There’s something about a looming deadline that really pushes you to get things done, wouldn’t you agree? The deadline I’m referring to here is the end of the year. Yes, folks: there are 100 days left of 2018.
Longtime readers know that I like to come up with a post encouraging people–including myself–to use the last 100 days of the year productively. Well, this year, I’m going to encourage all of us to declutter, with a 100 day decluttering challenge.
After all, decluttering is one of those small things that can produce great results. By decluttering you’ll do all of the following:
Bring order and harmony to your surroundings.
Save time looking for things, cleaning and organizing items, and simply looking around in bafflement wondering how on earth you accumulated so much stuff.
Discard all the things that are keeping you stuck in the past.
Make room for new and better things to enter your life.
The 100 day decluttering challenge consists of the following: I’ve broken down the items that you usually find in a home into 100 different categories. Each day from now–September 23rd–to December 31st, you’ll be decluttering a different category.
Are you ready for the challenge? On your mark, get set, go! (There’s a free download at the end of the post you can print out.)
Declutter Your Home Office
September 23 – Pens, Pencils, and Pencil Sharpeners
September 24 – Highlighters, Markers, and Colored Pencils
September 25 – Scissors, Tape Rolls (Clear, Masking Tape, etc.), and Tape Dispensers
September 26 – Glue Sticks, Rubber Bands, Krazy Glue, and Gorilla Glue
September 27 – Staplers, Staples, Hole Punchers, and Fasteners (Base and Prongs)
September 28 – Sticky Notes, Sticky Flags and Tabs, Sticky Notes Pop-Up Dispensers
September 29 – Mailing Envelopes, Catalog Envelopes, Coin and Small Parts Envelopes
September 30 – Labels, Stamps, and Rubber Stamps
October 1 – Printer Paper and Ink Cartridges
October 2 – Manila File Folders, Hanging Folders, Folder Tabs, and Accordion Files
October 3 – Binders and Dividers
October 4 – Calendars and Planners
October 5 – Bulletin Board/White Board and Supplies (Tacks, Markers, Erasers)
October 6 – Notepads and Notebooks
October 7 – Stationery, Greeting Cards, and Thank You Notes
October 8 – Bullet Journal Supplies
October 9 – Organizers – Pen Cups, Letter Tray, Drawer Organizers, and So On
October 10 – Small Equipment – Scanner, Label Maker, USB Drives, External Hard Drive
Declutter Books and Magazines
October 11 – Magazines, Catalogs, and Newspapers
October 12 – Cookbooks, Food Books, Wine Books
October 13 – Reference and Textbooks
October 14 – Kids’ Books
October 15 – Novels
October 16 – Nonfiction Books
October 17 – Comic Books
October 18 – Phone Books
October 19 – Coffee Table Books (Books You Use as Décor)
October 20 – Adult T-Shirts and Tank Tops
October 21 – Adult Long-Sleeved Shirts, Dress Shirts, and Blouses
October 22 – Adult Sweaters, Jackets, and Coats
October 23 – Adult Shorts, Sweat Pants, Yoga Pants, and Other Workout Clothes
October 24 – Adult Jeans, Dress Pants, and Skirts
October 25 – Adult Dresses and Formal Wear
October 26 – Adult Socks, Underwear, and Any Other Underclothing
October 27 – Adult Robes, Pajamas, and Slippers
October 28 – Adult Belts, Hats, Purses, Ties, Gloves, Scarves, and Other Accessories
A passion project is an activity or enterprise that you decide to take on—usually in your spare time–in order to gain some benefit for yourself. That is, it’s a challenge that you willingly embrace because you hope to gain something from it.
The list of benefits that you can gain from starting a passion project is long, and in this blog post I’m going to share 14 of them with you. To give you a heads up, these benefits include things such as having more fun, increasing your zest for life, and making a contribution to the world. Here we go.
14 Reasons to Start a Passion Project
We’re all busy, so if we’re going to add something else to our to do list, it really needs to be worth it. Am I right? (I can see all of you nodding your heads in agreement.) Well, here are 14 reasons why starting a passion project is most definitely worthy of your time, energy, and other resources:
Nonetheless, you may be currently going through a period of your life in which you feel you have little control over your daily activities. You can regain a feeling of control by starting a passion project.
After all, a passion project is something that you decide to do. It’s not a school assignment, or something your parents or a boss told you to do. It’s something that you’re doing just because you want to. You’re 100% in charge.
Look at the following:
You decide what the project will be.
It’s up to you to set a goal (or goals) for your passion project.
You decide how big or how small the scope of your project will be.
The standards are set by you.
All deadlines are up to you.
You create the plan you’re going to execute in order to complete your passion project.
It’s up to you to determine whether you want to work on your passion project alone, or if you’re going to ask other people to join you.
You decide when your passion project is done.
It’s up to you to determine what success looks like for your passion project.
You’re in control of your passion project. And when you feel that you’re in control, you’re happier.
2. To Have Fun
Niklas Göke writes in his article on starting a passion project, one day at a time, that passion projects start with a simple statement:
“That sounds like fun.”
Even if you hope to make money from your passion project at some point, at first the financial possibilities of a passion project should be secondary. The first consideration should always be having fun.
Here at Daring to Live Fully I write often about the importance of having more fun. Now I have something else to add to my ongoing list of ways to have more fun: starting a passion project.
3. To Add Creativity to Your Life
A passion project could simply be about indulging your need to create. I love this quote by Kurt Vonnegut:
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Give yourself permission to do something creative as your passion project. Draw, play an instrument, dance. . . it doesn’t matter if you do it badly. Just allow yourself to create.
4. To Add Entries to Your Portfolio
What if you want a job in tech–or a similar area– but you’re self-taught and haven’t landed any paying gigs yet? It’s very difficult to get a job if you don’t have a degree and previous work experience to show prospective employers. Nonetheless, all is not lost.
You can create a passion project that will allow you to add an entry to your portfolio. As an illustration, you can design a mock-up of a web site for your ideal client. Then, show prospective clients the mock-up (be upfront about the fact that it’s a mock-up and not something that you got paid for).
Likewise, if you’re an aspiring photographer you create a passion project that involves taking photos of all the lighthouses, abandoned buildings, or ice cream parlors in your town. Then, add the photographs to your portfolio.
You can do something similar for any creative medium. Build your portfolio through passion projects.
5. To Make Your Life More Meaningful
A while ago I wrote a blog post on the importance of having not just a happy life, but also a meaningful life. Right now you may feel that your life isn’t as meaningful as you would like for it to be. Your job pays the bills, but you’re not really doing anything that makes you feel as if you’re making a valuable contribution to the world.
If so, you can make your life more meaningful by starting a passion project. How do you want to make a difference in the world? Here are some ideas:
Start a weekend workshop to help girls become more confident.
Put up a free library for your community.
Start a blog in which you teach others how to do something you’re good at.
And, who knows: your passion project may even become your legacy.
6. To Add Passion to Your Life
Here are some synonyms of the word “passion”: enthusiasm, motivation, and inspiration. Having a passion project can add all of these to your life. It will also do all of the following for you:
Foster your well-being by doing something that lights you up.
Give you a reason to jump out of bed each morning.
It will make you feel good about yourself.
It will nourish your spirit.
In addition, this passion, enthusiasm, motivation, and inspiration will spill over to other areas of your life. Having a passion project will add zest to your life.
Ideally, your primary occupation should allow you to apply your strengths and/or talents. However, this isn’t always the case. If you feel that you’re not currently getting the opportunity to showcase your strengths, you can do so through a passion project.
Pick something that you’re exceptionally good at—such as public speaking, visual thinking, or social intelligence—and come up with a passion project that will allow you to use those strengths.
8. To Create Your Own Opportunities
Instead of sitting there passively waiting for opportunity to knock on your door, get out there and create your own opportunity through a passion project. Look at the following:
If you want to get into the cooking business—become a personal chef, own a restaurant, teach others to cook, and so on—start a pop-up restaurant in your home that serves dinner on Sundays.
Suppose you want to be a mystery writer–write a mystery novel and publish it as a Kindle book on Amazon.
Do you want to be a singer? Upload a video to YouTube of you singing every week for a year.
Ask yourself: how can I create my own opportunity? Then, turn that into a passion project.
9. To Learn New Skills
It’s difficult to learn a new skill in a vacuum. It’s much easier to learn a skill if you give yourself a project to work on. As an illustration, suppose you want to learn to draw. Ask yourself what project you could give yourself to make learning this skill more practical.
Here’s an example:
If you want to learn to draw, create your own coloring book. Coloring books are all the rage these days — they help you unwind, de-stress, reconnect with your inner child, bladdy-bladdy-blah. Instead of buying a coloring book, ask yourself what you want to color. Then draw it, and color it! I’m doing this, by the way.
10. Set Out On A New Career Path
Perhaps you’ve been telling yourself that you’re ready to try a different career path. But you’re not sure which path to pick. That’s where the passion project comes in.
Make a list of all the careers you’ve been wondering about. Then, for each of them, create a project that will allow you to sample what it would like to be in that career.
11. Become More Interesting (and More Awesome)
As I explain in my post on how to be more interesting, interesting people have interesting things going on in their lives. If there’s nothing interesting going on in your life at the moment—we’ve all been there—make your life more interesting with a passion project.
Look at the following conversation:
Friend: “So, what’s going on in your life?”
You: “Not much. Same old, same old.”
Let’s face it, from the conversation above, you sound boring.
Now look at this conversation:
Friend: “Hey, what’s new?”
You: “I’m making scented soaps at night and selling them at the farmer’s market on Saturdays.”
Now you sound interesting (and awesome).
12. To Make Money
You don’t have to set a goal of making money from your passion project, but you most definitely can. In fact, you can choose to go from passion project, to side gig, to full-time.
If your passion project is going to make you money, you need to think like a business person:
Create a business plan.
Decide who your target market will be.
How will you brand yourself?
How will you find customers?
What’s your marketing plan?
What will you charge?
Do you need financing?
Imagine making money by doing something you’re passionate about. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? A passion project can get you there.
13. As a 30-Day Challenge
I love giving myself 30-day challenges. You don’t have to devote a lot of time to them and, in just 30 days, you have something concrete to show for your efforts. A passion project can be a simple 30-day challenge.
As an illustration, Kasey Mahoney is a designer who wanted to help his nephew learn the alphabet. He challenged himself to draw a letter a day until the project was complete. It allowed him to combine his love of illustration and design, and help his nephew learn.
14. As a 365 Project
Your passion project can also take on the shape of a 365 Project. A 365 project is usually started at the beginning of a new year (but it doesn’t have to). It consists of achieving a goal by taking a small step toward the achievement of said goal every day for a year.
As an illustration, Brian E. Denton decided that he was going to blog about a chapter of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, War and Peace, every day for a year (the book has roughly 365 chapters). Then he took the end result and turned it into an eBook.
Now he can say that he’s written an eBook about his favorite book of all time. I’m not sure if he called it a passion project, but it certainly looks like a passion project to me.
Quick Overview of How to Start a Passion Project
Here’s a quick overview of the steps you need to take in order to start a passion project:
1. Decide On The Benefits – Which of the 14 benefits above do you want to derive from your passion project? List them.
2. Brainstorm Passion Project Ideas. Set a timer for 15 minutes and brainstorm all the possible passion project ideas you can come up with which would allow you to get the benefits you listed in Step 1 above.
3. Commit to One Passion Project. Take a look at all of the ideas that you came up with during your brainstorming session and commit to one.
4. Set a Goal. Notice the word “project” in the term “passion project”. A project has a goal that you want to achieve. Start by setting a small goal. Then, when you achieve it, you can set another, bigger goal.
5. Make Time for Your Passion Project. If you selected the right passion project, and you set a goal that excites you, coming up with the time to work on your passion project should be a lot more doable than you probably think that it is right now.
The best strategy I’ve found for making the time to work on my passion projects is to set aside one-hour-a-day. I recommend you do the same.
6. Create Accountability. One of the best ways to create accountability for your passion project is to start a blog which you use to document your journey. Then, share your blog posts on social media.
Having a community cheering you on to complete your passion project is a great way to make yourself accountable.
7. Just Start. There will never be a perfect time to begin your passion project, and there are no steps you can take to make sure that you will not make mistakes as you go along. So just start.
You’ll probably want to begin by doing research. That’s a good idea. However, make sure that you don’t get stuck at the research stage. Begin implementing what you learn during the research stage as fast as you can.
I hope I’ve convinced you to consider the idea of starting a passion project. Starting one has the potential to change your life. Live your best life by starting a passion project.
Overwhelm is the feeling that you have too much to do, and too little time to do it.
Being overwhelmed is feeling that you have a million things to do, and that you’ll never be able to get them all done, no matter how fast you go. It’s like the cartoon of the dam that springs a leak. You know the one:
The dam springs a leak, so the cartoon character plugs it up with his right hand’s index finger.
But then the dam springs another leak, so the character plugs it up with his other index finger.
That’s when a third leak appears, which is plugged up with the character’s right toe.
Then the fourth leak is plugged up with the character’s left toe.
And that’s when the sixth and the seventh leaks appear. But the character has no more hands or feet left to plug them up with.
Doesn’t life feel that way sometimes? I know mine does. However, I’ve collected strategies that I apply when I feel overwhelmed, which I’m going to share with you. Below you’ll find 6 things to do to deal with overwhelm.
1. Interrupt the Overwhelm
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. She recommends that, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you use your senses to ground yourself in the present moment. This will allow you to interrupt the overwhelm.
Hendricks indicates that you should use the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method to work through your five senses. Do the following:
Look around and name five things you can see. I see my silver bracelet, a box of Kleenex, my sunglasses, a jar filled with colored pencils, and my nephew’s photo pinned up on my bulletin board.
Listen and name four things you can hear. I can hear construction sounds, the humming of my laptop, a car horn, and my neighbor whistling in the hallway.
List three things you can touch. I can feel warmth when I touch my coffee mug, cold when I touch the glass of water sitting on my desk, and the feeling of my feet in my shoes.
Notice two smells. I’m smelling an orange peel and witch hazel.
Taste something. I just took a sip of coffee.
By grounding yourself in the present moment you interrupt the spinning thoughts that lead to overwhelm, and you give yourself a mini-moment of mindfulness. This is very helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
2. Declutter Your Immediate Surroundings
If your immediate surroundings are cluttered you can be sure that this is contributing to your feelings of overwhelm. Clutter affects you negatively in the following ways:
It bombards the senses with visual stimuli, even if you’re not consciously aware of it.
Clutter distracts our focus from what we should be concentrating on.
Being surrounded by clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
Clutter creates an open loop in your mind, so you always have a vague feeling that there’s something important that you forgot to do.
By decluttering your immediate surroundings you’ll reduce your stress levels and feel calmer. That is, you’ll be less overwhelmed.
For me, decluttering my immediate surroundings often means tidying up my desk. I just took my empty coffee mug to the kitchen, filed a few papers, put some books back on the shelf, and stuck a couple of pens back in the pen jar. I’m feeling less overwhelmed already. 😊
3. Identify Your Major Stressors
Sit down, take out a piece of paper and a pen, and make a list of the top stressors in your life. Ask yourself: “What is making me feel overwhelmed right now?”
Once you have your list, assign each item on your list a percentage from 1 to 100 that reflects the degree to which that item is contributing to your feelings of overwhelm.
Here’s an illustration:
Every time I walk into my home I feel stressed by the amount of stuff that I’ve accumulated and all the time and effort it takes to clean and take care of it. (25%)
I lack the computer skills to be able to do my job well. (20%)
I have to keep track of my kids’ many activities. (10%)
The commute to and from work is horrendous (10%)
My spouse and I have been disagreeing more than usual lately. (5%)
My mom can’t take care of herself anymore and I have to find a way to help her with this. (30%).
Then, draw a pie chart that contains all the data above. This will quickly allow you to see what is making you feel overwhelmed. In addition, you’ll be able to identify what you need to tackle first. Here’s a pie chart of the situation I just described above:
As you can see from the pie chart, once you figure out how you can help your mother, almost a third of your feelings of overwhelm should be gone.
Then, you can focus on decluttering and organizing your home, and more than half of the stressors that are making you feel overwhelmed will have been taken care of. Continue going down the list until you feel that you have things under control.
4. Make Things Easier On Yourself
The other day I was going through my Twitter stream and I saw a tweet go by that caught my attention. It was by a lady named Susan Wright who had written a blog post explaining what reading Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes had taught her about achieving her goals.
In the blog post she explains that she had set the goal of reading Don Quixote from cover to cover, in Spanish. However, she was procrastinating on the goal because it made her feel overwhelmed. Here’s why:
She lived in Puerto Rico for a few years as a child and spoke some Spanish, but Don Quixote is a very difficult novel written in the 17th century, and it would take a lot of work for her to read it in Spanish.
Don Quixote is a very long book—in fact, it’s two books—and she didn’t feel that she could devote that much time to reading.
What she ended up doing was to re-write her goal in order to make things easier on herself. Here’s what she did:
First, she decided she would read the book in English.
And, second, she would set aside some time to read the book each day, but she would also listen to parts of the book while she was running errands or commuting to and from work. That would allow her to get through the book faster.
By doing these two things the goal of reading Don Quixote no longer seemed so overwhelming, and she was able to achieve her goal.
While doing the research for this post I came across a YouTube video by author Tim Ferriss, in which he explains that we have a tendency to think that anything worth doing has to be hard. In addition, we’re usually trying to impress others with our amazing feats of prowess.
However, life doesn’t have to be so hard. The next time you’re working on a task, ask yourself the question Ferriss always asks himself: “What would this look like if it where easy?” Once you’ve identified how you can make things easier for yourself, do it.
Once you’ve re-written your to do list in a way that makes things easier for yourself, start tackling your list one item at a time. Just take it tiny task by tiny task. When your brain starts thinking of all the things that you have to do and feelings of overwhelm once again wash over you, bring your focus back to the task at hand.
Right now, that tiny little task is all there is. How can you possibly feel overwhelmed by such a small task?
6. Take Steps to Lessen Anxiety
Your brain may be contributing to your feelings of overwhelm. Some personality types are more likely to feel overwhelmed than others, and anxious people are at the top of that list.
After all, the brains of anxious people release more cortisol and adrenaline than the brains of people who tend to remain calm, even when they have lots to do.
I’m an anxious person, and I’ve discovered that by taking steps to reduce my anxiety I can better deal with anything that may be going on in my life at any given moment. That is, I can control the feelings of overwhelm.
Here are the three steps I take to reduce my anxiety fast:
I put some jojoba oil in the palm of my hand, I add a few drops of lavender oil, and then I rub the oil on my arms. There are studies that show that lavender essential oil helps to lessen feelings of anxiety.
Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps reduce stress and relaxes your mind and body. When I feel anxious I make myself some Yogi Tea Kombucha Green Tea with honey and lemon. It always helps me feel better.
I blow bubbles (yes, you read that right). Why? Because when you’re anxious your heart beat speeds up. But you can slow it down with your breath by making your exhale longer and slower than your inhale. Also, you can imagine that your anxiety is floating away with the bubbles.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, dealing with anxiety will go a long way toward helping you to feel calmer and more serene.
Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t have to be your default state. There are lots of things you can do to feel more calm and relaxed– start with the six strategies I explain above. Live your best life by dealing effectively with feelings of overwhelm.
Use the 5 second rule to achieve your goals and get anything you want.
A few years ago, Mel Robbins was going through a really difficult time. She and her husband were mired in financial trouble, and their relationship was strained. Every night she would tell herself that the next day she would get up early and get started on pulling her life back together.
Nonetheless, every morning the same thing would happen. The alarm would ring, and Robbins would roll over, turn it off, and go back to sleep. She would wake up late, feel like a failure, and get little done throughout the day.
Then, one day, she heard the countdown to a rocket launch on TV. Something clicked for her at that moment. She told herself that when the alarm went off the next morning, she would count down from 5 to 1 and then “launch” herself into the new day.
The next morning when she tried her new idea, it worked like magic. She was able to get up early and start her day off right. In addition, she started applying the idea of counting down from 5 to 1 and then acting every time throughout the day when there was an important task that she needed to get done but which she felt like putting off.
The concept worked so well for her that she gave it a name—the 5 second rule. Robbins started doing research to try to understand why the rule was working so well for her.
She found tons of scientific evidence which backed up her belief that the rule was a life changer. So much so that she wrote a book about it: The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage.
In this post I’m going to explain the 5 second rule to you in more detail, and I’m going to give you tips on how to apply it in your own life.
The 5 Second Rule In a Nutshell
In a nutshell, here’s the 5 second rule (in Robbins’ own words): “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.”
Robbins explains that when you feel an urge to work on a goal, your heart is trying to tell you that there’s something you need to do. You then have a 5 second window to get started on that goal before your brain talks you out of it.
Use that 5 second window to do the following:
Start counting backwards to yourself from 5 to 1: 5-4-3-2-1.
As soon as you hit “1”, push yourself to move. You have to take physical action!
As you count down from 5 to 1 you’ll be distracting your brain from coming up with reasons why you should do something else instead –like watch cat videos or reorganize your book shelves.
In addition, you’ll be placing all your focus on the goal that you’re trying to get yourself to work on. Finally, counting down from 5 to 1 is a starting ritual. It will interrupt old behavior patterns and trigger new ones.
The 5 second rule is a brain hack. It’s a form of metacognition which allows you to trick your brain so it can’t sabotage your efforts. There’s more on this in the next section.
Why the 5 Second Rule Works
Robbins explains that when you have an instinct to work on a goal, in 5 seconds the following can happen:
Doubt can take over.
Fear can take over.
Overanalyzing can take over.
All of these things can prevent you from acting. And the reason that doubt, fear, and overanalyzing occur is because your brain is designed to stop you from changing. This is because change is uncertain, scary, and new, and your brain’s main function is to keep you safe.
However, the opposite is also true. In 5 seconds you can get yourself to act by using the 5 second rule.
The 5 second rule works because of many principles rooted in neuroscience and psychology. In this post, we’re going to discuss three of them:
The Do Good, Be Good Principle;
The Progress Principle; and
The Feelings are Just Suggestions Principle.
Let’s look at each of these in more depth.
The Do Good, Be Good Principle
The Do Good, Be Good principle is based on research done by Timothy D. Wilson, Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. The principle states that you can’t think your way toward being happy or successful. Instead, if you want to be happy and successful, you must act.
The 5 second rule pulls you out of your head and gets you to take action. After all, it’s not 5-4-3-2-1, think. It’s 5-4-3-2-1, act. At the same time, the more that you act, the more that you create a bias toward action. That is, you’re turning action into a habit.
The Progress Principle
In her book, “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work”, Teresa Amabile—a Director of Research at Harvard Business School—states that the power of progress is fundamental to human nature. Making progress, even in small ways, is key to our productivity and happiness.
The 5 second rule allows you to make progress every time you use it. And, according to the Progress Principle, every small step forward improves your mood and increases your intrinsic motivation. Both of these things, in turn, encourage you to make even more progress.
The Feelings Are Just Suggestions Principle
In the book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and The Human Brain, world-renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio indicates that his research suggests that 95% of our decisions are made based on feelings, not facts. He therefore calls us “feeling machines that think, not thinking machines that feel”.
This is why we can have a list of great reasons why we should act, but then we fail to act because we simply don’t feel like it. To solve this problem, Robbins recommends that we use the strategy applied by professional athletes. They treat feelings as simple suggestions.
If a feeling is simply a suggestion, it can be overruled—for example, with the 5 second rule. In addition, when you act you’ll be using behavior to impact how you feel, instead of hoping that your feelings will encourage you act.
The 5 Second Rule and Procrastination
Most of us tend to procrastinate every now and then. Especially when it comes to things which require a lot of physical, emotional, and/or intellectual energy.
Procrastination can cause small problems, such as having to pay a late fee for an overdue library book. However, if left unchecked, procrastination can cause serious damage to your health, career, relationships, and overall well-being.
When you think about getting to work on your online course, or taking the steps necessary to learn to code, your brain starts with the negative self-talk:
“That sounds really hard to do.”
“What if I fail?”
“I’ve tried this before and didn’t follow through. What makes me think I’ll follow through this time?”
“It’s going to take a lot of work.”
“Maybe I’m not smart enough to do this.”
“What if I make a fool of myself?”
These negative thoughts lead to avoidance. What you need to do is to bypass those negative thoughts. That’s where the 5 second rule comes in.
When you count backward– 5 4 3 2 1 – the brain stops thinking (because it’s concentrating on counting backwards), just for a few seconds. But those few seconds are enough to start acting.
Remember, if you hesitate you give your brain the opportunity to talk you out of acting. But if you count backward and start acting as soon as you hit “1”, by the time your brain figures out what’s happening, you’re already on your way. That is, you’ve overcome procrastination.
More Ways to Apply the 5 Second Rule
Here area some more ways you can start applying the 5 second rule in your life right away:
2. There’s something called the habit loop. It consists of a cue, a routine that’s triggered by the cue, and a reward. If you want to change a habit, what you have to do is change the routine that follows the cue. The next time you’re cued to engage in a bad habit, use the 5 second rule to carry out a different routine, instead.
3. If you have to make a simple decision, instead of overthinking, use the 5 second rule and simply decide.
The 5 second rule is a simple rule you can start using right away. In addition, the more you use it, the better it works. Soon you’ll start associating the countdown from 5 to 1 with taking action, and it will become automatic. Live your best life by applying the 5 second rule.
Most people love lists—and I’m definitely one of those people. Lists can help you create order out of chaos, de-stress, and focus on the positive. They’re also good for remembering the good things from the past and planning a great future.
For all of these reasons, making lists is one of the things I do as part of my self-care ritual when I’m having one of those not-so-good days. I recommend you do the same.
What are the rules when writing your lists? The rules are, there are are no rules:
Make your lists as long or as short as necessary.
Add details if you like (for example, instead of just listing your favorite books, write down why you love each book).
If you’d rather, make each item on your list just one word long.
Share your lists with others or keep them to yourself.
Use a notebook and pen, or simply type your lists on your laptop.
Write in your mother tongue or try using the second language you were taught in high school.
If you’re the creative type, draw your lists.
Light a candle while you write your lists, or don’t light a candle.
58. List all the things you would like to improve about yourself (because we’re all works-in-progress).
59. List your positive habits.
60. List positive habits you would like to adopt.
I hope making the lists above lifts your mood if you’re having an off day. Live your best life by making lists.
I created a PDF of the list for you to download. Download it, print it, and put it somewhere you can grab it when you feel like making mood uplifting lists. Just fill in your name and email in the form below.
I’m going to define “awesome” as an adjective used to describe something or someone that’s worthy of respect and admiration. Something awesome makes us stop and take notice, even if it’s just for a moment. It raises our spirits and makes us feel a sense of possibility.
The word awesome can also be understood by thinking of it in relative terms. There’s good, there’s great, and then there’s awesome.
We all know awesome when we see it. Here are some examples:
The Nicholas Brothers’ Jumpin Jive dance number — awesome!
But being awesome doesn’t have to be at such a grand scale. There’s a joke about a street in New York City that had several pizza places on it. One was called, “Best Pizza In the US”; another was “Best Pizza In the World”; and yet a third had named itself, “Best Pizza In the Universe”.
However, the fourth pizza place was modestly called, “Best Pizza On the Block”. Get it? 🙂
To be awesome you just have to be you, and do your thing, but do it in a way that will push you up the awesomeness scale. How? Below you’ll find 13 things you can do to make yourself more awesome.
1. Set Big, Daring, Audacious Goals.
There’s a saying that states that you’re as awesome as your goals. Well, no there isn’t. But there should be. After all, in order to be awesome you need to do awesome things.
To increase your levels of awesomeness, set a big,daring, audacious goal–or revisit one which you’ve pretty much given up on–and start acting to make it happen. With each step you take in the direction of that big, daring, audacious goal, you’ll become more awesome.
In fact, I have something to help you get started with this. Subscribe to my free course, The One-Hour Goal Strategy. It will take you from identifying a big, daring, audacious goal, to taking that first awesome step to make it happen.
2. Get a Mojo Upgrade.
People with mojo strut their stuff, take healthy risks, and put themselves out there. They feel lucky, which makes them more aware of opportunities and of the good that surrounds them. And that’s awesome.
Here are three ways to increase your mojo:
Set yourself up for small, frequent wins.
Be true to yourself.
Feed your soul – listen to music you love, go to a museum, or fill a vase with your favorite flowers.
Gumption is a close friend of mojo. It’s the friend who keeps getting dealt hard blows, but nonetheless keeps summoning the motivation, positivity, hope, enthusiasm, and courage to get up back up and try again.
Awesome people have gumption in spades. And if they feel their gumption being depleted, they look for ways to refuel it. This includes doing things like the following:
Giving your motivation a boost by reminding yourself why you wanted to achieve something in the first place.
Engaging in creative problem-solving to get over obstacles and overcome setbacks.
Reminding yourself of all the goals you’ve already achieved to put yourself back in a go-getter frame of mind.
Gumption is the fuel that will take you to 100% awesome.
4. Don’t Give In to Self-Doubt.
Everyone has self-doubts. You know that really cool guy who looks like he’s never doubted himself for a minute in his life? Well, he has. In fact, odds are high that he feels some self-doubt on a regular basis.
However, he doesn’t give in to those self-doubts. Instead, he shakes ’em off and gets on with his cool, awesome life. The next time you feel self-doubt creeping up on you, be awesome and tell yourself: “I’ve got this”. Listen to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” if you need to.
5. Add More Skills to Your Life Resume.
Awesome people can do stuff. They can create landing pages for their awesome digital products, cook a gourmet meal from scratch, organize a closet as well as Martha Stewart, and take great photographs. Well, maybe not those skills specifically, but you get the idea.
What awesome skill have you been wanting to learn? Up your awesomeness factor by learning it.
6. Do One Thing Really Well.
Awesome people are really good at what they do, whatever that may be. They don’t just get “good enough” at their craft and then leave it at that. Instead, they practice continous improvement.
In my blog post on 10 Must-Watch TED Talks for Lifelong Learners I mention Eduardo Briceño’s talk in which he indicates that there’s a performance zone–in which you execute your job duties–and a learning zone in which you improve them.
If you want to be awesome, spend some time each week in the learning zone so you can get better at your job and do amazing things when you’re in the performance zone.
7. Know Stuff.
As I said above, awesome people have an area of an expertise that they hone in on and become great in. At the same time, they don’t live in a bubble. They also have general knowledge about a lot of other things.
On Saturday I was at the gym and the World Cup soccer match between Russia and Croatia was on the television set. A group of people–including me–were gathered around the TV watching the match. As I watched the Croatians I thought to myself: “Was Croatia part of the former Soviet Union?” I asked a gentleman standing to my right.
He explained to me that Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia. Then he spoke a little about Tito–the Communist leader who was the Marshal of Yugoslavia from 1943 until his death in 1980–, and of his relationship with the USSR. Stalin tried to assassinate Tito several times and failed. He stopped when Tito sent him a note saying the following:
Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle. (…) If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.
— Josip Broz Tito
The gentleman added that the six other present day countries which once comprised Yugoslavia are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
I thought it was awesome that he knew all that. And now, because I was curious and I asked–I know too. And because you read this blog, so do you! See, you’re more awesome already.
Be more awesome by learning new things. I recommend the following 8:2 ratio. For every ten books you read, read eight books about your field, and two books about something that’s completely unrelated. That way, you’ll be well-informed in your area of expertise, and also well-rounded.
8. Be Physically Active.
Awesome people run (or walk fast), they go for bike rides, they play tennis, they golf, they swim, and they’re just generally out there enjoying their bodies and being in nature doing stuff.
To be awesome, get up off the couch and shake your booty. Or at least walk around the block a few times. And do it with attitude.
9. Have a Passion.
Passion is awesome. Ideally, you should be passionate about your job/career/ calling. However, you can be passionate about anything: comic books, a certain area of the law, the US Civil War, whales, Shakespere’s sonnets, LEGOs, baseball, flags. . . the possibilities are endless.
One way to bring more passion into your life is with a passion project. A passion project is something you work on–usually outside of your chosen career path–which makes you happy and puts you in the state of flow. Here are some ideas:
Start a blog about a topic that you’re really interested in.
Put together a weekend workshop on something you would like to teach others.
Invent something — invent a board game, come up with a prototype for a product you wish existed, or create an app.
Be awesome by adding more passion to your life.
10. Be Kind to Others.
When have you seen someone being rude to someone else–either through action or omission–and you’ve thought to yourself: “That person is really awesome”? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the answer to that question is “Never”.
On the other hand, the other day I witnessed a young man go out of his way to patiently help an elderly gentleman climb up the staircase of an elevated pedestrian bridge, walk across the bridge, and then go back down on the other side. I immediately thought: “This guy is just plain awesome”.
If you want to be awesome, be kind to others.
11. Be Playful.
Playful people are fun. They enjoy themselves, and they share that joy with others. And that’s awesome.
In his book, On Being Awesome: A Unified Theory of How Not to Suck, philosopher Nick Riggle defines being awesome as creating social openings. It’s finding ways to express yourself, thereby giving others an opening to express themselves as well. Being this way creates good vibes all around.
One example Riggle gives in his book is from a Celtics baskeball game. The Bon Jovi song “Living On a Prayer” was playing during halftime, and the fan cam was going around projecting people’s faces onto the jumbo screen.
One person stood up and started enacting the role of Bon Jovi in a music video. He roamed around the audience inviting others to join him in the pretense, and many did. Most of the stadium was cheering and clapping. It was awesome.
Being playful is awesome.
12. Hang Out with Other Awesome People.
I once heard the following saying: “If you want to soar with the eagles, don’t party with the turkeys.” In the same vein, if you want to be awesome, don’t party with the dullards. Instead, do the following: stop and think of what your life would be like if you were humming on all cylinders.
What would your habits be?
How would you behave?
What would you do after work?
What would you do during the weekends?
Then, identify a group of people who are already doing those things and join them. But be cool about it.
13. Gradually Become More Awesome.
I have an eleven year-old nephew who’s naturally awesome. Other kids–and even adults–are drawn to him like moths to a flame. Some people are born under an awesomeness star.
But most aren’t. Most people have to work at being awesome. But that’s OK. I just gave you several ways to work on becoming more awesome. Be awesome by working at it and gradually becoming more awesome.
How awesome are you right now? Whatever your awesomeness factor may be at the moment, you can become more awesome. Do it for yourself, and for others. Live your best life by increasing your awesomeness factor.
A life balance sheet will give you a snapshot of how you’re doing in life.
We all know what a financial balance sheet looks like. You have two columns, one containing your assets and the other containing your liabilities. Assets are items that can provide a future value or benefit. Liabilities, on the other hand, are those things which will create an obligation in the future.
Financial assets include items such as the following:
Cash on Hand
Here are some examples of financial liabilities:
Credit Card Debt
If you subtract liabilities from assets, you get your financial net worth. When your assets are equal to your liabilities, you have a net worth of zero. If your assets are less than your liabilities, you have a negative net worth. Lastly, if your assets are greater than your liabilities, you have a positive net worth.
You can follow a similar model to create a life balance sheet in order to determine your life’s net worth. In this post you’ll discover how to create your life balance sheet, calculate your life net worth, and then increase your life net worth.
Life Balance Sheet – Assets
Your life assets include all those things which add value to your life and which will allow you to build a brighter future for yourself and your loved ones. The categories which I recommend you use for the “Life Assets” column of your life balance sheet include the following:
Positive Habits –positive habits are those actions which you’ve put on automatic which allow you to move toward the achievement of your goals; e.g. exercising, meditating, and planning your day the night before.
Credentials – the degrees, licenses, permits, or memberships in professional associations which you need in order to achieve your work and business goals.
Knowledge – knowledge gained from books, online courses, experience, talking to others, and so on, is a huge asset.
Positive Relationships – friendships, positive familial relationships, a strong professional network, and other life affirming relationships are assets.
Skills – everything that you have the ability to do well—whether it be public speaking, creating videos, writing persuasively, etc.–is an asset.
Positive Character Traits – positive character traits–such as grit, confidence, and integrity—are highly valuable assets.
Positive Emotions – positive emotions such as gratitude, cheerfulness, and serenity can be added to your life balance sheet as wealth.
Good Health – good health will result in high ability to focus, physical stamina, and endurance, all of which will allow you to build the kind of life you want for yourself.
Purpose – setting empowering goals, having work that you find meaningful, and giving back to society will increase the “Assets” column of your life balance sheet.
Life Balance Sheet – Liabilities
On the right-hand column of your life balance sheet you’re going to list your life liabilities. Your life liabilities are all those things which decrease your ability to lead a good life and can potentially have a negative impact on your future.
The categories that I recommend you use for your “Life Liabilities” column are the following:
Negative Habits – negative habits are those actions which you’ve put on automatic which prevent you from moving toward the achievement of your goals; e.g. smoking, overeating, and going to bed late.
Lack of Credentials – not having the degrees, licenses, or permits which you need in order to achieve your goals, and not belonging to the necessary professional or trade associations, are big liabilities.
Lack of Knowledge – lacking the knowledge that you need to achieve your goals is a liability; e.g. not having read important books, failing to invest in ongoing education, and not having the necessary experience.
Negative Relationships – frenemies, toxic familial relations, bad relationships with co-workers, and strained relationships with neighbors should all be included in the right-hand column of your life balance sheet.
Lack of Skills –each skill that you need to succeed, but which you lack, counts as a liability. This can include language skills, technological skills, communication skills, and so on.
Negative Character Traits – negative character traits such as greed, envy, and negativity can prevent you from achieving what you want in life and they should be counted as liabilities.
Negative Emotions – if you feel negative emotions on a regular basis–for example, anger, frustration, sorrow, and fear–these should be included as liabilities.
Health Problems – poor health can result in a lack of ability to focus, illness, and lethargy, all of which should be listed as liabilities in your life balance sheet.
Lack of Purpose – having disempowering goals, working at a job which you find meaningless, and failing to give back to society are all liabilities.
Life Balance Sheet – Net Worth
Just like with your financial balance sheet, if you subtract your life liabilities from your life assets you’ll get your net worth. In this case, a life net worth.
Going back to the financial balance sheet example, if your financial net worth isn’t what you would like for it to be, then you would look for ways to increase your assets and decrease your liabilities. But what if you’re not happy with your life net worth? What can you do to increase it?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to increase your life net worth. Here are some ideas:
Adopt a new positive habit, such as drinking eight glasses of water a day or doing some Tai Chi in the morning.
Drop a negative habit, such as procrastinating or having a donut for breakfast every morning.
Learn a new skill—pick a skill that will allow you to achieve your goals and learn it. This can include learning how to code, picking up conflict resolution skills, or learning photography.
Practice an existing skill to become better at it.
Read a book that will increase your knowledge in a life area that’s important to you (each book you read can be added as an asset).
Take steps to become healthier and increase your energy levels.
Look for ways to strengthen your positive relationships.
Cut ties with people who are having a negative impact on your life (if they’re really mean you can go ahead and let them know that they’re a liability).
Go back to school and get a degree.
Get any necessary licenses or permits.
Take a few online courses and share your certificates of completion on LinkedIn.
Look for ways to increase the amount of time that you spend feeling positive emotions.
Look for ways to reduce—or maybe even completely release–negative emotions.
Work on strengthening your positive character traits.
Look for ways to overcome your negative character traits.
Make a list of all the things you’re going to do to increase your life net worth. Act. Then, four, five, or six months from now, create a new life balance sheet. Did your life assets increase? Did your life liabilities decrease? Is your life net worth higher?
Continue doing this until your life net worth is off the charts.
Benefits of Having a High Life Net Worth
Having a high financial net worth means that you have more money to spend on the things you want. It also means you have more security, and that you can take advantage of more investment opportunities.
A high life net worth, likewise, comes with many benefits. Here are some of them:
You’ll be happier.
You’ll be in a better position to achieve your goals.
Your mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being will be higher.
You’ll be in a better position to help others, specially your loved ones.
Your life journey will be a lot more pleasant with a high life net worth than with a low one.
As you can see, there are many reasons to get to work on your life net worth right away.
What’s your life net worth? How do you plan to increase it? Live your best life by creating your life balance sheet and making sure that your life net worth grows higher and higher with each passing year.
A zen-like day is intentional, full of tranquility, and joyful.
When you’re feeling harried and overwhelmed because you have a million things to do, and it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done, it’s likely that you’ll conclude that the solution is to go faster. In addition, you’ll probably start looking for strategies and hacks you can apply that will allow you to get more done.
However, the solution to overwhelm is just the opposite: you should go slower and do less. In other words, what you need to do is look for ways to make your day more zen.
Zen is a form of Buddhism, and its essence is experiencing life directly. In the West, Zen is often synonymous with simplicity, mindfulness, and calm. I think these are things we can could all use more of, don’t you? If so, below you’ll find 10 ways to make your day more zen.
Take a deep breath and read on.
1. Prepare the Night Before.
You should prepare for your zen-like day the night before. Although sometimes it’s difficult to identify what is zen, it’s easy to notice what is not zen. Here are some things that are definitely not zen:
Waking up late and then rushing to get ready so you can run out the door (holding a bagel and coffee in one hand, and a crumpled jacket and your briefcase in the other).
A schedule that is filled to the brim with tasks and commitments.
A disorganized and cluttered desk.
If you get things ready the night before, you can do the following:
Get up early enough to get ready for your zen day in a calm and leisurely way.
Go through the items on your schedule and make sure that you’re not crowding your day (there’s more on this below).
Take some time to declutter and organize your desk, so that it’s clean and tidy when you sit down to work the next day.
In addition, before going to sleep, set the intent that the next day will be peaceful and calm. You can make your day more zen by setting things up the night before.
2. Don’t Crowd Your Day.
As I stated in the previous point, a crowded day is not zen. In order to make your day zen, take out your schedule for the day, grab a pen, and do the following:
Identify the most important thing that needs to get done that day.
Decide what other two or three important items you’ll work on once you’re done with the most important one.
Set aside some time in the afternoon to get smaller stuff done.
Cancel any meetings, appointments and commitments that are nonessential.
Delegate all tasks that someone else should be doing.
After doing this you’ll find that you have more time to do the things that are really important to you, including spending more time with those you love. In addition, you’ll have time to do things for yourself such as exercising and finding time each day to spend in quiet contemplation.
Keep sight of the most important things each day. Make your day more zen by getting the important things done, and discarding the rest.
3. Practice Zazen.
Zazen is the form of meditation practice at the heart of Zen. I’ve already written previously about the many benefits of meditation, as well as how to do it. Now, there’s an additional reason to meditate: to add zen to your life.
“When talking about zazen, I like to use the metaphor of the moon on the lake. Our thoughts and emotions are like the ripples and waves that disturb the reflective surface of the lake, so that we can’t see the moon. Of course, the moon is always there, even if we can’t see it, and it’s also important to see the ripples. But we also need to see the moon clearly to know it’s there. So, in meditation, when we let the ripples of our thoughts and the waves of our emotions settle, it’s as if we have cleared the lake so that the moon can appear.”
Starting your day with even a few minutes of meditation will go a long way toward making your day run more smoothly.
4. Slow Down Your Mind.
Eknath Easwaran was one of the 20th century’s great spiritual teachers. His translations of the Indian spiritual classics–The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, and The Dhammapada— are the best-selling editions in the United States.
In the same way, when your mind is racing you can’t pay proper attention to what is going on around you, heed warning signs, and make the right judgment calls. Easwaran adds that there is nothing more disobedient than an untrained mind, and there is nothing more obedient than a trained mind.
We can train our minds to slow down by doing all of the following:
Listening to our thoughts.
Slowing down our pace of life.
Doing one thing at a time.
Adopting reflective practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong.
As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh once put it: “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” Make your day more zen by stepping on the brakes instead of the accelerator.
5. Master the Art of Concentration.
Easwaran–who was mentioned in the point above–advises that we give our attention to one thing at a time. He indicates that complete concentration is genius. Again, Easwaran uses the analogy of a car.
Imagine that you get into your car and you start driving north toward your house. Then, all of a sudden, you do the following:
You turn left and start heading toward the supermarket.
Then, you make another sudden turn and start heading toward your sister’s house.
Mid-way to your sister’s house, you remember that you need to pick up the dry cleaning. You take a sharp right and start driving toward the dry cleaners.
Then . . . you get the picture.
When it comes to our attention, we often behave as if we were driving the car above. Take control of the car–that is, of your mind–by mastering the art of concentration. You do this by doing one thing at a time and by becoming more mindful. There’s more on mindfulness below.
“I remember a short conversation between the Buddha and a philosopher of his time.
‘I have heard that Buddhism is a doctrine of enlightenment. What is your method? What do you practice every day?’
‘We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down.’
‘What is so special about that? Everyone walks, eats, washes, sits down. . .’
‘Sir, when we walk, we are aware that we are walking; when we eat, we are aware that we are eating. . . When others walk, eat, wash, or sit down, they are generally not aware of what they are doing.’
In Buddhism, mindfulness is the key. Mindfulness is the energy that sheds light on all things and all activities, producing the power of concentration, bringing forth deep insight and awakening. Mindfulness is at the base of all Buddhist practice.”
Social contagion refers to the propensity for behaviors exhibited by one person to be copied by others who are in the vicinity of the original actor. If a person walks into a room full of people and starts acting in a way that shows that they’re angry and stressed, it’s highly likely that others in the room will soon start exhibiting similar behavior.
But the opposite is also true. One person slowing down, showing goodwill, and demonstrating tranquility helps everyone around them to relax. On your zen-like day, choose to be the person who remains calm when everyone else is rushing about, and set an example for others to relax as well.
8. Repeat a Mantra.
It’s already been stated that, in order to make your day more zen, you need to slow down your mind. A great way to do this is by repeating a mantra.
Your mantra can be “Ram Nam”–Mahatma Ghandi’s mantra–, “Peace”, “All is well”, or anything else that works for you. When your mind begins to race off with thoughts of worry, frustration, fear, or anger, slow it down by repeating your mantra.
In addition, your mantra can be the activity you’re currently engaged in. So, if you’re walking, your mantra would be “walking, walking, walking. . .”; if you’re cleaning up around the house your mantra would be “cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. . .”; and so on.
9. Create Space Between.
When you’re planning out your schedule for the day, make your day more zen by leaving some space between tasks and appointments. Use those spaces to do things like the following:
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Smile and think of one thing you’re grateful for.
Sit out in the sun for a little while.
Scatter spaces throughout your day and use those spaces to simply be.
10. Keep A Zen Attitude.
A zen attitude is knowing that there’s no need to rush. For this point we’re going to refer to Easwaran’s wisdom one last time.
Easwaran uses the example of Ghandi to make the point that it’s not necessary to lead a frantic life in order to accomplish great things. He points out that Ghandi accomplished more than most people in history, and yet he always looked relaxed.
What could be more ambitious than filling your schedule with the things that are most important to you, spending more time with those you love, and living life at your own pace instead of trying to keep up with others?
Look at the following:
“A slower life . . . is more effective, more artistic, much richer than a life lived as a race against the clock. It gives you time to pause, to think, to reflect, to decide, to weigh pros and cons. It gives you time for relationships.” — Eknath Easwaran
Throughout your day of zen, remember to keep a zen attitude.
Make your life more zen by prioritizing, concentrating, being more mindful, and following the other tips and strategies explained above. Live your best life by adding zen to your day.
We should all aspire to be good citizens of our country, and of the world.
The concept of citizenship was born in the city-states of Ancient Greece; specifically, in Athens. Greek education at the time was designed to instruct citizens in the values, intellectual frameworks, and habits-of-mind required to be free men. That is, to actively participate in the political system that shaped their lives and guaranteed their freedoms.
Today, being a citizen means that you’re part of a group, and that you have legal and political rights within that group. It brings with it both privileges and obligations. I would argue that we each have a duty, or an obligation, to be good citizens. After all, a nation is only as healthy as its individual citizens.
Nonetheless, in modern times, people generally aren’t educated on how to be good citizens. Therefore, I asked myself the following questions: “What does it mean to be a good citizen?”, and, “How do you become a good citizen?” In this post I’m going to share with you the answers that I came up with.
Below you’ll find 10 ways to be a good citizen.
1. A Good Citizen is Patriotic.
Patriotism is having and showing devotion for your country. It means having an attachment to certain national cultural values and showing critical loyalty to your nation. Some ways to show patriotism include the following:
Brush up on your country’s history.
Read up on social studies.
Obey the rule of law.
Pay your taxes.
Learn the national anthem.
Fly your country’s flag.
Don’t litter or engage in acts of vandalism that deface your environment.
Travel around your country and talk to your fellow citizens.
Cheer for your country’s team in sports events (World Cup, I’m looking at you).
At the same time, keep in mind that patriotism should not be confused with nationalism. Nationalism is thinking of your nation as being superior to others, and worthy of dominance. Patriots are proud of their country, but they understand that other people are also rightly proud of theirs.
Look at the words of a church hymn written in 1934 by the American Lloyd Stone to the melody of Finlandia by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius:
This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
A good citizen loves their country—a good citizen is a patriot.
2. Model the Personal Qualities of Good Citizens.
The personal qualities of a good citizen include the following:
Honesty – tell the truth.
Integrity – be morally upright.
Responsibility – be accountable for yourself and your actions.
Respectfulness – treat others how you want to be treated.
Compassion – show fellowship with your compatriots who are down on their luck by volunteering and/or making donations to charities.
Kindness – be friendly.
Tolerance – be tolerant of other races and religions.
Courtesy – be considerate of others.
Self-Discipline – have self-control and cultivate the ability to follow through on what you say you’re going to do.
Moral Courage – stand up for what you consider to be wrong and defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Love of Justice – be fair and ask that others be so as well.
Imagine what your country would be like if all its citizens strived to achieve these personal qualities. Start by adopting them yourself.
The way in which he planned to achieve this was by creating a list of 13 virtues. He also created a plan for developing those virtues. I recommend you do something similar.
In addition, in his youth George Washington captured 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior. They were rules for comporting oneself in a way that would be respectful of others, and of the self. Look through the rules and come up with your own set of rules of behavior.
3. Be a Productive Member of Society.
A good citizen contributes to their nation by being productive. They’re productive employees, business owners, artists, public servants, caregivers, and so on. Good citizens share their skills, talents, and abilities with others. They make a positive contribution to their nation.
4. Be Active In Your Community.
A good citizen is active in their community. They participate in the social life of their city or town, and they look for ways to make their communities a better place to live. That is, if they see a problem in their community they look for ways to solve it.
Here are some ways to be active in your community:
Attend community events – keep your eyes open for events that are happening in your area such as festivals, community theatre, a gallery opening, and so on.
Join a local club that’s devoted to an activity that interests you, such as running, cycling, or kayaking.
Here are some ways to better your community:
Participate in a community-driven cleanup project.
Help plant a community garden.
Organize a campaign to raise money for new playground equipment.
Help out your neighbors.
Instead of being cooped up in your home glued to a technological device, get out there and become an active member of your community. It will make you a better citizen.
5. Keep Yourself Well-Informed.
Read to educate yourself about the important issues facing your nation. In 1761, John Adams implied that one of the reasons to emphasize literacy is that it makes people better citizens. Look at the following quote:
“Every man has in politics as well as religion a right to think and speak and act for himself. I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading?”
If you’re asking yourself what you should read to keep well-informed, here are some suggestions:
Various news sources that cover local, national and global news.
Books on important world issues.
Biographies of people who have helped shape the world.
A country depends on a well-informed and civic minded population to safeguard the people’s individual freedoms and political rights. A good citizen remains vigilant in order to ascertain that the government is doing all of the following:
Meeting its obligations to its citizens;
Acting appropriately within its sphere and jurisdiction; and
Adhering to the limits of state action.
To do this, a citizen must have the basic skills necessary to be able to assess arguments logically and critically.
In addition, if a citizen believes that the government is overstepping its bounds or failing in its duties, the citizen must speak up. In the words of Thomas Jefferson:
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
7. Participate in Your Nation’s Political Life.
If you want to be a good citizen, you should be politically active. There are many ways to this. Here are some ideas:
Identify an issue you care about and pursue it.
Attend rallies and events.
Go to city council meetings.
Join a political organization.
Volunteer for a political campaign.
Vote! Do your part to elect capable, civic minded leaders.
Run for political office.
As a citizen, you have the right to have your voice heard. Exercise that right.
8. Be a Mentor.
Today’s kids are tomorrow’s citizens. Help shape the citizens of the future by mentoring kids. Some ideas on ways you can mentor kids are the following:
Talk to your own kids about civics and teach them to be good citizens.
Join a school-based mentoring program and tutor kids who aren’t doing well academically.
Get involved in an organization such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.
A while ago I published a post on how to leave a legacy. A great legacy to leave your nation is to play a part in forming good citizens who will contribute to the nation’s well-being.
9. Be Well-Rounded.
The third point in this blog post indicates that a good citizen has to be productive. That is, they need to have the knowledge necesary to produce in today’s world — technical skills, legal skills, medical skills, and so on. However, a good citizen should also be well-rounded.
A well-rounded person is better at creative problem solving and innovation than a person who is not well-rounded. In addition, they can make contributions not only to a country’s GDP, but also to the cultural wealth of their nation.
Here are some of the qualities of a well-rounded person:
They develop not only their mental faculties, but also their emotional, physical, and spiritual faculties.
10. Order Your Corner Of the World
Your home is a microcosm of your country. If you want to live in a clean, healthy, prosperous, happy nation, start by creating these circumstances at home.
The Chinese philosopher Confucius once said the following: “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”
Becoming a lifelong learner is no longer optional.
To stay competitive in the 21st century, you have to constantly learn, grow, and improve yourself. That is, you have to commit to lifelong learning.
Lifelong learning is the ongoing and voluntary pursuit of knowledge, as well as the development and improvement of skills. It can be for either personal or professional reasons. In addition, it can be formal–learning in a traditional classroom setting–or informal, which is learning on your own.
Being a lifelong learner can help you with all of the following:
Keep your career skills relevant–in this day and age, skills that are cutting edge one year are outdated just a few years later.
One of the best routes to financial independence is to start a business, even if it’s just a side business. If you don’t have business skills, you can acquire them through self-learning.
You can engage in a practice called “second-skilling”: gaining a second area of expertise which compliments your primary area of knowledge. As an illustration, I took a course to get a realtor’s license a few years ago. I was working as an independent attorney, and with a realtor’s license I could help clients find and buy an apartment, and then do all of the related legal work for them.
Keeping our brains active and engaged by learning new skills can help keep them in good shape as we get older.
Explore other career opportunities–I went from being a lawyer to becoming an entrepreneur.
Keep up with your interests by pursuing new hobbies.
So, how do you become a lifelong learner? Start by reading my article on learning skills fast. Then, supplement that material with TED Talks. Which TED Talks? I’m glad you asked. Below you’ll find 10 must-watch TED Talks for lifelong learners.
1. Self-Learning: Ryan Lee
When Ryan Lee gave his TED Talk a few years ago, he was a fifteen-year-old kid who had taught himself to code and create apps and websites. He explains that the way in which he teaches himself new things is by having something very specific that he wants to accomplish with his newly acquired knowledge.
Ryan explains that if you want to learn something new, you should turn it into a project. That is, there should be a clear end result. Here’s an example:
Ryan didn’t just tell himself, “I want to learn HTML and CSS”.
Instead, he told himself, “I want to learn HTML and CSS so that I can create a cool user profile for this online game I love to play.”
Each time that Ryan embarks on a new self-learning adventure, he’s highly motivated. This is because he knows exactly what he wants to accomplish with the knowledge and skills that he’s acquiring.
Like Ryan, when you want to learn to do something new, turn it into a project.
2. The Power of Believing That You Can Improve
Carol Dweck, PhD, is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She’s best known for her research on mindset, and how it can impact a person’s ability to learn. Specifically, Dweck has coined the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset”.
Here’s the difference between the two:
People with a growth mindset believe that if there’s something they don’t understand, or a skill that they haven’t been able to learn, they just need to try harder. If they fail at learning something new, they simply tell themselves that they need to try a different approach. Then they try again.
People with a fixed mindset believe that you either have the ability to learn about a new topic, and the talent to acquire a new skill, or you don’t. If they fail at something, they conclude that they simply don’t have what it takes, and they stop trying.
Obviously, the first mindset–the growth mindset–is much more conducive to learning. You can find out more about the growth mindself by watching the TED Talk below, and by reading my post on Five Mindsets That Will Transform Your Life.
3. You Can Grow New Brain Cells. Here’s How.
When it comes to adults learning new things, there are two brain-related terms that are very important: neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. Here’s how these terms are defined:
Neurogenesis — the brain’s ability to create new neurons, or brain cells.
Neuroplasticity — the malleability of the brain and its ability to create new and stronger neural connections.
Connor Grooms shares in his TED Talk that the previous year he had been in Medellín, Colombia. When he arrived, he spoke almost no Spanish. A month later, he was conversational. Groom revealed the process that he used to learn Spanish, which is the same process that he uses whenever he wants to learn something new.
His process consists of the following three steps:
Create a plan.
Execute the plan.
However, Grooms adds that no learning methodology or strategy in the world will work for you, unless achieving the learning project that you’ve set for yourself is nonnegotiable. You have to be absolutely committed.
Think of something that’s nonnegotiable in your life, like going to work. You don’t ask yourself whether or not you’re going in to work each weekday morning; you simply get up and do it. When you’re going to learn something new, you have to have this same level of commitment, or you won’t follow through.
What do you want to learn to do? How committed are you?
5. Auto-Learning Through Self-Teaching and Experimentation
The fifth talk in our list of TED Talks for lifelong learners is by Biologist/Geneticist Connor Edsall. Edsall indicates that self-learning is a combination of self-teaching and self-trying. In order to illustrate his point, Edsall refers to four individuals who changed the world although they had little or no formal education.
These four people made great achievements in their respective fields through self-learning. They are the following:
Michael Faraday – he established the basis for the concept of the electromagnetic field in physics. Faraday developed his theories through experimental observation.
John Hunter – he became known as the father of scientific surgery. Hunter accomplished this through observation, dissection (of dead human and animal bodies), and experimentation.
The Wright brothers – Orville and Wilbur Wright invented, built, and flew the world’s first successful airplane. They were encouraged by their parents to design and invent from a young age, and they would often cooperate on simple projects like building kites, creating replicas of a toy rubber band helicopter, and inventing a newspaper folding machine.
Edsall adds that today we have access to enormous amounts of information. However, absorbing information isn’t really learning. In order to learn, you have to get out there and apply what you learn. That is, you have to observe and carry out experiments. You have to try.
When learning something new, keep the following in mind: “Experiri est Discere.” It means: “To try is to learn.”
6. The Curious Person’s Guide to Learning Anything
Stephen Robinson decided to give himself the challenge of learning something new every week, for 52 weeks. He shares his learning adventures in his blog, 52Skillz. Here are some of the things he learned:
Doing a backflip.
Crocheting a tie.
Racing a rally car.
Stephen explains that when he was in his last year in college he grew frustrated. He had developed a routine of going to school, going to work, and then going home to consume things created by others (TV, newspapers, video games, and so on). Stephen realized that he was simply maintaining his lifestyle, and maintaining the expectations of others.
He wasn’t following up on what he wanted to do, and he wasn’t really living. That’s when he decided to learn something new every week, for 52 weeks.
Stephen then goes on to show the TED audience how they, too, can learn new skills. He uses “Learn How to Give a TED Talk” as a case study. Here’s the process:
1. Write It Down.
Whatever your learning goal is, you have to get it out of your head and unto a piece of paper.
2. Create Urgency.
Stephen received an email from the Alberta TED Talks coordinator indicating that someone had dropped out of their program, and they wanted him to take their place. This meant he had five days to come up with a TED Talk. Now that’s urgency!
3. Create Accountability.
A TED Talk can be a huge boost for your career, or it can simply get lost among the billions of things that can be found on the internet. The fact that Stephen had a looming deadline created urgency, and the fact that there was so much riding on whether he did well or poorly created accountability.
Stephen indicates that in order to learn anything new, you need to fail. When he was preparing his TED Talk he wrote several rough drafts which were really bad.
He cautions that you shouldn’t interpret failure as evidence that you’re weak, dumb, or don’t have the ability to learn the skill that you’re trying to acquire. Instead, interpret failure as growth. Anyone who has tried to learn anything new will spend a lot of time doing things wrong. That’s just the way it is.
5. Ask for Help.
When you’ve failed a few times and you aren’t sure what to do next, ask for help. Stephen called some of his friends who were keynote speakers and asked for help in writing his TED Talk. His friends gave him some great pointers which were very helpful in getting his TED Talk in good shape.
6. Follow Through.
On the day of his TED Talk, Stephen showed up, stood in front of the audience, and gave his talk. He followed through and demonstrated that he had successfully learned how to give a TED Talk.
When Kaufman and his wife had their first child, he was saddened to think that he would never have time to learn anything new. That’s when he decided to find a way to learn skills fast. His objective was to choose a few skills and go from being grossly incompetent at those things, to being reasonably good, in as little time as possible. He discovered that this took 20 hours.
Here are Kaufman’s four simple steps for rapid skill acquisition:
Deconstruct the Skill –most of the things that we think of as skills are actually bundles of skills. Take the skill that you’re trying to learn and break it down into as many sub-skills as you can. This will allow you to identify the sub-skills that you need to concentrate on in order to achieve what you want.
Learn Enough to Self-Correct. Identify three to five resources you can use. You want enough knowledge so that you can start practicing and self-correcting as fast as possible.
Remove Practice Barriers. Remove all distractions and anything that will get in the way as you try to learn the new skill.
Practice for At Least 20 Hours. Kaufman explains that most skills have what he refers to as “the frustration stage”. It’s that initial stage at which you’re grossly incompetent at your new skill, and you know it. It’s very uncomfortable to be at this stage, and you’ll probably be tempted to quit. The way to get over this stage is to pre-commit to practicing whatever it is that you’re trying to learn for at least 20 hours. That will help you to push through the frustration stage and stick with the practice long enough to reap the rewards.
Kaufman used this four-step process to teach himself, among other things, to play the ukulele. You can watch him play the ukulele in his TED Talk below.
8. Learning Styles and The Importance of Self-Reflection
You’ve probably always heard that some people are visual learners, others learn better by listening, and still others are kinesthetic learners. Well, it turns out that’s a myth. Yep. You heard here first. Tesia Marshik does a great job of debunking this myth in her TED Talk.
Marshik also points out that incorporating multiple sensory experiences into one lesson is the best way to make the lesson more meaningful and memorable. For example, if you’re teaching someone about the sound that a musical instrument makes, do the following:
Have them listen to the instrument (audiatory).
Let them watch someone play the instrument (visual).
Allow them to hold the instrument and see what sounds they can make with it (kinesthetic).
Watch Marshik explain why there’s no such thing as learning styles in her TED Talk.
9. How to Get Better at Things You Care About
If you decide to watch only one of these TED Talks for lifelong learners, I recommend you watch this one.
Eduardo Briceño explains that people reach a point at which they stop getting better at the things that are important to them. Almost everyone reaches a point of stagnation, even if they’re working really hard. However, there’s a way to fix this.
Briceño indicates that the most successful people and teams spend their lives alternating between two zones:
The Learning Zone; and
The Performance Zone.
When you’re in the learning zone, your goal is to improve. In this zone you carry out activities designed for getting better at things that are important to you. In the learning zone, you try things which you haven’t mastered yet, which means that you’re going to make mistakes. However, you look for ways to learn from those mistakes so that you can improve and grow.
When you’re in the performance zone, your goal is to do something as well as you can. In this zone, you concentrate on those things which you’ve already mastered, and you try to minimize mistakes. In this zone you execute to the best of your ability.
The key to continous improvement is to spend time in both the learning and the performance zones. A great way to see the difference between the learning and the performance zones is through examples. In his Ted Talk, Briceño uses Demosthenes and Beyoncé as examples.
Demosthenes was one of the greatest orators and lawyers of ancient Greece. When it was time to act as an orator or lawyer, he performed masterfully. However, he would also take time to improve his craft by doing things such as the following:
Since persuasion is so important in the practice of law, he would study acting;
He would practice his speeches over and over again in front of a mirror to perfect his style of presentation; and
Demosthenes would even practice by the ocean so that he would have to project his voice over the waves.
Beyoncé is one of the world’s best-selling music artists. When Beyoncé is on tour, during her concerts, she’s in her performance zone. The audience is treated to her masterful performance.
But every night, when she gets back to the hotel room, she switches to the learning zone. She watches a video of the show she just gave to identify opportunities for improvement for herself, her dancers, and the rest of her crew. The next morning, everyone receives notes on what adjustments to make. Then, they spend the day working on those adjustments so that they can improve before the next performance.
To sum things up: you build your skills in the learning zone, and then you apply those skills in the performance zone.
10. Can You Get An MIT Education for $2000?
As I wrote in post on 10 Ways Taking MOOCs Can Improve Your Life, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a great tool for lifelong learners. An example of someone who used MOOCs to teach himself valuable new skills is Scott Young.
Young decided to try to get the equivalent of a four-year degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in just 12 months. He used courses put up on the internet for free by MIT to build a computer science curriculum with 33 classes. The curriculum was almost identical to the one followed by students who actually attend MIT. The only cost was for a few textbooks which cost him about $2000.
What do you want to learn? Follow Young’s example and create a curriculum for yourself based on MOOCs.
I hope you decide to take the time to watch the 10 Ted Talks for lifelong learners which I curated for you and listed above. It will help you to take your self-learning to the next level. Live your best life by committing to lifelong learning.
Marelisa Fabrega is a lawyer and entrepreneur. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as well as a Juris Doctor from the Georgetown University Law Center. You can learn more about her here