How to Identify Worthwhile Actions


How do you know which actions are worthwhile and which are not?  Anyone who has an appetite for the taste of success thrives to take meaningful steps towards it, but what do those steps look like?

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 is 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 we create on 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.

What’s Your Story?

What if there was an immeasurable power that existed. This power could transform your reality.  It could bring hope, optimism, motivation, change, love, achievement, and beauty to your life.  Would you use this power, going after everything you wanted, or would you simply let it go to waste?

This power is the story of you.  It is what makes your life so interesting, so authentic, so…empowering.  Think about the structure of a story.

A story made up of chapters. Chapters containing sequences of events.  Some foreshadowing others.  Others prefacing some.  And the rest are unknown twists of irony eluding any means of prediction.

The pages written can serve a versatile function.  Those pages could be setting up events to come or they could mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

The important piece, is that we are the author of these stories.  We write them and thus live them.  And where do we gather material filling the copious leather-bound pages of the intricate chronicles of life?  We gather them from our experiences.

Actions are consistently happening to us. We tell stories of these events.  We tell stories based off our perceptions, our reactions, our interpretations, and inevitably, what we come to believe.  And if beliefs shape our reality, then the perceptions of actions of our past influence our interaction with the events of our future.

But you see, our book of life is filled with stories not actions.  And so, as moments engage in the well practiced routine of moving forward, we forget the actual occurrence and remember the stories we tell.

In some way, the authentic instance is less important than the story we put on it.  So our stories hold a pivotal role, as they serve as the context of our life.

So if something happened, some action took place, and we tell ourselves the story that we are not good enough, it begins to become our reality.  For reality is what you make it.  In some ways, reality is not the actions that occur, but the way you perceive those events.

But our stories are as malleable as the words we use to shape them.  If we are telling ourselves the story of not being good enough, the interpretation, the perception, and the inevitable belief originates from you.

You have created this interpretation.  Whether it is be based off the context of how you should react to events or some subjective opinion – the creation of this story is solely traced back to the pen of its author.  The reality you are living in is formed by your perception of past events.

In this way, we are all artists.  Our days are a constant creation.

The best artists can take an object and see it a number of different ways.  The same practice can be applied to the actions of our lives.  There are many perceptions, many stories that could be told.

Some stories take courage to tell.  A story of ‘can’ sets the bar high.  I can create beautiful art, I can be a loving spouse, I can make a difference in the lives of others, I can find fulfillment in my work, I can loose ten pounds, I can renew a lost relationship, I can be accepted and loved by others.

The ability of can lies in the story you tell.  What we tell ourselves is impossible, simply hasn’t been written yet.  It is unknown.  Those words lie in the pages to come, and those pages lie in the stories you tell.

The only thing that is, the only thing that truly exists, is the reality your mind creates.  It effectively gathers its plot, tone, imagery, characters, and theme from the content you have created.  Then, there is nothing left to do, but play out the sequence of events according to your self-created potential.

This is the most important story of your life.  Let it be audacious and unimaginable. Let it be brilliant and ridiculous. Let it be extraordinary and legendary.  But most of all let it be you – the surreal, beautiful story, written and lived by you.

So then, what’s your story?

Have an Unreasonable Look on Life

We interact with life through a set of contexts, a scale of possibilities.  The bar gets set and everything under it becomes achievable.

We become familiar with the scales of our lives telling us what we can or cannot do.  Everything within it, achievable.  Everything beyond it, unknown.

If a 3 mile run is part of a person’s daily workout, they generally accomplish it with little doubt.  They have a resume of successes from all their past runs.  It acts as evidence for their ability – known, definite, and achievable.

Now say this person is asked to go on a 10 mile run.  “Woah, hold on a sec now. That’s far.”

It is far if you’ve been used to 3 mile runs, but if you’re a person training for a marathon, 10 miles is a breeze.

It’s all about the context of the situation and the scales you have built in your life. They tell you what you can do just as much as they tell you what you cannot.

Think about all the scales in your life.  Money, friends, enjoyment, exercise, success, creativity, knowledge, all set to a scale, our scale.  I make x amount of money, I have y number of friends, I exercise that much, I’m this creativite.  We fulfill these expectations for ourselves, but we have trouble surpassing them.

Change your scale, shift your context.  Be unrealistic, be unreasonable.  If you expect to run 10 miles everyday, even if you only get 5 or 6, it still makes that 3 miles a breeze.

Soon you set a new scale for yourself.  You start gathering new evidence, accomplishing new things.

Everything you have done has currently gotten you to where you are.  The context of your life shows all your current known abilities.  Raise that bar.

Everything done this far is known, because it is past.  The goals you set for the future can fall in line with your current context or they can be completely unrealistic in comparison.

Some would say it’s not good to be unreasonable or unrealistic.  But when you’re reasonable you use the same strategies that worked before, the same scales that you know you will find success in.

If you set the bar high for yourself, if you embrace different strategies, set different goals, look at things with a new perspective you will breakthrough to new areas of your life.

Don’t live life to scale, that just isn’t realistic.

The Fox and the Hedgehog

There is the common misconception that with the influx of information there is an increase in knowledge.

We live in a world of rationalizers. I am going to tell you right here and now that openness is the remedy to a fixed mindset.  Now let me momentarily diverge to give clarity to this idea of filtered conceptualization.

Politics.  The argument can be made that the acquisition of information can be directly related to decrease in partisan bias.  But knowing more about politics doesn’t necessarily accomplish this.  Voters tend to assimilate facts that confirm what they already believe.  They think they’re evaluating candidates, but what they are actually doing is inventing or ignoring facts so they can rationalize decisions already made.

It is as if voters twirl a cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want.

This filter effect, which is so prominent in politics, extends into every aspect of our life.  We tend to look for information that already confirms what we already believe.  We edit the world to fit our ideology.  Imperative as focus is, we must make the distinction between a focused mind and a disregard for certain possibilities.

Historian Isaiah Berlin used animalistic mentalities to exemplify this very point.  While a fox knows many diverse things, a hedgehog knows one big thing.

When attacked, a hedgehog rolls itself into a ball so that its spines point outward.  A fox, on the other hand, does not rely on a single strategy.  A fox adjusts its strategy to a particular situation.  Accepting a situation as ambiguous, the fox relies on tailor-made approaches when conceptualizing possibilities.

The difference between the fox and the hedgehog is that the fox evades the seduction of certainty, while a hedgehog reassures itself with a foregone conclusion.

The fox’s abilities to think further than its preconceptions about a situation, make it a cunning and sly predator.  Foxes live in the unknown, constantly adapting to and evaluating different possibilities.

We take comfort in certainty.  Building blocks and cornerstones exist on this very premise.  The weakness of certainty is when you know you are right, you stop listening to perspectives that say you may be wrong.

Cognition is a powerful human asset. Like any muscle of the body we need to practice to strengthen it.  Foxes are notoriously cunning because they think about thinking.  They study their own decision-making process and gather information from a wide variety of sources.

It seems that the acquisition of knowledge lies in the openness of perspective.  We must be willing to entertain new thinking.  As effective as that spike defense may be, we do not want to remain complacent in certainty, satisfied with status quo.

Like the fox, we must be willing to accept ambiguity and charter the unknown.  That is where the true comprehension of knowledge spawns from, and the willingness to navigate ambivalence carries with it the potential for extraordinary possibilities.

We See What We Look For

Consider this.  Two people watch a speech.  Both hear the exact same words, and yet both come up with drastically different conclusions.

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.

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 aren’t there.

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 legendary potentials.