How can I discipline my mind?

 

It’s like trying to tame a wild horse, right?

The undisciplined mind can go in many directions. Check the news as soon as you wake up. Forgot to send that email yesterday—do it now! Fifteen minutes later, you’re blaming yourself because there’s no way you have time to shower, get dressed, andprepare your lunch to avoid eating out yet again. On the bus, your thoughts jump from worrying about the homework you did late last night, to contemplating the future and why on earth you’re studying for that degree when you don’t really care about it and you’d rather be doing something else with your life.

Sounds exhausting!

And yet it goes on and on, for hours and days and months and years. Why? Because you didn’t think you could do anything about it. But that’s where you’re wrong. Maybe, just maybe, there isn’t a big science about disciplining the mind. Maybe it’s just a matter of training your brain so it works for you instead of against you.

So how can you train your brain—starting today—to give it more discipline?

Here are 3 tips that have worked for me.

Discipline tip #1. Start each day by making one important decision.

Other than making your bed each morning (which is the quickest and easiest way to accomplish something fast), you can set the tone to your day by taking ownership of what you’re going to do with the next 12–16 hours of your life. To do this, I start my day with one question: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?” This technique trains my brain to evaluate the goals that are important to me right now, and forces me to prioritize one goal that needs attention immediately. I give myself the time to think about what’s important, instead of letting other people or situations prioritize my day.

How to do this?

It’s quite easy, and it will take you about 5 minutes to do. Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, for example as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Come up with an answer on the spot and answer it out loud. Then follow up by taking action: focus your energy throughout the day to completing your one thing.


Discipline tip #2. Do your hard work first before doing anything for pleasure.

To be perfectly honest—I wasn’t born self-disciplined. Nobody is. Because it takes time, effort, and practice. For me, the habits that I’m practicing now weren’t habits I had in my early childhood. Many of them are new behaviors I’ve been practicing only the past few years of my life. I remember that for years, my typical day would start with checking email and Twitter on my phone, followed by exchanging text messages back and forth with friends, classmates, or coworkers. In retrospect, I see what a waste of time it was! Over the years, I realized that mornings are actually the ideal time of day to get the hardest work out of the way. By doing so, I stopped dreading all the work I knew I needed to do, and it freed up the rest of the day for other more pleasant activities.

How to do this?

Adhere to rule #1: put away your phone. Do whatever you need to so you can ignore it successfully: set it to Airplane mode, turn off the volume, put it on a table farther away face down, or place it in your backpack or jacket pocket. Then, make the most of your mornings by taking advantage of your brain’s peak performance time which happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. Use the time for complex cognitive tasks that require the most concentration, such as reading, writing, coding, analyzing, critical thinking, or problem solving.


Discipline tip #3. Learn how to better manage your thoughts.

Like you, I’ve also experienced thousands of random thoughts bouncing around in my mind all day long. They would rarely appear in a linear fashion (where one thought logically leads to another), but rather they’d come in spurts, sometimes linked by one idea and sometimes not linked at all. They could be anything from busy chatter about what’s going on that particular day, or they’d show up in the form of open-ended questions, analysis of a situation, worrying about the future, dwelling on a past event, or little reminders of what still needs to be done before the end of the day. I used to think this was only happening to me! And then I started doing more research and realized that brain chatter is not anything unusual, but that it can be controlled. I started incorporating small daily habits to manage my thoughts better by working out regularly, focusing on deep breathing, doing a short meditation practice, and switching to a growth mindset.

How to do this?

One thing is for sure—if you don’t do anything about it, random thoughts can take up your entire day, leaving you feeling frazzled, anxious, and unfocused. What’s better? Be proactive about managing them. Start your mornings with a short workout of about 15 minutes (yoga, HIIT training, or a brisk walk in a nearby park). Try some deep breathing, which is simple: sit comfortably, close your eyes, and inhale for a count of 10, then exhale as you count to 8. Repeat 10–20 times— it can help reduce stress and help you feel calmer. If you’d like to try meditation, download the Headspace app for a free 10-minute guided session. And if you’d like to develop a growth mindset, read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset to discover how a shift in your attitude can make you feel more optimistic about your core strengths, and keep you disciplined to tackle any goal that is important for your self-development. And that’s where a disciplined mind can do its best work!

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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.

What is the importance of discipline in life?

 

For me, having discipline is probably one of the most important skills that improves the quality of my life.

And the reason? Because for me, discipline affords me freedom. And it’s even more than that. It’s a lifestyle. It’s about making smart choices, day in and day out. It’s about growth. And mastery. And leading a life with more purpose.

If you choose to lead a disciplined life, that means it is you who decides today that you’ll get better at something. That you will create something that has value. That you will commit to a goal or an idea or that future version of you five or ten years down the road. Which makes it all not only possible, but very real.

All that you need to do is take that first step. Do it today. And when you do, you’ll notice how much having discipline can transform your life.

Here are 7 steps to create a disciplined lifestyle, in no specific order. Pick something you can start right now, then experiment with other steps until you start seeing results.

Step #1. Get out of your comfort zone.

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford and one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, is an expert whose work I truly admire. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dweck makes an important distinction between two mindsets: fixed and growth mindset. If you’ve adopted a fixed mindset, you think being successful is due to good genes, a particular talent or gift, or something you are or aren’t born with but can never change. Succeeding means being perfect every time, achieving results easily and effortlessly, without much preparation or learning anything new. It’s all about staying in the comfort zone and repeating what works. But the downside to a fixed way of thinking is never making an effort to step out of the comfort zone and doing something that is tough and challenging. Yet that’s exactly where real success can happen.

How can you implement this?

To nurture a growth mindset, shift your focus from the end result (taking a perfect photograph, making straight A’s in school, reaching the finish line first) to the actual process of becoming successful. A growth mindset person doesn’t think that success is being the best—they believe success is doing their best. You can shift your focus in different ways each day, starting with moving away from your comfort zone (doing everything the same way over and over, using the same tools and processes), and moving towards a zone that’s uncomfortable and new. Maybe you will come up with a better way to improve how you do your work such as breaking down a difficult task in smaller increments, or tackling a tough mental task early in the day when your mind can concentrate better. Or, maybe you’ll start waking up a bit earlier each morning to practice a new fitness habit such as going for a run or swim.

Step #2. Take full ownership of your mind.

If your days begin with the same pattern of worrying, rushing, and multitasking, you’ll soon find yourself exhausted, distracted, and even anxious. As you go about your day, the situation gets worse because you’re receiving more inputs and your brain is trying to catch up and manage all your cognitive as well as other tasks. Towards evening you’ll over-analyze, worry, stress out, and find it difficult to focus. And it doesn’t stop there—your mind can start filling up with negative thoughts which can make you feel frustration, anger, disappointment, self-doubt, even contemplation of quitting. You know that’s not what your mind should be doing at its optimal level. That’s why you’re better off if you take full ownership over it.

How can you implement this?

Taking ownership of your mind isn’t just wishful thinking—it’s about exercising some mind control. Who do you think controls your mind, if not you? Maybe you didn’t think of it that way before, but that’s how it should and can be. For example, you should take control over what type of thoughts you have and what kind of feelings you allow yourself to experience. Instead of having self-doubt about whether to take on a tough mental task, use positive phrases to improve the way you talk to yourself, such as I am capable of solving this problem or Maybe I’m not good at this yet, but I can improve the skill with daily practice. Taking ownership of your mind is critical because you’ll feel like you’re in power and are actively pursuing your goals, instead of feeling like your negative thoughts are taking over your life. If your thoughts seem chaotic, you can start a short 10-minute meditation practice. If you feel you’re bingeing on TV series, opt for watching science documentaries or reading fiction.

Step #3. Increase your knowledge by asking questions.

You’ve heard of the saying that knowledge is power, and certainly in many ways that is true. Knowledge is your most powerful tool because it will help you understand the world around you, boost your communication skills with people in your environment, improve your grades in school or your productivity at work, and help you achieve the goals you set for yourself both professionally and personally. Learning expert, leader in optimal brain performance, and brain trainer for many top entrepreneurs Jim Kwik says that if knowledge is power, then learning is your superpower. In other words, knowledge isn’t static. It’s constantly evolving, and that’s why it’s so important to increase it and work on it every day. What really helps in this process? Asking a lot of questions. That’s your biggest learning hack.

How can you implement this?

People often feel embarrassed or ashamed they don’t know something in a classroom or work setting. But think of it this way: you’re there for a reason! Not to prove yourself how great you are at something (that’s again the fixed mindset talking), but more importantly you’re there to increase your knowledge, your skill set, and your abilities. There are many ways of asking questions. If you’re learning about a new process at work that is unfamiliar to you, break it down into smaller chunks, then examine each one individually and ask the relevant questions. What are the components, where are the dependencies, what’s the end goal? If you don’t understand the vocabulary a professor is using during lectures, or if your textbook is full of words you’re not familiar with, take out your dictionary and look up each word. Make sure you also ask yourself a few questions as you’re learning. What have I learned from this? What have I created? How much progress have I made, and what will I do next to improve even more?

Step #4. Make a commitment to crush your weaknesses.

I have my weaknesses and you have yours. Everyone has them, and that’s nothing unusual or even bad. We can’t all be knowledgeable at everything, nor can we possess every skill under the sun. It’s OK. Our weaknesses come in many shapes, so it’s important to know what yours are. For some, their weakness is sugar—they can’t say no to the box of candy a coworker brings to the office. For others, it’s a constant need for attention—they want friends to be around them, praise them, listen to them. And for some people, it’s feeling like a failure whenever they try to solve a complex math equation. Regardless of what your weakness is, know this—you don’t have to accept it. You are not defined by it, nor should you live your life by it. You can change it and in the process you can change yourself.

How can you implement this?

Next time you’re experiencing a weakness, start changing the way you think about it. Ask yourself, Where is the opportunity in this situation? It’s obvious I am missing knowledge or a skill set in order to do this better. What can I learn from this? Maybe there are resources that I’ll find helpful, from another textbook to a YouTube tutorial explaining how something works, or I can ask someone who’s a subject matter expert. Don’t stop there—ask yourself a few tough questions to get you on the right track. Is this weakness something I want to keep in my life? How will it affect me if things stay the same for the next ten years? How will that make me feel? Do I accept that version of myself? How can I be just a little bit better at this every day?

Step #5. Understand that fear of stagnation is worse than fear of failure.

Fear of failure is probably one of the top reasons people walk away from a tough mental or physical challenge, a difficult conversation, or a career opportunity that can be a life-changing decision. What’s behind it? Maybe worry that they can’t solve a problem, or have to admit they don’t know what to do, or the feeling of dread if they’re embarrassed or ridiculed. One of my biggest mentors, Jocko Willink (ex-Navy SEAL, entrepreneur, and expert on topics like leadership and mastery) has a great attitude towards this fear. He says, fear is good! You should experience it because that can be the force that will propel you forward. What’s much worse, he says, is being stagnant. Imagine a scenario in which 20 years from now you wake up and realize that you haven’t moved an inch. You haven’t made any progress in anything. Now that’s stagnation. With fear, you can choose to use it constructively and move forward. You can do something about it.

How can you implement this?

Let’s say you just experienced failure in one area of your life: it can be a relationship that hasn’t progressed the way you wanted, or it can be an exam you didn’t pass and now you’re sitting at home feeling resigned and just awful about it. Now is the right time to take a fresh look at what you’re going through so you can understand it better and benefit from it. First, it’s best if you let a little time go by; you want to get the emotional reaction out of the way so it doesn’t mess with your ability to analyze the situation logically. Once you’ve made that pause, go over the situation in your mind, or write your thoughts down in a notebook. Ask yourself, What was I trying to achieve? What got in the way? Were there any missed opportunities, or was there something I could’ve done differently to change the outcome? How much was out of my control, and how much could I have changed with my behavior or attitude? What did I learn from the experience that I’ll never do again, or that I’ll improve?

Step #6. Let obstacles show you the way to self-improvement.

How often have you told yourself, if only I didn’t run out of time I could’ve finished that term paper? Or, if only I wasn’t invited to the party I wouldn’t have eaten two slices of that chocolate cake and I would’ve stuck to my diet? In those moments when you’re trying to rationalize your decisions and actions, you’re blaming the obstacles for not achieving your short or long-term goals. Or, to put it differently, you’re giving them top priority and more importance than anything you can do or change with your behavior. Shouldn’t obstacles serve a different purpose in our life? Instead of using them as an excuse to avoid something or even quit something, it’s more beneficial if we use them to our advantage in some way.

How can you implement this?

In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, Jocko Willink has a power tip for how to deal with obstacles. He suggests that when you reach an obstacle, instead of saying, Oh no! you should embrace it and say, Good! Why position an obstacle in a positive light? It’s such a subtle switch of your mindset, but it can make a huge difference in how you react to a potentially problematic situation. If you’ve failed at an exam, good! Now you’ll have more time to prep and organize your study days more effectively. If you’re trying to multitask and fail at everything, good! Now you’ll have time to regroup, take a break, and prioritize what is most important so you don’t have to do anything halfway. If you didn’t get that job offer you were waiting for, good! Now you’ll be able to revamp your resume and apply for jobs that are an even better fit for your skill set.

Step #7. Stop making excuses to live the best version of your life.

It’s amazing how much we go through life making excuses for why we cannot do things. We don’t have the time to read books, but we sure make the time to watch TV for three hours straight after dinner. We don’t feel like studying tonight, because we’d much rather go to the movie theater and ignore the exam until it’s well past midnight. We don’t want to apply for a new job because it sounds much more challenging than the one we currently have, so we keep the status quo and drag ourselves to work each day feeling unmotivated. It all sounds illogical, doesn’t it? But excuses, no matter their shape or size, are standing in the way of living our life to the fullest. That’s why it’s time to stop making them.

How can you implement this?

Here’s where you can really experience what discipline is all about. It’s time to put a stop to those bad habits and destructive behavior that’s not helpful to you and your future self. It’s time to change the way you talk to yourself and also how you see yourself. Don’t coddle yourself; be tough when it comes to setting daily goals. Don’t count on motivation to get you out of bed; set the alarm and as soon as you hear it, get up. Don’t tell yourself you cannot do something; even if you’re not in the mood, just do it anyway. Don’t dwell on past mistakes; focus on what you’ve learned from the situation and move on, even if it’s making a tiny step forward. And if you don’t see yourself as a disciplined person, maybe you’re not one—yet.

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.

Which habit changed your life?

Honestly?

Every habit that changed my life is one that I stuck to, repeated, focused on, and executed every single day.

No excuses, no procrastination, no questioning “should I even do this?” — because if I wanted it to really change something, I knew I had to be disciplinedabout it.

And to be clear, it wasn’t just one habit that changed my life. It was many of them. Here are 5 habits I believe are important to me, that have made a big difference in improving the quality of my life.

Life-changing habit #1. Starting the day with a morning routine to give me energy.

How did it change my life?

I used to be a night owl, going to bed regularly at 2 a.m., sometimes later. But there are tons of benefits I’ve felt since switching to a morning routine. Unlike before, I don’t feel dread or overwhelm as soon as I wake up because of all the things I need to finish on that day. I feel that I’ve become the master of my own time because I select what I want to work on first. In addition, I feel more calm knowing in advance what my day will look like.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Hack your morning alarm. Create an alarm that is friendly to your sleepy self. Pick a ring tone that’s unusual but not irritating, make a recording of your own voice saying a positive message, or queue up some music that you find uplifting and energizing and schedule it to play when you need to wake up.
  • Meditate to reset your brain. It can help you cope better with the thousands of random thoughts that occupy you throughout the day and may contribute to your feeling stressed, rushed, and overwhelmed. Download the Headspace app and practice for only 10 minutes; it’s great for absolute beginners.
  • Do a short 15–20 minute workout. It can be a morning yoga routine, a a set of sun salutation poses or a 20-minute power walk. It won’t take a lot of time, but you’ll feel the benefits for hours.

Life-changing habit #2. Asking one simple question every morning: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?”

How did it change my life?

This single habit is probably the biggest game changer for me. As soon as I wake up, I look forward to practicing it because I know it will boost my concentration. This tiny question simplifies my life, it helps my brain focus better, it makes me prioritize goals, and it streamlines my work so I don’t feel overwhelmed about having to accomplish too many things in a single day.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Write the question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. The important part is that you can easily see it as you’re brushing your teeth or getting ready.
  • Read it out loud as you start each day, and come up with an answer on the spot. The trick is to get your eyes on it so that it becomes second nature and you don’t even think about having to glance over to it any more.
  • Keep your answer top of mind as you go through your work for the day, so that you don’t get distracted by other things that might take you away from what’s important to you. It will be a constant reminder of what’s your top priority.

Life-changing habit #3. Saying “thank you” for what I have in my life right now.

How did it change my life?

Practicing gratitude makes a big difference in how one feels about one’s life. For me, it’s trained my brain to focus on positive things that are already a part of my daily life, instead of focusing on what I haven’t yet accomplished or acquired. I feel that being grateful keeps me grounded in my personal life because it gives me time to think what’s good for my growth, or what’s beautiful about my immediate surroundings or an event I’ve experienced.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Do it early. When you start your day with gratitude, you will feel the effects throughout the day. All it takes is 5 minutes of your time, so you won’t feel it takes away from your hectic morning schedule. You can write things down, say them out loud, or just think about them.
  • Start small. Focus only on 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be the simplest of things such as having a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, a friendship that is important to you, a dog or cat that you have as your pet, or an event from the previous day that made you happy.
  • Be specific. If it’s a friendship you’re grateful for, emphasize which qualities of your friend you are grateful for (they’re warm, kind, or incredibly funny). If it’s having a warm bed or your own room that you feel gratitude about, describe why this is important to you.

Life-changing habit #4. Doing my deep work early in the morning.

How did it change my life?

Deep work—any kind of analytical thinking that requires the most concentration, such as reading, writing, analyzing or problem solving—a mental task that requires a different kind of focus from the other more tactical things we do on a regular basis. Since I switched to doing my deep work early (instead of leaving it for nighttime, during my night owl days), I don’t run out of energy and motivation. It frees up my evenings so I can work out and catch up with friends.

How can you start practicing it?

  • Set aside 2-4 hours after you wake up for deep work. Many scientists say that this is the brain’s peak performance time. If, for example, you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m. You can extend this time to whenever you have lunch, around midday, if you want to maximize your peak performance hours.
  • For one week, keep a log of what you do during your peak times. Are you focusing on your important mental tasks? Are you learning new material, solving complex problems, reading, or writing? For most people, this time is usually spent commuting to work, checking email, making phone calls, watching or listening to the news, chatting with co-workers or attending meetings.
  • Re-organize your peak brain performance time. Think of how you can rearrange the things you do early that are less important to your personal and professional development. Like to stay on top of the latest news? Save this activity for your lunch break. Emails are waiting in your inbox? Be careful of how much time checking email takes, and choose 2 blocks of time to go over your emails— in the mid-afternoon and at the end of your workday.

Life-changing habit #5. Being selective about how I feed my brain.

How did it change my life?

Like most people, I observed my limited free time go by very quickly with TV episodes, movies I didn’t find mentally stimulating, or listening to the radio on my daily commute. The worst part was that I didn’t really get anything of value from all that so-called entertainment. Over time, I realized that I needed to be much more selective about how I want to spend that time so that it is beneficial to my personal development.

How can you start practicing it?