What are some 7-day or 30-day challenges that have significant benefit?

 

What if you start by identifying what bothers you most and use the next 30 days to fix the problem and move on?

I’ll give you 5 challenging situations to choose from that, sooner or later, most of us face in our lives. To make this exercise more effective, I’ll propose a solution for each one, along with an estimate of how long it should take you to practice it daily.

Ready? Here we go.

CHALLENGE #1. Feeling overwhelmed with things you need to do.

Solution? Boost your focus each morning with one question: What is the ONE thing I am committed to learning today?

Time needed? 5 minutes.

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

CHALLENGE #2. Procrastinating on work.

Solution? Do your “deep work” early.

Time needed? 1-2 hours.

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

CHALLENGE #3. Not knowing how to manage busy thoughts.

Solution? Calm your thoughts with meditation.

Time needed? 10 minutes.

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

CHALLENGE #4. Wasting time on distractions.

Solution? Give yourself better brain food.

Time needed? 30 minutes – 1 hour.

We’ve all indulged in entertainment like TV channel surfing, listening to radio shows with commercial interruptions, browsing magazines or newspapers without a specific idea of why we’re reading them. What if you incorporated a few smart hobbies into your day? Pick better brain food like documentaries on politics, history or nature. Listen to podcasts while you’re preparing dinner or tidying up your apartment. Read books to learn about human nature, boost your critical thinking skills, and give yourself the space and time to dream.

CHALLENGE #5. Feeling frustrated or envious of others.

Solution? Express gratitude for what you have in your life this very minute.

Time needed? 5 minutes.

Do you find yourself often feeling like life is unfair, you are a victim of unfortunate circumstances, and other people seem to have it easier in life? If you do, no wonder you feel miserable! Want to change that mindset? Practice gratitude. It rewires your brain to focus on positive things, which can directly impact the way you perceive your life. For five minutes each morning, write down or say out loud 3 things you are grateful for today: a roof over your head, food in the fridge, a warm bed to sleep in, a positive relationship with someone close to you, or a recent and pleasant event you shared with friends.

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Each day I sleep with the guilt of not making my day productive but the next day I waste it again. I am getting depressed now. What should I do?

 

No wonder you feel helpless. You’re caught in a vicious cycle!

Maybe it’s time to exercise a little tough love towards yourself.

Why? So you can get to the bottom of the problem.

Why now? Because now is the time to move forward.

When you exercise tough love, you don’t let yourself get away with just any kind of behavior and you don’t accept excuses. Tough love towards yourself can be expressed in a strict way, but it has a positive goal — setting boundaries and making yourself behave responsibly. You develop high expectations of yourself today so that you can improve the quality of your life not just tomorrow but also in the long run. By behaving this way you are practicing a growth mindset way of thinking. A growth mindset “thinks” in terms of possibilities: although we don’t know how to do something today, we can make continuous effort to improve until we master a skill or create a positive habit.

If you really want to improve yourself, then change the way you think about the problem.

One way is to ask yourself, How can I make a subtle change in my behavior and stay consistent with it every single day?

Another way is to identify the problem you’re facing, which is the reason behind your unproductive behavior.

Here are 5 typical problems most of us face each day, along with “tough love” solutions that can help you approach them in a more proactive way.

Problem #1: OVERWHELM.

Tough love solution: Instead of allowing yourself to get overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do, tap into your willpower early.

When we start the day, we are often overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we tend to procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the day. We wake up, reach for our phone, and start scrolling through Instagram, chat with friends on WhatsApp, or we browse the news. Big mistake. Why? Because we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day.

  • How can you fix this? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. Do that task that you’ve been putting off all week before lunchtime. Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. Finish up homework you’ve been putting off because you’d rather do something more fun. You’ll be glad that you did in the evening when it’s time to wind down and relax from the long day.

Problem #2. GOALS THAT ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP.

Tough love solution: Instead of setting impossibly high goals for yourself, create goals that are simple and easier to achieve.

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

  • How can you fix this? 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. Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t end up rushing in the morning.

Problem #3. LACK OF SELF-DISCIPLINE.

Tough love solution: Instead of giving in to every whim, start saying NO more often.

If you’ve ever found yourself running out of time to do what you need or would like to have time for, that means you’re wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. This could apply to distractions, insignificant activities, or passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV. Remember that you are not the only person in the world who gives in to these types of distractions; most people find them hard to resist just because they are so readily available and at your fingertips. Still, it’s possible to make a change.

  • How can you fix this? If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, don’t eat a double portion just because you can. If you’re in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend invites you to a party, don’t drop everything you’re doing and go. Know your priorities. Be in tune with them. Be aware of what is important to you and why you’re working on something. Then you will be less likely to ignore the things that are key to your personal and professional growth.

Problem #4. GIVING UP TOO EASILY.

Tough love solution: Instead of immediately giving up when things get tough, learn to anticipate resistance.

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

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

Problem #5. SAYING, “I SHOULD…”

Tough love solution: Instead of accepting that you “should” do something, exercise your critical thinking muscle in order to believe in yourself.

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

  • How can you fix this? Develop a growth mindset way of thinking by dismissing your own limiting beliefs about what you “should” excel at and what you “should” give up — chances are, you’ve been conditioned to think in this way from an early age. Next, grow your critical thinking muscle by not taking everything you see and hear for granted, and instead learn how to think on your own. And finally, turn obstacles into opportunities: instead of getting emotional when you experience a setback, work through the challenge so that you can get stronger mentally and learn to rely on yourself. It’s a very powerful way to think!

What’s a useful thing to do daily?

 

Great question!

There are so many things that could be useful to you. It all depends on the lifestyle you lead, the phase of life you’re in, your obligations, your daily commute… but also your goals and how you want to conquer your day.

My most useful habits are the ones that keep me focused, give me energy, and enable me in practical ways to get things done.

I start with food.

Daily habit #1. Eat breakfast to give your brain energy.

When you feed your brain right, you can optimize your cognitive performance, boost memory, and increase concentration in everything you do during the day. Make it a super simple breakfast, such as oatmeal. It takes about 3 minutes. Over medium heat, stir a cup of oats with a cup of water until you get a thick mixture (add more water if you need). Remove from the stove and add 1 tablespoon flaxseeds (an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid which is a healthy fat that boosts cerebral cortex function), 1 teaspoon peanut butter, a sliced banana or other fresh fruit, and some walnuts or almonds on top.

Daily habit #2. Boost focus with one question: What is the one thing I am committed to learning today?

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

Daily habit #3. Tackle your toughest mental tasks early.

Think about these tasks as doing your deep work—it can be analytical thinking that requires the most concentration such as reading, writing, analyzing or problem solving—and it requires a different kind of focus from other more tactical things we do on a regular basis. Set aside 2-4 hours after you wake up to maximize your brain’s peak performance time. If, for example, you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m. Tip: turn off the volume on your phone, don’t check emails, and just get to work.

Daily habit#4. Use a timer to make tasks easier to manage.

Why spend endless hours working, studying, or doing errands without taking a single break? That won’t help you to stay motivated, and you’re much more likely to quit because you’ll eventually get exhausted. Instead, start organizing your tasks with a timer. Set your timer to 30 or 60 minute chunks so your brain can focus in a more targeted and effective way. Once it starts feeling like a habit, build up to even shorter working sessions with the Pomodoro technique — 25 minute blocks followed by a 5-minute break.

Daily habit #5. Reduce stress by being more mindful.

If you find yourself often feeling overwhelmed and stressed, you’re definitely not the only person who feels this way. The older we get, the more it seems there’s a lot of stress in our lives and that stress can wear you down. To declutter your mind from all those busy thoughts, try a simple 10-minute meditation practice. Download the Headspace app, which makes it super simple for beginners. Find a quiet spot in your home and practice 10 minutes consistently for 10 days. You can choose to increase the time to 15 and 20 minutes, or stay at the 10 minute mark if it feels right for you.

Daily habit #6. Turn off your TV.

Sounds like an extreme habit, but it really works.What else can you do for entertainment? You can watch a documentary. It’s entertainment and learning, combined with fascinating details and often excellent storytelling, especially if it’s created by BBC. You’ll find many on YouTube for free. Some ideas are The Ancient Worlds, Empire of the Tsars, and the entire BBC channel Timeline: World History Documentaries. If you’re into ancient Greece, watch Athens: The Dawn of Democracy narrated by historian Bethany Hughes.

Daily habit #7. Don’t let social media run your life.

If you actively make this change, you’ll find that it’s easier to focus your attention on your daily activities, whether they’re work-related or something that makes you feel relaxed. Where to start? Don’t browse the Internet, YouTube or other favorite websites for hours. Be strategic about it. If there’s something specific you need to search for, research a topic. Or, if you want to catch up on the news, leave these activities for later after you’ve completed the daily goals you need to accomplish. Don’t let social media dictate your life. The only person who should control what you do with your time is you.

Why is self-improvement so time consuming?

 

That depends on you: do you treat self-improvement as an extracurricular activity, a hobby, something to do at the end of the day?

Because if you do, you’ve got it all wrong.

It’s not optional.

It’s what you do, consistently, every minute of the day.

Ultimately, self-improvement is a lifestyle.

Of course, you have to start by building some new habits. Preferably small ones that are not too time-consuming (or else, let’s be honest, you’ll never keep them!).

Why not start with these 5 habits?

Self-improvement habit #1. Boost your focus each morning with one question: What is the ONE thing I am committed to learning today?

Time needed: 5 minutes.

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

Self-improvement habit #2. Do your “deep work” early.

Time needed: 2 hours.

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

Self-improvement habit #3. Calm your busy thoughts with meditation.

Time needed: 10 minutes.

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

Self-improvement habit #4. Feed your brain better.

Time needed: 30 minutes – 1 hour.

We’ve all indulged in entertainment like TV channel surfing, listening to radio shows with commercial interruptions, browsing magazines or newspapers without a specific idea of why we’re reading them. What if you incorporated a few smart hobbies into your day? Pick better brain food like documentaries on politics, history or nature. Listen to podcasts while you’re preparing dinner or tidying up your apartment. Read books to learn about human nature, boost your critical thinking skills, and give yourself the space and time to dream.

Self-improvement habit #5. Express gratitude for what you have in your life this very minute.

Time needed: 5 minutes.

Do you find yourself often feeling like life is unfair, you are a victim of unfortunate circumstances, and other people seem to have it easier in life? If you do, no wonder you feel miserable! Want to change that mindset? Practice gratitude. It rewires your brain to focus on positive things, which can directly impact the way you perceive your life. For five minutes each morning, write down or say out loud 3 things you are grateful for today: a roof over your head, food in the fridge, a warm bed to sleep in, a positive relationship with someone close to you, or a recent and pleasant event you shared with friends.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily habit #3. Do “deep work” early.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily habit #7. Practice a growth mindset.

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

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

 

You change your strategy!

How?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are 5 habits that can strengthen willpower?

 

These are my top 5 willpower-strengthening habits.

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

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

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

Willpower habit #2. Practice baby steps.

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

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

Willpower habit #3. Say“NO!” often.

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

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? Exercising your “no!” muscle means literally saying no in a variety of situations in your daily life. If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, I won’t eat a double portion for two days in a row just because it’s there. If I’m in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend wants to hang out, I don’t just drop everything and go — but I ask if we can reschedule the meeting. I believe it’s super important to know your priorities and always be aware of why you’re doing something to begin with — because it’s usually tied to a personal goal you set in the past.

Willpower habit #4. Declare war on distractions.

It’s next to impossible to focus on getting any work done if we allow our attention to move on to little things around us. Everything sounds tempting. New emails in your inbox—what if one is urgent? New Instagram posts you’d like to check as soon as you wake up. Or the news waiting for you to read on Twitter. Who can resist? I believe it’s important to learn how to tackle distractions head on. The benefits are huge — when you turn off distractions, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that matter.

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

Willpower habit #5. Create a plan B.

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

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