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

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

Or is it?

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

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

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

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

Tip 1. Congratulate yourself for making it this far.

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

Question to ask yourself:

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

Tip 2. Resist getting emotional about it.

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

Question to ask yourself:

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

Tip 3. Tap into the bigger picture.

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

Question to ask yourself:

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

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

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

Question to ask yourself:

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

Tip 5. Start anticipating obstacles and prepare for them.

When we are faced with an obstacle, we tend to stop what we’re doing and start reacting: we get emotional, we complain. It’s not fair! It’s impossible to fix! But complaining won’t change a thing. What will make a difference is getting proactive. How? First, start anticipating that there will be obstacles you will encounter on your path. If you prepare yourself psychologically for them, they won’t feel so devastating when they actually do happen. Second, use the opportunity to learn something new, to take a different approach to the problem, to think it through, and to try something different that can yield better results. And third, take advantage of the tough times to achieve mastery in one area so that you can become an expert at it. That way you proactively take advantage of your full potential, and you use your strengths to accomplish what you want to do with your life.

Question to ask yourself:

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

Tip 6. Create a peaceful place in your mind.

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

Question to ask yourself:

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

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

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

Question to ask yourself:

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

What are some of the best life-changing books?

 

Here are 7 books that have made a big impact on my life most recently, along with a few details on why I think they’re important:

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

There’s so much timeless wisdom in this book! A collection of letters written by Seneca, it’s a dense read but be warned—you’ll be taking notes from every letter because each one is full of practical advice we can incorporate into our lives. And maybe it’s an even better idea to read it through once, then go back and take notes the second time—you’ll be glad you did. The letters cover quite a large selection of topics. You’ll get to the bottom of what is the importance of true friendship, to why you should exercise your mind daily, to specific ways of reducing anxiety about all the different events that are happening in your life, Seneca’s ideas are a blueprint for living a high quality of life every single day.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Written by two decorated, former Navy SEALs who fought during the war in Iraq, this book is a glimpse into what happens on the battlefield, and even more how a leader makes (or breaks) the success of a team. It’s a fascinating read about the importance of setting a strategy, how to prioritize what needs to be done first, how critical it is to check your ego, and why taking full responsibility when things go wrong promotes good leadership and success. At times the book reads like a thriller, and then you realize all the scenarios that are described are based on real events and experiences we can learn from and apply to our daily lives.

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

If you’re interested in learning more about how to acquire a growth mindset, this book is an informative and excellent read. Written by a psychologist PhD who teaches at Harvard Medical School, the book introduces the concept of emotional agility—being 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).

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport.

The title comes from advice that the comedian Steve Martin gave a while back to aspiring entertainers: be so good they can’t ignore you! Newport challenges the advice we often hear that we should follow our passion, and says that going down this path can be dangerous, invoke anxiety, and feed into a constant need to reinvent ourselves. Instead, Newport argues that matching our dream job to a preexisting passion doesn’t matter, but that passion comes after we put in the hard work to excel at something that provides value to others. This is a must read for anyone who feels they don’t really have any specific passion and are not sure how to choose their career path or move forward with their life.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss.

This book looks and reads 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.

The Daily Stoic is almost like a workbook: it 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! There’s also a ton of commentary to accompany each quote, and a super useful glossary of Greek terms.

Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story by Jewel.

The artist provides a blueprint on how we can build strength and resilience in order to become a stronger, better balanced, and happier person. Instead of being impatient with ourselves, we should be more like hard wood that grows slowly: not look for quick fixes, but focus more on who we want to become in the long run. Jewel suggests this is possible to do by making decisions that aren’t focused on only the present, getting to the root of the problem we’re facing, and giving ourselves the permission to grow so that we can become the architect of our dreams.

What is the most effective way to enhance working memory?

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

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

Working memory is a thinking skill that helps you to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you actually teach what you’ve learned?

Start with these tips:

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

If you can give me only one tip to improve my life, what would it be?

Excellent question!

I think the best tip that’s worked for me is to develop a growth mindset.

Why is this even important?

Because mindset = attitude towards yourself = believing what you can do.

And that, in a nutshell, is the single most important tool that you can have that will help you accomplish personal goals, overcome obstacles, and ultimately lead a higher quality of life.

What is a growth mindset?

There are 2 types of mindsets we can identify with:

  • Fixed mindset: when we believe that our qualities are set in stone (either at birth or in early childhood), and that we can only have a certain level of intelligence, a certain type of personality, or a certain moral character. If we consider ourselves intelligent, we expect success at every step, and when we encounter an obstacle, we withdraw or give up entirely.
  • Growth mindset: when we believe that our genetic structure and our early years are merely the starting point in our development, and that we can improve on our qualities through continuous efforts. If we understand that there is always room for growth, we approach life as a continuum of learning and we treat obstacles as opportunities to better ourselves and improve our skills further.

Which examples show this difference?

  • Examples of fixed mindset: When you were a child and did something well, maybe your parents praised you with statements such as, “You’re so smart!” or “You’re a genius!” or “You’re a natural!” or “You were just born that way!”
  • Examples of growth mindset: If your parents or teachers praised you with words such as, “You passed the test because you worked so hard!” or “You were struggling at first, but then you were persistent, and look at you now!” or “You can do this if you spend some time working a little bit each day to get better at it!”

How can your mindset affect your future?

A fixed or growth mindset goes a long way towards shaping your life, either positively or negatively. It can influence your day-to-day behavior, the types of goals you set for yourself, what you succeed or fail in, the relationships you pick (friends, partners, even pets), the skills you choose to work on for your personal as well as your professional development.

What are some ways to develop a growth mindset?

  • Always stay curious. Learn something new every day, whether it’s about the history of the world, how things work, which foods and activities keep you healthy, which habits can help you become a better person, or which books you can read that will teach you something valuable.
  • Don’t limit your learning experience. Just because it’s not taught in school doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend time learning about it. Go to the library and pick up books on a topic that is interesting to you. Take an online class in the evening, or watch free tutorials on YouTube on how to develop a skill you think would be empowering to you. Ask someone who’s an expert and who has achieved mastery in a field or a skill you want to have.
  • Change the way you look at success. Instead of thinking that success is being the best, think of success as doing your best, always improving the way you do your work and manage your personal development. For example, take ownership of your day by planning it out so you have time to accomplish what you need to. When you’re working, remove all distractions and focus on what’s in front of you. Make a connection between what you’re doing right now and why you’re doing it, so that you always keep your goals top of mind.
  • Change the way you view failure. Instead of seeing your failures as confirmation of your inability to do something, see a failure as a setback: it can be motivating, informative, even a wake-up call. It isn’t an excuse to give up entirely on something; it can even build character. For example, if you fail an exam, take stock of how you did and think of how to improve next time. If you get criticized at work, instead of getting emotional, be rational and closely examine what is the core of the message (did you overlook an important detail, miss a deadline, or just forget to do something?) so you can correct things and move on.
  • Try your best to not get frustrated with yourself. This can happen, and does happen often to us all. For example, you’re not making progress as quickly as you’d like, so it’s best to make an assessment of the path you’re on and see what needs to be fixed. Maybe there is someone more experienced you can ask to advise you and give you shortcuts, or maybe you’re not using your resources wisely or not using the ones that are more practical, or maybe you just need to carve out more time in your day to devote to your work.
  • Surround yourself with people who demonstrate a growth mindset. They are the ones with a can-do attitude, who exhibit positive and optimistic behavior, and who are working hard every day on making themselves better people. Conversely, stay away from those who are constantly negative, critical in always pointing out what they or others are lacking, and who spend too much time talking about others and not enough time on themselves.
  • Keep your mind open to possibilities. When you’re not sure how to proceed with handling or trying something different, start by asking, “what if?” What if you conquer something important that you thought you’d never be able to do a year ago? What if, in the process, you open doors that will take your life in a new direction, that will fill you with optimism and energy? What if that new energy makes you limitless? By developing a growth mindset, you can change your view of yourself and your abilities, which can determine your entire future.

Finally, if the topic of growth mindset sounds interesting to you, get the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It’s the best way to learn from examples, some of which you will most likely identify with your own life experiences, and to find practical suggestions that can help you become more successful in your studies, your professional life, your relationships, and your personal growth.

What are some tips & hacks to save time and get more out of my day?

A quick piece of advice?

Recalibrate your day.

Sure, you’ll still have the same 24 hours at your disposal, just like the rest of us. But if you hack your day and figure out the shortcuts, you’ll feel that you will have much more time on your hands.

Try out any of these 7 hacks to get the most out of your day.

Hack #1. Find out how your brain works.

There is a way to work smarter (which will take you less time) rather than harder (which usually takes longer): optimize your brain performance. For one week, keep a log of all mental activities you perform in the morning, midday, afternoon and evening. You will notice a pattern in how your brain works at a certain time of day. Then, adjust your schedule to accommodate the activities depending on what’s right for your brain and when. For example:

  • Mornings can be great for doing deep work, i.e. work that requires a lot of your concentration. Some scientists call this the brain’s peak performance time, and it’s roughly 2-4 hours after we wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Block this time off for your analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks that require a lot of focus.
  • Early afternoons are great for collaborating. This covers the 12-4 p.m. time range, when you take a lunch break and the few hours after, when you are more likely to socialize. It’s a good time of day to schedule meetings, brainstorm ideas with others, work together on projects, or just hang out and catch up.
  • Evenings, usually after 6 p.m., can be scheduled for strategic thinking. This is when the brain eases into a different tempo when it can be more creative. If you’re focused on your goals and strategizing where you want to be in 6 months or even a year with your personal development or career, this is when you can outline your next steps. It’s a great time for contemplating the big picture.

Hack #2. Train your brain to focus on what’s relevant.

When you have something specific you want to achieve, you are less likely to waste time on things that are not related to that thing. And it gets even better: everything you do starts feeling like it has purpose. To help you focus better on what’s relevant to you, try this technique:

  • Start each day by asking yourself this question: What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? It forces you to prioritize, boosts your critical thinking skills, helps your brain focus better, and also streamlines the work you need to do on that particular day, so that you don’t feel stressed and overwhelmed with having to make too many choices.

Hack #3. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Don’t wait until the last minute to get everything ready for whatever you need on any given day. When you prep things in advance, you won’t waste time looking for them or run out of time to get everything ready before you leave home.

  • Gather all materials the night before so that you don’t waste time in the morning looking for them. This applies to whatever you need to get work done: your laptop, notebook, reference materials, a checklist of tasks you need to complete, etc.
  • Pick out whatever you’ll be wearing so you don’t have to rush in the morning.
  • Don’t forget to bring some food with you, maybe a breakfast-to-go or a packed lunch, along with a bottle of water and an energy snack.

Hack #4. Start using a timer.

Why would you waste hours at your desk working but not really being as productive as you could be? A timer can give your workday a total makeover.

  • If you need to study or focus on a project at work, use a timer to divide up your hours into manageable increments that will allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. You can set the timer to 30 or 60 minute increments to maximize concentration.
  • If you want to train your brain to focus in even shorter increments, try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks. When you’re done with one segment, step away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work to give your brain a chance to rest: take a 5-minute walk or make yourself a cup of coffee or tea.

Hack #5. Maximize your commute.

Whether you’re walking, taking the bus or train, or driving to school or work every day, all that time adds up. Why not plan ahead to make the most of your commute to learn new things and get strategic about achieving goals that are important to you? An excellent option is to listen to podcasts. They help to feed your brain, keep you alert and focused, and boost your curiosity. Try some of these podcast ideas:

  • Optimize with Brian Johnson. This podcast feels like getting an education in how to live smarter. It’s about gaining more wisdom in less time to help you live your greatest life. Brian condenses big ideas from the best books on optimal living and micro classes on how to apply these ideas.
    • Episode ideas: Look for The Power of WOOP, based on brain training research by Gabriele Oettingen, PhD; Create Zen Habits with Leo Babauta; and Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. Then check out his micro classes on a variety of topics, from overcoming procrastination to how to train to be a hero.
  • The Model Health Show with Shawn Stevenson. Shawn is an author, nutritionist, and coach and he hosts a fantastic educational show on many interesting topics related to health, fitness, and personal growth. He does a ton of research to prepare for each episode.
    • Episode ideas: Look for tips on how to learn faster and increase focus with memory expert Jim Kwik (#197), how to embrace change and become emotionally agile with Dr. Susan David (#185), how to exercise your “NO” muscle with Michael Hyatt (#206), and how to stop the stress cycle with Dr. Pedram Shojai (#142).
  • The Tim Ferriss Show. You probably know him for his book The 4-Hour Workweek, but this entrepreneur powerhouse is the author of many more—my favorite is Tools of Titans. His podcast is full of interviews with smart people, useful tips on living a high quality life, and excellent advice on everything from important life lessons we can learn from Warren Buffett and Bobby Fischer, to deconstructing concepts such as meditation, mastery, and mindset.
    • Episode ideas: Look for Testing the Impossible: 17 Questions that Saved My Life (#206), How to Design a Life – interview with Debbie Millman (#214), Seth Godin on How to Think Small to Go Big (#177), the Canvas Strategy (#165), and On Zero-to-Hero Transformations (#155).

Hack #6. Ignore distractions like a real pro.

Distractions can easily make you slip from the work you are focusing on, and can waste your time without you even noticing. A great example is reading email and constantly checking your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed. Not only does this multitasking prevent you from focusing, it also can make you feel overwhelmed. Make a conscious effort to avoid distractions as much as possible.

  • Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus without any disturbances.
  • Set expectations with others by letting them know you won’t be available in the next few hours, so they don’t interrupt you.
  • Try checking email and social media 2–3 times a day (around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and evening).
  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news; leave these activities for later after you’ve completed what you set out to do.

Hack #7. Get smart about your entertainment.

Watching a TV show you like to follow is one thing. But often that hour goes by, and you find yourself channel surfing, finding another show, then another, then maybe a movie. Next thing you know, it’s four hours later and you realize you should have been in bed fast asleep by now. Instead of doing the same thing every single evening, try a different source of entertainment.

  • Finding Joe: It’s a documentary about the professor and writer of mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the concept of the hero’s journey: why the myth of the hero is still important to us, how we can discover what excites us and gives us greater purpose, and what we can do to apply these ideas to the personal journeys in our lives.
  • YouTube FightMediocrity channel. It is a channel dedicated to fighting mediocrity through big ideas, using self-improvement books and animated important concepts that are in short video format.
  • BBC documentary series The Ancient Worlds. 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.
  • BBC travelogue in 3 parts Ibn Battuta: The Man Who Walked Across the World. This show is about a 14th Century scholar who covered 75,000 miles, 40 countries and three continents in a 30-year odyssey.
  • Books. Reading them is the equivalent of living multiple lives; it can stimulate your imagination, utilize your critical thinking skills, and ultimately, it will give you food for thought. The books you select can be fiction or non-fiction, but that time you spend reading will take you on a journey to learn about other people and their lifestyles, delve deeper into the human psyche, reveal details on topics you may find fascinating, and best of all—it will help you grow as a human being. And nothing beats that!

How do I cultivate a growth mindset?

Let’s be specific: cultivating a growth mindset means that you push yourself wayoutside your comfort zone, challenge your beliefs on what you can and cannot (or “should not”) do, and reprogram your mind so that you can develop your core qualities and skills through deliberate and continuous efforts.

The biggest benefit of having a growth mindset?

It’s incredibly empowering and can make you feel limitless!

Is it possible to do?

Yes.

Having a growth mindset is not something abstract. It’s not for the chosen few. It’s not even related to your age, your social status, or your level of income. But it can definitely impact how old or young you feel, which role you have in your community, and even which level of income you can earn.

And it doesn’t stop there – it can affect your attitude, your confidence, and your levels of happiness.

That’s why cultivating a growth mindset is a worthwhile investment of your time.

If you want to get proactive about it, here are a few tips on where to start:

Tip #1. Learn something new every day.

It can be anything that’s outside your current school curriculum or beyond a particular interest you’re already familiar with. Maybe this month you’ll spend a few evenings watching documentaries on how the Roman Empire was built or what were the biggest achievements of the Renaissance period. Or maybe you’ll want to research something more practical and useful in your daily life, such as which foods can keep you healthy, which tips and shortcuts can save you time, what kinds of habits can help you increase the quality of your life, or which skills you can develop to provide value not just to you but also to your community.

Tip #2. Be adventurous when it comes to absorbing new things.

Why should you limit your learning experience? Just because it’s not taught in school or your friends or family are not interested in pursuing it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend time learning something that’s of interest to you. There are many alternatives to how you can learn something new. You can go to the library and pick up books on a topic that you find intriguing. You can take an online class in the evening, or watch free tutorials on YouTube on how to develop a skill you think would be empowering to you. Or, you can ask an expert or someone highly knowledgeable to give you advice on doing something better.

Tip #3. Surround yourself with “growth mindset” people.

Did you hear of the quote, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”? You may not even be aware of how much those closest to you (which could be family, friends, your partner) can impact your mood, your attitude, your belief system, and even what you perceive to be your strengths or weaknesses? Growth mindset people are easy to spot: they are the ones with a can-do attitude, they exhibit positive and optimistic behavior, and they work hard every day on getting better at something. Conversely, fixed mindset people tend to be constantly negative, they like to criticize and point out what they or others are lacking in, and they may spend too much time talking about other people and not enough time working on bettering themselves.

Tip #4. Change your definition of success.

You may think being successful means that things come easy to you, whether it’s being a straight A student or a swimming champion. The downside to that way of thinking is that you get too comfortable in doing something well with little effort. Instead of thinking that success is being the best, start thinking of success as doing your best. This means you switch your focus from staying in the comfort zone to coming up with ways to improve the way you do your work and manage your personal development. It could means anything from planning a difficult task ahead of time so you can manage it better to waking up 30 minutes earlier so you can work on a habit that can improve your life in some way.

Tip #5. Challenge your perception of failure.

One of the biggest disadvantages to having a fixed mindset is that if you consider yourself successful at something, the first time you encounter a challenging situation in your personal of professional life can make you feel paralyzed and even make you want to give up completely on something. That’s because you don’t have a coping mechanism to fall back on. And that’s why many people feel that if they can’t be the best at something, they shouldn’t even continue doing it. That’s not failure! Instead of seeing your failures as confirmation of your inability to do something, you can start training your brain to see failure as merely a setback. The benefit? This way of thinking can be motivating, informative, and it can even build character. For example, if you fail an exam, don’t automatically think it’s the end of the world. Be honest with yourself how you may have contributed to it, then think of specific ways to make changes so that you do better next time.

Tip #6. Don’t get lazy.

Another drawback to having a fixed mindset is doing something well and then just slipping into complacency. You sit back, take it easy, and expect things to go smoothly from now on. How about making sure it stays that way? For example, if you’ve successfully passed your exams, you don’t have to spend your entire vacation watching TV or gaming; instead, you can make a plan to improve a skill that is important to your personal development, and then work on it for 30 minutes a day. If you finished a big project at work, you don’t have to chitchat with co-workers for hours while the boss is in meetings or taking the day off; you can look for something else that’s relevant to your professional development, such as adding relevant skills to your LinkedIn profile or spending time learning about a new app or tool that can help you do your job more efficiently.

Tip #7. Be open-minded whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Imagine you meet someone who tells you about a personal project they’re working on. Maybe they’re training for a marathon and they’re doing strength training and changing their diet. Or maybe they’re taking a business course so they can learn how to start a side business doing something they’ve always wanted to do. Instead of feeling envious about their pursuits or thinking that you couldn’t possibly do anything similar, you could take a cue from them and spend some time brainstorming an idea or two. Which project can you start or which skill can you work on that can improve the quality of your life? Instead of dismissing new endeavors with a shrug, you can start asking a simple question: “What if…?” For example, what if you conquer something important that you thought you’d never be able to do when you were younger? What if you change your lifestyle (eat more healthy, get strong, read more books, or adopt a pet from an animal shelter) and this opens new doors that will take your life in a different direction? What if feeling better about something you’re doing differently also makes you feel limitless? When you’re open-minded about opportunities, you are constantly growing; you’re challenging yourself daily and you’re taking your future into your own hands. That’s what having a growth mindset really means!

Is it possible to live today with Stoic habits?

It’s not only possible, it’s actually doable and beneficial for your personal development! The Stoics left us a blueprint for living that can make life easier to manage, instead of fighting it and resisting the things that don’t go our way. And no, it’s not just pure philosophy; it’s specific tips on how we can navigate life more successfully. They already did the hard work of setting the strategy. Now all we need to do is follow it and incorporate it into our 21st century life.

It can be done.

Here are 10 habits to help you live like a Stoic.

Stoic habit #1. Don’t waste energy on pointless activities.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca devotes a section of his book On the Shortness of Life to this problem that plagued people even back then. He describes gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things and trying to impress others. That’s not at all unlike our own world that’s focused on social media and often on creating a superficial image of lifestyles we see on Facebook and Instagram. There are ways to use your time more wisely: always focus on a specific goal you are striving towards. Don’t just keep it on an abstract level; actually create a plan to reach it. And don’t let random situations, chance, or other people’s behavior dictate how you lead your life. Seneca says that nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.

Stoic habit #2. Practice gratitude for what you have today.

It’s common to focus on the things we see other people have, and that can make us feel frustrated and eventually unhappy. Meanwhile, there’s so much you already do have going for you. Think about what those things are. Set aside a few minutes each day to develop your own practice of gratitude. For example: list 3 things you’re grateful for in your life this very moment: having a home, a job, a skill you are good at, or a close friend who you enjoy spending time with.

Stoic habit #3. Don’t complain; get proactive about what’s possible.

It’s easy to complain, we tend to do it by default. We are human. And it doesn’t really take effort to do so. However, complaining won’t change a thing. What will is taking a proactive stand. What does that mean? It means do something about it. If there’s a situation you don’t like, think of ways to change it. Brainstorm what you will need to change it too: more resources, knowledge of a topic, or just more time to reach a goal. For additional support, ask a trusted friend or someone who is an expert in the field.

Stoic habit #4. Don’t make comfort your priority.

Being stoic doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with material things or other people so that you feel comfortable and you expect will make you happy. It means taking life in stride and making peace with discomfort. Why is this important? Because having something today can easily mean you take it for granted and expect it to last forever. What if it doesn’t? Learn to rely on yourself so that when tough times come around, you’re better prepared to deal with them. You can practice this by trying to solve problems by yourself first, even if that means making mistakes, before you give up or turn to someone else to help you fix the situation.

Stoic habit #5. Learn to manage your thoughts.

On any given day, you have thousands of thoughts running through your mind, and let’s face it, a lot of them are not exactly sunny and happy ones. They can also be negative, self-critical, dismissive, they can focus on past failures or tap into your insecurities. Think about this powerful statement for a second: you are not your thoughts. There are ways to manage your thoughts more successfully and even change your entire mindset. Start with a 10-minute meditation to calm your thoughts and read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset which can impact your entire attitude and how you experience life.

Stoic habit #6. Accept that you cannot control life, but there some things you can change.

Sure, you can’t control life, no matter how much you feel a deep desire to do so. But you can control how you react to it. That is always your prerogative and your right as a human being. Don’t think it’s possible? Read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning. It is a manual describing the psychology of survival, a real-life story written by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who found strength to live in circumstances where most people would have given up. There are many lessons to take from this book that can last you a lifetime.

Stoic habit #7. Do your hard work first, before you do anything for pleasure.

On any given day, we give in to the urge to start our morning by checking social media apps on our phone and sending messages back and forth with our friends. But mornings are the ideal time of day to get the hardest work out of the way. Try maximizing each morning by building a habit of doing your hard work early. It will help you deal with the feelings of procrastination whenever you have to study for an exam or finish up a project for work. Even better: it will improve your focus and concentration so that your brain can do its brilliant work more efficiently and effectively than any other time of day.

Stoic habit #8. Learn to practice self-discipline with delayed gratification.

It may not seem like an awesome choice at first, but putting off doing what makes you feel great and gives you pleasure has its advantages. It’s about instilling a good dose of self-discipline so that you do something difficult first in order to reward yourself later. There’s even science to back this up: Stanford University’s Marshmallow experiment showed how delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life. You can practice it too. For example, if you want to watch a movie or go out with friends, leave it for the evening after you have completed what you planned to work on during the day. And if you don’t finish it, don’t assume you’ll do it at midnight after you’re done having fun.

Stoic habit #9. Turn obstacles upside down by making them an opportunity to do something different.

What often happens when we are faced with an obstacle is that we stop everything we are doing and we start reacting, often emotionally. Maybe it’s a sign that we should just give up! Maybe it’s just too hard! Those are all emotional reactions. You can change your approach in three ways. First, start anticipating that there will be obstacles you will encounter on your path. If you prepare yourself psychologically for them, they won’t feel so devastating when they actually do happen. Second, use the opportunity to learn something new, to take a different approach to the problem, to think it through, and to try something different that can yield better results. And third, take advantage of the tough times to achieve mastery in one area so that you can become an expert at something.

Stoic habit #10. Work with, and not against your nature.

The Stoics didn’t believe in having to change ourselves completely in order to lead a life of quality. They believed that we should take advantage of our unique strengths and abilities. You can practice this in two ways. First, take an honest look at yourself: who you are, what you are doing, where you are going with your life. Are you overestimating your abilities or are you being objective and realistic about what you can do and how you can reach your goals? And second, think how you can take advantage of what you have going for you: your personality, your preferences, the things you’re good at, the skills you possess and take pride in. Then focus on doing exactly that and on developing your strengths, instead of worrying about potential weaknesses or the things you don’t already possess.

There’s a wonderful quote by Marcus Aurelius that sums up Stoic life really well:

Objective judgement, now, at this very moment.

Unselfish action, now, at this very moment.

Willing acceptance – now, at this very moment – of all external events.

That’s all you need.

If you’d like to read more, here are some book recommendations to explore the Stoic way of life: