What are some uncommon habits that contribute to success?

Some might be unusual, and others might need a bit of preparation and thought. Either way, all 5 of these habits have one thing in common: they can help you train your brain to focus on what’s most important to YOU.

Habit #1: Strengthen your focus and simplify your workload by asking one question early each morning: What is the one thing I am committed to learning today?

What are the benefits?

It keeps things simple, it helps your brain focus better, makes you prioritize your goals, and streamlines your work so you don’t feel overwhelmed with having to accomplish too many things in a single day.

How to start practicing it?

  • Write this question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall.
  • Read it out loud as you start each day, and come up with an answer on the spot.
  • Keep your answer top of mind as you go through your work for the day, so that you don’t get distracted by other things that you come across.

Habit #2: Remind yourself of everything you have going for you in life by saying thank you every day.

What are the benefits?

When you practice gratitude, this habit 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 on what other people (friends, classmates, relatives, coworkers, neighbors) are doing with theirs, which is a huge waste of time and won’t help you get any closer to your personal goals.

How to start practicing it?

Each morning, take 5 minutes to write down or say aloud 3 things you are grateful for having in your life right now. It can be something as simple as having a roof over your head, a warm bed to sleep in, food in your fridge, clean running water and electricity, or a great relationship with a family member, a partner or a friend. Be specific: if it’s a family member or friend, emphasize which of their qualities you are grateful for: they’re warm, gracious, kind, loving, funny, etc.

Habit #3: Increase your feelings of positivity by treating happiness like a habit that you can incorporate into your day.

What are the benefits?

It’s a matter of perspective and a shift in attitude: you start thinking about happiness differently. Instead of seeing it as something abstract and even unattainable (or just something others possess but you do not), you start treating happiness like a habit. The advantage to this way of thinking? It makes you more proactive about getting happier, and it helps you see that happiness is a state of being you can work on every single day, which makes it much more real.

How to start practicing it?

Apply some positive psychology to the way you lead your life, and you will feel a more positive impact on your attitude, your motivation, and your relationships with people. Read Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Happiness and Choose the Life You Want: The Way To Lasting Happiness Moment by Moment by Tal Ben-Shahar, a lecturer at Harvard University. In both books you will find practical suggestions on how to apply the concept of happiness to daily life, for example in school, the workplace, and in your personal relationships.

Habit #4: To minimize feelings of overwhelm and frustration about your work, stop multitasking.

What are the benefits?

You may think that multitasking just helps you manage time better, but it has one major side effect: it won’t help your brain function optimally. The Harvard Business Review has an excellent article about this, focusing on one of the most frequent activities we perform daily: checking email. The article states that every time we check email or get distracted (for example, when the phone rings or someone interrupts us while we’re in the middle of an important task), it can take us up to 20 minutes to get our focus back. And it doesn’t end there: a study from the University of London showed that this type of multitasking can result in a loss in IQ points.

How to start practicing it?

There are different ways to avoid multitasking; here are a few:

  • Set your phone to Airplane mode so that calls and text messages don’t interrupt your work.
  • Set expectations with others (roommates, friends, family members) by asking them to leave you alone so that you can focus on finishing your important work, and telling them you’ll talk to them when you’re finished.
  • Schedule in the time to check messages: check your email, social media feed and voicemail 2–3 times a day (around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and evening), so that you don’t interrupt your work.
  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the news early in the day; leave these activities for later after you’ve completed what you need to do.

Habit #5. To develop a strategic mindset for doing work, practice building a mental model.

What are the benefits?

A mental model is a technique where we tell ourselves a story of what we expect to happen in the near future. More specifically, we imagine in detail how we expect things will go in a specific, real life situation; it can be related to school, work, relationships, social interactions, or even major life events. Some benefits of this technique include better absorption of new information, better preparedness to anticipate challenges, and becoming less likely to be interrupted by distractions.

How to start practicing it?

  • Start your morning by visualizing a successful work day. Set aside about 5–10 minutes for this activity. You can do it either before you get up in the morning, while you’re having breakfast, or right after breakfast as you’re sitting with your eyes closed.
  • Be detailed in thinking about all the steps you will take. This can include covering all the tasks you need to complete to work on a project at work or school: doing research, writing, coding, creating a spreadsheet, attending a meeting, responding to emails, etc.
  • Anticipate and identify which parts you will find challenging. This helps you prepare for problems so you don’t end up getting surprised because something unexpected happens. Brainstorm ways to resolve a challenge (for example, by scheduling a little extra time if there’s a delay, asking someone with more expertise for help on a difficult problem, or by consulting a different resource such as a book or website for additional solutions).
  • Imagine a positive outcome and how it will feel at the end of the day when you’ve completed what you set out to do. Success isn’t finishing one big chunk of work at once; it’s making progress and completing a set of many smaller tasks that all amount to something much bigger: getting closer to achieving a goal. Keeping your eyes on that goal will ensure that you stay motivated and focused on what you need to do, so that you can see your future as something you create for yourself – and something to look forward to.
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