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:

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How can you benefit from a 30-day plan to study smarter?

If you’ve been following me on Quora, Twitter or this blog, you saw that I share many study tips and hacks that can boost productivity and make your learning experience as efficient as possible, and even enjoyable in the process! In the past few months I received numerous requests from students worldwide to put together these study tips in a book format so they’re easy to read, and also to suggest ways in which they can be incorporated into a daily schedule.

The result? I just completed an e-book called Your Study Smarter 30-Day Plan.

Who is this e-book for?

Your Study Smarter 30-Day Plan is designed for the busy student who wants to improve the way they study, boost focus and concentration, stay motivated while preparing for exams, make the most of each study day, and still have time to unwind and have fun despite a heavy workload during the semester.

How can you benefit from this e-book?

The key idea behind this e-book is to help you study smarter by building very small habits and gradually incorporating them into your day. There are several benefits of this method: it will help you structure your day and establish a routine for you to follow, it will show you how to make small changes for maximum effect in the way your study, and it will introduce something new that you can master over time through repetition. The plan will provide you with a framework of things to choose from, habits to grow, and new ideas to implement into your day.

How is this e-book organized?

This e-book is divided into 4 main sections, one for each week of the month. In each week you will introduce a couple of new habits to your usual daily routine that will help you structure your day and study in a focused way so that you can perform better in your classes. Then, you will practice the new habits throughout the week so that you can get used to them, which will in turn help you reinforce the new behavior to stick better. Each section consists of the following elements:

  • An outline for each week
  • An introduction to new mini-habits to practice for that specific week
  • A list of practical suggestions on how to practice each mini habit
  • A motivational tip of the day to boost your focus
  • A daily checklist to monitor your progress

When and where can you purchase it?

The e-book is available today. Get a copy of Your Study Smarter 30-Day Plan here.

Questions? Add a comment below!

How do I study smarter? There’s a cool resource in the works for you to check out!

How do I study smarter?

That’s the #1 question I keep hearing on social media, websites, and directly from people I interact with regularly. Many students post questions to me on Quora, my Twitter account, directly via email and on my blog. It’s a great question!

The good news first:

There are a LOT of excellent answers, ideas, and suggestions out there. If you just follow some popular hashtags such as #productivity and #studyhacks, you will see thousands of ideas on how to improve your study technique. Some suggestions are concise while others go more in depth; some provide plenty of diverse suggestions while others focus on one tip to follow. Either way, you’ll never find a shortage of studying advice.

And now for the challenging part:

In the sea of advice, students often lose the way. They get distracted: how do you know which advice you should pay attention to? Or they feel overwhelmed: there’s so much to read, how can you possibly learn everything? Or they feel stuck: sure, the advice you read sounds motivating enough, but how are you supposed to put it in practice?

After spending years as a student (for a grand total of 3 degrees, of which two are graduate ones!), I know personally how challenging all this can be. So I wanted to do something helpful. That is why I am currently working on an e-book called The Study Smarter 30-Day Plan. As the name suggests, it won’t be just a compilation of ideas on how to study smarter, but a real plan that you can incorporate into a 4-week period. You will get a breakdown of each week, plus a daily schedule, all in a fun and easy-to-read format. And all you need to do is just follow it. That should take a lot of the guesswork and the planning out of the equation, right?

That’s the goal.

I’m almost done with putting the e-book together, and I will share details with you in the next few days. Stay tuned!

Which new daily routine has made the biggest impact in your life?

 
Training my brain to focus really early in the morning on what I need to do that particular day.

Instead of:

  • waking up to immediately grab my phone and scroll through emails
  • brainstorming everything I need to accomplish and by what time
  • letting random thoughts take over how I feel about the day

I now can:

  • open my eyes and feel calm about the day ahead
  • enjoy every part of my morning routine, from doing yoga to making the first cup of coffee, without feeling overwhelmed by the plan for the day
  • feel more optimistic about getting things done and getting closer to my goals
  • rely on my daily habit to keep me on track with what is most important

So what is this daily habit I’ve started practicing in the past year that helps me focus and set the tone for the day?

It’s asking myself one question in the first 5 minutes after I wake up:

What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?

What are the benefits to starting the day with this question?

  • It snaps me into reality: When I ask the question, I immediately have to think what’s important for that particular day. It forces me to “zoom into” my priorities.
  • It’s less overwhelming: Even though I may be juggling a dozen or more responsibilities during that day, I know that actually finishing one thing is doable and realistic.
  • It keeps one thing top of mind: There’s absolutely no way I can forget my top priority if I start my day thinking about it. It’s always there as a reminder.
  • It takes me away from distractions: As a result of having this one question in mind, I’ve noticed that I’m less likely to pay attention to things that aren’t related to my number one priority.
  • It encourages better planning: I start working on my one thing early, then I work on it again in the afternoon, and keep going until I’m done. Usually, by evening it’s finished and I can focus on other things like chilling out and unwinding.
How can you start your day this way?
  • First, write it down: take a large sheet of paper and write the question in big bold letters with a thick marker.
  • Next, put it somewhere where you’re most likely to look at it: it can be on your bedroom or the bathroom wall, next to the mirror for example.
  • Then, look at the question and ask it out loud as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed.
  • Take a minute to think what’s on your agenda for the day, then pick one thing that has top priority for you and give an answer out loud to yourself.
  • Tip: Start working on your one thing early. Why? Your brain is more capable of tackling analytical and complex problem-solving tasks in the first few hours of the day; for most people, this is how your circadian rhythm works. Make the most of those first hours and get the hardest work out of the way so that you can move on to other (including fun) things later.
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Build a smarter life, one small habit at a time.

Welcome to Nela’s blog! I am a productivity hacker, writer, and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. My blog is a collection of ideas on how to implement small habits that can help you build a smarter life so that you can be more productive, work smarter instead of harder, and maximize each day. Each blog post is a response to an answer posted on the Q&A website Quora. I write on a variety of topics including motivation and willpower, developing a growth mindset, goal setting, focus and concentration, deep work, mastery, productivity tips and hacks, morning routines, and positive psychology.

What’s new in 2017?

A new podcast

You can listen to my podcast where I talk more in depth about these topics, provide examples, and give pro tips on how you can incorporate these ideas into your busy schedule.

More tips and ideas

I created an e-book for students who want to study smarter and maximize brain power while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Where else can you find me?

Find me on Quora. I’ve also been published in The Huffington Post, Inc.com, Slate.com, Medical Daily, Business Insider, and TIME.