How can I avoid distractions while studying?

One thing is for sure: all those distractions you’re experiencing aren’t going to go away, so your best bet is to attack them head on.

Try these 5 tips and change your studying experience so you maximize the time and minimize the distractions.

Tip #1. Minimize digital distractions.

It’s becoming increasingly tough to focus on what we are currently doing because our attention moves to all the devices we own. There’s the computer, the tablet, the phone (and that doesn’t cover the TV!). Let’s be real: technology is great! But you’re better off if you make it work for you, not against you. This means, when you’re getting ready to work, it’s time to shut some things off. Here’s how:

  • Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus. It’s not necessary to receive calls or texts when you’re in the middle of a study session. Whenever your attention shifts to something else, it takes your brain about 20 minutes to refocus.
  • Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day. This can be around midday, later in the afternoon, and evening. Schedule this time during your lunch break, for example, or when you have a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news. Leave these activities for later after you’ve completed what you need to do. Close all tabs on your computer that may be tempting you to start browsing.

Tip #2. Become a pro at blocking away noise.

Ideally, we’d all be in a soundproof room whenever we need to focus for an important exam. But real life is far from that! If your home or work environment is not the ideal place for focusing (which goes for most of us), you will need to get more creative with overcoming this challenge. Start with these ideas:

  • Invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. They can be helpful whether you’re at home, in a busy coffee shop, or at university. You can listen to music that can help you relax and improve your focus (it can be classical music or sounds of nature).
  • Get a pair of soft silicone ear plugsThey’re especially good if you prefer to work in silence, and they easily double up as an option for taking a quick nap or if you’re having trouble sleeping throughout the night due to heavy traffic, loud housemates, or construction in your neighborhood.

Tip #3. Train your mind to dive right in.

What really makes a difference in starting your study day the right way is to get your mind on board with what you’re about to do. It helps you stay motivated to do what’s in front of you. For example:

  • Instead of approaching what you’re doing as a chore, turn it into a choice. Don’t tell yourself, All this work I have to complete today is so hard, I don’t feel like doing any of it! Instead say, This is something I really want to learn more about, it will help me improve a skill or master my field of expertise!The benefits? It gives you a greater sense of control about your studies.
  • Remind yourself of the value of your studies with this question: “Why am I doing this?” Make the connection between what’s happening right now and the goals you have set for yourself. It can be to learn a new skill, study for an exam so you can graduate and start your career, solve a particular problem you’re currently dealing with, etc.
  • Visualize what you’re about to do. This is a technique called building a mental model; you imagine in detail what you expect to learn. As you do it, be sure to cover all the steps you will be doing. For example, if you are researching something new, visualize covering a certain amount of material (chapters, paragraphs, sections), taking notes on important concepts, writing down questions to follow up on later. When you tell yourself a story, you train your brain to anticipate next steps you’ll need to take.

Tip #4. Practice being more mindful.

Let’s face it: studying is like having a full-time job. You’re working for weeks at a time to prep for exams, the assignments seem endless, and you often lose focus or get distracted with just about anything: a noisy street outside your window, a friend calling you to join them for dinner, all those videos you’d rather be watching on YouTube. There’s one way to stay focused and declutter your mind from all the busy thoughts that keep piling up: a simple meditation practice of 10 minutes.

  • The benefits: You can feel less overwhelmed and stressed, you are able to stay calm throughout the day, and you may even start concentrating better on your work.
  • How to begin: First download the Headspace app, which makes meditation easy, fun, and great for beginners. Practice 10 minutes consistently for 10 days. 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.

Tip #5. Don’t allow other people and social media run your day.

Both of these factors can significantly impact your focus by taking your attention away from what’s important in your life. Here’s how to keep social distractions to a minimum:

  • Start by setting expectations with other people. Before you begin your study session, let your family members or roommates know you won’t be available in the next few hours. That way they don’t interrupt you with their requests, questions, or ideas on doing something else that they’ll claim is more fun or interesting. Having to choose between your studying and social activities isn’t fair, so you shouldn’t put yourself in a situation where you’re forced to pick one over the other.
  • Consider eliminating toxic people from your life. Many of them may claim they are your friends, but they are not. Why? Because they don’t support you, they don’t listen to you, and chances are they won’t change just because you want them to. Be very selective who you spend your free time with, and next time a toxic person wants to monopolize your time, just say no. Tell them you’re busy. Don’t engage in negative talk. You’re better off spending free time on your own doing something that makes you relaxed and happy.
  • Don’t get lost in the latest Facebook or Instagram updates. Instead, you’re better off if you take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt. Chances are that the pictures and updates are not your friends’ or other people’s reality; it’s the version of their reality they want you to see. Instead, focus on what you have going for you in your life. Practice gratitude for the little things, stay true to your goals, and don’t let other people’s ideas or priorities sway you from accomplishing what you have set out to do.

What keeps you motivated to learn things?

 

In two words: endless curiosity.

Because that’s what my mind is like. I am curious to know how and why things work, in what ways they can be useful to me, and what potential they have to open up new questions for me to contemplate.

But I don’t turn this into an abstract concept. In fact, I’ve narrowed the motivation thing down to almost a science. I start with the basics: first I figure out the why, then narrow down the what, I create a ritual around the where andwhen, I master my how, and finally I remind myself to stay curious.

When you cover the basics, you can boost your motivation to learn new things much more effectively.

Here are 5 steps to get you there.

#1. Ask your WHY.

Find out what is your purpose and goal to learn a new thing. When you make this connection, you’re more likely to stay motivated to keep learning. Why is that important? Because you should always make sure you’re learning something because you want to, and not because someone else thinks it is important. It is your personal development you should be focused on, not the development of anyone else. To narrow down your why, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why is learning about this topic important to me?
  • Is this something I’ve been interested in for a long time?
  • Am I looking to become an expert in a certain field?
  • Do I want to use this knowledge to better my education or career?
  • Am I looking to develop a skill I will need to live a higher quality of life?

#2. Narrow down the WHAT.

When you find out your why, narrow down what you’re learning. Make sure you identify one field, area, or subject matter so that your learning becomes more focused and targeted. When you do, you’re on the path to becoming a master in that area, as opposed to just dabbling in things here and there, without going in-depth on any particular topic.

  • Why is this important to the learning process in the long run?Identifying one thing means you don’t run the risk of getting distracted and demotivated because you want to achieve too much at the same time. When it comes to absorbing new material, think quality instead of quantity.
  • How does this impact your daily life? It makes absorbing new things easier. When you target one area at a time, you create a daily habit of learning that is simple and straightforward to follow, so that you can be consistent with it for longer periods of time.

#3. Create a ritual around the WHERE and WHEN.

Don’t wait for nighttime to begin learning something entirely new. If your goal is to absorb new information more effectively, especially if that information is dense, unfamiliar, and includes concepts that will require your analytical mind to take over, read the new material early in the day.

  • Why is it important to learn new things early? Because that’s when your analytical brain is more likely to perform the most complex tasks (in the case of learning new things, these tasks can be reading, comprehension, application, repetition).
  • When should you study? Your brain’s peak performance time is around 2-4 hours after you wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times for review are between 8 and 10 a.m. To maximize your focus time, extend studying until midday to cover the most important concepts by lunchtime.
  • Where should you study? Create a peaceful and calm space to sit and work undisturbed. It could be your bedroom or a quiet corner at home. But if you live in a noisy environment, you might need to get creative. Try investing in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones to block out noise, or get a pair of soft silicone ear plugs like these so that you can study in silence. Music can help you improve your focus: it can be classical music such as Mozart, Chopin, or Bach, or a playlist of chillout tunes.

#4. Master your HOW.

Now that you’ve dedicated the time and space to learning something new, think how you can best optimize the time. If you think that you should be sitting in one place reading for hours, that’s the wrong approach. Why? Because you’re more likely to lose focus and your motivation, not to mention you’ll get tired fast. Here’s what can help:

  • Use a timer to divide up your study sessions into 30–60 minute increments that will allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. If you don’t have a lot of time, though, try the Pomodoro technique: study only in 25 minute increments, with a 5 minute break.
  • When you’ve completed one study session, get up and do something completely unrelated to work to give your brain a chance to rest. The benefit? You take advantage of the Zeigarnik effect: it’s a concept developed in psychology that suggests that students who take breaks during which they perform unrelated activities (studying other unrelated subjects, reading a book, working out or performing other physical activities, for example) will remember material better than students who go through longer study sessions without taking a break. So go ahead: get some fresh air, make yourself a sandwich, write a short list of other things you need to do later in the day, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea.

#5. STAY curious by befriending your inner child.

Staying curious is a combination of thinking like a detective, being open to new experiences, and learning new things. It’s very similar to how you processed the world when you were a child. And just because you are now all grown up with adult responsibilities doesn’t mean you should ignore the child that is still in you. Acknowledge it and ask what it wants to find out about the world and why. This will give you some time to explore the things that made you happy and excited before all this grown-up stuff happened. And in turn, it can help you to process and see the world around you differently today. Here’s what you can do:

  • Write down 5 things that your inner child loved to do. It can be anything from playing a game to practicing a sport to spending time vacationing at a favorite destination with your family.
  • From your list, pick items that still speak to you that you may have forgotten. In the rush of finishing school, going through your turbulent teen years, or studying for tough exams at college, what was left behind? Did you have big plans to be a writer, a painter, or a basketball player? When was the last time you did any of those things? How did you feel when you were doing them?
  • Make a plan for the following month to practice one of the items from the list. The key is to start with one so it’s easier to do; you can always try something different later and see how it goes. Start with an hour, maybe two times a week. If it’s painting that you miss doing, buy a sketch pad along with a few brushes and some watercolors, and get creative. If you picked a sport, go to the gym or the nearby park and work on getting more strong and fit.

How do you keep your mind focused?

 

Short answer: with small daily habits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much better!

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

Here are 7 tips to get you started.

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

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

Tip #3. Always have a goal to aspire to. When we have specific goals we want to achieve, everything we do in our daily lives will have a greater sense of purpose. It’s what makes the difference between just living life day to day, and living a life that has meaning. To help you focus on your goal, start each day with the question: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today? This question forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do on that particular day, so that you don’t feel stressed, tired, or overwhelmed with making too many choices.

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

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

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

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

How can I learn to become more disciplined?

I love this question! And this is why: when it comes to matters of self-discipline, people often treat it as some sort of self-imposed punishment. It sounds uncomfortable, unnecessary, and harsh. In my opinion, it’s just a matter of shifting your mindset. Instead of seeing it in a negative light, think of how it can positively affect your life.

For me, self discipline means two things:

One, it’s a path to achieving mastery over your life.

And two, it gives you freedom to express the best version of yourself.

That is a powerful way of looking at it, don’t you think?

Now let’s take a look at how it can be done.

Here are 7 tips for instilling self-discipline into your life so that you can master the skills you need to, and so you can become the best version of yourself.

Tip 1. Take care of your essentials.

Before you embark on your path toward any type of achievement, it’s important to cover the basics. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that means meeting the first level of physiological needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. Here is the first opportunity you have to practice self-discipline.

  • Food: Eat not just to be full, but also to stay healthy and maintain your brain’s optimal performance.
  • Exercise: Physical exercise is critical to performing well in every area of your life, so make sure to make it a daily habit.
  • Sleep: When you’re sleep-deprived, you’ll never be able to function at optimal levels, both physically and mentally. Be sure to get enough sleep.

Tip 2. Use your willpower the smart way.

When we wake up and start contemplating the day, we tend to get overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we end up procrastinating and postponing our tasks. That’s a critical mistake, because we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day. If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early.

  • Do that task that you’ve been putting off all week before lunchtime. It’s going to take much less time than if you leave if for the evening.
  • Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. That way you won’t panic when a deadline is approaching.
  • Finish up homework you’ve been putting off because you’d rather do something more fun. You won’t need to stay up all night making up for lost time.

Tip 3. Start making commitments to yourself.

Commitments aren’t just promises you make to other people. You can (and should) make them to yourself. A great way to begin is to define a very specific goal you want to achieve in a certain time frame. Here are a few examples of what you can commit to:

  • I am committed to focusing on my studies in the next 30 days so that I can pass all three of my exams with top marks.
  • I am committed to finding a job in 6 months that is both a good fit for my skill set in and is in a company whose values I share and respect.
  • I am committed to building my physical endurance by running 4 times a week for 3 months so that I can be prepared to participate in a 5K race.

Tip 4. Make a new habit stick by keeping it simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Does this sound intimidating to you? Maybe so 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, chances are you 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. To simplify a change you’re trying to make, start with tiny steps:

  • 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.
  • Prepare and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t rush in the morning or eat junk food when you get hungry at noon.

Tip 5. Start saying NO more often.

Have you ever found yourself running out of time to do what you need or would like to do? It probably means you’re wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. Start building up your “no muscle” in small ways each day:

  • Just because there’s leftover cake in the fridge doesn’t mean you should eat a double portion for the next three days. Put it away or freeze it for another week.
  • When you’re in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend calls to invite you to a party, it doesn’t mean you should drop everything and go. It’s okay to politely say no.
  • When you’re in a dilemma about whether to commit to something or someone, think about your priorities. Be aware of what is important to you, so you’re less likely to ignore what is key to your personal and professional growth.

Tip 6. Anticipate that you’ll experience resistance.

When you expect everything to go well all the time, you’re likely to get disappointed every now and then. It’s a much better idea to plan ahead for those moments when you’re lazy, tired, or in a bad mood and nothing seems right.

  • First, tell yourself that whatever it is you’re feeling, it’s an emotional reaction and it will pass. Don’t give in to the urge to make decisions in that mindset.
  • 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.
  • Third, nurture a growth mindset: instead of telling yourself that you are “just not good enough” to take on a new language or start practicing karate, give yourself the time to learn new things. You’ll be surprised how much you can do when you keep an open mind.

Tip 7. Believe in yourself.

It doesn’t matter what stage of life you find yourself in at the moment. You can be a college student, a parent of two, a university graduate looking for a job for the first time, or an entrepreneur embarking on a new venture. Believing in yourself is going to be a critical factor in helping you achieve your goals, no matter how small or big they are.

  • Start thinking about your acts of self-discipline in terms of the big picture of your life. Although it may feel like sacrificing some things right now, what does being disciplined afford you? If you are focused on something, how can it add up a year from now?
  • Put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life journey, instead of letting situations and external factors dictate how you will act. Don’t allow yourself to get carried away for emotional reasons that you lose track of why you started working on a goal to begin with.
  • Most important of all, believe. Believe you can do it. When you do, then self-discipline will become a skill you can apply to many areas of your life: your education, your career, and even your relationships. It will guide you and keep you focused on your future, and everything you want to achieve and become.

Is it possible to live today with Stoic habits?

It’s not only possible, it’s actually doable and beneficial for your personal development! The Stoics left us a blueprint for living that can make life easier to manage, instead of fighting it and resisting the things that don’t go our way. And no, it’s not just pure philosophy; it’s specific tips on how we can navigate life more successfully. They already did the hard work of setting the strategy. Now all we need to do is follow it and incorporate it into our 21st century life.

It can be done.

Here are 10 habits to help you live like a Stoic.

Stoic habit #1. Don’t waste energy on pointless activities.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca devotes a section of his book On the Shortness of Life to this problem that plagued people even back then. He describes gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things and trying to impress others. That’s not at all unlike our own world that’s focused on social media and often on creating a superficial image of lifestyles we see on Facebook and Instagram. There are ways to use your time more wisely: 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 that nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.

Stoic habit #2. Practice gratitude for what you have today.

It’s common to focus on the things we see other people have, and that can make us feel frustrated and eventually unhappy. Meanwhile, there’s so much you already do have going for you. Think about what those things are. Set aside a few minutes each day to develop your own practice of gratitude. For example: list 3 things you’re grateful for in your life this very moment: having a home, a job, a skill you are good at, or a close friend who you enjoy spending time with.

Stoic habit #3. Don’t complain; get proactive about what’s possible.

It’s easy to complain, we tend to do it by default. We are human. And it doesn’t really take effort to do so. However, complaining won’t change a thing. What will is taking a proactive stand. What does that mean? It means do something about it. If there’s a situation you don’t like, think of ways to change it. Brainstorm what you will need to change it too: more resources, knowledge of a topic, or just more time to reach a goal. For additional support, ask a trusted friend or someone who is an expert in the field.

Stoic habit #4. Don’t make comfort your priority.

Being stoic doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with material things or other people so that you feel comfortable and you expect will make you happy. It means taking life in stride and making peace with discomfort. Why is this important? Because having something today can easily mean you take it for granted and expect it to last forever. What if it doesn’t? Learn to rely on yourself so that when tough times come around, you’re better prepared to deal with them. You can practice this by trying 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.

Stoic habit #5. Learn to manage your thoughts.

On any given day, you have thousands of thoughts running through 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. Think about this powerful statement for a second: you are not your thoughts. There are ways to manage your thoughts more successfully and even change your entire mindset. Start with a 10-minute meditation to calm your thoughts and read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset which can impact your entire attitude and how you experience life.

Stoic habit #6. Accept that you cannot control life, but there some things you can change.

Sure, you can’t control life, no matter how much you feel a deep desire to do so. But you can control how you react to it. That is always your prerogative and your right as a human being. Don’t think it’s possible? Read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning. It is a manual describing the psychology of survival, a real-life story written by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who found strength to live in circumstances where most people would have given up. There are many lessons to take from this book that can last you a lifetime.

Stoic habit #7. Do your hard work first, before you do anything for pleasure.

On any given day, we give in to the urge to start our morning by checking social media apps on our phone and sending messages back and forth with our friends. But 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 any other time of day.

Stoic habit #8. Learn to practice self-discipline with delayed gratification.

It may not seem like an awesome choice at first, but putting off doing what makes you feel great and gives you pleasure has its advantages. It’s about instilling a good dose of self-discipline so that you do something difficult first in order to reward yourself later. There’s even science to back this up: Stanford University’s Marshmallow experiment showed how delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life. You can practice it 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. And if you don’t finish it, don’t assume you’ll do it at midnight after you’re done having fun.

Stoic habit #9. Turn obstacles upside down by making them an opportunity to do something different.

What often happens when we are faced with an obstacle is that we stop everything we are doing and we start reacting, often emotionally. Maybe it’s a sign that we should just give up! Maybe it’s just too hard! Those are all emotional reactions. You can change your approach in three ways. First, start anticipating that there will be obstacles you will encounter on your path. If you prepare yourself psychologically for them, they won’t feel so devastating when they actually do happen. Second, use the opportunity to learn something new, to take a different approach to the problem, to think it through, and to try something different that can yield better results. And third, take advantage of the tough times to achieve mastery in one area so that you can become an expert at something.

Stoic habit #10. Work with, and not against your nature.

The Stoics didn’t believe in having to change ourselves completely in order to lead a life of quality. 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 how 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.

There’s a wonderful quote by Marcus Aurelius that sums up Stoic life really well:

Objective judgement, now, at this very moment.

Unselfish action, now, at this very moment.

Willing acceptance – now, at this very moment – of all external events.

That’s all you need.

If you’d like to read more, here are some book recommendations to explore the Stoic way of life:

How can I make every minute of the day count?

Take ownership of your day!

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Of course we own our day, who else would? But if you take a minute and think: once you finish your school or work routine, check Facebook and Twitter throughout the day, spend time on your phone, commute back and forth to where you need to go, and watch your favorite TV shows, what’s really left of your day? More important, what did you do in that 24-hour period that will matter 5, 10, 20 years from now?

It’s a hard question, but you should ask it!

And if you’re not pleased with your answer, then make the effort to change something. Make your minutes matter. That’s what taking ownership of your day is all about.

Now let’s think what can help you get there. Here are two ideas to get you started.

Idea #1. Make your mornings count in 3 ways.

ONE. Create a morning routine to give you more energy.

A routine that helps you start the day means that you become the master of your own time, you can start working on things that are important to you, and you can be more calm knowing in advance what your day will look like. For example:

TWO. Start your day with this question: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?

  • Why this habit matters: it encourages you to think strategically about your life, it keeps you focused on your goals (both personal and professional), it forces you to prioritize, and it serves as a personal promise to yourself.
  • How you can incorporate this habit into your day: put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, and come up with an answer on the spot. Then, as you go through the day, make sure you’re working on completing what you’ve identified as your one thing.

THREE. Get your hard work done first.

We don’t function the same early in the morning as when we do at night. Our body and our brain are more likely to function better at certain times of day. It’s all about knowing your biological clock and how it works.

  • Why do hard work first? Because the early hours of the day are the optimal time for your analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks (in the case of studying, for example, these can be reading, comprehension, application, repetition). Some scientists call this time of day the brain’s peak performance time, and it’s about 2-4 hours after we wake up.
  • When exactly should you do it? If you wake up at 6, your peak performance times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Extend this time until lunch so that you cover the most important concepts when your brain is clear, less cluttered by additional tasks, and less likely to be distracted by events happening around you.

Idea #2. Think about the big picture using these 3 approaches.

ONE. Develop your life strategy.

Focus on the work you’ve planned to complete today, but always keep your eye on at least two steps ahead. When you have a strategy in place, everything you do each day will have more purpose. Try this:

  • Rethink your behavior: This applies to what you do each day and how you react to what’s happening around you. Is your behavior geared towards achieving a one-time effect, or will you feel benefits in the long run?
  • Think in terms of active versus passive: As you go about your day, are you merely reacting to events, people, and circumstances, or are you being proactive about them and providing value in some way to yourself and also to other people?

TWO. Set long-term goals for yourself.

This evening, take 30 minutes to write down the following:

  • Identify your top 3 goals. For example: graduate from college, get an advanced degree, find a job that is the best fit for your skill set, develop a skill that you’ve always wanted, get physically fit, relocate to a city or country where you would like to live and work, etc.
  • Under each goal, write down 3 things you can do on a regular basis to make progress. For example: if your goal is to get physically fit, then the things you should focus on can be creating a meal plan for the week to eat healthier, working out regularly, and doing research on YouTube for fun workouts that don’t take up too much time and can be incorporated easily into your day.
  • Then, create a weekly schedule to fit in the activities you’ve identified as important to achieving your goal. Divide each day into hourly increments, then block off time for your responsibilities, commute, meal times. You should still be able to find an hour to fit in 1–2 activities important to your goal. Too busy? Start with a small block of 15 minutes.

THREE. Use the end of the day to dream big.

Evenings are great for strategic thinking because it’s a time for the brain to settle into a different tempo when it can be more creative. If you’re setting goals and strategizing where you want to be in 6 months or a year with your personal development, this is when you can outline your next steps. For example:

  • Ask yourself: Where do you see yourself in the future, who do you want to become, what would be an ideal lifestyle for you?
  • Map out your dreams: Write down in detail what this ideal lifestyle would be like. Cover all areas of your life: what is that dream job, the daily schedule, the people you’d be working with? What does the city look like, the apartment or house you’d be living in, the commute to work? Do you see yourself with a partner, a family, children, with pets? Dedicate some time to describing everything in detail.
  • Make it visual: Get a large sheet of paper, then find photographs (from magazines, for example) that look like a visual representation of what you’d like your ideal lifestyle to be. Add pictures and write down phrases that are powerful and meaningful to you, and that pertain to your goals: your college degree, the perfect job, your ideal and fit self, your dream home, the dog you’d like to have one day, etc.
  • Incorporate it into your day: Put your vision map somewhere where you can see it first thing in the morning: in the bathroom as you’re brushing your teeth or in the bedroom when you’re getting dressed. Look at it often, absorb the pictures, read the words. Make it a daily habit to spend time observing everything you’ve put on your vision map.
  • Make the connection: As you’re looking at your vision map each day, ask yourself what you can do today to get you closer to your dreams. It is only when we are proactive about our life that we can truly make dreams come alive, make them real, make them part of who we want to become.