and creativity. My easel has a paint box beneath it, with fresh paint inside. All I have to do is open up the paint box and start painting.

When I finish a painting I place a new, blank canvas on the easel. That blank canvas seems to call to me every time I walk past it. It ‘s a cue.

I also have my cartooning supplies readily available on my drafting desk, and various papers are adjacent in a drawer. The easier I can make it to start the process of creating art, the more likely I am to succeed and achieve more.

On my laptop, I like to store ideas, quotes and notes from my reading. I keep everything on a dedicated “notes” page for easy retrieval when I sit down to compose my articles.

As soon as I open my laptop, the “notes” icon is staring at me from the bottom of my screen. It serves as a good cue, to remind me to review my notes and work on my articles.

I carry a small, slender, leather notebook that slips easily in my back pocket. It goes with me everywhere, always in close proximity when ideas and inspiration strike.

Some folks use apps like Evernote or Dropbox. The point is, having the information you need in close proximity adds to your efficiency. And being efficient can lead to greater achievement.

My dental hygienist is impressed

James Clear shared a tip about flossing your teeth. He suggested you begin by leaving your floss right next to your toothbrush, so it acts as a cue. Then he said to start small. Maybe only floss a few of your front teeth. Whatever you feel you have time for.

Soon, you’ll discover that it’s not that hard or time consuming to floss all your teeth. In short order it becomes a habit. And should you miss doing it, don’t give up. Just start anew next time.

I took his advice and now flossing is a regular habit. My dental hygienist is impressed, and I don’t have to worry about sensitive gums anymore!

The magic of proximity is that when we keep the things important to us close, we will be happier and able to achieve more.

It’s why you need to embrace quality time with family and friends. It’s also why you should consider how you organize your life, so that there are cues in plain site to trigger positive actions that help you reach your goals.

That’s the magic of proximity. Embrace it, and you just might find yourself achieving a great deal more.

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest artwork and writing. No spam, privacy respected.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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