Bill Cottringer

“There's a mess inside you: You clean the outside.” ~Anonymous, The Dhammapada.

Do what matters most. I once wrote a book with that title. It took me more than 600 pages to wade through some extreme complexity to get to the profound simplicity of the four things that do matter most—Family, friends, fun and work. In this spirit, I am thinking my way back to the middle of complexity and simplicity to offer a baker’s dozen of the most important things to do in life with family, friends, fun and work:

1. Our thinking follows the same creative process that goes on in the universe, which involves a constant movement back and forth between the opposite yang and yins of life. We explore one opposite until we realize it is only half the picture. Then we move from this half-truth to its opposite for a while. Then of course, we end up back somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Earlier Philosophers called this the golden mean, or the best way to living a good life. This is the process we use to find the truth but must at some point realize that most truth is tentative and relative to the time and place you discover it, as just a “theory.”.

2. Life seems to involve two main stages. The first is us trying to survive the main conflicts in life—us vs. life, us vs. them, and us vs. ourselves. The second stage is learning how to go from merely surviving to thriving into the prosperity zone, or land of good and plenty. The key here is that you must first to master the hard art of surviving before you get to the even harder part of thriving, as the last 10-degrees of improvement is always the hardest to accomplish. You must walk before your run and there is no way around that reality.

3. Time appears to be shrinking these days due to the information overload that the Information Age is bringing us. There is too much to learn, know and apply and too little time to do this all. The only possible solution to such a fierce dilemma is to become an expert time manager to keep the tail from wagging the dog. The most effective way to maneuver through the information age is to look for important principles that help you learn how to successfully survive the challenges of life and then eventually thrive into abundance. Principles are a true short-cut to success but finding them isn’t.

4. We are all born to fulfill a unique purpose in life and are given valuable gifts to carry out this purpose. The earlier on in life we figure out what our personal mission is, the more we can do and the more we enjoy doing it. Along the way, it is helpful to identify the few important values that nurture this purpose and live your life around those values.

5.At the end of each day, we are becoming who we hang out with and what we read. It is important to choose your friends and reading carefully to support your personal mission and values. Everything else is a dead-end detour to avoid.

6. The most important way to be is mindful—more aware of what you are doing right now and less aware of all the past memories that flood your mind, or the future worries or expectations, that can never really be experienced as imagined. Being mindful helps you do what matters most. This is using your hard-wiring (IQ) and software skills (emotional intelligence) to find and live your purpose through the surviving and thriving stages of life.

7. Here is a good quote for summarizing this seventh principle of doing what matters most: “Never let hard lessons harden your heart; the hard lessons of life are meant to make you better, not bitter.” ~Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart. It is the difficult conflicts which confront us continually and constant challenges to survive adversity, which build the kind of character necessary to get to the thriving stage of life and eventually to the finish line. All the bruises, broken bones and bleeding eventually become worth it.

8. The best way to manage complexity and simplicity extremes is to adopt this mantra: Control the few controllables and let go of the rest. Finding those few controllables, is mostly a matter of realizing how unmindful we can be in thinking we always have complete free will in the choices of what we say or do or not say and not do. The best available truth is that social conditioning and unconscious motivations account for the lion’s share of the uncontrollables. Control the few controllables and let go of the rest.

9. Sooner or later we finally realize that there is nothing wrong with reality exactly the way it is. Instead, the problem is our incorrect and incomplete perceptions of it, which may be the only thing that needs changing. Here again, the only way to get to this important realization is to be more mindful of the present moment, which in turn will lead us to focus on controlling the few controllables we have power over and let go of the rest, not worth sweating over.

10. Some earlier research I did with 95-year old people in a retirement home led me to this tenth point. I asked but one question: “What do you regret most in life?” Two answers were most common: (a) Not contemplating life enough, and (b) Not taking enough chances. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up in my rocking chair on my back porch looking at the river and being sad that I had those regrets.

11. It may be that the Information Age is taking us all into unfamiliar waters without a map. The two most valuable skills to master surviving the unknown and being able to thrive in these new waters, are collaboration and compromise. Resisting learning these skills is futile and senseless. Again, control the controllables and let go of the rest.

12. Always give your mind adequate airtime but follow your heart. It might not always be right, but it will usually be smart. Actually, the best advice is to develop your intuition, which is somewhere in between your mind and heart. Only close and careful listening can catch the silent intuitive insights, because of all the competing louder noises going on in our minds and hearts.

13. I do not believe in any unluckiness attached to the number thirteen because I was born on Friday the 13th and have more than my fair share of good luck. But being a person still trying to get to the “golden mean,” I lean towards being optimistic and hopeful, but always have a plan b or c in my back pocket, just in case Murphy’s Law turns out to be more true than not. So, the 13th most important thing belongs to your imagination!

Practice 1-2 of these principles and you will improve your survival skills; practice 3-5 and you will become a master of surviving; and practice 6 or more and you will be positioning yourself to start thriving. This is your very own 13th principle in doing what matters most.

“Imagining yourself at your own funeral allows you to look back at your life while you still have the chance to make some important changes.” ~Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D., Certified Homeland Security (CHS) level III, is Executive Vice-president for Employee Relations for Cascade Security Corporation in Bellevue, Washington, sport psychologist, and adjunct professor in criminal justice at Northwest University. He is author of several business and self-development books, including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, ‘P’ Point Management, Reality Repair, Reality Repair RX, Thoughts on Happiness, Pearls of Wisdom: A Smart Dog’s Tale. He can be reached at 425-652-8067 or