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

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.

What’s new?

E-books

I have created 2 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.

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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I’m trapped and stuck in my comfort zone because of my lack of confidence and I hate to take risks. How can I change my life in a better way?

 

There’s nothing comfortable about it if the words you use to describe your situation are trapped, stuck, lack of confidence, and hate to take risks.

I, for one, would run away from that comfort zone as quickly as possible!

What will help you get out of your situation?

For starters, get your brain on board by thinking of all the advantages you’ll have by getting outside of your comfort zone.

Like…

Advantage #1. 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.

Advantage #2. Flexibility. 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.

Advantage #3. Wonder. 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 ponder, little things to make you wonder and question and keep your mind open.

Advantage #4. 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.

Advantage #5. Self-discovery. How can you know who you can become if you keep yourself sequestered 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 also other people? To find out the best and strongest part of you, it will take a journey outside comforts. It will be risky, for sure. But who you’ll become in the process—now that will be priceless.

Okay, so now that you’ve considered the benefits, the next questions is this:

How do you get unstuck, take more risks, and get to a better place?

Here’s a suggestion.

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 of taking action. 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 how.

  • 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 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 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, 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?

What are some of the books that are really worth reading that you can recommend?

 

I’ve been thinking about, taking extensive notes on, and talking through the concepts in these three books in the past several months. I found them to be interesting, thought-provoking, and excellent brain food!

Book #1. Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferriss.

I’ve read Tools of Titans and thought it was an encyclopedia of excellent advice, not to mention the pages of notes I took as I was reading. And then I got this book, and it was even better. Kudos to Tim Ferriss for curating this collection of conversations with people who are leaders in their field, who are original in the pursuit of excellence, and who lead interesting lives we can definitely learn from. The topics covered range from personal dilemmas around fear and failure, to achieving excellence and making decisions that will be right for you and what you want to accomplish in your personal and professional life.

Here are some concepts to give you an idea of what a treasure trove of information this book really is.

  • Naval Ravikant, CEO of Angel List, says that happiness is a choice you make and a skill you develop. We accept ourselves as we were programmed when we were young, and then grow to accept our inner voice that talks all the time as the source of all truth. But you don’t have to accept your programming—everything is malleable and every day is new. You can learn to control your mind, and you can change the way you think, do things, and react to events.
  • Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, defines excellence as something concrete rather than abstract. Excellence is the next 5 minutes or nothing at all. It’s not a grand aspiration, or a compelling vision of something in the distant future. Rather, it’s the quality of your work and the quality of the conversations you have with people. It’s something quite tangible because you get to focus, improve a skill, and achieve mastery.
  • Ferriss himself gives his own take on the power of words we tell ourselves. He says that the power broker in your life is the voice that no one else hears but you. How well you revisit the tone and content of your private voice is what determines the quality of your life. It is the master storyteller, and the stories we tell ourselves are our reality. Think about that for a minute—we create our reality with the stories we tell ourselves every day!

Book #2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.

This book is the first book I recommend to friends, acquaintances, and people I share interesting conversations with. It is the true definition of the phrase game changer. Why? Because it will challenge your understanding and concepts you’ve accepted as your “true nature.” The book explains in detail how we adopt a certain mindset about our abilities very early in life, due to the messages we receive from our environment, parents, and teachers when we are still very young. These messages develop into our understanding of what and how we “should” study, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and what we must avoid. You will learn the difference between two mindsets and how much they can be either empowering or detrimental to your studying: a fixed mindset (believing that your skills and talents are set in stone) and growth mindset (believing that you can grow and cultivate your skills over time through continuous efforts).

There are specific ways in which you can grow your mindset and practice the concepts described in Dweck’s book. Here are a few ideas.

  • Refuse to quit when things get tough. Maybe you’re in the middle of reading through a tough chapter in preparation for an exam, and your mind is just not into it. Or, a task you’re doing at work is boring and dull for you. The solution? Don’t give in to the urge. Keep going. Imagine that your brain is making connections as you’re working through a problem, and it will learn from this experience. Don’t quit halfway.
  • Don’t focus on problems, obstacles, or things you don’t currently possess. Whenever you do, you put yourself in reactive mode. Life shouldn’t be about just reacting to what’s happening to (or around) us. It’s much more empowering to be proactive. For example, if you’ve encountered a problem, it’s better to think of alternative solutions to getting it fixed. Or, if you’re envious that a close friend just accepted an offer of their dream job, it’s better to map out what you want out of your career and come up with a six-month plan to get your dream job.
  • Make specific plans to grow your mindset each day. It’s not going to happen automatically—you need to take ownership of your day. Start with this question: What are the opportunities for learning and growth today?Write down a short list of 3–5 items to choose from. Be specific. If you need to do research on something, write what exactly you’ll need to do and how long it will take. If you need to practice a skill, write down where you’ll start practicing it and how. Always focus on answering when, where, and howyou’ll proactively growing your mindset, so you set your own path to making it happen.

Book #3. Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind by Srini Pillay.

Srini Pillay is an M.D. in psychiatry and pioneer in the field of neurocoaching—a combination of applied neuroscience, performance psychology, and neurolinguistics. In this book he takes a creative approach to deconstructing the concept of failure and provides alternative ways of dealing with it. In a nutshell, rather than continuing to be afraid of failure and doing whatever we can to avoid it, we should see failure as a teacher that can take us on a path to self-discovery. If we embrace it, failure can teach us how strong and resilient we can be in challenging times. That’s why it’s worth it to change our mindset about failure and what it can do for us.

Pillay describes a 5-step system to rewire the brain so we can adjust our mindset and learn to react differently to failure.

  • Address the negative self-talk head on. If you find yourself awfulizing and imagining worst-case scenarios at work or during an argument with a friend, ask yourself, is the feedback I am getting relevant or is it just dramatic?Relevant feedback is getting advice or an opinion that is helpful to you: you can learn to understand something, you get to hear an explanation, you receive advice on how to improve your performance. Dramatic feedback is just that—drama. It’s not helpful, it can be an emotional reaction, or just someone venting but with no substance to the story.
  • Get to the bottom of your resistance. You could be starting a new habit such as a workout routine or maybe you just enrolled in graduate school and everything seems different so you’re having second thoughts. Ask yourself, what’s at the core of my resistance? In most cases, it’s either people, places or things. Sometimes we’re used to working with a certain personality type (let’s say, introverted people). Other times, we dislike our new environment because it’s noisy, too small, or too far away from home. And in some cases, we might resist working with new software, different computers, or tools we’re not used to.
  • Forecast the future. Instead of letting your brain start generalizing that every outcome is certainly going to be devastating to you, hit the pause button and give a forecast of the future based on what you already know. Ask yourself, what is the likelihood of things happening? Take a look at the hard data: the number of hours you already devoted to a task, the number of chapters you’ve covered in a textbook, or the amount of work you’ve completed on a project to date. Then, use this information to apply it to the future. It’s difficult to ignore the facts as long as you acknowledge them.
  • Re-evaluate your efforts. Maybe you’ve spent years working at a company or you’ve invested a lot of time in a personal relationship but you’re unsure whether you’re a right fit for each other. How do you deal with it? Ask yourself, if I keep doing this, is my effort worth it? If you’re not seeing results, you may be focusing on the wrong thing and it’s time to let go. And if you’ve been trying to reach a goal using shortcuts or quick fixes but not moving past the first step of getting there, it may mean your approach needs a major overhaul in order to see a positive move in the right direction.
  • Take action. Let’s face it: there’s a time to think, but also a time to stop overthinking. Ask yourself, what is the first step I can take to move forward? For example, if you spend hours online reading articles, ask yourself if there’s something you would like to write about. Maybe a specific topic you find fascinating, or something you just started researching but know little about, or a skill that you’d like to learn? Then give yourself 30 minutes to begin—write a question on an online forum such as Quora, jot down a brief outline of five things you’d like to write about, or simply do a little freestyle writing in your journal each morning to describe what you’re thinking about that day.

What are the best brain foods you know of?

 

How about feeding your brain with new ideas and points of view?

When you do, those ideas and perspectives can open up a whole new world of possibilities. You could, for example, hear details from other people’s lives about how they managed to overcome an obstacle or to succeed in accomplishing something they’ve always wanted to do. In addition, hearing their stories could give you an idea or two on how to implement the strategies they used into your daily life. That’s a gold mine just waiting to be discovered! You can use this brain food to learn, be curious, wonder, question, pause, and think what you want to do and what is possible to do with the information you’ve absorbed.

Here are 3 ideas on how to feed your brain.

Brain food idea #1. Watch documentaries on big ideas, important moments in history, and people who fought their way to the top.

  • The Defiant Ones. It’s a four-part series that tells one of the most interesting stories in contemporary music history, and even more—it’s a story of growth, mastery, personal development, challenging yourself to become better, and focusing on life goals, no matter the circumstances life throws at you. This excellent documentary features record producer Jimmy Iovine and hip-hop legend Dr. Dre, and other legendary musicians such as Bono of U2, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg.
  • The Ancient WorldsIn this seven-part series, 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.
  • Finding Joe. This is a documentary based on the work of professor and writer of mythology Joseph Campbell who discovered a pattern hidden in every story told in ancient texts and oral traditions from different cultures, which he called “the hero’s journey.” By learning about the concept of the hero’s journey we can better understand the challenges we face in our lives, the purpose of self-discovery, and how we can use this knowledge to focus on things we feel strongly about that point us in the direction of a career, a calling, or a life path.
  • Ultimate Rome: Empire Without LimitThese 4 episodes are hosted by Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at Cambridge University. She explores 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.
  • Lucy Worsley’s Empire of the TsarsBritish historian Lucy Worsley goes in depth with the reign of the Romanov dynasty in this 3-part series. Her story moves from Peter the Great to Catherine the Great, and finally to the the execution of the tsar’s family in the early 20th century and the beginning of the Russian revolution.

Brain food idea #2. Listen to podcasts for tips on how to become a better version of yourself.

  • Kwik Brain Podcast. Jim Kwik is founder of Kwik Learning and a world expert in memory improvement and accelerated learning. He suffered a childhood brain injury that left him learning-challenged, so he created strategies and tips to boost mental performance.
    • Episode ideas: Look for episodes on how gratitude rewires your brain (#47), 3-part conversation on how to supercharge your brain and life with Brendon Burchard (#35-#37), and how to stay focused and fix a wandering mind (#40).
  • The Tim Ferriss Show. Ferriss collects life experiences, tools, and hands-on tactics through interviews he conducts with world-class leaders in diverse categories of expertise. His podcast guests range from ex-Navy Seals and top athletes to best-selling authors and entrepreneurs.
    • Episode ideas: Look for interviews with Jocko Wilink on discipline and leadership (#187), Tony Robbins on how to resolve inner conflict (#186), and Arianna Huffington on why you shouldn’t run your life from your inbox (10/18/2017).
  • Optimize with Brian JohnsonThis podcast is very much like getting an education in living a smarter life. It’s about gaining more wisdom in less time to help you learn how to optimize the way you live, work, and learn. Brian condenses big ideas from guests he interviews and turns each episode into a short and practical lesson.
    • Episode ideas: Look for The Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine (12/13/2017), Mental Contrasting with Gabriele Oettingen, PhD and creator of the WOOP process (12/3/2017), and Create Zen Habits with Leo Babauta (9/1/2015).

Brain food idea #3. Read books to grow your mindset and expand your understanding of what’s possible.

  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. One of my most recommended books of all time, this book is what I call a true game changer. In a nutshell, it is an exploration of mindsets and human psychology, and how the view we adopt for ourselves over time profoundly affects the way we lead our life. Dweck explains the difference between a fixed mindset—believing that our qualities are set in stone, that we can only have a certain level of intelligence or personality type, and a growth mindset—believing that we can develop our skills and abilities through continuous efforts and change with our life experiences.
  • Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD. The book introduces the concept of emotional agility. Emotional agility means that we can be flexible with our thoughts and feelings (the equivalent of having a growth mindset), instead of being rigid and holding on to beliefs from our past (the equivalent of having a fixed mindset). There are four key concepts of emotional agility: showing up (facing your thoughts and feelings), stepping out (detaching from them), walking your why (focusing on your core values), and moving on (getting proactive in changing your habits and mindset).
  • Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss. This book is almost like an encyclopedia: there’s so much information included and it’s best if you read it in small chunks. In essence, the material is divided into three sections (Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise), and consists of a comprehensive collection of life experiences, tools, and hands-on tactics compiled from a series of interviews Ferriss conducted with world-class leaders in diverse fields of expertise. These leaders range from top athletes to best-selling authors to Special Ops commanders. It’s like drinking from a very concentrated cup of wisdom!
  • The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. This book offers 366 days of quotes of Stoic philosophers as well as practical applications of their wisdom through exercises. The philosophers mentioned include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Zeno, and Cleanthes. Here are two examples of powerful quotes: “We suffer more in imagination than in reality” (Seneca), and “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own” (Marcus Aurelius). In other words, everyone can find something here they can relate to!
  • The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben Shahar. A unique take on perfectionism and how it can be a major obstacle in life. The book differentiates positive (optimal) perfectionism from negative perfectionism. The negative perfectionist rejects failure (and therefore never processes or deals with it), rejects negative and painful emotions, and ultimately rejects dealing with reality. In contrast, the optimal perfectionist allows himself to experience the entire human experience: he accepts success and also failure, believes it is OK to to feel the full spectrum of human emotions, and by accepting reality he is better equipped to make progress towards the future.

New e-book on self-discipline is available!

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I’ve received many requests over the past year to start putting together an e-book for each of the main topics I write about on Quora: self-discipline, growth mindset, focus and concentration, study strategies, and goal setting. And I agree—an e-book is practical because you can read it on your device and also print it out if you prefer a hard copy. But I didn’t just want to include the actual tips; I also wanted to add a few extra elements to make the e-book more interactive, so anyone reading it can also write in it and use it as a workbook or journal.

I’m pleased to announce that my first e-book of 2018 is available, and it’s called 5 Keys to Self-Discipline to Help You Transform Each Day. It explains tips for building self-discipline that have helped me create a lifestyle in which I can focus on my goals and make a small step towards them every single day. As you practice these tips, you’ll also notice how much self-discipline can transform your life.

Each chapter covers one key to self-discipline. The structure of the chapters is simple to follow.

  • There’s an introduction to describe each key, followed by step-by-step instructions for an easy way to implement and practice the tips in your daily life.
  • I’ve also added a few comments describing my own experiences of incorporating self-discipline into my life, and a few tips on what’s worked best for me.
  • Finally, there’s a guided notes section at the end of each chapter—here’s where you will write down your first impressions of what you’ve just read, your thoughts on why these tips can be beneficial to you in your own life, and your commitment to when and how you’ll implement each tip.

The e-book is available as a PDF (155KB) file.

Find it here.

As always, thanks for all of the excellent feedback you’ve been sending my way. It is much appreciated, and helps me learn something new from your experiences every day!

cheers,

Nela

 

What are the 3 golden words you live by?

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Discipline equals freedom.

Or, I prefer it as a mathematical equation:

Discipline = freedom.

They are my three golden words for many reasons. Having self-discipline is a lifestyle. It’s the ultimate life hack if you are forward-thinking. It’s about making smart choices, day in and day out. It’s about growth. And mastery. And leading a life with more purpose. But if I’d narrow it down to what is most important to me, it’s that it gives me freedom to live my life independently, on my own terms.

I think that the term self-discipline often gets a bad rap. Many people associate it with some type of self-imposed punishment, making it seem uncomfortable, unnecessary, and harsh. Others think it’s a vague concept that can’t have any value in their lives, but is only reserved for military personnel, martial arts masters, and professional athletes. In my opinion, self-discipline is possible for all of us to achieve. It is a choice. You can decide today that you’ll get better at something. You decide you want to create something that has value. You decide to commit to a goal or an idea or that future you that you envision five or ten years down the road. It’s not only possible, it’s doable.

All that you need to do is BEGIN. Begin somewhere, take one tiny step, just do it today. And you’ll notice how much self-discipline can transform your life.

Here are 7 tips that have helped me create my self-disciplined lifestyle, and advice from a few mentors who have guided me along the way.

Tip #1. Get out of your comfort zone in order to succeed.

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford and one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, is an expert whose work I truly admire. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success 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 or aren’t born with but can never change. Succeeding means being perfect every time, achieving results easily and effortlessly, without much preparation or learning anything new. It’s all about staying in the comfort zone and repeating what works, time and time again. But the downside to a fixed way of thinking is never making an effort to step out of the comfort zone and doing something that is tough and challenging. Yet that’s exactly where real success can happen.

How can you implement this?

To nurture a growth mindset, shift your focus from the end result (taking a perfect photograph, making straight A’s in school, reaching the finish line first) to the actual process of becoming successful. A growth mindset person doesn’t think that success is being the best, but instead believes that success is doing their best. You can shift your focus in different ways each day, starting with moving away from your comfort zone (doing everything the same way over and over, using the same tools and processes), and moving towards a zone that’s uncomfortable and new. Maybe you will come up with a better way to improve how you do your work such as breaking down a difficult task in smaller increments, or tackling a tough mental task early in the day when your mind can concentrate better. Or, maybe you’ll start waking up a bit earlier each morning to practice a new fitness habit such as going for a run or a bike ride.

Tip #2. Take full ownership of your mind.

If your days begin with the same pattern of worrying, rushing, and multitasking, you’ll soon find yourself exhausted, distracted, and even anxious. As you go about your day, the situation gets worse because you’re receiving more inputs and your brain is trying to catch up and manage all your cognitive as well as other tasks. Towards evening you’ll over-analyze, worry, stress out, and find it difficult to focus. And it doesn’t stop there—your mind can start filling up with negative thoughts which can make you feel frustration, anger, disappointment, self-doubt, even contemplation of quitting. You know that’s not what your mind should be doing at its optimal level. That’s why you’re better off it you take full ownership over it.

How can you implement this?

Taking ownership of your mind isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s about exercising some mind control. Who do you think controls your mind, if not you? Maybe you didn’t think of it that way before, but that’s how it should and can be. For example, you should take control over what type of thoughts you have and what kind of feelings you allow yourself to experience. Instead of having self-doubt about whether you can take on a tough mental task, use positive phrases to improve the way you talk to yourself, such as I am capable of solving this problem or Maybe I’m not good at it yet, but I can learn how to improve this skill with daily practice. Taking ownership of your mind is critical because you’ll feel like you’re in power and are actively pursuing your goals, instead of feeling like your negative thoughts are taking over your life. If your thoughts seem chaotic, you can start a short 10-minute meditation practice. If you feel you’re binging on TV series, opt for watching science documentaries or reading fiction.

Tip #3. Increase your knowledge by asking questions.

You’ve heard of the saying that knowledge is power, and certainly in many ways that is true. Knowledge is your most powerful tool because it will help you understand the world around you, boost your communication skills with people in your environment, improve your grades in school or your productivity at work, and help you achieve the goals you set for yourself both professionally and personally. Learning expert, leader in optimal brain performance, and brain trainer for many top entrepreneurs Jim Kwik says that if knowledge is power, then learning is your superpower. In other words, knowledge isn’t static. It’s constantly evolving, and that’s why it’s so important to increase it and work on it every day. What really helps in this process? Asking a lot of questions. That’s your biggest learning hack.

How can you implement this?

First, let’s get one major obstacle out of the way. People often feel embarrassed or ashamed they don’t know something in a classroom or work setting. But think of it this way: you’re there for a reason! Not to prove yourself how great you are at something (that’s again the fixed mindset talking), but more importantly you’re there to increase your knowledge, your skill set, and your abilities. There are many ways of asking questions. If you’re learning about a new process at work that is unfamiliar to you, break it down into smaller chunks, then examine each one individually and ask the relevant questions. What are the components, where are the dependencies, what’s the end goal? If you don’t understand the vocabulary a professor is using during lectures, or if your textbook is full of words you’re not familiar with, take out your dictionary and look up each word. Make sure you also ask yourself a few questions as you’re learning. What have I learned from this? What have I created? How much progress have I made, and what will I do next to improve even more?

Tip #4. Make a commitment to crush your weaknesses.

I have my weaknesses and you have yours. Everyone has them, and that’s nothing unusual or even bad. We can’t all be knowledgeable at everything, nor can we possess every skill under the sun. It’s OK. Our weaknesses come in many shapes, so it’s important to know what yours are. For some, their weakness is sugar—they can’t say no to the box of candy a coworker brings to the office. For others, it’s a constant need for attention—they want friends to be around them, praise them, listen to them. And for some people, it’s feeling like a failure whenever they try to solve a complex math equation. Regardless of what your weakness is, know this—you don’t have to accept it. You are not defined by it, nor should you live your life by it. You can change it and in the process you can change yourself.

How can you implement this?

Next time you’re experiencing a weakness, start changing the way you think about it. Ask yourself, Where is the opportunity in this situation? It’s obvious I am missing knowledge or a skill set in order to do this better. What can I learn from this? Maybe there are resources that I’ll find helpful, from another textbook to a YouTube tutorial explaining how something works, or I can ask someone who’s a subject matter expert. Don’t stop there—ask yourself a few tough questions to get you on the right track. Is this weakness something I want to keep in my life? How will it affect me if things stay the same for the next ten years, or maybe forever? How will that make me feel? Do I accept that version of myself? How can I be just a little bit better at this every day?

Tip #5. Understand that fear of stagnation is worse than fear of failure.

Fear of failure is probably one of the top reasons people walk away from a tough mental or physical challenge, a difficult conversation, or a career opportunity that can be a life-changing decision. What’s behind it? Maybe worry that they can’t solve a problem, or have to admit they don’t know what to do, or the feeling of dread if they’re embarrassed or ridiculed. One of my biggest mentors, Jocko Willink (ex-Navy SEAL, entrepreneur, and expert on topics like leadership and mastery) has a great attitude towards this fear. He says, fear is good! You should experience it because that can be the force that will propel you forward. What’s much worse, he says, is being stagnant. Imagine a scenario in which 20 years from now you wake up and realize that you haven’t moved an inch. You haven’t made any progress in anything. Now that’s stagnation. With fear, you can choose to use it constructively and move forward. You can do something about it.

How can you implement this?

Let’s say you just experienced failure in one area of your life: it can be a relationship that hasn’t progressed the way you wanted, or it can be an exam you didn’t pass and now you’re sitting at home feeling resigned and just awful about it. Now is the right time to take a fresh look at what you’re going through so you can understand it better and benefit from it. First, it’s best if you let a little time go by; you want to get the emotional reaction out of the way so it doesn’t mess with your ability to analyze the situation logically. Once you’ve made that pause, go over the situation in your mind, or write your thoughts down in a notebook. Ask yourself, What was I trying to achieve? What got in the way? Were there any missed opportunities, or was there something I could’ve done differently to change the outcome? How much was out of my control, and how much could I have changed with my behavior or attitude? What did I learn from the experience that I’ll never do again, or that I’ll improve?

Tip #6. Let obstacles show you the way to self-improvement.

How often have you told yourself, if only I didn’t run out of time I could’ve finished that term paper? Or, if only I wasn’t invited to the party I wouldn’t have eaten two slices of that chocolate cake and I would’ve stuck to 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. Shouldn’t obstacles serve a different purpose in our life? Instead of using them as an excuse to avoid something or even quit something, it’s more beneficial if we use them to our advantage in some way.

How can you implement this?

In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, Jocko Willink has a power tip for how to deal with obstacles. He suggests that when you reach an obstacle, instead of saying, Oh no! you should embrace it and say, Good! Why position an obstacle in a positive light? It’s such a subtle switch of your mindset, but it can make a huge difference in how you react to a potentially problematic situation. If you’ve failed at an exam, good! Now you’ll have more time to prep and organize your study days more effectively. If you’re trying to multitask and fail at everything, good! Now you’ll have time to regroup, take a break, and prioritize what is most important so you don’t have to do anything halfway. If you didn’t get that job offer you were waiting for, good! Now you’ll be able to revamp your resume and apply for jobs that are an even better fit for your skill set.

Tip #7. Stop making excuses to live the best version of your life.

It’s amazing how much we go through life making excuses for why we cannot do things. We don’t have the time to read books, but we sure make the time to watch TV for three hours straight after dinner. We don’t feel like studying tonight, because we’d much rather go to the movie theater and ignore the exam until it’s well past midnight. We don’t want to apply for a new job because it sounds much more challenging than the one we currently have, so we keep the status quo and drag ourselves to work each day feeling unmotivated. It all sounds illogical, doesn’t it? But excuses, no matter their shape or size, are standing in the way of living our life to the fullest. That’s why it’s time to stop making them.

How can you implement this?

Here’s where you can really experience what self-discipline is all about. It’s time to put a stop to those bad habits and destructive behavior that’s not helpful to you and your future self. It’s time to change the way you talk to yourself and also how you see yourself. Don’t coddle yourself; be tough when it comes to setting daily goals. Don’t count on motivation to get you out of bed; set the alarm and as soon as you hear it, get up. Don’t tell yourself you cannot do something; even if you’re not in the mood, just do it anyway. Don’t dwell on past mistakes; focus on what you’ve learned from the situation and move on, even if it’s making a tiny step forward. And if you don’t see yourself as a self-disciplined person, maybe you’re not one—yetBut that’s about to change.

How do I become the best version of my self?

What an excellent way to start on this path: by asking questions!

The good news is, there is no single best way, or even just one way. Everything is a matter of personal preference, and only by experimenting you’ll be able to see what works best for you.

Here are my 5 tips that can help you think this question through.

Tip #1. Gain a better sense of purpose by setting important goals.

Having a specific and important goal (or three, or five, or ten!) is one of the most critical factors that can help you build a more meaningful future. When you have a goal you’re working towards, everything you do in your day to day life will start feeling like it has a greater sense of purpose. Why? Because you won’t see your actions as isolated ones—everything you do will start to add up to something much bigger.

How does this work?

  • Identify specific goals. Don’t make your goals vague or abstract. Non-specific goals can be anything of the following: I want to get a job, or move out of my parents’ house, or get fit, lose weight, or have a large salary. Instead, make your goal as specific as possible. For example, if you’re starting a job search, write down that you want to get a job offer for a [insert job titleyou want] that pays an annual salary of [insert amount you believe is fairgiven your skills and experience] so that you can develop [insert current skillsand new skills you’re working on].
  • Make every day count. Who can be motivated to do anything if they don’t believe it matters in the grand scheme of things? To make a connection between what you are doing each day with your future self, try this simple mind hack. Start each day with this question: What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? Asking it forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do so you don’t feel overwhelmed and can focus better on what’s most important to you.
  • Hold yourself accountable. This means you start being responsible for your actions. A good way to improve self-responsibility is by building commitments to yourself. Commitments aren’t just promises you make to other people—you can make them to yourself. How? Define a very specific goal you want to achieve in a certain time frame. For example, I am committed to focusing on my studies in the next 30 days so I can pass all three of my exams with top marks. Or, I am committed to building my physical endurance by running 4 times a week for 3 months so that I can run a 5K race.

Tip #2. Identify and develop your core skill set.

There are certain skills you believe you’ve had since childhood, and those you might be comfortable with. But there are additional skills you’ve identified as important, and maybe you already started working on them or would like to get better at them in the future. Either way, you probably already realized that the best version of yourself is knowledgeable in a certain field of expertise, or maybe can even become a master in that area. That is why it’s critical to identify and develop the core skill set that will help you get there.

How does this work?

  • Identify the skills necessary for you to succeed in your current job or dream career. Don’t rush through this—take a few hours to think it through. First brainstorm and then write down a list of all the skills you think you need. And don’t only think about building hard skills, but soft skills too.
  • Create a skill-building plan. You don’t need me to tell you that building new skills will take time. And that’s OK. The biggest masters in their respective fields, from Einstein to Picasso, worked on their skills every single day of their lives. Where can you begin? Start with skills you think will be most valuable to you—pick the top two or three—then create a plan to devote a certain amount of time each day to them, even if that means only 15 minutes in the beginning.
  • Practice each skill consistently. It’s one thing to create a plan, and another to put that plan into action. Here’s where the action part comes in. Did you hear of the 10,000 hour rule? Many people swear by it, and others think it’s not a big deal. In either case, don’t just be focused on the number of hours—it’s not just the quantity of time you put into skill building, but also what you do during that time. Are you doing deep work—focusing without interruptions? Are you concentrating on repetition and improving? What are you learning from your mistakes? Those are the questions to keep top of mind as you are practicing your skills.

Tip #3. Make new habits stick by keeping them simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Does that sound intimidating to you? If it does, it’s only because you feel like you “should” be doing something difficult when you’d rather be relaxing or doing something that’s easy. But if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you’re reading this because you feel it’s time to make some kind of change in your life: you want to turn over a new leaf in the new year and start working out, or stop eating out so much, or get more sleep, or find more time to spend with family, or watch less TV.

How does this work?

  • Start with tiny steps. Tiny means really tiny. Super small, bite-sized activities that are doable and accessible to everyone. For example, if you’re building your writing skills, start by writing a paragraph or two each day. Or, if you’re learning a new language, start by learning how to introduce yourself in a sentence or two.
  • Make it tough to say no to your new habit. If it takes a long time to start something new, chances are you’ll give up quickly, maybe even after a week of trying. That’s why it’s important to keep a new habit as simple to do as possible. For example, do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes this month, instead of giving up on working out just because your gym is a 30-minute bus ride away.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare ahead of time. You’ll have a much better chance at doing anything successfully if you prep what you need ahead of time. If you feel overwhelmed and exhausted by studying, start going to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual to give yourself time to de-stress and relax with a good book or soothing music. If you are tired of making unhealthy choices for lunch every day, prep and pack your meal the night before so you don’t have to grab a burger at a fast food place when you’re starving.

Tip #4. Say “thank you” for everything you have in your life right now.

Practicing gratitude isn’t about repeating abstract words or phrases that you learn by heart but that you do not understand. If done correctly, it’s a total game changer! Practicing gratitude trains your brain to focus on positive things and makes you think of what you already have in your life, as opposed to what you do not. Being grateful will also keep you grounded in your personal life so you are less focused or even obsessed with what others are doing with theirs—whether that pertains to your friends, classmates, people you follow on Instagram, or even coworkers.

How does this work?

  • Do your gratitude practice early. Take a few minutes when you wake up and before you start getting ready for work or school. You might want to write your thoughts down in a journal, or you may prefer to think about them silently, or maybe you’ll prefer to say your thoughts out loud. It’s up to you.
  • Start small. Focus only on 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be having a warm bed to sleep in; a roof over your head; a family member or friend who you trust and who encourages you to become the best version of yourself; food in your fridge; the opportunity to focus on your education so that you can take charge of your life and become independent.
  • Be as specific as possible. 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, generous, intelligent, helpful in giving advice, or incredibly funny). If it’s having your own space, point out why this is important to you (you have your own room or apartment where you can prepare your own meals, relax at the end of the day, and do whatever you believe is important to your personal growth).

Tip #5. Start nurturing a strong belief in yourself.

Let’s be honest. It’s great to hear someone close to us say, I believe in you! And although it’s wonderful to hear those words come from someone else, it is not the most important or even the most necessary as you strive to become the best version of yourself. What’s much more important is for you to believe in yourself. Sounds pretty straightforward. But this is tougher than most other things you’re trying to achieve. Why? Because, like it or not, we are usually our biggest critic in the whole world. However, it does not and should not be that way. What helps is to make a shift in your mindset, even just a little bit, each day.

How does this work?

  • Work consistently on developing a growth mindset. In a nutshell, a growth mindset means you stretch yourself to learn something new every day, you challenge yourself to solve tough problems, and you work consistently until you improve. Instead of telling yourself what you “can” or “cannot” do, given your talents or gifts (all of which is a fixed mindset way of thinking), start expanding your horizons by saying, What if I tried getting better at this every day, in small steps?
  • Grow your critical thinking muscle. As you’re observing the world around you, it’s important not take everything you see and hear for granted, but rather learn how to think on your own. Start by asking questions—not just those that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’—but rather open-ended questions that begin with why and how. Distill from the information you gather what is important to you (based on your own personal goals, values, and priorities). When offered advice, ask yourself, does it align with my personal values? How would I benefit from following this advice, or is it not useful to me?
  • Turn obstacles into opportunities. Problems, setbacks, and challenges are a part of everyone’s life; they’re not just standing in your way. One common reaction that makes a situation much worse than necessary is getting emotional. We run into an obstacle and we get frustrated or angry or sad or we feel helpless. As a result, we might give up on something that is really important to us and that will likely give us positive results in the long run. What can you do differently? Instead of getting emotional, work through the challenge so that you can get stronger mentally. Write down the problem and its source. Consider all alternatives. Weigh out the pros and cons of each. Then make a decision. And always move forward. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” Your attitude towards yourself and your abilities will ultimately impact your path to becoming the best version of yourself. That’s why it is so important you make it a positive one.

How can I push myself to have more discipline?

I’d like to start with one small suggestion:

Instead of asking how to push yourself to have more discipline, it’s more beneficial to ask what tips will help you make an easier transition into a more disciplined life.

Pushing yourself doesn’t sound positive or appealing. In fact, it sounds forceful and more of an obligation—which means you’re less likely to keep it in your life. But if you think of making a change that benefits you in some way, that’s putting a more positive spin on things. Much better, right? Remember, it’s all about making a shift in your mindset so you can improve the quality of your life.

So what tips can help?

Here are 7 tips that have made a significant improvement in my lifestyle.

Tip #1. Use your willpower early in the day.

It’s pretty common that when we wake up in the morning, we’re overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we tend to procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the day. Big mistake. Why? Because we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day.

  • How can you apply this? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. This means do them in the morning, and think of using up the time all until lunch. For example, complete that task that you’ve been putting off all week. Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. Read through the last few chapters of your textbook and make detailed notes that will make studying much easier. Finish up homework you’ve been putting off because you’d rather do something more fun, like check your Instagram. You’ll be glad that you did all those things before the evening rolls around and you’d rather unwind and chill.

Tip #2. Make a new habit stick by keeping it simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Does it sound intimidating? That’s because you positioned it that way: you feel like you “should” be doing something difficult when you’d rather be relaxing. If you are reading this, you may feel that it’s time to make some kind of change in your life: start working out, stop eating out so much, get more sleep, find more time to spend with family, watch TV less.

  • How can you apply this? To simplify a change you’re trying to make, start with tiny steps. Tiny means really tiny. Super small, bite-sized activities that are doable and accessible to everyone. For example, if you’re building up your writing skills, start by writing a paragraph or two each day. Do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes this month before you buy that gym membership. Start going to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual to give yourself time to de-stress and relax with a good book or soothing music. Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t have to eat unhealthy meals while you’re at work or school.

Tip #3. Exercise your “NO!” muscle.

If you’ve ever found yourself running out of time to do what you need or would like to have time for, that means you’re wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. This could apply to distractions of any kind, spending hours on insignificant activities or pointless conversations, or indulging in passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV all night.

  • How can you apply this? Exercising your “no!” muscle means literally saying no in a variety of situations in your daily life. If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, don’t eat a double portion for the next three days just because you can. If you’re in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend calls to ask if you want to go party, don’t just drop everything you’re doing and go. It’s important to know your priorities—and it’s even important to be in tune with them. Be aware of what is relevant to your life and why you’re working on something. Then you will be less likely to ignore the things that are beneficial to your personal and professional growth.

Tip #4. Declare a personal war on distractions.

It’s next to impossible to focus on getting any work done if we allow our attention to move on to little things around us. Everything sounds tempting. You see a few new emails in your inbox—what if one is urgent? There are those colorful and fun new Instagram posts you’d like to check out as soon as you wake up. And then there are the news waiting for you to browse on Twitter. Who can resist? You need to learn how to do this. The benefits are huge—when you turn off your distractions, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that are important to you, and you’ll be able to say that you wisely invested your time.

  • How can you apply this? First, turn off the digital distractions when you need to do your most challenging cognitive tasks (studying, problem-solving, or writing). Set your phone to Airplane mode. Turn off all notifications. Check your email and social media apps 2–3 times a day. Close all tabs in your browser on the computer to create a clean, distraction-free working zone. Then move on to the social distractions. Let everyone around you know you’re not to be disturbed for a few hours so they don’t interrupt you all the time. Finally, if you’re in a noisy environment, put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music that helps you focus, or wear soft silicone ear plugs if you want to work in silence.

Tip #5. Be prepared for resistance.

It’s very rare for things to run smoothly just like we’d ideally want them to. Reality is quite the opposite: when we start working on something, sooner or later we will face an obstacle that we’ll have to overcome in order to move ahead. What works best for you in these situations? It’s a good idea to plan ahead for those situations when you’re lazy, tired, or in a bad mood and nothing seems to be working.

  • How can you apply this? First, tell yourself that whatever it is you’re feeling or experiencing in a particular situation, it is an emotional reaction and it will pass. Second, resist the urge to give up doing something that you know is good for you. Just because it feels uncomfortable now doesn’t mean it won’t have a positive impact on your life. And third, make a plan A and a plan B (and even a plan C!) in case things go wrong and you need to take more time, pick another route, or contemplate an alternative solution to the problem you are trying to solve.

Tip #6. Believe in yourself.

Regardless of whether you’re a student, a parent, or working on your career, what’s most important is not just what you’re dealing with today. It’s more about the big picture of your life and what you believe you can start doing today to become the best version of yourself down the road. Instead of letting situations and external factors dictate how you will act, you’re better off taking charge of your life by first instilling a healthy dose of believing in yourself.

  • How can you apply this? First, develop a growth mindset by dismissing either your own limiting messages or the words of others dictate what you “should” excel at and what you “should” give up; chances are, you’ve been conditioned to think in this way from an early age. Second, grow your critical thinking muscle by not taking everything you see and hear for granted, and instead learning how to think on your own. And finally, turn obstacles into opportunities: instead of getting emotional when you experience a setback, work through the challenge so that you can get stronger mentally and learn to rely on yourself. When you get to that stage, you will feel much more empowered and ready to tackle whatever life throws your way.

Tip #7. Imagine what leading a self-disciplined life will afford you.

All of these ways in which you can practice self-discipline have the potential to impact your life not just in the immediate future, but also in the long term. It’s important that you make the connection between what changes you create in your life right now with the version of yourself you see in the future. That’s an excellent way to make a new habit stick. Ultimately, you need to be consistent in your efforts and to believe that you can improve your life.

  • How can you apply this? Start thinking about the big picture of your life. Although practicing self-discipline may feel like you’re sacrificing some things right now (time out with friends or indulging in a delicious dessert), think about what being disciplined can afford you. Write down a list of ways in which you are now practicing new habits that can add up to bigger results a year from now. And don’t forget the past—trust your judgment when it comes to decisions you made on how to spend your time and efforts. When you trust and believe in yourself, self-discipline will become a tool and a skill you can apply to every area of your life: your education, your career, your relationships, your passions and interests. Ultimately, it can make the difference between just leading a life, and leading the best version of your life.