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

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

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

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

ONE. Why is this question important to me?

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

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

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

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

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

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 I motivate myself when I am failing at every stage of my life?

I’ll let you in on a secret about failure: no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape it. You may think you have a lot of things going for you, or that you’re on a winning streak, or things just feel really good. And then it happens. Sometimes you get a warning signal, or a bunch of red flags flapping in the wind, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes it quietly creeps up on you, and by the time you feel it, it’s too late to change course.

Or is it?

Maybe the solution is in how you train your brain to think about failure.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s not what happens to you in your life that matters, but rather how you react to it that will determine the course of your life.

So how do you train your brain to stay motivated despite all the failures you experienced?

Start with these 7 tips and follow up questions to ask yourself so that you can gain a fresh perspective on what to do differently.

Tip 1. Congratulate yourself for making it this far.

Yes, if you hadn’t failed, by now you’d be celebrating the big win. But whatever happened to all the effort you put into it? That doesn’t just disappear. It’s really important to give yourself kudos for every small step you put into it. Why is this important? Your brain doesn’t know the difference between progress and perceived progress, so you’re better off giving praise for the small steps you’ve taken. Watch this TEDx Talk featuring B.J. Fogg, the Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, to see why the secret is not in the big wins but in the small ones.

Question to ask yourself:

  • What is one thing I’ve done successfully in the past month: did I finish a big chunk of a project, meet a deadline, learn how to use a tool to do my job better, or finish a semester at school?

Tip 2. Resist getting emotional about it.

Sometimes it’s that voice that you hear saying, I can’t do it! It’s too hard! I’m going to give up! If it is, just chalk it up to the fixed mindset talking. What’s a fixed mindset? It’s your belief that your personality, skill set, and strengths are “fixed” i.e. you have them from birth, and that that’s just how it is. What’s better? Adopting a growth mindset: believing that you can cultivate strengths and skills through your efforts. That is hugely empowering! Read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success to better understand how you can make lasting change with continuous effort.

Question to ask yourself:

  • Do I say something is difficult because I’ve always found it challenging to do, and how would I change this if I could start all over again?

Tip 3. Tap into the bigger picture.

Ask yourself, Why am I doing this? Whatever you are working on, zoom out of your current situation and connect with the initial reason you started doing it. This will remind you that your actions are directly linked to your personal or professional goals. Maybe you started working on acquiring a new skill such as playing an instrument to fulfill a lifelong dream. Or, you are studying for exams, so that you can get a degree that will open doors for you to embark on an exciting career and gain financial independence. Or maybe you’re looking for a job that is a better fit for your skill set and your career path than the last one you had.

Question to ask yourself:

  • Why is this challenge so important to me? What is at the core? What will I gain from solving it? What will this mean to my life in the long run?

Tip 4. Consider that you could be a victim of self-sabotage.

Maybe it’s not external factors that are making a task impossible, even though you’d like to think so (My manager hates me! or The professor is deliberately making this exam difficult to pass!). Maybe the real reason is you and what you’re doing (or not!) to make it difficult to reach your goal. Is that entirely impossible? Not really. It’s more common than you may think. Check out this article to find out how changing your environment or adhering to the 2-minute rule can break this bad habit.

Question to ask yourself:

  • What is really behind my negative self-talk, am I scared to do something or is there one thing that’s blocking me?

Tip 5. Start anticipating obstacles and prepare for them.

When we are faced with an obstacle, we tend to stop what we’re doing and start reacting: we get emotional, we complain. It’s not fair! It’s impossible to fix! But complaining won’t change a thing. What will make a difference is getting proactive. How? 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 it. That way you proactively take advantage of your full potential, and you use your strengths to accomplish what you want to do with your life.

Question to ask yourself:

  • What are 3 things I can do when I am faced with an obstacle? Which solutions can I brainstorm so that I have them ready in case I need them?

Tip 6. Create a peaceful place in your mind.

More important than tidying up your apartment or house, it will benefit you greatly if you regularly work on keeping your mind clean and uncluttered. Why? When it’s not full of jumbled thoughts, confusion and worry, it can work its real magic. And how do you do that? By practicing mindfulness through meditation. This small practice doesn’t require a lot of time, it’s simple to follow, and it has many benefits, including better focus and more concentration. You can try it early in the day so that you prepare your brain for the day ahead, or you can practice it at night so you have more restful and calm sleep. Download the Headspace app to start with a simple 10-minute session.

Question to ask yourself:

  • When can I set aside 10 minutes today to practice mindfulness?

Tip 7. Make the time to take a well-deserved break.

We tend to feel bad about the decisions we made or the things that happened to us when we’re tired and our brain is exhausted from trying so hard to do things successfully. Maybe you’ve spent hours sitting at your desk or working on a challenging task, and your brain needs a break. What are some things you can do? If you don’t have a deadline later in the day, take a few hours off and go outside for a walk or a bike ride. You can take a power nap to get energized to work more later. Or you can find other ways to relax, such as listening to music or reading a chapter or two from a good book.

Question to ask yourself:

  • What is an activity that relaxes me that I can treat myself to doing today?

How do I avoid losing focus on my goals after waking up?

Oh, you’re not the only one who loses focus after waking up.

All of us have experienced this many times. Maybe we start the day with great ideas or big plans of what we want to do. Maybe we get a rush of energy just thinking about these things. And then something happens: we find ourselves rushing in the morning, we are running late on our way to work or school, we forget to bring things along with us, we start feeling overwhelmed with the volume of tasks on our ever-growing list. Or maybe none of those things happen, but we find ourselves procrastinating about getting started with the day, and next thing we know, it’s lunchtime and our focus is just gone—plain and simple.

Sounds familiar, right?

It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a big difference between having an idea and acting on the idea, just as there’s a big difference between beginning the day with good intentions and actually making things happen.

And that, right there, is how you can get out of this situation.

Start making things happen.

Here are 5 ideas that can help you get there.

Idea #1. Confront your procrastination by replacing the words “I can’t do this!” with “Why not try it?”

Hey, we’re all guilty of procrastinating at some point in our life. It doesn’t require a lot of effort, and it’s almost a default reaction to something challenging.

How do you do it?

  • First, ask yourself if there is something else hiding behind procrastination. Maybe it is fear of not being able to do something successfully, not being able to be better at it than other people, or maybe not even understanding why we are doing something to begin with.
  • Next time you feel like procrastinating, rather than immediately reacting with “I can’t do it”, ask yourself where the resistance is coming from. Be honest with yourself. Start with providing an explanation, for example by saying, “I can’t because….” Then you’ll know the source of your resistance.
  • Think of what you gain when you say “Why not?” You win over fear and you start thinking beyond obstacles. There is something powerful when you leave a door open to explore possibilities, instead of shutting that same door in your own face. It’s a subtle change in your attitude that can have a big impact in your life.

Idea #2. Train your brain to focus by asking yourself this question every morning: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?”

It’s a simple brain training technique that makes it easy for your brain to focus on goals that are important to you right now. It also boosts your critical thinking skills because it forces you to prioritize what’s most relevant.

How do you do it?

  • 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.
  • Follow up by taking action and by reminding yourself throughout the day about the commitment you made.

Idea #3. Get your brain on board.

Before you start doing anything new, get your brain on board with what you’re about to do. It helps you get motivated to take action and become fully absorbed in whatever is in front of you.

How do you do it?

  • Instead of approaching something as a chore, turn it into a choice. Tell yourself, “This is something I really want to learn more about!” The benefit? It gives you a greater sense of control about what you’re doing. That’s much better than feeling like you’re reacting to things or you’re obligated to do things that are not your idea.
  • Remind yourself of the reason for action with this question: “Why am I doing this?” Make the connection with the initial reasons for working on something to begin with. It can be to learn a new skill, research a topic you’re interested in, study for an exam so you can graduate and start your career, explore a business opportunity, solve a specific problem at work, etc.
  • Visualize what you’re about to do. This is a technique called building a mental model, where you imagine all the steps you’ll be taking. For example, if you are researching something new, visualize covering a certain amount of material, taking notes on important concepts, and writing down what you’ll need to follow up on later. By telling yourself a story, you map out the entire learning process so it’s easier for your brain to understand it.

Idea #4. Make your personal goals a top priority.

Whether you’re a student, working full-time, or taking time off to be a parent or start your own business, you should do whatever is possible to work on your personal development. If you don’t, it will eventually catch up with you and may leave you feeling unhappy or overwhelmed with ordinary daily activities.

How do you do it?

  • Start thinking about the big picture. Ask yourself—where do you want to be 5 or 10 years from now? Who do you want to become? What is a dream scenario for you: a life in a specific city, having a partner to share your life journey with, being surrounded by smart and interesting people who contribute to your personal growth, being fluent in another language? Get specific with the description of your ideal life.
  • Second, narrow it down. Set aside an hour or two one evening to do the following:
    • Write down your top 3 personal goals.
    • Under each, write down 3 things you would need to do on a consistent basis to get you closer to each goal.
    • Then, make a plan for the week ahead so that you can devote blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified.

Idea #5. Keep learning, keep improving, keep hacking your life.

Now that you’ve started to incorporate some changes into your life to remain focused on things that are your top priority, all you need to do is continue moving forward. Life is not static, and your efforts should also not be static. Think about ways to improve what you’re doing each day.

How do you do it?

  • Measure your progress. Find ways to measure how you’re moving forward. Maybe you’ll set aside 30 minutes each day to focus on learning a new skill. If so, add up the hours at the end of the week and see if you can add more time each day, even if it’s just a few more minutes. Then see how many hours you’ve devoted to it in a month.
  • Evaluate how you’re doing. Ask yourself a few questions to understand how you’re keeping up with the goals you’ve set for yourself. For example, did some activities you started doing take more time than you anticipated? What could you have done better? Where can you make adjustments to stay on track?
  • Take time to appreciate the change. Yes, it’s important to make progress, to stay focused, to reach that important goal. But every step of the way in getting there is super important too. So find the time each evening to pause and reflect on what you’re doing, and give yourself some well-deserved praise for all those efforts. It really does feel good to be aware that you’re on the right track!

What is the most effective way to enhance working memory?

You may not be aware of it, but you use your working memory (aka short-term memory) on a daily basis. So it’s no wonder you want to keep it in optimal shape!

There are 2 types of working memory: auditory (everything you hear) and visual-spatial (everything you see). And even though it sounds scientific, the bottom line is this:

Working memory is a thinking skill that helps you to

  • process new information
  • understand what this new information means
  • remember it when you need it
  • recall it (or play it back) immediately after you’ve processed it

A few real-life examples of when you use your working memory are:

  • whenever you learn a new sport
  • when you’re taking an exam
  • when you’re writing a shopping list or packing a bag for vacation
  • every time you follow a set of instructions or directions

So what’s an effective way to enhance this useful skill?

Here’s one: whenever you learn something new, teach it to someone else.

What are the benefits of teaching what you’ve learned?

This technique is easy to practice, gives you confidence by strengthening your knowledge of the newly-learned material, and boosts your memorization. You can review, recall, and retain what you’ve learned better and more effectively than just passively keeping it to yourself without taking any action.

How do you actually teach what you’ve learned?

Start with these tips:

  • Get an audience, real or imaginary. A real audience can be a close friend, study partner or family member. But if you’re too shy to speak to anyone about what you learned, you can pretend that you have a few invisible students who really need to learn the same thing, and talk to them. Even better: grab the family dog or cat and talk to it. Pets can be excellent listeners and a captive audience!
  • Create your own classroom. If you’re going to teach someone something, you need to create the space in which to do it. Take a large sheet of white paper (or tape together several sheets for a bigger writing surface), then tape it to your bedroom wall at eye level. Be sure you have some leg room to stand in front of it. Have a pen handy, and a thick black marker or different colored highlighters to underline important concepts. Now you have all the tools to begin.
  • Get to work. Here’s where you’ll have the opportunity to apply what you’ve just learned. Start with this simple sequence of steps:
    • Stand in front of the large sheet of paper you’ve taped to the wall, and write an outline of the most important points or concepts of what you just learned. It can be a set of simple directions on how to do something, or a few key concepts you’ve learned from a chapter in your textbook.
    • Then, go over each of the steps or concepts aloud one by one. As you’re talking, make you “lecture” more interactive by drawing diagrams on the side, small illustrations or even short lists of examples. You can also tell a short story or joke to add a touch of humor to what you’re teaching.
    • At the end, summarize the key parts of what you covered by going over the main parts of your outline once again, and highlight these sections with your thick marker or highlighter. This visual tip helps you recall details better and can solidify what you’ve learned.
  • Keep it top of mind. You’re already done teaching what you learned, so you completed the lecture part of the learning process. But it will help you if you keep what you learned top of mind the rest of the day. Whenever you find yourself on a long commute home, or doing a workout at the gym or nearby park, or as you’re running errands, ask yourself to repeat the key concepts again. This is a perfect time to go over them, remembering how you wrote your outline on the paper, talked about each point, and highlighted the main sections using different colors. Repeating newly learned material will reinforce your knowledge of it even more, and you’ll be optimizing your working memory in a way that’s useful to you, regardless of what you’re working on!

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.