Featured

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

Welcome to Nela’s blog! I am a productivity 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 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 motivation and willpower, developing a growth mindset, goal setting, focus and concentration, deep work, mastery, productivity tips and hacks, morning routines, and positive psychology.

What’s new in 2017?

A new podcast

You can listen to my podcast where I talk more in depth about these topics, provide examples, and give pro tips on how you can incorporate these ideas into your busy schedule.

More tips and ideas

I created an e-book for students who want to study smarter and maximize brain power while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Where else can you find me?

Find me on Quora. I’ve also been published in The Huffington Post, Inc.com, Slate.com, Medical Daily, Business Insider, and TIME.

 

How do I avoid losing focus on my goals after waking up?

Oh, you’re not the only one who loses focus after waking up.

All of us have experienced this many times. Maybe we start the day with great ideas or big plans of what we want to do. Maybe we get a rush of energy just thinking about these things. And then something happens: we find ourselves rushing in the morning, we are running late on our way to work or school, we forget to bring things along with us, we start feeling overwhelmed with the volume of tasks on our ever-growing list. Or maybe none of those things happen, but we find ourselves procrastinating about getting started with the day, and next thing we know, it’s lunchtime and our focus is just gone—plain and simple.

Sounds familiar, right?

It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a big difference between having an idea and acting on the idea, just as there’s a big difference between beginning the day with good intentions and actually making things happen.

And that, right there, is how you can get out of this situation.

Start making things happen.

Here are 5 ideas that can help you get there.

Idea #1. Confront your procrastination by replacing the words “I can’t do this!” with “Why not try it?”

Hey, we’re all guilty of procrastinating at some point in our life. It doesn’t require a lot of effort, and it’s almost a default reaction to something challenging.

How do you do it?

  • First, ask yourself if there is something else hiding behind procrastination. Maybe it is fear of not being able to do something successfully, not being able to be better at it than other people, or maybe not even understanding why we are doing something to begin with.
  • Next time you feel like procrastinating, rather than immediately reacting with “I can’t do it”, ask yourself where the resistance is coming from. Be honest with yourself. Start with providing an explanation, for example by saying, “I can’t because….” Then you’ll know the source of your resistance.
  • Think of what you gain when you say “Why not?” You win over fear and you start thinking beyond obstacles. There is something powerful when you leave a door open to explore possibilities, instead of shutting that same door in your own face. It’s a subtle change in your attitude that can have a big impact in your life.

Idea #2. Train your brain to focus by asking yourself this question every morning: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?”

It’s a simple brain training technique that makes it easy for your brain to focus on goals that are important to you right now. It also boosts your critical thinking skills because it forces you to prioritize what’s most relevant.

How do you do it?

  • Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall.
  • Read it out loud as you start your day, and come up with an answer on the spot.
  • Follow up by taking action and by reminding yourself throughout the day about the commitment you made.

Idea #3. Get your brain on board.

Before you start doing anything new, get your brain on board with what you’re about to do. It helps you get motivated to take action and become fully absorbed in whatever is in front of you.

How do you do it?

  • Instead of approaching something as a chore, turn it into a choice. Tell yourself, “This is something I really want to learn more about!” 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’re obligated to do things that are not your idea.
  • Remind yourself of the reason for action with this question: “Why am I doing this?” Make the connection with the initial reasons for working on something to begin with. It can be to learn a new skill, research a topic you’re interested in, study for an exam so you can graduate and start your career, explore a business opportunity, solve a specific problem at work, etc.
  • Visualize what you’re about to do. This is a technique called building a mental model, where you imagine all the steps you’ll be taking. For example, if you are researching something new, visualize covering a certain amount of material, taking notes on important concepts, and writing down what you’ll need to follow up on later. By telling yourself a story, you map out the entire learning process so it’s easier for your brain to understand it.

Idea #4. Make your personal goals a top priority.

Whether you’re a student, working full-time, or taking time off to be a parent or start your own business, you should do whatever is possible to work on your personal development. If you don’t, it will eventually catch up with you and may leave you feeling unhappy or overwhelmed with ordinary daily activities.

How do you do it?

  • Start thinking about the big picture. Ask yourself—where do you want to be 5 or 10 years from now? Who do you want to become? What is a dream scenario for you: a life in a specific city, having a partner to share your life journey with, being surrounded by smart and interesting people who contribute to your personal growth, being fluent in another language? Get specific with the description of your ideal life.
  • Second, narrow it down. Set aside an hour or two one evening to do the following:
    • Write down your top 3 personal goals.
    • Under each, write down 3 things you would need to do on a consistent basis to get you closer to each goal.
    • Then, make a plan for the week ahead so that you can devote blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified.

Idea #5. Keep learning, keep improving, keep hacking your life.

Now that you’ve started to incorporate some changes into your life to remain focused on things that are your top priority, all you need to do is continue moving forward. Life is not static, and your efforts should also not be static. Think about ways to improve what you’re doing each day.

How do you do it?

  • Measure your progress. Find ways to measure how you’re moving forward. Maybe you’ll set aside 30 minutes each day to focus on learning a new skill. If so, add up the hours at the end of the week and see if you can add more time each day, even if it’s just a few more minutes. Then see how many hours you’ve devoted to it in a month.
  • Evaluate how you’re doing. Ask yourself a few questions to understand how you’re keeping up with the goals you’ve set for yourself. For example, did some activities you started doing take more time than you anticipated? What could you have done better? Where can you make adjustments to stay on track?
  • Take time to appreciate the change. Yes, it’s important to make progress, to stay focused, to reach that important goal. But every step of the way in getting there is super important too. So find the time each evening to pause and reflect on what you’re doing, and give yourself some well-deserved praise for all those efforts. It really does feel good to be aware that you’re on the right track!

What is the most effective way to enhance working memory?

You may not be aware of it, but you use your working memory (aka short-term memory) on a daily basis. So it’s no wonder you want to keep it in optimal shape!

There are 2 types of working memory: auditory (everything you hear) and visual-spatial (everything you see). And even though it sounds scientific, the bottom line is this:

Working memory is a thinking skill that helps you to

  • process new information
  • understand what this new information means
  • remember it when you need it
  • recall it (or play it back) immediately after you’ve processed it

A few real-life examples of when you use your working memory are:

  • whenever you learn a new sport
  • when you’re taking an exam
  • when you’re writing a shopping list or packing a bag for vacation
  • every time you follow a set of instructions or directions

So what’s an effective way to enhance this useful skill?

Here’s one: whenever you learn something new, teach it to someone else.

What are the benefits of teaching what you’ve learned?

This technique is easy to practice, gives you confidence by strengthening your knowledge of the newly-learned material, and boosts your memorization. You can review, recall, and retain what you’ve learned better and more effectively than just passively keeping it to yourself without taking any action.

How do you actually teach what you’ve learned?

Start with these tips:

  • Get an audience, real or imaginary. A real audience can be a close friend, study partner or family member. But if you’re too shy to speak to anyone about what you learned, you can pretend that you have a few invisible students who really need to learn the same thing, and talk to them. Even better: grab the family dog or cat and talk to it. Pets can be excellent listeners and a captive audience!
  • Create your own classroom. If you’re going to teach someone something, you need to create the space in which to do it. 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. Now you have all the tools to begin.
  • Get to work. Here’s where you’ll have the opportunity to apply what you’ve just learned. Start with this simple sequence of steps:
    • Stand in front of the large sheet of paper you’ve taped to the wall, and write an outline of the most important points or concepts of what you just learned. It can be a set of simple directions on how to do something, or a few key concepts you’ve learned from a chapter in your textbook.
    • Then, go over each of the steps or concepts aloud one by one. As you’re talking, make you “lecture” more interactive by drawing diagrams on the side, small illustrations or even short lists of examples. You can also tell a short story or joke to add a touch of humor to what you’re teaching.
    • At the end, summarize the key parts of what you covered by going over the main parts of your outline once again, and highlight these sections with your thick marker or highlighter. This visual tip helps you recall details better and can solidify what you’ve learned.
  • Keep it top of mind. You’re already done teaching what you learned, so you completed the lecture part of the learning process. But it will help you if you keep what you learned top of mind the rest of the day. Whenever you find yourself on a long commute home, or doing a workout at the gym or nearby park, or as you’re running errands, ask yourself to repeat the key concepts again. This is a perfect time to go over them, remembering how you wrote your outline on the paper, talked about each point, and highlighted the main sections using different colors. Repeating newly learned material will reinforce your knowledge of it even more, and you’ll be optimizing your working memory in a way that’s useful to you, regardless of what you’re working on!

How do you keep your mind focused?

 

Short answer: with small daily habits.

In my experience, being consistent is much easier if I practice small habits that are simple and easy to incorporate into the day. Rather than overanalyze, evaluate, and question what’s better to do, my goal is to keep things as simple as possible.

Because when you simplify habits, especially new habits, you’re much more likely to make them stick.

Here are 7 small habits that can keep your mind focused on what is important to you.

Small habit #1. Train your mind to focus early in the day with one question: What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? It keeps things simple, helps your brain focus better, makes you prioritize your goals, and streamlines the work you need to do on that particular day so you don’t feel overwhelmed with making too many choices. To do this, just write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start each day, and come up with an answer on the spot. Then, devote your time to completing what’s most important to you on that day.

Small habit #2. Give your body a chance to get energized with a short workout.

Doing physical exercise, even if it is targeted and short, can do wonders not just for your muscles but also for your brain. Exercise improves your brain’s cognitive performance, increases its problem solving ability, and even boosts long-term memory. You don’t need 2 hours at the gym, though. The goal is to be consistent, so even a short 30 minute workout will energize you and prepare you for the day. For example, you can try a morning yoga routine, a 20-minute power walk, or a 15 minute bootcamp session.

Small habit #3. Manage your time in short increments.

When you’re ready to start working, use a timer to divide up your workday into manageable increments that will allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. Try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks. When you’re done with one segment, step away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work to give your brain a chance to rest: get some fresh air, stretch your body, grab a cup of coffee or tea.

Small habit #4. Avoid distractions as much as possible.

Daily habits such as checking emails frequently are part of the norm these days. But these habits don’t just keep you distracted; according to the Harvard Business Review checking emails and multitasking can lower your IQ by up to 10 points. Scary, right? So unless you’re waiting for an urgent email for a project due on the same day, or an email that will change the course of your life, leave checking your inbox for later (during lunch or in the afternoon). Instead of checking emails first thing in the morning, use your well-rested brain to perform more complex problem-solving tasks.

Small habit #5. Get into the habit of writing stuff down.

The simple act of writing has a chemical effect on your brain by increasing blood flow to areas of your brain responsible for your memories. So, even though it’s easier for most of us to just type everything on our laptops or phones, we won’t get the same effect. How can you create a writing ritual? You can start a journal, write letters to friends by hand, create a detailed plan for the week or month, or draft a couple of ideas to post on your blog. The best part about writing regularly is that it can boost your memory and help you recall information when you need it.

Small habit #6. Harness your mind with a little meditation.

There’s a lot of information and even more advice on meditation, which can be a little overwhelming. You may think it’s an advanced practice that only certain personality types or professionals can do successfully. It’s actually easier than you think. The best part about meditating is that it can declutter your brain of thoughts that distract you, allow you to focus better throughout the day, and even help you cope more successfully with the day’s events. Start by downloading the Headspace app: the beginner level takes only 10 minutes, it’s fun and super easy.

Small habit #7. Empower your brain with plenty of sleep.

So what’s the big deal about sleeping? Here’s the thing—you don’t want to miss it. It’s okay to miss out on a full night’s rest due to upcoming exams or a big project at work; just don’t turn it into a bad habit. Chronic sleep deprivation can reduce your cognitive abilities, negatively impact your concentration, and even impact long-term memory and recall. If you find it difficult to wind down from your busy day, there are a few simple ways to do it right. For example, you can set a bedtime alarm on your phone about 30 minutes before bedtime, and you can practice a simple nighttime routine each evening to get you to bed on time.

If you can give me only one tip to improve my life, what would it be?

Excellent question!

I think the best tip that’s worked for me is to develop a growth mindset.

Why is this even important?

Because mindset = attitude towards yourself = believing what you can do.

And that, in a nutshell, is the single most important tool that you can have that will help you accomplish personal goals, overcome obstacles, and ultimately lead a higher quality of life.

What is a growth mindset?

There are 2 types of mindsets we can identify with:

  • Fixed mindset: when we believe that our qualities are set in stone (either at birth or in early childhood), and that we can only have a certain level of intelligence, a certain type of personality, or a certain moral character. If we consider ourselves intelligent, we expect success at every step, and when we encounter an obstacle, we withdraw or give up entirely.
  • Growth mindset: when we believe that our genetic structure and our early years are merely the starting point in our development, and that we can improve on our qualities through continuous efforts. If we understand that there is always room for growth, we approach life as a continuum of learning and we treat obstacles as opportunities to better ourselves and improve our skills further.

Which examples show this difference?

  • Examples of fixed mindset: 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!” or “You were just born that way!”
  • Examples of growth mindset: If your parents or teachers praised you with words such as, “You passed the test because you worked so hard!” or “You were struggling at first, but then you were persistent, and look at you now!” or “You can do this if you spend some time working a little bit each day to get better at it!”

How can your mindset affect your future?

A fixed or growth mindset goes a long way towards shaping your life, either positively or negatively. It can influence your day-to-day behavior, the types of goals you set for yourself, what you succeed or fail in, the relationships you pick (friends, partners, even pets), the skills you choose to work on for your personal as well as your professional development.

What are some ways to develop a growth mindset?

  • Always stay curious. Learn something new every day, whether it’s about the history of the world, how things work, which foods and activities keep you healthy, which habits can help you become a better person, or which books you can read that will teach you something valuable.
  • Don’t limit your learning experience. Just because it’s not taught in school doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend time learning about it. Go to the library and pick up books on a topic that is interesting to you. Take an online class in the evening, or watch free tutorials on YouTube on how to develop a skill you think would be empowering to you. Ask someone who’s an expert and who has achieved mastery in a field or a skill you want to have.
  • Change the way you look at success. Instead of thinking that success is being the best, think of success as doing your best, always improving the way you do your work and manage your personal development. For example, take ownership of your day by planning it out so you have time to accomplish what you need to. When you’re working, remove all distractions and focus on what’s in front of you. Make a connection between what you’re doing right now and why you’re doing it, so that you always keep your goals top of mind.
  • Change the way you view failure. Instead of seeing your failures as confirmation of your inability to do something, see a failure as a setback: it can be motivating, informative, even a wake-up call. It isn’t an excuse to give up entirely on something; it can even build character. For example, if you fail an exam, take stock of how you did and think of how to improve next time. If you get criticized at work, instead of getting emotional, be rational and closely examine what is the core of the message (did you overlook an important detail, miss a deadline, or just forget to do something?) so you can correct things and move on.
  • Try your best to not get frustrated with yourself. This can happen, and does happen often to us all. For example, you’re not making progress as quickly as you’d like, so it’s best to make an assessment of the path you’re on and see what needs to be fixed. Maybe there is someone more experienced you can ask to advise you and give you shortcuts, or maybe you’re not using your resources wisely or not using the ones that are more practical, or maybe you just need to carve out more time in your day to devote to your work.
  • Surround yourself with people who demonstrate a growth mindset. They are the ones with a can-do attitude, who exhibit positive and optimistic behavior, and who are working hard every day on making themselves better people. Conversely, stay away from those who are constantly negative, critical in always pointing out what they or others are lacking, and who spend too much time talking about others and not enough time on themselves.
  • Keep your mind open to possibilities. When you’re not sure how to proceed with handling or trying something different, start by asking, “what if?” What if you conquer something important that you thought you’d never be able to do a year ago? What if, in the process, you open doors that will take your life in a new direction, that will fill you with optimism and energy? What if that new energy makes you limitless? By developing a growth mindset, you can change your view of yourself and your abilities, which can determine your entire future.

Finally, if the topic of growth mindset sounds interesting to you, get the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It’s the best way to learn from examples, some of which you will most likely identify with your own life experiences, and to find practical suggestions that can help you become more successful in your studies, your professional life, your relationships, and your personal growth.

How can I force myself to have the discipline and motivation to become the best version of myself?

If I were you, I would start by changing the words I use when talking to myself.

We don’t think about it often, but words are powerful. They shape our thoughts, they affect our personal growth, they impact our confidence. And they can be one of the most critical factors to our success in life.

And honestly, I don’t like the word force. When I hear it, I think of aggression, violence, pain, feeling passive and helpless. None of those feelings can get me motivated to do anything. So why would you want to force yourself to do anything? And more importantly, how do you imagine sticking to any action or habit if you force yourself to do it?

I’ll tell you what I like: the words brain training. When I hear them, I think of positive things—discipline, motivation, achievement, mastery, success. Even better: I feel like I have the power to do things and change them. This makes me feel much better about taking action and moving towards becoming the best version of myself.

So let’s go back to the original question and rephrase it:

How can I train my brain to have the discipline and motivation to become the best version of myself?

Much better!

The answer? There are many tips you can practice every day.

Here are 7 tips to get you started.

Tip #1. Build your unique daily routine. This practice will help you become the master of your own time. In addition, you’ll experience a greater sense of calm knowing in advance what your day will look like. It could be a simple morning routine to get you energized and start the day on a positive note, or doing your most complex work early in the day when your brain is well rested, or doing your most creative work late at night when you can be alone and away from distractions. The key is to plan it ahead and then do the same type of activity at the same time each day. You’ll create a routine customized to your specific needs, your goals, and what you believe to be most relevant to you.

Tip #2. Do your deep work early in the day. If you do, it will help you better deal with your procrastination habit. According to scientific research, the brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after we wake up: so if you wake up at 7, your peak times are 9–11 a.m. Doing deep work at this time allows the brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, less inputs from our environment, and with a lot of energy that we’ve gained from a restful night. All you have to do is adjust your mornings a little. Stay away from checking emails before noon, leave calls and meetings for the mid to late afternoon, and listen to the news later in the day (while driving and running errands, for example).

Tip #3. Always have a goal to aspire to. When we have specific goals we want to achieve, everything we do in our daily lives will have a greater sense of purpose. It’s what makes the difference between just living life day to day, and living a life that has meaning. To help you focus on your goal, start 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 on that particular day, so that you don’t feel stressed, tired, or overwhelmed with making too many choices.

Tip #4. Think about the big picture of your life. Focus on the work you’ve planned to complete today, but always keep your eye on at least two steps ahead. Don’t see any action you’re making today as an isolated incident. Think about its implications and potential consequences. Is your behavior geared towards achieving a one-time effect, or will you feel benefits in the long run? Is what you’re doing today going to help you become who you want to be next year, in 5, in 10 years? Become strategic so that you can achieve long term results that your future self can benefit from.

Tip #5. Replace saying “I can’t” with “why not?” whenever you’re faced with a challenge. Much like replacing the phrase, “how can I force myself” with “how can I train my brain”, this is yet another small adjustment in how we speak to ourselves that can have a positive effect on our life in the long term. We’re much better off if we spend a little time figuring out where the resistance is coming from (why do we think we can’t?), rather than give in to it immediately without a fight (“I can’t and that’s that!”). When we replace that phrase with “why not?”, we leave things open-ended. There is something quite powerful when we create that open space because it means we keep our mind open to possibilities, whatever they may be.

Tip #6. Improve your relationship with your mistakes. There’s a lot of truth in the statement: you either learn to fail or fail to learn. Making mistakes is a normal part of life. It’s how you approach them that matters. Try a different strategy of viewing your past by forgiving yourself for mistakes that you made. Reflect on them, learn from them, but don’t hold on to them. This applies to your relationships, your career, your education, and other areas of your life in which you feel you didn’t achieve what you wanted or underperformed in some way. By changing how you relate to mistakes, you will give yourself more freedom to manage your future more successfully.

Tip #7. Always, always be persistent. The writer Seth Godin said, “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” How true! What this means is that you should do your best to fight the urge to give up whenever things get tough, hard, or even ugly. Know the difference between what feels hard to do right now and what’s good for you in the long run. And let’s face it: nothing really big and truly amazing happens in one day or even a month. So next time you fail or fall, do your best to get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

What should one do in one’s free time?

As long as you have free time, that’s a good thing!

Just one suggestion: use it wisely. Because it’s finite. And because it’s the perfect opportunity to lead a high quality of life.

Here are 5 tips on what to do in your free time.

Tip 1. Spend it on your future self.

Those 48 hours sound like an opportunity to put school or work on pause and just look for what can entertain you. That’s perfectly okay! But many times we end up spending a lot of time doing things that other people want to do. It can be hanging out with a friend because they want to go to a party, even though we don’t feel like going. Or it can be spending a whole afternoon shopping because someone asked us to come along.

How about making a change and devoting some time to yourself? You can create some space to process what you’re going through, and to think where you want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. It’s a good time to dream big: think of that life you want to have in a specific city, with a career in an industry that motivates you, and maybe a partner who’s the right fit. Which is why it’s a good idea to set aside a few hours to do the following:

  • Write down your top 3 goals: they can be personal, professional development, or both.
  • Under each goal, write down 3 things you would need to do on a consistent basis to get you closer to each goal.
  • Create a plan for the week ahead so that you can devote blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified.
  • In a week, do an assessment of the progress you made. Did some activities take more time than you anticipated? Did you need to plan better? What could you have improved? Then make adjustments for the following week.

Tip 2. Feed your brain.

Use your free time to learn something new, expose your brain to different ideas and perspectives, maybe even others’ point of view. You never know when you might find an idea or two you can implement into your daily life. Use this time to learn, be curious, wonder, question, pause, think. One way to do this is to listen to podcasts. They help to feed your brain, keep you alert and focused, and boost your curiosity. Try some of these podcast ideas:

  • The Tim Ferriss Show. He’s the author of the famous book The 4-Hour Workweek, but this entrepreneur powerhouse is the author of many more—my favorite is Tools of Titans. His podcast is full of interviews with smart people, useful tips on living a high quality life, and excellent advice on everything from important life lessons we can learn from Warren Buffett and Bobby Fischer, to deconstructing concepts such as meditation, mastery, and mindset.
    • Episode ideas: Look for Testing the Impossible: 17 Questions that Saved My Life (#206), How to Design a Life – interview with Debbie Millman (#214), Seth Godin on How to Think Small to Go Big (#177), the Canvas Strategy (#165), and On Zero-to-Hero Transformations (#155).
  • Optimize with Brian Johnson. This podcast feels like getting an education in how to live smarter. It’s about gaining more wisdom in less time to help you live your greatest life. Brian condenses big ideas from the best books on optimal living and micro classes on how to apply these ideas.
    • Episode ideas: Look for The Power of WOOP, based on brain training research by Gabriele Oettingen, PhD; Create Zen Habits with Leo Babauta; and Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. Then check out his micro classes on a variety of topics, from overcoming procrastination to how to train to be a hero.
  • The Model Health Show with Shawn Stevenson. Shawn is an author, nutritionist, and coach and he hosts a fantastic educational show on many interesting topics related to health, fitness, and personal growth. He does a ton of research to prepare for each episode.
    • Episode ideas: Look for tips on how to learn faster and increase focus with memory expert Jim Kwik (#197), how to embrace change and become emotionally agile with Dr. Susan David (#185), how to exercise your “NO” muscle with Michael Hyatt (#206), and how to stop the stress cycle with Dr. Pedram Shojai (#142).

Tip 3. Read books.

Why? It’s the equivalent of living multiple lives; reading can stimulate your imagination, utilize your critical thinking skills, and ultimately, give you food for thought (regardless of whether you agree with what you’re reading or not). And find your thing, fiction or non-fiction, that you’re super interested in.

  • Fiction: Dive deep into the lives of others and get lost in private lives of fictional characters, find out what makes them tick, ask yourself what would you do in their place.
  • Non-fiction: Learn from the experiences of others in their quest to live a happier life, become healthy, start a business, excel at a skill, overcome an obstacle, live a life with more meaning and a sense of purpose.

Tip 4. Forget about TV and find interesting documentaries.

The downside to TV is that it can easily take hours, where you might start watching one show and end up channel surfing. Next thing you know, that precious free time you had is gone. You’re much better off customizing what you watch, which is easy when you look for topics that suit you and your interests the most. Here are a few documentary ideas:

  • Finding Joe: It’s a documentary based on the work of professor and writer of mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the concept of the hero’s journey: why the myth of the hero is still important to us, how we can discover what excites us and gives us greater purpose, and what we can do to apply these ideas to the personal journeys in our lives.
  • The Ancient Worlds: British historian Bettany Hughes shares her passion for ancient societies and talks about everyday life in ancient Alexandria, Rome, and Athens. She gives an in-depth look into the way society was organized among Minoans, Spartans, and the Moors.
  • Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit: Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, explores questions such as how the Roman Empire was constructed, how it functioned, what the infrastructure was like, and how different parts of the world merged together to expand one of the most powerful empires of all time.

Tip 5. Be good to yourself.

And here, like everywhere else, you’re the best judge of what this means. Being good to yourself simply means knowing what helps you to relax, what can charge your batteries, what makes you happy. This of course depends on your personal interests, your passions, as well as your personality. And bottom line, it depends on how well you know yourself. Because regardless of whether you’re a true introvert and prefer staying in each evening, or an extrovert who likes to go to concerts and parties, you need to spend quality time doing what is best for you.

  • Do you enjoy spending time with friends? Get a couple of close buddies together for an evening out to watch a movie together, attend a concert, catch up over coffee or dinner at your favorite restaurant.
  • Would you prefer to spend some quiet time alone? Schedule a night in, order takeout, watch a film or a documentary that interests you, or do something else that makes you feel really good, like playing guitar, painting, writing, or any project that really gets your mind engaged.

How exactly can I get out of this comfort zone by motivating myself?

Start by adjusting your mindset.

When you’re in your comfort zone, things feel comfortable. You know what your day looks like, you maintain certain habits, you like to do things a certain way. Comfort is a good thing. It’s easy to live this way. But what’s the downside to feeling comfortable over a longer period of time? Well for starters, your brain goes on autopilot. You start doing things automatically. And you don’t even engage your critical thinking skills. Because you don’t really need them. You know already what your day, your week, your month will look like.

In other words, the bottom line is this: the downside to feeling comfortable too long is that you stop asking yourself questions.

Especially the important ones.

So what does adjusting your mindset really mean?

In this case, it means you start asking yourself more difficult and also important questions.

Here’s one question you can start with.

Next time you feel comfortable and tell yourself, “I don’t feel like doing this right now,” 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. And so you procrastinate. As we know, procrastination doesn’t really require a lot of effort; it’s almost a default reaction to something challenging that’s in front of you.

When you ask yourself “Why not?” you make a subtle shift in your mindset. Here’s what happens:

  • You give yourself a chance to think if 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 have 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 can’t show this to other people. Is it something you’ve been told, as in, don’t try it, it’s not for you? Maybe you’re dealing with prejudices or stereotypes in your culture, family, or circle of friends. Or are you feeling pressure because someone is forcing you to do it or else? 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. Now 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, we can actually give ourselves time and space to grow, we allow ourselves to gain more knowledge, we have opportunities to acquire new skills, and ultimately we start getting closer to becoming the best version of ourselves.

Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone, starting today?

And if you are, what will you do next?