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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?

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, HuffPost UK, Forbes, Inc.com, Slate.com, Apple News, Medical Daily, Business Insider, and TIME.

 

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What are the five most important things for a woman to learn in life? (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

#6. Don’t automatically assume the role that others expect of you.

In most cases, expectations of male and female roles are passed on from generation to generation without a second thought. You might already be experiencing feedback from parents, neighbors, relatives, partners, even friends on what is expected of you. Maybe they were taught that girls can’t be good at math or physics, nor should study to become engineers or chemists. Or maybe they’re convinced that it’s shameful for a guy to cook a great dinner by himself or study the history of art. Instead of falling into the trap of mimicking a fixed mindset, work on developing a growth mindset. Nurture your skills and strengths, and build on them consistently so that you can master them over time. As Carol Dweck shows in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, there’s so much you can do to change your attitude and accomplish whatever you believe is important in your life.

#7. Understand the difference between liking yourself and wanting to be liked by others.

What’s the harm in wanting to be liked? Everyone feels a need to be part of a group or to belong somewhere, and being liked makes it that much easier to belong to a group of people. But constantly wanting to be liked by others is a double-edged sword. Being popular in school, for example, may sound cool to you right now—just like having thousands of Instagram followers as you’re sharing pictures and videos of your daily life. The downside is this: it can take you on a path where you become dependent on the admiration and attention of others. Did you consider what happens if that attention goes away, or when you get criticized? That’s why your top priority is to like yourself first, because that’s where your inner strength lies. Build an awareness of your core skills and strengths, know what is the value that you add to the lives of people close to you, and you’ll feel much stronger for it.

#8. Work on creating your own boundaries.

It may sounds like a negative idea at first, but understanding the concept and importance of boundaries can actually work for you as you go through life. Having boundaries in place is critical in any number of situations where people are being pushy or disrespectful of your time and space. For example, if a friend insists on hanging out but you want time to yourself, you can set boundaries by making yourself unavailable or just saying that you have other plans. If you don’t like someone taking up your time, set boundaries by telling them you’re busy and don’t have an hour to devote to them. And if someone asks you to finish up a task that is their responsibility, set boundaries by saying no firmly and tell them it’s their job and not yours. It may not feel comfortable at first, but treat it as a muscle you are building until it starts to feel more natural. Think of it this way: if you need to get your life to a better place and accomplish the goals you set for yourself, you can’t afford to spread yourself too thin. You will need both time and space to create the future you want.

#9. Build up a thick skin.

It may not be the easiest thing in the world to do, but developing a thick-skin definitely helps us to deal with the negativity that we will inevitably face at many points in our life. This especially applies to criticism which can come from where you least expect it—people closest to you, including family and friends. It can also apply to negative feedback you’ll most certainly receive at work or school, because nobody is exempted from it. So what does developing a thick skin entail? It doesn’t mean removing all emotions and being nonchalant about whatever people say. It’s more about learning to expect criticism, instead of taking it personally and as an attack on you by someone who wishes you harm. If you learn to expect criticism, it won’t faze you much when you actually do receive it. How can you do this? Pay close attention to how the message is delivered. Constructive criticism is when someone suggests that you do something in a different way, which means it can work to your advantage. Conversely, if someone is “negging” you—making a negative comment disguised as a compliment—see it as destructive behavior and let the person know that you won’t put up with it.

#10. Build a strong sense of self-respect.

Sounds like such an obvious thing, but it’s not as common as it should be. And this is not gender-specific, of course—whether you’re male or female, it’s important to respect yourself. What does respecting yourself mean? It can mean you should respect your time because it’s a precious commodity and you need to value it. It can mean you should respect all of your efforts that you put into school, work, and building your relationships. It can mean respecting the knowledge you have acquired over time because it shows an investment you made in yourself, or respecting your values because they build the core of who you are, or respecting the goals that you believe are important in your self-development. In a nutshell—don’t take your self for granted. Value who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and who you are becoming. Always remind yourself of how long it took to get here, and be proud of your achievements, both large and small, as you’re working towards becoming that best version of yourself.

What are some awesome tips for developing better self-discipline?

 
Tip #1. Today, make a decision that you are going to own your day.

Let’s be clear on this—making a decision isn’t about mumbling a few words to yourself. It’s not abstract and it’s not vague. In fact, it’s more about training your brain to get focused on what it needs to do as soon as you wake up. Here’s how I practice it. I start my day with this question: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?” This technique gets my brain to start evaluating the goals that are important to me right now and forces me to prioritize one goal that needs attention immediately. In addition, with this technique I give myself the time to think about what’s important in my life, instead of letting other people or situations dictate what I should or shouldn’t be doing.

How can you do this?

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, for example as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Come up with an answer on the spot and answer it out loud. Then follow up by taking action: focus your energy throughout the day to completing your one thing.

Tip #2. Work on maximizing your willpower instead of underestimating it.

When we wake up to begin our day, it’s common for most of us to feel a sense of overwhelm because there are so many things we need to do, from small routine tasks to working on large projects towards bigger goals, both professional and personal. As a result, our first response might be to delay doing anything (because it’s hard to decide what to do and in what order), which translates into a bad habit of procrastinating. That’s a self-imposed obstacle. Why? Because we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day. And that willpower gets weaker and weaker as the day progresses. So if you think you’ll start writing that essay after dinner, think again. Chances are you’ll put if off some more and turn to your TV instead.

How can you fix this?

Practicing self-discipline means that if you want to focus on priorities, you should work on them early. As early in the day as possible—in fact, start right after breakfast. Do that task that you’ve been putting off all week before lunchtime. Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. Finish up doing homework or reviewing your exam questions that you’ve been procrastinating on for days because you’d rather do something more fun. The benefit? You gain a sense of accomplishment early that will make you feel better about the whole day.

Tip #3. Commit to building a positive habit by keeping it simple.

OK, so you’ve figured out that there’s something in your life you’d like to change because you don’t like what you’re currently doing (or not doing). It can be a fitness goal you’d like to reach (start running in the mornings like you used to in college), a health benefit (stop eating dinner in restaurants three times a week), or better manage your time (get more sleep instead of watching shows on Netflix until 2 a.m.). All those new habits you want to acquire will need self-discipline, time, and repetition. If this sounds unappealing, it’s because you make it sound that way: you feel like you “should” be doing something difficult when you’d rather be relaxing.

How can you fix this?

First, stop telling yourself that in order to achieve something good for yourself you need to punish yourself. That’s the wrong attitude to have for anything in your life. If you keep at it, you’ll give up on everything that’s potentially good and even life-changing. Instead, make every change a choice that you make in order to become a better version of yourself. And next, make the change as easy as possible by starting with tiny steps. Instead of saying you have to hit the gym for two hours each evening after work, do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes each day to give your body time to adjust. Or, start going to bed 15 minutes earlier and read a good book or listen to relaxing music to help you fall asleep faster.

Tip #4. Learn to reign in the millions of random thoughts that run through your mind.

When I was in my teens, I noticed there were thousands of thoughts bouncing around in my mind. The more I read, absorbed new information in school, talked to my friends, interacted with family members, and observed the world as a young adult, the more confusing everything seemed. I started to awfulize about so many things. What’s worse is that I thought it’s just me! Nobody surely thought this way. And then as I grew up I realized that it’s not just me, it’s all of us. The older we get, the more cognitive input we have, and we often struggle to categorize this input. What’s relevant to our life and what isn’t? Which problem do I need to solve? Is this something I can control or can I let it go?

How can you fix this?

First, be aware that if you feel overwhelmed with information about the world around you, if you have negative or self-critical thoughts, and if you find yourself ruminating on past events and personal failures, you are not alone. The good news is this: even though you may think it, you are not your thoughts. You are much bigger than your thoughts! And second, start considering a few new habits to reign in those thoughts and categorize them as relevant or just dramatic. You can start with a 10-minute meditation to calm your thoughts and even slow down the chaos. You can devote 30 minutes a day to spending time outdoors, in a park or by the beach, to tune out the busy noise around you. And you can work on adjusting the mindset you have about your own skills and abilities by getting a copy of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.

Tip #5. Say no to all those distractions that take you off the path you’ve chosen for yourself.

If you think that all these gadgets and toys we have at our disposal today are to blame for getting distracted easily, think again. Even the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote about this, and the topic is featured in his book On the Shortness of Life. Yes, distractions and pointless activities were very much a challenge for people in ancient Rome! For example, Seneca describes people’s struggles with gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things, and always trying to impress others. Does that sound familiar? Maybe today we don’t host lavish banquets where we impress guests with an endless feast of food and wine, but we do pay attention to what’s displayed on social media and we observe the images of surreal lifestyles on Facebook or Instagram. And that often leads to feelings of dissatisfaction, envy, and self-criticism.

How can you fix this?

First, if you do spend time on social media, make sure you take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt. Chances are those pictures and updates are not a real representation of everyday life, but rather a tactic someone is using to sell a product, service, or brand. And second, don’t waste your time on distractions if they don’t serve the purpose of adding value to your life. Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus, especially in the first few hours of the day. Let people in your inner circle know you won’t be available in the next few hours until you get important tasks done. Check your email and social media apps in the afternoons and evening, instead of spending the first 30 minutes of your day focusing on them. The same applies to browsing the Internet and reading the daily news while you’re at work—close all tabs on your browser that may be tempting you to unfocus from your top priorities for that day.

One final thought:

Like with everything in life, in this case it all comes down to attitude. The attitude you have towards self-discipline will either help you or deter you from instilling it in your daily life. For me, it’s never been about what I “should” do or what other people tell me is good for me. It’s all about what it affords me. My approach is this: self-discipline = freedom. By practicing it daily, self-discipline trains my brain to prioritize the things I can control, allows me to let go of what I cannot, and gives me time to focus on what will get me to my ultimate goal: becoming a better version version of myself every single day.

Is there any self-help book that really changed your life?

Pssssst!

Can I make a slight edit to this question?

How about we change it from self-help and make it about self-improvement?

I’ll tell you why.

To me, when we use the word help, there’s a sense of urgency. If you’re in trouble and you don’t have ample time to contemplate which step to take, you say, Help! It’s about emergencies, rapid decision-making, and solving—in most cases—one specific problem or issue.

On the other hand, when we use the word improvement, there’s a much wider path that’s open to us. OK, so maybe we still feel a sense of urgency because we find ourselves in trouble, there’s a problem that’s on our mind, or we find ourselves repeating self-destructive behaviors but can’t seem to find a way out. Regardless of the problem, we need a solution. But the open path means that we can give ourselves the time to learn, solidify, retain, practice, and adopt new habits that can get us on the path to achieving a personal goal.

Does that make sense?

Now on to the answer.

One self-improvement book that has changed my life, and is still changing it every single day, is Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. To say that it’s changed my life is also an understatement. It has make me question so much about not only my life, but human behavior in general! And it’s helped me understand that we as human beings have so much power in our hands to make our lives so much more. Lives that are better. Smarter. More fulfilling. More valuable. And with more purpose.

To summarize, Dweck’s book is about our mindset—the set of attitudes and beliefs we have about the world around us, people we interact with, and ultimately about ourselves. She suggests that the view we have of ourselves can dramatically affect the way we lead our life. Dweck makes an important distinction between two types of mindsets that people generally have. One is a fixed mindset—believing that our skills, strengths, and qualities are set in stone and there’s nothing we can do to change them, for better or for worse. The other is a growth mindset—believing that we can cultivate those same skills and qualities through long-term dedication and effort. While a fixed mindset is adopted over time by listening to messages from a young age about what we can, should, or shouldn’t do (usually by parents, relatives, teachers), a growth mindset is nurtured primarily by ourselves as we deliberately select those learning opportunities that can benefit us.

What does practicing a growth mindset look like in real life?

Here are 5 ways to incorporate it into your day so you can see what a difference it can make.

Growth mindset idea #1. Learn something new every day.

It’s not limited to what’s on your current course syllabus or school curriculum for the year. It doesn’t have to be limited by your job description, or even a particular interest or hobby you’re pursuing in the evening hours or on weekends. You can learn something new and different in many ways. You can spend an evening watching a documentary about everything there is to know on ancient Egypt, artificial intelligence, or Alexander the Great. Or, you can research something practical and useful in your daily life, such as which foods can give you energy to train for a marathon or just get you through an interval training session at the gym. Whatever it is, one thing is key— stay curious and be willing to learn something you do not know right now.

Growth mindset idea #2. Create your own “growth mindset” tribe.

You may have heard of the phrase that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. And chances are, you don’t give much thought to the company you keep, whether it’s people you live with or the ones you interact with on a regular basis. Still, it’s important because you may not be aware of how much those closest to you—family members, close friends, coworkers and classmates—can impact your mood, your attitude, your beliefs, and even what you see as your strengths or weaknesses. How can you pick more growth mindset people to hang out with? Make friends with people who show a can-do attitude, who take on a positive and optimistic tone when talking about problems, and who work hard every day on getting better at something. Get to know them better and nurture friendships with them.

Growth mindset idea #3. Change the way you look at success.

Here’s an excellent example of fixed versus growth mindset. If you’ve adopted a fixed mindset, you think being successful means that things come easily and effortlessly to you or to someone else, whether it’s being a straight A student or a chess champion. The downside to a fixed way of thinking is that people get too comfortable in doing something well with little effort. So what’s the growth mindset way of thinking? Instead of thinking that success is being the best, you start thinking of success as doing your best. This means you switch your focus from staying in the comfort zone to coming up with ways to improve how you do your work, such as breaking down a difficult task in smaller and more doable increments, or waking up a bit earlier each morning to practice a positive habit such as doing yoga or going for a run.

Growth mindset idea #4. Declare war on your inner lazy self.

Here’s another excellent example of how your fixed mindset can be undermining your efforts. If you have a fixed mindset, as soon as you achieve a goal (pass an exam, turn in a large project ahead of the deadline, or win a prestigious competition), you tend to slip into a complacent mood. You sit back, take it easy, pat yourself on the back for doing so well…. and then just expect things to go smoothly in the future. With a growth mindset, you don’t let things go that easily. Yes, it’s important to take a breather, acknowledge reaching an important milestone, and appreciate how far you’ve come. But give yourself a time limit. Then be proactive to make sure your success doesn’t just fall into oblivion. For example, if you’ve passed your exams, don’t spend your entire vacation on the couch watching TV or gaming; instead, build a cool new skill that excites you such as learning karate or playing electric guitar.

Growth mindset idea #5. Don’t get envious, get proactive.

It’s not a big surprise to start feeling envious whenever we hear a friend, coworker, or acquaintance start talking about something wonderful that’s happening in their life right now. It can be a number of things—they just began attending a course they’re fascinated with, they started a personal project they’ve been putting off for years and are now fully engrossed in it, or they’re starting their own business and adore their entrepreneurial lifestyle. What’s a better way to deal with such news? Resist the urge to feel envious that things are going well for them, and instead take a cue from them and spend some time brainstorming original ideas of your own. Which project can you start that can improve the quality of your life? How can you make a career decision that will benefit you in the long run? Write your ideas down, then come up with a plan to turn them into actions. And that, right there, is practicing your own growth mindset—one new idea at a time!

What habits did you change that have totally changed your life? And how?

 

Excellent question!

The secret to building any habit is this: devoting 5 minutes a day to it can add up so much that it will affect the quality of your life. That’s why it’s important to be selective about which habits we nurture, and which ones we need to change so they can help us on our path to becoming better versions of ourselves.

These 5 habits significantly improved the quality of my life in the past few years, and I wished many times I had started incorporating them sooner into each day.

Habit #1. Starting the day with a morning routine to give me energy.

How did it improve my life?

There are tons of benefits I’ve felt since switching to a morning routine. Unlike before, I don’t feel dread or overwhelm as soon as I wake up because of all the things I need to finish on that day. I feel that I’ve become the master of my own time because I select what I want to work on first. In addition, I feel more calm knowing in advance what my day will look like.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Hack your morning alarm. Create an alarm that is friendly to your sleepy self. Pick a ring tone that’s unusual but not irritating, make a recording of your own voice saying a positive message, or queue up some music that you find uplifting and energizing and schedule it to play when you need to wake up.
  • Meditate to reset your brain. It can help you cope better with the thousands of random thoughts that occupy you throughout the day and may contribute to your feeling stressed, rushed, and overwhelmed. Download the Headspace app and practice for only 10 minutes; it’s great for absolute beginners.
  • Do a short 15–20 minute workout. It can be a morning yoga routine, a 15 minute bootcamp session, a set of sun salutation poses or a 20-minute power walk. It won’t take a lot of time, but you’ll feel the benefits for hours.

Habit #2. Asking one simple question every morning: “What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today?”

How did it improve my life?

This single habit is probably the biggest game changer for me. As soon as I wake up, I look forward to practicing it because I know it will boost my concentration. This tiny question simplifies my life, it helps my brain focus better, it makes me prioritize goals, and it streamlines my work so I don’t feel overwhelmed about having to accomplish too many things in a single day.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Write the question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. The important part is that you can easily see it as you’re brushing your teeth or getting ready.
  • Read it out loud as you start each day, and come up with an answer on the spot. The trick is to get your eyes on it so that it becomes second nature and you don’t even think about having to glance over to it any more.
  • Keep your answer top of mind as you go through your work for the day, so that you don’t get distracted by other things that might take you away from what’s important to you. It will be a constant reminder of what’s your top priority.

Habit #3. Saying “thank you” for what I have in my life right now.

How did it improve my life?

Practicing gratitude makes a big difference in how one feels about one’s life. If you’ve ever heard of the saying “you either see a glass as half-empty of half-full”then this practice is a real-life example of what it really means. For me, it’s trained my brain to focus on positive things that are already a part of my daily life, instead of focusing on what I haven’t yet accomplished or acquired. I feel that being grateful keeps me grounded in my personal life because it gives me time to think what’s good for my growth, or what’s beautiful about my immediate surroundings or an event I’ve experienced.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Do it early. When you start your day with gratitude, you will feel the effects throughout the day. All it takes is 5 minutes of your time, so you won’t feel it takes away from your hectic morning schedule. You can write things down, say them out loud, or just think about them.
  • Start small. Focus only on 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be the simplest of things such as having a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, a friendship that is important to you, a dog or cat that you have as your pet, or an event from the previous day that made you happy.
  • Be specific. If it’s a friendship you’re grateful for, emphasize which qualities of your friend you are grateful for (they’re warm, gracious, kind, loving, incredibly funny). If it’s having a warm bed or your own room that you feel gratitude about, describe why this is important to you.

Habit #4. Doing my deep work early in the morning.

How did it improve my life?

Deep work (any kind of analytical thinking that requires the most concentration, such as reading, writing, analyzing or problem solving) is one of those mental tasks that requires a different kind of focus from the other more tactical things we do on a regular basis. I’ve noticed that when I switched to doing my deep work early (instead of leaving it for nighttime), I actually saved time the rest of the day. I also feel that it taps into my willpower to get the toughest tasks done first, so that I don’t run out of energy and motivation. And the best part? It frees up my afternoons and evenings to devote to socializing, working out, and coming up with better strategies to accomplish personal goals.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Set aside 2-4 hours after you wake up for deep work. Many scientists say that this is the brain’s peak performance time. If, for example, you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m. You can extend this time to whenever you have lunch, around midday, if you want to maximize your peak performance hours.
  • For one week, keep a log of what you do during your peak times. Are you focusing on your important mental tasks? Are you learning new material, solving complex problems, reading, or writing? For most people, this time is usually spent commuting to work, checking email, making phone calls, watching or listening to the news, chatting with co-workers or attending meetings.
  • Redesign your peak brain performance time. Think of how you can rearrange the things you do early that are less important to your personal and professional development. Like to stay on top of the latest news? Save this activity for your lunch break or right after lunch. Emails are waiting in your inbox? Be careful of how much time checking email takes; it can seriously overtake your day. Choose 2 blocks of time to go over your emails, one mid-afternoon and one closer to the end of your workday.

Habit #5. Being very selective about how I feed my brain.

How did it improve my life?

Just like most people, I observed my limited free time go by very quickly with TV episodes, movies I didn’t find mentally stimulating, or listening to the radio on my daily commute. The worst part was that I didn’t really get anything of value from all that so-called entertainment. Over time, I realized that I needed to be much more selective about how I want to spend that time so that it is beneficial to my personal development (and in many cases, educational as well as entertaining!).

How can you start practicing it?

What is the one skill that, if you have it, will completely change your life?

 

Grow your mindset so that you can view success and failure in the best light possible.

Because that is where everything begins: in your head. In the way you see the world around you. In the way you process events that happen to you. In the attitude you develop as you deal with real life, daily events, people you interact with, obstacles that stand in your way, goals that you strive to reach.

That attitude plays a critical role in how you understand success and failure, it strengthens (or weakens) the coping mechanisms you need to deal with life’s challenges, it defines the way you see yourself, and ultimately it impacts the overall quality of your life. Chances are, the attitude doesn’t always begin with you. It started as you were growing up, and was influenced by the messages you received from your parents, your teachers, and the environment you grew up in. As a result, you developed one of two types of mindsets:

  • A fixed mindset is 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.
  • A growth mindset is 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.

Here are 3 tips to grow your mindset so that you can view success and failure in a way that’s most beneficial to you.

Tip #1. Change how you view success. Instead of thinking that success is being the best, think of success as doing your best, always learning new things and 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 do, instead of reacting to events and letting them take over your day.
  • To get a head start, create a morning routine and wake up a bit earlier so that you can work out and tackle the most complex cognitive tasks that require your complete focus.
  • When you are 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.

Tip #2. Change how 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:

  • When you fail an exam or get a lower grade than you expected, take stock of how you did: write down how much time you devoted to studying, which materials you used, even where you studied. Then think of how to improve and make changes so that you do better next time. In other words, create your plan B.
  • When you receive criticism of your work, don’t immediately get emotional. Closely examine what is the core of the message: did you overlook an important detail, was there a pattern of errors you’ve repeated from before, did you miss a deadline because you forgot? Then take some time to make the necessary changes, correct what needs to be done, and move on.
  • When you get frustrated at yourself for not making progress as quickly as you’d like, make an assessment of the path you are taking: is there someone more experienced you can ask who can advise you, are you using your resources wisely, do you need to carve out more time in your day to devote to your practice? Then map out your next steps so that you can get to your goal faster.

Tip #3. Take charge of your success. When you succeed, don’t just sit back and expect it to last. Take concrete steps to maintain it, keep it in good shape, and make it last. For example:

  • If you’ve successfully completed your exams, don’t just waste away your summer watching TV or sitting in front of the computer surfing the Internet. Make a plan to improve on a skill that is important to your personal development (practicing a new language, getting fit for a marathon, learning more about world history or geography), then work on it daily.
  • If you turned in a big project and met the deadline, don’t just sit back and chat with coworkers for hours and watch YouTube videos when the boss is out of the office. Look for something else you can get strategic about: is there an upcoming big meeting you can plan for, a new tool your team just started using that you can familiarize yourself with, a professional milestone that you can prepare for and discuss with your manager? Then make some time in your schedule to work on it on a regular basis.
  • If you just mastered a skill that is important for school, work, or your personal interests, don’t just keep it to yourself. Find out who might also benefit from your expertise and knowledge, then teach it to others. When you share your success, your work will give you a greater sense of purpose, and you’ll feel more connected to what you’ve accomplished. In addition, you will be providing something of value to other people and helping them achieve success in their lives, which in turn will enrich your own life experience and make it more relevant.

What can I do in a 30-day period, on a daily basis, to start myself on the way to become the best version of myself?

You can develop a laser-sharp focus on who exactly is the best version of yourself. What are the goals of the ideal version of you? Which skills does the ideal you possess? And what does the big picture of that ideal life look like?

Chances are, like most of us, you’re probably so busy with your everyday life that you rarely have the time to contemplate any of this. So you put it off. Maybe next time when I’m on vacation I’ll think about it. When the semester is over. When I have more money. Just not now.

And before you know it, days rush into months, and months turn into years. And you still have no idea of who the best version of yourself could be. But what if you make a decision right now to use the next month of your life to find out more about the ideal you? When you do, the time that lies ahead of you will work in your favor, because every month and every year will get you closer to your ultimate goal.

Where to begin?

Here are 7 tips you can follow this month to get on the path to becoming the best version of yourself.

Tip #1. Develop a personal goal.

You should always have a specific goal that is driving you to succeed. When you do, everything you do in your daily life will have a greater sense of purpose. Take a day or two to write down the personal goal you are going to focus on for the month.

  • Make sure your goal is precisely formulated. 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 [insert job title you want] that pays an annual salary of [insert amount you believe is fair given your skills and experience] so that you can develop [insert specific skills you have as well as those you’re working towards].
  • 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 overwhelmed with making too many choices and instead you are free to focus on what’s most important to you.

Tip #2. Create a strategy to achieve your goal.

Goals are important, but so is developing your strategy. While you are focusing on what you want to do right now, always keep your eye on at least two steps ahead. Once you’ve defined your goal, take one day to think about the strategy.

  • Consider different avenues and approaches you may need to take to get you closer to your goal. Maybe you’re used to doing things a certain way, so it’s a great idea to challenge yourself and try doing something differently.
  • Don’t focus on achieving short-term success you will feel today; instead, consider the benefits of your actions in the long run. For example, think of how the choices you make at school or work today will affect your lifestyle five years from now.
  • Don’t think only of who you are right now, at this stage of your life; instead, think of who you want to be in 5 or 10 years. By being strategic you will empower yourself to achieve long term results that your future self can benefit from.

Tip #3. Brainstorm a list of skills you need to succeed.

It’s impossible to be successful without a required skill set in your field of work, regardless of whether it’s studying for a degree, being a software developer, training for a marathon, or getting fit. Here’s what you can brainstorm after you’ve written down your goal and strategy:

  • Identify skills of thought leaders who have mastered something in their field of expertise. Do the research to find this out. For example, do you know what makes them unique? By identifying patterns in behaviors of others, it becomes easier to emulate them and develop successful traits in ourselves.
  • Identify which skills you want to work on.From the list of skills of thought leaders, consider the following: Are any of their skills necessary or helpful for you to succeed in doing your job? Which are the top 3 skills in your field of study or work are most in demand? Which skills do you need to get better at doing your job?

Tip #4. Work on each skill consistently for the rest of the month.

Nothing will get done automatically. You’ll need to map out what you need to do, starting with the early morning hours. Here are some ideas.

  • Use your mornings wisely to set the tone for the day: Develop a morning routine so that you can work on your skills earlier in the day, when your brain can focus better and your schedule doesn’t stand in the way.
  • Create a plan to develop your top 3 skills consistently each day. Block off time in each day, including weekends, to work towards your goal of acquiring the skills you’ve identified as most important to you.
  • Work with your schedule. If you have one hour to devote in the evenings, then block this hour off every day and don’t let others sidetrack you. Turn off all of your distractions. Sit in a quiet room, or if that’s not possible in your home, go to the local library. But if one hour is not realistic given your schedule right now, then set aside 15–30 minutes to work on one skill. The time will add up in a big way, and you will still be able to see results after 30 days.

Tip #5. Whenever you feel the urge to procrastinate, replace the words “I can’t do this!” with “Why not try it?”

Hey, we’re all guilty of procrastinating at some point as we’re working on our goals, whether they’re small daily ones or really big ones. This is quite normal and it’s a human reaction. But there’s something you can do to deal with the procrastination.

  • 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 try it?” 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.

Tip #6. Take ownership of your free time.

Why not admit it? At some point in our lives we have all let television, commercials, mass media, or social media control the way we spend the little free time that we have in the evenings. Instead of just giving in to passive forms of entertainment and then finding yourself hours later wondering where the time went, why not plan what you want to do with your free time?

  • Use an hour after dinner to do some strategic thinking. Since this is the time of day when the brain slows down and is freed from the deadlines you impose on it earlier in the day, use the time for creative thinking. For example, if you’re working on your goal for the month, consider your progress so far. How are you making progress, is it going well, or are there obstacles you didn’t expect? What can you do next time you run into an obstacle? How can you be better prepared for the next day?
  • Watch documentaries you can learn from. YouTube is full of them (search for BBC and History Channel documentaries), so go ahead and search the topics that interest you. Check out British historian Bettany Hughes and her series called The Ancient Worlds to learn about everyday life in ancient Alexandria, Rome, Athens, and about the way society was organized among Minoans, Spartans, and the Moors. Another excellent 3-part series by the BBC is Ibn Battuta: The Man Who Walked Across the World.
  • Start reading more books. It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction. What’s important is that you feed your brain, learn new things, time travel, and absorb the life experiences of other people. If they’re excellent storytellers, you will soon be drawn into their world so that you cannot put the book down. To start, check out recommendations on the best books of all time on Quora. Or download the Goodreads app to get recommendations, add books to your bookshelf, and track your reading progress.

Tip #7. 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.

  • 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. You’re finally on the right path to becoming that best version of yourself!

What’s the number one thing that motivates you every morning?

 
Easy. It’s this question that I ask myself every morning within the first 5 minutes of waking up:

What is the ONE thing I am committed to completing today?

Here’s an explanation of why it’s so motivating to me, and why it might help you if you’ve often found yourself struggling with getting motivated to do something that is on your to-do list or that is a necessary step in achieving a personal or profession goal.

ONE. Why is this question important to me?

  • It simplifies my life. I don’t overwhelm myself with too many choices I need to make on any given day.
  • It encourages me to think strategically about my life one day at a time.
  • It keeps me focused on my goals instead of getting distracted by other things.
  • It forces me to prioritize what it relevant over everything else that is not.
  • It serves as a personal promise to myself to do what I’ve identified as critical to my personal or professional development.

TWO. How can you incorporate this question into your daily life?

  • Write it down: take a large sheet of paper and write the question in big bold letters.
  • Hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall so it’s easy to see.
  • Make it part of a unique background for your computer or cell phone.
  • Use it as the main heading at the top of your journal entry for each day.
  • Ask the question aloud as you are brushing your teeth or getting ready.
  • Give an answer on the spot out loud, or write it down in your journal.

THREE. How can this question make a positive impact on your life?

  • You train your brain to focus on what is most important to you, and you don’t waste it on things that are trivial, irrelevant, or distracting in any way.
  • You gain a sense of purpose when you are focused on your personal commitments: it gives your life meaning, helps you understand you have something of value to contribute, and improves the quality of your day-to-day life.
  • You save time when you know in advance the work you need to accomplish, so that you don’t waste hours evaluating multiple priorities throughout the day, which can be exhausting.
  • You help your brain perform more optimally when you’re committed to just ONE thing, so that it becomes freed from cluttered thoughts and it has more space to concentrate on what you consider the most important goal of your day.