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.

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What 10 things can I do now to have a better life?

 

Right now?

Here’s my suggestion.

Promise yourself that you will start making smarter choices every day.

And don’t make it an empty promise. Be specific. Follow up. Repeat. DAILY.

Here are 10 smart choices you can make every single day.

Smart choice #1. Fuel your brain with a nutritious breakfast.

When you feed your brain right, you can optimize your cognitive performance, boost memory, and increase concentration in everything you do during the day. Make it super simple: try oatmeal. Over medium heat, cook one cup oats. Remove from the stove and add 1 tablespoon flaxseeds (an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid which is a healthy fat that boosts cerebral cortex function), 1 teaspoon peanut butter, a sliced banana or other fresh fruit, and some walnuts or almonds on top.

Smart choice #2. Boost your focus each day with one question: What is the one thing I am committed to learning today?

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

Smart choice #3. Do your toughest mental tasks early.

Think about these tasks as doing your deep work—it can be analytical thinking that requires the most concentration such as reading, writing, analyzing or problem solving—and it requires a different kind of focus from other more tactical things we do on a regular basis. Set aside 2-4 hours after you wake up to maximize your brain’s peak performance time. If, for example, you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m.

Smart choice #4. Divide your day into short increments that are easy to manage.

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

Smart choice #5. Practice being more mindful to declutter your mind.

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

Smart choice #6. Be rigorous about reducing your social media intake.

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

Smart choice #7. Turn off your TV.

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

Smart choice #8. Read a chapter from a book.

Here’s some food for thought: reading fiction improves brain function and boosts connectivity in the brain. Neuroscientists from Emory University published a study called Short and Long Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain explaining this experiment in detail. Getting into the reading habit does take a bit of time, especially if you haven’t been reading books on a consistent basis. To make it easier to start, get a library membership, download the Goodreads app to help you find topics or writers you’d like, and get a book that excites you and makes you curious about what happens next.

Smart choice #9. Listen to a podcast on your way to work or school.

It doesn’t mean it’s all about listening to the daily news. It can be a totally different experience! Think of podcasts as brain food to help you make the most of your commute time, and an excellent way to improve your critical-thinking and creative skills. Where to start? Some of my current favorites include Optimize with Brian Johnson, The Art of Charm, Kwik Brain Podcast, The James Altucher Show, and The Tim Ferriss Show. If you’d like more recommendations on specific episodes, you’ll find additional details here.

Smart choice #10. Grow your mindset.

If you think that a mindset is something you’re just born with, think again. Unlike having a fixed mindset (where you believe you’re born with a set of skills and abilities that are in your “nature”), cultivating a growth mindset means you push yourself outside your comfort zone, challenge your beliefs on what you can and cannot (or “should not”) do, and reprogram your mind so you can develop your core qualities and skills through continuous efforts. Curious to learn more? Read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success to find out how practicing a growth mindset can change the way you see yourself and the potential you have to become that best version of you in the future.

What are the best brain foods you know of?

 

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

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

Here are 3 ideas on how to feed your brain.

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

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

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

  • Kwik Brain Podcast. Jim Kwik is founder of Kwik Learning and a world expert in memory improvement and accelerated learning. He suffered a childhood brain injury that left him learning-challenged, so he created strategies and tips to boost mental performance.
    • Episode ideas: Look for episodes on how gratitude rewires your brain (#47), 3-part conversation on how to supercharge your brain and life with Brendon Burchard (#35-#37), and how to stay focused and fix a wandering mind (#40).
  • The Tim Ferriss Show. Ferriss collects life experiences, tools, and hands-on tactics through interviews he conducts with world-class leaders in diverse categories of expertise. His podcast guests range from ex-Navy Seals and top athletes to best-selling authors and entrepreneurs.
    • Episode ideas: Look for interviews with Jocko Wilink on discipline and leadership (#187), Tony Robbins on how to resolve inner conflict (#186), and Arianna Huffington on why you shouldn’t run your life from your inbox (10/18/2017).
  • Optimize with Brian JohnsonThis podcast is very much like getting an education in living a smarter life. It’s about gaining more wisdom in less time to help you learn how to optimize the way you live, work, and learn. Brian condenses big ideas from guests he interviews and turns each episode into a short and practical lesson.
    • Episode ideas: Look for The Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine (12/13/2017), Mental Contrasting with Gabriele Oettingen, PhD and creator of the WOOP process (12/3/2017), and Create Zen Habits with Leo Babauta (9/1/2015).

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

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

Does reading novels have an effect on one’s executive functions and reasoning skills?

 

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

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

The conclusion?

Reading fiction books improves all connectivity in the brain.

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

Results of the study showed the following:

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

What do these results mean?

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

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

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

How can you incorporate reading fiction into your day?

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

What are your top five self improvement podcasts?

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

What are 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 should one do in one’s free time?

As long as you have free time, that’s a good thing!

Just one suggestion: use it wisely. Because it’s finite. And because it’s the perfect opportunity to lead a high quality of life.

Here are 5 tips on what to do in your free time.

Tip 1. Spend it on your future self.

Those 48 hours sound like an opportunity to put school or work on pause and just look for what can entertain you. That’s perfectly okay! But many times we end up spending a lot of time doing things that other people want to do. It can be hanging out with a friend because they want to go to a party, even though we don’t feel like going. Or it can be spending a whole afternoon shopping because someone asked us to come along.

How about making a change and devoting some time to yourself? You can create some space to process what you’re going through, and to think where you want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. It’s a good time to dream big: think of that life you want to have in a specific city, with a career in an industry that motivates you, and maybe a partner who’s the right fit. Which is why it’s a good idea to set aside a few hours to do the following:

  • Write down your top 3 goals: they can be personal, professional development, or both.
  • Under each goal, write down 3 things you would need to do on a consistent basis to get you closer to each goal.
  • Create a plan for the week ahead so that you can devote blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified.
  • In a week, do an assessment of the progress you made. Did some activities take more time than you anticipated? Did you need to plan better? What could you have improved? Then make adjustments for the following week.

Tip 2. Feed your brain.

Use your free time to learn something new, expose your brain to different ideas and perspectives, maybe even others’ point of view. You never know when you might find an idea or two you can implement into your daily life. Use this time to learn, be curious, wonder, question, pause, think. One way to do this 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:

  • The Tim Ferriss Show. He’s the author of the famous 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).
  • 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).

Tip 3. Read books.

Why? It’s the equivalent of living multiple lives; reading can stimulate your imagination, utilize your critical thinking skills, and ultimately, give you food for thought (regardless of whether you agree with what you’re reading or not). And find your thing, fiction or non-fiction, that you’re super interested in.

  • Fiction: Dive deep into the lives of others and get lost in private lives of fictional characters, find out what makes them tick, ask yourself what would you do in their place.
  • Non-fiction: Learn from the experiences of others in their quest to live a happier life, become healthy, start a business, excel at a skill, overcome an obstacle, live a life with more meaning and a sense of purpose.

Tip 4. Forget about TV and find interesting documentaries.

The downside to TV is that it can easily take hours, where you might start watching one show and end up channel surfing. Next thing you know, that precious free time you had is gone. You’re much better off customizing what you watch, which is easy when you look for topics that suit you and your interests the most. Here are a few documentary ideas:

  • Finding Joe: It’s a documentary based on the work of 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.
  • 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.
  • Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit: Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, explores questions such as how the Roman Empire was constructed, how it functioned, what the infrastructure was like, and how different parts of the world merged together to expand one of the most powerful empires of all time.

Tip 5. Be good to yourself.

And here, like everywhere else, you’re the best judge of what this means. Being good to yourself simply means knowing what helps you to relax, what can charge your batteries, what makes you happy. This of course depends on your personal interests, your passions, as well as your personality. And bottom line, it depends on how well you know yourself. Because regardless of whether you’re a true introvert and prefer staying in each evening, or an extrovert who likes to go to concerts and parties, you need to spend quality time doing what is best for you.

  • Do you enjoy spending time with friends? Get a couple of close buddies together for an evening out to watch a movie together, attend a concert, catch up over coffee or dinner at your favorite restaurant.
  • Would you prefer to spend some quiet time alone? Schedule a night in, order takeout, watch a film or a documentary that interests you, or do something else that makes you feel really good, like playing guitar, painting, writing, or any project that really gets your mind engaged.