I am a growth mindset hacker, writer, and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. My blog is a collection of ideas on how to implement small habits that can help you build a smarter life so that you can learn something new, be more productive, work smarter instead of harder, and maximize each day. Each blog post is a response to a question posted on the Q&A website Quora. I write on a variety of topics including building self-discipline, developing a growth mindset, strengthening motivation and willpower, goal setting, focus and concentration, deep work, mastery, productivity tips and hacks, morning routines, and positive psychology.
Where can you find my published work?
You can follow my work on Quora, where I’ve been writing for five years and have earned Top Writer status. With answers that have reached over 30 million views, I contribute to a community of 300 million monthly users, where I have over 51K followers. My articles have been published on Inc., Time, Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Slate, and Apple News, and translated into over a dozen languages including French, Swedish, German, Spanish, Italian, Slovak, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Brazilian-Portuguese, Finnish, and Greek.
I am the author of seven e-books:
Five are workbooks from my growth mindset series (published in 2021):
Wishing things for yourself is like being in a cocoon. It’s your comfort zone in which you get to dream, think, imagine. It’s the space to think of a million scenarios where things go your way, you live a wonderful life, have a beautiful home, enjoy the company of a partner who is a perfect fit for you, have a job that earns you an income where you can live comfortably and still have enough money to go on vacations to tropical destinations of your choice.
Speaking of destinations, that’s the thing.
Your cocoon of dreaming and wishing shouldn’t be a destination in itself. It should be a starting point. You can use that time to prioritize what are the things most important to you and your personal growth. Then you can create goals so that those wishes don’t just stay in the realm of your imagination. They can be the motivational force to move you forward into a future you can create for yourself.
The good thing about goals is that they give your dreams a sense of purpose — you have an awareness of what you desire in life, which extends beyond what’s happening in your current life. Once you know what it is you desire, you can be honest with yourself about how badly you want it. Are you willing to give up a bad habit today so you can invest in a better life two years from now? Can you be self-disciplined to build habits you can practice daily to keep you on track towards reaching an important goal? How will you measure your progress and stay motivated to keep going until you get there? What do you imagine it will feel like when you do eventually reach that goal?
Those are the questions that will help you step out of the cocoon of wishes and dreams, and on to the path towards making tangible, real changes in your life.
This plan of action is very real. You can do this.
For example, you can:
👉🏾 Think about what you want your dream life to be.
Ask yourself the following questions to define your goals properly:
Where do you want to be 1, 5, or even 10 years from now? Don’t think only geography and economy of your country, but more in terms of personal development and skill level.
Who do you want to become in your career — a leader, CEO of a startup, data analyst in a Fortune 500 company, innovator, scientist, writer?
What is your dream scenario — living a life in a specific city, becoming an expert at something, being surrounded by smart and interesting people who contribute to my personal growth and well-being?
👉🏾 Create a specific goal.
Don’t just stop at dreaming and wishing a certain lifestyle for yourself. If you’re stuck in the imaginary world, your brain won’t know what to focus on and how to take action on an idea you’re thinking about.
Non-specific goals can be anything of the following. I want to get a job, or move out of my parents’ house, or get fit, or have a large salary.
Specific goals are spelled out. For example, if you want to get a job of your dreams, write down that you want to get a job offer for a [job title you want] that pays an annual salary of [amount you believe is fair given your skills and experience] so you can develop [current skills + new skills you’re working on].
👉🏾 Start seeing everything you do as a personal choice, not an obligation.
Tell yourself, “I really want to see myself succeed at this!” The benefit? It gives you a greater sense of control about what you’re doing. That’s much better than feeling like you’re reacting to things or you have an obligation to work towards someone else’s goal (for example, a goal set by parents).
Remind yourself of the reason for action with this question: “Why am I choosing this goal?” Make the connection with the initial wishes and dreams you had for yourself at the beginning. It can be passing all exams so you can graduate from college, start your own business, earn a promotion that will help you save up more money to purchase a home, etc.
👉🏾 Make your goal actionable.
Set aside one hour after dinner tonight to create a plan of action that will make your dreams more tangible and real.
Select your top 3 personal goals. They can be anything you’ve been dreaming about for years, or something you’ve started considering more seriously in the past year or two.
Under each goal, write down 3 things you need to do on a consistent basis. It can be to practice a skill three times a week, set aside an hour a day to focus and do research, or sign up for a class to broaden your knowledge in a field.
Create a schedule for the week ahead. Set aside blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified. Start small, with a 15–30 minute block of time. You’ll be surprised how much the time adds up without you having to give up on other things you need to do during the day.
👉🏾 Measure your progress.
After following your new goal schedule for one week, make an assessment of the progress you made. Be honest in answering the following questions:
Did some activities take more time than you anticipated? If so, why?
What was easy to do? Why do you think it wasn’t as difficult as you initially thought?
What could you have done better? Could you have started earlier in the day, found an efficient way to turn off what distracts you, used shortcuts to save time without sacrificing the quality of your work?
In what way can you improve the following week? Can you focus only on one activity to make significant progress?
How will you measure your progress? Can you set milestones to reach by the end of each week, or deadlines that will keep you on track? Will you track your progress in a spreadsheet or a bullet journal?
It’s not that all things that give us comfort cause us to stagnate in life.
For example, I made lemon pound cake last night and right now I’m having one slice along with my afternoon coffee.
Eating anything with lemons in it gives me comfort. It reminds me of childhood and growing up on the Mediterranean coast. I love the color yellow. And I definitely love dessert. All these things are enjoyable to me. They have nothing to do with stagnation.
The same goes for my favorite cozy sweater, the soft wool blanket that I pull over myself as I’m reading a book at night, and getting a goodnight hug. Comfort is healing. Comfort boosts endorphins, our happy hormones. Comfort feels good. It’s not really associated with progress or goals or moving forward.
What you’re probably referring to is staying in your comfort zone and not doing things differently in order to make progress in your life, both personally and professionally. Repeating the same negative habit because you’re so used to it. Staying up late even though you know you need to wake up early. Being in a relationship that no longer feels right but you don’t want to be single again. Studying 12-hour days and not leaving your desk even though you feel miserable and stuck. Eating fast food three times a week even though you can’t fit into your jeans any more but it’s delicious and you don’t have time to cook anyway.
The problem with all these behaviors is this:
If you don’t leave your comfort zone, you’ll never know.
What could have been a different outcome if only you had taken action.
How much extra time you’d have on your hands if you managed your day better.
Who you could have met that would be a better match for you.
How full of energy you’d be if you had a good night’s rest.
To paraphrase American writer Kurt Vonnegut, you’ll never know to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Conversely, how does leaving your comfort zone help you move forward in life?
You make space for personal growth. When you confront something challenging, it’s usually something new and different from what you’re used to. This new situation forces you to come up with solutions to deal with it, and you’re more likely to learn things you wouldn’t have had to learn otherwise.
You work your flexibility muscle. Every time you are out of your own environment, you learn to adapt in order to survive. You realize that you’ll need to develop skills to communicate better, get answers to questions, and use the skills you have to make the most of it.
You feed your curiosity. Getting out of your comfort zone shows you the world is bigger than you thought it was: there is still much to discover, stuff to learn, people to meet, conversations to make you think deeper, little things to make you wonder and question and keep your mind open.
You gain wisdom. Exploring new territory means gaining experience in life. Experience is necessary to learn. Learning should lead to knowledge. And prolonged seeking of knowledge should lead to wisdom. This takes time. It is something you can turn into an advantage because you get to make time work for you instead of against you.
You discover new things about yourself. How do you know who you can become if you keep yourself imprisoned in your current life? What if you take on a tough challenge, go for that goal that seems next to impossible, and stretch yourself beyond the skills you possess in this very moment? What if this way of thinking allows you to discover strengths that can help not only you, but other people as well? Yes, going into the unknown is a journey outside of what’s comfortable. But who you can become in the process — that is priceless.
I’m answering this question to give myself time to think about it, so thank you for the opportunity.
I believe the key is in taking breaks from work so you can process the new information and allow the brain to make connections, instead of pushing yourself to keep going for hours until you’re totally exhausted. Taking breaks as you’re working through challenging cognitive tasks is actually beneficial to the brain, and there’s a concept in psychology called the Zeigarnik effect that explains it beautifully. Here’s an example.
When I start a cognitive task such as studying or working on a large project, it creates a task-specific “tension” in the brain which, when continued, improves cognitive functions. Let’s say that after two hours of work I decide to take a break to eat lunch or go for a 30-minute walk. Even though technically I stopped working, the task is still underway in my brain. The tension comes from feeling I haven’t finished working, which keeps the task top of mind so my brain remains focused on it even as I am making my sandwich or walking to get some fresh air. When I get back to my desk and finish the project, my task is officially completed and the tension is relieved.
You can apply the Zeigarnik effect to your daily life in different ways by taking frequent breaks throughout the day to give yourself time to think.
Read one chapter from a book
Look out your window and just observe trees, birds, traffic, or people walking by
Play music that either energizes you or relaxes you, depending on your mood
Draw doodles or sketches in your journal
Drink a cup of coffee or tea while sitting in a comfortable chair, and just enjoy each sip
Take a 20-minute nap
Ride your bike
Go to a park or anywhere you can be close to nature
Did you consider that perhaps you’re stuck in a fixed mindset way of thinking?
See if you can identify with any of the following statements:
My definition of success is when I can prove I am smart or talented at something.
I feel successfulwhen things come easy to me and I can do them effortlessly.
I feel like my work has to be perfect or else there’s no use trying.
If I feel like I cannot do something perfectly, I will delay and procrastinate.
If my efforts don’t show immediate results, I am plagued by self-doubt and negative self-talk.
I feel stupid whenever I make a mistake and it takes me a long time to solve a problem.
I don’t believe I can learn new skills, so I stick to what’s familiar and what I’m used to doing.
How did you fare?
If you identified with at least a few of the statements, then yes — it’s your fixed mindset talking. This way of thinking can change, I promise. A Stanford professor and leading researcher in developmental psychology called Carol Dweck has devoted her career to explaining the difference between two types of mindsets, and she has published a book explaining each one, called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In essence, the difference is this:
A fixed mindset is where you believe that your skills and qualities are “fixed” i.e. they’re something you’re born with or have possessed since early childhood, and there’s nothing you can do to change them in any way. This mindset is adopted over time by listening to statements from a young age about what we can, should, or shouldn’t do, usually delivered to us by parents, relatives, and teachers.
A growth mindset is where you believe that your skills and qualities can be changed and developed over time, through continuous effort and training. This mindset isn’t something we are born with, but it is something we can nurture in ourselves as we deliberately select learning opportunities that can benefit us.
What can you do to move beyond your fixed mindset and nurture a growth mindset?
➡️ Instead of dreading the negative self-talk, address it head on.
There are probably many situations where you’ve engaged in negative self-talk. You know how it begins: you are just working through your day, and a problem appears out of nowhere. Your manager asks you for a meeting without disclosing what’s on the agenda. You’re running late to an important meeting and run the risk of getting reprimanded for not turning in your work on time. Your brain starts awfulizing, and you tell yourself that this is a sure sign you’ll fail in some way — you’ll get demoted, fired, or at least criticized and embarrassed in front of your coworkers or classmates.
How do you deal with it?
Understand what’s going on. When our brain is stressed, it has trouble categorizing feedback and tends to qualify everything as important. But that can’t be possible. Not everything is equally important! Our job now is to de-stress the brain by helping it label a situation correctly. You can do this by asking the right question.
Ask yourself, is the feedback I am getting relevant or is it just dramatic? Relevant feedback is getting advice or an opinion that is helpful to you: you can learn to understand something, you get an explanation, you receive advice on how to improve your performance. Dramatic feedback is just that — drama. It’s not helpful, it can be an emotional reaction, or just someone venting but with no real substance to the story.
➡️ Get to the bottom of your resistance and procrastination.
Here’s a scenario to think about. Let’s say you received your college degree and now you’ve enrolled in graduate school to get a Masters in your field of expertise. You still recall that college was tough, but you made it through and now you’re proud to take this important next step in your education. But when you start the first semester, you notice there are students in your classes who regularly participate in class discussions, seem to grasp new concepts quickly, and appear to be making progress in the course while you struggle to understand what’s being explained in the textbook. As a result, you start procrastinating and skipping a class or two because everything seems overwhelming.
How do you deal with it?
Recognize the resistance. Remember that fixed mindset way of thinking? Well, it’s working hard to keep you in your place. Also, your brain prefers the status quo and wants to maintain the same daily habits it’s used to, but now here’s something new it has to deal with. And it resists. That’s why it’s important to understand this — rather than not being capable of absorbing new material, you’re just dealing with resistance towards a new situation.
Ask yourself, What’s at the core of my resistance? In most cases, it’s either people, places, or things. Sometimes we’re used to working with type B personalities (in this case, it might be fellow students who are introverted), but now we are surrounded by type A people who are more expressive or talkative. Other times, we dislike our new environment because it’s noisy, too small, or too far away from home. And in some cases, we might resist working with new textbooks that are organized differently from what we’re used to, or using computer software or apps we’re not familiar with.
➡️ Refuse to give in to the urge to quit when things get tough.
Again, you’re challenging your fixed mindset and nurturing a growth mindset. Consider one of these two scenarios and think about how you typically react. Maybe you’re reading through a tough chapter in preparation for an exam, and your mind is just not into it, so you skip it entirely. Or a task you’re doing at work is challenging because you’ve never done something like that before, and you’re worried you’re going to look like a fool if you even try doing it.
How do you deal with it?
Don’t give in to the urge — keep going. Imagine that your brain is making connections as you’re working through a problem, and it will learn from this experience. Embrace the learning process, because it will allow you the opportunity to get better. And not just that: start thinking about how much you’re looking forward to learning something new, because it will expand your knowledge and help you master an ability or skill in the long term.
Break down your task into smaller increments. There’s no point in trying to read ten chapters in one sitting, because if you have that expectation, you’re much more likely to walk away and not even try to study. Instead, make it a goal to read one chapter at a time, and set your timer to 50 minutes, followed by a 10-minute break, so you’re working in a targeted way.
➡️ Take a fresh look at your past, including your mistakes and failures.
Believe it or not, but we usually look back and reflect on things we did or did not do, and we do it in the same way. There’s a pattern in our way of thinking, and in most cases we are critical and negative when it comes to evaluating our past performance. To cultivate a growth mindset, you need to change the way you think about mistakes you made in the past. Start by contemplating the following question. Is there something you remember as a massive failure that happened in your past that you believe determines how successful or unsuccessful you are?
How do you deal with it?
First, identify that experience. It could have happened ten years ago, but you feel like the failure still follows you around. It could have also happened just recently and you’re still in a bad mood over it. Maybe it’s getting fired from your last job, or failing an exam, or ending a relationship that meant a lot to you.
Tell yourself, this experience has happened to me, but it does not define me. This is a very important distinction because it separates who you are from your actions. You are much, much bigger than any single action you took in the past. And, what’s even more important, you have the potential to make a change, do things differently, and make an effort to affect your future in a more positive way.
Ask yourself, How can I learn from this experience? There’s no point in failing and making mistakes if we avoid thinking about them or indulge in negative self-talk because of them. Think of your actions as an opportunity to learn something. Ask yourself, what has this experience taught me about myself and what I truly care about? How can it show me the path towards getting what I want?
➡️ Make a plan to grow your mindset each day.
Growing your mindset is not going to happen automatically, and you can’t rely on other people to devote their time and energy to helping you become that better version of yourself you want to see. This means you will need to change the way you organize your day. While it may seem like a daunting task, it is doable.
How do you deal with it?
Every morning, ask yourself this question: What are the opportunities for learning and growth today? When you train your brain to answer this question on a regular basis, you’ll soon notice that it will start looking for opportunities where you can learn new things, instead of avoiding them and sticking to what you already know how to do.
To make this habit easier, write down a short list of 3–5 items to choose from. Use a notebook and be specific. For example, if you need to do research on a topic for a class, write what exactly you’ll need to do and how long you think it will take. If you need to practice a skill, write down where you’ll start practicing it and how. Always focus on answering when, where, and how you’ll proactively grow your mindset, so you set your own path to making it happen.
In the evening, recap what you’ve learned. Go back to your list of items you wanted to accomplish, and evaluate your efforts. Did you finish everything on your list? If not, what are you planning to complete tomorrow? Which activity took longer than you anticipated? What shortcut did you use to complete a task? How can you make the learning process easier moving forward? These questions will guide you to recalibrate your definition of success. As a result, your progress will make you feel more confident about your skills, abilities, and your brain performance. Now that’s a win-win outcome, wouldn’t you say?
Do you want to be an expert at something? Many people do just fine without becoming experts in a particular field or industry. So it’s not necessary for you to become one. But maybe that’s not the issue. Maybe you want to be an expert because you know someone who has achieved that status, or because you read somewhere that you must have expert level knowledge in order to succeed in your career.
It’s important to answer this question because becoming an expert takes a LOT of time. Think about people through history like Leonardo Da Vinci, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dostoyevsky, Marie Curie, Mozart, Nikola Tesla, Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Venus and Serena Williams, Elon Musk, Kobe Bryant. They all dedicated hours, days, months, and years to one particular area or field of knowledge. What helped them succeed is having the drive, self-discipline, and a laser focus in their respective field. That is how they made continuous progress, every single day, in their craft.
And if this sounds appealing to you, it may easily become your entire life too. But you should know what it will entail. And because of the time investment you’ll need to make in order to achieve expert status, you better be sureit’s something you really want for yourself.
If your answer is still a resounding YES, then how do you become an expert in a particular field?
👉🏾 Identify a specific goal that will drive you to succeed.
When you have a goal you’re working towards, everything you do in your daily life has a greater sense of purpose — which is a key to achieving expert status.
Make sure your goal is specific. For example, don’t just say that you want to get a job, be fit, have a large salary. Instead, say you want to get a job offer for a specific job title that pays a certain annual salary (have a specific amount in mind) so that you can develop specific skills you already have, as well as learn those new skills you’re working towards.
Make sure you’re focused on your goal. You can increase your focus by starting each day with the question: What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? This question forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do, so you don’t feel overwhelmed with making too many choices and you’re free to focus on what’s most important to you.
👉🏾 Develop a strategy to achieve your goal.
Goals are important, but so is developing your strategy. What is strategy? It’s about having the big picture in mind: while you are focusing on what you want to do right now, always keep your eye on at least two steps ahead.
Take into consideration different approaches you can take to get you closer to your goal. That means be flexible and don’t always stick to what you’re used to doing to solve a problem.
Don’t only think of achieving short-term success. Being strategic isn’t only what you’re doing right right this very moment; it’s also about feeling the benefits of your present actions in the future.
Don’t focus only on the person you are today. Instead, think of who you want to be in 10 or even 20 years. By being strategic you will empower yourself to achieve long-term results that your future self can benefit from.
👉🏾 Learn everything you can about your chosen field of expertise.
In order to be successful at anything, you need to know the landscape so you can adapt to it and learn how to master it.
Research the field or industry you want to be successful in. There are many ways to get to know your target industry. For example, you can research the key features and goals of that industry, the major players, the competition, the qualities that are respected in experts, the top rated books in the field, the most relevant websites, and any other resources that can help you understand the subject, industry, or environment.
Follow what successful people are doing in your field. Read up on projects they’re involved in, find interviews, get their biographies and start taking notes. For example, can you find out what makes them unique and what are the traits they all have in common? When you identify patterns in behaviors of others, it becomes easier to emulate them and develop those same successful traits in yourself.
👉🏾 Work on developing skills to become successful.
You can’t be successful without a required skill set in your field of work, regardless of whether it’s studying for a PhD degree in computational and data sciences, becoming a software engineer, or training to be a top-notch French pastry chef.
First, identify which skills are necessary for you to succeed in doing your job. List them all. Think not just hard skills, but soft skills too.
Second, work on developing your skills. Create a plan to devote a certain amount of time each day to do this, even if this means you devote 15 minutes to it in the beginning.
Third, keep practicing each skill consistently. Not twice a week, but more often — think daily. This means focusing without interruptions on your field of interest, and the best way to do it is through deep work.
👉🏾 Set milestones to measure your progress.
The only way you can pave the way towards your future is to know how you are performing, so that you can change your course of action if the results you’re achieving are not satisfactory. That’s why it’s important to measure your progress along the way. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
How did I perform this week? What were the tasks and mini goals I have completed, how long did it take me to work on each one, and how would I rate my performance on a scale of 1–10, with 1 being poor and 10 being outstanding?
Which problems have I solved? Did I overcome an obstacle, find a shortcut to doing something that is challenging to me, save some time by asking for assistance in finishing something, or resolve a problem that has been on my mind for some time?
Where can I improve? What are specific areas where I can get even better, what’s the next level I need to reach so I can excel at it, how can I revise my strategy based on my experience in the field so far?
To be fair, I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong mindset. But it’s true, there are certain mindsets that can be more helpful to us while others can be detrimental and sometimes even self-destructive. In real life, it’s likely that our mindsets change over time due to our life experiences, our age, the circumstances we find ourselves in, and our emotional agility to deal with life’s challenges and obstacles. The good news is this: we can change our mindset so it can work for us, not against us.
There’s an excellent book on this topic by Carol Dweck called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck explains that we adopt a certain mindset about our abilities very early in life due to the words used by our parents, teachers, and other adults as we were growing up. Over time, these words and phrases shape the attitude we develop towards ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses. As we become adults, we acquire one of two opposing mindsets that ultimately prove to be either empowering or detrimental to our life. A fixed mindset is about believing that your affinities and talents are set in stone so you cannot change or fix them, whereas a growth mindset is about believing that you can grow and cultivate your skills by working continuously on them.
How do you know if you have a fixed mindset? Think back to a time when you encountered a setback, received criticism, or had a hard time learning something new. Did you ever hear or tell yourself any of the following statements?
I always get straight A’s in school.
You can never change.
I was born this way.
You’re my son/daughter, you’ll study what I tell you to study.
You can’t understand this at all.
It’s better to give up.
You’re not talented.
I am too scared to do this.
If you did, these statements show a fixed mindset way of thinking. What’s the disadvantage? It can make you feel helpless, irrelevant, and passive. It can lead you to believe there’s nothing in this world that you can control. It can rob you of the freedom to express yourself, learn new things, explore the world, be curious, find out who you can truly be. Essentially, having a fixed mindset holds you back from living your life expansively.
If you want to start practicing a growth mindset, you can start right now. It’s not a huge shift. It’s a matter of knowing what you want to change, being consistent in practicing a new behavior, and keeping yourself open to experiencing new things. Here are a few ideas.
👉🏾 Learn something new every day. It can be anything from brushing up on your history knowledge by watching documentaries on ancient Greece or World War II, to researching something practical such as how to incorporate strength training into your daily workouts.
👉🏾 Don’t take it easy. Next time you are successful at reaching a goal, don’t just sit back and let it all go. Maintain that level of success, from making a plan to improve a skill important for your personal development, and then pushing yourself to a more advanced level.
👉🏾 Absorb knowledge wherever and whenever. Studying shouldn’t be limited just to the classroom. Read books on an interesting topic, take an online class, or watch free tutorials on YouTube on developing a skill you always wanted to have.
👉🏾 Find growth mindset people to spend time with. People closest to you (family, friends, or your partner) can impact your mood, attitude, belief system, and even what you perceive to be your strengths or weaknesses. Your inner circle should include optimistic people who have a can-do attitude towards problem-solving and who encourage you to grow your skills every day.
👉🏾 Change the way you think about success. Instead of thinking that success is being the best, start thinking of success as doing your best. Focus on finding ways to improve how you work and manage your personal development, from planning a difficult task ahead of time to waking up at 6 a.m. so you have time to implement a new positive habit in your life.
👉🏾 Train your brain to see failure in a different way. Instead of seeing your failures as confirmation of your inability to do something, train your brain to see failure as a setback. This is more motivating and helps you build character. Be honest with yourself how you may have contributed to failing, then come up with ways to do better next time.
👉🏾 Welcome new opportunities. Next time you’re faced with a new problem, start by asking yourself, What if? This question is open-ended and trains your brain to think beyond just reacting with “I can’t.” It allows you to look at a situation from other angles, practice critical thinking skills, and gives you time to come up with creative solutions to a problem.
And it’s true. Stoicism can become a way of life you can practice every day to help you navigate more easily through all the surprises, challenges, and obstacles life has in store for you.
Here are 3 ways to incorporate stoicism into your daily life.
Being stoic isn’t about staying in your comfort zone. That’s the place where you’re surrounded by familiar things, people, and experiences. If you are used to studying for 12 hours at your desk, you keep doing it even if it makes you dizzy and leaves you unmotivated. If you react the same way when you have a problem at work, you continue with the same problem-solving approach even though you know the results won’t be any different. Staying in your comfort zone is the opposite of growth. As soon as you step out of it, you give yourself a chance to experience something new. Yes, you’ll experience growing pains. Yes, you’ll feel discomfort. Yes, you may feel out of place, or not knowledgeable enough, or even silly. Those are all good things. The more you get used to discomfort, the more flexible you’ll be when problem-solving. You can:
Give yourself permission to feel. Being stoic isn’t about being in denial. You need to process your thoughts and feelings so they don’t overwhelm you. The best way to do this is by giving yourself the time to observe what you’re feeling. Are you scared? Frustrated? Feeling like you don’t belong? Dreading that you’ll fail? Acknowledge those feelings. Your awareness will benefit you.
Learn to rely on yourself by trying to solve a problem at work or school by yourself first. If you make mistakes, it’s good. Mistakes will eventually lead you to success. You’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t. And, you won’t be dependent on others to solve your problems.
Don’t be afraid to try a different way of overcoming an obstacle. Experiment a little. Try something new. Learn and repeat and get better at something.
Learn to practice self-discipline.
This is probably the top habit to embrace if you want to practice stoicism. Why? Because putting offactivities that make you feel great and give you pleasure does have its advantages. When you give yourself a healthy dose of self-discipline, you do something difficult first in order to reward yourself later. There’s even science to back this up: Stanford University’s Marshmallow experiment shows how delayed gratification can increase your chances at succeeding in many areas of your life. You can:
Make the most of your mornings by building a habit of doing deep work. It will help you reduce the amount of procrastination you feel when you’re trying to prep for exams or meet deadlines for work projects. Use the first 4 hours of the day to read, write, problem-solve. Your brain will be able to focus more effectively.
Resist the usual routine of waking up and reaching for your phone to start scrolling. If you’re like most people, you probably like to check email, Twitter, funny Tik Tok videos, websites, blogs, or even games. One good way to resist this is to turn off all notifications so you don’t see them pop up every time there’s a new post somewhere.
Leave conversations, social media, and TV activities for the evening. Once you’re done with work for the day, of course you need to rest and have fun. Hold yourself accountable and don’t do things just for the pleasure of it unless you’ve completed your daily work goals.
Don’t waste time on pointless activities.
The Roman Stoic philosopherSeneca devotes a section of his book On the Shortness of Lifeto this problem. Indulging in pointless activities was an issue for many people back then, too. Seneca describes gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things, and trying to impress others. If you think about it, it’s not that different from our world today. There are ways to use your time more wisely. You can:
Reduce your exposure to social media. Find a way to measure how much time you spend on Twitter, for example, and when you usually do this. Make a plan to reduce the total time and to check updates only in the evening.
Don’t indulge in gossip and complaining when talking to friends. What would be the point, the end result of such an activity? You can’t change people’s behavior, and they won’t care about your opinion of them anyway. Find other topics that are more helpful and interesting. Use the time to learn something new from one another, tell a funny story, or share a positive experience.
Keep one specific goal top of mind. When you’re focused on a personal or professional goal, you’re less likely to distract yourself with activities that will take you away from it. A good habit to practice each morning is to ask yourself, What is the one thing I am committed to completing today? Your answer will help your brain focus better because it won’t have to constantly evaluate and make decisions. And the rest of the day you’ll know that this is your mission and you will do what it takes to accomplish it. Just like in the words of Seneca, “Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.”
If it’s you, excellence can mean creating a product that is aesthetically beautiful, unparalleled, unique. An object that others admire and want to own. A work of art that’s so well-crafted that you’re willing to pay a large amount of money to own it.
If it’s me, excellence can mean working on my writing skills in small increments every single day. Organizing my notes in a bullet journal. Doing brainstorming exercises of ideas I’ll write more about. Drafting and editing articles, blog posts, or Quora answers. Rewriting a sentence many times until it is clear, concise, yet interesting to read.
And if it’s someone else, excellence can mean something different. Winning a chess championship. Getting straight A’s in school. Becoming fluent in a foreign language. Achieving top athlete status on the college football team. Baking a perfect baguette that looks like it came straight out of a bakery in Paris.
In other words, becoming excellent at what you do needs to be connected to something close and personal to you, not to other people. Because if you’re on the path to achieve it, you’ll have to make sure you’re not following someone else’s path — your parents, grandparents, close friends, even your partner’s path. It needs to be YOUR path towards excellence.
And if that’s what is important to you, then you’ll need to think about a few things.
#1. Creating a specific goal.
Going through life just day by day, without knowing where you’re actually going, isn’t the most constructive way to live. But when you have a goal you’re working towards, you push yourself on the path towards achieving excellence.
Make your goal specific. For example, don’t just say that you want to get a job, win a marathon, become rich. Instead, say you want to get a job offer for a specific job title that pays a certain annual salary so that you can develop specific skills, both current and future ones.
Stay focused on your goal. Increase your focus by starting each day with the question: What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? It forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do on that particular day, so you don’t feel overwhelmed with making too many choices.
#2. Having a strategy.
Goals are important, but developing your strategy is equally important. Having a strategy means having “the big picture” in mind: not just focusing on what you want to do right now, but also keeping your eye on at least two steps ahead.
Think outside the box. Consider different approaches to get you closer to your goal. That means be flexible and don’t always stick to the tried and true way of approaching a problem.
Don’t focus only on short-term success. Being strategic isn’t only what you’re doing right right this very moment; it’s also about feeling the benefits of your present actions in the future.
Think about your future self. For example, think of who you want to be in 10 years. By being strategic you will empower yourself to achieve long-term results that your future self can benefit from.
#3. Developing your skills.
It’s impossible to achieve excellence in any field without a required skill set that will set you apart from others doing the same thing. What are some examples of skills? Leadership. Decision-making. Communication. Critical thinking. Problem-solving. Mastering pivot tables in Excel.
Identify skills necessary to succeed in your profession. List them. Hard skills, soft skills, creative skills. If you’re not sure what are necessary skills, find people who are already successful in that area and identify the skills they possess.
Work on developing the core skills. Create a plan to devote a certain amount of time each day to do this, even if you only set aside 15 minutes in the beginning.
Practice each skill consistently. This is about persistence and creating time in your schedule to do “deep work”: focusing without interruptions on a complex cognitive task such as problem-solving.
#4. Implementing those skills.
What’s the point of having a skill if you’re not going to apply it? Find out how to use the skills you’ve acquired to solve a problem that you are facing or that others find challenging.
Identify one area where you can apply the skills you learned. Perhaps you’re switching jobs and looking for a role where that particular skill is desirable to have. Go on LinkedIn and search for roles that have that skill listed as a keyword in the job title or description.
Show and tell. You’ll need to prove that you’re good at the skills you practiced and promoted as your key strengths. If you’re preparing for a job interview, write down several situations where you needed to apply a core skill to resolve a problem in a previous job.
Emphasize the benefits. To convince others that you’re great at what you do, explain how they will benefit. Tell them how your skill will help them solve a business problem, save them time and resources, or improve communication and collaboration between teams.
#5. Doing it all again tomorrow.
Achieving excellence is not — and should never be — about achieving glory in one moment in time. Excellence is a work in progress. It’s about what you do today to make something better. It’s about repeating and practicing and doing it over and over again. Most of all, it’s about staying on track so the goal you set for yourself is always in the back of your mind.
Keep your ego in check. If you’ve done exceptionally well on a recent job or exam, don’t get complacent or lazy. Don’t let an excellent grade in a college course go to your head so you forget to study for the next course. Keep your eyes straight ahead to reach bigger goals.
Maintain a regular schedule to practice your skills. Don’t forget about your achievements just because you’re done with a project or you’re going on vacation in a few weeks. Create a plan to practice skills regularly so it’s easier to maintain them over an extended period of time.
Practice a growth mindset way of thinking. If you want to be excellent at what you do — and stay excellent at it — it pays off to apply critical-thinking skills by asking yourself questions on a regular basis. Which problem have I solved? How can I improve even more? What’s the next level or milestone I need to reach to excel at what I’m doing?
When I see the phrase “life hacks” it makes me curious. Take a minute to think about what it means to you. Are you thinking about shortcuts, tips, an alternative way to reach a goal? I always thought about life hacks as a roadmap to self-improvement, as ideas I can apply to my life to make something better. A big part of this roadmap is dedicating time to think about what will give my life more meaning, how to make work easier, how to train my brain to focus on positive things, how I can be useful to others.
Maybe you can use this time to think how to make something better for you too.
Here’s my list of 10.
#1. Start expecting BIG things. Things you can be part of. Things that you can change for the better: the status of your education, a problem at work, the way you lead your personal life. Imagine a better scenario for yourself, consider what needs to happen to make it a reality, then come up with a concrete plan. And don’t stop there. Do something, starting today, however small, to make it real. Give it 5 minutes today. Then do one more small thing tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.
#2. Have YOUR OWN opinion. Just because your friends say something is cool (or not cool), interesting, dull, totally acceptable or not, does not mean you need to mirror what they say, do, or tell you to do. Practice your critical-thinking skills. Ask yourself if the thing in question is important to you, and if it is, why it’s important. Or if it isn’t, then ask yourself why you should waste time on it. Question things. Don’t blindly accept what you’re told. Grow that critical thinking muscle.
#3. BE PROUD of what makes you different. It may be your heritage, the value system you’ve been raised with, cultural background, the languages you speak, even the tiny bits and pieces of who you are. The way you like to cook your food with a specific combination of spices. Your book, music, or podcast collection. Your singing voice. Your sketchbook. The way you think about your future. Pick something that you find beautiful in that mix, and nurture it every day.
#4. DREAM. This is a super important one. Yes, dream — and not just at night. Dream while you’re awake. Dream about the what if’s. Dream in small pieces. Dream in minutes or even seconds. Give yourself the time to do it. Put down that phone, step away from the laptop. Create some space for dreaming instead of just running from one task to the next. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you need to give up your dreams and grow up. Those people? They’re clueless.
#5. Don’t talk NON-STOP. Want to avoid being average? Don’t make constant chatter and gossip a top priority. What can help you change the behavior? To start, don’t assume people are there to just listen to you. It’s not all about you. Wisdom comes through listening and observing. Next, listen to what people are talking about. Try to understand what they’re telling you. Focus on their words and the ideas they share. Observe their behavior. Learn about the world in this way.
#6. RESPECT yourself. Because respect is where everything that’s truly important to your self-development begins. Value who you are, what you are doing, who you are becoming. Value your time and your efforts. Value your skills and what you’re good at. Be aware of your entire journey and how difficult it is to achieve the things you’ve already done. Don’t take everything you’ve accomplished for granted. If you take it all for granted, so will everyone else. Respect starts with you. Others will follow.
#7. Focus on MASTERY. If you really want to get better at something, you need to keep working on it. This applies to improving your personal relationships, picking up a skill you need for school or work, building positive habits, showing compassion towards others, and whatever else you believe is important to you in life. Don’t just talk about wanting to do things or try a thousand different things and then abandon them. Make something stick. Become a master at them step by step, in small increments, every single day.
#8. READ. Not only stuff on the Internet, or what you have to read for school or work. Read books. Big books. Novels. Books written by Nobel prize winners. Books that are considered the classics. Important books by Toni Morrison, Dostoyevsky, Tagore, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Kundera, Camus, Orwell, and others. Explore other centuries, different points of view, characters who were challenged by circumstances similar to yours or perhaps not at all. Read to feed your brain. Read to expand your mind about what is possible.
#9. Don’t spend so much time on SOCIAL MEDIA. Your phone is your device for staying in touch and sharing information. But should you immediately start scrolling through Instagram or Facebook as soon as you wake up? And checking for notifications, text messages from friends, and news alerts throughout the day? Just be aware of how much time you dedicate to these activities. Change things. Look up. Really see the world. Experience it in real time.
#10. Become a person that others LOOK UP TO. Use your intelligence. Make smart choices — whether big or small, be sure that the choices you make can help you get on the path to becoming a better version of yourself. Make it a goal to be someone people seek to gain knowledge in a particular field of expertise, or be a person friends come to when they need guidance or just a warm embrace. Or, strive to be someone’s hero, as the Greeks called ἥρως (hērōs) — a warrior, a defender, a protector. This will help you live not just a life, but an extraordinary life.