How do you teach “grit”?

 

Teach it to yourself first!

The dictionary says that grit demonstrates a person’s courage, resolve, strength of character, and strength of will. It shows toughness and determination.

I would add to this by saying that grit is having the ability to bounce back after a setback. For some people it’s faster, for others it takes time. But either way (whether it’s a matter of days, weeks, or years) the resolve has to be there because there is no other option. We must go on.

There was no way I was focused on developing grit when I was younger. My attention was on other things: graduating college, falling in love, getting a job, moving to another country, going from city to city as my career took off.

But life happens. There’s a big jump from the college life to working a 9–5 job. What starts out as a promising role in a company ends up in a layoff. One manager who knows how to successfully handle a large team leaves, and another one who dislikes having to take on bigger responsibilities comes on board. Personal relationships also change over time, which is normal, because we grow and our needs change. The outcomes aren’t always (in fact they are rarely) what we want or need at the time.

That’s where grit comes into play. Whether I was aware of it at the time or not, I was teaching myself grit every time I encountered a setback. To be honest, it’s usually a long and time-consuming process. But I had to keep going. Why? Because I want to be the kind of person who learns from failures (instead of blaming others for them), who follows logic and common sense (instead of getting overly emotional), and who isn’t afraid to try something new (even if it means I’ll feel like I’m just a beginner).

These are the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Grit lesson #1. I train myself to be in growth mode every day.

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book completely changed the way I see myself and what I am capable of overcoming! Dr. Dweck makes an important distinction between two mindsets: fixed and growth mindset. If you’ve adopted a fixed mindset, you think being successful is due to good genes, a particular talent or gift, or something you are born with (or not lucky to be born with). Succeeding means being “perfect” every time, achieving results easily and effortlessly, without experiencing any type of setback EVER. Talk about setting yourself up for disappointment with this way of thinking! It’s a wiser choice to expect a challenge and to prepare for it, and that’s where having a growth mindset can prove helpful.

How can you do it?

To practice a growth mindset, shift your focus from the end result (making straight A’s in school or getting a promotion at work) to the actual process of becoming successful. A growth mindset person doesn’t think that success is being the best—they believe success is doing their best. You can start by moving away from your comfort zone (doing everything the same way over and over, using the same tools and processes), and towards a zone that’s uncomfortable and new. For example, come up with a better way to improve your work — break down a large task in smaller increments, or tackle a difficult problem early in the morning when your mind is likely to concentrate better. Or, wake up a bit earlier each morning to practice a new fitness habit such as going for a run or swim.

Grit lesson #2. I try to use every obstacle to my advantage.

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

How can you do it?

In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, retired US Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink has a power tip for how to deal with obstacles. I find it a bit controversial, unexpected, and nothing like any advice or feedback I’ve ever received from my circle of family and friends as I was growing up. Jocko says that when you reach an obstacle, instead of saying, Oh no! you should embrace it and say, GOOD! Why talk about an obstacle in a positive light? It’s a subtle switch of your mindset that yields big results because it affects how you react to a problematic situation. If you’ve failed at an exam, GOOD! Now you’ll have more time to prepare and organize your study days more effectively. If you’re trying to multitask and fail at everything, GOOD! Now you’ll have time to take a break and prioritize what is most important so you can focus on that first. If you didn’t get the job offer you expected, GOOD! Now you’ll be able to redo your resume and apply for jobs that are an even better fit for your skill set.

Grit lesson #3. I ride with the turbulence.

It’s an absolutely normal thing to encounter unexpected situations in your life. In fact, more often than not, our week takes a different turn from what we imagine it should be. You think that you have ten days to complete a project and then suddenly the deadline gets pushed up so you have only three days to finish everything. You meet a friend for coffee and what you thought would be an enjoyable chat turns into three hours of them crying about a relationship. You’re careful with your finances this year and save enough to pay off your credit card debt and then a forgotten bill that’s past due shows up out of nowhere. Regardless of the situation, the last thing you should do is let your emotions take over — it’s much better to go with the flow, even if it feels like a rocky ride.

How can you do it?

Step one is to be aware of the thoughts that are running through your mind as you’re reacting to the unexpected event. The thoughts might sound something like this. Oh no, I will fail at this now! There’s no way I can manage this situation! It’s just going to get worse from here! Step two is to tell yourself that whatever emotion you are feeling is only going to be temporary. You can say, Of course I feel upset, no wonder! It’s normal to have an emotional reaction right now but it will pass! And step 3 is to ask yourself, What can I do right now to make myself feel better? It can be taking a few deep breaths, going out for a 30-minute walk, or taking out a pen and paper and writing down three things you can do to correct the situation.

Grit lesson #4. I practice self-discipline.

There’s something about the words “self-discipline” that upsets people. Does it sound harsh, uncomfortable, like a punishment? I don’t see it that way at all. For me, self-discipline is about focusing my energies on an outcome that I want. It can be to increase my writing skill, improve my physical strength, or keep myself on track with a new habit that will make me feel proud. What’s at the core of self-discipline? It’s knowing how to postpone things that are more pleasurable and take care of the essentials FIRST. This practice actually yields long-term benefits. In a study performed by Stanford University scientists called the Marshmallow experiment, results showed that delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life—your education, career, short and long term goals, even your personal life choices.

How can you do it?

Really, practicing self-discipline is not as hard as it sounds. Start by observing the things you’d like to indulge in whenever the opportunity presents itself — for example, when you see a beautiful slice of double-chocolate cake at your coffee shop. Then, resist the temptation to immediately choose to treat yourself by thinking of one reason why not to indulge: maybe you’re starting off the month with new fitness goals or better eating habits. And it’s super important to follow up — take your attention away from the distractions and focus on your priorities for the day: go to the gym for an hour, complete your homework, listen to a podcast on a topic you find inspiring, or prepare dinner early so you have time to do something fun later in the evening.

Grit lesson #5. I do it all over again tomorrow.

Grit isn’t only about what you do in the moment. It’s just as important, if not even more so, that you keep up the progress you’re making over an extended period of time. What’s the point of doing something great right now and then let yourself go in the next three weeks? You’ll lose momentum, you’ll get complacent or just plain lazy, and even worse — you’ll forget how confident you felt when you overcame that initial obstacle. That’s why it is critical to keep at it and to hold yourself accountable every step of the way.

How can you do it?

Be smarter with your time — plan everything out. If you haven’t heard of it already, try out the bullet journal method and track your goals in one notebook. If you feel that you often procrastinate or get distracted by Facebook which prevents you from achieving something important, then your bullet journal will make it impossible to use these external factors as an excuse. Why? Because you’ll have to visually track your progress by checking off every single item for the day, week, and month. And if you don’t? Guess what: you’ll have to carry the missed task over to the next day or week. There’s no getting around it. Staying on track is about doing something valuable with your life and making your time feel valuable too. Trust me on this — if you start right now, your future self will thank you later. ♥️

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What are some 7-day or 30-day challenges that have significant benefit?

 

What if you start by identifying what bothers you most and use the next 30 days to fix the problem and move on?

I’ll give you 5 challenging situations to choose from that, sooner or later, most of us face in our lives. To make this exercise more effective, I’ll propose a solution for each one, along with an estimate of how long it should take you to practice it daily.

Ready? Here we go.

CHALLENGE #1. Feeling overwhelmed with things you need to do.

Solution? Boost your focus each morning with one question: What is the ONE thing I am committed to learning today?

Time needed? 5 minutes.

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 the question 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.

CHALLENGE #2. Procrastinating on work.

Solution? Do your “deep work” early.

Time needed? 1-2 hours.

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 two 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.

CHALLENGE #3. Not knowing how to manage busy thoughts.

Solution? Calm your thoughts with meditation.

Time needed? 10 minutes.

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 even makes it simple for beginners to do. 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.

CHALLENGE #4. Wasting time on distractions.

Solution? Give yourself better brain food.

Time needed? 30 minutes – 1 hour.

We’ve all indulged in entertainment like TV channel surfing, listening to radio shows with commercial interruptions, browsing magazines or newspapers without a specific idea of why we’re reading them. 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.

CHALLENGE #5. Feeling frustrated or envious of others.

Solution? Express gratitude for what you have in your life this very minute.

Time needed? 5 minutes.

Do you find yourself often feeling like life is unfair, you are a victim of unfortunate circumstances, and other people seem to have it easier in life? If you do, no wonder you feel miserable! Want to change that mindset? Practice gratitude. It rewires your brain to focus on positive things, which can directly impact the way you perceive your life. For five minutes each morning, write down or say out loud 3 things you are grateful for today: a roof over your head, food in the fridge, a warm bed to sleep in, a positive relationship with someone close to you, or a recent and pleasant event you shared with friends.

How do you develop mental toughness?

 

This is one of my keystone habits (and goals!), so I’d like to think it makes me qualified to tell you a few things about it.

How do you develop mental toughness?

You do it every day.

You are committed to making it a priority — not just that, but also making it a survival strategy.

You understand that there are no shortcuts and that you have to work on it yourself.

What does all this look like in real, day-to-day life?

If I were to summarize my experience into a few essential tips, they would look something like this.

Toughness tip #1. You welcome obstacles into your life.

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

How can you do this?

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

Toughness tip #2. You practice a growth mindset.

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. My take on it? This book completely changed the way I see myself and what I am capable of achieving! Dweck makes an important distinction between two mindsets: fixed and growth mindset. If you’ve adopted a fixed mindset, you think being successful is due to good genes, a particular talent or gift, or something you are or aren’t born with but can never change. Succeeding means being perfect every time, achieving results easily and effortlessly, without much preparation or learning anything new. It’s about staying in the comfort zone and repeating what works. The downside to a fixed way of thinking is never stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something that is tough and challenging. Yet that’s where real success happens.

How can you do this?

To nurture a growth mindset, shift your focus from the end result (making straight A’s in school or getting a promotion at work) to the actual process of becoming successful. A growth mindset person doesn’t think that success is being the best—they believe success is doing their best. You can start by moving away from your comfort zone (doing everything the same way over and over, using the same tools and processes), and towards a zone that’s uncomfortable and new. For example, come up with a better way to improve how you do your work — break down a large task in smaller increments, or tackle a difficult cognitive problem early in the day when your mind can concentrate better. Or, wake up a bit earlier each morning to practice a new fitness habit such as going for a run or swim.

Toughness tip #3. You avoid toxic people at all costs.

This tip is probably the most challenging one for most of us. Sometimes those who are closest to us can be extremely negative, repeating how work is impossible, complaining about their lot in life (or suggesting you should see yours the same way), or just focusing on what’s preventing them from being happy. These people can be your friends, family members, even your partner or best friend. They may claim to know what’s best for you, that they care about happens to you, and that’s why their advice is to be careful, not to try anything new, not to move forward. That’s when things can veer off into seeing the world full of impossibilities, instead of possibilities. However, there are ways to deal with their toxicity.

How can you do this?

So maybe you don’t have a choice if a professor at university is pessimistic. Work and school don’t give us many opportunities to select who we interact with. However, you can make up for it by being very selective who you spend all of your free time with. If a toxic friend wants to monopolize your evening after school for example, just say no. Tell them you’re busy. Don’t engage in gossip, awfulizing scenarios, and negative banter over the phone. You’re better off spending your free time doing something important for your personal development or having a few hours to yourself to relax and have a good time.

Toughness tip #4. You practice saying NO often.

If you often find yourself running out of time to do what you need or would like to have time for, that means you’re saying yes to too many things, and ultimately wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. What are some typical real-life examples? Giving in to distractions of any kind, such as spending hours on insignificant activities, pointless conversations, answering every phone call, or indulging in passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV for hours. When you say no to distractions, you make a positive change that will impact your daily life and improve the quality of your overall life.

How can you do 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 indulge and eat a double portion for the next three days just because you can. If you’re in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend calls to ask you out, don’t drop everything because you want to please them. Know your priorities — and stay in tune with them. Be aware of what is relevant to your life and why you’re working on something. If you think of it this way, you will be less likely to ignore the things that are beneficial to your personal and professional growth.

Toughness tip #5. You stop making excuses to live the best version of your life.

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

How can you do this?

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

… And a final tip on developing mental toughness: 

If you find the concept of mental toughness a difficult one to embrace, I recommend reading Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. If you wonder whether it’s possible to build endurance and optimism in life when you are struggling with a negative environment or a challenging situation, this book can be a game changer for you. Based on the psychology of survival, it’s a real-life story told by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who found the strength to live in circumstances where most people would simply give up. Be warned though — it’s not an easy read. However, it’s an important book as you’re thinking about ways to become mentally tougher and stronger to win at this game we like to call life.

What are psychology tricks to make us more disciplined?

 

I have to share with you.

Tip #1. Kick-start your focus.

The way you start the day — any day — is going to set the tone to whatever you do, try to do, want to do, and then actually do. You can choose to be reactive, which can mean you wake up, get your phone, and start checking emails, Twitter, or Instagram. You might watch the news and get caught up in world events, none of which you can control. Or, you might answer calls or respond to text messages that your friends start sending you during breakfast. If you’d like to create a different beginning to your day, get proactive by training your brain to be focused as soon as you wake up.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start your day with this question: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today? This technique trains your brain to focus on which goals are important to you right now, and it forces you to prioritize the goal you believe to be the most relevant in this moment. How do you start? Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, for example as you’re brushing your teeth or getting ready for work or school. Come up with an answer on the spot and answer it out loud. Then follow up by taking action — focus your energy throughout the day to completing your one thing.

Tip #2. Dive into deep work.

You can say a lot of things to describe a self-disciplined life, but being spontaneous in how you go about your day isn’t going to be one of them. There’s time for spontaneity, and then there’s time to do what you need to do. In other words, timing — just like in most other aspects of your life—is everything. Being self-disciplined means you do deep work (concentrating on complex cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, writing) first before you do anything for pleasure. It means you are aware of which times of day should be devoted to doing it, and which times can be allotted to entertainment and socializing.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Make the most of your mornings by building a habit of doing your deep work early. This means taking full advantage of your circadian rhythm (your body’s biological clock), which is your natural rhythm that “knows” what are the optimal times for you to perform certain tasks. For most people, the early morning hours are optimal for deep work. Specifically, the brain’s peak performance is 2-4 hours after we wake up. So if you wake up at 6, then your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Working early allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, and less inputs from your environment.

Tip #3. Postpone what gives you pleasure.

If doing deep work early helps you focus better and get those responsibilities out of the way, what you’re also doing is postponing things that are more pleasurable. What’s the point of doing something difficult first in order to reward yourself later? You’d be surprised how far-reaching this practice can be. In a study performed by Stanford University scientists, results showed that delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life — your education, career, short and long term goals, even your personal life choices. This study is now famous and is called the Marshmallow experiment.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start by observing the things you’d like to indulge in whenever the opportunity presents itself — for example, seeing a slice of gorgeous double-chocolate cake at your local pastry shop. Then, resist the temptation to immediately choose to treat yourself by thinking of one reason why not to indulge: maybe you’re focused on your new fitness goals or better eating habits. And follow up — take your attention away from the distractions and focus on your priorities for the day: complete your homework, go to the gym, listen to a podcast on a topic that fascinates you, or prepare dinner early so you have time to watch a movie with friends later in the evening.

Tip #4. Don’t let social media run your life.

Leading a self-disciplined life means you learn how to say no to many different things: no to giving in to temptations to indulge in pleasant activities, no to your desire to procrastinate on daily priorities, no to distractions that take over your day. They may seem harmless to begin with, but distractions can easily make you slip from your work. One minute you’re just catching up with an old friend on WhatsApp, and the next thing you know it’s two hours later and you haven’t picked up your notes to start prepping for your exam. But when you turn off what distracts you, you have a better chance to actually get stuff done.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Be aware that distractions come from different sources, not just your electronic devices. Your goal, if you’re going to lead self-disciplined life, is to dial down all types of distractions so they’re not in your way. First, set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus on your work — try it for a 2-hour period to begin. Next, let people around you (family members, friends, or roommates) know you won’t be available in the next few hours. Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day; start around lunchtime and then check later in the afternoon. Avoid browsing the Internet or reading news throughout the day; close all tabs in your browser to avoid any temptations to just check that one thing on Google.

Tip #5. Make discipline your best friend.

Like with all other areas in your life, self-discipline is for the most part all about attitude. What’s your understanding of self-discipline? Does it sound like a practice that is uncomfortable, unusual, harsh or maybe extreme? If it does, maybe it’s time to take a second look because the attitude you have towards self-discipline will either help you or deter you from instilling it in your daily life. For me, it’s never been about what I “should” do or what feels uncomfortable to do. It’s all about what it can afford me. With daily practice, self-discipline trains my brain to prioritize the things I can control, allows me to let go of what I cannot, and frees me up to focus on my personal goals.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Instead of living your life day by day, start thinking about your future and what you want to accomplish in 5, 10, even 20 years. Even if practicing self-discipline may feel like you’re sacrificing some things right now (time out with friends or indulging in a delicious dessert), think about what leading a self-disciplined life will afford you. Write down a list of new habits you’re practicing (or want to start practicing) that can add up to bigger results a year from now. Create time in your calendar to practice them — even a 30-minute session is enough to begin. When you understand the benefits of leading a self-disciplined life, you are more likely to nurture it. It will become a lifestyle that will take you into the future you want for yourself. The best part? You can start on that path today.

 

How do I become the best in the world at what I do?

 

Great question!

Here’s what I suggest.

#1. Get laser-focused on your goal.

Having a specific goal (or several goals) is one of the most critical factors that drive success. When you have a goal you’re working towards, everything you work on in your daily life — from your career to building skills — has a greater sense of purpose. In other words, your actions will add up to something much bigger.

  • Make sure the goal is specific. For example, don’t just say that you want to get promoted in your job, have a large salary, or manage a team of five people. Make the goal as specific as possible. For example, if you want to get promoted, write down what are the areas where you need to improve: is it learning more, getting better at a specific task such as creating spreadsheets, or boosting communication skills? Next, write up a plan on how you are going to make progress. Finally, set milestones for yourself and figure out how to measure success.
  • Make every day count towards achieving the goal. Who is motivated to do anything if they don’t believe it matters in the long run? You can make each day count if you start your mornings with this question: what is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? Asking it forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

#2. Develop a strategy.

Of course goals are important if you want to become the best at what you do, but your strategy has to come first. What is strategy really? It means having a vision of the general direction in which you want to go, and understanding why you are going in that direction. So, as you’re focusing on what you want to do right now, you’re also keeping your eye on at least two steps ahead.

  • Consider different solutions. Maybe it’s not just having a plan, maybe it’s also having a plan B. And a plan C. Cover all the bases and look at your goal from different angles so you can assess its size, complexity, and entry points.
  • Don’t focus on short-term gratification. Doing something may feel great right now, but how will you feel about it tomorrow and the day after? Increase your awareness of the consequences of your actions, and consider the benefits of your actions in the long run.
  • Don’t think only of who you are today. You’re still growing and changing and becoming. This is true at every stage of our lives. Try adopting a different mindset: think of who you want to be in 5 or 10 years. By being strategic you will empower yourself to work on achieving long term results that your future self can benefit from.

#3. Master your environment.

In order to be the best at whatever you do, you need to master the essentials — know the environment that you are working in.

  • Develop a firm grasp of the industry and your field of expertise. Learn everything about it. Do the research. Find out who are the major players (the ones who are most successful), the influencers (the ones with the most followers), the competition, the qualities that are respected in experts, books, websites, and other resources that can help you understand the subject, industry, or environment.
  • Examine what successful people are doing in your field. For example, do you know what makes them different, why they’ve achieved a certain status in the community, and which traits they have in common? When you identify patterns in behaviors of others, it becomes easier to emulate them especially if we wish to develop the same successful traits in ourselves.

#4. Continuously develop your core skill set.

You can’t be the best at anything without a required skill set in your field of work, regardless of whether it’s studying for a PhD in economics, training to be a professional athlete, or mastering a programming language. How do you develop your core skill set?

  • Identify all skills that are necessary to succeed in doing your job. Brainstorm and then write down a list of all the skills you need. Don’t only think about building hard skills, but soft skills too.
  • Have a self-development plan. This of course is going to take some time. How about prioritizing? Start with skills you think will be most valuable to you, then create a plan to devote a certain amount of time each day, even if that means only 15 minutes in the beginning.
  • Practice each skill consistently. It’s not all about being focused on the numbers (how many hours you put in); it’s also about what you are doing in that time. Are you doing deep work? Deep work is focusing without interruptions on something that takes a lot of analytical thinking, and it is essential to mastering the skills you’re working on.

#5. Nurture your soft skills.

As you’re working on being the best at whatever you do, keep in mind there are different ways in which you can respond to your environment and what’s happening around you. Here are a few soft skills that can be beneficial to you:

  • Learn how to listen. Sometimes that means just staying quiet, and other times it’s picking up on non-verbal cues to fill in the blanks (observing people’s gestures, the way their eyes move, how they express their feelings through body movements). Listening is the #1 method of learning, so make the most of it.
  • Ask important questions. How can you gather more information unless you ask someone to tell you more about a topic, situation, or issue? Don’t just ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Ask questions to reveal more about the topic: what is the single most important issue, why do people think it’s important, how does it impact your environment, work, and interactions with others?
  • Be respectful towards others. If you want to be treated as a valued member of any social group, it helps to approach its members with the courtesy and respect you also expect from them. That can mean anything from addressing people politely to letting them express their views and opinions before you start speaking about yours.

#6. Create an original solution to a problem.

Being the best doesn’t necessarily mean mimicking what other people say or do, even if they’re successful. It’s what is your unique contribution, your own spin on things, that will make a difference. Consider these questions to gain a better understanding of what can set you apart from others:

  • What makes your work great? For example, how is it unique and in what way is it different from the work of others in your field or line of work? And if it isn’t, think of ways in which you can make it more unique.
  • Which problem have you solved that other people might benefit from? If you can’t answer this question, it’s time to think about ways in which you can contribute. This is where your individual contribution can matter the most.
  • What are areas that need improvement? It could be anything from moving from beginner to intermediate level of training, to changing your learning approach as you tackle a difficult cognitive task. Then, create a specific plan to make progress in that area and a way in which you intend to measure your success.

#7. Nurture a strong belief in yourself.

It’s not necessarily whether other people believe in you that is critical to your success. It’s simply you believing in yourself. This is a tough one because we are usually our biggest critic. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just a matter of shifting your mindset a little bit each day:

  • Develop a growth mindset. Stop telling yourself (or letting others tell you) what you “should” be the best at and what you “should” give up. Chances are, you’ve been conditioned to think in this way from an early age. Expand the way you see yourself — grow your mindset.
  • Grow your critical thinking muscle. It’s about not taking everything you see and hear for granted, and learning how to think on your own. Take action so that you can develop your critical thinking skills every day.
  • Turn obstacles into opportunities. Instead of getting emotional when you experience a setback, work through the challenge so that you can get stronger mentally. It’s about developing Stoic habits to strengthen your belief in yourself and what you can do. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” Make sure you leave ample room in your life to say, “I CAN.”

How does one master the art of self-discipline?

 

Get badass about it.

If you want to get self-disciplined, don’t treat it as an extracurricular activity. Don’t practice something for one week then say to yourself, Ooooh this is tougher than I thought. Maybe it’s not for me.

If you want to get self-disciplined, you first ask yourself, What’s in this for me? If I persevere, what are the concrete benefits I will get? Understanding the reason for doing something differently is key. You need to get your brain on board that this change is a positive one.

If you want to get self-disciplined, you stop procrastinating and start doing.Identify one area of your life where you’d like to see more improvement. For example:

  • I’d like to know how to prioritize what’s most important to work on.
  • I’d like to spend less time on Facebook.
  • I’d like to start going to bed early.

Then, do the actual work.

Here are 5 suggestions on what that work looks like.

Suggestion #1. Train your brain to focus on what’s most important.

This is a simple routine you can practice in the morning. The goal of the routine is to get your brain used to making decisions on what it needs to focus on as soon as you wake up. Here’s how I practice it. I start my day with this question: “What is the onething I am committed to completing today?” This technique gets my brain to start evaluating the goals that are important to me right now and forces me to prioritize one goal that needs attention immediately. In addition, I give myself the time to think about what’s important in my life, instead of letting other people or situations dictate what I should or shouldn’t be doing.

What’s the process?

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

Suggestion #2. Make the most of your willpower.

When we wake up to begin our day, it’s common for most of us to feel a sense of overwhelm because there are so many things we need to do, from small routine tasks to working on large projects towards bigger goals, both professional and personal. As a result, our first response might be to delay doing anything (because it’s hard to decide what to do and in what order), which translates into a bad habit of procrastinating. That’s a self-imposed obstacle. Why? Because we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day. And that willpower gets weaker and weaker as the day progresses. So if you think you’ll start writing that essay after dinner, think again. Chances are you’ll put if off some more and turn to your TV instead.

What’s the process?

Practicing self-discipline means that if you want to focus on priorities, you should work on them early. As early in the day as possible — in fact, start right after breakfast. Do that task that you’ve been putting off all week before lunchtime. Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. Finish up doing homework or reviewing your exam questions that you’ve been procrastinating on for days because you’d rather do something more fun. The benefit? You gain a sense of accomplishment early that will make you feel better about the whole day.

Suggestion #3. Treat a new habit as a choice instead of punishment.

OK, so you’ve figured out that there’s something in your life you’d like to change because you don’t like what you’re currently doing (or not doing). It can be a fitness goal you’d like to reach (start running in the mornings like you used to in college), a health benefit (stop eating dinner in restaurants three times a week), or better manage your time (get more sleep instead of watching shows on Netflix until 2 a.m.). All those new habits you want to acquire will need self-discipline, time, and repetition. If this sounds unappealing, it’s because you make it sound that way: you feel like you “should” be doing something difficult when you’d rather be relaxing.

What’s the process?

First, stop telling yourself that keeping a life-changing habit is a way to punish yourself. That’s the wrong attitude to have for anything in your life. If you keep thinking this way, you might give up on many things that can make a huge difference for you. Instead, think of a new habit as a choice that you make in order to become a better version of yourself. And next, make the change as easy as possible by starting with tiny steps. Instead of saying you have to hit the gym for two hours each evening after work, do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes each day to give your body time to adjust. Or, start going to bed 15 minutes earlier and read a good book or listen to relaxing music to help you fall asleep faster.

Suggestion #4. Learn how to manage your busy thoughts.

When I was as student, I started noticing those thousands of thoughts bouncing around in my mind. The more I read, absorbed new information in school, talked to my friends, interacted with family members, and observed the world as a young adult, the more confusing everything seemed. I started to awfulize about so many things. What’s worse is that I thought it’s just me! Nobody surely thought this way. And then as I grew up I realized that it’s not just me, it’s all of us. The older we get, the more cognitive input we have, and we often struggle to categorize this input. What’s relevant to our life and what isn’t? Which problem do I need to solve? Is this something I can control, or can I let it go?

What’s the process?

First, it’s important to be aware that if you feel overwhelmed, have negative or self-critical thoughts, or find yourself ruminating on past events and personal failures, you are not alone. The good news is this: even though you may think it, you are not your thoughts. You are much bigger than your thoughts! And second, start considering a few habits to reign in those thoughts and categorize them as either relevant or just dramatic. You can start with a 10-minute meditation to calm your thoughts and even slow down the chaos. An excellent app to try is Headspace. Also, you can devote 30 minutes a day to being outside in a park or by the beach. Spending some time in nature really does positively affect the brain.

Suggestion #5. Learn how to say no to what distracts you.

If you think that all the gadgets and toys we have at our disposal today are to blame for getting distracted easily, think again. Even the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote about this, and the topic is featured in his book On the Shortness of Life. Seneca describes people’s struggles with gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things, and always trying to impress others. Sound familiar? Maybe today we don’t host lavish banquets to impress our guests, but we do pay attention to what we see on social media and we observe the images of surreal lifestyles on Facebook or Instagram. And that often leads to feelings of dissatisfaction, envy, and self-criticism.

What’s the process?

First, take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt. Chances are those pictures and updates are not a real representation of everyday life, but rather a tactic someone is using to sell a product, service, or brand. And second, don’t waste your time on distractions if they don’t serve the purpose of adding value to your life. Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus, especially in the first few hours of the day. Let people in your inner circle know you won’t be available for a few hours. Check email and social media apps in the afternoons and evening, instead of spending the first 30 minutes of your day on them. Close all tabs on your browser that may be tempting you to unfocus from your important work.

If you liked these tips on building self-discipline, you might enjoy my e-book 5 Keys to Self-Discipline to Help You Transform Each Day. You can read more about it here.

What is the easiest way to start a new habit?

 

Don’t overengineer it!

In other words, make the change as small as possible.

You can:

Tip #1. Keep it simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Maybe you feel that this month it’s time to make some kind of change in your life: start working out, stop eating out so much, get more sleep, find more time to spend with family, or watch TV less. The key to keeping a good habit stick is to make it simple so you don’t find it intimidating, exhausting, and overwhelming. Start with tiny steps. Do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes this month before you buy that gym membership. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual to give yourself time to de-stress and relax with a good book, so you don’t end up staying awake all night and feeling groggy and listless the next day. Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t feel pressured to eat yet another greasy lunch at a fast-food restaurant.

Tip #2. Practice early in the day.

When we start the day, we tend to get overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the day. That goes for new habits too. This is a missed opportunity. Think of it this way. We all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day, so if you want to focus on your top priority—your new habit—work on it early. Practice a new skill before lunchtime while you’re still energized and focused on your top goals. Maybe practicing means sketching a quick portrait in black and white or writing one paragraph of a short story. Don’t leave it for late at night when you might be exhausted from events that happened during the day.

Tip #3. Practice every day.

Why? It’s much less likely you will make any habit stick if you just practice it once or twice a week. If you do that, your brain will start thinking this is an optional activity, something you just do on the side. Instead, you’ll get better results if you starting doing it more frequently so you brain will get accustomed to it, and eventually will adopt this new behavior as a regular part of the day. How can you do this? Schedule it in. Find a block of time (preferably earlier in the day) to work on your habit so that you’ll be successful at it. Mark it in your daily planner, or add it to your mobile phone monthly calendar, then set a notification to remind you an hour or two ahead of time when you should practice it.

Tip #4. Replace saying, “I can’t!” with “Why not?”

It’s a subtle shift in your attitude, but one that can reap big results over time, especially if you keep practicing it. You know the feeling when you’re trying to do something new and it’s just not going well? The first instinctive reaction is to say, I can’t! And that’s a human reaction. But the key here is to replace a negative statement with an open-ended and positive one. When we say, Why not? we give ourselves more power to make a positive change in our life. We leave some space open for possibilities, instead of shutting the door in our own face. It’s a matter of seeing things as doable and realistic, instead of making them appear abstract and even impossible to achieve.

Tip #5. Make your new habit a choice (instead of a chore).

When you start doing something different, always ask yourself, Why am I doing this? What will this new behavior afford me? It’s important to stay connected to the initial reason for picking the new habit. Maybe you want to work out so you improve your health and lose weight. Or maybe you want to work on creative skills such as drawing, painting, or composing a new track with your band. Think about what this better version of you will look like after you’ve succeeded in making this habit a part of your everyday life. What will this feel like? How will it help you achieve bigger goals? Where will you go next? Choosing a behavior will make you feel stronger, more powerful, and more proactive about your life.

Tip #6. Resist the urge to quit.

The writer Seth Godin said, “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” It’s important to stop for a minute and assess the stress you’re feeling and where it’s coming from. If you’re stressed out about keeping up with a new habit, try to figure out why. Maybe it’s not easy to keep a healthy diet around friends who want to eat out in restaurants three times a week. Or maybe your ego is finding it tough to deal with not being the best in a kickboxing class or a hackathon you recently participated in. Fight the urge to give up whenever things get tough, hard, or even ugly. Know the difference between what feels hard to do right now and what’s good for you in the long run. Nothing truly amazing happens in one day or even a month. Next time you fall, do your best to get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

Tip #7. Reward yourself for each step you take.

Developing new habits is a matter of self-discipline, but that doesn’t mean you should just keep plugging along without pausing and taking stock of what you already accomplished. To make a new habit as pleasant as possible, there needs to be a reward of some kind. Why? You want to produce more endorphins (your “happy hormones”) as you go along. How? Record your progress—dedicate a notebook to your new habit and write down how much you’re working on it and how frequently. This gives you a sense of accomplishment. Write a brief journal entry of how your day went: what did you achieve, what went well, where did you run into a challenge, how can you make things better tomorrow? At the end of the day, set aside an hour to do something enjoyable and relaxing: take a bike ride, read a good book, or spend some time with a friend.