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10 year plan

Instead of planning your life year by year, plan 10 years at a time.

The year 2019 is coming to an end, and 2020 is about begin. The question on a lot of people’s minds is: Is 2020 the beginning of the next decade? That is, is a new decade about to begin?

According to Farmers’ Almanac, an annual American periodical that has been in continuous publication since 1818, the answer is no. They argue that decades begin with the number “1” (as in 2021) and end with the number “0” (as in 2030).

Nonetheless, we refer to decades as the 50s, the 70s, the 80s, and so on. In addition, this Wikipedia article alleges that the 2020s begin on January 1, 2020, and end on December 31st, 2029.

onehouradayformula banner longSo, which, is it? Are we going to start a new decade in a little over three weeks, or do we have a year left of the decade we’re currently on? Whichever side of this debate you fall on, the fact remains that–if you want to have a remarkable life–you should be thinking long-term.

Every year people set New Year’s resolutions. The problem with this is that planning a year at a time is short-sighted. You should have long-term vision, which means that you should be planning for at least the next ten years.

In other words, you should create a 10 year plan. I’m going to show you how to do this in today’s post.

Why Make Long-Term Plans

I could write an entire blog post on the importance of thinking long-term (both for countries and for individuals). But for now, I’m going to refer to something I wrote on this blog a few years ago about building wealth.

Keith Cameron Smith explains in ““The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class” that millionaires think long-term, while everyone else thinks short-term. He breaks society down into five groups, and explains how each group thinks:

  1. The very poor think day to day.
  2. Poor people think week to week.
  3. The middle class thinks month to month.
  4. The rich think year to year.
  5. The very rich think decade to decade.

This is what happens when you plan long term:

  • If you have a bad few months, or even a bad year, it’s just a bump in the road.
  • Ten-year goals are small enough for you to believe that they’re achievable, but big enough to really move your life in the direction that you want it to go.
  • You can strike a better balance between your present wants–e.g. I want a new pair of shoes–and your future wants–e.g. I want to make a sizeable investment in a mutual fund.
  • Making a tangible difference takes a long time. If you’re always thinking in the short-term, you’ll never accomplish anything great.
  • Long-term thinking gives your life purpose and direction.
  • Once you have a long-term plan, you can set mid-term and short-term goals that will allow you to achieve that long term plan.

Now that you know why it’s important to think long-term, go ahead and create a 10 year plan. I’ll tell you how to do this next.

Questions To Ask

You create a 10 year plan by asking yourself questions in several life categories, such as the following:

Your Skillset In 10 Years’ Time

  • Mastery of a skill usually takes about ten years. Is there a skill that you want to get started learning now in order to have achieved mastery in ten years’ time?
  • You can get reasonably good at a skill in about a year. What skills do you want to get reasonably good at in the next ten years?
  • You can obtain basic proficiency in a skill in about a month’s time. Are there any skills in which you wish to gain basic proficiency in the next ten years? If so, which skills?

To help you gain all the skills that you want to acquire in the next ten years, I’ll be launching my video course on this topic soon. It’s called “Learn Any Skill Faster and Better: How to Learn to Code, Play the Piano, Lift Weights, Speak French, Draw, Or Anything Else”.

Sign up for my free 5-part course, How to Learn A Skill Quickly: A 5-Part Process, and you’ll be notified when the video course launches.

Your Finances In 10 Years’ Time

  • How much money will you have amassed in 10 years time?
  • What types of investments will you be holding?
  • What will your debt situation be like?
  • What assets will you own?
  • How will you be making your money?
  • What level of financial security will you have obtained?

Your Health in 10 Years’ Time

  • How will you manage your weight in the next ten years?
  • How will you stay fit?
  • How will you look and feel in ten years’ time?

Your Career In 10 Years’ Time

  • Will you move up the corporate ladder in the next ten years?
  • Do you want to strike out on your own in the next ten years?
  • What contributions do you want to make in your field in the next ten years? How will you expand your field’s area of knowledge?
  • What will you be known for in ten years’ time?
  • Do you want to retire in the next ten years?

Travel and Adventure In 10 Years’ Time

  • What countries do you want to visit in the next ten years?
  • What adventures do you want to have in the next ten years?
  • What events do you want to go to?

Your Relationships in 10 Years’ Time

  • What type of people do you want to surround yourself with in the next 10 years?
  • Do you want to get married in the next ten years?
  • If you’re married, how will your marriage grow in the next ten years?
  • Do you want to have kids in the next ten years?
  • If you have kids, how will you promote and support their physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development in the next ten years?
  • Do you want to build a business contact network in the next ten years? What kind of people do you want in your network?
  • What will your social life be like during the next ten years?

Your Personal Development In 10 Years’ Time

  • How will you change and grow in the next ten years?
  • How will you improve your mental and emotional health in the next ten years?
  • What habits do you want to adopt over the next ten years?

Projects In Ten Years’ Time

  • What projects–such as writing a novel, composing a piece of music, or opening a gym–do you want to work on during the next ten years?
  • Will you work on one long project for the next ten years?
  • Will you complete several mid-sized projects in the next ten years?

Contributions In Ten Years’ Time

  • How will you further your legacy in the next ten years?
  • How will you help make the world a better place in the next ten years?
  • What charitable contributions will you make? How will you volunteer in your community?

Next Steps

Once you’ve answered the questions above and used those answers to create a 10 year plan, you can plan for each of the ten years by referring back to your plan. Do the following:

If you do this every year for the next years, chances are high that you’ll achieve your 10 year plan.

Conclusion

What do you think? Are we about to start a new decade, or is that next year? Either way, I’m sure that you see the power of long-term thinking. Live your best life by creating a 10 year plan.

 

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how to practice gratitude

Notice and reflect on the many blessings in your life.

November–the month in which Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States–always makes me reflect on the transformative powers of gratitude. There are countless studies which show that feeling and expressing gratitude improves mental, physical, and relational wellbeing.

Some time ago I wrote a post on the life-changing benefits of gratitude. These benefits include the following:

  • Increased happiness;
  • Better sleep;
  • Strengthened resilience:
  • Improved health; and
  • Enhanced peace of mind.

I’ve illustrated these in the infographic below:

how to practice gratitude

With so many benefits that come with the feeling of gratitude, why don’t people engage in this emotion more often? I think that it’s because we have a tendency to focus on what is going wrong, and on what we lack.

Instead, we should be paying more attention to what is going right and to everything we have. To help you bring more gratitude into your life, I’ve collected–and created–a few gratitude exercises which I’m going to share with you in this post.

Below you’ll find 12 gratitude exercises for increased joy which you can go through the next time you’re wondering how to practice gratitude.

1. If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

“If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young” is a 2013 collection of nine commencement speeches from the beloved American writer Kurt Vonnegut. Here’s a quote from one of these commencement speeches:

“My Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now, one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Gratitude isn’t about feeling thankful each time you get something more. It’s about pausing, looking around, and taking in what’s already there. Take Vonnegut’s advice and make sure to appreciate the simple, sweet moments that life offers.

2. Think of a Near Miss.

One day, while I was living in Washington, D.C., I walked into a furniture store looking for an item for my apartment. I was told by a salesclerk that I could find the item I needed on the basement floor. As I was walking down the stairs, suddenly and inexplicably, I stopped.

At that moment, a store employee who was standing on the floor above accidentally pushed over a large box with a heavy piece of furniture in it. It landed right in front of me. If I hadn’t stopped when I did, the box would have landed on me. It would have either killed me, or at the very least I would have been severely injured.

I don’t know what saved me that day (intuition, luck, a guardian angel. . .), but I’m grateful that it did. I think a lot of people have their own near-miss stories. What’s yours? Aren’t you relieved it was a near-miss? Take a moment to feel gratitude that it was just a close call.

3. Use Gratitude Prompts.

One of the most useful gratitude exercises that I’ve come across is creating an inventory of 100 things you’re grateful for. I have a post with 100 gratitude prompts that you can use to trigger ideas for your list, including the following:

  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I see:
  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I hear:
  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I smell:
  • Im grateful for these 3 things I touch/feel:
  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I love to eat:

You can find all of the prompts here: 100 gratitude prompts.

4. Turn a Negative Into a Positive.

One of the exercises that I include in my post, 22 Gratitude Exercises that Will Change Your Life, is to put things in perspective. One way to do this is to try to see things through a lens of gratitude.

After all, gratitude can help you turn negatives into positives. At least once a day, try turning a negative into a positive by asking yourself questions like the following:

  • Is there a silver lining to this?
  • Is there a better way to look at this?
  • What can I be thankful about in this situation?

Here’s an example from my own life: About three weeks ago, in close succession, my laptop’s battery died; the screen started freezing sporadically; the keyboard began scrolling down by itself; and my external speakers stopped working. It was almost like they had a team meeting and decided to retire, en masse.

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. However, I went on Amazon, and I was able to find replacements for everything that had stopped working at a reasonable price. When the stuff I ordered from Amazon arrived, I went to a computer store that’s close to where I live, and they installed everything in half-an-hour. Plus, everyone at the computer store was friendly to me.

I felt very grateful that everything could be fixed, and my computer is now working like new again.

5. Keep A Gratitude Journal.

Keeping a gratitude journal is an oldie but goodie. Every night, take a moment before you go to sleep to review the day and give thanks for all the good that came your way. Both the big and the small.

I’ve created the template below which you can use for your gratitude journal. You can download the template by inserting your name and email below:

how to practice gratitude

If you’re looking for gratitude quotes to write down at the bottom of the template here are 89 of them:

6. Think of All the Things You Take for Granted.

A while back I was watching one of the late-night talk shows—I don’t remember which one—and the celebrity that was being interviewed was talking about how fast we become accustomed to new benefits, and how quickly we start taking things for granted.

He explained that he was on a plane, when the pilot announced over the loudspeaker that the airline had started offering inflight Wi-Fi. Everyone was pleasantly surprised, and some people even started clapping. About half-an hour-later, the internet signal fell. You could immediately hear the groans and complaints from the passengers.

Something that had been unexpected boon just a few minutes before, had become standard in just half-an-hour, and people were upset that it had been taken away. In a very short amount of time, the passengers on the plane felt that they were entitled to WiFi during their flight.

Stop to think of all the things which make your life infinitely better, but which you simply take for granted, or feel entitled to. Here are ten of them:

how to practice gratitude

Now stop to think for a moment how lucky you are to have these things. There are many parts of the world where people don’t have access to many of the things that are simply a matter of course for you.

Eight Hours to Get Drinking Water

As an illustration, it takes Aysha—a girl in Ethiopia—eight hours a day to gather water for her family. If you really want to feel grateful the next time you simply have to walk over to your faucet and open it to get clean water, watch this video of Aysha’s daily trek through the desert in order to collect this vital liquid.

7. Gratitude Cards

At the beginning of each day, grab an index card and write at the top: “Things I’m grateful for today.” Put it in you wallet and fill it out throughout the day.

You can ask your family members to do the same. Then, at dinnertime, each family member can share with everyone else what they wrote down on their cards.

8. Show Yourself Some Gratitude.

There’s a little gratitude game that I play with myself, that involves my past-self, my present-self, and my future-self.

When my present-self benefits from something that my past-self did, I take a moment to thank my past-self. For example, if I’m hungry and I open my refrigerator door to find a delicious meal that I cooked the day before, I take a moment to thank my past-self for preparing the meal.

On the other hand, when I do something to achieve one of my goals, I visualize my future-self thanking my present-self.

For example, if I go to gym to exercise, I’m working toward my fitness goals. When I’m done, I think of the future version of myself who will have achieved those goals, and that version of me thanks my present-self for doing what was necessary for her to get there.

A little gratitude time travel, if you will. 🙂

9. Gratitude Questions.

The fifth item on this list was to keep a gratitude journal. I already gave you a template to help you with that, and now I’m going to go one step further. I’m going to give you 55 gratitude questions to help spark ideas on what to write in your gratitude journal.

Here are the first five:

  1. What was the best part of the day?
  2. Who helped me today?
  3. Who was kind to me today?
  4. What made me laugh outloud today?
  5. What insight did I gain today?

You can get all of the questions here: 55 gratitude Questions – Count Your Daily Blessings.

10. Remember a Teacher Who Believed In You.

At the very top of this post I shared with you an exercise taken from the collection of Vonnegut’s commencement addresses, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young”. Here’s another one:

“That’s one favor I’ve asked of you. Now I ask for another one. I ask it not only of the graduates, but of everyone here, parents and teachers as well. I’ll want a show of hands after I ask this question.

How many of you have had a teacher at any level of your education who made you more excited to be alive, prouder to be alive, than you had previously believed possible?

Hold up your hands, please.

Now take down your hands and say the name of that teacher to someone else and tell them what that teacher did for you.”

We’ve all had that one special teacher who helped us become the person we are today. Think of them and what they did for you. Now, tell someone else.

11. Go On a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt.

I’m sure you’re familiar with scavenger hunts, but in case you’re not, it’s a game in which you take a list of items, and then the game participants proceed to search for the items. When each player finds an item, they can do any of the following:

  • Collect the item.
  • Check the item off the list.
  • Take a photo of the item.

Here’s a list of items you can use for your Gratitude Scavenger Hunt:

  • Find something you love to smell.
  • Go to the grocery store and pick out a fruit you love.
  • Find something that’s really useful for you.
  • Find something in your favorite color.
  • Find something you love to touch.
  • Find a sound you love.
  • Find something that reminds you of someone you love.
  • Find something that says “home” to you.
  • Find your favorite book.
  • Find a beautiful tree you can sit under.
  • Find a Siberian husky (or a dog of a breed that makes you smile).
  • Find a store clerk or government employee who does their job well,
  • Find a place with a great view of your city.
  • Find something that fills you with pride for your country.
  • Find a board game you love to play.
  • Find your favorite flower.
  • Find something that makes you laugh.
  • Find something that reminds you of something you’ve accomplished.
  • Find something that keeps you healthy.
  • Find something you’ve made with your own hands.
  • Find something you treasure that money can’t buy.
  • Find a gratitude quote you love.
  • Find a gift you received recently.
  • Find something you use when you need some self-care.
  • Find something that fills you with wonder.

12. A 2-Minute Morning Exercise to Boost Your Gratitude and Happiness

Most people are constanty looking for ways for start their morning right. After all, the way you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. You can start the day filled with gratitude by taking two minutes to say a few gratitude affirmations.

Here are three you can try:

  • Thank you for this new day.
  • I’m filled with happiness and gratitude.
  • I’m grateful for a new chance to live my life.

You can see ten morning affirmations here: 8 Ways to Practice Gratitude to Boost Your Wellbeing.

Conclusion

Gratitude allows us to shift our attention from what we lack to the abundance that is already present in our lives. It allows us to appreciate all the good that we have. Use these 12 exercises to help you bring more gratitude into your life this November, and every month of the year.

Live your best life by discovering how to practice gratitude.

 

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practice accpetance

Practicing acceptance can transform your life.

Acceptance means embracing reality. It is a willingness to experience things as they are, instead of insisting that they be as you want them to be. At the same time, acceptance is not any of the following:

  • Acceptance is not agreement—you may not agree with what happened, but you accept it, because it’s useless to struggle against what is.
  • Acceptance is not acquiescence that what happened is just—it’s a fact that there is often injustice in the world.
  • Acceptance is not weakness—it takes a lot of courage to face reality when it’s not in your favor.
  • Acceptance is not giving up—it’s realizing your time and effort are best applied elsewhere.
  • Acceptance is not quitting—it’s shifting your focus and attention from what you cannot change or influence, to what you can.
  • Acceptance is not resignation—it’s the first step to overcoming any misfortune you experience.

Although learning to accept the things you cannot change can be challenging, there are many benefits to doing so. Here are three of them:

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  • Practice acceptance because whatever you’re refusing to accept is causing you pain, but your nonacceptance is making it worse. Consider a common saying in Buddhist philosophy: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. You may be going through a painful experience but refusing to accept what happened will simply increase the pain.
  • Desiring the world to be something it is not at the moment is frustrating, demoralizing, and draining.
  • Acceptance allows you to move on instead of being perpetually stuck in a quagmire of “should haves” and “would haves”.

In this post I’m going to share with you three ways to practice acceptance:

  1. Practice Detachment
  2. Practice Letting Go
  3. Practice Stoicism

The first way to learn acceptance is to practice detachment.

Practice Detachment

I’m a big believer in setting goals, planning how to achieve them, executing your plan, and monitoring your progress. However, no matter how smart you are and how hard you work, there are lots of things that are simply not within your control.

Once you’ve done everything you can to achieve your goals, practice detachment.  That is, take a step back and simply allow things to unfold. Become an impartial observer who is just taking in what happens. Look at the following:

  • If you achieve your goal, you’ll be fine.
  • If you don’t achieve your goal, you’ll be fine.

As author Donald Miller once said, “Hold your dreams and aspirations with open palms.”  We all want to achieve our dreams, but if we hold on to them too tightly, we can’t change course if need be, or accept that we need to choose a different dream if the original one proves to be unattainable.

I recently read that the trick is to behave like an actor playing a role: become fully immersed in the part of someone who is one-hundred percent committed to obtaining your chosen objective. However, at any point you can step out of character and detach yourself from the desired outcome.

Don’t Attach Who You Are to Any Desired Objective

Detachment is knowing that you are complete in and of yourself, without anything external needing to happen. It’s understanding the following:

  • Your happiness does not depend on achieving a certain goal, having someone else’s love, or on how any situation unfolds.
  • Your love, respect, and appreciation of yourself do not depend on any particular outcome.
  • Things, other people, and situations don’t define you.

Osho–the Indian philosopher and spiritual guide–, wrote the following in his book, “The Secret of Secrets”:

“Remain in the world, act in the world, do whatsoever is needful, and yet remain transcendental, aloof, detached, a lotus flower in the pond.”

Detachment is realizing that you’re okay as you are. You can find wholeness within. Practice acceptance by practicing detachment.

Practice Letting Go

Do the following: pick up a pencil and hold it tightly in your hand. Hold it tightly, hold it tightly, hold it tightly. . .and then let it go.

When you refuse to accept something—an outcome, a situation, or an event—you’re holding on to the way you wish things would have happened like you were holding on to that pencil. And just like you can let go of the pencil, you can let go of your insistence that things should have unfolded differently.

I’m going to share with you an anecdote to illustrate the principle of letting go.

My College Flat Mate

When I was in college at Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., one of my flat mates was from northern Italy. She was in a relationship with an Austrian—who also went to Georgetown—and she thought they were both very much in love and had a future together.

However, one day, he broke up with her. He just didn’t want to be in a relationship with her anymore. This woman refused to accept the fact that the relationship was over.

She pestered him for months. Whenever I—or any of our other flat mates–spoke to her all she wanted to do was talk about her ex. She would go on and on about how perfect the relationship had been, and how they were meant for each other.

As time went on and he showed no interest in getting back together with her, it became abundantly clear to everyone around her that she was simply refusing to accept reality. Here’s what she was doing:

  • She was wasting her time—time she could have spent studying, having fun with friends, taking advantage of the cultural opportunities available in D.C., and so on.
  • She was causing herself a lot of stress and mental anguish—she was upset all the time and always seemed to be on the verge of tears.
  • She was limiting herself—after all, as the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.

There was nothing she could do to get the outcome she wanted. He wasn’t going to get back together with her. Eventually she managed to let go and started dating someone else, but she would have spared herself a lot of unnecessary suffering if she had let go sooner.

When You Should Let Go

If there’s something that you’re refusing to let go of, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I beating a dead horse?
  • Am I wasting my time and effort?
  • Am I limiting myself?
  • Am I deceiving myself by thinking I can change the way things are when it comes to this situation?
  • Is it better for my mental, physical, financial, and/or emotional well-being to just let this go?

When the answer to one or more of these questions is “yes”, it’s time to let go. Take a deep breath, begin to loosen your grip, slowly open your hands, and let go.

Practice Stoicism

As I write in my post, “7 Lessons on Life and Happiness From a Stoic”, stoicism is a philosophy of life which was founded in ancient Greece. Stoicism can be summarized as follows:

“Stay calm and serene regardless of what life throws at you.”

That right there is acceptance in a nutshell. I’m going to share with you two stoicism exercises that will help you to practice acceptance.

First Stoicism Exercise

Among the most fundamental maxims of Stoicism is the idea that it is foolish to focus on things that are not within your control. Here’s how Epictetus—one of the most well-known practitioners of Stoicism–put it:

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

Worrying, complaining about, and ruminating about things we cannot influence, or change is irrational and useless. On the other hand, when we focus on things that are within our control—our attitude, interpretation of events, habits, thought patterns, and actions—we can begin to change things.

In my post on “How to Take Back Control of Your Life”, I recommend that you give yourself a challenge that’s within your Circle of Influence—which includes all those things which are within your control.

For example, let’s say you’ve recently suffered a disappointment, and you’ve come to the realization that there’s nothing you can do to change things. Do the following:

  • Make a list of as many things you can think of that are within your control.
  • What challenge can you give yourself that would fall within your list?
  • Maybe you’re ten pounds overweight, and you decide to challenge yourself to lose those ten pounds. After all, starting an exercise regime and cleaning up your eating habits are two things that are within your control.
  • You can’t fix the event or situation that disappointed you, but you can fix the problem of being ten pounds overweight, so focus on that.

Practice acceptance by taking your attention off the things you can’t control and placing it on those things you can control.

Second Stoicism Exercise

You can think of whatever you’re refusing to accept as an obstacle. When you come across an obstacle, you can stand there and stare it as you bemoan your fate, or you can accept that you’ve come across an obstacle and deal with it as expeditiously as possible.

The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius recommended the second approach. He admonished that we should deal with any obstacles we find along the way quickly, instead of wasting time complaining about the obstacle. Look at the following:

 “A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, ‘And why were such things made in the world?’”

Here’s how to apply this stoicism exercise in your own life:

  • If you lose your job, apply for another job.
  • If your novel does poorly, write another novel.
  • If a friend betrays you, look for a better friend.

Don’t argue with what is. Practice acceptance by moving on.

Conclusion

The poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” Live your best life by practicing acceptance.

 

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productivity killing habits

Identify those habits that are killing your productivity and eliminate them.

Being productive means that you get more of the right things done in the least amount of time. We all want this.

Nonetheless, sometimes we do things in the name of productivity which are actually making us less productive. And to make matters worse, a lot of these things are done on automatic. That is, they’re habits. To be more specific, they’re productivity killing habits.

In this post I’m going to share with you five of the most insidious and harmful of these productivity killing habits, as well as a strategy for breaking each of them.

1. Checking Your Email Constantly

Checking your email constantly throughout the day, which is something that a lot of us are guilty of, is a productivity killing habit for several reasons.

onehouradayformula banner longFirst, checking your email while you’re working on something else is commonly referred to as multitasking, However, Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, explains that our brains are simply not wired to multitask well. He says the following:

“When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

In addition, multitasking increases the stress hormone cortisol, as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline. This overstimulates your brain and causes mental fog and cloudy thinking.

And there are even more negative effects to interrupting your work in order to check your email. Once you’ve checked your email, you have to make all sorts of decisions, such as the following:

  • Should you answer that email from a client? Or should you mark it as “unread” and answer it later?
  • If you decide to answer, what should you say?
  • Are there a few emails you should just delete?
  • Since you’ve opened your inbox, should you send out a few emails of your own?

Making decisions, even small ones, decreases the amount of glucose that’s available for your brain. As a result of this, your ability to focus diminishes, which makes you more susceptible to other distractions.

To make matters worse, every time that you check your email you get a little hit of the feel-good hormone dopamine. This means that you’re rewarding your brain for losing focus and seeking novelty.  And the more you reward something, the more likely it is to continue to happen.

And let’s not even go into what happens if you get an email that irritates or annoys you. That will undoubtedly have a negative impact on your ability to concentrate on the report you were supposed to be working on in the first place.

productivity killing habits

How to Fix It

The way to stop checking your email nonstop throughout the day–like a mouse hitting a lever that releases food pellets– is by scheduling your email time. There are a few ways to do this:

  • First, have time blocks throughout the day for focused work when you absolutely will not check your email.
  • Second, go cold turkey and decide on one or two times during the day when you’ll check your email. For example, you could check your email at 10:00 am and at 5:00 pm. Then, check your email only at those times.
  • Third, gradually decrease how often you check your email. As an illustration, if you currently check your email once every fifteen minutes, start checking it once every half-an-hour. Then, once every hour. After that, once every two hours. Continue in this way until you’ve reached a frequency that works well for you.

2. Creating Long To-Do Lists

The next habit on this list of productivity killing habits is creating never ending to do lists.

Humans tend to think that their future selves will be very different from their present selves. This is so even if that future self is just twelve hours into the future. Maybe today you only managed to get seven things done in the entire day, but tomorrow. . . tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow you’ll be able to cross 20 items off your to do list.

That wishful thinking is what has us constantly creating extremely long to-do lists. But the same thing happens day after day: we never manage to get through that overly optimistic to-do list. This makes us feel stressed and overwhelmed, which are feelings that are not conducive to remaining productive.

My nephew has a t-shirt that says: “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. In that case, be Batman.” We all need to come to terms with the fact that we will never be Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or any other superhero for that matter. Which means we need to stop creating superhuman to-do lists.

productivity killing habits

How to Fix It

The solution that I’ve come up with for finally eliminating the mile-long to-do lists I used to create for myself is something called calendar blocking. That is, instead of creating a to-do list, I take out my calendar, create time blocks, and write down what I’ll be doing during each time block.

Once I run out of time blocks, that’s it. Nothing else gets scheduled for that day. Why? Because there are no more time blocks left over. See how that works?

3. Scheduling the Trivial Things First

Many of us look at what we need to do for the day and see one big, hairy, difficult (and important) task, and four or five smaller ones. Then we tell ourselves that if we do the small stuff first, we get to knock four or five items off our to-do list. That’s more efficient than just finishing the one important task, right? Wrong!

Scheduling the trivial things first is one of the productivity killing habits on this list for two reasons. First, because you have limited willpower. And, second, because you have limited time.

In order to concentrate and avoid distractions, you need willpower. But willpower is like a muscle: it gets fatigued from overuse. Every time you use a little bit of willpower—to stop yourself from going on YouTube to watch animal videos or pop onto twitter to see what your friends are up to—your ability to subdue your impulses lessens.

Here’s willpower expert Roy Baumeister:

“The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.”

productivity killing habits

This is one of the main reasons why you should do the most important thing you need to get done each day first. That is, when you have the most willpower and are most likely to be able to focus on the task at hand.

Also, if you do the most important thing first, you’ll be able to say that you had a successful day. This is so even if you don’t have enough time to finish the other tasks that you wanted to get done that day.

How to Fix It

When you’re creating your schedule for the day, ask yourself what your number one priority for the day is. Then, schedule that first. That way, you’ll tackle it when your willpower is at its peak.

In addition, even if the rest of your day doesn’t go as planned, at least you’ll have gotten your most important task for the day out of the way.

4. Working Nonstop Until You’re Done

It would appear to make sense that the longer you work, the more you can get done. Using this logic, if you start working at 8:00 am and work nonstop until noon, you’ll have an incredibly productive morning. But this isn’t the case.

The way to retain the highest level of productivity throughout the day is not working longer but working smarter with well-timed breaks. It’s much more effective to work for a short period of time—many argue 52 minutes is the sweet spot—with one hundred percent focus, and then take a ten to fifteen minute break, than it is to work for four unfocused hours nonstop.

How to Fix It

To stop the habit of working nonstop to exhaustion, set a timer for 52 minutes and focus completely on the task at hand during that time. When the timer goes off, stop and take a short break.

During your breaks you can go outside and take a short walk; close your eyes and meditate; or even do something playful like coloring or doing some origami.

productivity killing habits

5. The News Habit (Insert Your Own Productivity Killing Habit Here)

We all have that one habit that’s killing our productivity, that perhaps other people don’t share. For me it’s checking the news constantly throughout the day. There’s so much going on in the world, and I can talk myself into believing that I’m not being unproductive, because it’s important to know what’s happening.

Right now, I can tell you—with an embarrassing amount of detail–what’s going on in the US, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, Hong Kong, and Britain. And how does that help me achieve my goals? It doesn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with checking the news a couple of times throughout the day, but doing so constantly—like I do—is a terrible productivity killing habit. What’s the one thing that you find yourself doing constantly that’s killing your productivity? How are you talking yourself into believing that what you’re doing is actually productive?

Here are some possibilities:

  • Maybe you’re constantly logging on to social media, and you’ve convinced yourself that you’re building your brand.
  • Perhaps you’re playing video games more than you should, but you tell yourself that it’s important to have some downtime.
  • It could be that you’re constantly chatting with your coworkers, and you justify this to yourself by arguing that you’re creating good rapport and camaraderie with your colleagues.

All of the above is true: it’s a good idea to build your brand, have some downtime, and have a good relationship with the people you work with. However, none of these things should come at the expense of your productivity.

How to Fix It

My plan for controlling my news habit is to schedule when I can check the news, as well as limit the amount of time that I spend reading, watching, and listening to the news.

You can do the same. Create specific time slots throughout your day for going on social media, playing video games, and/or chatting with co-workers. Make sure that the amount of time that you give yourself for each of these activities doesn’t interfere with your ability to get the really important stuff done.

productivity killing habits

Conclusion

Break the habits that I’ve listed above and watch how your productivity skyrockets. Live your best life by getting your productivity killing habits under control.

 

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books on power

If you want to create a better world for yourself and others, you need to amass the power necessary to do so.

onehouradayformula banner longWanting power, like wanting money, is seen by many as being immoral. However, power is neutral. You can acquire it unethically and use it unjustly, or you can gain power through moral means and use it to improve your life and that of your loved ones, and for the betterment of society. In addition, knowing how others acquire power can help you to identify when someone else is trying to take your power away, so that you can take action to stop them.

In this post I’m going to share with you five books on power that you must read. In addition, I’ve summarized one or more of the best lessons in each book.

The Prince

books on powerThe Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli is the first book on power I’m going to recommend that you read. It was written in 1513 but was not published until 1532. Machiavelli was a diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, writer, and playwright.  He had been exiled from Florence and wrote “The Prince” to curry favor with the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de Medici (the grandson of Lorenzo Il Magnifico), and win an advisory position in the Florentine government.

Although some equate “The Prince” with ruthlessness and guile, it’s a must-read not just for those who are interested in political science, but also for those who want to understand how the world works. After all, Machiavelli was a pragmatist. Here’s a quote from the book:

“There is such a gap between how one lives and how one should live that he who neglects what is being done for what should be done will learn his destruction rather than his preservation.”

Here’s a gold nugget from the book: “… to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former.”

In other words. read so that you can avoid the mistakes made by others and emulate their successes.

The 48 Laws of Power

books on power

The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene is another book that makes a lot of people’s hair stand on end. Greene explains that he wrote the book to expose the dirty ploys of the executives he encountered during a period as a Hollywood screenwriter. Here’s how one reviewer on Amazon describes the book:

“It doesn’t teach one to be self-absorbed or evil or a heretic. It teaches one to stand your ground and to protect yourself from taking unnecessary burden, unfair treatment, and manipulation from corrupt people.”

In other words, the book prepares you for the real world. You need to accept things as they are in order to be able to work toward making things run as they should.

My favorite of the 48 rules in the book is Rule 34: Be Royal In Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated like One. Here’s Greene explaining the law:

“The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated: In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.”

Greene uses Christopher Columbus to illustrate this law. Columbus was the son of a humble wine merchant. Nonetheless, when he was in the Portuguese and Spanish courts trying to get his trip to Asia funded, he passed himself as Italian nobility.

He was confident and bold, and people—including the king of Portugal and Queen Isabella of Spain–believed him when he claimed to be the descendant of aristocrats. Therefore, these monarchs treated him seriously. Eventually, Queen Isabella funded his trip.

I would sum this idea up as follows: act like the person you want to be.

The 36 Strategies of Ancient China (or The 36 Stratagems)

books on powerThe Thirty-six Strategies Of Ancient China” is a Chinese collection of 36 proverbs meant to be used as military tactics to defeat your opponent.  Each stratagem refers to a battle or folklore from the Three Kingdoms (from 220–280 AD, when China was divided into three states). It was written by a General named Tan Daoji , around 400 AD, and it cannot be missing from a list of books on power.

To illustrate that these strategies are not just for war, I’m going to refer to Linda Tan, a social entrepreneur and rice farmer who uses these ancient war stratagems to defeat pests in her field. Linda explains that she dreams of a great yield at the end of each season. Her worst nightmare is that by the end of the year her plants will have been destroyed by insects.

Although the obvious choice to get rid of pests is to use pesticides, studies show that pesticides are bad for the farmers’ health. Therefore, Linda had to find a different approach to attack her enemy. So, she turned to the 36 stratagems. Here are two of the stratagems that she used:

  • 3 – To Kill With a Borrowed Sword
  • 10 – Hide a Knife Behind a Smile

Below you’ll find an explanation of each.

To Kill With a Borrowed Sword

What this stratagem means is that if you want to hurt your enemy, you should find a third party to attack your enemy for you. The third party when it comes to defeating the pests in the rice fields is ducks. If you release ducks in a rice field, they eat the pests. Therefore, Linda got some ducks and released them in her fields. And the strategy worked: the ducks foraged in the rice fields, thereby reducing Linda’s pest problem.

Hide a Knife Behind a Smile

This stratagem means that you defeat your enemy by giving it something it likes. Then, when it’s off its guard, you move in for the kill. Pests really like nitrogen-rich plants. Therefore, when the farmers are applying nitrogen fertilizers, they have to be careful not to use too much.

However, the farmers choose a section of the field in which they use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer. That means that there’s a section of the field that becomes incredibly attractive to pests. As a result, a large percentage of the pests move to this section of the field and leave the rest of the rice alone.

Furthermore, the farmers can then apply pesticide to that small area, thereby killing a large portion of the pests.

As you can see from the two examples above, the proverbs in “The 36 Strategies” have many real-world applications. Increase your power by learning to wield these stratagems wisely. You can read all of the stratagem here.

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

books on powerThe Art of Worldly Wisdom” is a gem. As I write in my post, 35 Pieces of Life Changing Wisdom That Will Make You More Powerful and Successful, this book was written by the Spanish Jesuit scholar Baltasar Gracian in the 17th century. It contains 300 proverbs that will help you to succeed in life.

Here’s one of my favorite proverbs from the book: “Don’t show off every day, or you’ll stop surprising people. There must always be some novelty left over. The person who displays a little more of it each day keeps up expectations, and no one ever discovers the limits of his talent.”

That is, make your skills and talents limitless by displaying them a little at a time.

Another of Gracian’s proverbs advises that you choose your friends wisely: “Put the right people beside you. The company you keep can work wonders. Customs and tastes and even intelligence are transmitted without our being aware of it.”

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said the following about The Art of Worldly Wisdom:

“Absolutely unique. . . a book made for constant use. . . a companion for life. [These maxims are] especially fitted to those who wish to prosper in the great world.”

I would wholeheartedly agree.

The 50th Law

books on powerA while back I watched a video of a group of three hunters in Africa who—without weapons—took a wildebeest carcass that a pride of lions was feasting on. They walked up to the lions with so much confidence and fearlessness, that when the lions saw them approaching, they fled.  The men cut the pieces of meat that they wanted and quickly walked off before the lions realized it was a bluff.

This video immediately came to mind as I was reading about the book “The 50th Law”, written by Robert Greene—author of the “The 48 Laws of Power”– and the rapper 50 Cent, who went from selling drugs at the age of twelve to becoming a Grammy -winning musician who has sold over 30 million albums worldwide. He’s also survived being shot at close range nine times.

Here’s a quote that perfectly encapsulates the message of the book:

“…your fears are a kind of prison that confines you within a limited range of action. The less you fear, the more power you will have and the more fully you will live.”

Whatever situation you’re in, be the person with the least fear. This will give you a constant strategic advantage.

Always remember that while fear can alert you to danger so that you can take action to stay safe, a lot of fear is in the mind. The second type of fear—which is the most common –is unjustified fear which simply keeps you paralyzed and stops you from taking bold action. Learn to tell the difference between the two.

Conclusion

Just as you should have a plan for increasing your wealth, you should have a plan for increasing your power. The five books on power that I recommend above will help you devise your plan. Live your best life by learning how to acquire and yield power, and how to protect yourself from power grabs by others.

 

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You can’t increase the number of hours there are in a day, but you can increase the amount of energy you have.

Time is the resource we most often turn to in order to meet the demands of life. As an illustration, if your workload increases, your response is probably to put in more hours. However, there comes a point at which you can’t put in more hours because time is a finite resource.

The good news is that there’s a different resource you can turn to, and that resource is energy. Energy can be systematically expanded, and it can be regularly renewed.

Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr explain in their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal that in order to be more effective throughout the day you need to start thinking about your energy instead of your time.

onehouradayformula banner longEnergy is your capacity to do work.  If you build the reservoir of energy that you have available to you–that is, if you put more fuel in your tank–, then you’ll have increased capacity. In addition, by creating rituals which regularly replenish your energy, you’ll be systematically refilling your tank and increasing your resilience.

Continue reading below to discover how to manage your energy to get more done.

The Four Sources of Energy

We need four sources of energy in order to be able to perform at our best: physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and spiritual energy.  Here’s an explanation of each:

Physical Energy

Physical capacity is the foundation on which everything else rests. If you don’t have enough physical energy it’s going to influence your ability to focus your attention, your ability to manage your emotions under pressure, and so on. Physical energy is about the quantity of energy that you have available to you.

Physical capacity has four components:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Fitness
  3. Sleep
  4. Recovery or Renewal (daytime equivalent of sleep)

Emotional Energy

Emotional energy is about how you feel, which dramatically influences how well you perform, how well you lead, and how well you interact with others. Emotional energy is about the quality of your energy.

In order to be fully engaged in an activity–that is, in order to be able to concentrate your energy completely on the task at hand–, you need to quiet your mind chatter and release negative emotions.

Mental Energy

Mental energy is about the focus of your attention. We do our most effective work when we focus on one thing at a time.

However, Shwartz explains that the average person in an organization in the U.S. stays on task for 11 minutes before moving on to another task. And it gets worse: during those 11 minutes they interrupt themselves with something else an average of every three minutes.

When we temporarily shift our attention from one task to another, it increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%. This is known as the “switching time” phenomenon.

You can increase your mental energy by learning how to focus your attention.

Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy is the energy derived from the sense of living on purpose, and from an alignment of how you say you want to live your life and how you actually live. The better that alignment, the more powerful the source of energy available to you. 

For example, if you say that your family is very important to you but you hardly spend any time with them, then your spiritual energy is going to be misaligned. Spiritual energy  is the “why” energy.

Audit Your Energy

This a test created by Tony Shwartz to help you audit your energy. For each statement below answer “true” or “false”. The statements for which you answer “true” are the ones you need to work on.

  1. I don’t regularly get 7 to 8 hours of sleep and I often wake up feeling tired.
  2. I frequently skip breakfast, or I settle for something that isn’t particularly healthy.
  3. I don’t work out enough, meaning cardiovascular training at least 3 times a week and strength training at least once a week.
  4. I don’t take regular breaks during the day to renew and recharge, and I often eat lunch at my desk.
  5. I frequently find myself feeling irritable, impatient or anxious at work, especially when demand is high.
  6. I don’t have enough time for my friends and family, and when I’m with them, I’m rarely “with them”.
  7. I take too little time for the activities that I most deeply enjoy.
  8. I rarely stop to express my appreciation to others, or to savor and celebrate my accomplishments and blessings.
  9. I have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time and I’m easily distracted during my day, especially by email.
  10. I spend much of my time reacting to immediate demands, rather than focusing on activities with long-term value and higher leverage.
  11. I don’t take enough time for reflection, strategizing and thinking creatively.
  12. I work in the evenings and/or the weekends and I rarely take a vacation free of work.
  13. I spend too little time at work doing what I do best and enjoy the most.
  14. There are significant gaps between what I say is important in my life and how I actually live.
  15. My decisions at work are more often influenced by external demands than by a strong, clear sense of my own purpose.
  16. I don’t invest enough time or energy in making a positive difference to others or in the world.

The Importance of Renewal

At night you go through the Basic Rest Activity Cycle. All through the night, over periods of 90 to 120 minutes, you move from a light stage of sleep (REM), down into deep delta sleep. A similar cycle exists during the day.

Human beings are rhythmic, and we’re designed to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal if we’re going to sustain energy at the highest level. When we’re awake, every 90 to 120 minutes we move from a high state of physiological arousal, slowly down into a physiological drop.

At the point of the drop your body is screaming at you: “Give me a break.” However, instead of taking a break, you probably reach for a diet coke or a cup of coffee and keep going. You also override your body’s need for a break with cortisol and adrenaline, the body’s own speed.

What you should do is build a rhythm throughout the day so that when you’re working you’re truly engaged, and after a period of  intense activity you take a break for renewal.

Energy renewal is vital if you want to sustain your energy at a high level. This is something Tony and his research team learned from athletes: they consistently found that athletes performed best when they respected the work-rest ratio.

Some of the things you can do during your renewal breaks are the following

  • Sit back in your chair and listen to music on your iPod.
  • Get up and walk up and down the stairs or take a short walk outside.
  • Do some stretching exercises.
  • Talk to a colleague about something other than work.

You don’t want to be a marathon runner. Marathon runners pace themselves instead of giving the race their all, because they know that they have a long race out ahead of them with no breaks in sight. They can’t push themselves to their full capacity because sooner or later they’d drop like a stone.

What you want is to be a sprinter. The sprinter brings 100 percent engagement to the 100, 200, 300, or 400 yards in front of them. There’s a finish line. They know they’re going to give it their all for a finite period of time, and then stop and recover.

Schwartz argues that most of us have lost the finish lines in our lives. We just keep going and going. However, it’s vital that we set stopping points for renewal or we’re going to burnout.

Build Positive Rituals

Tony explains in The Power of Full Engagement that in order to manage energy optimally, we have to build positive rituals into our lives. These positive rituals are highly specific behaviors that become automatic over time.

Relying on our pre-frontal cortex to adopt new behaviors–that is, relying on our will power–is not the best way to make changes. What we need to do instead is enlist the help of our automatic nervous system.  We need to get help from the part of our physiology that gets things done automatically.

How can we do this? By training ourselves through regular repetition. The idea is to get ourselves to act without having to think about it.

Look back at the energy audit that you took above to gather clues as to the behaviors that you need to turn into rituals in order to incorporate them permanently into your life. For example, you might realize that you need to start doing the following:

  • Start eating a healthy brekfast every morning instead of grabbing a coffee and donut on the run.
  • Begin a walking regime.
  • Set some time aside to plan your week every Sunday night.

Conclusion

Let’s imagine that there’s an important project that you need to work on. Look at the following two scenarions:

In the first scenario, you got little sleep the night before so you’re tire. While you’re working on the project you keep switching over to other tasks, such as checking your email. In addition, you keep thinking about the fight you had last night with your spouse. You keep working past the point of exhaustion and keep refueling with coffee.

In the second scenario, you got a good night’s sleep the night before. You get to work on the project before tackling anything else, you focus on it completely without allowing yourself to get distracted, and you take regular breaks to renew your energy.

In which of the two scenarios do you think you will get more done? Clearly, it’s the second one. Getting more done is not about investing more time; it’s about the proper management of your energy.

Did you take the energy audit? What do you need to work on? What behaviors are you going to turn into rituals?

Live your best life by learning to manage your energy.

 

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learning how to learn

The ability to learn faster than others will give you a competitive edge in the 21st century economy.

I write a lot about how to learn on this blog. That’s because acquiring this meta-skill is one of the best ways to leverage up your life. I take MOOCs on the best way to learn; I read books on the most effective ways to study and acquire skills; and I read blogs by experts on the topic. And, of course, I apply what I learn.

Here are five skills I’ve taught myself quickly and efficiently by learning how to learn:

  • Weightlifting
  • French
  • Piano
  • Drawing
  • Coding (in Python)

onehouradayformula banner longHow did I learn these skills? I took all the knowledge that I gathered while researching how to learn skills faster and more efficiently, and I created a learning system. I then tried out the learning system by learning weightlifting. The next step was to tweak and perfect the system by learning to code. Finally, I fine-tuned the system by learning French, piano, and drawing. Now I’m ready to share my system with you in a course titled: “Learn Any Skill Faster and Better: How to Learn to Code, Play the Piano, Lift Weights, Speak French, Draw, Or Anything Else”. I am now enrolling students in the course.

In the meantime, here are 10 ways in which learning how to learn will radically transform your life.

1. Learning How to Learn Will Allow You to Stay Current In Your Field.

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before: the only constant is change. This adage applies to the modern world more than ever before. As business rules change, economic conditions shift, and new technologies make old ones obsolete, workplaces are being transformed faster the ever before.

Because success, and even survival, in today’s world requires constant growth and learning, lifelong learning must become a way of life for most of us. We need to be able to learn as rapidly as society progresses. By learning how to learn you’ll be able to keep abreast of changes in your field and ensure that your knowledge doesn’t become outdated.

2. You’ll Have the Flexibility to Change Careers.

Most people will change careers at least a few times throughout their lifetimes. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as the following:

  • Most people choose the profession that they’ll follow when they’re entering college at the age of 17 or 18, which is very young. A lot of people graduate from college and then discover later on that they chose the wrong career.
  • Automation is displacing a lot of workers.
  • For some people, one career for an entire lifetime is not enough. This is especially true now that—due to medical advances—people are living longer.
  • People who feel that they’re not making enough money may want to shift to a more lucrative career.

Changing careers means you’ll need to acquire new skills. If you know how to learn, you’ll be much more likely to succeed in your attempts to enter a new profession.

In addition, by being able to demonstrate that you know how to learn, you’ll make yourself more employable. Here’s a quote from an article published in the Harvard Business Review, which was written by Tomas Chamorro Premuzic:

“Unsurprisingly, there is now big demand for employees who can demonstrate high levels of “learnability,” the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable throughout their working life.”

Add the skill of “knowing how to learn” to your resume and include a link to your online portfolio in which you showcase evidence of your learnability. That’s guaranteed to make you shine at your next job interview.

3. Learning How to Learn Will Give You the Smarts Necessary to Achieve Your Goals.

We all know the acronym for goal achievement:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Timely

I propose a new acronym: SMARTS. And what is the last “S” for? You guessed it: Skills!

One of the most important steps in planning how you will achieve a goal is to identify the skills that you’ll need in order to achieve that goal. As an illustration, if you want to start a blog that will earn you a side income, here are some of the skills that you’ll need to learn:

  • Learn how to write for the web.
  • Learn how to optimize your blog posts so that they’ll be found by the search engines.
  • Learn how to use social media.
  • Learn how to monetize your blog.

It will easier for you to learn these skills, and launch a successful blog, if you know how to learn. (Think of the blog you’re reading right now – I taught myself all the skills I needed to create this blog.)

Here’s a phrase you can use to remember this new acronym:

“To succeed you need to develop the SMARTS necessary to achieve your goals. You do this by learning how to learn.” – Marelisa Fábrega

learning how to learn

4. Learning How to Learn May Help You Slow Down Cognitive Decline.

A while back I read a study comparing levels of education obtained early in life with cognitive decline in old age. Researchers had concluded that those who had obtained a lot of education had built up a brain reserve which helped to slow down the harmful effects of cognitive decline that can occur later in life. This was good news for me because I have a lot of schooling.

However, new research shows that this may not be the case. Higher education can help to build more robust networks of cells, which seems to provide some protection against getting dementia.

But once the cognitive decline starts, that advantage disappears. This is probably because education occurs early on in life, and its effects may have worn off by the time a person hits old age.

The good news is that keeping the brain active by learning new skills—such as learning to speak a new language, learning to play a musical instrument, or learning new computer skills–can slow down rates of cognitive problems in a person’s later years.

I, for one, have chosen to learn to play the piano, and I’m going to share with you a quote on acquiring the skill of playing a musical instrument as an adult:

“Musical training seems to have a beneficial impact at whatever age you start. It contains all the components of a cognitive training program that sometimes are overlooked, and just as we work out our bodies, we should work out our minds.”

To help keep dementia at bay, learn new skills. Of course, you’ll be more likely to take on the challenge of learning new skills if you know how to learn.

5. Foster the Growth of New Brain Cells.

Although it was once believed that people are born with all the brain cells they’ll ever have, scientists have discovered that people can grow new brain cells throughout their entire life. The process is called neurogenesis. I wrote all about it in my post on how to grow new brain cells.

However, as I explain in that post, just because you’re growing new brain cells doesn’t necessarily mean those new brain cells will survive. You can help ensure that those brain cells stay alive by engaging in learning that requires effort.

One way to do this is by learning a complex skill, such as learning to play tennis, or learning to dance. And, once again, if you know how to learn you’ll be much more likely to try your hand at learning these complex skills.

6. It Will Help You Improve Your Health.

Everyone wants to be healthy, but a lot of people fail in their attempts to lead a healthy lifestyle. One of the main reasons why this happens is because most people don’t possess the skills that are necessary in order to maintain health. This includes skills such as the following:

  • Designing weekly menus that are healthy and balanced (as well as delicious).
  • Cooking healthy meals.
  • Using the workout equipment at the gym.
  • Performing flexibility and mobility exercises.

Learning these skills will go a long way toward the improvement of your health. One of the skills I chose to teach myself by following my learning system is weightlifting. I can already see and feel that I’m getting great results.

7. Learning How to Learn Will Allow You to Have More Fun!

One of the skills I decided to teach myself is drawing. Why? Because I wanted to be able to create something beautiful with my hands, have a creativity outlet, and find a way to de-stress. Drawing has done all of that for me.

What have you seen others doing that’s made you think: “That looks like fun! I wish I could do that.” Get out there and learn how to do it. Start by learning how to learn.

learning how to learn

8. You’ll Gain the Tools You Need to Become An Expert.

A while ago I wrote a blog post on how to become an expert. An expert is someone who has comprehensive and authoritative knowledge in a particular area, or of a specific skill. Being an expert comes with many benefits, such as the following:

  • People are more likely to trust experts.
  • Media outlets are constantly looking for experts they can interview.
  • Experts can charge more money for their services.
  • When someone is an expert, they can build a loyal customer base which will last for years and years.
  • Experts use more effective problem-solving strategies in their areas of expertise—that is, they’re better at solving problems that fall within their domain.
  • Being an expert will give you access to other experts.
  • In order to be able to innovate in your field, you need to have a lot of knowledge about your subject matter. The more expertise you have in an area, the more you know about that area.

In order to become an expert, you have to be really good at learning whatever it is that you want to be an expert in. That is, you have to know how to learn quickly and efficiently so that you can become an expert, and so that you can stay at the top of your field once you’re there.

The first step in becoming an expert is learning how to learn.

9. Learning How to Learn Will Make You Happier.

We all want to be happier. And learning new skills will help you with that. After all, learning is a core need for psychological wellbeing.

When you learn something new you do all of the following:

  • Increase your sense of self-efficacy.
  • Boost your self-confidence.
  • Feel that you’re in control of your life.
  • Your life will feel more meaningful when you learn skills that help to create a sense of purpose in your life.

All of these, in turn, will make you happier.

10. By Learning How to Learn You’ll Be Able to Reinvent Yourself.

Every so often we should all reinvent ourselves. As Bob Dylan says in a song: “If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.”

One of the best ways to reinvent yourself is to learn a new skill. After all, every time you learn a new skill you become a slightly different person. Look at the following:

  • A person who knows how to code in Python and can immediately get to work implementing their ideas is not the same as someone who’s not even sure what the print function is.
  • Someone who knows proper squatting technique is not the same as someone who only uses the Smith Machines because they’re intimidated by the barbells.
  • A person who can sit down at the piano at a party and play a few songs is not the same as someone who has never played a chord in their life.

By learning new skills, you can reinvent yourself in any of the following ways:

  • Go from struggling to make ends meet to financial independence.
  • Go from a job that pays the bills to a career you love.
  • Go from having low self-esteem to having high self-confidence.
  • Go from seeing only obstacles to noticing opportunities.
  • Go from being overweight and out of shape to being thin and fit.
  • Go from being fearful to having faith.
  • Go from victimhood to empowerment.

The first step is to learn how to learn.

What Skills Do You Want to Learn?

In preparation for the pilot course on learning how to learn which I’ll soon be launching, I want you to start thinking of the skills you would like to learn.

Download the two worksheets which you’ll find further down below. In the spaces provided, write down the skills that you would like to learn in the following twelve areas:

  • Technology Skills (e.g., Coding, MS Office, Photoshop)
  • Musical Skills (e.g. Singing, Piano, Composing)
  • Language Skills (e.g. Spanish, French, Arabic)
  • Business Skills (e.g. Marketing, Project Management, Networking)
  • Sports Skills (e.g. Surfing, Golf, Tennis)
  • Creative/Artistic Skills (e.g., Drawing, Creative Writing, Dance)
  • Communication Skills (e.g., Public Speaking, Persuasion, Conflict Resolution)
  • People Skills (e.g., Charisma, Teamwork, Developing Rapport)
  • Life Skills (e.g., Cooking, Running a Household, Image Management)
  • Personal Development Skills (e.g., Time Management, Decision Making, Problem Solving)
  • Finance Skills (e.g. Budgeting, Financial Planning, Investing)
  • Job Specific Skills – Skills that are specific to your job or career, e.g., lawyer, nurse, office manager, and so on.

Once you’ve written down all the skills you would like to learn, choose the one that you want to get to work on first. By the time you finish my course, “Learn Any Skill Faster and Better: How to Learn to Code, Play the Piano, Lift Weights, Speak French, Draw, Or Anything Else”, you’ll have learned that skill.

Use the two worksheets below:

Conclusion

Learning shouldn’t stop when you leave school. It should be a life-long endeavor. I hope the ten reasons I gave you above for learning how to learn will encourage to acquire this vital meta-skill.

Live your best life by learning how to learn.

 

 

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micro-steps

Sometimes the best way forward isn’t by leaps and bounds, but by taking micro-steps.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “micro”? Probably the following: extremely small; minute quantities or variations; or tiny. Micro-steps are exactly what the name implies:

“Micro-steps are minute actions that move you a little bit closer toward the achievement of your goals. Their power lies in their simplicity and painlessness. They require little effort, are utterly undaunting, and offer few hurdles–psychological or otherwise.” — Marelisa Fábrega

In this post I’m going to explain to you how micro-steps can help you to achieve even your boldest and most audacious goals.

How to Harness the Power of Micro-Steps

When trying to achieve your goals, you’ve probably faced the following challenges:

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  • A lack of time.
  • Your willpower fails you.
  • That pesky inner critic keeps sabotaging your efforts.
  • You just can’t get started, no matter how hard you try.
  • Money is an issue.
  • You find yourself in the grips of procrastination.
  • The motivation that you need to get started is nowhere to be found.

All of these challenges can be overcome by taking micro-steps. The way to take micro-steps is to choose one of the following (or combine two or more of them):

  • Make your goals exceedingly doable by setting micro-goals.
  • Set money aside for your goals by microsaving.
  • Make progress on your goals with micro-progressions.
  • Build the habits that are necessary to achieve your goals by adopting micro-habits.

There’s more on each of these below.

Set Micro-Goals

The first way to use the power of micro-steps to your advantage is by setting micro-goals. You’ve probably heard about BHAGs — Big Hairy Audacious Goals. This is a term that was coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras. Although I’m a big proponent of setting BHAGs, trying to achieve a BHAG is hard–because they’re big, and they’re hairy.

That’s where micro-goals come in. Here are the benefits of setting micro-goals:

  • Because micro-goals are so small, they’re–by definition–realistic.
  • You can easily get yourself to believe that you can achieve a micro-goal. As an illustration, it may be hard for you to believe that you can make a full-time living online, but you can probably get yourself to believe that you can make $1 online.
  • Each time you achieve a micro-goal, you feel like you’re making progress. That motivates you to pursue the next micro-goal, and then the next, and then the next. In time, those micro-goals will add up and you’ll have achieved one of your important life goals (one of your BHAGs).
  • You’ll be happier if you set micro-goals. Harvard Business Review researchers found that taking small steps allows you to experience a sense of progress more frequently, and this has been linked to greater happiness.

How to Set Micro-Goals

How do you set micro-goals? Easy: choose one of your important life goals and break it down into the tiniest goals you can think of. Here are three examples:

  • Do you want to lose 30 pounds? Start off by setting the micro-goal of losing one pound. One, little, measly pound.
  • What if you currently wake up at 8:00 a.m. but you want to join the 5 AM Club? Instead of setting the goal of waking up at 5:00 a.m., set the micro-goal of waking up at 7:55 a.m.
  • Do you want to declutter your home? Set the micro-goal of decluttering your kitchen junk drawer.

A micro-goal is so small, you can easily trick your brain into getting started. In addition, it’s so insignificant, your inner critic is likely to let it slip by without even uttering a disapproving “hmpff”. Finally, it’s over so fast, an ounce of motivation is all your need to achieve your micro-goal.

The first micro-step you should take is to set a micro-goal.

Make Microsavings

Saving money is hard–the average person has many expenses, and there are just so many things you could buy (I almost bought some crunchy slime just now, which I would have used once or twice). In addition, many goals cost money, which means that you need to save for them.

Here are three examples of the costs that are associated with different goals:

  • If your goal is to build strength by lifting weights, you have to save up for a gym membership.
  • You could set the goal of taking great photos during your upcoming trip to Paris. If that’s the case, you have to buy a camera and the photography gear that you’ll need (the right lens, extra batteries, a case for your camera, and so on).
  • What if your goal is to participate in the most scenic 10-kilometer races in the country? Then you have to save up for travel expenses.

You can set aside the money that you need in order to achieve your goals by using the concept of microsaving.

How to Start Microsaving

Microsaving consists of saving a little bit of money here and there. So little, that you barely feel it. Over time, these little bits of money add up.

One way to microsave is by downloading a microsaving app. These apps use artificial intelligence to analyze your spending. Then, they starts taking a little bit of money from your checking account here and there, and depositing those amounts in a savings account. And they do this in a way that will have very little impact on you.

If you spend little one week, the app that you choose will take more money from your account that week and save it for you. But if you overspend on another week, no money will be saved by the app that week. Drop by drop, money will be saved for you, and you will barely realize that it’s happening.

Of course, another way to microsave is by using an old-fashioned glass jar. Every day when you get home at night, simply place any loose change you have in your pockets, or in your wallet, in the jar. Then, watch how the jar slowly fills up.

Microsaving is yet another way to take advantage of the power of micro-steps.

Create Micro-Habits

One of the best ways to achieve an important goal is by turning the actions you need to take in order to achieve that goal into habits. Here are three examples:

  • If you want to lose weight, you need to create the habit of exercising on a regular basis.
  • To start a blog, you need to create the habit of writing on a regular basis.
  • If you want to acquire a new skill, you need to practice consistently.

All those who have tried adopting a new habit and failed now how hard it can be to acquire good habits. That’s where micro-habits come in. A micro-habit is an action that requires minimal effort and may appear to be inconsequential, but which slowly builds up to something meaningful.

As an illustration, suppose that you want to adopt the habit of walking on your treadmill for half-an-hour before work. You can begin by creating the micro-habit of standing on your treadmill for a few minutes as you drink your morning coffee and watch the news.

This micro-habit may seem like a total waste. You’re not even moving. Ahh. . . but once you’ve been standing on the treadmill for a few mornings, you can adopt the micro-habit of walking for one minute.

A while later you can decide to create the micro-habit of walking for five minutes. Maybe two weeks after that you decide to create the micro-habit of walking for seven minutes. Each micro-habit brings you one step closer to the habit of walking for half-an-hour before work. Sweet!

Make Micro-Progressions

Making progress toward an important goal means that you’re moving closer to the achievement of that goal. You can progress quickly, or slowly. If you progress quickly, you’ll achieve your goal sooner. However, it’s not always possible to progress quickly. Here’s why:

  • It requires more effort to make quick progress.
  • You may not be able to muster the motivation and the willpower necessary to make great strides forward.
  • There may be other things competing for your time and attention.
  • Progressing at a fast pace may be seem scary.
  • It could be that you simply don’t have the physical or mental capacity to make fast progress.

If you find that you can’t make quick progress, make slow progress. In fact, you can even make micro-progressions; progress that is so slow, it’s almost effortless.

An Example of Micro-Progression: Weightlifting

I’m going to use myself as an example of how to use micro-progressions to achieve your goals. As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m a weightlifter. When you first start lifting weights, you begin with light weights–I started with the pink 5-pound dumbbells. However, you gradually progress by lifting heavier weights.

Lifting heavier weights is relatively easy, up to a certain point. Once you reach your genetic potential, lifting heavier weights gets harder. When that happens, it becomes more difficult to make progress.

That’s where micro-progression comes in. The smallest weightlifting plates at my gym weigh 2.5 pounds. This means that each time I want to make progress, I have to go up by 5 pounds (one 2.5 pound plate on each side of the bar). I’ve reached a weight at which this is really hard for me.

Therefore, I went on Amazon and bought myself 0.5 pound plates. Now, I simply put one 0.5 pound plate on each side of the bar and go up by one pound at a time. That’s a micro-progression. It’s progress that requires very little mental and/or physical effort on my part.

An added bonus of microprogressions is that you get a hit of dopamine each time you make progress on a goal. Here’s a tweet I sent out the other day:

In my post, How to Increase Dopamine to Skyrocket Your Motivation, I wrote that having high levels of dopamine in your brain leads to motivation. As I’ve already stated, each micro-progression increases the levels of dopamine in your brain, which will motivate you to make the next micro-progression.

If you’re having trouble making progress on an important goal, ask yourself what micro-progression you can make. Think of something that would be the equivalent of a 0.5 pound plate (seriously, they’re tiny and really light).

By making micro-progressions you’ll be moving toward your goal slowly, but you’ll be advancing, instead of standing still.

Conclusion

What do you think of the “micro” approach to achieving your goals? It requires little willpower, little motivation, and little effort. Try it! You may be amazed at what you achieve. Live your best life by taking micro-steps.

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overcome obstacles

Life is full of obstacles, but there are ways to overcome them.

Any time that you decide to make a change in your life, or to achieve some goal or objective, you’ll have to face obstacles. Some common obstacles include the following:

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  • Lack of time.
  • Lack of money.
  • You don’t have access to the necessary resources.
  • Fear.
  • Other people standing in your way.
  • Lack of the necessary knowledge, skills, or credentials.
  • Lack of expertise.
  • Lack of discipline or willpower.

Many people regard obstacles as dead-ends. When they come across one of these so-called dead-ends, they promptly give up on what they were trying to accomplish. At this point, the excuses begin:

  •  This is too hard.
  • I can’t do this.
  • I would have to be smarter, richer, more talented, better-looking, thinner, or younger to be able to do this.

However, instead of seeing obstacles as a dead-end, you should think of them as a brick wall. If you run into a brick wall, what can you do? You can do any of the following:

  • Remove the bricks one by one.
  • Build a ladder and climb over the wall.
  • Look for ways around the wall.
  • Find someone who will boost you over the wall.
  • Dig a tunnel that runs under the wall.

In this article you’ll find seven effective ways to overcome obstacles. That is, you’ll find seven ways to take down, climb over, or get around the brick walls that stand between you and what you want in life.

Change Your Mindset

To begin with, you need to stop looking at the word “obstacle” as being synonymous with hardship, bad luck, adversity, and so on. That is, stop labeling obstacles as “bad”. Instead, do the following:

  1. Recognize that obstacles are a natural part of the goal-achievement process.
  2. Realize that obstacles serve a purpose.

There’s more on these two points below.

Obstacles Are Part of the Process

Recognize that obstacles are a natural part of the process that you need to go through in order to get what you want. Expect obstacles and accept that they’re simply part of the goal-achievement process.

When you’re planning how to achieve a goal, take the perspective of a civil engineer. Before building a road, a civil engineer will survey the landscape across which the road will be built. In the same way, when you’re planning how to achieve a goal, survey the path that you need to follow to achieve said goal.

If the civil engineer notices that part of the landscape contains difficult terrain, they don’t get upset. The difficult terrain is not a bad thing. It’s just something that needs to be addressed in the construction plan.

In much the same way, when you survey the path to your goal, make note of any obstacles that you’re likely to come across. Then, simply address those obstacles in the plan that you will follow to achieve your goal.

Obstacles Serve a Purpose

You can even begin to look at obstacles as a tool for helping you to make choices. A few years ago the “Last Lecture” became an internet sensation. It was a lecture given by a Carnegie Mellon University professor in his forties who had been diagnosed with a terminal disease.

The professor’s name was Randy Pausch, and in his lecture, he said the following about obstacles:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”

overcome obstacles

When you really want something, you should be determined to achieve it, no matter who or what gets in your way.  If you lose your motivation to achieve something at the first sign of an obstacle, it’s very likely that it’s not something that you really want after all.

When you run into an obstacle, ask yourself the following:

  •  How badly do I want this?
  • Am I willing to do the work that it’s going to take in order to get it?
  • Would my time be better spent doing something else?

Then, if you decide that it’s something that you really do want, start looking for ways over, around, or under the obstacle. On the other hand, if you decide that your time, money, energy, and other resources would be better spent doing something else, go do that.

Overcome Obstacles by Changing Your Perception

Whatever it is that you’re perceiving as an obstacle might not even be an obstacle after all. As an example, suppose that there’s a position that you want to apply for. However, the advertisement for the position indicates that job applicants need to have an MBA, which you don’t have.

There are two approaches you can take. First, you can see the requirement of an MBA as an insurmountable obstacle and you can decide to forget about applying for the position.

The second approach you can take is to question whether the fact that you don’t have an MBA is a dealbreaker after all. It could be that you’re creating an obstacle where there really isn’t one.

After all, what companies are really looking for when they ask for candidates who have an MBA isn’t that they come in with a piece of paper that they can hang from a wall. What they want is the training and expertise that is associated with having an MBA.

If you can show that you have the level of training and expertise that is required–by showing them training certificates or concrete evidence of projects that you’ve worked on that are relevant to the expertise that the company needs– it may very well be that the company decides to hire you.

Therefore, the second strategy you can use to overcome obstacles is to question whether an obstacle even exists. That is, change your perception.

Do Research to Become Better Informed

You could be having trouble overcoming an obstacle because you don’t have enough information to go on. In that case, you need to set aside some time to go online and do some research. Gathering more information can help you with the following:

  • It can help you to reframe your problem.
  • It can help you to look at the obstacle from a different perspective.
  • It can help you to grasp nuances of the problem that you didn’t understand before.

By gathering more information you’re increasing the knowledge base which you’re going to pick through when you’re looking for solutions to your problem. In many cases, the right information will allow you to overcome obstacles.

Brainstorm a List of 100 Possible Solutions

Obstacles can be seen as problems that need to be solved. This approach allows you to overcome obstacles by applying problem solving methods.

Luciano Passuello from the blog Litemind indicates that a great way to come up with a solution to a problem is to create a list of 100 possible solutions. The process is as follows:

  • Write down the obstacle that you’re trying to overcome on a piece of paper.
  • Number the paper from one to a hundred.
  • Then, set aside a block of time—it can be anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour—during which you won’t be interrupted.
  • During that time, you have to generate 100 ways to overcome the obstacle that you’re facing. Write down anything that comes to mind.

While you’re creating your list of 100 solutions, don’t do the following:

  • Judge or criticize what you’re writing down.
  • Worry about grammar or spelling mistakes.
  • Hesitate if some of your ideas are closely related to each other.

You’ll probably discover that the first thirty ideas or so are very safe, and that as you move further down the list you start thinking outside of the box.  As Luciano points out, it’s very likely that the gems will be at the very bottom of your list.

A variation of this idea is to generate 100 possible ways to overcome the obstacle that’s standing in your way by creating a mind map.  Do the following:

  1. Place an image in the center of the page that represents the obstacle that you need to overcome.
  2. From that image, start to radiate out every idea that comes into your mind on possible solutions. For a few minutes simply allow the ideas to flow as fast as possible.
  3. Then, look at each possible solution that you came up with and see if you can use it as a new starting off point to generate even more ideas.
  4. Keep going in this way until you’ve come up with 100 possible solutions.

Pivot to Overcome Obstacles

To pivot means to shift and try a new approach. If there’s an obstacle that’s obstructing the path to your goal –and you determine that it would take too many resources to overcome the obstacle–you can choose to do any of the following:

  • Modify your goal so that the obstacle is no longer an issue. For example, if you can’t compete in a running race because of knee issues, look for a swimming race. You’ll still be getting the benefits of exercising and the challenge of competing in a race, but by modifying the goal you remove the obstacle.
  • Make your goal smaller. If you notice an obstacle at mile 10, choose a goal that can be completed before getting to that point. You can always choose to make the goal larger once you have the necessary resources to overcome the obstacle at mile 10.
  • Plot a different path to your goal. Maybe you can’t achieve your goal by following the path you’re currently on because there’s a big ole obstacle in the way. However, it’s very likely that there are alternative paths to your goal that aren’t obstructed. Sit down and plan a different route (even if the new route is longer and on an incline).

Brainstorm Possible Solutions With Others – Have an Idea Party

When there’s an obstacle that you can’t find a solution for by yourself, it’s time to call on others for help. That is, it’s time for an Idea Party. The Idea Party is a concept which Barbara Sher introduces in her book “Wishcraft”.

Ask your friends, family members, and co-workers to come to your Idea Party. Aim for 15 to 20 people–the more varied their backgrounds, the better. You can make it a potluck dinner and have everyone bring something.

After everyone has a plate filled with food and is sitting down, start the brainstorming session. Have pads of paper and writing utensils available.

One by one each person gets a chance to ask the others for help in finding a solution to a problem that they’re having, or overcome an obstacle that’s in their way.  The person whose turn it is says the following:

“Here is my wish _____. And here is my obstacle ________.”

Then, everyone proceeds to offer up ideas on how the obstacle can be overcome for a period of about 10 minutes. When you break for coffee and dessert you can continue talking to anyone whose ideas you were particularly interested in.

As Sher explains, isolation is a dream killer. If you want to overcome obstacles, ask for help from friends who want to see you succeed.

Get Expert Advice

When the change that you’re trying to make, or the goal that you’re trying to achieve, is very important to you, and there’s an obstacle that you’re having trouble overcoming, it may be time to hire help from experts. You might need help from any of the following:

  • If you’re having trouble losing weight you may want to hire a nutritionist.
  • When the obstacle you’re facing involves legal matters, it’s often a good idea to hire a lawyer.
  • If the obstacle involves money issues, hiring an accountant or a financial planner could be helpful.

Hiring an expert could save you a lot of time and frustration. In addition, it could even help you save money in the long run.

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Conclusion

What obstacles are you currently facing? How can you use the tips above to overcome those obstacles? Live your best life by refusing to allow obstacles to get in your way.

 

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why you procrastinate

Procrastination has very real—and very negative–consequences.

Procrastinating is delaying the start or completion of tasks that are important for your well-being. Here are some examples:

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  • You know that being 45 pounds overweight is having a negative impact on your health and your quality of life, yet you keep putting off learning to cook a few healthy meals and joining a gym.
  • If you don’t hand in the budget report on time it will reflect negatively on your job performance and you’ll lose your chance to get a promotion at work, but you decide to watch “just one more” cat video on YouTube instead of getting to work.
  • Your unpaid bills are piling up and you know you should create a second source of income so you can pay them off, but you decide to spring clean your house, go to the shelter to adopt a dog, or finish the novel lying on your bedside table instead of getting to work.

If you’ve found yourself in any of the situations above, you may be asking yourself why you procrastinate. Is it poor time management? Were you cursed at birth by a wicked fairy godmother? Do you secretly hate yourself? Did you inherit some sort of procrastination gene? Are you lazy?

Allow me to end the suspense: the reason you procrastinate is because of poor mood management. Aha!

Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, explains that procrastination happens for two reasons:

  • You feel like you’re not in the mood to carry out a particular task at the moment.
  • You think that you’ll be in a mood that’s more conducive to taking on said task at a later moment in time.

That is, we say things like the following to ourselves:

  • “I will definitely get a membership at the gym that’s two blocks away from my house, but I’ll do it tomorrow because right now I need a nap.”
  • “Finishing the budget report is my number one priority, and if I run down to Starbucks and get myself a latte and a scone, this will give me the willpower boost I need to get to it.”
  • “I know just the product to create and start selling online, but I’ve been feeling kind of gloomy, and I’m sure that re-watching Game of Thrones—starting from the very first episode of the series—will make me feel much better. Then I’ll be able to get started with my product creation.”

Now that you know why you procrastinate, what can you do to fix your procrastination problem? I’m going to give you some techniques you can use in this post.

Below you’ll find seven ways to control your mood so that you can stop procrastinating and get started with those important projects and tasks that you keep putting off.

Reframe the Task

If the mere thought of getting started on a task makes you wince—because it’s boring, difficult, or something you’ve never done before—it’s highly unlikely you’ll be in the mood to get started with it. Once you’ve framed something as “snooze-inducing”, the “task from hell”, or the “requires-genius-level-IQ” project, you can be sure you’ll be in full-on procrastination mode.

When you can’t get yourself to work on a task because of the way in which you’ve framed it, the solution is to reframe it. Be curious about the task. Ask yourself questions like the following:

  • What’s interesting about this?
  • How can I add an element of play to this?
  • How does completing this task help me to achieve an important goal?
  • Who can I ask for help?
  • How will I feel when this is done?
  • What part of the task can I get started on right away?
  • How have I completed a similar project?
  • How will working on this project help me grow?

Look for ways to see the task or project that you need to work on from a different perspective. You’ve heard politicians spin stories in a way that suits their narrative. Now you look for ways to spin the task that you need to get to work on so that it’s more appealing and, therefore, easier to get started on.

You Can Act Regardless of Your Mood

A mature person knows that if something needs to be done, they’ll get to it, even if they don’t feel like it. I’m a runner, and a weightlifter. Both activities involve putting up with some discomfort, and there are days when I simply don’t feel like doing them. But I do them, regardless of whether I feel like it.

My thoughts and emotions don’t make the final decision about what gets done. I do. And on those days when I feel down in the dumps, or a little voice in my head tells me to skip the gym, I override those thoughts and emotions, and I make myself exercise.

I do it because I’m an adult, and I’m in charge.

Deceive Yourself

Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, recommends that–to get started on a task that you’re procrastinating on–you do the following:

  • Look at the next action.
  • By focusing only on the next action, you’ll calm your nerves.
  • Then, you can deceive yourself.

Deceive yourself?! Yes. When it’s time to get started on a task, consider the next action, but just as if it were a possibility. You can tell yourself things like the following:

  • If I were to come up with a tentative title for a blog post, it would be something like. . .
  • I’m not going to get started on this right now, but if I were going to get started, I would. . .
  • I’m just going to open a Word document and maybe write the date at the top.
  • I’ll just take out a pad of paper and a pen and place it here in front of me.

Dr. Pychyl states that motivation follows action. Once you’ve deceived yourself into taking some action that’s related to the task that you need to work on, however small that action may be, it’s much easier to just keep going.

Time Travel

Suppose you’re about to get started on a complicated task, and you feel some anxiety as a result. You know it’s going to take a lot of focused effort. To lessen this anxiety, you feel yourself clicking over to Twitter to see what your online friends are up to. That’s when you should stop yourself and time travel.

Think of yourself an hour from now. There are two possible scenarios you’ll find yourself in:

  • In Scenario One you got started on the task right away. You felt some anxiety and discomfort at first, but you kept going. Then you realized that the task wasn’t that bad after all and you worked on it for an hour.
  • In Scenario Two you clicked over to Twitter. You found a funny meme that was going around, and you got a good laugh out of it. Then you retweeted a few inspirational quotes, clicked over to read a couple of articles that looked interesting, and participated in a poll. Sixty minutes later, you realize that you’ve spent an hour on Twitter and haven’t even gotten started on the task.

How do you feel when you think of Scenario One? You probably feel pretty good about yourself.

How do you feel when you think of Scenario Two? Probably awful. In fact, the feeling of knowing that you just wasted an hour is probably worse than the anxiety that you feel when you think of getting started on the task at hand. A quick cost-benefit analysis will reveal that you’ll be much better off mood-wise if you get started on the task.

Use the Science of Habits

The best way to beat procrastination is by turning whatever it is that you’re procrastinating on into a habit. Do you want to start exercising? Turn it into a habit. Do you want to “eat the frog” first thing in the morning? Turn it into a habit. Do you want to start meditating? Turn it into a habit.

We now know that habits are repeated behaviors that consist of three parts:

  • A trigger — the event that kicks off the urge to complete a habit.
  • The routine, or the habit itself.
  • A reward – something that tells your brain: “That was great! Make sure to do this again!”

Here’s an example of how to stop procrastinating when it comes to meditating by turning it into a habit:

  • Trigger: Putting your toothbrush away after brushing your teeth in the morning.
  • Action – Walk to the living room, place a sofa cushion on the floor and sit on it, and meditate for five minutes.
  • Reward – Have some flavored coffee.

Since habits are something you do pretty much on automatic, whether you’re “in the mood” is a question you don’t even ask yourself. The trigger sets off the action, you perform the action, and then you reward yourself.

Show Yourself Self-Compassion

One of the reasons that people procrastinate is because they fall into a negative loop, which looks like the following:

  • There’s something important that they need to do, but they’re not in the mood to do it.
  • They distract themselves from the task they don’t want to do by doing other things: going on social media; reading articles online that aren’t conducive to the achievement of their goals; engaging in busy work; and so on.
  • They feel bad about themselves because they just wasted a bunch of time instead of getting to work on the important task. This makes their mood even worse, so they’re even less likely to get to work on the task.

Get yourself out of this loop by showing yourself self-compassion. Once you realize that you’ve wasted 45 minutes, instead of berating yourself, forgive yourself. Accept that you messed up, acknowledge that you failed to self-regulate—which happens–, and resolve to do better moving forward.

Then, give yourself a re-do. You didn’t get to work on the task 45 minutes ago like you should have, but you’re going to get started now.

Enjoy Small Victories

There’s nothing worse than trying to get yourself to work on a task when the reward for that task is far off in the future. The solution is to look for ways to reward yourself as soon as possible by breaking the task down into small parts and rewarding yourself after each of the parts is achieved.

Let’s take a look at the task of writing a blog post as an illustration. My posts tend to be on the long side—this one is about 2000 words long—and I do a lot of research for them. This means that they take a long time to write.

Often, when I’m about to start writing an article, I think to myself something like the following: “Oh, no. This is going to take forever.” That immediately makes me want to go do something else.

What I do at this point is take out my blogging checklist which details every single step that I need to take in order to write a blog post. Then, I simply start going down the list. Every time I complete one of the items on the checklist, I think to myself: “Check!”. Then I do one of the following:

  • Mentally congratulate myself.
  • Give myself a sudoku break (I love sudokus).
  • Go to the kitchen and get myself a quick snack.
  • Put on a song I love and sing along.
  • Stop to acknowledge how much of the blog post I’ve completed.
  • Put on a Shakira song and dance along (if you don’t listen to Shakira, you’re missing out).
  • Encourage myself to keep going and knock off the few remaining tasks.

Rewarding yourself is a great way to regulate your mood.

Conclusion

I hope this post helps you to knock out an important task that you’ve been procrastinating on. If you need more help overcoming procrastination, get my eBook, “Make It Happen! A Workbook for Overcoming Procrastination and Getting the Right Things Done”.

Live your best life by taking charge of your mood so you can overcome procrastination.

 

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