How can I improve my writing skills?

 

It’s quite powerful to start a question with how!

Because you’re looking for specifics. Ideas, tips, suggestions. Something new to learn. And the best part—what’s implied in your question is that you want to learn. That’s the key ingredient to improving any skill!

On to the how.

Here are 7 writing tips on how to improve your writing skills.

Writing tip #1. Don’t listen to your ego.

If you are truly serious about improving your writing skills, you’ll want to curb your ego and not let it do all the talking. If you’ve finished writing something, whether it’s one sentence or one page, and you hear that voice in your head saying, That’s amazing writing, how clever of you, you’re a genius! — that’s your ego talking. What happens when you let the ego take over? You get complacent, blasé, or just plain lazy. You don’t learn anything new. You just write for the sake of pleasing yourself. Isn’t that contradictory? Because, if you want to improve your writing skills, aren’t you saying you want to get better at communicating your ideas, thoughts, and feelings? And for that you need a community, you need readers, you need other people. Always keep this in mind.

Writing tip # 2. Feed your curious mind.

Before you even start writing, 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.

Writing tip #3. Make it a personal goal to 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 care about the act of writing and 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 list page numbers of sections you’ll want to revisit.

Writing tip #4. Select topics that can provide value to others.

Don’t be surprised if you experience some resistance as you’re reading this. Let’s say you’re committed to keep your ego in check, but then you go to the other extreme and you start doubting yourself and 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 yoga 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.

Writing tip #5. Create a dedicated space for your writing.

In order to make your writing habit stick, it’s helpful if you turn it into a ritual. When you do, you train your brain to get used to the activity and start looking forward to it. 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.

Writing tip #6. Work on developing stronger self-discipline.

Here’s a habit that many famous writers—from Ernest Hemingway to Maya Angelou to J.K. Rowling—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.

Writing tip #7. Stay humble, keep improving, move forward.

As you keep honing your skills, you’ll find an audience for your writing. It could be a close friend if you’re just starting out your writing habit, or it can be your boss or co-worker if writing is part of your job. No matter the scenario, it’s likely you’ll get some sort of feedback. Sometimes it will be flattering, other times it won’t. Always keep your ego in check and stay humble. The trick is in seeing your writing as a process, not as an end result. Every moment in which you’re dedicated to your skill will add up to better writing, more confidence, and a greater joy in staying connected to the beautiful world of language and words. So rather than avoiding a situation where you can hear something negative, stay open to feedback. You may hear a piece of advice or understand a point of view you didn’t consider before. Either way, this mindset will allow you go keep growing and moving forward—and that’s how you get better at writing.

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How can I find my passion?

 

Roll up your sleeves, and do a little detective work on yourself!

But don’t be afraid to do this. Actually, you probably already know what things you are passionate about, but this knowledge is hidden somewhere inside your mind. That’s where the detective work comes in, because it’s up to you to find what you’re passionate about and bring it out in the daylight so you can observe it better and see it from all angles.

Just a small tip: if you’re going to try this, then don’t forget to have some fun with it. It’s a creative endeavor. So use your imagination, try out different options, and observe carefully how you react to each one.

Here are 5 ideas to help you identify what you’re passionate about.

Idea #1. Befriend your inner child.

Just because you are now grown up (or if you’re like me, you openly say you’re never going to be one hundred percent grown-up anyway!), that does not mean you should ignore the child you once were and that is still in you. Let’s say you’re a college student, or you’re working on your career, or you’re a parent or an entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re currently in, because when it comes to passion, age is irrelevant. That’s why it will benefit you greatly if you acknowledge that your inner child is still there, and ask what it wants to be when it grows up.

Here’s how.

  • Write down at least 5 things your inner child tells you it want to become when it grows up. Take an hour or two for this exercise to really think it through. Don’t limit yourself. Your answers can be as short or as long as you want them to be. The key is in writing it all down.
  • Look over your list, and pick items that still speak to you that you may have forgotten. One, five, or ten years ago, did you have big plans to be a writer, a teacher, a painter, or an athlete? When was the last time you did any of those things? How did you feel when you were doing them? Write this down too.
  • Make a plan to try something out. Specifically, make a plan for the following month to devote some time (for example, 1 hour in the evening, or twice a week if your schedule is full) to do one of the items you’ve selected from the list. If you chose painting, for example, go buy a sketch pad and some watercolors and start with a basic drawing of an object you like or a favorite animal. Or, if you picked a sport you were really into and still like to practice, make the time to go to your local gym and start working out more seriously.

Idea #2. Do something that really makes you feel good.

As a grown-up, it’s quite normal to feel that your life in adulthood is not at all what you once thought it would be. Do you feel like you now only have time for work but not for play? If so, you’re not alone—this is something we all feel from time to time. But there are things you can do to make a change and improve your life for the better. For example, you can create a ritual to follow every day that will give you pleasure.

Here’s how.

  • If you’re an avid reader, make the time to go to the library to pick a novel and read it for 30 minutes each evening before going to sleep.
  • If you love music, learn how to play guitar or drums or the harmonica when you’ve finished with your work or school assignments.
  • If you enjoy writing, make it a priority to write one page in your journal either early in the morning or late at night when you have the time to organize your thoughts over a cup of tea.

Idea #3. Make some space to let happiness into your life.

Here’s another area that goes along with becoming an adult. As we accumulate more responsibilities and our lives get busier and busier, we forget to focus on what’s important. Instead, we often find ourselves getting distracted by obstacles we see in front of us. And as we switch our focus to those obstacles, we become more critical of ourselves, we’re impatient when we don’t perform well, and we get judgmental in evaluating our skills, achievements, even our intelligence. All it takes is to make a couple of small changes to see a difference.

Here’s how.

  • Change your attitude towards yourself by practicing self-compassion. Forgive yourself for mistakes that you made in the past. They’ve already happened, and you can’t go back in time. You can learn from them, but don’t hold on to them. This applies to your relationships, your career, your education, and other areas of your life in which you feel you have underperformed.
  • Actively look for what you can do to become happier. One of Harvard University’s top lecturers, Tal Ben-Shahar, wrote a book called Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Happiness. He focuses on positive psychology and how to apply the concept of happiness to daily life, for example in school, the workplace, and in our personal relationships.
  • Allow yourself some time to daydream. Not every minute of the day needs to be scheduled for work, study, personal, or professional responsibilities. Allow yourself to stare out the train window on your daily commute and watch the world go by. Go for a walk without a specific agenda, other than to let yourself be by yourself. Sit somewhere with your headphones and listen to music that brings you peace or gives you energy.

Idea #4. Identify a personal goal you can aspire to.

As you’re working hard to study for a college degree or to build a career, it’s important that you don’t neglect your personal development. Start by asking yourself some tough questions. For example: where do you want to be 5 or 10 years from now? Who do you want to become? What is your ideal scenario—perhaps living in a different city or country, having a partner to share your life journey with, being surrounded by smart and interesting people who contribute to your personal growth, or mastering jiujitsu? Get specific, be honest with yourself, then follow up with some action.

Here’s how.

  • Write down your top 3 personal goals. If you want to make sure you have enough time to focus on this activity, then set aside an hour or two this weekend to get serious about it.
  • Under each goal, write 3 things you would need to do consistently to get results. Want to get fit? Your three things could be to educate yourself on what types of food are healthier and can give you energy, set a schedule to work out 4 times a week, and start going to bed early.
  • Create a schedule for the week ahead. Nothing will actually get done unless you plan for it. Consistency is key, so you need to devote blocks of time ( starting with 30 minutes, for example) to make progress in the areas you’ve identified.
  • Do an assessment of the progress you made. A good idea is to review your efforts at the end of the week. Ask yourself, did some activities take more time than you anticipated? Why did they take as long? What could you have done better? Then make adjustments for the following week.

Idea #5. Fuel your motivation by jumpstarting your mornings.

To give yourself some extra time to pursue the things you’ve identified as your passions, you can consider mornings. Why? Because creating a morning routine can set the tone to your entire day, and give you a positive mindset to keep making progress on the things you feel passionate about.

Here’s how.

  • Start waking up just 15 minutes earlier. If you usually wake up at 7 a.m., set your morning alarm to 6:45. Keep this schedule for one week. The next week, set it again to 15 minutes earlier, this time for 6:30 a.m. Gradually increase the increments until you reach one hour. The benefit? You won’t feel the big change, and you’re more likely to keep the habit. An hour of free time for yourself is priceless!
  • Eat some brain food. Start the day with breakfast that will fill you up, give you energy, and improve cognitive function. Here are 3 breakfast ideas. Oatmeal mixed with peanut butter and fresh fruit, a parfait made with Greek yogurt and topped with granola and fruit, or eggs—they’re a powerful mix of B vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids keep your nerve cells functioning at optimal speed.
  • Do a short burst of exercise. Pick a fast, easy to follow, and targeted workout to help your body wake up and prepare for the day ahead. Here are some ideas for a 10–15 minute wake-up session: a morning yoga routine, a set of sun salutation poses, or a quick set of sprints in your neighborhood to allow your mind and body to stay on the right track and keep doing what you enjoy!

What are ways to not be average?

 

Be honest. What scares you about being average? Just going through life? Just letting time tick away? Letting every day be just like the day before? Letting things happen to you instead of for you?

Or is it that you’re worried your life will not be extraordinary in some way? Maybe you think others are doing more important things whereas you don’t have the vision of where you need to go, or which skills you could improve to make a name for yourself?

Regardless of your answer, what’s important to understand is this: being average might just mean you aren’t being proactive about your life. It’s likely that you spend your days in reactive mode, and your motivation to do or be anything different is at a low point. And right now you’re reading these words because the situation is bothering you. You feel like something needs to change. You don’t want the feeling of being and staying average to remain a part of your everyday life.

And that is GOOD!

Now, what can you do about it?

Short answer: you need to start taking control of your life.

And starting today, that needs to become your top priority.

Here are 10 tips that can help you gain more control over where you want to go.

Tip #1. Start expecting things. BIG things. Things you can be part of. Things that you can change for the better: the status of your education, a problem at work, the way you lead your personal life. Imagine a better scenario for yourself, consider what needs to happen to make it a reality, then come up with a concrete plan. And don’t stop there. Do something, starting today, however small, to make it real. Give it 5 minutes today. Then do some more small things tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.

Tip #2. Have an opinion. YOUR OWN. Just because your friends say something is good, bad, interesting, dull, cool, not cool, totally acceptable or not, does not mean you need to mirror what they say or do. Practice your critical-thinking skills. Ask yourself if the thing in question is important to you, and if it is, why it’s important. Or if it isn’t, then ask yourself why you should waste time on it. Question things. Don’t blindly accept what you’re told. Grow that critical thinking muscle.

Tip #3. Be proud of what makes you unique. It may be your heritage, the value system you’ve been raised with, the color of your skin, the languages you speak, even the tiny bits and pieces of who you are. The way you like to cook your food. Your book or music collection. Your goals. The way you see your future. Pick something that you find beautiful in that mix, and nurture it every single day.

Tip #4. Dream. This is a super important one. Yes, dream—and not just at night. Dream while you’re awake. Dream about the what ifs. Dream in small pieces. Dream in minutes or even seconds. Give yourself the time to do it. Put down that phone, step away from the laptop. Create some space for dreaming. And never listen to people who tell you that you need to give up your dreams and grow up. Those people? They’re clueless.

Tip #5. Stop talking non-stop. Want to avoid being average? Don’t make constant chatter a top priority. What can help? To start, don’t assume people are there to just listen to you. It’s not all about you. Wisdom comes through listening and observing. Listen to what people are talking about. Hear what they’re telling you. Focus on their words and the ideas they share with you. Observe their behavior. Learn about the world in this way.

Tip #6. Respect yourself. Because respect is where everything that’s truly important to your self-development begins. Value who you are, what you are doing, who you are becoming. Value your time and your efforts. Value your skills and what you’re good at. Be aware of your entire journey and how difficult it is to achieve the things you’ve already done. Don’t take everything you’ve accomplished for granted. If you take it all for granted, so will everyone else. Respect starts with you. Others will follow.

Tip #7. Focus on mastery. If you really want to get better at something, you need to keep working on it. This applies to improving your personal relationships, picking up a skill you need for school or work, building positive habits, showing compassion towards others, and whatever else you believe is important to you in life. Don’t just talk about wanting to do things or try a thousand different things and then abandon them. Make something stick. Become a master at them step by step, in small increments, every single day.

Tip #8. Read. Read a LOT. Not only stuff on the Internet, or what you have to read for school or work. Read books. Big books. Novels. Books written by Nobel prize winners. Books by writers who are considered the classics because they’ve stood the test of time: Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, Orwell, and so many more. Explore other centuries, different points of view, characters who were challenged by circumstances similar to yours or perhaps not at all. Read to feed your brain. Read to expand your mind about what is possible.

Tip #9. Stop treating your cell phone as a crystal ball through which you see life. It may be a mini computer feeding you information packaged in attractive apps. So you open your eyes in the morning and immediately start scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. Throughout the day, you keep checking for more notifications, text messages from friends, news alerts. Every single day. How do you make things different? Don’t let your phone rule your life. It’s a tool that can make information more accessible, yes. But be aware of how much time you devote to it. Change things. Look up. See the world. Experience it in real time. By yourself.

Tip #10. Work on becoming a person others can look up to. You know those stories your friends share about someone who did something unexpected, illogical, unreasonable, selfish, foolish, or just plain dumb, or chose something that took them off their life path and caused them to lose focus of what’s truly important in life? Don’t be that person. Use your intelligence. Make smart choices—big or small—and make sure those choices all help you get on the path to become the best version of yourself. Create a personal goal to become someone people seek to gain knowledge in a particular field of expertise, or to be a person friends come to when they need guidance or just a warm embrace. Or, strive to be someone’s hero (or as the Greeks called ἥρως (hērōs): a warrior, a defender, a protector. All those goals will empower you to lead an extraordinary life. And there’s nothing average about that!

What are five books I should read to improve my life?

 

Should?

Not sure about that. We all have different tastes in books, authors, topics, and writing styles. But I’ll share with you these 5 books that have made a lasting impression on me in the past couple of years—so much so that I’ve re-read them, took detailed notes and wrote down quotes, talked about them with friends, and recommended them to anyone who cares to ask, “What should I read to improve my life?”

Pick one and see what you think. And let me know!

Book recommendation #1. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.

One of my most recommended books of all time, this book is what I call a true game changer. In a nutshell, it is an exploration of mindsets and human psychology, and how the view we adopt for ourselves over time profoundly affects the way we lead our life. Dweck explains the difference between a fixedmindset—believing that our qualities are set in stone, that we can only have a certain level of intelligence or personality type, and a growth mindset—believing that we can develop our skills and abilities through continuous efforts and change with our life experiences.

Book recommendation #2. Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD.

The book introduces the concept of emotional agility. Emotional agility means that we can be flexible with our thoughts and feelings (the equivalent of having a growth mindset), instead of being rigid and holding on to beliefs from our past (the equivalent of having a fixed mindset). There are four key concepts of emotional agility: showing up (facing your thoughts and feelings), stepping out (detaching from them), walking your why (focusing on your core values), and moving on (getting proactive in changing your habits and mindset).

Book recommendation #3. On the Shortness of Life by Seneca the Younger.

Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher and political figure, wrote this blueprint for how to lead a high quality of life which he called a “life of tranquillity.” The book is essentially a list of practical ideas on how to achieve a tranquil lifestyle, such as changing your attitude towards the challenges in your life, thinking your way through difficulties instead of allowing yourself to be surprised when they occur, being flexible as opposed to rigid in your reactions, valuing your time instead of wasting in on trivial things, and focusing on a specific and meaningful goal. It’s an excellent resource to browse especially if you often find yourself reacting to other people and random events that distract you from doing what’s most important to you.

Book recommendation #4. Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferriss.

I’ve read Tools of Titans and thought it was an encyclopedia of excellent advice, not to mention the pages of notes I took as I was reading. And then I got this book, and it was even better. Kudos to Tim Ferriss for curating this collection of conversations with people who are leaders in their field, who are original in the pursuit of excellence, and who lead interesting lives we can definitely learn from. The topics covered range from personal dilemmas around fear and failure, to achieving excellence and making decisions that will be right for you and what you want to accomplish in your personal and professional life. You’re guaranteed to find advice for a dilemma you may be thinking about right now!

Book recommendation #5. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

I’m a big believer in the concept of deep work, and I practice it daily—both in my professional and personal life. That’s why I found this book so useful. It explains the importance of deep work—the ability to focus on cognitively demanding tasks in order to achieve more in less time. The author uses a ton of real-life examples to explain why maintaining focus is a challenge in the 21st century as we lead a lifestyle that revolves around distractions, mainly emails and social media. He also provides simple and practical suggestions on how to deal with distractions and how to master your deep work so that you can excel at whatever you do—in a smarter way.

What are the best brain foods you know of?

 

How about feeding your brain with new ideas and points of view?

When you do, those ideas and perspectives can open up a whole new world of possibilities. You could, for example, hear details from other people’s lives about how they managed to overcome an obstacle or to succeed in accomplishing something they’ve always wanted to do. In addition, hearing their stories could give you an idea or two on how to implement the strategies they used into your daily life. That’s a gold mine just waiting to be discovered! You can use this brain food to learn, be curious, wonder, question, pause, and think what you want to do and what is possible to do with the information you’ve absorbed.

Here are 3 ideas on how to feed your brain.

Brain food idea #1. Watch documentaries on big ideas, important moments in history, and people who fought their way to the top.

  • The Defiant Ones. It’s a four-part series that tells one of the most interesting stories in contemporary music history, and even more—it’s a story of growth, mastery, personal development, challenging yourself to become better, and focusing on life goals, no matter the circumstances life throws at you. This excellent documentary features record producer Jimmy Iovine and hip-hop legend Dr. Dre, and other legendary musicians such as Bono of U2, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg.
  • The Ancient WorldsIn this seven-part series, British historian Bettany Hughes shares her passion for ancient societies and talks about everyday life in ancient Alexandria, Rome, and Athens. She gives an in-depth look into the way society was organized among Minoans, Spartans, and the Moors.
  • Finding Joe. This is a documentary based on the work of professor and writer of mythology Joseph Campbell who discovered a pattern hidden in every story told in ancient texts and oral traditions from different cultures, which he called “the hero’s journey.” By learning about the concept of the hero’s journey we can better understand the challenges we face in our lives, the purpose of self-discovery, and how we can use this knowledge to focus on things we feel strongly about that point us in the direction of a career, a calling, or a life path.
  • Ultimate Rome: Empire Without LimitThese 4 episodes are hosted by Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at Cambridge University. She explores how the Roman Empire was constructed, how it functioned, what the infrastructure was like, and how different parts of the world merged together to expand one of the most powerful empires of all time.
  • Lucy Worsley’s Empire of the TsarsBritish historian Lucy Worsley goes in depth with the reign of the Romanov dynasty in this 3-part series. Her story moves from Peter the Great to Catherine the Great, and finally to the the execution of the tsar’s family in the early 20th century and the beginning of the Russian revolution.

Brain food idea #2. Listen to podcasts for tips on how to become a better version of yourself.

  • 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 JohnsonThis 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).

Brain food idea #3. Read books to grow your mindset and expand your understanding of what’s possible.

  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. One of my most recommended books of all time, this book is what I call a true game changer. In a nutshell, it is an exploration of mindsets and human psychology, and how the view we adopt for ourselves over time profoundly affects the way we lead our life. Dweck explains the difference between a fixed mindset—believing that our qualities are set in stone, that we can only have a certain level of intelligence or personality type, and a growth mindset—believing that we can develop our skills and abilities through continuous efforts and change with our life experiences.
  • Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD. The book introduces the concept of emotional agility. Emotional agility means that we can be flexible with our thoughts and feelings (the equivalent of having a growth mindset), instead of being rigid and holding on to beliefs from our past (the equivalent of having a fixed mindset). There are four key concepts of emotional agility: showing up (facing your thoughts and feelings), stepping out (detaching from them), walking your why (focusing on your core values), and moving on (getting proactive in changing your habits and mindset).
  • Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss. This book is almost like an encyclopedia: there’s so much information included and it’s best if you read it in small chunks. In essence, the material is divided into three sections (Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise), and consists of a comprehensive collection of life experiences, tools, and hands-on tactics compiled from a series of interviews Ferriss conducted with world-class leaders in diverse fields of expertise. These leaders range from top athletes to best-selling authors to Special Ops commanders. It’s like drinking from a very concentrated cup of wisdom!
  • The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. This book offers 366 days of quotes of Stoic philosophers as well as practical applications of their wisdom through exercises. The philosophers mentioned include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Zeno, and Cleanthes. Here are two examples of powerful quotes: “We suffer more in imagination than in reality” (Seneca), and “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own” (Marcus Aurelius). In other words, everyone can find something here they can relate to!
  • The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben Shahar. A unique take on perfectionism and how it can be a major obstacle in life. The book differentiates positive (optimal) perfectionism from negative perfectionism. The negative perfectionist rejects failure (and therefore never processes or deals with it), rejects negative and painful emotions, and ultimately rejects dealing with reality. In contrast, the optimal perfectionist allows himself to experience the entire human experience: he accepts success and also failure, believes it is OK to to feel the full spectrum of human emotions, and by accepting reality he is better equipped to make progress towards the future.

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!

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!