The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. – Nelson Henderson
There comes a time in life when we all reflect and ask a very important question – Did I make a difference? While this question is important, most of us reflect on it too late in our lives. We work hard to achieve important goals or life achievements but end up feeling like we could have done more. Why does this happen?
We become overwhelmed by the negativity around us. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of negativity in the world today. A study by Outbrain found that negative superlatives work 30 percent better at getting your attention than positive ones. The average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives was a staggering 63 percent higher than that of their positive counterparts.
We doubt our ability to make a difference. I am one person. How can I actually make a difference in the world? Sometimes it is hard to see the impact of what we do. Did that money I gave to charity really make a difference? Was that kind act appreciated or even noticed?
We don’t have the time. As we get older, it feels like time moves faster. Greater demands on our lives like education, career, family and finances may result in “time pressure,” the feeling that we have too many responsibilities and not enough time to fulfill them. Finding time to do something to make a difference can be difficult.
At the end of today is the start of tomorrow. The great thing about a new day is that it’s a clean slate to make a change and that change can lead to making a difference. Here are three ways you can start to make changes that lead to making a difference in the world.
1. Minimize exposure to negativity. Make a conscious effort to avoid negativity and be more deliberate in what you give your attention. Seek opportunities to cut down on things that don’t matter and stir up negative emotions. I use my phone as my alarm clock. In the morning, when I woke up and turned off the alarm, I immediately scanned social media and the news. It didn’t take long before I was agitated and anxious by the amount of negativity I was reading. So, I made a change. I still use my phone as my alarm, but now when I wake up I spend time reflecting on what I am grateful for and then thinking about the difference I want to make that day. This starts my day with a positive intent and focuses me on something that really matters.
2. A simple act can create a ripple effect. The concept of doing a good deed that gets passed along was popularized by the 2000 film Pay It Forward based on the book with the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. In this film, a seventh grade homework assignment to make a difference in the world turns into a movement across the entire country involving hundreds of people. There are numerous real examples of this today. In a Florida Starbucks, a drive through customer paid for the next person’s order at 7 a.m. This chain lasted for 11 hours with 378 customers paying it forward. At a Philadelphia pizzeria,customer prepaid for one slice of pizza telling the owner to give it to someone hungry. The owner wrote pizza credit on a post-it note and slapped it on the wall behind the registry. More than 150,000 slices have been provided to homeless individuals. The one thing in common with all these acts – it started with one person doing one small kind act to help someone else. Why can’t that person be you?
3. Make time for what is important. Several years ago, I was watching football on TV when my oldest daughter asked me to ‘play dolls’ with her. My response was, “I am busy and don’t have time right now.” To this day, I remember the disappointment on her face. When she turned around to walk away, I realized it wasn’t that I didn’t have time, it was simply that I wasn’t making time for what was important. I turned off the TV and spent time with my daughter. What is important to you? We often get distracted by things that are not really that important. When faced with a decision, ask yourself if it really matters. The answer to this question will lead you down the path to making a difference every time.
Making a difference doesn’t require an intensive plan. It just requires you to do one thing – decide that you want to make a difference. Plan to limit distractions and focus time on what matters. Who knows? We could soon be reading about the ripple effect you started.