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failure stories

Robert F. Kennedy once said that “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

When any of us fail at something, it’s hard to keep things in perspective. On the other hand, it’s easy to fall prey to catastrophic thinking along the following lines:

  • That’s it; I’ll never get another chance again.
  • Everyone will know that I’ve failed and no one will ever want to work with me again.
  • I guess I just don’t have what it takes.

That’s where stories about other people who have failed, and then went on to win big-time, come in. They help us to think the following:

  • If they could get through that, I can get through this.
  • They got a second chance, and I deserve one, too.
  • Maybe if I persevere, like they did, I’ll also achieve my goals and dreams.
  • I will take this risk. If I fail, I’ll use that failure to do better the next time.

In the spirit of looking for ways to turn failure into a springboard to success, below you’ll find 16 wildly successful people who failed before becoming superstars.

1. Fred Astaire. The man who evaluated Fred Astaire’s first screen test wrote, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Thank goodness that didn’t get Astaire to stop dancing.

Astair went on to star in several successful musical comedy films with Ginger Rogers from 1933 to 1949, and he continued to do well even after the duo split up. “Top Hat”, along with “Swing Time”, are his most famous films. They’re still being watched today.

2. Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley, one of the most iconic entertainers of the 20th century, drove a truck after graduating from high school. At the same time, he auditioned whenever he could. After auditioning as a vocalist for a popular Memphis band, he was told: “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”

3. Katherine Hepburn. Katherine Hepburn—who went on to win four Oscars–was once on a list of actors considered to be “box office poison” due to a series of film flops.

Always an aggressive, go-getting type, she acquired the film rights to “The Philadelphia Story”, gave herself the lead female role, and staged her comeback. The film was a big hit. Hepburn had taken control of her career and it paid off big. She went from failure to success.

4. Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez. Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. There are few people who have not heard of his seminal work, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. However, he had difficulty getting his first novella, “La Hojarasca” (Leaf Storm), published.

In the early 1950s, García Márquez sent his novella to the most important publishing house in Latin America at the time: Editorial Losada in Argentina. The editor, Guillermo de Torre, rejected it and sent it back with a note informing the young García Márquez that he didn’t have a future as a writer, and he should look for a different profession.

5. Dr. Seuss. Theodor Geisel—known as Dr. Seuss—had his first book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” initially rejected by over 20 publishers. Finally, Vanguard Press agreed to publish the book. Today, Dr. Seuss’ children’s books are classics – most of us will remember having read “The Hat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham” when we were kids.

6. Walt Disney. When Walt Disney was a young man, he was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Disney’s next failure came in 1922 when he started his first film company. Along with a partner, he bought a used camera and made short advertising films and cartoons under the studio name Laugh-O-Gram. The company went bankrupt in 1923.

Later, Disney was told that Mickey Mouse—who has become one of the world’s most beloved animated characters–was a bad idea because women were afraid of mice. When visiting one of the many Disney amusement parks that exist today around the world, or watching the Disney movies, it’s hard to believe how many times Walt Disney failed before succeeding.

7. Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill was Britain’s lord of admiralty (secretary of the navy) during World War I. He made the decision to attack Turkey at Gallipoli on the Dardanelles coast, despite  being advised by people more knowledgeable than he was in warfare that it was a bad idea.

The battle lasted eight-and-a-half-months; it resulted in 250,000 casualties for the Allies; and the Allies withdrew in disgrace. Britain was humiliated.

Churchill was dismissed from his cabinet position. In an interview given many years later, his wife explained that after the Gallipoli debacle, Churchill had almost died of grief.

Then, during World War II, Churchill saved Britain from the Nazis. However, in another surprising failure for Churchill, British voters ousted him from office just two months after Germany’s surrender in 1945.

Nonetheless, in 1951, 77-year-old Churchill became prime minister for the second time. He stayed in the position until he retired in 1955. The “British Bulldog” who had so many ups and downs in his life, ended up on top.

8. Larry King. For twenty-five years, from 1985 to 2010, Larry King hosted the nightly interview television program Larry King Live on CNN, a show that had over one million nightly viewers. However, in 1971 he was arrested for grand larceny.

King didn’t go to jail because the statute of limitations had run out. The man who accused him, Louis E. Wolfson, succeeded in getting King fired from his job at the Miami TV station WTVY, by claiming that he was a ‘menace to the public’.

The scandal almost destroyed King’s career. It took him four years to get his life back on track.

9. Colonel Sanders. Harland Sanders—who went on to become known as Colonel Sanders—was in his sixties when, due to unforeseen circumstances, he found himself penniless. He hopped into his car and started driving around the US, visiting restaurants and trying to franchise his chicken business.

In exchange for his “secret” chicken recipe—with eleven herbs and spices—he wanted a nickel for every chicken sold. He was rejected over 1000 times until, finally, he sold his first franchise to Pete Harman of Salt Lake City. Things picked up from there.

In 1964, Sanders sold the franchising operation for $2 million. Today, that operation is KFC—a multibillion-dollar international company.

10. Sidney Poitier. Sidney Poitier grew up in poverty in the Bahamas. When he first auditioned for the American Negro Theatre, he spoke in a heavy Caribbean accent and botched his lines. Poitier was told by the casting director:

“Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?”

Poitier worked on his craft and went on to win an Academy Award for best actor.

11. Bill Gates. In 1975 Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. He started a business with Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data. It flopped. Undeterred by their failure, Gates and Allen tried their hand at business again and created Microsoft.

12. Milton Snavely Hershey. Miltson S. Hershey–founder of Hershey’s chocolate–started four candy companies that failed, and he filed for bankruptcy, before starting what is now Hershey’s Foods Corporation. His fifth attempt was clearly successful – Hershey’s Kisses are known the world over.

13. William McKinley. McKinley—the 25th President of the United States–went bankrupt while serving as Ohio’s governor in 1893. He was $130,000 in the red before eventually straightening out with the help of friends. He won the White House after having gone through this experience.

14. H.J. Heinz. H.J. Heinz started the partnership of Heinz and Noble with his friend, Clarence Noble, when he was twenty-five years old. They produced horseradish and other bottled products. However, the market was soon flooded with horseradish, and the company went bankrupt.

Heinz plunged back into the bottled food business a year later. Of course, we’re all familiar with the Heinz Company, which today manufactures thousands of food products in plants on six continents.

15. J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling is the first billionaire author, thanks to the Harry Potter books and franchise. It’s hard to believe she once lived on welfare and was so miserable she contemplated suicide. Here’s a quote from her 2008 commencement speech at Harvard:

“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless … By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

16. Rowland Hussey Macy. Rowland Hussey Macy was the founder of the world famous Macy’s department store chain. Between 1843 and 1855, Macy opened four dry goods stores, including the original Macy’s store in downtown Haverhill, Massachusetts. They all failed.

It was not until he opened his Macy’s in New York City that he succeeded. Today, Macy’s covers an entire city block and is a must-see NYC landmark.


Aren’t you feeling better about your failures now? I know I am. Live your best life by recognizing that failure is just a stepping stone to success.

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take Moocs

MOOCs–Massive Open Online Courses–allow anyone to become an independent learner.

A little while ago I started a “Become Well-Read” project. I read quite a lot in high school–as well as at Georgetown–, but I decided I wanted to read certain books that were left out of my education, as well as re-read others which I read at some point but are now just vague memories.

In addition, I decided to supplement my reading by taking MOOCs on literature. That’s how I came across a MOOC taught by La Universidad de Los Andes (Los Andes University) in Bogota, Colombia. It’s called “Reading Macondo”, and it’s about five of the books written by Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez.  I’m currently taking the course, and I’m loving it. In addition, taking this MOOC has inspired me to write a post on how MOOCs can improve your life.

Below you’ll find 10 ways taking MOOCs can improve your life.

1. Fill the Gaps In Your Education.  Let’s face it, we all have a list of things we wish we had learned in school, but didn’t. This can include things such as the following:

  • How to Network
  • Study Skills — Learning How to Learn
  • How to Negotiate
  • How to Make Decisions

Whatever gap you feel there is in your education, chances are high that there’s a MOOC you can take on that topic. Find it, take it, and fill in the gaps.

2. Improve Your Resume. Add a “Professional Development” section or a “Skills” section to your resume and include any job-related MOOCs that you’ve taken.

  • First, this tells employers that you’re intellectually curious, as well as proactive–both of which are highly valued skills.
  • In addition, you can add a short explanation on how the skills that you acquired by taking the MOOCs relate to the job that you’re applying for.

If you really want to knock the socks off of prospective employers, do the following:

  • Complete a project by using the skills that you learned through the MOOC.
  • Create a portfolio showcasing your newly acquired skills.

Both a project that showcases your skills, and a portfolio of your work, speak much louder than a certificate of completion. Another thing to consider is that there are web sites that allow you to upload your MOOC certificates, as well as sites that allow you to create online portfolios.

Here are some of them:

3. Decide Whether To Pursue a Particular Career. Suppose that you decide that you want to change careers. After conducting some research you decide that computer science sounds interesting, and that computer scientists are in high demand, so you start looking for a program you can enroll in.

Once you find a good program you quit your job, you ask your relatives for a loan, and you enroll. Then, a semester into the program, you realize that you absolutely hate computer science. But now you’re stuck. This scenario doesn’t sound too good, does it?

A much better approach is to enroll in a few MOOCs on computer science. By doing this you’ll get a good feel for the area and be able to make an educated decision on whether or not it’s an area that you really want to pursue.

4. Dabble in Different Fields. This point is related to the point above. If you know that you want to move in a new career direction, but you’re not sure which field to pick, take MOOCs in several different fields and see which one you like best. You may be surprised to discover that you hate the law, but love engineering, or vice versa.

5. Become an Expert. It’s often said that if you want to become an expert in a subject, relative to the general population, you need to read five books on the subject. Obviously, it takes more than that, but it’s a good start. Gain more knowledge in an area in which you’re interested in becoming an expert by taking MOOCs.

What do you want to be an expert in? Do the following:

  • Read the top five books in the field or area.
  • Identify the top five MOOCs in that area and take them, from start to finish.
  • Read the top five articles you find online in that area.
  • Watch the top five YouTube videos in that area.

Then, you can go on to prove your expertise by helping someone else with your knowledge. Finally, share your expertise with the world by creating a blog, an eBook, a product, or a service.

6. Learn Business Skills. You hear it all the time: someone wants to start a side business or turn their hobby into a start-up. However, they complain that they can’t do it because they didn’t go to business school, and, therefore, they don’t have any business skills. Well, now all those people who use the “but I didn’t go to business school” excuse can stop whining.

They can acquire any business skills that they need by taking MOOCs (on refining your idea, on marketing, on finance, on accounting, and so on), and launch their business. It’s even possible to get a No-Pay MBA by taking MOOCs.

7. Be a Lifelong Learner. I’m a lifelong learner. I love learning new things. Right now I’m reading “La Hojarasca” for the “Reading Macondo” MOOC that I mentioned in the introduction above. Is that going to help me make more money or look great on my resume? Probably not.

But I’m doing it because it makes me happy to learn, and doing something just because it makes you happy is a good enough reason to do it.

8. Get An Ivy League Quality Education. Many people dream of going to an Ivy League school. Nonetheless, for most people, that’s not going to happen.

The good news it that many Ivy League schools are putting several of their courses online. This means that you may not be able to say that you went to Harvard or Yale, but now you can say that you’ve taken Harvard and Yale courses by taking the MOOCs that they offer.

9. Achieve Your Goals. One reason you may not be achieving your goals is because there’s a skill –or more than one–that you need to have in order to achieve your goals, which you lack. For example, one of your goals may be to be financially free.

However, you lack the financial knowledge that you need to manage and invest your money wisely. In that case, find a MOOC on money management, as well as a MOOC on stock and bond investing, and take them. Doing this will allow you to acquire the skills that you need to achieve your goal of financial freedom.

Do the following:

  • Ask yourself what your three most important goals are.
  • Identify the skills that you need in order to achieve those goals which you don’t currently have.
  • Take MOOCs that will allow you to acquire those skills.

10. Keep Your Brain Sharp. Challenging the brain can keep the mind and memory sharp. And one way to challenge the brain is by learning new things. Keep learning through MOOCs and keep your brain strong by being mentally active.


If you haven’t taken any MOOCs yet, I hope this post has convinced you to do so. And if you have, I hope it convinces you to take more. I know that I have three more MOOCs that I want to take lined up for when I’m done taking “Reading Macondo”. Live your best life by taking MOOCs.

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create the meditation habit

Developing the habit of meditating is potentially life-changing.

Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk; he’s been acknowledged as the UK’s foremost mindfulness meditation expert. In his book, Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, Puddicombe explains that meditation can be used for all of the following:

  • To treat a wide range of stress-related symptoms including anxiety, depression, anger, and insomnia.
  • To improve your focus and concentration.
  • To improve your emotional stability and your relationships with others.
  • To be happier. Unhappiness has been linked to a mind that’s constantly wandering. Meditation helps to cure you of wandering mind syndrome by increasing your mindfulness.

In my post, “How to Make Yourself Smarter In One-Hour-A-Day“, I explain that meditation can increase your brain’s gray matter and thicken your pre-frontal cortex, both of which give you more brain power. Here are more ways in which your brain benefits from meditation:

  • Meditation can increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, an area of the brain in the middle of the skull that is crucial for memory.
  • Meditation improves your working memory, which is the ability to hold and manipulate information in your head.
  • Meditation shrinks the size of your amygdala–the brain’s fight or flight center, which makes people feel less stressed and makes them better able to handle life’s challenges.

Doesn’t all of that sound fantastic? Do you meditate? If you’ve toyed with the idea of starting a meditation practice, or if you’ve tried meditating in the past, but failed, this post is for you. Below you’ll find 10 practical tips for creating a meditation habit that sticks.

1. Know Why You Want to Take Up Meditation. In order to give yourself the necessary push to get started with your meditation practice, you need to be clear on the reasons why you want to take up meditation. The stronger your reasons “why”, the more likely it is that you’ll take the plunge and give meditation a try.

As an example, the following are bad reasons to start meditating:

  • “Well, everyone else is doing it, so I thought I might as well do it to.”
  • “My spouse wants me to.”
  • “I love Marelisa’s blog, and she says I should meditate, so I’m going to.” :-)

These, on the other hand are fantastic reasons to start meditating:

  • “I’m unfocused at work and my productivity is suffering as a result. I’m going to start meditating so I can improve my ability to focus and concentrate.”
  • “I don’t sleep well at night. I’m going to try meditation to see if it helps with my insomnia.”
  • “My mind is always going at a million miles per hour. I’m going to take up meditation to try to calm my mind chatter.”

Knowing “why” you want to start meditating will give you the motivation that you need in order to get started.

2. Start Small. Try Mini-Meditations. I meditated daily for a long time. Then, I stopped. Things got hectic at work and I made the wrong decision and stopped meditating. For the longest time I wanted to take up meditation again, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it.

Then, at the very start of 2015, I made it one of my New Year’s resolutions to start meditating again. However, the first week of January went by, then the second, and then the third, and I wasn’t meditating. Then, one day during the fourth week of January I got fed up with myself and my inability to create a meditating habit. I was having breakfast and I told myself:

“That’s it. As soon as I’m done eating breakfast I’m going to close my eyes right here where I’m sitting and I’m going to meditate for 30 seconds.”

And I did. So I told myself that’s what I would start doing from that day on. That same day I mentioned to my sister that I had started meditating for 30 seconds a day, and she looked at me like I was nuts. But, guess what? It worked. It got me to start meditating again.

After meditating for 30 seconds for a few days, I increased my meditation time to one minute. Then, I increased it to two minutes, and then to three minutes. I kept increasing my meditation time, one minute at a time, until I got to ten minutes.

3. Tie Your Meditation to a Trigger. You can’t just say, “I’m going to start meditating” and leave it at that, because then you won’t do it. In order to create a meditation habit, you have to schedule it. Better yet, tie it to something that you’re already doing.

As you can see from the point above, finishing breakfast became my meditation trigger. Eating breakfast is something that I do every day. And as soon as I finish breakfast, I know that it’s meditation time, and I do it.

4. Set Up Your Environment To Help You. Although initially I was meditating at the table where I eat my meals, I decided to stretch out a yoga mat on the living room rug and start meditating there. Every night I set out the yoga mat for the next day. This does two things for me:

  • I walk past the yoga mat in the morning as I head for the table to have my breakfast. This re-enforces that I’m going to meditate right after I eat.
  • Once I’m done eating breakfast I don’t have to get up and search for my yoga mat, since it’s already laid out where it should be.

This means that I know when I’m going to meditate, I know where, and everything is set up so I just have to get up from the table, walk a couple of feet to the yoga mat, and sit down. My environment is set up to help me.

5. Choose a Meditation Method. Suppose that you, too, decide to meditate on a yoga mat, in your living room, right after breakfast. As soon as you’re done with breakfast you sit on the yoga mat and are ready to get started. Now what?  Well, you have to have decided ahead of time how you’re going to meditate.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of meditation methods you can try. Here are just a few you can choose from:

  • Take 100 breaths and count them. Try not to think of anything else.
  • Follow along with a guided meditation. Choose one from Amazon or search for a free guided meditation on YouTube.
  • Try visualization. Close your eyes and imagine that there’s a door in front of you. You open the door and it leads to a beautiful garden. What do you see? Is it filled with fruit trees? Is there a pond in the garden? What do you hear? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear the breeze ruffling the leaves? Create the most beautiful and peaceful garden that you can, in your mind, and stay there throughout your meditation.
  • Try a meditation app such as Headspace–which was created by Puddicombe, the former Buddhist monk I referred to in this post’s introduction. Another app you can try is Calm.
  • Chant a mantra, such as the popular “Om Mani Padma Hum“, the mantra of Chenrezi, the Buddha of compassion.

As you can see, there are many meditations methods you can choose from. Try as many as you like until you find one you feel you can stick to.

6. Make Meditation Fun. Let’s face it, if something bores you it’s just a matter of time before you’ll stop doing it. Therefore, try to make your meditation time as much fun as possible. Here are some things you can try to make your meditation sessions more fun and ceremonial:

  • Light a candle that gives off a scent that you love. Old Factory Candles are a popular choice.
  • Get some incense.
  • Turn on some meditation music or nature sounds.
  • In some Buddhist practices, singing bowls are used as a signal to begin and end periods of silent meditation. Get yourself a Tibetan Singing Bowl and strike it to signal the beginning and the end of each of your meditation sessions.

The truth is, you don’t need any props to meditate. However, if candles, music, and so on will help to make your meditation experience something that you look forward to, then, by all means, use them.

7. Find a Way to Hold Yourself Accountable. One of the secrets to habit success is being held accountable. If you want to succeed in creating a meditation habit, find a way to create a negative consequence if you don’t follow through.

A common form of accountability is to start a habit with someone else. Then, if you fail to follow through, you lose face with that person. Do you know someone who also wants to start meditating? If so, agree to send each other an email every day right after meditating. That way, you’ll hold each other accountable.

8. Do It Every Day. In order to make your meditation habit stick, do it every day. Andy Warhol once said the following:

“Either once only, or every day. If you do something once it’s exciting, and if you do it every day it’s exciting. But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it’s not good any more.”

By meditating daily you can avoid having the following debate in your head every day:

  • “Should I meditate today? I’m not sure . . . I have a lot to do today. I won’t meditate today. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
  • “I meditated three days in a row, so I’ll just take the day off today.”
  • “I’m not really in the mood to meditate today. I’m just not feeling it.”

Skip the mental debate by making meditation a daily habit.

9. Track Your Progress. In order to stick to your newly formed meditation habit, track your progress. Do the following:

  • Put an Om sticker on your wall calendar every day that you meditate.
  • Keep a meditation log.
  • Use an app that helps you track your progress toward the completion of your goals. For example, you can try Coach.me.

10. Give Yourself a Reward. In my post, “Eight Ways to Build New Habits and Make Them Stick“, I explain that every habit can be broken down into three components:

  • The cue: For our purposes the cue is the trigger to start meditating (in my case, it’s finishing breakfast).
  • A routine: Here the routine is your meditation ritual.
  • A reward: Once you’re done meditating, reward yourself.

For me, meditation is its own reward. I feel calm and at peace while I’m meditating, and meditating gives me a mood boost which I can then carry with me throughout the day. However, I realize that this is because I’ve already been meditating for a few months.

When you’re first starting out you’ll probably want to give yourself a reward each time that you meditate in order to turn meditating into a habit that you’ll stick to. Here are three ideas on how to reward yourself:

  • After each meditation session, have a piece of dark chocolate (with sea salt, if you can get it).
  • When you’re done meditating switch from the nature sounds to your favorite song and dance along with it.
  • Have a cup of flavored coffee.

There’s an infinite number of ways you can reward yourself for meditating. Get creative.


I can tell you from personal experience that meditating is one of the best habits that you can adopt. Make the meditation habit stick by applying the tips I share above. Live your best life by creating the meditation habit.

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when life throws a curveball

Sooner or later, life will throw you a curveball. And it will suck.

“While I was in Double-A with the Cubs, my roommate got called into the office and was demoted to a Single-A club. He was leading our team in home runs and runs batted in and was the best offensive player we had, but he had to go down a level. The powers that be had ordained someone else ‘the best offensive player we have’, so our actual batting leader’s success was somehow unacceptable . . .

The curveball becomes that rude awakening that often derails us from our tried and true plan to go from A to B . . . [T]he curveball is often just a test — most times thrown to see if you will chase something out of your zone.”

– Doug Glanville, Major League Baseball Player (Source)

The question isn’t whether or not life will throw you a curveball; it’s just a matter of when. Look at the following:

  • Your boss announces his retirement and you’re the most qualified person to replace him. You’ve been a loyal employee for five years and you’ve gotten nothing but outstanding evaluations. Then, out of nowhere, the powers-that-be decide to bring in someone from outside the company to fill your boss’s shoes.
  • You and your boyfriend have been dating for two years, when he calls to say that he has something important to tell you. You’re sure he’s going to propose. Instead, he breaks up with you.

Once life throws you a curveball the question then becomes: How are you going to deal with it? Below you’ll find 10 things to do when life throws you a curveball.

1. Don’t Overgeneralize. Just because something unexpected has temporarily knocked the wind out of you it doesn’t mean that your life is over, that you’ll never achieve the things that you want, or that you’re doomed to fail and struggle for the rest of your days.

Kimberley Cohen, Founder, Facilitator and Personal Insight Coach of The Insight Technique, explains that the fact that you’ve struck out doesn’t mean that you’re out of the game. You’re simply out until the next time you’re up to bat. She adds the following:

“There will be another inning, another game, another chance, and ‘how’ you handle the curve balls is really up to you. You can lose your confidence, your spirit, your love of the game or, you can take your stance at home plate, swing like you have never swung before and know you have a chance at hitting that ball far out into the outfield or the stands.”

2. Get Some Perspective. Right now you may be telling yourself that losing your job, getting dumped by your girlfriend, or being passed over for the promotion is the worst thing that could have happened to you. However, you don’t know that for sure. Think of the story of the farmer and the horse.

In case you’ve never heard the story, it goes something like this:

  • A farmer lost his horse. All his neighbors said: “How awful!” But the farmer simply replied: “Could be bad, could be good, don’t know yet.”
  • Then the horse returned with a stallion. Now the neighbors said: “How wonderful for you!” But the farmer replied: “Could be bad, could be good, don’t know yet.”
  • A few days later the farmer’s son was the riding the stallion. He fell off and broke his leg. Once again the neighbors chimed in: “That’s terrible news!” But the farmer just told them: “Could be bad, could be good, don’t know yet.”
  • That weekend the country went to war and the generals went from village to village taking young men to fight in the war. They didn’t take the farmer’s son since his leg was broken. The neighbors all expressed how lucky the farmer was that his son had broken his leg, since now he didn’t have to go to war and risk being killed. But the farmer simply said: “Could be bad, could be good, don’t know yet.”

The truth is, you can’t see the future. Would your life have been perfect if you had gotten the raise you were gunning for, or if you had married that girl who dumped you? Maybe; but maybe not. What looks like a huge loss at the present could be a blessing in disguise. You don’t know yet.

3. Practice Acceptance. In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra explains “The Law of Least Effort”, which is basically the principle of no resistance. One component of this principle is acceptance.

Chopra explains that when you struggle against the moment you’re struggling against the entire universe. And that’s not a smart move. You can wish for things to be different in the future, but at this moment in time you have to accept things as they are. He advises that you say the following to yourself:

“This moment is as it should be, because the whole universe is as it should be.”

4. Decrease Your Ego’s Involvement. Chance are, the curveball you were thrown was unfair. You were treated unjustly. However,  even if you feel that you’ve been wronged, you need to stop thinking along the following lines:

  • How dare they do this to me?
  • Don’t they know who I am?
  • They’ll be sorry they did this.

This kind of thinking consumes an enormous amount of energy and doesn’t help you in any way. In “The Art of Dreaming” Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda the following:

“[M]ost of our energy goes into upholding our importance . . . If we were capable of losing some of that importance, two extraordinary things would happen to us. One, we would free our energy from trying to maintain the illusory idea of our grandeur; and two, we would provide ourselves with enough energy to . . . catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe.”

By refusing to identify with your ego and its penchant for taking things personally, as well as its need for self-aggrandizement, you’ll be better able to take things at face value. This will allow you to stop linking your sense of self to what happened.

In addition, it will free up energy that you can then use to create better circumstances for yourself.

5. Meditate. When you’re stressed, fearful, angry, or anxious—which are feelings that often accompany an event that has a negative impact on your life–, your brain’s rhythm increases and brain activity rises. The more stressed you become, the more rapidly your brain waves vibrate.

Meditating slows down your brain’s rhythm, which is conducive to a relaxed state of mind which allows you to generate alternatives, see opportunities, and come up with creative solutions. That is, meditating will help put you in a more resourceful state of mind.

So turn on some music that you find soothing, light a candle, sit cross-legged on the floor, and start saying your “Oms”.

6. Ask the Right Questions. In “Living Your Best Life”, Laura Berman Fortgang explains that we need to stop asking ourselves questions hoping to come up with information in order to understand a situation or circumstance. Information questions keep you stuck in the past. Here are some examples:

  • “Why did this happen to me?”
  • “Why would they do that?”
  • “Why didn’t I get it?”

Questions such as the three above make you rehash the negative scene over and over again in your mind as you struggle to make sense of what happened.

What you need to do, instead, is ask yourself questions that will help you to move forward. This includes questions such as the following:

  • What do I need to get through this?
  • What will get me what I want?
  • What is the solution?
  • What can I learn from this?

The basic premise is that you need to move away from trying to understand a problem. Instead, look for ways to solve it. Laura adds that the most powerful question you can ask yourself is: “What do I want?”

7. Shift Your Focus To the Positive. Instead of dwelling on your loss, shift your focus to the good things that are still in your life.

  • Did you lose your job? If you have your health and a good head on your shoulders you have a lot to be grateful for. Focus on that.
  • Did your love interest leave you for someone else? If you have family and friends who love you, you’re blessed. Focus on that.

8. Mourn Your Loss and Get On With Your Life. Sometimes a failure or a loss feels almost like someone has died. And, in a way, someone has. The person you would have been—if you had gotten that promotion, if you had married that person, if your business had succeeded—will no longer come into being. Take a few days to mourn for the loss of that person.

Do the following:

  • Decide on a mourning period: maybe two, three, or four days.
  • Spend that time eating Häagen-Dazs—straight out of the container—and indulging in comfort food.
  • Binge watch “Homeland”, “Justified”, and “Revenge”.
  • Play sad songs on your iPod. Be sure to sing along in a loud, pitiful voice.

Then, be grateful that you’re not really dead, get up, and get on with your life.

9. Anchor Yourself to the Future. The curveball you were thrown probably set your goals off track. So, set new goals for yourself and get to work on achieving them. That is, anchor yourself to the future.

For example, just because that promotion didn’t pan out doesn’t mean that you’ll be stuck in a dead-end job forever. Instead, set new career goals for yourself. Then, start moving toward the new destination that you’ve set for yourself.

10. Focus On What You Can Control. One of the reasons why being thrown a curveball is so incredibly painful is because it makes you feel like you have no control over what happens to you. After all, you did everything right. But the “right” results didn’t materialize, in spite of your efforts.

In addition, there’s little that you can do about it. Look at the following:

  • You can’t force your company to give you a promotion.
  • You can’t force your boyfriend to marry you.

Therefore, you need to turn your focus to things you can control. You can do things such as the following:

  • Learn a new skill that will look great on your resume.
  • Join a gym so that you can meet new people.
  • Ask for some vacation time so that you can get some distance from the situation.

Whenever you feel helpless or victimized because of something that has happened to you, turn your attention to the things that you can change, or the things that you can do. By doing what you can, with what you have, where you are, you’ll gradually begin to feel like you’re back in control of your life.


I know how difficult it is to have curveballs thrown at you, because I’ve had more than a few thrown at me. The ten things above have helped me to deal with life’s curveballs. I hope that they help you, as well. Live your best life by learning how to deal effectively with curveballs.

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make yourself smart

Smart people do better in life.

Recently, there’s been a slew of books arguing that success in life isn’t really about how smart you are and how much talent you have. These books advance the theory that what really matters are things such as the following:

  • Emotional intelligence;
  • How hard you work; and
  • Perseverance — sticking to your goal until you achieve it.

While it’s true that being able to regulate your emotions, being industrious, and having lots of grit are vitally  important components of success, being smart does matter. Here’s why:

  • Smart people learn faster. This one is obvious: we all knew that one kid in school who barely studied but did well on exams, as well as that other kid who got consistently mediocre grades no matter how hard they tried.
  • Smart people are better at high-level thinking skills such as planning, reasoning, and solving problems. After all, your capacity to carry out these activities stem from the brainpower of your frontal lobe.
  • Being smart has been linked to longevity. Studies show that smart people live longer.

The reason why intelligence has been dismissed as being “not that important” is because the prevailing dogma for the past 100 years has been that intelligence is hardwired. That is, it was thought that there’s nothing that you can do to make yourself smarter. And if there’s nothing you can do about it, you might as well undermine its importance.

However, this is beginning to change. There are new studies that show that there are ways to make yourself smarter.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m constantly encouraging people to achieve their dreams and go after what they want in life by carving out an hour of their day and using it to pursue their dreams, goals, and ambitions.

In this blog post I’m going to show you how to achieve the goal of making yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day. You’re going to do this by spending one-hour-a-day performing three tasks. The three tasks you’ll be performing are explained below.

The Dual N-Back Task

Fluid intelligence is critical for a wide variety of cognitive tasks, and it is considered one of the most important factors in learning. It’s closely related to education and professional success. Psychologists have long believed that fluid intelligence is essentially immutable.

However, in 2008, Swiss psychologists Susanne M. Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl set forth that they could improve fluid intelligence with a simple working memory task. That is, they could make people smarter. The task is known as the dual n-back task.

I first heard of the dual n-back task in a video in which award-winning science journalist Dan Hurley, author of Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power, explains that it’s one of the seven things he tried during his foray into making himself smarter.

Basically, dual n-back games ask you the following: “What was that item that I mentioned ‘n’ times ago?”, where ‘n’ is 1, 2, 3 and so on. Here’s an example on the children’s version of the task:

  • There’s a haunted house with five windows and every few seconds a cat appears in one of the windows and vanishes.
  • On Level 1, the child has to remember which window the cat was just in.
  • On Level 2, they have to remember where the cat was two windows ago. The time before last.
  • For Level 3, they have to remember where it was three times ago.
  • Level 4 is four times ago, and so on.

Experts have long regarded intelligence as being composed of two different things:

  • Crystallized intelligence, which is all of your stored-up information and how-to knowledge; and
  • Fluid intelligence, which–as stated before–is the capacity to learn, to solve novel problems, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things.

Long-term memory is related to crystallized intelligence. At the same time, working memory is related to fluid intelligence. Because the dual n-task has been shown to improve working memory, it also improves fluid intelligence.

Keep in mind that working memory doesn’t just help you to hold information in your head, but also to manipulate that information. Therefore, as Jaeggi explains, if you train working memory you increase the basic cognitive skills that help you to complete different complex tasks.

The dual n-back task requires only 15 to 25 minutes of work per day, five days a week. The training has been found to improve scores on tests of fluid intelligence in as little as four weeks.

If you want to make yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day, devote 20 minutes of that hour to playing the dual-n back game.  You can play the dual n-back game, for free, by visiting the web site, Soak Your Head.

Learn to Play a Musical Instrument

A recent TED.com talk titled “How Playing a Musical Instrument Benefits Your Brain” explains that neuroscientists have monitored what goes on in the brain when people learn to play a musical instrument by using MRI’s and PET scanners.

When people are hooked up to these machines while performing different tasks–such as reading a book, listening to music, and so on–different areas of the brain light up depending on the activity. It turns out that when people are playing a musical instrument, multiple areas of the brain light up, processing information in amazingly intricate and fast sequences.

Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once. This is specially true of the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. Disciplined practice in playing a musical instrument strengthens our visual, auditory, and motor skills, and we can then apply those strengths to other activities.

In addition, since fine motor skills are controlled by both hemispheres of the brain, playing music has been found to engage the activity in the brain’s corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres. This allows messages to get through the brain faster and through more diverse routes.

What does this mean? It means that musicians have a leg up when it comes to solving problems more efficiently and creatively.

People who play a musical instrument also have higher executive functions, which involve planning, strategizing, and attention to detail. It also impacts how our memory systems work. Musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions; they can create, store, and retrieve memories more quickly and efficiently.

In several studies, participants with the same levels of cognitive function and neural processing at the start were divided into two groups:

  • One group learned to play a musical instrument.
  • The other group did not.

The studies found that the groups that were exposed to a period of music learning showed enhancement in multiple brain areas compared to those that did not take music lessons.

Therefore, in order to make yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day, spend 25 minutes of that hour learning to play a musical instrument.


Meditation doesn’t just help you release stress and give your mood a boost. It also makes you smarter. In a UCLA study, researchers used MRI’s to scan the brains of a group of subjects who were long-time meditators. Here’s what they found:

  • Their brains were larger than the brains of people who don’t meditate.
  • Meditators’ brains have noticeably thicker tissue in the pre-frontal cortex, which is the region of the brain responsible for attention and concentration. In addition, the pre-frontal cortex manages higher cognitive “executive” functions like planning, decision making, and judgment.

Neuroscientists have also found that meditators have more gray matter in various regions of the brain. Gray matter is the part of the brain that holds most of the actual brain cells. In turn, increased density may reflect an increase in connectivity between the cells.

To top it all off, recent research suggests that a regular meditation practice can cause beneficial structural changes in the brain in as little as eight weeks.

So, if you want to make yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day, spend 15 minutes of that hour meditating.


To summarize, you can make yourself smarter in just one-hour-a-day by doing the following:

  • Spend 20 minutes of the hour playing dual n-back games.
  • Spend 25 minutes of the hour learning to play a musical instrument.
  • Spend 15 minutes of the hour meditating.

Live your best life by making yourself smarter.

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get better

Set the goal of being a little bit better today than you were yesterday.

Make the commitment to be better each day by having better thoughts, making better choices, and taking better actions. The better person you are, the better people, life situations, and opportunities you will attract into your life. Below you’ll find 16 ways to become a better person.

1. Pick Yourself. Whatever it is that you want to accomplish or achieve, stop waiting for somebody else to pick you. Instead, pick yourself. Here are four examples:

  • If you want to be a writer, stop waiting for a publishing house to accept your manuscript. Instead, publish it yourself.
  • If you want to make more money, stop waiting for your company to raise your salary. Instead, create an additional source of income in your spare time.
  • If you want a better education, stop waiting for people working in a college admissions office to accept you. Instead, create your own curriculum and learn what you need from books, seminars, and online courses.
  • If you want to be an actor but you’re not being cast in any movies, write your own script and give yourself the starring role (think Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in “Goodwill Hunting”)

2. Start a Business. Starting a business will do all of the following for you:

  • It will teach you to generate ideas, test those ideas, and execute them.
  • It will give you problem-solving skills.
  • It will teach you marketing and selling skills.

3. Travel the World. When you travel you gain new experiences, you learn about different cultures, and you get to sample different lifestyles. In addition, you get to taste exotic food, listen to different music genres, and see different art forms. At the very least, you’ll be more interesting and have better stories to tell.

4. Do Something Artistic. Take an art class, learn to make pottery, or learn to make jewelry. Making art is a form of self-expression, and it can even be healing. There are few things as rewarding and life affirming as creating something new with your own two hands.

5. Volunteer. True happiness comes from giving and doing for others. Volunteer organizations always need more help. Find a cause that’s close to your heart–child hunger, domestic violence, animal cruelty, and so on–, and volunteer your time and/or your expertise.

6. Develop Your Character. Benjamin Franklin–one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America–came up with a list of 13 virtues that he wanted to develop. He also devised a method for acquiring these virtues. Here’s what he would do:

  • He would devote a week to each virtue, and observe and monitor his behavior to make sure that it was aligned with that week’s virtue.
  • If he felt that he had committed any faults related to the week’s virtue, he would make a little black mark in a book that he kept with him at all times.
  • His objective was to go through the week without having to make any black marks in his book.

You can follow a similar method to develop your own character. What virtues would you like to develop? How can you observe and monitor your behavior to make sure that you’re adhering to those virtues?

7. Take An Improv Class. Taking an improv class will teach you to think faster and better on your feet. Knowing how to push a conversation forward can help you to score a date, land a job, or close the deal.

In the book “Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration“, the authors–executives from the world’s premier comedy theater and school of improvisation–argue that business is an act of improvisation. They add that the world is a gray place, and having an improv toolkit is important.

The authors also say the following;

  • Improvisation is yoga for your social skills.
  • It teaches you to create something out of nothing.
  • You learn to respond to the unexpected.

8. Master a Game. Mastering a game–such as chess or Go–teaches you strategy, it teaches you to compete, and it teaches you flexibility and adaptability. In addition, you learn to master your emotions–playing chess against a worthy opponent can be mental torture. Also, it teaches you to lose — which is something that you need to know how to do, if you want to win.

 9. Master a Sport. Mastering a sport teaches you everything that you learn by mastering a game, but you’re also getting a physical workout. Plus, there’s no shortage of sports you can try.

10. Become More Lovable. The other day I saw the following quote go by on my Twitter stream: “If you want to be loved, be lovable.” The quote was credited to the Roman poet, Ovid. We all want to be loved, so, how do become more lovable? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Give others genuine praise.
  • Encourage others to go after their dreams.
  • If you must criticize, do so gently and compassionately.
  • Be kind.

 11. Learn a Foreign Language. As I wrote in my post “21 Fantastic Tips and Hacks For Learning a Foreign Language“, I speak three languages and am currently learning a fourth. Why would I go through the trouble of learning another language? Because learning languages has many benefits.

Here are some of them:

  • Learning a new language will make you more cultured;
  • It will make you a global citizen;
  • It gives your brain a good workout; and
  • It will give you a sense of accomplishment.

12. Solve a Problem. Once in awhile I’ll watch a show called “Modern Family”. Claire Dunphy–a character in the show–is a soccer mom.  In one episode she’s angry because there’s a sports car that keeps speeding through the suburban streets of her neighborhood.

Instead of just complaining about the speeding car, she takes action to solve the problem.  In a later episode, she succeeds in getting the local council to install a “Stop Sign” on her street. Is there a problem that you’re constantly complaining about? Stop complaining and start taking steps to solve it.

13. Become a Better Communicator. While everyone knows how to talk, few people have mastered the skill of communicating. In turn, much conflict is caused by miscommunication. Learn to speak clearly and concisely. In addition, learn to become a better listener.

14. Learn How to Learn. Learning how to learn is a meta-skill. It’s about acquiring an approach to learning that will allow to learn any skill that you’re trying to master better and faster. And the more skills you know, the better person you can be.

15. Start a Blog. You can become a better person by starting a blog on a topic that interests you. Why? At the very least, it will encourage you to research and learn more about your topic. In addition, you can create a community of like-minded people who share your interests. You could even get to the point in which you’re recognized as an expert on your topic.

16. Always Be Polite. Yesterday someone contacted me asking if they could publish one of my blog posts on their site. It turns out that they were asking for permission after the fact (they had already published my post). In addition, although they gave me credit for having written the article, they didn’t even link to my site.

I was tempted to send a scathing email demanding that they take my post down, immediately. However, I sent a polite email asking that they “kindly take my post down”. They did take it down, and I felt much better about myself than if I had sent a meanly-worded email.

Be a better person by always being polite.


Every day you have a brand new opportunity to be a better person. Take it. You can get started with the 16 ways to be a better person outlined above. Live your best life by being a better person.

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sharpen the saw

Sharpening the saw is about self-renewal and self-care.

Stephen Covey’s magnum opus, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, was first published over 25 years ago. However, its teachings remain as important today as they were then. This post deals with the seventh of these habits, which is sharpening the saw, or setting aside some time each day to renew yourself. Unfortunately, most people have trouble adopting this habit.

After all, there’s always something else that needs to be done. How can you even think about sharpening the saw, when you’re always busy sawing? To use the seven-habits lingo, sharpening the saw is a Quadrant II activity. That is, it’s important, but it’s not urgent. Therefore, most people put it off, to their own detriment. Failing to devote some time daily for self-renewal will have a negative impact on your productivity and effectiveness, as well as on your levels of performance, in both the short and the long-term.

Covey explains the seventh habit by using the analogy of a woodcutter. A woodcutter had been sawing out in the woods for several days straight. As the days went by he noticed that his productivity was dropping. It was getting harder and harder to saw with each successive day.

After all, the process of cutting dulls the blade. And, the duller the blade, the greater the effort that is required to keep sawing. The solution, of course, was for the woodcutter to stop periodically to sharpen the saw.

In much the same way, you can take steps to prevent burnout and to maintain peak performance by sharpening the saw. Sharpening the saw is about renewing the four dimensions of your nature:

  • The Physical Dimension;
  • The Mental Dimension;
  • The Social/Emotional Dimension; and
  • The Spiritual Dimension.

In this post you’ll discover ten ways to sharpen the saw for your physical dimension, and ten ways to sharpen the saw for your mental dimension. That is, you’ll find 20 habits of self-renewal. Choose the ones that appeal to you the most, and begin integrating them into your life, today.

Sharpen the Saw – Physical Dimension

1. Eat Healthy Meals. Eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to keep your saw sharp. Healthy eating begins with the following:

  • Cooking meals at home.
  • Reducing your fat, sugar, and salt intake.
  • Eating three servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables daily.

Improving your eating habits is good for your waistline, your physical health, your longevity, and even your mental health.

2. Drink Lots of Water. It’s vital to drink lots of water throughout the day. I know that when I’m really busy working on a blog post or on one of my eBooks, I’m tempted to ignore signs of thirst. However, when I’m not sufficiently hydrated I get tired and sleepy. Therefore, I now keep a water bottle with me at all times and take frequent drinks from it all day long.

3. Do Cardio. Cardiovascular activity is any activity that gets your heart rate to about 50 – 75% of your maximum heart rate. This includes walking, jogging, bike riding, taking an aerobics class, and so on. Doing cardio will do all of the following for you:

  • Help you lose weight;
  • Make your heart stronger;
  • Increase your lung capacity;
  • Reduce the risk of several diseases, including diabetes; and
  • Allow you to release stress.

4. Lift Weights. I wrote about the benefits of lifting weights in my post, 8 Ways Lifting Weights Will Transform Your Life. Weight lifting will improve your health, your brain function, and your mood. It will even help you live longer.

5. Stretch. Stretching helps improve flexibility and increases your range of motion. It also helps you to prevent injury. Find a flexibility class–such as yoga or pilates–near your home, or do your own flexibility work for 45-60 minutes, at least once a week.

6. Get Enough Sleep. Most adults need about 7 hours of sleep to function optimally. You may be tempted to scrimp on sleep to get more work done, but don’t. Numerous studies have a found a link between insufficient sleep and serious health problems, such as hearth disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Making yourself sick for the sake of increased output–whether it’s business reports, blog posts, legal briefs, and so on–is not a smart strategy.

7. Take Breaks. You need to stop thinking that you’re too busy to take breaks. After all, the brain wasn’t made for extended focus. If you try to focus past your productivity zone you’re likely to start feeling anxious, unfocused, and even irritable.

Taking a break at the point in which your concentration begins to wane will allow you to return to your task, after the break, with renewed focus.

8. Breathe Deeply. Yoga philosophy claims that we are each allotted a certain number of breaths in our lifetime. Therefore, the deeper you breathe, the longer each breath will last, and the longer you’ll live. At the very least, deep breathing relieves stress, thereby reducing the negative effects of stress on your body.

9. Take a Nap. Dr. Sara Mednick, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, explains that a 20-minute nap can improve brain functions ranging from memory to focus and creativity. Here are three more benefits of napping:

  • Napping reduces stress.
  • Napping increases willpower.
  • Napping has been linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and inflammation.

10. Go To a Spa. Every once in a while give yourself–and your body–a treat by spending the day at a spa. Nothing says pampering like getting a facial and an hour-long massage. If going to a spa sounds too self-indulgent, at the very least fill the tub at home with warm water, add scented bath salts, light a candle, and turn on some slow-tempo music.

Sharpen the Saw – Mental Dimension

 11. Read. If you’re a knowledge worker–and I assume most people who read this blog are–your brain is your saw. And one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp is by reading. Specifically, by reading books that are challenging.

Reading books that are slightly above your current level of comprehension will force your brain to engage, which means that you’ll be giving your brain a good workout. Each time that you grasp a new concept, you’ll be pushing your brain up to a new level. An A+ brain will do wonders for your productivity.

12. Solve Puzzles. A study of American nuns and retired priests found that those who pursued various kinds of cognitive activity–including doing puzzles–were 47% less likely to develop Alzheimers than those who undertook such activities infrequently.

If you want to keep your brain sharp, take out your sudokus, crossword puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles, and start solving them.

13. Take Up a Hobby. As I wrote in my blog post, 16 Hobbies that Will Improve the Quality of Your Life, having a hobby has myriads of benefits, including keeping your mind sharp, increasing feelings of self-efficacy, and releasing stress.

There’s literally hundreds of hobbies you can choose from, so everyone will be able to find an activity that they’ll enjoy doing.

14. Observe the Secular Sabbath. Take off one day in seven. The busier you are, the more you need a day of rest. Unplug from work, the internet, your cellphone, and other everyday demands. So, what on earth are you going to do all day? Read, solve puzzles, and work on a hobby. :-)

15. Take a Vacation. Modern life is stressful. And this stress is likely to take a toll on both your physical and mental health. Every once in a while we all need to hit the pause button for a week or two. That’s where vacations come in.

You can hit the beach, visit a foreign country, or just explore parts of your town you’ve never been to before. The idea is to break the stress cycle. After your vacation you’ll be ready to face your work with renewed gusto.

16. Update Your Skills. In order to do your best work you need to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date. Although this is particularly important in rapidly-changing areas, such as technology, updating your skills is important in almost any field.

Here are some ideas on how to identify the skills or knowledge that you need to stay sharp:

  • Recommendations from your boss.
  • Recommendations from your mentor.
  • Skills or knowledge that you need in order to be able to step up the ladder (hint: What does your boss know how to do, that you don’t?)
  • Skills or knowledge that your co-workers possess, but you don’t.
  • Skills or knowledge that you need to be able to complete your projects well and effectively.
  • Skills or knowledge that you need in order to get additional certifications which would make you more valuable to your company.
  • Skills or knowledge that would allow you to provide a better service to your clients or customers.
  • Skills or knowledge that would allow you to apply for a job in another company that you have your eye on.

17. Take Time to Think. Every once in a while you need to stop and take time to think. Specifically, you need to think about the following:

  • Setting goals and planning how to achieve them.
  • Measuring your progress on the achievement of your goals.
  • Evaluating each area of your life, including health, relationships, finances, and so on.

In addition, in Covey terms, ask yourself the following: Is my ladder leaning against the right building?

18. Have a Morning Routine. Start each morning by performing a group of habits which will allow you to greet the day at the top of your game. This can include having a green smoothie, letting natural light shine on your face, and writing down affirmations.

Create a morning routine that’s the equivalent of starting each day with a saw-sharpening session.

19. Have a Night Routine. Just as it’s important to sharpen your saw in the morning, it’s also important to sharpen it at night. Create and follow a night routine that will help you end the day right, while simultaneously setting you up for success the next day.

20. Exercise Your Creativity. Even if your job–or the service that you provide–requires mostly logic and analytical thought, you need to keep your right-brain hemisphere sharp. After all, you never know when you’ll need to devise a creative solution for a problem or come up with a great idea.

Fortunately, there are many ways to reawaken your right brain. Working on creative projects won’t just give your right-brain a work-out; it will also give your left-brain some rest.


As you can see from the 20 habits outline above, there are plenty of ways to sharpen the saw in both your physical dimension, and in your mental dimension. In another post I’ll share with you 20 habits to sharpen the saw in your emotional/social and spiritual dimensions.

Live your best life by sharpening the saw.

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smart things to do at night

If you want to have a great tomorrow, do these ten things tonight.

You can end your day by vegging out in front of the TV, staying up late, and taking all of your daytime stresses to bed with you. However, doing this is almost guaranteed to set you up for failure the next day. On the other hand, you can set yourself up to have a great tomorrow by doing the right things before heading off to sleep.

Below you’ll find 10 smart things to do every night.

1. Prepare Your Breakfast

One of the biggest time-sucks in the morning is preparing breakfast, which means that a lot of people will be tempted to skip their morning meal and just run out the door carrying a travel coffee mug. This is something you definitely want to avoid. After all, the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast are well-documented. These include the following:

  • Eating breakfast will help you keep your weight down.
  • It will make you feel more energized throughout the day.
  • A good breakfast has been linked to better brain function.

Make sure that you’ll eat a healthy breakfast in the morning by getting everything ready the night before.

I put a cup of Bob’s Red Mill Apple-Blueberry Granola in a glass bowl with a snap n’ seal lid. Then, I add some sliced almonds and some raisins, and I seal the lid. Next, I place an unpeeled banana, a single-serve carton of skim milk (that doesn’t need refrigeration), and a spoon on the lid.


I set up the coffee maker so that I just have add water and press the “On” button in the morning, and I put a lemon and a knife on the cutting board so I can start my day by drinking warm lemon water. And, voila: everything is set up so that I can have a healthy breakfast first thing in the next morning.

There are many healthy and delicious make-ahead breakfast recipes available, so choose a couple that appeal to you and prepare your breakfast at night.

2. Lay Out Your Clothes For the Next Day.

You can save precious time in the morning by choosing the next day’s outfit the night before. Make sure that everything is ironed and ready to be worn. In addition, include undergarments, shoes, and accessories.

3. Put Everything You’ll Need by the Door.

Pack your bag or briefcase with everything that you’ll need the next day. Then, put your bag by the door. Every night I make sure that my bag has all of the following in it (I created a checklist for myself):

  • Wallet (money and ID in the wallet).
  • Sun block.
  • Umbrella.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Exercise book and gym towel.
  • Laptop.
  • Laptop’s power plug.
  • Pen.
  • USB.
  • Any book I’ll need to refer to for that day’s work.

In addition, I always leave the keys to my apartment in the same place, and I place my Lifefactory glass water bottle next to my bag. Once I’m dressed in the morning all I have to do is head for the door, grab my stuff, and off I go.

4. Review Your Day.

You’ve probably heard that journaling for a few minutes is a good way to start your day. Writing morning pages is a part of many people’s morning ritual. However, it’s also a good idea to journal at night, or at least take a few minutes to think about your day.

According to a working paper from Harvard Business School, when people reflect on their day they boost their self-efficacy. Therefore, during your nighttime journaling sessions, ask yourself questions that will make you think about your day. Here are some examples:

  • Did I get everything on my to-do list done today? If not, why not?
  • What went well today?
  • What did I do right today? How can I do more of this?
  • What didn’t go well today? How could I have handled things differently?
  • What were my interactions with others like today? Is there anyone I need to make things right with? Is there anything I need to do to improve my interactions with others?
  • How can I have a better day, tomorrow?

Finally, you can add the question that Benjamin Franklin asked himself every night: What good have I done today?

Benjamin Franklin

5. Practice Gratitude.

As I wrote in my post, “Ten Strategies for Overcoming the Negativity Bias and Increasing Your Quality of Life“, people have a tendency to be more influenced by and to recall negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive ones. However, you can overcome the negativity bias.

Each night you should make an effort to recall and dwell on the good things that happened to you during the day. This will help keep your brain attuned to all of the good things in your life. By spending some time each night focusing on the positive events of the day, and feeling grateful for them, you’ll be gradually rewiring your brain for happiness.

6. Plan the Next Day.

Jack Canfield–a best selling author and motivational speaker–explains that the best way to get optimal results during the day is to plan your day the night before. He explains that if you don’t have a plan for your day you’ll spend the day responding to other people’s needs, instead of using your day to push your own agenda forward.

In addition, Canfield adds that if you write down what you need to get done the next day before going to bed, as you sleep your subconscious mind will be working on ways to make it happen. Your subconscious mind will do all of the following:

  • Come up with creative ideas for getting your tasks done;
  • Pull up information from the past that could be helpful; and
  • Work all night long to help you achieve your perfect day.

Planning your day can be as simple as writing down the three most important things (your MITs) that you need to get done the next day on a Post-It note.

7. Read for Fifteen Minutes.

Successful people are readers. Reading provides cognitive stimulation, it makes you more knowledgeable, it expands your vocabulary, and it improves focus and concentration. What should you read? Here are some ideas:

  • Read business books.
  • Read about a subject that interests you, even if it’s not related to your job.
  • Read books on self-improvement.

8. Follow a Bedtime Routine.

Following a bedtime routine signals to your conscious and subconscious mind that it’s time to settle down. Here are some ideas of things to include in your night routine:

  • Take a warm shower. When you come out of a warm shower and walk into a cooler bedroom, your body temperature drops. This signals to your body that it’s time to slow down essential metabolic functions in preparation for rest.
  • Floss your teeth. Floss before you brush your teeth—this will loosen the food and plaque between your teeth and under your gums. Or, floss after you brush your teeth. Just do it.
  • Brush your teeth. Brush your teeth for about two minutes at night to help keep your teeth and mouth healthy.
  • Wash your face. Throughout the day, your facial skin builds up dead skin cells, oil, bacteria, sweat, and other debris. You want to wash all of that gunk off your face before going to bed.
  • Get into something comfy, such as cotton pj’s in the summer, and flannel ones in the colder months.

9. Right Before Bed, Unwind.

Devoting ten minutes to unwinding right before going to bed will help you to fall asleep faster. In addition, it will improve the quality of your sleep. Some things you can try include progressive relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation, or mindful movement–such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong.

10. Go to Bed Early.

By going to bed early at night, you’ll be able to get up early in the morning and get a jump-start on your day. To quote Franklin once again, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Most adults need about seven hours of sleep every night. By working out at what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule so that you can easily get out of bed at the sound of the bugle call (or whatever tone you choose for your alarm).


What you do in the morning right after you wake up, and what you do at night right before going to bed, are the bookends of your day. Build habits for your morning and night that will help you to live your best life. As far as the night habits go, use the 10 smart things to do every night explained above as inspiration to create your own positive night habits.

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12-step method for overcoming procrastination

Does procrastination have a stranglehold on your dreams? If so, use this 12-step process to free yourself, once and for all.

Look at the following:

  • If you had started taking piano lessons three years ago, today you’d be able to play Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”.
  • If you had taken that online start-up course when your friend did, and taken action based on what you learned, right now you’d be earning a nice side-income, like she is.
  • If you had taken those French lessons when your boss encouraged you to do so, you’d be able to apply for the higher paying position that just opened up, which has “Conversational French” as one of its requirements.

But, you kept putting these things off. In other words, you allowed procrastination to get the better of you. So, you still can’t play a musical instrument, you can’t travel as much as you’d like to because you don’t have the money to do so, and someone else got the promotion you wanted. The good news is that there are ways to fight back and beat procrastination. In this post you’ll discover a 12-step process for overcoming procrastination, once and for all.

I’m going to use my own experience in overcoming procrastination in order to take up weight lifting as an illustration throughout this post.

Although I’ve now been strength training for a little over a month, it was something that I procrastinated on for a while. However, since I’m a procrastination expert—I’ve even written an eBook on overcoming procrastination—I decided to follow my own advice in order to get myself to the gym.

Here’s what to do:

1. Eliminate Obstacles to Getting Started. One of the main reasons why people procrastinate is because there are obstacles standing between them and the goal that they wish that they could get themselves to start working on. And the bigger the obstacle, the more likely it is to lead to procrastination.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I work from a club that I belong to. I go Monday through Friday, and sit in a cabana-like structure that’s next to the pool. The club has a separate building that has a gym.

At the beginning of the year, I started telling myself that I wanted to take up weight lifting. All I had to do was to start going to the gym in the building next door. However, I couldn’t get myself to do it. I was procrastinating; big time.

Finally, I asked myself what was the biggest obstacle that was keeping me from going to the gym. I concluded that it was having to change into exercise clothes. Going to the gym meant that I would have to take a bag to the club with my gym clothes in it, change in the locker room, and then change back once I finished exercising. That was just too much of a hassle.

I began brainstorming ways to overcome this obstacle. That’s how I found a solution to the problem I was facing.

I went on Amazon and found some Champion workout Capri leggings, along with Champion tees that I could wear both to sit by the pool and work, and to exercise at the gym. I ordered several of the leggings in black, and several tees in different colors. When they arrived I started wearing them to the club every day.

The biggest obstacle to going to the gym had been overcome. I was now dressed in a way that, at any moment, I could simply get up and go to the gym.

2. Increase Your Motivation. I decided that in order to get myself to take action on my goal of adding weight lifting to my exercise regime I needed to increase my motivation. After all, the less motivated you are to do something, the more likely it is that you’ll procrastinate on getting it done.

I did some research on the benefits of weight lifting, and came up with the following:

  • Lifting weights helps you to burn more fat than you would burn by doing cardio alone.
  • Both cardio and weightlifting are good for your brain. However, more neurogenesis—or brain growth–occurs when you add strength training to your workout instead of just doing cardio.
  • Weight lifting protects your bones and helps to ward off diseases such as diabetes.
  • You can slow down the aging process by increasing your strength.
  • Lifting weights helps you to release stress and improves your mood.

With this information I felt more motivated to get to the gym, making it much more likely that I would do so.

3. Make a Fresh Start. Another major reason why people procrastinate is because they can’t get themselves to say, “OK, this is the day I’m going to start”. The best way to overcome this hurdle is to identify a fresh start. As I wrote in my post “Birthday Bucket List: 25 Things to Do Before Your Next Birthday”, “fresh starts” are temporal landmarks.

They can be major landmarks, such as New Year’s or your birthday. However, they can also be smaller landmarks, such as a new season, a new month, and even the start of a new week.

Tackling a goal during a “fresh start” increases people’s chances of getting started on working toward achieving that goal. So, identify a fresh start and mark it down as the day on which you’re going to start working on your goal. I decided to make my fresh start on a Monday, exactly three weeks before my birthday.

4. Take Tiny Steps Toward Your Goal. My “fresh start” Monday arrived. I was sitting next to the pool in my exercise clothes, typing away at my computer, making great progress on my latest eBook. I kept telling myself that once I had finished writing the next paragraph, I would get up and go to the gym. Nonetheless, I couldn’t get myself to do it.

Finally, I managed to talk myself into taking one tiny step toward my goal of lifting weights. I had never been to the building that the gym is in, and I wasn’t sure how to get there. Therefore, I called over a club staff member and asked him for directions. He pointed out the path that I had to follow, and I thanked him. I decided that this tiny step was enough for that day.

Here’s how I finally got to the gym:

  • On Tuesday I walked over to the building that houses the gym. However, I didn’t go in. I just walked to the entrance and then turned around and went back to my regular spot next to the pool and kept working on my eBook.
  • On Wednesday I walked to the building, went in, and asked what floor the gym was on. I was told it was on the fifth floor and was pointed toward the elevators.
  • On Thursday I actually got on one of the elevators, went up to the fifth floor, and walked out into the gym’s reception area. From the reception area I could see the gym through a pair of glass doors. I took a look, and left.
  • On Friday I walked into the gym. I glanced around quickly to see how it was laid out, and then I made my way to one of the Stepmaster machines. I got on the Stepmaster, exercised for about ten minutes, and then left.

I had made it to the gym! And I got there by taking tiny steps.

5. Identify Specifically What Action You’re Going to Take. Not knowing what to do is another reason for procrastinating. After all, if you don’t know what to do, how can you be expected to do it?

Once I started going to the gym I was doing some cardio, but I still wasn’t lifting weights, because I didn’t know what to do. Therefore, I once again went on Amazon (it’s amazing how many problems you can solve by going on Amazon).

I did some research on the best books on how to lift weights, and I ended up buying The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises. It contains lots of exercises, with illustrations, and clear instructions on how to carry out each one.

6. Don’t Get Stuck at the Preparation Stage. Once I received “The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises”, I looked through it. Then I started thinking the following:

  • Maybe I should read the book carefully from cover to cover before actually trying these exercises at the gym.
  • It would probably be a good idea to get a few more books on weight lifting. That way, I can get more than one expert’s opinion on what to do.
  • I should also look at YouTube videos for each of the exercises that I’m planning to try, just to make sure that I understand how to do them the right way.
  • Getting a DVD would probably be a good idea, as well.

I was clearly in danger of getting stuck at the preparation phase. Endlessly preparing, instead of taking action, is procrastination in disguise. You think that you’re working on your goal—after all, you’re preparing—but you’re really not.

The best thing that I could do to learn how to weight lift was to take the book to the gym and try out the exercises. After all, the most effective approach is to learn by doing, instead of planning and thinking about doing. I made the decision to take action.

7. Chunk It Down. “Lift Weights” was still too big of a goal at this point. The book that I got contains 619 exercises and hundreds of workouts. I felt overwhelmed, to say the least. Therefore, I decided to chunk it down into manageable pieces. Here’s how I chunked it down:

  • Identify three exercises for the chest, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Monday.
  • Identify three exercises for the shoulders, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Monday.
  • Identify three exercises for the quadriceps, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Monday.
  • Identify three exercises for the biceps, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Wednesday.
  • Identify three exercises for the triceps, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Wednesday.
  • Identify three exercises for the glutes and hamstrings, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Wednesday.
  • Identify three exercises for the upper back, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Friday.
  • Identify three exercises for the lats, and do three sets of 8 repetitions for each, on Friday.

And, there we go. I had chunks I could work with. (I’ve since modified this routine, but this is the routine that got me started.)

8. Make Time For Your Goal. Stop telling yourself, “I don’t have time to work on my goals”. If a goal is a priority for you, you have to make time for it. The most obvious way to do this is to eliminate, or cut back, on something you’re already doing.

My plan was to workout at the gym for an hour, three days a week. That meant that I had to find a way to free up three hours a week. At the time I was running outside for an hour, four days a week, and I was walking for an hour, two days a week. I decided to cut back my running from four to three times a week, and cut out my twice weekly one-hour walks altogether.

By this doing I freed up three hours a week, which I could then use to lift weights at the gym.

9. Put It In Your Schedule. In order to start going to the gym on a regular basis, it wasn’t enough to write “go to the gym” on my to-do list. I had to identify the day and time that I was going to go to the gym. That is, I had to schedule it. I decided to schedule going to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

10. Overcoming Fear and Self-Consciousness. The next obstacle I had to overcome was mental. The people lifting weights at the gym—mostly men—all seemed to know exactly what they were doing.

In the meantime, I was going to walk in–with my book–, sit down on one of the exercise benches, and clumsily leaf through the pages looking at the exercises, reading carefully how to do each one. I was going to look like an idiot.

And what if I did the exercises wrong? What if someone corrected me? Then I’d be standing there, with everyone looking at me, while I was told to bend my knees and to stop rocking my upper torso back and forth (this actually did happen to me).

I overcame my fear of making a fool of myself at the gym, as well as my self-consciousness, by feeling compassion for myself. Studies have shown that there’s a correlation between self-compassion and procrastination. The less self-compassion you have, the more likely you are to procrastinate.

Therefore, I practiced the following self-talk:

  • Everyone starts out by not knowing.
  • It’s OK if I make mistakes.
  • I need to cut myself some slack; I don’t have to be perfect.
  • If someone does correct me, I won’t feel bad. They’re just trying to help.
  • Going to the gym is about my health and well-being; it’s not about trying to impress other people.

11. Start Small. I’ve already said that you should take tiny steps toward your goal, as well as chunk it down, in order to make sure that you stop procrastinating and that you get to work on achieving your goal. In addition, you have to start small. Are you noticing a theme?

Getting too ambitious when you first start working on a goal will almost guarantee that you’ll drag your feet, instead of doing what needs to be done. In order to beat procrastination, you have to think small.

How do you start small when it comes to weight training? You start with really small weights. I started with the five pound dumbbells (and they were yellow, not pink, thank you very much).

Here are some more examples of starting small:

  • If you want to write a novel, start by writing short stories.
  • If you want to learn to speak French, start by learning how to pronounce the French alphabet.
  • If you want to run a marathon but are completely out of shape, start by jogging for one minute, followed by nineteen minutes of walking, five days a week.

12. Learn to Tolerate Discomfort. Every time you tackle a new goal, it’s very likely that you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone. And stepping out of your comfort zone is uncomfortable. However, instead of giving in to the discomfort, you have to learn to tolerate discomfort.

As I said in one of the previous points, the activity that I substituted with weight lifting was walking. It’s a lot easier to walk than it is to lift weights. That’s particularly true when you’re pushing yourself to lift weights that make you feel the burn.

Although I started out by lifting five pound dumbbells, I’m now up to the twelve pound dumbbells (and I plan to gradually push myself to lift heavier weights). I feel some discomfort when I lift the twelve pound dumbbells, but I tolerate it. After all, nothing worth doing is easy.


I can guarantee that the 12-step process that I explained above works, because I applied it and managed to defeat procrastination and get to work on my goal of lifting weights. What important goal are you going to start working on by applying this process?

Live your best life by overcoming procrastination and getting to work on your goals.

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Learning a Foreign Language Tips and Hacks

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”  – Charlemagne

I speak three languages:

  • My native language is Spanish—since I’m from Panama, which is a Spanish speaking country.
  • Then, when I was seven years old my family moved to Stamford, Connecticut, USA, for a two-year period. Since learning a new language at a young age is incredibly easy, I picked up English right away.
  • I learned to speak my third language, Italian, because I took a year off between college and law school and spent it in Florence, Italy.

I should speak a fourth language–French–but I don’t. I took French in middle school—in Costa Rica– and it was the only course in school that I didn’t do well in. This, although I was also taking French lessons at the Alliance Franϛaise after school. In high school I stopped taking French, and today I don’t even speak beginner’s French. However, I’ve made the valiant decision to once again make an attempt to learn French.

Since I know that learning a foreign language is on most people’s bucket list, I decided to share with you the best tips that I’ve found while researching how to best tackle my goal of learning French. Here, then, are 21 tips and hacks for learning a foreign language:

1. Stop Arguing Against Yourself. Lots of people say something like the following to themselves: “I’d love to learn a foreign language, but I’m too old”, or “I’m just not good at languages”. If this sounds like you, you need to stop arguing against yourself.

In order to succeed at a goal, you have to believe that you’re capable of achieving it. If you try to learn a foreign language while you tell yourself that it’s hopeless, you’ve practically doomed yourself to fail. While it’s true that some people are better at learning languages than others, with the right strategy and with dedication, anyone can learn another language.

2. You Need Passion. Learning a new language takes a lot of hard work. That’s why, in order to succeed, you need to be passionate about speaking a foreign language. This consists of two different parts:

  • First, you have to really want to learn another language.
  • And, second, you have to be excited about learning the language that you choose. For example, you may really want to learn a romance language, while the thought of learning a Slavic language makes you cringe (or the other way around).

When I was in middle school I had absolutely no interest in learning French. Taking French lessons was something that my parents were forcing me to do. And I resisted with a vengeance. I paid little to no attention in class, and did the bare minimum of work to get a passing grade.

On the other hand, when I was in college I became obsessed with living in Italy for a while once I graduated. I don’t remember why, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with an art course I was taking at the time. I took two semesters of Italian as part of my college course work, and I did very well. Then, I moved heaven and earth to travel to Italy and live there for a year.

Once I was living in Florence, I took an Italian language course. I studied the language on my own, and I spoke Italian to everyone I could. When I left Italy, I spoke the language fluently (since I look Italian, I was often mistaken for a local).

What was the difference between my attempt to learn French, and my attempt to learn Italian? The main difference was passion. I was passionate about learning Italian and could not have cared less about learning French (which I now regret, but live and learn).

When learning a new language, make this your new mantra: “I will do whatever it takes to learn this language.”

3. Consider Learning Esperanto. If you’re monolingual, you should consider making Esperanto your first foreign language. This is a strategy recommended by Benny, the Irish polyglot. In case you’ve never heard of Esperanto, it’s the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. Why would you want to learn Esperanto, when there are very few people who speak it? Here are three reasons:

  • Since it’s an easy language to learn, learning Esperanto will give you confidence in your ability to learn another language. And confidence can go a long way.
  • The more languages you know, the easier it is to learn the next one. For example, Italian is between Spanish and French. So now that I know Italian, I can use it as a bridge that will make learning French easier for me. Esperanto can act as a bridge, or a stepping stone, from your native language to the language that you want to learn.
  • As Tim Morley explains in his TED Talk on Esperanto, most people learn to play the recorder in school, although it’s not an instrument that most people will continue to play after they’ve graduated. Why do schools teach the recorder? Because the recorder is a simple instrument, which means that it’s a simple way to learn music theory. Much in the same way, learning Esperanto is an easy way to learn language theory.

4. Plan Your Language Learning Strategy. When you’re taking an essay test, what’s the first thing that the teacher tells you? They tell you to plan your answers before you start writing. Likewise, before you start studying a new language, you should take some time to plan your language learning strategy before diving into the deep end.

One way to develop your language learning strategy is by using the book, Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It, as a guide. Other strategies include doing research online and asking people you know who can speak more than one language for advice.

Keep in mind that it’s important not to get stuck at the planning stage. Once you’ve spent some time doing research, and you have a good idea on how to proceed, get started. Then, simply apply a process of trial and error and make corrections to your language learning strategy as you go along. Keep doing whatever works, and discard any approach that doesn’t work for you, even if lots of other people swear by it.

Say the following to yourself: “Not everyone learns in the same way, and I will use the techniques that work best for me.”

5. Move and Get a Private Tutor. Maneesh Sethi–owner of “Hack the System”–wrote a post for the popular blog Zen Habits titled, “How to Learn a Language in 90 Days“. He indicates that in order to learn a language in 90 days you need to move to a country that speaks your target language for three months, and hire a private tutor for the first month that you’re there.

Of course, this is the ideal language learning strategy. Unfortunately, most people can’t follow this strategy due to monetary and time constraints, as well as having other obligations. However, this doesn’t mean that you should give up on your goal of learning another language. It just means that it’s going to take you longer than 90 days to achieve your goal.

6. Start With High Frequency Words and Phrases. You may be surprised to learn that, for most languages, there are 300 to 500 words that make up the bulk of the written and spoken language.  Therefore, you should start by learning those words.

In addition, if you’re about to take a trip to a country that speaks your target language, you can add Dr. Paul Nation’s Survival Travel Vocabulary to the list of words and phrases that you’re going to learn first.

7. Focus On Language Content That’s Relevant to You. Once you know the high frequency words, focus on language that’s relevant to you. You’re more likely to learn vocabulary that’s related to your interests, than you are to learn the names of kitchen utensils (unless you happen to love kitchen utensils) and other stuff that you don’t care about.

Look at the following:

  • Do you want to learn Italian so that you can understand opera? If so, then concentrate on words and phrases that you would hear in Puccini’s operas.
  • Do you want to learn to speak Mandarin so that you can communicate with your business partners in China? Then focus on learning words and phrases in Mandarin that are related to business.

8. Set Specific Goals. Learning a new language is a goal, and we all know that goals should be specific. The goal “Learn to speak French”—or whatever language it is that you’re trying to learn–is too broad. You need to narrow it down and make it more specific. Here are some examples of specific goals:

  • To learn to say the 100 most common phrases for travelers.
  • To be able to understand simple instructions and directions.
  • To be able to exchange basic greetings and pleasantries.
  • To learn 50 food items and be able to order them in a restaurant.
  • To be able to understand very basic phrases in my target language when people speak slowly and clearly.

As you achieve each of your specific goals, create new ones so that you progress step by step toward the big goal of “Speak French” (or whatever language you’re trying to learn).

9. Listen. Chris Lonsdale is a psychologist from New Zealand who runs a company in Hong Kong. He gave a TED Talk in which he explains his approach to learning a new language. Lonsdale explains that one of the first steps to learn a new language is to listen, a lot.

He calls this brain soaking. Lonsdale argues that it doesn’t matter if at first you don’t understand what you’re listening to. You’re listening to recognize patterns, words that repeat, and things that stand out. In addition, you’re listening to the rhythm of the language.

You have to continually listen to the sounds of the language that you’re trying to learn in order to train your brain to let in the new sounds. You can start by looking for podcasts in your target language, as well as scouring YouTube for interesting videos that will allow you to listen to the language that you’re trying to learn.

10. Study Pronunciation. For every sound, in any language, there’s a specific part of the mouth or throat that we use in order to achieve that sound. In order to make the sounds of a foreign language you have to move your mouth, tongue, and facial muscles—and use your throat–in the same way as native speakers do when speaking the language.

Fortunately, there are lots of resources to help you with this. For example, the most difficult sound for me to make in French is the “r” sound. The French “r” is completely different from the “r” in Spanish and the “r” in English. It’s something that I definitely need help with.

I’m learning how to pronounce the French “r” by watching videos on YouTube. As an illustration, this video explains that to pronounce the French “r”, you place the tip of the tongue against the back of your bottom teeth, while making a growling sound that comes from the back of your throat. (I still don’t have it down, but I’m getting there.)

11. Start Speaking As Soon As You Can. As soon as you can, start talking to native speakers in your target language (or people who speak the language fluently and have good pronunciation). Unless you want to learn a language in order to read great literature written in that language, or to write documents in that language, you need to speak the language as often as you can.

A great site for finding natives you can talk to is iTalki, which lets you hire online language speakers, as well as schedule a language exchange via Skype with someone wanting to learn your language.

12. Learn New Vocabulary Efficiently. Learn vocabulary items with plenty of audio-visual reinforcement. In addition, use image association. As an illustration, the French word for flip flops is “les tongs” (the flip flops). The word “tong” sounds like the English word, tongue—as in, the tongue in your mouth. If you look at a picture of flip flops, they looks like tongues.

Therefore, when I want to remember the French word for flip flops I see an image of flip flops in my mind, and I think the following: They look like tongues. The word for flip flop in French is “tong”.

13. Use Flash Cards. Let’s face it, learning another language involves a lot of memorizing. And one of the best ways to memorize things is by using flashcards. The old fashioned way to do this is to use index cards. Take a stack of cards and, on each one, write a word that you’re trying to remember on one side, and the English translation on the other. Then, every so often, look through your flashcards.

However, a much better approach is to use spaced repetition flashcarding.  You can use a free online tool called Anki. It works as follows:

  • The Anki web site shows you a word in your target language.
  • When you see the word, you try to remember what the word means.
  • Then press “Answer” and it will show you the translation.
  • There are buttons for you to choose how easy, or hard, the word was for you to remember.
  • If the word was very difficult for you to remember, then it will reappear within a few minutes. However, words that are easy for you to remember will reappear in about a month’s time.

Here’s a good explanation of how Anki works.

14. Use the Lexical Approach. The lexical approach was created by Michael Lewis. It involves thinking of vocabulary words as lexical units, or chunks, instead of memorizing words in isolation. A lexical chunk is any pair or group of words which are commonly found together, or in close proximity.

One example of this is learning the gender along with the noun (“la porte”), and the plural along with the singular (“les portes”). Another example is to learn the feminine form of adjectives, as well as the plural for both masculine and feminine. A third example is to include the preposition that is usually associated with the word that you’re learning.

In addition, vocabulary items should be learned along with other words that frequently co-occur with them—these are called collocations. Here are some examples of collocations in English:

  • Brush your teeth.
  • Commit a crime.
  • Do the cooking.

Learning chunks instead of learning words in isolation will give you more bang for your buck. After all, chunks are the building blocks of language.

15. Learn Words in An Authentic Context. This is similar to the lexical approach described above. Instead of simply learning words in isolation, learn words in their authentic context. That is, learn phrases you’re likely to use for that word. For example, instead of just learning the word for “summer” in your target language, learn phrases such as the following:

  • I’m going to the beach this summer.
  • Last summer I traveled to Spain.
  • I love the lazy summer months.
  • They put on plays in the park during the summer months.

16. Learn Cognates. A cognate is a word that was borrowed from another language. Here’s a great quote on this by James Nicoll:

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

This is good because it means that English speakers will be able to recognize words from many other languages. One such language is French. And we can all thank William the Conqueror for this.

You may recall from your high school history class that in 1066 William the Conqueror–the Duke of Normandy–invaded England. As a result, many French words entered the English language. In fact, more than a third of all English words are derived from French. It’s estimated that English speakers who have never studied French already know 15,000 French words.

In addition, this relationship between words doesn’t just apply to English and French. There are many languages that share words. Take advantage of this to build up your vocabulary.

17. Use the Diglot Weave Technique. The diglot weave technique is a vocabulary learning method. It involves inserting foreign words into a sentence of a language you already know. As an example, I went to visit my sister yesterday, and as I stood in the lobby of her building waiting for the elevator, the elevator doors opened and an elderly gentleman walked out. He was wearing flip flops.

I looked at him and thought to myself: “Oh, look. That man is wearing les tongs (flips flops in French).” I inserted a word that I’m trying to learn in French into an English sentence. As another example, I sent out the following tweet to my followers on Twitter:

Here’s evidence that this technique works.

18. Get Creative. In point 5 of this blog post I said that the best way to learn a new language is to move to a country that speaks that language for three months and, while you’re there, hire a private tutor. Of course, not everyone can do this. However, this doesn’t mean that you should give up on your goal to learn another language. Instead, you need to get creative.

For example, even if you can’t move to a country that speaks your target language, you can still immerse yourself in the language. How? Here are some ideas:

  • Download TV series and movies in your target language.
  • Read books in your target language (even if you start off with children’s books).
  • Listen to music in your target language.
  • Frequent restaurants where you can order food in your target language.
  • Read newspapers from your target language online.
  • Label a few objects in your home with their names in your target language.
  • Try making friends with people in your town who speak the language and hang out with them whenever you can.

19. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes. One of the biggest obstacles that you’ll face when trying to speak a new language is your fear of making mistakes and sounding stupid. However, know that no one speaks a new language perfectly from the get-go. You need to relax and stop being so self-conscious. Allow yourself to be someone who’s learning, making mistakes, and moving forward, one step at a time.

20. Be Patient. Although the internet is full of bloggers promising to show you how to learn a new language in a few weeks, a few days, and even in an hour, the truth is that learning a new language will take time (here are some general guidelines on how long it takes to learn a new language). However, rest assured that it takes time to learn to do anything well.

One of the keys to being patient is to stop putting all of your focus on the big goal of becoming fluent in your target language. Instead, set smaller goals along the way. Each time you achieve one of your smaller goals, it will give you the motivation to keep moving forward toward your big goal of fluency.

21. Be Consistent. You will never be able to learn a new language unless you study that language consistently. Set aside one-hour-a-day for language practice. Day by day that one-hour-a-day will add up, and soon you’ll have a good number of study hours under your belt. Then, watch in amazement how you start to communicate effectively with others using your new language.


Learning another language has many benefits, including giving your brain a good workout, improving your memory, gaining greater understanding of your native language, expanding your job opportunities, and making you more worldly.

Use the 21 tips and hacks above and get to work on acquiring a second, third, or fourth language. Live your best life by learning a foreign language.

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