What is a simple daily habit that I can make to improve myself?

 

Here are 7 habits I’ve practiced over the past several years.

My favorite? #2. It sharpens your focus in seconds!

Daily habit #1. Feed 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. Try a simple oatmeal breakfast. Mix one cup with 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 such as berries, papaya, and mango. Sprinkle some walnuts or almonds on top for more brain-boosting benefits.

Daily habit #2. Improve your focus each morning with one question: What is the ONE thing I am committed to learning today?

This 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 “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 as you go about your day, as a reminder of what you’ve committed to do.

Daily habit #3. Do “deep work” early.

Deep work can be any kind of analytical thinking that requires the most concentration such as reading, writing, analyzing or problem solving. It requires a different kind of focus from other more tactical things we do on a regular basis, from washing dishes to setting our alarm clock in the evening before going to sleep. Dedicate the first 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.

Daily habit #4. Do a short 20–30 minute cardio workout.

Being physically active improves both your physical and mental well-being, plus you get the boost of endorphins (happy hormones) when you break a sweat. But instead of aiming too high (“I have to spend two hours at the gym!”), start with a super simple workout session, either in the morning before you start your daily commute or when you’re done with work or school. Pick a shorter activity that requires your body to move, such as a 15 minute bootcamp session, a set of lunges and squats, a power walk, bike ride, or quick run through the neighborhood. Looking for a challenge? Try building this 30-day plank pose habit!

Daily habit #5. Calm your busy thoughts with meditation.

If you find yourself often feeling overwhelmed and stressed, you can quiet your mind from all those busy thoughts with a simple 10-minute meditation practice. Download the Headspace app, which makes it super simple for beginners. Practice 10 minutes consistently for 10 days. Experiment to find out which time works better for you, mornings after you wake up or right before going to sleep. After that you can opt to increase the time to 15 and later 20 minutes, or you can keep it to 10 if that amount of time works for you.

Daily habit #6. Create your fiction book-reading ritual.

If you haven’t given reading fiction a try, here are some benefits for you to consider. Did you know that reading fiction improves brain function and boosts connectivity in the brain? It’s not my personal opinion — science backs it up. Neuroscientists from Emory University published a study called Short and Long Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain explaining the benefits in detail. To make reading a daily practice, get a library membership, download the Goodreads app to help you find topics and writers, and read up on Quora’s novel recommendations to get started on your reading journey.

Daily habit #7. Practice a growth 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 beliefs on what you can and cannot (or “should not”) do, and re-program your mind so you can develop your core qualities and skills through continuous efforts. Read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success to go in depth with how this important concept can change the way you see the world and your role in it.

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What are 5 habits that can strengthen willpower?

 

These are my top 5 willpower-strengthening habits.

Willpower habit #1. Make the most of your mornings.

For most adults, it’s common to wake up in the morning and feel overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do on any given day. As a result, we procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the afternoon. The problem with this approach is that we deplete our willpower reserves the more we let our day go by.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. This means do them in the morning, and keep working on them until you take a lunch break. For example, I don’t put off tasks if I know they’ll accumulate within 24 hours. I try to write up a plan for the work week ahead of time, usually in checklist format. If I’m reading through some important material, I immediately take notes while my brain is still focused on what’s in front of me. That way I won’t forget the top-level information that I might need to use later.

Willpower habit #2. Practice baby steps.

Every positive habit we want to acquire needs a good dose of self-discipline, a bit of time, and a lot of repetition. But once you frame it that way, it may seem intimidating. Who has all that time? Who is disciplined enough? We won’t necessarily feel we have all it takes to build a good habit. But the trick is in simplifying a new habit to the point that it’s impossible to come up with excuses not to practice it.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? To simplify a change you want to make, start with baby steps. Baby steps are exactly that — really small, short, and quick activities that anyone can do. For example, if I feel stuck starting a writing assignment, I’ll warm up my brain and my fingertips by typing a short paragraph of 2–3 sentences on that topic. If I am too tired to go to the gym, I’ll tell myself that I’ll just work out for 15–20 minutes, not more. If I feel like I’m not getting enough sleep, I’ll set a bedtime alarm to notify me it’s time to get ready, and I’ll move my bedtime up by 15 minutes.

Willpower habit #3. Say“NO!” often.

If you often feel like you’re running out of time to do what you need to do (and that’s probably all of us!), chances are it means you’re not using your resources in the most optimal way. The biggest and most valuable resource we possess is time. That’s why it’s dangerous to allow distractions of any kind take over, and use up, our most value resource. This can apply to spending hours on pointless conversations, watching TV for hours, or just sitting around waiting to be entertained by someone or something else.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? Exercising your “no!” muscle means literally saying no in a variety of situations in your daily life. If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, I won’t eat a double portion for two days in a row just because it’s there. If I’m in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend wants to hang out, I don’t just drop everything and go — but I ask if we can reschedule the meeting. I believe it’s super important to know your priorities and always be aware of why you’re doing something to begin with — because it’s usually tied to a personal goal you set in the past.

Willpower habit #4. Declare war on distractions.

It’s next to impossible to focus on getting any work done if we allow our attention to move on to little things around us. Everything sounds tempting. New emails in your inbox—what if one is urgent? New Instagram posts you’d like to check as soon as you wake up. Or the news waiting for you to read on Twitter. Who can resist? I believe it’s important to learn how to tackle distractions head on. The benefits are huge — when you turn off distractions, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that matter.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? First, turn off the digital distractions when you need to do your most challenging cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, or writing. I often set my phone to Airplane mode and also turn off all notifications. I check email and social media apps 2–3 times instead of 20–30 times a day. If I don’t want to be disturbed while in the middle of trying to solve a problem, I let people around me know I’ll be busy for a few hours so they don’t interrupt. Finally, I put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music that helps me focus.

Willpower habit #5. Create a plan B.

It’s very rare for things to run smoothly just because we want them to. Real life is quite the opposite — we start working on something, and sooner or later there’s an obstacle or a delay in schedule. What works best in these situations? I found that having a plan B in place gives me peace of mind for those moments when the day turns stressful, or I’m just tired and can’t keep my eyes open to finish reading the research material I’ve planned to complete.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? If you’re stressed or overwhelmed about never-ending tasks, be aware that this is an emotional reaction and it will not last. I try to keep my emotions in check so they don’t rule my day (the key is to keep trying). Next, resist the urge to give up doing something that you know is good for you. Just because I don’t feel like going to the gym today doesn’t mean the exercise ritual won’t have a positive impact on my life. Finally, make a plan B. If something takes longer than expected, I’ll remove one of two unimportant items on my schedule to free up more time for a task that’s top priority for me.

How can I trick myself into increasing the willpower to do something?

 

My recommendation to you: don’t trick yourself into anything. Tricking yourself implies that you’re doing something under the table, something sneaky, and ultimately — something dishonest.

Why would you do that?

Whatever you do, be 100% honest with yourself.

Instead of tricking yourself, help yourself get to the bottom of the resistance to do something. Make it doable instead of overwhelming. Break down the complex task into smaller increments so it doesn’t seem as big as you initially thought it would be.

In other words, find out how doing something will benefit you.

Here’s how you can improve your willpower.

ONE. Learn to anticipate resistance.

It’s very rare for things to run smoothly just like we’d ideally want them to. Reality is quite the opposite: when we start working on something, sooner or later we will face an obstacle that we’ll have to overcome in order to move ahead. That’s why it’s a good idea to plan ahead for those situations when nothing seems to be working.

  • How can you apply this? First, tell yourself that whatever it is you’re feeling or experiencing in a particular situation, it is an emotional reaction and it will pass. Second, resist the urge to give up doing something that you know is good for you. Just because it feels uncomfortable now doesn’t mean it won’t have a positive impact on your life. And third, make a plan A and a plan B (and even a plan C!) in case things go wrong and you need to take more time, pick another route, or contemplate an alternative solution to the problem you are trying to solve.

TWO. Make distractions your enemy #1.

It’s next to impossible to focus on getting any work done if we allow our attention to move on to little things around us. Everything sounds tempting. The benefits of being merciless with distractions are huge—when you turn them off, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that are important to you.

  • How can you apply this? First, turn off the digital distractions when you need to do your most challenging cognitive tasks (studying, problem-solving, or writing). Set your phone to Airplane mode. Turn off all notifications. Check your email and social media apps 2–3 times a day. Close all tabs in your browser on the computer. Then move on to the social distractions. Let everyone around you know you’re not to be disturbed for a few hours so they don’t interrupt you all the time. Finally, if you’re in a noisy environment, put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music that helps you focus.

THREE. Apply your willpower early in the day.

It’s pretty common that when we wake up in the morning, we’re overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we tend to procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the day. If you understand that we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day, you’ll be more likely to use it wisely.

  • How can you apply this? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. This means do them in the morning, and think of using up the time all until lunch. For example, complete that task that you’ve been putting off all week. Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. Read through the last few chapters of your textbook and make detailed notes that will make studying much easier. Finish up homework you’ve been putting off because you’d rather do something more fun, like check your Instagram.

FOUR. Keep it simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Does it sound intimidating? That’s because you positioned it that way: you feel like you should be doing something difficult when you’d rather be relaxing. Maybe today is the day to be honest with yourself and say, it’s time to start working out, stop eating out so much, get more sleep, or watch TV less.

  • How can you apply this? To simplify a change you’re trying to make, start with tiny steps. Tiny means really tiny. Super small, bite-sized activities that are doable and accessible to everyone. For example, if you’re building up your writing skills, start by writing a paragraph or two each day. Do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes this month before you buy that gym membership. Start going to bed 15 minutes earlier to de-stress and relax with a good book. Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t have to eat unhealthy meals while you’re at work or school.

FIVE. Start a habit of saying “NO!”

If you’ve ever found yourself running out of time to do what you need or would like to have time for, it may mean you’re wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. This could apply to distractions of any kind, spending hours on insignificant activities or pointless conversations, or watching TV all night.

  • How can you apply this? Exercising your “no!” muscle means literally saying no in a variety of situations in your daily life. If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, don’t eat a double portion for the next three days. If you’re in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend calls to ask if you want to go party, don’t just drop everything you’re doing and go. It’s important to know your priorities—and it’s even important to be in tune with them. Be aware of what is relevant to your life and why you’re working on something.

SIX. Believe in yourself.

Regardless of whether you’re a student, parent, or employee working on your career, what’s most important is not just what you’re dealing with today. It’s more about the big picture of your life and what you believe you can start doing today to become the best version of yourself down the road. That’s why it’s important to instill a healthy dose of believing in yourself.

  • How can you apply this? First, develop a growth mindset by dismissing either your own limiting messages or the words of others dictate what you should excel at and what you should give up; chances are, you’ve been conditioned to think in this way from an early age. Second, grow your critical thinking muscle by not taking everything you see and hear for granted, and instead learning how to think on your own. And finally, turn obstacles into opportunities: instead of getting emotional about a setback, work through it so that you can get stronger mentally and learn to rely on yourself.

SEVEN. Zoom out.

Making small changes in your daily life to boost willpower can have a larger positive impact — they can improve your future. That’s why it’s critical from time to time to pause and zoom out of whatever is happening right now, so you can contemplate the bigger picture of your life.

  • How can you apply this? If you feel like you’re sacrificing some things right now (time out with friends or indulging in a delicious dessert), think about what it can afford you long-term. Write down a list of ways in which you are now practicing new habits that can add up to bigger results a year from today. Give yourself some time and space to dream up what you want for yourself. Set goals and hold yourself accountable. Think big. Move forward, in small steps, every day. Keep your mind on the future you want. Then go after it.

What are some of your best tricks for studying for an exam?

 

It seems like I’ve devoted many years of my life to studying, both during my undergraduate and graduate school days. Here’s what I learned over that period of time:

Quantity is not the same as quality. I used to study all day long, taking no breaks whatsoever and sleeping very little. This did not help my brain retain everything I needed for an exam.

Teaching and learning go hand in hand. If you want to learn and retain what you’ve learned, there’s a small trick to doing it successfully and it involves teaching. More on this later.

Timing is everything. There are certain parts of the day that are the most conducive to absorbing new information, particularly the most challenging cognitive tasks like problem-solving.

So what are the specific tips that made the biggest difference?

I’ve condensed them into these 5.

#1. Study new material early in the day.

  • Why? For most people, your brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. This is the time when your brain can focus on analytical thinking that requires the most concentration. For studying, this can be reading, writing, coding, analyzing, critical thinking, or problem solving.
  • When? If you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11. You can extend this time until lunch to maximize your peak performance.
  • What are additional benefits? Doing your hard work early in the day allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, less inputs from your environment, and with a lot of energy that you’ve gained from a restful night. It’s the exact opposite of what can happen if you leave your toughest studying for nighttime, when you are exhausted from the day.

#2. Use a timer to be more effective.

  • How? Forget about sitting at your desk trying to cram everything for hours. Instead, use a timer to manage your studying better. That way you allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way.
  • What about reviewing? Set the timer to 30 or 60 minute increments to maximize concentration; or, you can also try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks.
  • What about practicing exam questions? Use the review questions provided in your textbook or given by your professor. Write them down on a sheet of paper. Then, use the Pomodoro technique to rehearse for the exam. Give yourself only a short time to answer each question. Use each 25-minute block of time to cover several questions, and go down the list until you’ve covered them all.
  • What about taking a break? You should take not one, but many breaks. When you’re done with one timed segment, step away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work: get some fresh air, stretch, have a snack, grab a cup of coffee or tea.

#3. Teach what you’ve learned.

  • Why? One of the most powerful memory techniques is recalling newly learned information by teaching it to someone else. This technique helps you review, recall, and retain what you’ve learned better than just silently looking over the material. Try these steps:
  • Who with? You can teach a close friend or family member. Too shy to speak to anyone? Pretend you have a couple of invisible students who really need to learn what you just covered!
  • Where? Create a private classroom. 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.
  • How? Write an outline of the most important points in the chapter you just covered, then go over the concepts aloud one by one. Make your “lecture” come alive by drawing diagrams on the side and by providing a few examples. At the end, summarize key parts of the lecture and highlight these sections with a thick marker or highlighter. This helps you recall details better and solidify what you’ve learned.

#4. Get some exercise afterwards.

  • Why? Exercise is definitely important to boost memory, but the timing of it is key. Scientists found that people who exercised four hours after their study session retained the information better a few days later than those who exercised either immediately after studying or those who didn’t exercise at all.
  • What’s the science behind it? Brain scans from the study show that delayed exercising affects the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is important for learning and memory.
  • How? Take a walk for 30 minutes. Go for a bike ride. Make time to be at the gym for an hour. Or, stay at home and pick a YouTube exercise video to practice.

#5. Go to sleep on time.

  • Why? You may be studying for an exam, but in order to pass you’ll need to make sure your brain functions at optimum levels. Chronic sleep deprivation can reduce your cognitive abilities, can impact your concentration, and can even reduce your IQ. Don’t waste all that time you spent going over the course material.
  • How? Train your brain to wind down with these tips. Set a bedtime alarm to go off 30 minutes before going to sleep. Stay away from electronics (mainly your computer and TV screens) an hour before bed. Do something relaxing before hitting the pillow: read a few pages of a book, listen to some music, have a cup of hot tea.
  • What to do before falling asleep? Focus on your breathing. Try to do 10 deep breaths, slowly inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. For even more impact, go for another 10. Try to focus on the act of breathing and listening to your inhalations and exhalations. When you’re done, end your day on a positive note — tell yourself, I’m on my way to pass this exam just fine.

What is mastery?

 

What is mastery?

If you look in the dictionary, you’ll find that mastery is the possession or display of great skill or technique.

Think Leonardo Da Vinci. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dostoyevsky. Bruce Lee. Picasso. Muhammad Ali. Mozart. Simone de Beauvoir. Kobe Bryant. Hemingway.

What do they all have in common?

They all had the drive, self-discipline, and a laser focus in their respective field. They put in the hours. They were dedicated to their work. They made continuous progress, every single day, at their craft.

And they didn’t quit.

What does this mean for you in your own life?

If you want to achieve mastery, know this. That “thing” you want to master will become your entire life, so you better be sure it’s something you truly care about. It can’t be something that someone else wants you to care about, or an idea you think you “should” be dedicated to because it’s popular among your circle of friends. No. It has to be very personal. You should care about it this very minute, deeply, completely, and yes—passionately.

Now that you know about the personal connection you need to make to it, how do you go about achieving mastery in a particular field?

Here are 5 tips you can practice every day.

Mastery tip #1. Identify a specific GOAL that will drive you to succeed.

When you have a goal you’re working towards, everything you do in your daily life has a greater sense of purpose — which is a key to achieving mastery.

  • Make sure your goal is specific. For example, don’t just say that you want to get a job, be fit, have a large salary. Instead, say you want to get a job offer for a specific job title that pays a certain annual salary (have a specific amount in mind) so that you can develop specific skills you already have, as well as learn those new skills you’re working towards.
  • Make sure you’re focused on your goal. You can increase your focus by starting each day with the question: What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? This question forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do, so you don’t feel overwhelmed with making too many choices and you’re free to focus on what’s most important to you.

Mastery tip #2. Develop a STRATEGY to achieve your goal.

Goals are important, but so is developing your strategy. What is strategy? It’s about having the big picture in mind: while you are focusing on what you want to do right now, always keep your eye on at least two steps ahead.

  • Take into consideration different approaches you can take to get you closer to your goal. That means be flexible and don’t always stick to what you’re used to doing to solve a problem.
  • Don’t only think of achieving short-term success. Being strategic isn’t only what you’re doing right right this very moment; it’s also about feeling the benefits of your present actions in the future.
  • Don’t focus only on the person you are today. Instead, think of who you want to be in 10 or even 20 years. By being strategic you will empower yourself to achieve long-term results that your future self can benefit from.

Mastery tip #3. LEARN everything you can about your chosen field of expertise.

In order to be successful at anything, you need to know the landscape so you can adapt to it and learn how to master it.

  • Research the field or industry you want to be successful in. There are many ways to get to know your target industry. For example, you can research the key features and goals of that industry, the major players, the competition, the qualities that are respected in experts, the top rated books in the field, the most relevant websites, and any other resources that can help you understand the subject, industry, or environment.
  • Follow what successful people are doing in your field. Read up on what they’re doing, find interviews, get their biographies and start taking notes.For example, can you find out what makes them unique and what are the traits they all have in common? When you identify patterns in behaviors of others, it becomes easier to emulate them and develop those same successful traits in yourself.

Mastery tip #4. Work on developing SKILLS to become successful.

You can’t be successful without a required skill set in your field of work, regardless of whether it’s studying for a PhD degree in anthropology, becoming a software engineer, or training to become an athlete in the Olympics.

  • First, identify which skills are necessary for you to succeed in doing your job. List them all. Think not just hard skills, but soft skills too.
  • Second, work on developing your skills. Create a plan to devote a certain amount of time each day to do this, even if this means you devote 15 minutes to it in the beginning.
  • Third, keep practicing each skill consistently. As you may have heard, the 10,000 hour rule is something that many people swear by. Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, don’t think of it as a numbers game — but rather as about doing your deep work: focusing without interruptions on something that takes a lot of analytical thinking. Deep work is essential in mastering the skills you’ll need.

Mastery tip #5. Set milestones to MEASURE your progress.

The only way you can pave the way towards your future is to know how you are performing, so that you can change your course of action if the results you’re achieving are not satisfactory. That’s why it’s important to measure your progress along the way. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  • How did I perform this week? What were the tasks and mini goals I have completed, how long did it take me to work on each one, and how would I rate my performance on a scale of 1–10, with 1 being poor and 10 being outstanding?
  • Which problems have I solved? Did I overcome an obstacle, find a shortcut to doing something that is challenging to me, save some time by asking for assistance in finishing something, or resolve a problem that has been on my mind for some time?
  • Where can I improve? What are specific areas where I can get even better at what I do, what’s the next level I need to reach so I can excel at it, how can I revise my strategy so I can get even better results as I’m working towards achieving mastery?

How do I know what I am passionate about?

 

Do a workshop with yourself!

Take a couple of hours off this week to find a quiet space where you won’t disturbed, turn off your phone, and go through this 5-step exercise that will help you identify what you are passionate about.

Step #1. Do a passion audit.

  • Write a list of things you’re currently doing and that you enjoy. Be sure to list EVERYTHING (even if that means having a list of 50 items).
  • Select the top 5 things that get you the most excited when you do them.
  • From those 5, select three that you cannot imagine your life without 10 or 20 years from now. To make this easier to do, think about your why: what is so important to you about a particular activity, subject matter, or field of expertise? What is the personal connection you have to it? What is the thing you think about first thing in the morning and that you look forward to doing?
  • Circle your top 3, then select ONE thing that makes you feel the most alive when you are doing it.

Step #2. Give yourself a skills assessment.

  • Write down your current skill set. What are you good at, what do you excel in, what is a skill that you’ve worked on developing for a long time and maybe even devoted a lot of years to?
  • Write down the skills you are developing. Where are you making progress, what are the activities that are already underway that you are working on consistently?
  • Add to the list what you consider strengths that have proven results from your past. This could mean strengths in both personal and professional life such as awards you received, top grades in school, a public or professional recognition of some sort, etc.

Step #3. Match up your passions to your skills and strengths.

  • Starting with your list of top 3 things you’re most passionate about, find which current (or currently developing) skills and strengths you can pair them up with. For example, if your passion is learning French, match this up with your self-discipline, your past performance in passing a course in French language or literature, your time management skills that have helped you design a plan to study every day such as developing your reading, writing, and speaking skills.
  • Be optimistic about the progress you can make. In other words, always have a can-do attitude that you can develop your current skill set, while also being realistic about the time it will take to master something For example, don’t expect to become a master in a specific field within a week or month; be prepared to put in some hard work and practice getting better every day.

Step #4. Create a specific, goal-oriented, and actionable plan.

  • Identify what you’ve decided to do. Write down the top 1–3 things where your top passions and skill set intersect. These will be your target areas where you can focus your energy.
  • Create a concrete goal for each area. What would you like to accomplish in 6 months or a year? Write down the goal for each area, and give yourself a deadline for it. For the French language example, write, “I want to be able to have a basic conversation in French and know the alphabet by [XXX date].
  • Make an actionable plan. Create a monthly plan and divide your time for each week, and then each day, when you can focus on the things you’ve identified. The key here is to be consistent: make sure to devote a block of time each day to work towards your goals. If you believe you don’t have enough time, start with 15 minutes to work on a small task. Once you get into the habit, it will be easier to increase the time to bigger increments, for example an hour.

Step #5. Celebrate each step in the right direction.

  • Help your brain stay motivated. Why is this important? Our brain reacts positively even when progress is made in micro steps — you don’t need to go above and beyond expectations every single day. Remember, nobody else knows about your plan. It’s just you! That’s why it’s important to give yourself recognition for every step forward, even if it’s super small and you think it doesn’t count.
  • Treat yourself when you finish your goals for the week. Do something you find enjoyable: catch up with friends over dinner, go on a long bike ride or walk in the park, watch a movie, or spend an uninterrupted hour with a book. This way you’re keeping yourself motivated to stay on track to reach your goals, no matter what they are.

What should I do to make my life meaningful?

How thoughtful of you to ask!

For me, a meaningful life = a life lived with a sense of purpose.

This sense of purpose answers the question of why.

Why are we are alive?

Why do we matter?

Why do we do the things we do, day in and day out, and what is it all for?

I don’t have all the answers, but I know this:

If life is to be meaningful, we need to have a bigger picture in mind. Instead of being emotional and letting our emotions drive our decisions, we need to take the time to think things through. Understand what drives us. Identify personal goals that matter to us. Create a plan and a schedule to attain those goals — maybe even just onegoal for now. Practice positive daily habits. Get better at something. And once we get better, instead of keeping the knowledge to ourselves, share it with others and help others on the path to achieving their goals.

This may all sound like good advice, but where and how do we start?

Let’s look at 7 ways to do this.

Meaningful tip #1. Begin your day with a sense of purpose.

Most people wake up and immediately start reacting to their day — they pick up their phone, start responding to emails and text messages, get cranky because family members are noisy or perhaps get in a bad mood because someone in the household is upset or irritable. That’s just an average way to begin the day. How about if you structure your mornings so you immediately know what to do to get yourself on the right track? You can do that if you create your own morning routine.

How it helps to give your life meaning: It’s a simple life hack that makes you feel super productive early, gives you focus and energy, and allows you ample time to do what’s important to your personal development, instead of making other people’s agenda an unnecessary priority. And even more important, it gives every day a sense of direction. Now that’s powerful.

Meaningful tip #2. Find your superpower.

Do you think of yourself as a person who just goes about their life, trying to get things done, but don’t really consider yourself talented or knowledgeable at any one thing? That won’t help you lead a meaningful life! To make a change, identify something you’re really good or maybe even feel deep passion for. It can be something that makes you feel happy, alive, buzzed with energy, and always 100% focused when you do it. Maybe you enjoy developing apps, or being fluent in three languages, or running for miles. That is your superpower.

How it helps to give your life meaning: Believe it or not, most people either don’t know what their passion is, or they don’t take the time to find out what it is — what a missed opportunity! — or don’t think it’s important to explore what it can be. Be sure you take the time to find out what yours is.

Meaningful tip #3. Identify goals to aspire to.

If you’re living day to day without having any specific goal in mind of what you’d like to do in the future, you’re not being respectful of your own time on this planet. To get your mind on the goal track, have an honest conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, where do I see myself in the future, who do I want to become, what would be an ideal lifestyle for me in ten years? Then write down your top 3 goals, map out what you need to do every day so that you can reach them, and create a weekly and monthly schedule so you can work every day towards achieving them.

How it helps to give your life meaning: Goals are a great way to stay focused on what is truly important to you. Even more important, they give everything you do in your daily life more meaning. That pertains to any type of goal: those that are school or work-related, focused on developing a particular set of skills, related to a talent you’ve ignored lately, an insecurity that is preventing you from moving on, or a network of friends or professional connections you need to build.

Meaningful tip #4. Express gratitude for what you have in your life this very minute.

For most people, it’s pretty common to assume that whatever is happening in your life, as well as your life circumstances, is just something you take for granted. If you find yourself making similar assumptions about your life, that means you rarely pay attention to what exactly it is you have going for you. Want to change that mindset? Practice gratitude. For five minutes each morning, write down or think about 3 things you are grateful for today: a roof over your head, food in the fridge, a warm bed, running water and electricity, a positive relationship with someone close to you, etc.

How it helps to give your life meaning: Practicing gratitude rewires your brain to focus on positive things, which sets the tone for the rest of your day, and can directly impact the way you perceive your life. You will also train your brain not to focus and dwell on things you don’t have and that others may have, which inevitably leads to feelings of jealousy, envy, frustration, and unhappiness.

Meaningful tip #5. Be that person that others can look up to.

Do you have someone in your circle of friends or extended family who did something unexpected, illogical, selfish, foolish, or just plain dumb, or made a decision that took them off their life path and caused them to lose focus of what’s important? Don’t be like that person. Use your intelligence. Make smart choices—whether big or small — that will help you get on the path to becoming the best version of yourself. Make it a personal goal to become someone people seek to gain knowledge in a particular field of expertise, or to be the person friends come to when they need guidance or just a warm embrace.

How it helps to give your life meaning: When you strive to help others in some way, you put yourself on a path to become a hero (or as the Greeks called ἥρως (hērōs). A hero is a warrior, a defender, a protector. All those goals will empower you to lead an extraordinary life full of meaning. Why? Because you are contributing to something much bigger than yourself, and you show that you have even greater goals to aspire to.

Meaningful tip #6. Be selective about how you’re feeding your brain.

We’ve all indulged in entertainment and let it consume our free time — TV channel surfing, listening to radio shows with commercial interruptions, browsing magazines or newspapers without a specific idea of why we’re reading. What if you incorporated a few smart hobbies into your day? Pick better brain food, like documentaries on politics, history or nature. Listen to podcasts while you’re preparing dinner or tidying up your apartment. Read books to learn about human nature, boost your critical thinking skills, and give yourself the space and time to dream.

How it helps to give your life meaning: When you make this switch to ingesting better brain food, you start treating your brain with more respect. After all, your brain is a supercomputer! You create an awareness that you can do so much more with it, nurture it, and use it as a tool to help you improve yourself in every aspect of your life.

Meaningful tip #7. Develop a growth mindset.

Think of your mindset as a set of attitudes you have towards yourself and the world around you that you’ve built up over the years, which started with messages you heard as a child from parents, teachers, and other adults around you. Do this because you’re a natural! Don’t waste your time, it’s not for you! These messages lead to a fixed mindset way of thinking, where you don’t stretch yourself in any way to change the way you think about your abilities. To develop a growth mindset, you need to leave behind the limiting beliefs of what is possible, and tell yourself that your skills and abilities can be improved over time. Ask, What if I tried this? What could it afford me? How will it help me grow?

How it helps to give your life meaning: A growth mindset means you keep yourself open to possibilities, allow yourself time to explore what excites you and what you are passionate about, and give yourself permission to make mistakes as you work on improving skills that matter to you. If you practice it every day, it has the potential to transform your life. And a final tip: read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

For more growth mindset tips, follow me on my blog and on Twitter. And remember, there’s one small thing we can all do each day to build that muscle!