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Build a smarter life, one small habit at a time.

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Welcome to Nela’s blog!

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 an answer 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 a Top Writer for the past 3 years. With answers that have reached over 21 million views, I contribute to a community of 300 million monthly users, where I have over 43K 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 two e-books:

The first one is called Your STUDY SMARTER 30 Day Plan, and it’s created for busy students who want to study smarter and maximize brain power while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The second one is called 5 Keys to Self-Discipline to Help You Transform Each Dayand it’s a collection of tips for anyone who wants to transform their lifestyle and work on achieving their goals in small steps each day.

What’s new for summer 2019?

I am also super excited to announce that I’m developing an online course called “Imagine What’s Possible: A Beginner’s Guide to the Growth Mindset.” It’s an introductory course on how we can use a growth mindset as a supertool to overcome personal challenges and achieve goals we set for ourselves.

In the course you can explore the following:

  • Discover how your attitude and mindset are critical to success
  • Differentiate between a fixed and growth mindset way of thinking
  • Identify “fixed mindset” behavior that you can correct
  • Apply “growth mindset” behavior through practical tips
  • Practice what you’ve learned with exercises and templates specially designed for this course.

If you’d like to receive an email on when the course goes live (which will happen in the beginning of July), leave me a comment here on the blog or send me a message on Quora, and I’ll make sure you’re one of the first to know!

 

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How do you make it easier to leave your comfort zone?

 

How do you make it easier for yourself to leave your comfort zone?

Here’s a suggestion.

Next time you feel comfortable and tell yourself, I don’t feel like changing anything, replace that sentence with a question:

Why not?

Maybe you don’t feel like doing something because you lack motivation. You don’t see the point of taking action. You tend to procrastinate. You feel that you’re good at something and so why change it? Why fix something if it isn’t broken?

But here’s the thing. When you ask yourself why not, you make a subtle shift in your mindset. And mindset, more than anything, will be that single critical component that will affect everything you do (and how much you will achieve).

Here is how this small question affects your mindset.

  • You give yourself a chance to consider there’s something else hiding behind your procrastination. Maybe it is fear of not being able to do something at all, or doing it successfully, or even doing it more successfully than others. It’s not about being lazy. Quite the opposite— it’s something blocking you. Who knows, it can even be your competitive side that’s sabotaging you!
  • You take the opportunity to find out where the resistance is coming from. It’s the perfect time to get to the root cause of the problem. Be honest with yourself about what’s really holding you back. Is it a lack of knowledge in one area? Maybe you’re embarrassed you don’t know how something works. Is it not having the skills? Maybe you need to hide this from others. Is it something you’ve been told to avoid because it’s “not” for you? Maybe you’re dealing with prejudices or stereotypes in your culture, family, or circle of friends. Or you may be feeling pressure because someone is forcing you to do it? Find out why you are resisting moving forward, so that you can finally do something about it.
  • You have the unprecedented advantage to win over fear. Here’s where your adjusted mindset can really work for you. Consider this: there is something powerful when we leave a little space open for possibilities, instead of shutting the door in our own face by limiting ourselves. When we make this shift in our mindset, we give ourselves time and space to grow, learn, acquire new skills, and ultimately get closer to becoming the best version of ourselves we want to see in our future. So why not try it?

How important is it to step outside of your comfort zone?

 

Depends what you want out of life.

If you want to continue feeling trapped or stuck in a situation that you hate, or if you lack self-confidence, or if you hate to take risks, go ahead and stay in that comfort zone.

But if you want to get unstuck and free yourself of the status quo, if you want to grow and improve, and if you want to take an important skill to the next level, you’ll have to step outside your comfort zone.

Why is stepping outside of your comfort zone so important anyway?

Reason #1. Your personal growth. When you confront something challenging, it usually happens outside of what you’re used to. This 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 otherwise.

Reason #2. 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 what you have to make the most of it.

Reason #3. You feed your curiosity. Getting out of your comfort zone still shows you the world is bigger than you thought: 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.

Reason #4. 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’s the best way to make time work for you.

Reason #5. You discover new things about yourself. How can 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 what’s possible today? What if this opens doors for you to discover strengths that can help not only you, but other people as well? To find out the best and strongest part of you, it will take a journey outside what’s comfortable. It will be risky, sure. But who you’ll become in the process — that will be priceless.

Those are the reasons why it’s important to step outside your comfort zone.

If you want to find a simple solution how to do it, read the next post.

How do you teach “grit”?

 

Teach it to yourself first!

The dictionary says that grit demonstrates a person’s courage, resolve, strength of character, and strength of will. It shows toughness and determination.

I would add to this by saying that grit is having the ability to bounce back after a setback. For some people it’s faster, for others it takes time. But either way (whether it’s a matter of days, weeks, or years) the resolve has to be there because there is no other option. We must go on.

There was no way I was focused on developing grit when I was younger. My attention was on other things: graduating college, falling in love, getting a job, moving to another country, going from city to city as my career took off.

But life happens. There’s a big jump from the college life to working a 9–5 job. What starts out as a promising role in a company ends up in a layoff. One manager who knows how to successfully handle a large team leaves, and another one who dislikes having to take on bigger responsibilities comes on board. Personal relationships also change over time, which is normal, because we grow and our needs change. The outcomes aren’t always (in fact they are rarely) what we want or need at the time.

That’s where grit comes into play. Whether I was aware of it at the time or not, I was teaching myself grit every time I encountered a setback. To be honest, it’s usually a long and time-consuming process. But I had to keep going. Why? Because I want to be the kind of person who learns from failures (instead of blaming others for them), who follows logic and common sense (instead of getting overly emotional), and who isn’t afraid to try something new (even if it means I’ll feel like I’m just a beginner).

These are the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Grit lesson #1. I train myself to be in growth mode every day.

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book completely changed the way I see myself and what I am capable of overcoming! Dr. Dweck makes an important distinction between two mindsets: fixed and growth mindset. If you’ve adopted a fixed mindset, you think being successful is due to good genes, a particular talent or gift, or something you are born with (or not lucky to be born with). Succeeding means being “perfect” every time, achieving results easily and effortlessly, without experiencing any type of setback EVER. Talk about setting yourself up for disappointment with this way of thinking! It’s a wiser choice to expect a challenge and to prepare for it, and that’s where having a growth mindset can prove helpful.

How can you do it?

To practice a growth mindset, shift your focus from the end result (making straight A’s in school or getting a promotion at work) to the actual process of becoming successful. A growth mindset person doesn’t think that success is being the best—they believe success is doing their best. You can start by moving away from your comfort zone (doing everything the same way over and over, using the same tools and processes), and towards a zone that’s uncomfortable and new. For example, come up with a better way to improve your work — break down a large task in smaller increments, or tackle a difficult problem early in the morning when your mind is likely to concentrate better. Or, wake up a bit earlier each morning to practice a new fitness habit such as going for a run or swim.

Grit lesson #2. I try to use every obstacle to my advantage.

How often have you told yourself, if only I didn’t run out of time I could’ve finished that research paper? Or, if only I wasn’t invited to the party I wouldn’t have eaten three slices of pizza and gone off my diet? In those moments when you’re trying to rationalize your decisions and actions, you’re blaming the obstacles for not achieving your short or long-term goals. Or, to put it differently, you’re giving them top priority and more importance than anything you can do or change with your behavior. But what if obstacles were to serve a different purpose in your life? Instead of using them as an excuse to avoid something or even to quit something, it’s more beneficial if you use them to your advantage.

How can you do it?

In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, retired US Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink has a power tip for how to deal with obstacles. I find it a bit controversial, unexpected, and nothing like any advice or feedback I’ve ever received from my circle of family and friends as I was growing up. Jocko says that when you reach an obstacle, instead of saying, Oh no! you should embrace it and say, GOOD! Why talk about an obstacle in a positive light? It’s a subtle switch of your mindset that yields big results because it affects how you react to a problematic situation. If you’ve failed at an exam, GOOD! Now you’ll have more time to prepare and organize your study days more effectively. If you’re trying to multitask and fail at everything, GOOD! Now you’ll have time to take a break and prioritize what is most important so you can focus on that first. If you didn’t get the job offer you expected, GOOD! Now you’ll be able to redo your resume and apply for jobs that are an even better fit for your skill set.

Grit lesson #3. I ride with the turbulence.

It’s an absolutely normal thing to encounter unexpected situations in your life. In fact, more often than not, our week takes a different turn from what we imagine it should be. You think that you have ten days to complete a project and then suddenly the deadline gets pushed up so you have only three days to finish everything. You meet a friend for coffee and what you thought would be an enjoyable chat turns into three hours of them crying about a relationship. You’re careful with your finances this year and save enough to pay off your credit card debt and then a forgotten bill that’s past due shows up out of nowhere. Regardless of the situation, the last thing you should do is let your emotions take over — it’s much better to go with the flow, even if it feels like a rocky ride.

How can you do it?

Step one is to be aware of the thoughts that are running through your mind as you’re reacting to the unexpected event. The thoughts might sound something like this. Oh no, I will fail at this now! There’s no way I can manage this situation! It’s just going to get worse from here! Step two is to tell yourself that whatever emotion you are feeling is only going to be temporary. You can say, Of course I feel upset, no wonder! It’s normal to have an emotional reaction right now but it will pass! And step 3 is to ask yourself, What can I do right now to make myself feel better? It can be taking a few deep breaths, going out for a 30-minute walk, or taking out a pen and paper and writing down three things you can do to correct the situation.

Grit lesson #4. I practice self-discipline.

There’s something about the words “self-discipline” that upsets people. Does it sound harsh, uncomfortable, like a punishment? I don’t see it that way at all. For me, self-discipline is about focusing my energies on an outcome that I want. It can be to increase my writing skill, improve my physical strength, or keep myself on track with a new habit that will make me feel proud. What’s at the core of self-discipline? It’s knowing how to postpone things that are more pleasurable and take care of the essentials FIRST. This practice actually yields long-term benefits. In a study performed by Stanford University scientists called the Marshmallow experiment, results showed that delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life—your education, career, short and long term goals, even your personal life choices.

How can you do it?

Really, practicing self-discipline is not as hard as it sounds. Start by observing the things you’d like to indulge in whenever the opportunity presents itself — for example, when you see a beautiful slice of double-chocolate cake at your coffee shop. Then, resist the temptation to immediately choose to treat yourself by thinking of one reason why not to indulge: maybe you’re starting off the month with new fitness goals or better eating habits. And it’s super important to follow up — take your attention away from the distractions and focus on your priorities for the day: go to the gym for an hour, complete your homework, listen to a podcast on a topic you find inspiring, or prepare dinner early so you have time to do something fun later in the evening.

Grit lesson #5. I do it all over again tomorrow.

Grit isn’t only about what you do in the moment. It’s just as important, if not even more so, that you keep up the progress you’re making over an extended period of time. What’s the point of doing something great right now and then let yourself go in the next three weeks? You’ll lose momentum, you’ll get complacent or just plain lazy, and even worse — you’ll forget how confident you felt when you overcame that initial obstacle. That’s why it is critical to keep at it and to hold yourself accountable every step of the way.

How can you do it?

Be smarter with your time — plan everything out. If you haven’t heard of it already, try out the bullet journal method and track your goals in one notebook. If you feel that you often procrastinate or get distracted by Facebook which prevents you from achieving something important, then your bullet journal will make it impossible to use these external factors as an excuse. Why? Because you’ll have to visually track your progress by checking off every single item for the day, week, and month. And if you don’t? Guess what: you’ll have to carry the missed task over to the next day or week. There’s no getting around it. Staying on track is about doing something valuable with your life and making your time feel valuable too. Trust me on this — if you start right now, your future self will thank you later. ♥️

Why is growth mindset important?

 

Because having a growth mindset puts YOU in charge of your life.

You choose to change something about you that you don’t like.

You decide to stop running away from problems.

You don’t allow fear to affect your decisions.

You use critical thinking to overcome an obstacle that has been bothering you for years.

You finally say no to a way of thinking that no longer serves you well.

In other words, you stop feeling like a victim and start acting like a hero in your own story.

What does a growth mindset even mean?

To understand this concept, it helps to understand that there are two general types of mindsets we may have.

  • A fixed mindset — when we believe that our skills and strengths are set in stone, and that we possess only a certain level of intelligence, a set of strengths, personality type, even moral character (f.ex., we believe we’re good at math and science, but clueless when it comes to learning a new language).
  • A growth mindset — when we believe that we can develop our skills and strengths through continuous efforts, and grow with our life experiences (f.ex., even though we’ve struggled in math class, we don’t let that deter us from pursuing a graduate degree in finance or accounting).

How do growth mindset people act?

It would be fair to say that successful people adopt a growth mindset, which means they’re in a continuous state of self-improvement. They don’t sit back and just enjoy the talents or skills they’ve accumulated up to a certain point in their lives. It’s actually the opposite — they are curious to learn more, get better, improve their skills, and acquire new ones that will help them on their road to success.

What can you do to practice a growth mindset?

It’s the little things that count. In other words, you can do something every day to grow your mindset.

Tip #1. Learn something new every day.

It can be anything from brushing up on your history knowledge by watching documentaries on the Roman Empire, to researching something more practical such as how to incorporate strength training into your daily workouts at the gym.

Tip #2. Use every opportunity to learn wherever and whenever.

Studying shouldn’t be limited just to the classroom. You can go to the library and pick up books on a topic that you find intriguing, or take an online class, or watch free tutorials on YouTube on developing a skill you always wanted to possess.

Tip #3. Surround yourself with “growth mindset” people.

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. Make sure that your inner circle includes people with positive and optimistic behavior, and a can-do attitude towards solving problems.

Tip #4. Change the way you view 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 30 minutes earlier so you can work on building a positive habit.

Tip #5. Challenge your perception of failure.

Instead of seeing your failures as confirmation of your inability to do something, start training your brain to see failure as merely a setback. This way of thinking can be motivating, informative, and can even build character. Be honest with yourself how you may have contributed to failing, then think how to make changes to do better next time.

Tip #6. Don’t get complacent.

Next time you are successful at reaching a goal or solving a problem, don’t just sit back, take it easy, and expect things to go smoothly forever. Maintain that level of success, from making a plan to improve a skill important for your personal development, to going to the next level and pushing yourself to do things at a more intermediate or advanced level.

Tip #7. Be open-minded to new opportunities.

Next time you’re faced with a new problem, start by asking yourself, What if?Because this question is open-ended, it trains your brain to think beyond just reacting with a yes or no. It allows you to experiment and look at a situation from different angles. It lets you practice your critical thinking skills. And best of all, it gives you time to dream of possibilities and consider different options to conquer a complex problem. That’s when you are being proactive about your life — which is what having a growth mindset is all about.

Did you find these tips helpful?

This answer is just a sample of the material I’m putting together in an online course called “Imagine What’s Possible: A Beginner’s Guide to the Growth Mindset.” In the course you’ll be able to:

  • Discover how your attitude and mindset are critical to success
  • Differentiate between a fixed and growth mindset way of thinking
  • Identify “fixed mindset” behavior that you can correct
  • Apply “growth mindset” behavior through practical tips
  • Practice what you’ve learned with exercises and templates specially designed for this course.

If you’d like to find out when the course goes live, send me a message with your email address on Quora, and I’ll make sure you’re one of the first to know!

How do smart students study?

 

I’ll get right down to it: smart students know there’s a difference between studying harder and studying smarter.

The studying harder version takes a heck of a long time (think 8–12 hour study sessions), is exhausting both physically and mentally, and can drain your energy right up to the point of exam day. That’s the opposite of what you actually need.

The studying smarter version takes much less time (because the study sessions are shorter), requires strategic thinking, promotes better focus, and keeps your energy levels up until exam day. And that is exactly what will help you get the job done.

I’ve talked to a lot of smart students over the course of my undergraduate and graduate studies, and I consulted with professors to get their take on this topic. The one thing I noticed is that smart students use shortcuts — they practice techniques on a regular basis (in other words, every day) in order to achieve the results they want.

Here’s a compilation of 7 smarter study techniques that can yield positive results.

Technique #1. Commit to reaching ONE study goal a day.

Narrow down your workload instead of overwhelming yourself. The best way to get your mind on board to concentrate on studying is to start the day with a question: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?”

  • Why it’s important: It will encourage you to think strategically about the day, keep you focused on your top study goal, and force you to prioritize the one goal that you want to reach by the end of the day. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have many study goals, but it does means that you can finish one today (read a certain number of chapters or practice exam questions, for example), so that you can concentrate better on your other goals in the days that follow.
  • How you can practice it: Write the question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Pick a location where you can easily see the question as soon as you wake up (next to your bed or the bathroom mirror, for example). Then, read it out loud as you start your day. Take a few moments to think what you want to prioritize, and then come up with an answer and say it out loud too. Later, as you go through the day, make sure you’re working on completing what you’ve identified as your study goal for that day.

Technique #2. Tackle the most difficult material EARLY.

It’s all about taking advantage of your circadian rhythm, which dictates which activities we’re more likely to do best at certain times of the day. That way you maximize your peak performance time.

  • What is peak performance time? For most people, your brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. This is the time when your brain can focus on analytical thinking that requires the most concentration. For studying, this can be reading, writing, coding, analyzing, critical thinking, or problem solving.
  • When should you study? If you wake up at 8, your peak times are between 10 and 12. And just because it’s noon, it doesn’t mean you have to stop; feel free to extend this time for another hour or so to maximize your peak performance and wrap up an important section, chapter, or lecture.
  • What are the benefits? Doing your hard work early in the day allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, less inputs from your environment, and with a lot of energy that you’ve gained from a restful night. It’s the exact opposite of what can happen if you leave your toughest studying for nighttime, when you are exhausted, both mentally and physically, from the day.

Technique #3. Work in SHORTER time increments.

You don’t need to be sitting at your desk for hours in order to pass an exam with top marks. Use a timer to better manage your study session. That way you allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. Here are some examples.

  • Read and review study material. Set the timer to 30 or 60 minute increments to maximize concentration; or, for really short bursts of study, try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks.
  • Practice exam questions. Use the review questions from your textbook or handouts prepared by your professor; you can also create your own questions based on the most important concepts from each chapter. Write the questions down on a sheet of paper. Then, use the Pomodoro technique to rehearse for the exam. Give yourself only a short time to answer each question. Use each 25-minute block of time to cover several questions, and go down the list until you’ve covered them all.
  • Take breaks. When you’re done with one timed segment, step away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work: get some fresh air, stretch, have a snack, grab a cup of coffee or tea.

Technique #4. Become a master at taking NOTES.

Don’t just sit and read the textbook passively — write stuff down. This improves your brain’s cognitive skills, makes retention of information easier, and boosts memory.

  • Write what’s relevant. This includes key concepts, ideas, and topics. Don’t waste time writing down every single word, Instead, boost your critical thinking skills by identifying what is relevant to the topic. An excellent example of how to write relevant information is to use the Cornell Method.
  • Use bulleted lists. This saves time, enables you to skim the material when you need it, helps you locate information faster, and makes the review process easier.
  • Use color. Get notes more organized with multi-colored pens, markers, or highlighters to emphasize the most important sections. Use specific colors to highlight top priority concepts, then pick other colors to identify second level priority items such as examples and additional information.

Technique #5. Be merciless at eliminating DISTRACTIONS.

Don’t let distractions rule your life. Here’s how an average scenario looks like: you think you’ll spend ten minutes browsing Facebook or Twitter, and next thing you know two hours pass by without you noticing. And on top of everything, you’re starting to feel overwhelmed and maybe even stressed out with all that information overload. It’s time to minimize all that noise.

  • Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day (around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and evening).
  • Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus, or simply turn off the volume and put it away for a few hours.
  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news; leave these activities for later after you’ve completed all the items you need to cover.
  • Set expectations with others by letting them know you won’t be available in the next few hours; this can apply to family members, classmates, and close friends.

Technique #6. TEACH what you learned to boost memorization.

One of the most powerful memory techniques is recalling newly learned information by teaching it to someone else or simply retelling it to yourself out loud. This helps you review, recall, and retain what you’ve learned better than just silently looking over the material. Here’s how.

  • Get an audience. It can be a close friend, study partner or family member. Too shy to speak to anyone? Pretend you have a couple of invisible students who really need to learn what you just covered, or use the family dog to be your attentive listener – chances are they’ll enjoy the attention!
  • Create a private classroom. Take a large sheet of white paper (or tape together several sheets for a bigger writing surface), then tape it to your bedroom wall at eye level. Be sure you have some leg room to stand in front of it. Have a pen handy, and a thick black marker (or different colored highlighters) to underline important concepts.
  • Get to work. Write an outline of the most important points in the chapter you just covered, then go over the concepts aloud one by one. Make your “lecture” come alive by drawing diagrams on the side and by providing a few examples. At the end, summarize the key parts of your lecture and highlight these sections with your thick marker, which can help you recall details better and solidify what you’ve learned.

Technique #7. Get enough SLEEP.

Sleep is beneficial for the brain. Neuroscientists believe that sleep can help us learn and memorize better, and also give our brain time to get rid of unnecessary waste. Conversely, chronic sleep deprivation can reduce our cognitive abilities, can impact our concentration, and can even reduce IQ.

  • How can you optimize your sleep? Adjust your sleeping position so that you sleep on your side. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the brain’s glymphatic pathway (the exchange of two fluids, the cerebrospinal fluid in your brain and the interstitial fluid in your body) helps to eliminate “brain junk,” and this process of elimination is most effective when we sleep on our side. The result? You wake up more refreshed the next day with a clear mind.
  • What helps to unwind faster in the evening? There are things you can do each evening to make the transition from study time to sleep time easier. Step away from your computer and TV because the light may be keeping you alert without you even being aware of it. Have a cup of herbal tea, some warm milk with honey, or a magnesium supplement. Do something relaxing 15–20 minutes before bedtime: listen to some music, read a chapter of that book you’ve wanted to start, or just close your eyes and breathe deeply for 10 counts before you brush your teeth and get ready for bed.

I am not grateful for anything in my life. How can I change this?

 

You are one step closer to improving your situation because you asked HOW.

So good for you!

First, it will be helpful if you ask WHY.

Why aren’t you grateful for anything in your life?

Maybe it’s something as simple as this: you don’t think about it really. That’s right! You don’t think about it even though you do have a lot of positive things to be grateful for. They can be experiences, family and friends, memories, personal strengths, skills, even life experience in general —  knowledge of the world and how it works.

Instead, like most people, you might be focused on everything else around you: other people, other people’s things, other people’s accomplishments, other people’s relationships. The list goes on and on. It’s a dangerous path because it can easily set you up for unending unhappiness and feelings or failure.

But that’s ridiculous! There must be ways to feel more satisfied with what you do have, right?

Now we get to the HOW part.

There is one way that can be a game changer in the way you see your life.

It’s called practicing gratitude.

And it starts with two small words: saying “thank you.”

Why is this important?

  • Practicing gratitude rewires our brain to think about positive things (the things that we do have going for us) instead of obsessing about the things we do not have and that can leave us feeling frustrated and unhappy.
  • Gratitude helps us to see life as plentiful instead of empty.
  • Saying “thank you” creates a positive tone to our day which then in turn can impact our attitude towards our entire life.

How do you start building this powerful habit?

  • Do it early. When you start your day with gratitude, you will feel the effects throughout the day. Take a few minutes after you wake up and before you start getting ready for work or school. Give yourself some quiet time to focus on what you want to say. You might want to write your thoughts down, or you may prefer to think about it or even say it out loud.
  • Start small. Focus only on 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be the simplest of things: having a warm bed to sleep in; a roof over your head; a family; friends or a partner who you trust; food in your fridge; a dog or cat that you have as your pet; a pleasant conversation you had with someone yesterday.
  • Be specific. If it’s a specific person you’re grateful for having in your life, emphasize which of their qualities you are grateful for (they’re warm, smart, or incredibly funny). If it’s having your own room or apartment, point out why this is important to you (you can have quiet time in the evening to relax, you have your own space, you are independent).

What’s the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset?

Did you know that a mindset is not something you are born with?

I used to think it was the opposite. Back when I was younger, I thought that your mindset was part of your DNA, something that was passed on with your genes from parents to their children. Not much you could do about it. It’s as if your mindset was part of your personality, your behavior, and the traits you showed since you were a young child.

This way of thinking continued throughout my school, even college days, and into adulthood. And then someone recommended that I read one book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.

Talk about challenging my perspective!

What blew me away was this:

In her book, Dweck says that our understanding of success and failure, as well as our coping mechanisms to deal with challenges life throws at us, are all shaped by the way we were raised. Specifically, the mindset we develop is a reflection of the messages we received from parents, teachers, and the environment we grew up in.

Over time, all these messages add up to developing one of two general types of mindsets: fixed or growth mindset.

Here are two examples.

When you were a child and did something well, maybe your parents praised you with statements such as, “You’re so smart!” or “You’re a genius!” or “You’re a natural!” This type of feedback is an example of a fixed mindset: believing that we are born with a predisposition to do only some things extremely well, and that our qualities are set in stone. This also indicates we can only have a certain level of intelligence, a certain type of personality, or a certain moral character. The downside? We believe that we cannot change anything about this, and if we are ever challenged with a situation in which our abilities are questioned, we may get paralyzed with fear and can’t figure out what to do.

In contrast, if your parents or teachers have praised you with words such as, “You passed the test because you worked so hard!” or “You were struggling in history class at first, but you were persistent, and look at how your grades improved!” they were encouraging a growth mindset: believing that our genetic structure and predisposition to do certain things really well are not the final version of what we can do. Instead, these qualities are just the starting point of our development, and we can cultivate them through our efforts by continually applying ourselves and building on our experience. The upside? We don’t believe that anything is set in stone, we can improve our skills and get better, we remain flexible in challenging situations and instead of having fear, we take on the challenge to learn something and excel at it over time.

Fascinating.

I started doing more research on this. I interviewed friends, coworkers, neighbors, family members — and asked them to describe what success and failure mean to them. And I found that most people exemplify a fixed mindset way of thinking. They feel “stuck” in their ways, their behavior, and the way they cope with problems in their life. However, I also know (albeit fewer in number) people who exemplify a growth mindset, who make it a priority to learn something new every day and who challenge their perspective and problem-solving skills so they can adapt them to their advantage.

The result of all this research?

I’ve become a huge advocate of the growth mindset. In the past 4 years I’ve been on Quora, I’ve written predominantly about this topic. Those answers have been picked up by websites like Time, Forbes, Inc.com, Apple News, Business Insider, Slate, Huffington post, and others. I’m proud to say they were translated into a dozen languages including French, Swedish, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Brazilian-Portuguese, Finnish, and Greek.

What does this all say about the topic of mindsets? It’s popular because we’ve all, at some point in our lives, struggled with how we think about ourselves and our skills and abilities. The best part is this — there are many ways to develop a growth mindset and change how you look at success.

I’ve been asked countless times to teach a course on mindsets, so this year I decided to put together the material I’ve been writing about into an online course called “Imagine What’s Possible: A Beginner’s Guide to the Growth Mindset.” If you’re curious about it, in the course you can:

  • Discover how your attitude and mindset are critical to success
  • Differentiate between a fixed and growth mindset way of thinking
  • Identify “fixed mindset” behavior that you can correct
  • Apply “growth mindset” behavior through practical tips
  • Practice what you’ve learned with exercises and templates

To find out when the course goes live (which will happen in July 2019), send me a message with your email address on Quora, and I’ll make sure you’re one of the first to know.