Here is a selection of items from my main pages of ideas, stories and questions that relate to questions of personal contribution. I hope you find them of help.


There is no such thing as an insignificant contribution

In chaos theory the beating of a butterfly's wings in Africa can result in a tornado in Florida. In life a warm reaction can change the course of another person's life for the better, and a harsh word can do the opposite. Let's live as if everything we do has an effect, we will never know if it is the big things or the little things that have made the difference.

If there were nothing wrong in the world there wouldn't be anything for you to do

Problems are a sign of life, your journey will always involve dealing with problems and, yes, death is the only destination. Don't waste life dreaming of a time when all your problems will be behind you. Of course take action on the ones that face you but also recognise this only creates a space for more. Improve the quality of your problems rather than trying to create a life without any.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, works for everyone

Be certain only for yourself, not for others. Yes the world would probably be better if everyone believed the same as you but that is not because of what you believe but because it's the conflict between beliefs that causes suffering. Don't help create that suffering by believing things to be true for others.

Don't worry about the world

It will overwhelm you and stop you from being effective in areas where you can make a difference. You can't do everything, there just isn't time, but there is a lot you can do so get on and do it and let go of the worry about the big things that aren't down to you.

A good brain working with a good heart

The more perspectives we have on any situation the better our solutions to the problems we face are likely to be.

The two essential tests any action or decision needs to pass are that things make sense when we think about them and that in our hearts what we intend to do feels right.

We need to be very careful about acting on just one of those tests. We have these two skills so they can compliment each other.

A week of making a difference

Each day for a week take one action outside of your normal routine that will give someone else an unexpected benefit.

Pay someone a genuine compliment about something you would not usually mention.

Give someone a small gift for no particular reason other than you feel they deserve it.

Reach out with a reassuring touch or even a hug when the are having a difficult time.

Most important, at the end of each day write down what you did and the response you got back. After seven days take some quiet time to review your list and think about the difference you have made to others and how it has left you feeling. This is an exercise that's meant to be fun. If it feels like a burden then don't do it.

The 80/20 principle

Put simply, this idea states that 80% of the results you achieve come from only 20% of the actions you take.

Now I have my doubts on the degree of precision of any formula applied to any human being. I do, however, see that when we act at the right time and in the right way we get results that are far in excess of the energy involved. It's certainly an excellent idea to concentrate our energies on the things that make a difference rather then spending our resources to no great effect

Too much activity can be a curse, it stops us from looking too deeply at issues in our lives but well timed and effective action frees us to contemplate the direction we are taking.

Fixing process or outcome

In general you can't fix both process and outcome but a lot of people, myself included, waste a lot of their life trying to do this.

If you want to fix the outcome e.g. an athletic achievement, a house purchase, a relationship goal, you will usually have to develop flexibility in your approach in order to get where you want to be.

If you want to fix a process e.g. the way you react to people, a set approach to business then you can expect to experience variable outcomes.

There is no "right answer" here, just a need to select an appropriate process or outcome and waste time trying to force the way things are into a mould of your making.

Your life will end before the world stops being interesting

You'd better face it, whatever your interests there are more opportunities available to you then you will ever have time to explore. And of course it gets worse the more interests you have.

Just the entertainment is an example, at least one book a day you will enjoy reading is published, a CD you would enjoy listening to is released, a film or TV program you would love to see is made, a play opens, a concert is staged etc.

Take travel, assuming you don't work in the travel industry, if you add up all the places you want to go to and the holidays you have available you're just not going to be able to cram it all in. And I haven't mentioned your career, relationships, sports, writing, learning etc.

So the message is about choice. You don't have time for the second best, the second rate. You don't have enough time to all the first rate that is available so never, never settle for less.

A week of making a difference

Each day for a week take one action outside of your normal routine that will give someone else an unexpected benefit.

Pay someone a genuine compliment about something you would not usually mention.

Give someone a small gift for no particular reason other than you feel they deserve it.

Reach out with a reassuring touch or even a hug when the are having a difficult time.

Most important, at the end of each day write down what you did and the response you got back. After seven days take some quiet time to review your list and think about the difference you have made to others and how it has left you feeling. This is an exercise that's meant to be fun. If it feels like a burden then don't do it.

Making a difference

From a distance a woman can be seen walking along a beach and regularly bending down to pick something up and throw it into the sea. As she gets nearer a passer-by sees she is throwing stranded starfish back into the water. "That's pointless" he says, "there are so many starfish stranded on this beach you can't possibly make a difference." The woman bends down and throws another one into the sea, "Made a difference to that one." she says.

Sometimes the problems of the world together with our own more immediate issues can seem so overwhelming we just don't think we can make a difference to anything. But a kind word to a friend or stranger, a smile at the supermarket checkout does make a difference. Can you remember when someone paid you a casual, sincere but unexpected compliment? Well others remember what you say just as you remember what they say and you do make a difference. 

Falling in a hole

A woman is out for a walk when she falls into a deep hole from which there appears to be no way out. She cries out for help and a passing academic leans over and offers her advice on how to avoid such holes in future.

Later a religious leader hears her cries and suggests she thinks about the true meaning of her predicament and says that there is a being somewhere who cares about her.

Subsequently a therapist responds with an offer to help her explore how she allowed herself to get into this situation. Various other professionals offer advice as the woman sinks into deeper despair. Lastly a friend comes by, realises what has happened and jumps into the hole with her.

The woman is pleased to have the company but also wonders why her friend has put herself in the same situation. The friend replies "I have been in this hole before, I know the way out"

I am not suggesting the professionals cannot also be friends but often they are not. True empathy can involve more than listening or advice. Friendship requires someone who is willing to start from where you are rather than from where they are and who is willing, and able, to travel the road with you.

Lighting the candle

There were about nine hundred of us in the room. It was air-conditioned but without any windows so when the lights were switched off the blackness was total. On the stage the course leader struck a match and lit a small candle, it was surprising how much light it gave.

He used his candle to light those held by a couple of people in the front row and they, in turn, lit the candles of those behind them. Without any hurry and rush within a few minutes every candle in the room was lit as we all contributed to the powerful light that filled the whole area.

What struck me most was that nothing needed to be said to explain the metaphor.

The job I might have enjoyed

The therapist drove to his office on a Monday morning feeling the burden of his work weighing heavily on him. The week before had been particularly tiring and he knew his diary was full for today and for the early part of the week ahead.

With a heavy heart he stopped to buy petrol and as he went to pay the attendant gave him a cheery smile and wished him a good day. He drove on reflecting that in that one simple gesture the man at the garage might have made as much difference as he did to his clients in an hour of therapy. Suddenly a simple job involving routine but friendly contact with people seemed very attractive.

He arrived at his office thinking about the lack of purpose in his life to find his first appointment was a new client for a first session.

To his standard first question of "How can I help?" came the reply, "Well, I think I'm wasting my life, I serve people in a garage and I can't stand the monotony and lack of human contact"

The lives of others are rarely as they seem to us on the outside. "Most people lead lives of quiet desperation," said Thoreau. Lets keep that in mind when making judgements and feeling dissatisfied with our own lot.

Making a difference

In the late 1960's my wife was walking along Ladbroke Grove in Notting Hill, London dressed in an outfit that could best be described as very colourful, although not untypical for the time. An old lady stopped her and said "My dear, I just wanted to tell you how lovely you look, you are brightening up the street".

She still remembers that compliment almost 40 years on. It shows the power our words have. Think back to an early compliment you were paid and remember how you felt. Then recall an early unfair criticism and the effect that had.

You could say something to someone today that will be a positive memory for them in 40 years time.

Why not take a slight risk and do it?

What would I try if I knew I could not fail?

Write down three quick answers and then look to see the clues they give as to what else you might want to do in your life; perhaps a first small step, perhaps a big leap. We all have more potential that we actually live.

"Ships in harbour are safe...but that is not what ships were built for"

If I only had one hour to live and one call to make, who would I phone, what would I say, and why am I waiting?

None of us lives forever and none of us can know when our time will come. So if there is something that needs to be said, particularly if it is loving and supportive. Then say it. NOW! 

The partner, parent, child, brother, sister, towards whom you have loving feelings you have not expressed for a while...just tell them...why are you waiting?

How would I live if I was going to live for a thousand years?
What would I do if I was going to die tonight?

Two very different perspectives on life, both can be useful in creating the balance most of us need between the immediate and the long term.Consider this quote from Robert Fulghum:-
"Something which threatens your life is a problem, everything else is an inconvenience."

What do you want? : How can I help?

The first question is about clarity, both for ourselves and for others. Once we are clear on what we want, our chances of getting it are greatly increased and yet sometimes it is so hard to be specific. We are usually more clear on what we don't want or find we just want to feel differently about something or somebody.

It is good to recognise this is about our internal state and that therefore it makes more sense to seek internal change than to look outside for things to be different. (see Stories No 16)

The second question is a great one to ask others. It makes no suggestions, offers no solutions but simply states our willingness to be there and be of assistance. It is not an offer to be made lightly and sometimes the fact that we offered is enough in itself.

What is the bigger YES?

Sometimes it's very difficult to say no to the requests others make of us. We can be driven by a wish to help and can feel guilty if we turn someone down. At those times this is a good question to ask about ourselves. If you say "NO" to this request what will that allow you to do that is of greater value? That's the bigger "YES" and it can change turning something down into a positive action.

Is the music still in you?

It's a fascinating idea, that we are all born with a purpose, something we are put here to do. Even if that's not how you see the world you could spend a few minutes asking yourself what that purpose could be if there was one.

This statement then becomes a very important one.
"Don't die with the music still in you"

What is the purpose of my life? (1)

Here is a simple answer:-

"The purpose of my life is to enjoy the experience of being alive."

If that's not definite enough then try below.

What is the purpose of your life? (2)

Write down your three best qualities, eg intelligence, compassion, determination.

Write down your three best skills, eg organisation, writing, typing.

Write down three ways you want the world to be, eg loving, friendly, peaceful.

Now write the following:-

"The purpose of my life is to use my (three qualities) and my (three skills), to help create a world which is (three ways)."

You may want to refine your purpose and add detail but you do have a starting point on what you want your life to be about.

Who can put you down?

Well, almost anyone, its a hazard of being human. People who think badly of themselves inside often try to boost their fragile egos by trying to put others down.

It's good to remember when it happens, that it says far more about the person doing it than it does about you. There's a difference between being put down and feeling put down, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt,

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent"

How do you treat your friends?

My guess is you are kind to them, offer to help them when you can, give them support when they are troubled, celebrate good news with them, forgive them when they are less than perfect, enjoy their company.

Now, how do you treat yourself? The same, worse, better?

Most people, if they are honest, will admit they treat themselves worse than they treat their friends, particularly when it comes to forgiveness.

Why not start to treat yourself as well as you treat those you love?

Who's in charge if you're not?

It's so easy to blame others, parents, partners, big business, unions, government, but the result of this blame is that they are the ones in charge of your life.

However powerless you may feel it seems best to act as if you are in charge, at least it increases your chances of getting what you want.

What assumptions am I making about this?

We usually need make a lot of assumptions in order to feel upset about something. It seems as if there is a part of human nature which is programed to take things personally but it's not our best guide to what is going on.

We assume other people have the same reasons for acting as we think we would have if we acted in the same way. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when challenging the assumptions on the basis of which we react is this "It's hardly ever about you"

So here's a question to ask when someone or something pushes your buttons, "If I assume it's not about me then what could it be about?" The answers could save you a lot of suffering.

What gets remembered?

In the long term few people are going to remember what you did, even less people will remember what you said. Everyone will remember how you made them feel.

So in a world of plans and objectives, in a world of financial and business achievements, in a world of competitive education, in whatever world you inhabit, just notice first how people feel when they are with you, that's your real legacy.

Trying to make the world different can be a lifelong battle

Some lifelong battles, against poverty, against injustice, suit some people. It seems they were born to be campaigners, the role fits them like a glove and they can be taken over in pursuing the changes they believe in. They often contribute to the world in a big way.

If you are not one of those people your position is just as valid and you might end up having a more enjoyable life. Having a "cause" can be all consuming; it can damage personal relationships while seeking a better world for all. Living a simple decent life, doing little harm, can be just as important a contribution to the world and have a better effect on those close to you.

Waiting for the world to agree with you

I watched a TV program about the workings of a well know spiritual centre. A group had been formed to agree on a new symbol, a logo, to identify the centre. They had been meeting for over a year, meditating together about it, discussing it but still not agreeing.

I noticed how differently they were all dressed, some had chosen bright coloured clothes, and favoured a bright coloured logo; some wore earth colours, some simple, some more flamboyant each with a logo preference to match. I felt heartened by their inability to agree, they were individuals, and their preferences were different.

If you are waiting for all the world to become Christian, Hindu, Muslim, vegetarian, left wing, right wing, a football supporter, give up their cars, etc you are wasting your time, it's never going to happen. Rejoice in the variety of human experience; ask what each person, what each belief has to teach you. You will learn more, be less rigid and not wait for something that isn't going to turn up.

© 2019 David Mills