When I think back to high school, I remember a simple ten-word sentence that would instantly make my heart sink: “Take out a piece of paper for a pop quiz.” It seemed so unfair! But my teachers had every right to give us a pop quiz because we were supposed to pay attention in class and regularly study our assignments. If I had always done that, I would have been prepared.
At graduation I thought I would be leaving pop quizzes behind, but I found out they are a normal part of adult life, and if I didn’t prepare for them, I would face far more difficulties than I had to.
Adult “pop quizzes” can show up as good news, bad news, opportunities, or emergencies. So, how do you prepare when you don’t know what’s coming?
As a clinical psychologist, my training and experience have helped me to understand that the choices you make and actions you take will have the greatest influence on your personal, professional, and relational success throughout the rest of your life.
Here are some effective life principles that will help you navigate the pop quizzes you’ll face:
Learn to control your thoughts. What you believe is the gateway to your emotions and actions. When you choose to focus on thoughts that are good, true, and hopeful you will experience more positive emotions, which will lead to more productive actions.
People are more important than things. You can’t build meaningful relationships with things. It’s nice to have cool stuff, and it’s rewarding to be successful enough to acquire nice things, but the satisfaction you get from “stuff” is short-lived. Things come and go, but people are irreplaceable.
Choose your friends wisely. If you choose your friends well, they will be a positive force. If you choose carelessly, they can destroy you. You may have heard that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. True, but social scientists have found that even the friends of your friends can influence you, so choose your network of friends wisely.
Don’t worry about what people think about you. Olin Miller (1936) once wrote, “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” Did you know that when you feel as though others are judging you, you are really judging yourself? The more positive and realistic your self-image is, the less you will imagine judgement from others. And even if somebody does judge you negatively, it won’t impact you as much.
Face your fears head on. It’s not easy to face your fears – but it’s essential. Nelson Mandela said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” If you avoid your fears instead of facing them with boldness and courage, they will grow and become the master of your life.
Eliminate blame and take personal responsibility. Blame gives someone else power over you. Taking responsibility for your own needs and circumstances empowers you to find effective solutions and make positive changes. Take your power back by embracing personal responsibility!
Make gratitude a daily practice. When you consistently direct your mind’s attention to what you have instead of what you think you’re missing, you will begin to develop an attitude of gratitude, which uplifts you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When you are filled with gratitude there is no room for scarcity, self-pity, or fear of missing out.
Choose to give generously. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” A person who generously gives what they have to enrich the lives of others will themselves be enriched. If you’re a math whiz this may sound like it doesn’t add up to feel like you have more when you give, but I promise, it works!
Never stop learning. Albert Einstein once said, "Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you'll ever have is your mind and what you put into it." There are many ways you can learn beyond formal education. You can learn through the pursuit of information that interests you (independently or through a school), trying new things, traveling, developing projects and hobbies, asking questions when you are curious or uncertain, and most importantly, putting what you learn into practice.
Practice forgiveness. Forgiving others isn’t easy and it doesn’t always mean forgetting what they have done. However, it does mean making a choice that will allow you to fully disconnect from the burden of carrying a grudge. Author Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you.” Sometimes you must also forgive yourself when you fail to live up to your own expectations. Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote, “There are only two ways to have a peaceful conscience: Never do anything wrong or learn self-forgiveness.”
I hope that when you experience the inevitable “pop quizzes” that life will spring on you, that your heart won’t sink with feelings of dread and fear; but instead, you’ll face them with confidence and conviction. I hope you’re able to say, “Bring it on. This may hurt or set me back for a time, but I can handle it because I chose to pay attention and do the work, so I’m prepared.”
Live, Work and Relate Well!