Does reading a novel each day have an effect on one’s executive functions and reasoning skills?

 

Yes! And not only that—it actually has an effect on all brain function.

Neuroscientists from Emory University published a study in the Brain Connectivity Journal called Short and Long Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.

The conclusion?

Reading fiction books improves all connectivity in the brain.

The novel that was given to students who participated in the study is Pompeii by Robert Harris, and it’s based on the real-life eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Students were instructed to read one chapter per day, which is approximately 30 pages. The experiment lasted 9 consecutive days. To monitor brain activity during both active and resting states, students had fMRI brain scans done before and after the reading sessions.

Results of the study showed the following:

  • There was increased activity in the left temporal cortex—an area of the brain associated with language learning.
  • Additionally, there was increased activity in the central sulcus of the brain—the fold in the cerebral cortex that separates the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe, and separates the sensory and motor areas of the brain.

What do these results mean?

  • Reading a book improves our ability to put ourselves in the role of another person (the main or other characters in the novel), so it’s like assuming another identity and exploring what it might be like to interact with the entire cast of characters, experience a range of different emotions, and even make decisions as that person.
  • Reading boosts brain connectivity so we perceive the body sensations of others through the “mirroring”technique, which is similar to visualization. For example, if the protagonist in the novel is running, even if we just think about that activity, this will activate our own neural networks associated with actual running—so we’ll actually “experience” the physical act.
  • The important takeaway from the study is to read fiction, specifically novels, so that we allow ourselves to become part of the story and to bond with the characters and plot in order to boost brain function. This can’t be achieved in the same way when we read non-fiction, because the goal in non-fiction isn’t necessarily to identify with others, but rather to do research and gather tips based on studies described in the book.

What do these results mean for the brain in the long term?

  • Even when they weren’t reading, students’ brains showed increased activity. Scientists call this “shadow activity”, and this activity in the brain is similar to muscle memory. Muscle memory enables us to master a difficult task through repetition and practice over time so that it becomes second nature. In other words, muscles “remember” to act a certain way that over time will not require as much strain as it did initially.
  • Improvement in brain function wasn’t limited only to the experiment period. Here’s perhaps the most fascinating part of the study. A boost in brain connectivity persisted—neural changes remained active for days after the reading assignment was over, which suggests that we can experience similar benefits even while doing other types of activities such as studying, working, learning a new skill, or problem-solving.

How can you incorporate reading fiction into your day?

  • Make it a super easy mini habit. Instead of thinking you will now have to save up money to start buying a ton of books, remember that reading can be free; simply get a library membership. To streamline the novel selection process, download the Goodreads app so you can look for book recommendations, reviews, and plot summaries.
  • Make your reading habit a pleasant ritual. That way you’ll start looking forward to it. It can be as easy as setting aside 30 minutes to an hour each evening to find a comfortable seat in your home, pick music to get in the mood, and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate or caffeine-free tea to help you relax.
  • Select a book that’s the right fit for you. If you don’t know where to begin, try going through Quora’s list of suggested literary fiction, novel recommendations. If you’re a history buff, try looking up the topic of best historical fiction books; it’s packed with excellent ideas that are certainly going to keep your mind in that curious mode you’ll want to be in as you are working on your new brain-boosting habit!
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Does reading novels have an effect on one’s executive functions and reasoning skills?

 

Yes! And not only that—it actually has an effect on all brain function.

Neuroscientists from Emory University published a study in the Brain Connectivity Journal called Short and Long Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.

The conclusion?

Reading fiction books improves all connectivity in the brain.

The novel that was given to students who participated in the study is Pompeii by Robert Harris, and it’s based on the real-life eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Students were instructed to read one chapter per day, which is approximately 30 pages. The experiment lasted 9 consecutive days. To monitor brain activity during both active and resting states, students had fMRI brain scans done before and after the reading sessions.

Results of the study showed the following:

  • There was increased activity in the left temporal cortex—an area of the brain associated with language learning.
  • Additionally, there was increased activity in the central sulcus of the brain—the fold in the cerebral cortex that separates the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe, and separates the sensory and motor areas of the brain.

What do these results mean?

  • Reading a book improves our ability to put ourselves in the role of another person (the main or other characters in the novel), so it’s like assuming another identity and exploring what it might be like to interact with the entire cast of characters, experience a range of different emotions, and even make decisions as that person.
  • Reading boosts brain connectivity so we perceive the body sensations of others through the “mirroring”technique, which is similar to visualization. For example, if the protagonist in the novel is running, even if we just think about that activity, this will activate our own neural networks associated with actual running—so we’ll actually “experience” the physical act.
  • The important takeaway from the study is to read fiction, specifically novels, so that we allow ourselves to become part of the story and to bond with the characters and plot in order to boost brain function. This can’t be achieved in the same way when we read non-fiction, because the goal in non-fiction isn’t necessarily to identify with others, but rather to do research and gather tips based on studies described in the book.

What do these results mean for the brain in the long term?

  • Even when they weren’t reading, students’ brains showed increased activity. Scientists call this “shadow activity”, and this activity in the brain is similar to muscle memory. Muscle memory enables us to master a difficult task through repetition and practice over time so that it becomes second nature. In other words, muscles “remember” to act a certain way that over time will not require as much strain as it did initially.
  • Improvement in brain function wasn’t limited only to the experiment period. Here’s perhaps the most fascinating part of the study. A boost in brain connectivity persisted—neural changes remained active for days after the reading assignment was over, which suggests that we can experience similar benefits even while doing other types of activities such as studying, working, learning a new skill, or problem-solving.

How can you incorporate reading fiction into your day?

  • Make it a super easy mini habit. Instead of thinking you will now have to save up money to start buying a ton of books, remember that reading can be free; simply get a library membership. To streamline the novel selection process, download the Goodreads app so you can look for book recommendations, reviews, and plot summaries.
  • Make your reading habit a pleasant ritual. That way you’ll start looking forward to it. It can be as easy as setting aside 30 minutes to an hour each evening to find a comfortable seat in your home, pick music to get in the mood, and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate or caffeine-free tea to help you relax.
  • Select a book that’s the right fit for you. If you don’t know where to begin, try going through Quora’s list of suggested literary fiction, novel recommendations. If you’re a history buff, try looking up the topic of best historical fiction books; it’s packed with excellent ideas that are certainly going to keep your mind in that curious mode you’ll want to be in as you are working on your new brain-boosting habit!

How can I make my writing better?

Here are my 5 tips.

Tip #1. Feed your curious mind.

Before you even attempt starting the writing process, it’s a good idea to think about the brain food you’ll need. What will help you select that brain food? Your curiosity! Being curious is critical to the creative process. It’s impossible to be a good writer if you’re not someone who is curious and always in learning mode. Let’s think about what being curious means in daily life. It can be trying to get to the bottom of things to understand their meaning, or finding out how something works, or observing people’s behavior, or listening to others tell stories. When you have the word why in your daily thoughts, when you try to deconstruct a concept in different ways to make it easier to understand, and when you discover more ideas along the way that need to be explored, you will know that you’re moving in the right direction.

Tip #2. Read more books.

In the pursuit of becoming a writer—which you may choose to do for pleasure or for your career—your role as a reader is often ignored and undervalued. That’s a missed opportunity. If you truly care about the act of writing and if you possess a deep love for the written word, then you should expose yourself to works of literature on a regular basis. This isn’t a vague or abstract goal. It means that you are proactive about always being in research mode, you’re discovering authors and topics they’ve written about, you’re creating lists of what to read for the month and even the year, you’re going to the library or making trips to the bookstore on a weekly basis, and then you’re devoting time to absorbing the books you’ve selected. As you’re reading, a good idea is to do it always with a pen or pencil in hand so you can take notes, write down sections you find interesting, and listing page numbers of sections you’ll want to revisit.

Tip #3. Select topics that can provide value to others.

Don’t be surprised if you experience some resistance as you’re reading this. Maybe you’re doubting yourself or even engaging in negative self-talk. It might go something like this: But I don’t have anything valuable to say! Maybe I just like writing things that are interesting to me, but are boring to other people! Instead of giving in and giving up before you’ve even begun, practice adjusting your mindset. Ask yourself, What could I write about? You may have an original idea or an in-depth look at how the human brain works. Perhaps you experienced a life-changing event that dramatically influenced the way you view your personal or professional life. Maybe you mastered a skill you find enjoyable such as practicing jiu-jitsu or playing a game of chess. The key is to become aware of the main reason why you are writing about something, and to think of an audience that could potentially benefit from what you know.

Tip #4. Create a dedicated space for your writing.

In order to make your writing habit stick, turn it into a ritual. Make sure to have a desk in a quiet corner with plenty of natural light. If you’re sensitive to noise, be sure to have noise-cancelling headphones ready and queue up several playlists to help you stay focused. Next, prep the tools of the trade: your computer, notebook, pens, highlighters, and loose leaf paper for jotting down notes quickly. You might also need reference materials such as a thesaurus. Use your phone or watch as a timer to divide up your work into segments to get more done, and don’t forget to switch the setting to silent or Airplane mode so you don’t get distracted. Finally, prep some refreshments—a thermos of hot coffee or tea, a bottle of water, and a snack such as fresh fruit, dark chocolate, or a handful of walnuts and almonds to give you energy.

Tip #5. Develop stronger self-discipline.

Here’s a habit that many famous writers—from Tolstoy to Hemingway to Stephen King—incorporated into their daily lives, which you can benefit from as well. If you are under the impression that all writers write only when they hear the call of their muse, think again. That’s not exactly how it happens! It will benefit you to understand what’s at the core of the writing process. In essence, it’s less about waiting for inspiration and more about mastery— making a continuous effort to improve your skill of writing. If you’re serious about improving this skill, then your writing needs to be a habit, a necessary part of daily life, and a dedicated time to sit down and get your work done. What does that mean? Make it a priority and not an option. Nurture your skill daily, water it like a plant, and give it plenty of space to grow. And most of all—treat your writing seriously. Make it your most important and favorite part of your day.

What are your top five self improvement podcasts?

  • Kwik Brain Podcast. Jim Kwik is founder of Kwik Learning and a world expert in memory improvement and accelerated learning. He suffered a childhood brain injury that left him learning-challenged, so he created strategies and tips to boost mental performance.
    • Episode ideas: Look for episodes on how gratitude rewires your brain (#47), 3-part conversation on how to supercharge your brain and life with Brendon Burchard (#35-#37), and how to stay focused and fix a wandering mind (#40).
  • The Tim Ferriss Show. Ferriss collects life experiences, tools, and hands-on tactics through interviews he conducts with world-class leaders in diverse categories of expertise. His podcast guests range from ex-Navy Seals and top athletes to best-selling authors and entrepreneurs.
    • Episode ideas: Look for interviews with Jocko Wilink on discipline and leadership (#187), Tony Robbins on how to resolve inner conflict (#186), and Arianna Huffington on why you shouldn’t run your life from your inbox (10/18/2017).
  • Optimize with Brian Johnson. This podcast is very much like getting an education in living a smarter life. It’s about gaining more wisdom in less time to help you learn how to optimize the way you live, work, and learn. Brian condenses big ideas from guests he interviews and turns each episode into a short and practical lesson.
    • Episode ideas: Look for The Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine (12/13/2017), Mental Contrasting with Gabriele Oettingen, PhD and creator of the WOOP process (12/3/2017), and Create Zen Habits with Leo Babauta (9/1/2015).
  • The Model Health Show with Shawn Stevenson. Shawn is an author, nutritionist, and coach. He hosts a fantastic educational show on many interesting topics related to personal growth, physical and mental health, and fitness. He also makes it a point to do in-depth research in preparation for each episode.
    • Episode ideas: Look for tips on how to move past your programming—similar to fixed versus growth mindset (#250), how to embrace change and become emotionally agile with Dr. Susan David (#185), and how to achieve peak performance with Jairek Robbins (#256).
  • The James Altucher Show. James Altucher is an entrepreneur who hosts writers, artists, and other thought leaders on his show and asks unique, carefully thought out questions. His provocative, witty, and honest approach to each conversation is what makes this podcast educational, engaging, and fun.
    • Episode ideas: Look for conversations on ideas and entrepreneurship with founder of the Virgin empire Sir Richard Branson (#269), tips on building a life of purpose with personal growth expert Tony Robbins (#217), and life-changing ideas from the author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” Amy Morin (#259).

What are the five most important things for a woman to learn in life? (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

#6. Don’t automatically assume the role that others expect of you.

In most cases, expectations of male and female roles are passed on from generation to generation without a second thought. You might already be experiencing feedback from parents, neighbors, relatives, partners, even friends on what is expected of you. Maybe they were taught that girls can’t be good at math or physics, nor should study to become engineers or chemists. Or maybe they’re convinced that it’s shameful for a guy to cook a great dinner by himself or study the history of art. Instead of falling into the trap of mimicking a fixed mindset, work on developing a growth mindset. Nurture your skills and strengths, and build on them consistently so that you can master them over time. As Carol Dweck shows in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, there’s so much you can do to change your attitude and accomplish whatever you believe is important in your life.

#7. Understand the difference between liking yourself and wanting to be liked by others.

What’s the harm in wanting to be liked? Everyone feels a need to be part of a group or to belong somewhere, and being liked makes it that much easier to belong to a group of people. But constantly wanting to be liked by others is a double-edged sword. Being popular in school, for example, may sound cool to you right now—just like having thousands of Instagram followers as you’re sharing pictures and videos of your daily life. The downside is this: it can take you on a path where you become dependent on the admiration and attention of others. Did you consider what happens if that attention goes away, or when you get criticized? That’s why your top priority is to like yourself first, because that’s where your inner strength lies. Build an awareness of your core skills and strengths, know what is the value that you add to the lives of people close to you, and you’ll feel much stronger for it.

#8. Work on creating your own boundaries.

It may sounds like a negative idea at first, but understanding the concept and importance of boundaries can actually work for you as you go through life. Having boundaries in place is critical in any number of situations where people are being pushy or disrespectful of your time and space. For example, if a friend insists on hanging out but you want time to yourself, you can set boundaries by making yourself unavailable or just saying that you have other plans. If you don’t like someone taking up your time, set boundaries by telling them you’re busy and don’t have an hour to devote to them. And if someone asks you to finish up a task that is their responsibility, set boundaries by saying no firmly and tell them it’s their job and not yours. It may not feel comfortable at first, but treat it as a muscle you are building until it starts to feel more natural. Think of it this way: if you need to get your life to a better place and accomplish the goals you set for yourself, you can’t afford to spread yourself too thin. You will need both time and space to create the future you want.

#9. Build up a thick skin.

It may not be the easiest thing in the world to do, but developing a thick-skin definitely helps us to deal with the negativity that we will inevitably face at many points in our life. This especially applies to criticism which can come from where you least expect it—people closest to you, including family and friends. It can also apply to negative feedback you’ll most certainly receive at work or school, because nobody is exempted from it. So what does developing a thick skin entail? It doesn’t mean removing all emotions and being nonchalant about whatever people say. It’s more about learning to expect criticism, instead of taking it personally and as an attack on you by someone who wishes you harm. If you learn to expect criticism, it won’t faze you much when you actually do receive it. How can you do this? Pay close attention to how the message is delivered. Constructive criticism is when someone suggests that you do something in a different way, which means it can work to your advantage. Conversely, if someone is “negging” you—making a negative comment disguised as a compliment—see it as destructive behavior and let the person know that you won’t put up with it.

#10. Build a strong sense of self-respect.

Sounds like such an obvious thing, but it’s not as common as it should be. And this is not gender-specific, of course—whether you’re male or female, it’s important to respect yourself. What does respecting yourself mean? It can mean you should respect your time because it’s a precious commodity and you need to value it. It can mean you should respect all of your efforts that you put into school, work, and building your relationships. It can mean respecting the knowledge you have acquired over time because it shows an investment you made in yourself, or respecting your values because they build the core of who you are, or respecting the goals that you believe are important in your self-development. In a nutshell—don’t take your self for granted. Value who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and who you are becoming. Always remind yourself of how long it took to get here, and be proud of your achievements, both large and small, as you’re working towards becoming that best version of yourself.

What motivates you?

For me personally, the answer is this:

I’m curious to see how I evolve as a human being as I’m working on becoming the best version of myself.

Curiosity has always kept me going. It helps me seek out knowledge that will be helpful to me, it keeps me focused on developing skills so that I can get better at doing things, and it boosts my critical thinking as I’m making sense of everything I experience in life.

That said, the question of being (and staying) motivated is not easy. It’s actually hard work. Sometimes we feel stuck in our present circumstances and don’t see a way out. Maybe we think we’re putting in so much energy without seeing the results we want. Or maybe we’re going through an existential crisis of sorts and think to ourselves, what’s the point in doing anything at all?

If there’s one thing that can help us get out of a stagnating mindset when it comes to motivation, it’s to think beyond our daily life. Creating a big picture of what our life is for, and why we are living it, is something that will keep focused on what lies ahead. To be successful at this, it’s critical to keep things simple. Your big picture doesn’t have to include all the colors and details you want it to have ideally (although that’s something to work towards). For now, let’s just think about what it would take to create an outline of the big picture so that we have a blueprint of what we want to do.

Here are 5 ideas for creating your big picture that can help you get motivated and stay motivated, no matter what you choose to do.

Motivational idea #1. Write the important stuff down.

Why?

This technique is useful for several reasons: it trains your mind to focus a few steps ahead, it eliminates the possibility of forgetting something important you need to do, and it sets in motion the act of accomplishing your goals, step by step. When you see an actual plan of what you will be doing in hourly increments, it keeps things simple, and it is less likely you will blow things off because even if you do, you will still have to make up for the time lost.

How can you do this?

  • Identify your top 3 goals. For example: get physically fit, start a home business, increase your network of friends.
  • Under each goal, write down 3 things you will need to 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, doing some form of exercise daily, 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. You should still be able to find a couple of hours where you can do what you set out to do. If you feel you don’t have enough time, then consider incorporating a morning and nighttime routine  to give more structure to your day.

Motivational idea #2. Be laser-focused on making progress by asking this question first thing in the morning: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?

Why?

This habit matters because it encourages you to think strategically about your life, it keeps you focused on your goals, it forces you to prioritize, and it serves as a personal promise to yourself.

How can you do this?

  • First, write it down: take a large sheet of paper and write the question in big bold letters with a thick marker.
  • Next, put it somewhere where you’re most likely to look at it: it can be on your bedroom or the bathroom wall, next to the mirror for example.
  • Then, look at the question and ask it out loud as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed.
  • Take a minute to think what’s on your agenda for the day, then pick one thing that has top priority for you and give an answer out loud to yourself.

Motivational idea #3. Cultivate a morning routine.

Why?

It’s a great way to stay on top of your game by accomplishing several things early in the day, which in turn, helps you get motivated to be even more productive throughout the rest of the day. A morning routine gives you structure, it breaks down your early hours of the day into smaller chunks so that you feel productive in several areas of your life: personal, professional, health and fitness, etc.

How can you do this?

  • Always have breakfast. It gives you energy and it’s fuel for your brain. A great example is a combination of protein, fruits, and healthy fats (such as nuts): it can be oatmeal or yogurt with granola, fresh fruit, walnuts (an excellent brain booster) and almonds.
  • To wake up your mind and body, pick any type of physical activity. It can be a session at the gym, or it can be something shorter and even more simple: a morning yoga routine, a set of hindu pushups, a 20-minute power walk or a brisk run before hitting the shower. The goal is to be consistent; smaller chunks of activity can give you energy, and you can always supplement them later in the day with another 30 minutes of walking during your lunch break or a workout later in the afternoon.
  • Say thank you. For five minutes each morning, think of 3 things you are grateful for today: it can be something as simple as a roof over your head, food in the fridge, a warm bed, running water, a positive relationship with people you love the most, etc. Practicing gratitude about what we have going for us can restructure our brain to focus on positive things, which sets the tone for the rest of the day, and that can also impact our motivation.

Motivational idea #4. Explore where your unique skills can add value to others.

Why?

Adding value means you bring something to the table that can help to solve a problem other people have. More important, it shifts your mindset from focusing on yourself as an isolated individual with a set of challenges you’re trying to overcome to seeing yourself as an active member of your community. So what could you bring to the table? It can mean anything from using a personal strength or skill (the ability to teach, build furniture, draw someone’s portrait, or negotiate a business agreement) to addressing an immediate problem by asking someone, “How can I help you do that?” Whether the problem is big or small, temporary or long-term, your ability to add value gives you a greater sense of purpose and impacts your big picture.

How can you do this?

  • Start with this question: How can I add value to my circle of friends, family, or coworkers? First, identify areas where you believe others may benefit from your help. Then, consider what are the best ways to offer your time or expertise.
  • Be creative about ways to share what you know. For example, as you are learning and getting better at a particular subject, you can illustrate what you’re learning by drawing charts, diagrams or other ways to present your ideas visually. Or, you can share your notes by posting them online on your blog or by creating instructional YouTube videos describing what you learned to a broader audience.
  • Become an active participant in an online forum such as Quora. Why? It’s a good place to post questions that can motivate others to get involved and respond, and also an opportunity to write answers that can improve someone’s knowledge, give a shortcut to finding a solution, or help in some other way. You never know when one small thing you’ve mastered can become one really big thing to someone else. Sometimes it’s like opening a door to a new world, and that’s where you can add real value to the lives of others.

Motivational idea #5. Treat yourself well.

Why?

A great motivational trick is to give yourself things to look forward to. When you achieve a small goal, give yourself a reward to mark the occasion. Rewards are important to give ourselves the feeling that we deserve a positive outcome because we are putting in hard work and effort to get things done, no matter what those things are—personal goals or career goals, for example.

How can you do this?

What you choose to reward yourself with will depend on your personal interests, your passions, as well as your personality.

  • It can be having an evening out with friends for some live music, or enjoying a tasty bar of Swiss chocolate.
  • If you like to stay active, it can be going for a long bike ride to get some fresh air and exercise, or hiking for a whole day over the weekend.
  • If you just want to chill, it can be soaking in a 30-minute bubble bath with some relaxing music, or watching a movie you’ve been putting of for the day when you have more time. This time, you’re in luck—that day is today!

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: