Peechaya Burroughs for TIME
By Milena Rangelov/Quora
October 18, 2016

Milena Rangelov, PhD student of civil engineering, blogger, creator, answered the question “What are some simple mini-habits that can change a person’s outlook on life?” on Quora.

This is such a good question! Here are my ideas.

1. Memento mori. This saying is based on Ancient Roman tradition. When the Roman generals came back home from the battles as winners, their fellow citizens made big triumph parades. During these parades one slave always had the job to stand behind the general, whispering: “Memento mori,” which means “Remember that you have to die.” In the midst of success, glory, and celebration, Roman generals were reminded that the success is fleeting and that there comes an end to everything and everyone. This is such a powerful idea, that on the first hand may seem morbid, but it’s not. Thinking about the death puts everything into the perspective. It gives us the sense of urgency for the important things and helps us stop freaking out about the meaningless.

2. Presence. This morning my husband was preparing polenta for breakfast and I stood next to him, watching the butter slowly melting in a pot of boiling water. It was such a simple, yet pleasurable moment. On many other mornings, I was running through the kitchen frantically, packing clean dishes, making a coffee and feeling good about myself for being productive. Actually, being present is more important than being productive. When we are not present, life is passing by us. We are distracted, nervous, in constant chase for something and devoid of joy. The practice of presence brings us back to our senses, to our pleasure and to our greatest power. When we are present we are fascinated and fascinating. When we are present, we are appreciating everything around us so much more.

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3. Acceptance. “The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong,” says Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way. Sh-t happens all the time and there is only so much that we can do about it. Things we can control are our effort, our attitude and our focus. Everything else has to be accepted. Love it or hate it. Agree or disagree. Accepting things you cannot change and focusing on what you can changes the way you look on life and invest your energy.

4. Moving the spotlight from yourself to others. In Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller writes: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” We cannot be focused on more than one thing at the time. (Multitasking is actually doing two things at once, both in a sloppy manner.) When we are tremendously focused on our own pain, suffering, injustices in our lives, we become myopic. When we decide to change the focus, to move the spotlight from ourselves to others, that is when we can see thing differently and step into our power. We can start seeing how much we actually have to offer, how many people are suffering way more than us, and that our problems are actually not as terrible as they may seem.

5. Choosing to see things differently. Course in Miracles defines a miracle as a shift in perception, the moment when you start seeing things differently. It starts with the choice. When faced with a problem, you can choose to stay stuck and bitter, or you can choose to see it differently. That is the change in our perception and attitude, some of few things we have control over. Another great quote from The Obstacle is The Way: “There is no good or bad without us, there is only a perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.” The truth is plastic and malleable. Every situation can be seen in a different way and we can choose which one we want to focus on.

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6. Asking yourself: “What can I create out of this?” This is the ultimate creative question, and by “creativity” here I don’t mean only creating art, but creative thinking and problem solving. This question invokes a creator within us, helps us not just react to whatever shows up, but to expand our perspective and come up with new solutions. Before every meeting, you can ask yourself this question and realize that you want to create a sense of trust and connection. It will help you focus and guide your thoughts accordingly. Whenever you fail, you can ask yourself this question and conclude that you probably don’t want to create drama, but rather an experience, a lesson, or a wisdom. Each and every situation is an opportunity to create and asking ourselves this question regularly will help us see life that way.

7. Surrendering. Marianne Williamson said this, regarding discovering spirituality: “How ironic, you spend your whole life resisting the notion that there’s someone out there smarter than you are and then all of a sudden you’re so relieved to know it’s true.” That is the meaning of surrendering. Freely placing things we cannot control into the hands of God, universe, invisible force, divine mind, call it what you want. Michael Singer wrote a whole book about it, called The Surrender Experiment. People usually think that surrendering is the passive act. In fact, it is very active and requires a lot of trust and confidence. Most of the go-getters are also control freaks. The practice of surrendering helps us relax, trust and perceive life differently.

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8. Doing what you can. When I decide to make the meal out of the ingredients that I already have in my pantry, I often end up making something good and realize that the grocery shopping can wait. When I lack time for writing and decide to finish some of the old post drafts (I have hundreds) instead of writing something new, I often end up creating something interesting. Too often we are thinking: “Oh no, I don’t have money/time/Photoshop/1 hour of uninterrupted time to do XYZ,” we completely fail to see what we do have and how we can make something. The practice of using what you have and doing what you can is brilliant because it forces us to see our resources differently and to make one more step. Doing what you can is often enough.

9. Asking people questions. And listening to their answers. (And here are some good tips on how to become a better listener.) This is a powerful practice because it will deepen the conversation from the usual: “How are you?” “I am awesome.” We don’t know enough about the people in our lives. That’s why we have to ask questions and be present and interested in answers. This practice can change the way we perceive life because when we listen, we often realize that we are not alone in our fears, worries, and hardships. As long as we share only what’s awesome and connect with others superficially, we will always feel lonesome and not good enough.

To wrap up, I would like to remind you that we can always choose to see life differently. Whenever you find yourself stuck, unhappy, confused, choose to change your perspective. Whenever your way of thinking is keeping you trapped, choose different thoughts. I hope my ideas will serve as tools in that process.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some simple mini-habits that can change a person’s outlook on life?

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