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

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Welcome to Nela’s blog!

I am a growth mindset hacker, writer, and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. My blog is a collection of ideas on how to implement small habits that can help you build a smarter life so that you can learn something new, be more productive, work smarter instead of harder, and maximize each day. Each blog post is a response to an answer posted on the Q&A website Quora. I write on a variety of topics including building self-discipline, developing a growth mindset, strengthening motivation and willpower, goal setting, focus and concentration, deep work, mastery, productivity tips and hacks, morning routines, and positive psychology.

Where can you find my published work? 

You can follow my work on Quora, where I’ve been a Top Writer for the past 3 years. With answers that have reached 19 million views, I contribute to a community of 300 million monthly users, where I have over 40K followers. My articles have been published on Inc., Time, Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Slate, and Apple News, and translated into over a dozen languages including French, Swedish, German, Spanish, Italian, Slovak, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Brazilian-Portuguese, Finnish, and Greek.

I am the author of two e-books:

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

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

What’s new in 2019?

To start the year in the right direction, I’ve created a printable PDF of the “one thing” question, so you can easily build this keystone habit. If you’ve been following me on Quora, Twitter, or my blog, you know it’s how I start each day to boost my focus, concentration, and motivation. You can get the PDF here.

I am also super excited to announce that I’m developing a course on attitudes and mindsets, and how we can use a growth mindset as a supertool to overcome personal challenges and achieve goals we set for ourselves. Check this page in the coming weeks on how the materials can help you in the New Year!

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How do you develop mental toughness?

 

This is one of my keystone habits (and goals!), so I’d like to think it makes me qualified to tell you a few things about it.

How do you develop mental toughness?

You do it every day.

You are committed to making it a priority — not just that, but also making it a survival strategy.

You understand that there are no shortcuts and that you have to work on it yourself.

What does all this look like in real, day-to-day life?

If I were to summarize my experience into a few essential tips, they would look something like this.

Toughness tip #1. You welcome obstacles into your life.

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 three slices of pizza and gone off my diet? In those moments when you’re trying to rationalize your decisions and actions, you’re blaming the obstacles for not achieving your short or long-term goals. Or, to put it differently, you’re giving them top priority and more importance than anything you can do or change with your behavior. But what if obstacles were to serve a different purpose in our life? Instead of using them as an excuse to avoid something or even to quit something, it’s more beneficial if we use them to our advantage.

How can you do this?

In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, retired US Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink has a power tip for how to deal with obstacles — 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 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, good! Now you’ll be able to revamp your resume and apply for jobs that are an even better fit for your skill set.

Toughness tip #2. You practice a growth mindset.

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. My take on it? This book completely changed the way I see myself and what I am capable of achieving! 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 about staying in the comfort zone and repeating what works. The downside to a fixed way of thinking is never stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something that is tough and challenging. Yet that’s where real success happens.

How can you do this?

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

Toughness tip #3. You avoid toxic people at all costs.

This tip is probably the most challenging one for most of us. Sometimes those who are closest to us can be extremely negative, repeating how work is impossible, complaining about their lot in life (or suggesting you should see yours the same way), or just focusing on what’s preventing them from being happy. These people can be your friends, family members, even your partner or best friend. They may claim to know what’s best for you, that they care about happens to you, and that’s why their advice is to be careful, not to try anything new, not to move forward. That’s when things can veer off into seeing the world full of impossibilities, instead of possibilities. However, there are ways to deal with their toxicity.

How can you do this?

So maybe you don’t have a choice if a professor at university is pessimistic. Work and school don’t give us many opportunities to select who we interact with. However, you can make up for it by being very selective who you spend all of your free time with. If a toxic friend wants to monopolize your evening after school for example, just say no. Tell them you’re busy. Don’t engage in gossip, awfulizing scenarios, and negative banter over the phone. You’re better off spending your free time doing something important for your personal development or having a few hours to yourself to relax and have a good time.

Toughness tip #4. You practice saying NO often.

If you often find yourself running out of time to do what you need or would like to have time for, that means you’re saying yes to too many things, and ultimately wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. What are some typical real-life examples? Giving in to distractions of any kind, such as spending hours on insignificant activities, pointless conversations, answering every phone call, or indulging in passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV for hours. When you say no to distractions, you make a positive change that will impact your daily life and improve the quality of your overall life.

How can you do 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 indulge and 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 you out, don’t drop everything because you want to please them. Know your priorities — and stay in tune with them. Be aware of what is relevant to your life and why you’re working on something. If you think of it this way, you will be less likely to ignore the things that are beneficial to your personal and professional growth.

Toughness tip #5. You 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 do this?

Here’s where you can really experience what mental toughness is all about. It’s time to put a stop to destructive behavior and bad habits that are 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 disciplined person, maybe you’re not one — yet.

… And a final tip on developing mental toughness: 

If you find the concept of mental toughness a difficult one to embrace, I recommend reading Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. If you wonder whether it’s possible to build endurance and optimism in life when you are struggling with a negative environment or a challenging situation, this book can be a game changer for you. Based on the psychology of survival, it’s a real-life story told by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who found the strength to live in circumstances where most people would simply give up. Be warned though — it’s not an easy read. However, it’s an important book as you’re thinking about ways to become mentally tougher and stronger to win at this game we like to call life.

What is a simple daily habit that I can make to improve myself?

 

Here are 7 habits I’ve practiced over the past several years.

My favorite? #2. It sharpens your focus in seconds!

Daily habit #1. Feed your brain with a nutritious breakfast.

When you feed your brain right, you can optimize your cognitive performance, boost memory, and increase concentration in everything you do during the day. Try a simple oatmeal breakfast. Mix one cup with 1 tablespoon flaxseeds (an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid which is a healthy fat that boosts cerebral cortex function), 1 teaspoon peanut butter, a sliced banana or other fresh fruit such as berries, papaya, and mango. Sprinkle some walnuts or almonds on top for more brain-boosting benefits.

Daily habit #2. Improve your focus each morning with one question: What is the ONE thing I am committed to learning today?

This habit keeps things simple, helps your brain focus better, makes you prioritize your goals, and streamlines your work so you don’t feel overwhelmed by a thousand things you “have” to do. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud and come up with an answer on the spot as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Then, keep it top of mind as you go about your day, as a reminder of what you’ve committed to do.

Daily habit #3. Do “deep work” early.

Deep work can be any kind of analytical thinking that requires the most concentration such as reading, writing, analyzing or problem solving. It requires a different kind of focus from other more tactical things we do on a regular basis, from washing dishes to setting our alarm clock in the evening before going to sleep. Dedicate the first 2-4 hours after you wake up to maximize your brain’s peak performance time. If for example you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m.

Daily habit #4. Do a short 20–30 minute cardio workout.

Being physically active improves both your physical and mental well-being, plus you get the boost of endorphins (happy hormones) when you break a sweat. But instead of aiming too high (“I have to spend two hours at the gym!”), start with a super simple workout session, either in the morning before you start your daily commute or when you’re done with work or school. Pick a shorter activity that requires your body to move, such as a 15 minute bootcamp session, a set of lunges and squats, a power walk, bike ride, or quick run through the neighborhood. Looking for a challenge? Try building this 30-day plank pose habit!

Daily habit #5. Calm your busy thoughts with meditation.

If you find yourself often feeling overwhelmed and stressed, you can quiet your mind from all those busy thoughts with a simple 10-minute meditation practice. Download the Headspace app, which makes it super simple for beginners. Practice 10 minutes consistently for 10 days. Experiment to find out which time works better for you, mornings after you wake up or right before going to sleep. After that you can opt to increase the time to 15 and later 20 minutes, or you can keep it to 10 if that amount of time works for you.

Daily habit #6. Create your fiction book-reading ritual.

If you haven’t given reading fiction a try, here are some benefits for you to consider. Did you know that reading fiction improves brain function and boosts connectivity in the brain? It’s not my personal opinion — science backs it up. Neuroscientists from Emory University published a study called Short and Long Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain explaining the benefits in detail. To make reading a daily practice, get a library membership, download the Goodreads app to help you find topics and writers, and read up on Quora’s novel recommendations to get started on your reading journey.

Daily habit #7. Practice a growth mindset.

If you think that a mindset is something you’re just born with, think again. Unlike having a fixed mindset (where you believe you’re born with a set of skills and abilities that are in your “nature”), cultivating a growth mindset means you push yourself outside your comfort zone, challenge beliefs on what you can and cannot (or “should not”) do, and re-program your mind so you can develop your core qualities and skills through continuous efforts. Read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success to go in depth with how this important concept can change the way you see the world and your role in it.

How can I practice stoicism?

 

What a good question!

It shows that you understand that stoicism is not an abstract concept you read about in philosophy and history books.

Stoicism is a way of life that you can develop and practice every day to help you navigate more easily through all the little and big surprises life has in store for you.

Here is a checklist of 7 ways in which you can incorporate stoicism into your daily life.

#1. Embrace discomfort.

Being stoic doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with material things or other people so that you feel comfortable all the time and expect this state of comfort will make you happy. Instead, it means taking life in stride and making peace with discomfort. Why is this important? Because having something today can mean you take it for granted and expect it to last forever. But what if it doesn’t last? If you learn how to rely on yourself, then when tough times come around you’re better prepared to deal with them. How do you learn to rely on yourself? Try to solve problems by yourself first even if that means making mistakes, before you give up or turn to someone else to help you fix the situation.

#2. Learn to calm your monkey mind.

On any given day, you probably have thousands of thoughts bouncing around in your mind and let’s face it, a lot of them are not exactly sunny and happy ones. They can also be negative, self-critical, dismissive, they can focus on past failures or tap into your insecurities. The good news is this: even though you may think it, you are not your thoughts. You are much bigger than your thoughts! And there are ways to effectively manage your thoughts and not let them rule your life, your day, and every waking hour. You can start with a 10-minute meditation to calm your thoughts. And if your monkey mind doesn’t let you fall asleep easily, try listening to a sleepcast.

#3. Take advantage of your unique strengths.

The Stoics didn’t believe in having to change ourselves completely in order to lead a high quality of life. They believed that we should take advantage of our unique strengths and abilities. You can practice this in two ways. First, take an honest look at yourself — who you are, what you are doing, where you are going with your life. Are you overestimating your abilities or are you being objective and realistic about what you can do and how you can reach your goals? And second, think of ways in which you can take advantage of what you have going for you — your personality, your preferences, the things you’re good at, the skills you possess and take pride in. Then focus on doing exactly that and on developing your strengths, instead of worrying about potential weaknesses or the things you don’t already possess.

#4. Do hard work first before you do anything for pleasure.

Our daily habits tend to play out something like this. On any given day, we give in to the urge to start our morning by checking email and social media apps on our phone and sending messages back and forth with our friends. Is that the best way to start your day? Mornings are the ideal time of day to get the hardest work out of the way. Try maximizing each morning by building a habit of doing your hard work early. It will help you deal with the feelings of procrastination whenever you have to study for an exam or finish up a project for work. Even better: it will improve your focus and concentration so that your brain can do its brilliant work more efficiently and effectively than at any other time of day.

#5. Learn to practice self-discipline.

This is probably the top habit to embrace if you want to practice stoicism! Why? Because putting off activities that make you feel great and give you pleasure does have its advantages. When you give yourself a good dose of self-discipline, you do something difficult first in order to reward yourself later. There’s even science to back this up: Stanford University’s Marshmallow experiment shows how delayed gratification can increase your chances at succeeding in many areas of your life. You can practice this too. For example, if you want to watch a movie or go out with friends, leave it for the evening after you have completed what you planned to work on during the day. A word of advice — if you don’t finish your task earlier, don’t plan to do it at midnight. That’s just not wise.

#6. Don’t waste time on pointless activities.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca devotes a section of his book On the Shortness of Life to this problem. Yes, this was an issue for many people even back then! Seneca describes gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things, and trying to impress others. That’s not at all different from our own world focused on social media like Facebook and Instagram where many people are busy creating a superficial image of their so-called glamorous lifestyles. There are ways to use your time more wisely. For example, always focus on a specific goal you are striving towards. Don’t just keep it on an abstract level; actually create a plan to reach it. And don’t let random situations, chance, or other people’s behavior dictate how you lead your life. Seneca says thatnothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.

#7. Instead of complaining about obstacles, get proactive about them.

When we reach an obstacle, we tend to immediately stop what we’re doing and start reacting — we get emotional, we complain. It’s not fair! This is impossible to fix! But complaining won’t change a thing. What will make a difference is getting proactive. How do you start? First, always anticipate obstacles to show up on the path through life. If you prepare yourself psychologically for them, they won’t feel so devastating when they happen. Second, use the opportunity to step back for a bit, learn something new, think it through, and try a different solution that can yield better results for you. And third, take advantage of the tough times to achieve mastery in one area so that you can become an expert at it. By eliminating the obstacle, you’re in a position to move forward faster, better, and in line with stoic principles. Because what’s the point of talking about philosophy if you can’t make it work for you?

What do you do when you study for hours and still don’t do well?

 

You change your strategy!

How?

Forget about quantity — don’t isolate yourself in a room and study 8, 10, or 12 hours every single day.

Instead, focus on quality — maximize each day by helping your brain absorb study material more effectively.

I still remember the way I studied during the month of exams when I was getting my undergraduate degree. Spending all day at my desk memorizing and re-reading my textbooks felt like torture! In retrospect, I realized how unnecessarily miserable it made me feel. That’s why I feel compelled to provide a better solution to students like you who find themselves in similar situations.

So what does it mean to change your studying strategy by focusing on quality instead of quantity?

Study tip #1. SIMPLIFY: Commit to reaching one study goal a day.

The best way to get your mind focused on what’s important to successfully pass your exams is to start the day with a question, “What is the ONE thing I am committed to completing today?”

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

Study tip #2. PRIORITIZE: Do the most challenging cognitive task first.

Timing is everything! Doing complex cognitive tasks first means taking advantage of your circadian rhythm — your biological clock that dictates which activities you’re more likely to do best at certain times of the day.

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

Study tip #3. TIME IT: Use a timer to divide your day into short study periods.

For most efficient studying, you don’t need to be sitting at your desk for hours. Use a timer to better manage your study session. That way you allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. Here are some examples.

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

Study tip #4. IGNORE: Eliminate distractions that stand in your way.

If you’ve ever found yourself checking Facebook for a few minutes and then you realized that two hours flew by, you know what distractions can do to your day. No wonder you feel overwhelmed! After all, you don’t have a lot of time left to review or study. Here’s what can help.

  • Check email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day. For example, you can catch up around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and in the evening.
  • Set your phone to Airplane mode. You can also turn off the volume and put the phone away for a few hours so it’s not within easy reach.
  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news. Leave these activities for later after you’ve completed all the tasks you need to cover.
  • Set expectations with other people. Humans can distract us too. Let your friends and family members know you won’t be available in the next few hours. You can catch up and chat over lunch or in the afternoon.

Study tip #5. TAKE NOTES: Write stuff down.

Don’t just sit and read the textbook passively. Taking notes as you’re reading improves your brain’s cognitive skills, makes retention of information easier, and boosts memory.

  • Write down what’s relevant. This includes key concepts, ideas, and topics. Don’t waste time writing every single word from a lecture. Instead, boost your critical thinking skills by identifying what is relevant to the topic. Don’t know what’s the best way? Try the Cornell Method.
  • Write in a list format. This saves time, enables you to skim the material when you need it, helps you locate information faster, and makes the review process easier.
  • Organize with color. Get notes more organized with multi-colored pens, markers, or highlighters to emphasize the most important sections. Use one specific color to highlight top priority concepts, then pick other colors to identify second level priority items such as examples and additional information. That way, all your notes will have a colorful structure which will be helpful as you’re reviewing for your exams.

What are 5 habits that can strengthen willpower?

 

These are my top 5 willpower-strengthening habits.

Willpower habit #1. Make the most of your mornings.

For most adults, it’s common to wake up in the morning and feel overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do on any given day. As a result, we procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the afternoon. The problem with this approach is that we deplete our willpower reserves the more we let our day go by.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. This means do them in the morning, and keep working on them until you take a lunch break. For example, I don’t put off tasks if I know they’ll accumulate within 24 hours. I try to write up a plan for the work week ahead of time, usually in checklist format. If I’m reading through some important material, I immediately take notes while my brain is still focused on what’s in front of me. That way I won’t forget the top-level information that I might need to use later.

Willpower habit #2. Practice baby steps.

Every positive habit we want to acquire needs a good dose of self-discipline, a bit of time, and a lot of repetition. But once you frame it that way, it may seem intimidating. Who has all that time? Who is disciplined enough? We won’t necessarily feel we have all it takes to build a good habit. But the trick is in simplifying a new habit to the point that it’s impossible to come up with excuses not to practice it.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? To simplify a change you want to make, start with baby steps. Baby steps are exactly that — really small, short, and quick activities that anyone can do. For example, if I feel stuck starting a writing assignment, I’ll warm up my brain and my fingertips by typing a short paragraph of 2–3 sentences on that topic. If I am too tired to go to the gym, I’ll tell myself that I’ll just work out for 15–20 minutes, not more. If I feel like I’m not getting enough sleep, I’ll set a bedtime alarm to notify me it’s time to get ready, and I’ll move my bedtime up by 15 minutes.

Willpower habit #3. Say“NO!” often.

If you often feel like you’re running out of time to do what you need to do (and that’s probably all of us!), chances are it means you’re not using your resources in the most optimal way. The biggest and most valuable resource we possess is time. That’s why it’s dangerous to allow distractions of any kind take over, and use up, our most value resource. This can apply to spending hours on pointless conversations, watching TV for hours, or just sitting around waiting to be entertained by someone or something else.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? 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, I won’t eat a double portion for two days in a row just because it’s there. If I’m in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend wants to hang out, I don’t just drop everything and go — but I ask if we can reschedule the meeting. I believe it’s super important to know your priorities and always be aware of why you’re doing something to begin with — because it’s usually tied to a personal goal you set in the past.

Willpower habit #4. Declare 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. New emails in your inbox—what if one is urgent? New Instagram posts you’d like to check as soon as you wake up. Or the news waiting for you to read on Twitter. Who can resist? I believe it’s important to learn how to tackle distractions head on. The benefits are huge — when you turn off distractions, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that matter.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? First, turn off the digital distractions when you need to do your most challenging cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, or writing. I often set my phone to Airplane mode and also turn off all notifications. I check email and social media apps 2–3 times instead of 20–30 times a day. If I don’t want to be disturbed while in the middle of trying to solve a problem, I let people around me know I’ll be busy for a few hours so they don’t interrupt. Finally, I put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music that helps me focus.

Willpower habit #5. Create a plan B.

It’s very rare for things to run smoothly just because we want them to. Real life is quite the opposite — we start working on something, and sooner or later there’s an obstacle or a delay in schedule. What works best in these situations? I found that having a plan B in place gives me peace of mind for those moments when the day turns stressful, or I’m just tired and can’t keep my eyes open to finish reading the research material I’ve planned to complete.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? If you’re stressed or overwhelmed about never-ending tasks, be aware that this is an emotional reaction and it will not last. I try to keep my emotions in check so they don’t rule my day (the key is to keep trying). Next, resist the urge to give up doing something that you know is good for you. Just because I don’t feel like going to the gym today doesn’t mean the exercise ritual won’t have a positive impact on my life. Finally, make a plan B. If something takes longer than expected, I’ll remove one of two unimportant items on my schedule to free up more time for a task that’s top priority for me.

What are psychology tricks to make us more disciplined?

 

I have to share with you.

Tip #1. Kick-start your focus.

The way you start the day — any day — is going to set the tone to whatever you do, try to do, want to do, and then actually do. You can choose to be reactive, which can mean you wake up, get your phone, and start checking emails, Twitter, or Instagram. You might watch the news and get caught up in world events, none of which you can control. Or, you might answer calls or respond to text messages that your friends start sending you during breakfast. If you’d like to create a different beginning to your day, get proactive by training your brain to be focused as soon as you wake up.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start your day with this question: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today? This technique trains your brain to focus on which goals are important to you right now, and it forces you to prioritize the goal you believe to be the most relevant in this moment. How do you start? 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 ready for work or school. 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. Dive into deep work.

You can say a lot of things to describe a self-disciplined life, but being spontaneous in how you go about your day isn’t going to be one of them. There’s time for spontaneity, and then there’s time to do what you need to do. In other words, timing — just like in most other aspects of your life—is everything. Being self-disciplined means you do deep work (concentrating on complex cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, writing) first before you do anything for pleasure. It means you are aware of which times of day should be devoted to doing it, and which times can be allotted to entertainment and socializing.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Make the most of your mornings by building a habit of doing your deep work early. This means taking full advantage of your circadian rhythm (your body’s biological clock), which is your natural rhythm that “knows” what are the optimal times for you to perform certain tasks. For most people, the early morning hours are optimal for deep work. Specifically, the brain’s peak performance is 2-4 hours after we wake up. So if you wake up at 6, then your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Working early allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, and less inputs from your environment.

Tip #3. Postpone what gives you pleasure.

If doing deep work early helps you focus better and get those responsibilities out of the way, what you’re also doing is postponing things that are more pleasurable. What’s the point of doing something difficult first in order to reward yourself later? You’d be surprised how far-reaching this practice can be. In a study performed by Stanford University scientists, results showed that delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life — your education, career, short and long term goals, even your personal life choices. This study is now famous and is called the Marshmallow experiment.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start by observing the things you’d like to indulge in whenever the opportunity presents itself — for example, seeing a slice of gorgeous double-chocolate cake at your local pastry shop. Then, resist the temptation to immediately choose to treat yourself by thinking of one reason why not to indulge: maybe you’re focused on your new fitness goals or better eating habits. And follow up — take your attention away from the distractions and focus on your priorities for the day: complete your homework, go to the gym, listen to a podcast on a topic that fascinates you, or prepare dinner early so you have time to watch a movie with friends later in the evening.

Tip #4. Don’t let social media run your life.

Leading a self-disciplined life means you learn how to say no to many different things: no to giving in to temptations to indulge in pleasant activities, no to your desire to procrastinate on daily priorities, no to distractions that take over your day. They may seem harmless to begin with, but distractions can easily make you slip from your work. One minute you’re just catching up with an old friend on WhatsApp, and the next thing you know it’s two hours later and you haven’t picked up your notes to start prepping for your exam. But when you turn off what distracts you, you have a better chance to actually get stuff done.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Be aware that distractions come from different sources, not just your electronic devices. Your goal, if you’re going to lead self-disciplined life, is to dial down all types of distractions so they’re not in your way. First, set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus on your work — try it for a 2-hour period to begin. Next, let people around you (family members, friends, or roommates) know you won’t be available in the next few hours. Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day; start around lunchtime and then check later in the afternoon. Avoid browsing the Internet or reading news throughout the day; close all tabs in your browser to avoid any temptations to just check that one thing on Google.

Tip #5. Make discipline your best friend.

Like with all other areas in your life, self-discipline is for the most part all about attitude. What’s your understanding of self-discipline? Does it sound like a practice that is uncomfortable, unusual, harsh or maybe extreme? If it does, maybe it’s time to take a second look because 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 feels uncomfortable to do. It’s all about what it can afford me. With daily practice, self-discipline trains my brain to prioritize the things I can control, allows me to let go of what I cannot, and frees me up to focus on my personal goals.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Instead of living your life day by day, start thinking about your future and what you want to accomplish in 5, 10, even 20 years. Even if 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 leading a self-disciplined life will afford you. Write down a list of new habits you’re practicing (or want to start practicing) that can add up to bigger results a year from now. Create time in your calendar to practice them — even a 30-minute session is enough to begin. When you understand the benefits of leading a self-disciplined life, you are more likely to nurture it. It will become a lifestyle that will take you into the future you want for yourself. The best part? You can start on that path today.

 

How does one stop having a generally negative attitude?

 

This is a really important question!

There are numerous reasons for having a negative attitude.

It could start with our environment. The negativity could be coming from people around us (family, friends, the neighborhood, our classmates, our partners) complaining about something. It could be the noise from the neighbors upstairs, the unemployment rate, a bad grade in school, a comment about our work performance from the boss, or maybe even the lousy weather this afternoon.

Or the negativity could be coming from us. We fail an exam, we don’t get a call back after a job interview, we break up with a partner, or we’re simply exhausted from our work or school responsibilities. And then our inner critic takes over. We start telling ourselves, You can’t even do one simple thing right. You’re incapable! You shouldn’t expect things to go right for you. You don’t deserve anything good!

Does that sound familiar?

That inner critic is the one you need to watch our for. Why? Because it forces you to look at reality through a negative lens so instead of possibilities and options make a change, you see impossible situations and feel helpless to do something about it.

So how do you harness that inner critic and start seeing your life as one of abundance instead of a life of limitations?

Begin your day with this 5-minute habit that will restructure your brain and help you build a positive attitude.

Start every morning by saying, “thank you.”

In other words, incorporate a few minutes of gratitude into your day.

How does saying “thank you” help you develop a positive attitude?

  • It rewires your brain to think about positive things. You start thinking about things that you do have going for you, instead of obsessing about the things you do not have and that can leave you feeling frustrated and unhappy.
  • It helps you to see life as plentiful instead of empty. This is very, very important because it’s a shift in your mindset. It’s a switch to leading a life full of abundance instead of a life of scarcity.
  • It creates a positive tone to your day. Think of it as a personal soundtrack to your life, which can impact your attitude not just for that particular day, but for your entire life moving forward.

How do you start practicing this 5-minute habit?

  • Do it EARLY. When you start your day with gratitude, you will feel the effects throughout the day. Take a few minutes when you wake up and before you start getting ready for work or school. Give yourself some quiet time to focus on what you want to say. You might want to close your eyes while you think about it, or maybe you’ll want to write your thoughts down and then say them out loud.
  • Start SMALL. Focus only on 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be the simplest of things: having a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, a job that pays the bills, a friend who you trust, food in your fridge, a dog or cat that you have as your pet, an education that will help you get a job and become independent. You can also think about a recent pleasant experience, such as spending time with a friend or enjoying a beautiful walk in nature.
  • Be SPECIFIC. If it’s one person you’re grateful for having in your life, emphasize which of their qualities you are grateful for (they’re warm, funny, creative, honest, etc.). If it’s having your own room or apartment, point out why this is important to you (you can have quiet time in the evening to relax, read, or work undisturbed). If it’s being part of a community or circle of friends, emphasize how being around them makes you feel and think of a recent event where you had a good time together.