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How to Be Well Read

how to be well read

Everyone who is serious about self-improvement wishes to be well read.

A while ago I pondered the question of what it means to be well educated. Now I’ve asked myself the following: “What does it mean to be well read?”

According to Google, 129,864,880 books have been published in modern history. Needless to say, that’s a lot of books. Upon the myriad titles available, which ones should you read? Should you go out and get yourself a copy of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, Don Quixote, The Odyssey, The Decameron, War and Peace, Papá Goriot, and a collection of Emily Dickenson’s poems?

  • What else should be on your reading list?
  • Should you have a lifelong reading list at all, or should you simply read at whim?
  • Should you stick to the classics or should you add both fiction and nonfiction across a variety of topics and genres?
  • Do you need to include a multicultural array of authors?
  • Do the books on your list have to be challenging and difficult to read? Can you include popular fiction?

In addition, how should you read the books that you select so that you can get the most out of them, reflect on what you’ve read, and have better retention? I’ve attempted to answer all of these questions in this post, and hope to have succeeded.

Below you’ll discover how to be well read.

What to Read to Be Well Read

The first question people usually ask themselves once they’ve decided that they wish to become well read is the following: What should I read?

Fortunately, this is a question that several bibliophiles have attempted to answer, so you can look through their recommendations in order to reach your own conclusions. Here are ten suggestions on how to develop a list of books to read:

1. Thomas Jefferson’s Recommended Reading. Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, and was incredibly well read. When the British burned down the Library of Congress during the War of 1812, Jefferson—who had the largest personal collection of books in the US—offered his library to Congress as a replacement.

Throughout his life, several people wrote to Jefferson asking him to recommend a list of books that they should read. Jefferson would respond to those letters. In those letters, Jefferson provided a lengthy list of books that he found to be uplifting. Here’s a list of Jefferson’s recommend reading.

2. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This literary reference book was compiled by over 100 literary critics and was edited by Peter Boxall. It includes both novels and short stories and each title is accompanied by a synopsis and an explanation of why it was chosen.

You can get 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die on Amazon, or you can take a look at the list of the 1001 books here.

3. The Harvard Classics. I’ve written about the Harvard Classics on this blog before. Charles W. Eliot—the president of Harvard University from 1869 to 1909 —once said that anyone could get a Harvard quality liberal arts education by reading for 15 minutes, every day, for a year.

Eliot identified exactly what one must read to accomplish his claim in a collection titled the Harvard Classics. The collection contains works from literature, religion, philosophy, science, education, and history.

You can get “The Harvard Classics in a Year: A Liberal Education in 365 Days”, for your Kindle, for just $2.50.

4. Great Books of the Western World. This is another collection of books which is designed to give the reader a liberal arts education, along the lines of the Harvard Classics. It was the brainchild of Robert Maynard Hutchins –president of the University of Chicago—and Mortimer Adler, a philosopher and educator. It contains what is widely known as the Western canon.

The Great Books were marketed door-to-door through the 1960s with the message that anyone could become well-read. You can get the Great Books of the Western World on Amazon, or you can get them here as free eBooks.

5. Great Books. David Denby—an American journalist best known for working as the film critic for The New Yorker Magazine for 16 years—got a B.A. from Columbia University in 1965. Then, in 1991–at the age of 48—Denby returned to Columbia and re-enrolled in two core courses in Western civilization:

  • Literature Humanities
  • Contemporary Civilization

Denby retook these courses in order to reacquaint himself with the major Western literary, historical, political, and philosophical works. That is, Denby exposed himself once again to “the great books”, beginning with the Greeks and the Bible and ending with the most influential political thinkers of the 20th century. In his Great Books, Denby takes the reader through his personal odyssey of these works.

6. The New Lifetime Reading Plan. The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major was first published in 1960. However, it’s been revised and modernized. This reading plan provides an introduction to great literature from around the globe, including writers and works from Confucius to Charlotte Bronte, and from Gabriel García Márquez to the Koran.

The authors give you a synopsis of each of the books that they recommend, as well as recommendations on how to read and think about them. You can take a look at the list of books included in the lifetime reading plan here.

7. How to Be Well Read. In How to Be Well Read: A Guide to 500 Great Novels and a Handful of Literary Curiosities, John Sutherland—a British academic who has taught English literature for over 50 years—argues that if you want to be well read, just reading the classics won’t cut it.

In fact, his list includes everything from imposing Victorian novels to more eclectic picks, such as Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, E.L. James’ erotic romance Fifty Shades of Grey, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

8. Classics For Pleasure. In Classics for Pleasure, Pulitzer Prize winner and book critic for The Washington Post Michael Dirda recommends ninety of the world’s most entertaining books and offers a brief essay on each one. Although the word “classics” is in the title of the book, Dirda wanted to go beyond the “obvious classics”.

In his “Classics for Pleasure”, Dirda includes Icelandic sagas, the Tao Te Ching, Dracula, and other books he has enjoyed across several genres which he felt have helped to shape literature, even if they’re not considered “classics” in the traditional sense of the word. Dirda indicates that instead of thinking of a book as being either high literature or popular literature, the only question that really matters is whether the book is well written or not.

Here’s a YouTube video of a talk that Dirda gave at the Library of Congress in which he reveals why he wrote “Classics for Pleasure”, as well as the titles that he recommends in said book.

9. Stephen King’s Recommended Reading. Stephen King—the beloved author of horror, fantasy, and the supernatural whose books have sold over 350 million copies–explains in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”, that if you want to be a writer, you have to read. In addition, he goes on to recommend 96 titles that all aspiring writers should read.

You can take a look at King’s list of “96 Books For Aspiring Writers to Read” here.

10. The Little Guide to Your Well Read Life. In The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, Steve Leveen advises the following: “Do not set out to live a well-read life but rather your well-read life.” That is, instead of blindly adhering to someone else’s reading list, seek out those books that seem to have been written for you. He recommends that you choose books that thrill you, move you, and transport you.

Leveen writes that in mid-life he concluded that he wasn’t well read. He then decided to change that by making reading a priority. In his guide he shares that the result of reading more books was the following: “my life has become electrified and zestful –like living in color rather than black and white”.

In his guide Leveen recommends that you create a list of books that you want to read by doing the following:

  • List the books that you already know that you want to read.
  • Divide your list into categories and genres that make sense to you.
  • If there are a few business books that you want to include or books on how to advance in your career, include them.
  • Ask friends and people whom you admire to recommend books to you and–if you’re intrigued by their suggestions–add them to your list.
  • If there’s an author you’ve enjoyed reading in the past, look for more books by that author and include those books on your list as well.
  • Is there a subject that you enjoyed in school that you want to know more about? Look for books on that subject and write down their titles.
  • What else interests you? What are the best books in those areas? Those books should also go on your list.

Ten General Principles on Becoming Well Read

As stated in the introduction, in order to be well read it’s not enough that you read a lot. In addition to reading lots of good books, you have to read well. Here are ten general principles on how to read so that you can become well read:

1. Read Deliberately. As was stated in the section above, instead of simply picking up books at whim, create a lifetime plan for reading. Choose your reading carefully and deliberately. After all, as Henry Thoreau once said, “Read the good books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

2. Read For Pleasure. You will never make time to read if you don’t choose books that you think you’ll enjoy reading. That is, read for pleasure and not out of obligation. Life is too short to force yourself to read books that you don’t want to read.

3. Block Out Time In Your Calendar. In order to read more, you have to block out reading time in your calendar. When are you going to read? First thing in the morning? Last thing before going to bed? Give your reading a time slot in your schedule.

4. Shut Off All Distractions. Treat your reading time as sacred. Find a quiet spot, close the door, turn off your phone, and do whatever else you need to do in order to focus completely on your reading.

5. Be Patient. At first, your internet brain won’t want to stay still during the time that you’ve allotted for reading books. Instead, it will crave the constant stimulation that it gets from the internet. However, if you stick to it, you’ll discover that after a while you’ll regain the ability to become completely engrossed in what you’re reading.

6. Alternate Between Different Levels of Difficulty. While it’s true that shouldn’t try to force yourself to read books that fill you with dread, you should add books to your reading list that are currently above your level of comprehension. After all, that’s how you grow as a person and expand your mind.

A great way to get yourself to read difficult books is to alternate between different levels of reading difficulty. Do the following:

  • Take a look at your reading list and choose a book that’s easy to read to tackle first.
  • Once you’re done reading the first book you’ve selected, look for something that’s more challenging.
  • When you’re done with the challenging book, choose another easy book.
  • Continue alternating the books that you read depending on their level of difficulty.

7. Think About What You Read. As Denis Parsons Burkitt once said, “It is better to read a little and ponder a lot than to read a lot and ponder a little.” At the end of each paragraph, each page, or each chapter of the book that you’re reading, stop for a moment and think about what you’ve just read.

Think back to when you were in school and your teacher would ask you to read a passage out loud and then explain to the class what the passage was about. Do that for yourself now.

8. Write In the Margins. Make the book your own by scribbling your thoughts on the margins and highlighting passages that you consider to be particularly important. In addition, hold a conversation with the author as you read and write down where you agree with the author and where you disagree.

As Mortimer Adler once said, “ . . . writing in a book indicates intellectual ownership”.

9. Learn How to Read Well. Of course, you already know how to read. However, there’s a difference between reading at an elementary level—which is the level at which most people read–and reading well. That is, reading at a level in which you digest and absorb what you’re reading and are able to incorporate it into your knowledge base.

In order to read well there are a few additional steps that you need to add to your current reading process. The two best resources that I’ve found for learning how to read well are the following:

10. Start a Reading Journal. One of the best ways to retain what you read is to write a summary of it in your own words. Here’s a format you can use:

  • Write the title of the work and the author at the top.
  • Rate the work from 1 to 10, depending on how much you enjoyed reading it.
  • Copy quotes and passages from the book that you highlighted.
  • Write a 400 word summary of the book.
  • Write a few sentences on how the book changed you, or how it has helped you to gain a better understanding of the human experience.

You can simply use a Moleskine or any other notebook, or you can get yourself a book journal such as Reading Journal: For Book Lovers by Potter Style.

Conclusion           

Take control of your reading by creating a lifelong reading plan. Then, find a comfortable chair, make sure that you have good lighting, and get to it. Live your best life by being well read.

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self-kindness

Want to be happier? Start by being kinder to yourself.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her bestselling book, “Eat, Pray, Love”, that one day she walked into a building in New York City in a hurry. She was dashing toward the elevator, when she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror. However, she didn’t immediately recognize herself. Instead, she thought: “Oh, look! I know her. She’s my friend.”

Gilbert moved toward her own reflection with a smile, ready to hug this person, when she realized that she was looking at herself. Later, she remembered this incident one day when she was in Rome. She felt sad and alone, but thinking of that day in New York brought her some comfort. She was journaling and she wrote the following at the bottom of the page:

“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”

In order to recognize yourself as a friend, you have to be kind to yourself. If you’re not sure how to do this, you’re in the right place. Below you’ll discover 17 ways to be kind to yourself.

1. Carve Out Some Time For Yourself. Every day carve out some time for yourself and do something that brings you joy. You can draw, journal, write short stories, play a musical instrument, or do anything else that you love to do. Be kind to yourself by giving yourself some “me time” each day.

2. Give Yourself Recognition. Often, we’re quick to acknowledge the achievements of others, but slow to acknowledge our own. That has to stop. Become aware of your own achievements and give yourself recognition.

When you do something you’re proud of, stop for a minute and dwell on it. Praise yourself and relish the achievement. Complement yourself. Pat yourself on the back and say the following: “Kudos to me!”

3. Cultivate Your Inner Advocate. We’re all familiar with the inner critic. It’s that little voice in our heads that’s quick to judge and is always ready with a put down. Well, it’s time for your inner critic to meet your inner advocate.

And who exactly is this inner advocate? It’s another voice in your head: the one that defends you. When your inner critic comes at you with ridicule and scorn, your inner advocate jumps in and presents arguments on your behalf. While your inner critic is against you, your inner advocate is for you.

Be kind to yourself by cultivating your inner advocate (mine wears Armani suits and carries a black leather Gucci brief case).

4. Forgive Yourself. We all mess up. Look at the following:

  • Maybe you did something in the past that you’re not proud of.
  • Perhaps you failed to stand up for yourself and you let someone else get the better of you.
  • You may have missed a great opportunity because you got scared.
  • Maybe you failed to follow through on an important goal.

If you’re angry at yourself, you need to show yourself kindness: stop blaming yourself, resolve to do better from now on, and forgive yourself.

5. Take Good Care of Yourself. One of the best ways to show yourself kindness is to take good care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat fruits and vegetables, and get some form of exercise on a regular basis. In addition, choose a way to release stress, be well groomed, and look after your appearance.

6. Respect Yourself. Self-respect is valuing yourself for who you are, and not allowing others to dictate your value. It’s trusting yourself, thinking for yourself, forming your own opinions, and making your own decisions. In addition, it’s refusing to compare yourself to others.

Finally, self-respect is about keeping your promises to yourself and following through on what you tell yourself that you’re going to do. Be kind to yourself by deeply respecting yourself.

7. Treat Yourself. I’m not advocating shopping therapy, or consumerism. However, if you see something that you really want, treat yourself. If it’s expensive, save up for it. You don’t have to wait for someone else to give it to you as a gift. Give it to yourself. (You get bonus points if you get the shop to wrap it in colorful gift wrap.)

8. Soothe Yourself. Did you have a tough day? Did you get into an argument with a co-worker or a friend? Did you bomb your presentation? Was it one of those days in which everything that could wrong, did go wrong? Be kind to yourself by soothing yourself. Do the following:

  • Soak in a hot tub. Add scented bath oil.
  • Give yourself a scalp massage. Rub your feet.
  • Make yourself some hot cocoa with little marshmallows in it and sit back with a mystery novel.
  • Lock your bedroom door, turn on some music, and dance around in your underwear.

After all, nobody knows how to soothe you better than you.

9. Remind Yourself of Your Good Qualities. Maybe you’re a little heavier than “the ideal body type”, but you have long, lustrous hair. Maybe you’re not great at sports, but you’re an ace at math. Maybe you have a tendency to be melodramatic, but you have a great sense of humor.
Always remind yourself of your good qualities.

10. Lift Yourself Up. When you fail, make a mistake, or do something wrong, you have two choices. You can tear yourself down, or you can lift yourself up. People who are kind to themselves choose the latter.

Tell yourself it’s going to be OK. Give yourself a morale boost by reminding yourself of your past successes. Then, come up with a plan for dealing with what happened, and take action.

11. Tell Yourself, “I Am Enough”. We’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve thought, “I’m not good looking enough, or smart enough, or strong enough to get what I want.” Stop it with the “I’m not enough” self-talk and replace it with the following;

  • “I’m enough, just as I am.”
  • “I’m worthy.”
  • “I deserve to be happy.”
  • “I deserve to have everything I want.”

In addition, tell yourself that nothing has to happen to make you worthy. You are already enough.

12. Honor Your Dreams. People who respect themselves–people who are kind to themselves–honor their dreams. That is, they don’t downplay their dreams by labeling them as silly fantasies. Instead, they take their dreams seriously by turning those dreams into goals, and creating a plan for achieving those goals.

13. Find the Sweet Spot Between Acceptance and Striving. Part of being kind to yourself is acknowledging your potential. As was stated in the previous point, you should know what you want and go after it. However, never being satisfied with where you are, or with what you have achieved so far in life, is being unkind to yourself.

Be kind to yourself by finding the sweet spot between being happy with who you are, while taking action to become even better.

14. Stop Trying to Be Perfect. People who set a standard of perfection for themselves are setting themselves up for failure. After all, perfection is unachievable. Can you think of anything more unkind than making success impossible for yourself?

Instead of setting a standard of “perfection” for yourself, aim to improve, one step at a time.

15. Show Yourself Compassion. In the book, How to Be Your Own Best Friend by Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz, the authors recommend that you befriend yourself by showing yourself compassion. The best way to feel compassion for yourself is to imagine that someone you love is feeling hurt. Look at the following:

  • What would you say to them?
  • How would you treat them?
  • How would you reassure them?
  • How would you make them feel cared for and loved?

Now, do that for yourself.

16. Believe In Yourself. Part of being kind to yourself is wanting the best for yourself. And in order to get the best, you have to believe in yourself. Have faith in your own abilities and in your own judgment. Think highly of yourself: believe in yourself.

17. Accept Yourself. Accept yourself as you are. You have strengths, and you have weaknesses. Sometimes you succeed, and sometimes you fail. Sometimes you’re right, and sometimes you’re wrong. Allow yourself to fully be who you are.

Conclusion

There’s only one person in the world you’ll always have a relationship with, and that’s yourself. Therefore, you better start making sure that you’re a good companion to yourself. Live your best life by being kind to yourself. You can get started with the 17 tips explained above.

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Mario Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America’s most celebrated writers.

Born in Peru in 1936, Llosa has been on the literary scene for decades. Here’s a short list of his accomplishments:

  • He’s written over 30 novels, plays, and essays– his work explores politics, culture, and everyday life in Latin America. “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter,” “The Time of the Hero” and “Conversation in the Cathedral” are just a few of his works.
  • He was a candidate in the 1990 elections for the presidency of Peru.
  • He publishes regular political columns in major American and European newspapers.
  • He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

The writing tips below were curated from Llosa’s book on writing, “Letters to a Young Novelist”, which is written à la Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”. It consists of twelve chapters, each written as a letter to a fictitious aspiring writer. In addition, I relied on a 1990 interview of Llosa by the “The Paris Review”, as well as other speeches and interviews he’s given over the years.

Here are 18 invaluable pieces of writing advice from Mario Vargas Llosa:

The Literary Vocation

A common question asked by aspiring writers is the following: “Should I become a writer?” Llosa has the following to say about the literary vocation:

  • “The defining characteristic of the literary vocation may be that those who possess it experience the exercise of their craft as its own best reward, much superior to anything they might gain from the fruits of their labors. That is one thing I am sure of amid my many uncertainties regarding the literary vocation: deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him . . .” (Letters To A Young Novelist)
  • “[The literary vocation is] . . . a predisposition of murky origin that causes certain men and women to dedicate their lives to an activity that one day they feel called, almost obliged, to pursue, because they sense that only in pursuing this vocation – writing stories, for example – will they feel complete, at peace with themselves, able to give the best of themselves without the nagging fear that they are wasting their lives.” (Letters To a Young Novelist)

What Should I Write About?

Aspiring writers often ask where writers find ideas for their stories and novels. Llosa’s answer is this:

  • “My impression is that life—a big word, I know—inflicts themes on a writer through certain experiences that impress themselves on his consciousness or subconscious and later compel him to shake himself free by turning them into stories.” (Letters to a Young Novelist)
  • “…So does it make sense to speak of authenticity in fiction, a genre in which it is most authentic to be a trickster, a swindler? It does, but in this way: the authentic novelist is the novelist who docilely obeys the rules life dictates, writing on those themes born out of experience and possessed of urgency and avoiding all others. That is what authenticity or sincerity is for the novelist: the acceptance of his own demons and the decision to serve them as well as possible.” (Letters to a Young Novelist)
  • “As far as I’m concerned, I believe the subject chooses the writer . . . I never get the feeling that I’ve decided rationally, cold-bloodedly to write a story. On the contrary, certain events or people, sometimes dreams or readings, impose themselves suddenly and demand attention.” (The Paris Review)

On Style

Llosa also indicates in “Letters to a Young Novelist” that writers should find their own style. He says the following:

  • “For practical advice, I’ll give you this: since you want to be a novelist and you can’t be one without coherent and essential style, set out to find a style for yourself. Read constantly, because it is impossible to acquire a rich, full sense of language without reading plenty of good literature, and try as hard as you can, not to imitate the styles of the novelists you most admire and who first taught you to love literature….Imitate them in everything else; in their dedication, in their discipline, in their habits; if you feel it is right, make their convictions yours. But try to avoid the mechanical reproduction of the patterns and rhythms of their writing, since if you don’t manage to develop a personal style that suits your subject matter, your stories will likely never achieve the power of persuasion that makes them come to life.”

Using Humor As A Literary Tool

Llosa has the following to say about using humor as a literary tool:

  • “I used to be ‘allergic’ to humor because I thought, very naively, that serious literature never smiled; that humor could be very dangerous if I wanted to broach serious social, political, or cultural problems in my novels. I thought it would make my stories seem superficial and give my reader the impression that they were nothing more than light entertainment. That’s why I had renounced humor, probably under the influence of Sartre who was always very hostile to humor, at least in his writing. But one day, I discovered that in order to effect a certain experience of life in literature, humor could be a very precious tool. That happened with Pantaleon and the Special Service. From then on, I was very conscious of humor as a great treasure, a basic element of life and therefore of literature.” (The Paris Review)

About His Work Habits

Here’s what Llosa has to say about his work habits:

  •  “First of all, it’s a daydream, a kind of rumination about a person, a situation, something that occurs only in the mind. Then I start to take notes, summaries of narrative sequences: somebody enters the scene here, leaves there, does this or that. When I start working on the novel itself, I draw up a general outline of the plot—which I never hold to, changing it completely as I go along, but which allows me to get started. Then I start putting it together, without the slightest preoccupation with style, writing and rewriting the same scenes, making up completely contradictory situations . . .” (The Paris Review)
  • “The first draft is always very difficult — a kind of fight against demoralization. I feel I’ll never get over the difficulties. What I like most is rewriting. To correct, to suppress, to add, to rebuild the story — this process is the most exciting for me.” (Source)
  • “I think what I love is not the writing itself, but the rewriting, the editing, the correcting . . . I think it’s the most creative part of writing. ” (The Paris Review)
  • “First, I write by hand. I always work in the morning, and in the early hours of the day, I always write by hand.” (The Paris Review)
  • “I have a very rigorous work schedule. Every morning until two in the afternoon, I stay in my office.” (The Paris Review)
  • “Monday through Saturday, I work on the novel in progress, and I devote Sunday mornings to journalistic work—articles and essays.” (The Paris Review)
  • “If I started to wait for moments of inspiration, I would never finish a book. Inspiration for me comes from a regular effort.” (The Paris Review)
  • “At the end of a day of intense work, when I find myself in a state of great inner turmoil, a movie does me a great deal of good.” (The Paris Review)

More Writing Tips From Mario Vargas Llosa

Here are three more writing tips from Llosa:

  • “ . . . stories must seduce the reader not by their ideas but by their color, by the emotions they inspire, by their element of surprise, and by all the suspense and mystery they’re capable of generating.” (The Paris Review)
  • “A good novel is a conjunction of many factors, the main of which is without a doubt, hard work.” (Source)
  • “Faulkner was the first novelist I read with pen and paper in hand, because his technique stunned me. He was the first novelist whose work I consciously tried to reconstruct by attempting to trace, for example, the organization of time, the intersection of time and place, the breaks in the narrative, and that ability he has of telling a story from different points of view in order to create a certain ambiguity, to give it added depth.” (The Paris Review)

Conclusion

In the very last line of “Letters to A Young Novelist”, Llosa says the following:

“My dear friend: what I am trying to say is that you should forget everything you’ve read in my letters about the structure of the novel, and just sit down and write.”

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how to have a great attitude

Your attitude determines how you live your life.

Even if –at any given time–your choices of action are limited, your choices regarding your attitude are not. Always choose a positive attitude.

A positive attitude makes you happier and more resilient, it improves your relationships, and it even increases your chances of success in any endeavor. In addition, having a positive attitude makes you more creative and it can help you to make better decisions. To top it all off, there are studies that show that people with a positive attitude live longer than their sourpuss counterparts. Below you’ll discover 21 ways to create and maintain a positive attitude.

1. Have a Morning Routine. How you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. Make sure that you have an attitude-boosting morning routine that puts you in a good mood so that you can start the day off right.

2. Carry An Attitude of Happiness With You. Instead of waiting for external things to make you happy, be happy and then watch how that influences the things that go on around you. That is, instead of telling yourself that first something good has to happen, and then you’ll be happy, be happy first. Happiness is an attitude, not a situation.

3. Relish Small Pleasures. Big pleasures—graduation, getting married, being promoted, having your book published—come too infrequently. Life is made up of tiny victories and simple pleasures. With the right mental attitude, watching the sunset, eating an ice cream cone, and walking barefoot on the grass are all you need to be filled with joy.

4. Smile. Smiling will give you an instantaneous attitude boost. Try smiling for a minute while you think of a happy memory or the last thing that made you smile. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, also known as the feel good hormones. It’s a lot easier to adopt a positive attitude when the chemicals being released by your body are conducive to well-being.

5. Upload Positivity to Your Brain. Read books with a positive message, listen to music with uplifting lyrics, and watch movies in which the protagonist’s optimism helped him to overcome obstacles and win despite the odds. Change your attitude for the better by uploading as much positivity into your brain as you possibly can.

6. Take Responsibility. At any moment your attitude can be that of a victim or of a creator. The first step you need to take to shift from victim-mode to creator-mode is to take responsibility. Here’s the attitude of a creator:

  • I create my life.
  • I am responsible for me.
  • I’m in charge of my destiny.

7. Have a Zen Attitude. Think of life not as something that’s happening to you, but as something that’s happening for you. Look at any challenging situation, person, or event as a teacher that’s been brought into your life to teach you something.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “Why is this happening to me?” choose to have a Zen attitude, instead. Ask yourself, “What am I supposed to learn or gain from this”? or “How will this help me grow and become a better, more enlightened being?”

8. Be Proactive. A reactive person allows others and external events to determine how they will feel. A proactive person decides how they will feel regardless of what may be going on around them. Be proactive by choosing your attitude and maintaining it throughout the day, regardless of what the day may bring.

9. Change Your Thoughts. Positive thoughts lead to a positive attitude, while negative thoughts lead to a negative attitude. Changing your attitude is as easy as hitting the “pause” button on what you’re thinking and choosing to think different thoughts.

10. Have a Purpose. Having a purpose in life gives you a fixed point in the horizon to focus on, so that you can remain steady amid life’s vicissitudes and challenges. Bringing meaning and purpose into your life—knowing why you are here—will do wonders for your attitude.

11. Focus On the Good. In order to have a positive attitude, focus on the good. Focus on the good in yourself, the good in your life, and the good in others.

12. Stop Expecting Life to Be Easy. The truth is, life gets tough at times. For all of us. It can even be painful. But you’re brave and resourceful, and you can take it. Know that sometimes things won’t be easy, and adopt the attitude that you have what it takes to deal with anything that life throws at you.

13. Keep Up Your Enthusiasm. Enthusiastic people have a great attitude toward life. Have a list of ways to lift your enthusiasm ready for those times when you feel your zest for life draining away. Being enthusiastic will help you maintain the attitude that life is good and that you’re lucky to be alive.

14. Give Up On Having An Attitude of Entitlement. Think of the parable “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. Two little mice and two miniature people are put in a maze. Here’s what happens:

  • When the mice discover that the cheese isn’t where it’s supposed to be, they immediately get to work on finding another piece of cheese.
  • The two miniature people, instead, get angry that the cheese has been moved. They waste time expressing outrage and blaming each other.

Stop demanding that things be handed to you. Your attitude at all times should be the following:

  • It’s up to me to get what I want.
  • Good things come to those who work hard.
  • I adapt to change easily and quickly.
  • I keep going even when things get tough.

15. Visualize. When things aren’t going your way, keep a positive attitude by visualizing yourself succeeding and achieving your goals. When Nelson Mandela was incarcerated—in a tiny cell that was just 6 feet wide–he kept his hopes up by visualizing himself being set free.

Mandela once said, “I thought of the day when I would walk free. Over and over again, I fantasized about what I would like to do.” By visualizing his release he was able to maintain a positive attitude, even when he found himself under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

16. Limit Your Complaints. Whining about anything and everything is not conducive to a positive attitude. When you complain you’re saying negative things about a person, place, or event, without offering a solution to fix the situation. Instead of complaining, do the following:

  • Remove yourself from the situation.
  • Shift your perspective about the situation.
  • Offer a possible solution.
  • Accept that there’s nothing you can do to change the situation and that complaining about it just fosters negativity.

Constantly complaining leads to a bad attitude. So stop complaining. Instead, start looking for solutions or accept what cannot be changed.

17. Watch Your Words. Use positive words when you talk to yourself. Studies have found that positive self-talk can boost your willpower and help you psych yourself up when you need to get through a difficult task. In addition, it can calm you down when you’re worried or anxious.

If you want to change your attitude from “I can’t do this” or “I’m going to fail”, to “I’ve got this” or “I’m going to do great”, change your self -talk.

18. Use The Power of Humor. People who know how to laugh at themselves and at life’s absurdities have a great attitude. Your sense of humor is a power tool, and you can use it to lift your mood and enhance your emotional state at any time.

When something goes wrong, ask yourself, “What’s funny about this?” A humorous perspective will have a positive effect on your attitude.

19. Use Gratitude to Improve Your Attitude. When you find yourself focusing on what’s wrong in your life, what you don’t have, or what you’re missing out on, adjust your attitude by feeling gratitude.

Studies show that having an attitude of gratitude is beneficial for every aspect of your life: being grateful improves your health, your mood, your relationships, your career satisfaction, and on, and on. If you need an attitude lift simply think of all the things that you have to be grateful for.

20. Develop an Attitude of Curiosity. The best way to approach any situation is to be open to what you can learn from it. That is, be curious.

Curiosity gives you a present-moment orientation which is similar to mindfulness. Being curious about a situation allows you to experience it more fully. In addition, curiosity will help you to approach uncertainty in your daily life with a positive attitude.

21. Seek Out Others With a Positive Attitude. A positive attitude is contagious. When you feel that you need an attitude boost, find someone with a great attitude and look for an excuse to hang out with them. Their attitude can’t help but rub itself off on you and you’ll be able to face the world with renewed optimism.

Conclusion

John Mitchell once said the following: “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude toward us.” The 21 tips above will help you to keep a positive attitude at all times. Live your best life by having a great attitude.

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follow through

In order to achieve your goals you have to master the art of follow through.

We’re nearing the end of the first quarter of the year. If you’re like most people, you started the year with a long list of goals and projects that you wanted to get done in 2015. Your list probably looks something like the following:

  • Lose 20 pounds.
  • Start meditating.
  • Start a blog.
  • Write an eBook.
  • Learn to play an easy song on the guitar.
  • Achieve Level B1 in French.

Are you following through with the goals on your list? Can you say that you’re one-fourth of the way done with any of your projects? If the answer is “no” you may have a problem with follow through. No worries. There are still nine months left before the year is over. You can still salvage your goals, if you start following through.

Below you’ll find eight ways to follow through on your goals, projects, and objectives, so that you can create a habit of completion and finish what you set out to do.

1. Take Care of the Little Balls. Marie Forloe–owner of the blog by the same name–recommends that you create a habit of follow through by taking care of the little balls. For example, if you’re answering an e-mail, don’t quit mid-through and go do something else. Instead, work on the email until it’s done, and then press “Send”.

As a second illustration, if you’re paying your bills, don’t get up until you’ve gone through the whole stack. Forloe indicates that by taking care of the little balls, the big balls will take care of themselves.

2. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. Some people are under the mistaken assumption that when they’re working on a project they love, they’re going to enjoy every step of the way. Then, when they realize that there’s a lot of hard work involved, that they have to stretch their boundaries, and that some steps of the creative process are just plain boring, they quit.

People who follow through understand that, as they work on important projects, not everything will be pleasurable. However, they push through the short-term discomfort in order to achieve long-term gains.

3. Less Is More. The other day I saw an interesting graph go by on my Twitter stream. On one side of the graph there were five bars, each one partially colored in. At the bottom it said: bad day. Why? Because by spending the day working on five different things, you were busy all day but you didn’t get anything done.

On the other side of the graph there was a single bar, but the bar was completely colored in. At the bottom it said: good day. Why? Because by spending the whole day working on one thing, you’re able to get it done, and that gives you the sense of satisfaction of having seen a task through to completion. The graph looked something like the following:

Bad Day Good Day

The concept of the graph also applies to your year. A year spent working on ten different projects, without completing any of them, is a bad year. A year in which you worked on one important project and saw it through all the way to the end is a good year.

Right now, choose your most important project and give it all you’ve got until it’s done. If you still have time before the year is over, start working on your second most important project, until it’s done, and so on and so forth. By the end of the year it’s very likely that you won’t have gotten all of your projects done, but you will have finished the most important ones. And that’s what counts.

4. Count the Positive Effects. The more positive effects a project will have if you finish it, the more motivated you’ll be to achieve it, which makes it more likely that you’ll see it through to the end. Do the following:

  • Make a list of all of the positive effects that the project will have on your life if you finish it.
  • Make a list of all of the positive effects that the project will have on your family if you finish it.
  • Make a list of all of the positive effects that the project will have on your community if you finish it.
  • Make a list of all of the positive effects that the project will have on the world at large if you finish it.

If the list of benefits that you come up with is short, consider doing one of two things. Either discard the project, or look for ways to modify it so that the project becomes more valuable and has a greater number of benefits attached to its completion.

5. Get Clear On What Needs to Be Done. In my post “How to Change Your Life” I explained that–as the Heath brothers indicate in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard–in order to get yourself to take action on your goals you need to know what to do. After all, if you don’t know what to do, how are you going to do it? Do the following:

  • Join a class.
  • Buy the best three books on Amazon on your subject matter.
  • Find someone who has achieved the goal you’re working on and pick their brain.

Once you’ve gathered some information on how to achieve your goal, brainstorm possible action steps. Then, start taking those steps.

6. Create A Sense of Urgency. When there’s something urgent that you need to get done, you just do it. Look at the following:

  • If your boss is expecting the sales report by 5:00 p.m., you get it to him by that time, even if it means working through your lunch hour.
  • If your college professor announces that the report that’s worth half of your grade is due on the 30th of the month, you hand it in to her by that date, even if you have to pull an all-nighter.

Create a sense of urgency when it comes to your goals by setting deadlines and making those deadlines non-negotiable. A great way to make sure that you comply with your self-imposed deadlines is by rewarding yourself if you reach them, and by setting up a punishment for yourself if you don’t.

7. Use the Power of External Pressure. Some people have an inner drill sergeant that pushes them mercilessly until they achieve every goal that they set for themselves. Those are the people who are out jogging at 5:00 a.m., who study at the library until it closes, and who haven’t eaten anything with wheat in it in the past ten years. (I both admire and hate these people.)

For those who were born sans inner drill sergeant, all is not lost. You can always use the power of external pressure to compensate for your lack of inner pressure. Ask yourself the following: How can I make others hold me accountable for the achievement of my goals? Here are some ideas:

  • Get an accountability partner
  • Hire a life coach
  • Create a Mastermind Group

Accountability–or external pressure–is one of the key elements of following through on your goals and objectives.

8. Set Aside One-Hour-A-Day to Work On Your Goals. A lot of people cite a lack of time as the reason for their failure to follow through on their goals. However, there’s a way to get over this excuse. Set aside one-hour-a-day to work on your most important goal, every day.

By working on your goal for an hour each day you’ll be taking advantage of the compound effect. If you keep at it, little by little, you’ll achieve your goal, however big, hairy, and audacious it may be.

Conclusion

How many times have you said the following to yourself: “I get started, but I don’t follow through”? If this sounds like you, use the eight tips and techniques explained above to create the habit of following through on your goals, and to make sure that you finish what you start.

Live your best life by following through on your goals.

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root cause

The best way to solve a problem is to eliminate, or resolve, its root cause.

There’s a huge difference between hacking away at the branches of a problem, and striking at the root. When most people have a problem, they limit themselves to addressing the immediate and obvious causes of the problem, which leads to the implementation of superficial solutions. Taking this approach won’t provide you with a long-term solution to whatever problem you may be facing.

When you don’t eliminate the root cause of a problem, the problem will keep recurring. Fortunately, there are several different tools you can use for identifying the root cause of any problem. One of the best of these is called the 5 Whys. It’s a simple, but powerful tool.

Below you’ll find an explanation of the 5 Whys, and you’ll discover how you can start applying this approach to begin identifying the root cause of any problem you may be having.

The 5 Whys In a Nutshell

Sakichi Toyoda, known as “the father of the Japanese industrial revolution”, was the founder of Toyota Industries. He developed the 5 Whys technique in the 1930s. This technique became a critical component of the problem solving training given to Toyota employees.

Here’s a quote about the 5 Whys from the book “The Lean Startup”, by Eric Ries:

“The Toyota production system has been built on the practice and evolution of this scientific approach. By asking and answering ‘why’ five times, we can get to the real cause of the problem, which is often hidden behind more obvious symptoms.”

In addition, Taiichi Ohno, the architect of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s, had the following to say about the 5 Whys method in his book, “Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production”: “. . . by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”

Although the 5 Whys is a technique from lean manufacturing, it can be applied to almost any problem you may be having at work or in your daily life. The technique consists of the following:

  • Start by identifying a problem that you’re having.
  • Ask “why” that problem is occurring. Make sure that your answer is grounded in fact. You should be able to state the proof or evidence that you’re relying on for your assertion of the reason why the problem is occurring.
  • Once you have an answer, ask “why” again.
  • Continue the process until you reach the root cause of the problem. Usually, you’ll be able to identify the root cause of a problem after asking “why” five times.
  • Once you’ve identified the root cause of the problem, come up with a counter-measure that prevents it from recurring.

Three Examples of the 5Whys

Here’s an example of the 5 whys method from The UK’s National Health Service Improvement Network:

  • Problem: The patient was late getting to the Operating Room.
  • First “Why?”: There was a long wait for the trolley.
  • Second “Why?”: A replacement trolley had to be found.
  • Third “Why?”: The original trolley’s safety rail was worn and it broke off.
  • Fourth “Why?”: It was not regularly checked for wear.
  • Fifth “Why?”: The hospital doesn’t have an equipment maintenance schedule. (This is the root cause of the problem.)
  • Solution: Fix the root cause of the problem by implementing an equipment maintenance schedule.

Here’s an example involving an individual who’s late for work (from Wikipedia):

  • Problem: You were driving to work and your car broke down.
  • First “Why?”: The battery died.
  • Second “Why?”: The alternator stopped functioning.
  • Third “Why?”: The alternator belt broke.
  • Fourth “Why?”: The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not been replaced.
  • Fifth “Why?”: The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (This is the root cause of the problem.)
  • Solution: Fix the root cause of the problem by implementing a maintenance schedule for the vehicle in accordance with the recommended service schedule.

Here’s a third example:

  • Problem: You got caught speeding.
  • First “Why?”: You were late for work.
  • Second “Why?”: You got up late.
  • Third “Why?”: When the alarm rang you were too tired to get up and you hit the snooze button.
  • Fourth “Why?”: You went to sleep late.
  • Fifth “Why?”: You were watching TV past midnight. (This is the root cause of the problem.)
  • Solution: Fix the root cause of the problem by setting a rule stating that you will turn the TV off at 10:30 p.m. every night.

A More Complex 5 Whys Analysis

The simplest application of “the 5 Whys” approach is the one illustrated above in the examples of the trolley, the vehicle, and the speeding ticket. However, the approach can also be used for more complex problems. For example, Paul Williams–founder of “The Idea Sandbox”–suggests the example of a lemonade stand.

Suppose that you have a lemonade stand that’s not doing very well. Here’s your problem: sales at the lemonade stand are low. However, when you ask “why” you might come up with five different answers, instead of just one. Here are the five answers you could come up with:

  1. Sales are low because my lemonade stand is not very visible.
  2. Sales are low because people aren’t interested in premium lemonade.
  3. Sales are low because my competitors sell cheaper lemonade.
  4. Sales are low because my stand is in a poor location.
  5. Sales are low because people would rather drink coconut water or energy drinks to quench their thirst, instead of drinking lemonade.

Then, you would conduct a “5 whys analysis” for each of the five causes of poor sales that you came up with. You could also ask “why” more than once for each sub-issue. As Williams says, “‘Why’ is a magic word that will break a problem down into smaller, more workable chunks.”

Conclusion

Instead of putting a band-aid on your problems, use the 5 Whys approach explained above to identify the root cause of any problem you may be having. Then, take steps to strike at the root of the problem. That way, you’ll prevent the problem from recurring–and possibly getting bigger and more complex–in the future.

Live your best life by fixing your problems once and for all by getting at the root cause of your problems with the 5 Whys technique.

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things to do with 25 dollars

You can change your life, and the life of others, with just $25.

I’m a big fan of thinking small. I’ve written about making huge gains in productivity by thinking small; I’ve written about achieving your dreams in just one-hour-a-day; and I’ve written about creating life-changing habits by starting tiny.

In addition, you can think small when it comes to money. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need lots of money to get ahead, do good for others, or enjoy yourself. You just need $25.

Below you’ll discover 14 awesome things you can do with $25.

1. Become a Philanthropist. You don’t need to have thousands of dollars in order to become a philanthropist. Philanthropy is basically attempting to solve social problems by addressing their root cause. You can become a philanthropist by helping to eradicate poverty in developing nations with just $25.

You do this by making a $25 loan to an entrepreneur through Kiva.com. I make loans to Kiva. In my book, that makes me a philanthropist.

2. Become an Investor. Investing is something else you can start doing right away, even if you just have $25 to start with. The blog “Planting Money Seeds” has an interesting blog post on how to start investing with $25. After all, the best way to become an investor is to start educating yourself on the topic and then get out there and put some skin in the game.

3. Set Up An Emergency Fund. Even if you know next to nothing about personal finances, I’m sure that you know this: you need to set up an emergency fund. An emergency fund should contain enough money to cover at least three months worth of living expenses. The purpose of your fund is to cover all of the following:

  • Unforeseen repairs — your washing machine stops working, your car breaks down, your refrigerator goes on the fritz, and so on.
  • An unexpected job loss.
  • Anything else that might come at you from left field.

If you don’t have an emergency fund, set $25 aside right now and start one. An emergency fund with $25 in it is definitely not ideal, but it’s a start.

4. Start Saving Toward Your Dreams. Elizabeth Gilbert–author of the bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love”– explains that, for years, women would come up to her and tell her that they wanted to travel and find their true selves, like she did, but that they simply didn’t have the money to do so. Gilbert says that she didn’t know how to respond to these women.

Then, one day, a woman told her the story of her mother. Her father had walked out on the family when the woman was young, and her mother had been left alone with five kids to care for. Even though money was always tight, her mother would place $1 in an empty coffee can every single day.

She did this for twenty years, until the last kid was out of the house. Then she emptied out the coffee can. The woman’s mother bought herself a ticket on a freighter with her coffee can money, and she sailed around the world, just as she had always promised herself that she would.

Take $25 and place them in a jar or an empty coffee can. This is your dream seed money. Then, every day, add $1 to your dream stash. The going may be slow, but, if you keep it up, sooner or later you’ll have the money that you need to go after your dreams.  In the words of Gilbert: “Take whatever time you need, but make your plan, and begin today.”

5. Invest In Your Education. A great education doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. Choose a subject that you want to know more about, such as copywriting, marketing, investing, and so on. Then, conduct a search on Amazon for the best three best books on that subject matter.

Once you’ve identified the best three books on your topic, go ahead and buy the Kindle version of each. That should set you back about $25. However, you’ll be making an investment in your education and in your future.

6. Take Someone You Admire Out For Coffee. Is there someone you would like to meet, or someone you already know whom you would like to get to know better? How about someone from the past whom you would like to reconnect with? Ask them out for coffee and a scone. All you need is $25.

You’ll be growing your network and increasing your sphere of influence, which is always a good idea.

7. Start a Web Site. Nowadays, starting a web site is incredibly cheap. I had a web site on how to stop procrastinating which cost me the following:

  • $11.48 a year for the domain name with Namecheap.com.
  • $9.95 a month for hosting with HostGator.com.

With $25 you can pay for a domain name for a whole year, as well as pay for your first month of hosting. Why would you want to start a web site? Here are some reasons:

  • To create an online portfolio of your work.
  • To share your knowledge with the rest of the world.
  • To practice your writing skills.
  • To share your life story with others.
  • To make money.

Starting a web site is easy and cheap, and it gives you a presence on the worldwide web.

8. Participate in a Kickstarter Campaign. Kickstarter is a crowd-sourced project funding platform. Here’s how it works:

  • Someone has an idea–such as a product they want to create or a documentary they want to film–, but they don’t have the money to make it happen.
  • They go on Kickstarter and ask others for the money to carry out their project.
  • People who like the project and think that it should move forward can donate money to help make the project a reality.

Visit Kickstarter.com, choose a project you like, donate $25, and transform yourself into a mini-angel investor.

9. Make a Donation to Your Favorite Blogger or Free Web Site. There are many blogs filled with valuable information which you can read for free. The only thing the blogger asks for in return for the countless hours that they spend researching and writing their blog posts are donations. You can take your $25 and donate it to your favorite blogger.

In addition, you can donate $25 to Wikipedia, Firefox, the creator of a free plugin you have installed on your blog, or any other free website that you spend lots of time using.

10. Forget About It. One of the best simple pleasures in life is “finding money”. Take $25 and put the money in the pocket of a jacket or a pair of jeans that you don’t wear often. Then, forget about it.

Sometime in the future when you put on the jacket or the pair of jeans, you’ll stick your hand in the pocket and find the cash. That’s a guaranteed instantaneous rush of happiness. It’s present you doing a little something extra for future you.

11. Save Time. You can use $25 to save time by outsourcing five of the items on your To-Do list through Fiverr. Fiverr is a marketplace for creative and business services. You pay $5 for each gig (hence the name, Fiverr). Here are some of the things you can have others do for you for $5:

  • Have someone edit and proofread your blog post.
  • Have someone design a logo for you.
  • Have someone create an infographic for you.

If you want some guidance on how to choose the best vendors on Fiverr, here’s a guide you can buy for 99 cents on Amazon: Fiverr: The Essential Buying Guide: Where Smart Buyers Find Top Talent, Write Winning Proposal and Save Tons of Time & Money.

12. Make Yourself Happier. Positive psychologists have discovered that one of the best ways to make yourself happier is by doing good for others. A great way to do good for others is by practicing random acts of kindness. Take $25 and do the following:

  • Leave spare chain in a vending machine.
  • Leave quarters in the slot of a public phone.
  • Buy some donuts and drop them off at the police station or the fire department.

Random act of kindness are fun, they don’t have to cost much, and they’re a proven way to give yourself a mood boost.

13. Give a Loved One a Gift. Take five $5, create a money bouquet, and give it someone as a birthday gift, or even as a “thought you deserved something nice” gift. Everyone loves to get money as a gift–or, at least, I know I do–and a money bouquet is a creative way to present your gift. There are lots of great tutorials on how to create money bouquets online.

14. Plan a Fun Date. Taking your significant other out on a fun date doesn’t have to be expensive. Take $25 and do the following:

  • Buy a $24 bottle of wine and a $1 lottery ticket.
  • Sit out in the yard, go up to your building’s rooftop, or sit out in the balcony.
  • Put on some background music and drink the wine while you discuss all of the great things you would do if you won the lottery with that ticket you’re holding in your hand.

Sharing your dreams is a bonding experience, and talking about your dreams might even encourage you to start taking steps to make those dreams come true. And, who knows . . . you might just win the lottery. :-)

Conclusion

A common excuse that people use for not doing the things that they want to do is, “I don’t have the money”. However, as you can see from the tips above, even $25 can go a long way. Put the money excuse to one side and start living your best life with whatever amount of money you have at your disposal right now, no matter how small it might be.

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creative project ideas

Getting stuck in the left-side of the brain is no fun. We all need to allow our right brains to express themselves.

Turn off your calculator, stop looking at those pie charts, and allow your logical, analytical brain to get some rest. It’s time to draw, write, play an instrument, and create something new.

You don’t have to be Picasso or Mozart, you simply have to create for the sake of creating. To quote Frederic Terral, “for all you frustrated right-brainers trapped in the frigid planes of your left-brain there is hope.” Below you’ll fund 20 creative project ideas–some free and some not–to reawaken your right brain:

1. Write 400 Words. Sometimes even writing 1,000 words is overly ambitious. Why not start with 400 words? Here are some ideas:

  • Write about things you love in 400 words.
  • Tell the story of your working life in 400 words or less (inspired by the magazine “400 Words” which collected super-short autobiographies).
  • Join blogger Matt Gerrard’s challenge and write 400 words a day from now until infinity.

2. Create a Collage of Your Bucket List. Start off by creating your bucket list — a list of all the things you want to see, do, and experience during your lifetime. Then, do the following:

  • Grab a stack of magazines and cut out any images that represent the items on your bucket list. You can also look for images online and print them out.
  • Glue your images on a piece of paper.
  • Decide if you want to draw on top, add little pieces of fabric, glue on some letters to spell out messages, and so on.

3. Create a Poster. Fuel your creativity by creating a poster. You can get a poster board and fill it with your favorite quotes, draw an image on it, or fill it with inspirational sayings of your own. Instead of making it by hand, you can also use Power Point, PhotoShop, or use an online poster maker.

As an example, here’s a happiness poster that I created (you can get it on Zazzle):

how to be happy poster

4. Write Flash Fiction. Flash fiction is a complete story which contains 1000 words or less. It contains the classic story elements: a protagonist meeting an obstacle, conflict (or complication), and a resolution. Here’s a great article on how to write flash fiction: Managing Story Length.

5. Write a Manifesto. A manifesto is a declaration of principles and intentions, or the views of the writer. It can be a true manifesto, such as my Freedom Manifesto”, or it can be tongue-in-cheek (for example, “The Procrastinator’s Manifesto” or “The Lazy Person’s Manifesto”). Here are some great manifestos to inspire you:

6. Write a Poem – Silverstein Style. Shel Silverstein was an American poet, cartoonist, and author of children’s books. His most famous work is a set of children’s poems collected in a book titled, Where the Sidewalk Ends. His poems are funny and silly, and each one is accompanied by a fabulous pen-and-ink drawing that further illustrates the poem’s meaning.

Read some of Shel Silverstein’s poems—lots of them are online–and then write your own poem in a similar style. Here’s one of Silverstein’s poems:

 Early Bird (from the book, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”)

“Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early bird—
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.”

Crowded Tub (from the book, “A Light in the Attic”)

“There are too many kids in this tub
There are too many elbows to scrub
I just washed a behind that I’m sure wasn’t mine
There are too many kids in this tub.”

7. Become An Idea Machine. In his post titled “The Ultimate Guide For Becoming An Idea Machine“, James Altucher argues that ideas are the currency of life. James recommends that you get yourself a waiter’s pad, and that you take some time to sit down every day and come up with ten ideas. These ideas can be about anything. Here are some examples:

  • Come Up With 10 Money Making Ideas
  • Come Up With Ideas For 10 Web Sites You Could Build
  • Come Up With 10 Different Ways to Solve a Problem You’re Currently Having
  • Come Up With 10 Different Ideas for Books You Could Write

By exercising your idea muscle you’ll soon be able to come up with ideas to solve any situation you may find yourself in, at the snap of your fingers.

8. Draw Zentangles. You draw Zentangles by making patterns. These patterns can be simple or complex, and they’re lots of fun and very relaxing to make. Some refer to Zentangles as artistic meditation. Here’s an example:

zentangle

9. Creative Writing Prompts. Creative writing prompts are a great way to get over writer’s block and generate new material. There are lots of great creative writing prompts online, as well as many books on the subject. Here are three to get you started:

  • You’re at a Chinese restaurant; when you open your fortune cookie the message inside says: “You’re in danger”.
  • Your protagonist suffers from amnesia.
  • A group of friends sign up for a one-week wilderness survival course in a remote setting.

10. Steal Like An Artist. Creativity is about combining existing elements, building on what others have done, and applying concepts from seemingly unrelated fields to your problem in order to come up with a solution.  In other words, to use a term coined by Austin Kleon, you have to “steal like an artist”.

One example of stealing like an artist is what Natasha Wing did. She took the popular poem “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore and adapted it to fit other holidays and important events in kids’ lives. I wrote about this here: “The Night Before Christmas and Stealing Like An Artist“.

You, too, can steal like an artist. Who are you going to steal from? :-)

11. Get Out Your Coloring Book. Coloring isn’t just for kids. The simple act of taking out a box of crayons or colored pencils and coloring in beautiful shapes nudges the right brain awake and allows creativity to flow. There’s a huge collection of coloring books for adults, including the following:

12. Plan a Harmless Prank. There’s just a little over 30 days left before April Fools Day. Start planning your prank, now. The hallmarks of a good prank are: it’s simple; it’s harmless; and it’s effective. You can use other people’s ideas, such as dipping cotton balls in chocolate, arranging them on a platter, and leaving them in a central location with a note that says, “Take One”.

However, it’s better to get your creative juices flowing and come up with your own. Remember, if the other person doesn’t laugh, it wasn’t a good prank.

13. Fill Out a Paint-By-Numbers Kit. With a paint-by-numbers kit you can feel the thrill of creating an Impressionist masterpiece, framing it, and displaying it on your wall for the world to see. You get to feel like an artist even if you’ve never taken an art class.

Like coloring books, there are paint-by-numbers kits for adults. Here are three good ones:

14. Draw a Superhero. As I wrote in my blog post, How to Become a Superhero, there are forty superhero flicks due to be released before 2020. Hop on the superhero bandwagon by learning to draw superheroes. There are lots of great tutorials on YouTube. Here’s one I like:

15. Write Your Own Version of “Keep Calm . . .”  The “Keep Calm” posters were originally produced by the British government during War World II. They were intended to raise the morale of the British public. Here’s the original poster:

Keep CalmToday, these posters are a meme.

  • Here’s one by a company that teaches meditation: “Keep Calm and Close Your Eyes”.
  • Here’s one for blogger’s: “Keep Calm and Blog On”.
  • Here’s one for productivity enthusiasts: “Keep Calm and Focus”.
  • Here’s one for Christmas: “Keep Calm and Trim the Tree”.
  • Here’s one for book lovers: “Keep Calm and Read On”.
  • Here’s mine: “Keep Calm and Live Life to the Fullest”.

You can create your own “Keep Calm” poster here.

16. Create a Newspaper Blackout Poem. Austin Kleon writes poetry by redacting newspaper articles with a permanent marker. All you need to do to copy his style is the following:

  • Grab a newspaper and a permanent marker.
  • Choose an article.
  • Take the marker and eliminate any words that you don’t need.
  • Whatever words are left after you’re done redacting make up your poem.

Go here for lots of examples.

17. Create an Altered Book. Altered books are unloved, discarded books that are turned into works of art. Take an old book you no longer want and do any of the following: fold the pages; cut the pages; color the pages; glue images on the pages; cover the pages in fabric; make pockets; and so on. Just allow your creativity to go free.

18. Make 1000 Paper Cranes. Origami is a Japanese art form which involves folding paper to create animals, birds, fish, geometric shapes, and so on. A classic origami design is the crane. Cranes are considered to be mythical creatures in Japan, and they are said to live for 1,000 years.

An ancient Japanese legend states that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane. Although there’s special origami paper, you can use any kind of paper that you have lying around to make your cranes. Even newspaper will do.

Of course, you don’t have to make 1000 cranes. You can make just one, or as many as you wish. Here’s how: How to Make a Paper Crane. In addition, you can get yourself an Origami Thousand Cranes Set

19. Create a Children’s Picture Book. Children’s picture books have all of the following characteristics: lovable characters; a great story; an important life lesson for kids; beautiful language; and fantastic drawings. Creating a picture book will put your creativity on steroids.

How do you create a children’s book? Go here and find out.

20. Draw a Dragon. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been fascinated by dragons (and gargoyles). I think they’re fun to look at. One way to get creative is by drawing dragons. Here’s a great tutorial:

Conclusion

If your right brain has laid dormant for far too long, it’s time to give it a wake-up call. Use the 20 creative project ideas above to create something that inspires you. Then, keep creating.

Live your best life by giving your right brain the opportunity to express itself.

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how to change your life

Making changes is hard. Anyone who has ever tried to change their life for the better can attest to this.

Look at the following two examples:

  • You make a firm resolution to start getting up at 6:00 a.m. each morning so that you can get some exercise in before work, but when the alarm goes off in the morning you hit the snooze button and go right back to sleep.
  • You swear off sweets for a couple of months so that you can be slim in time for swimsuit season, and then you break down at the first sight of a Triple Double Oreo.

Why is making changes so difficult? And what can we do to make it easier?

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath tackle the subject of change in their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. The Heath brothers explain that change is difficult because of a conflict that’s built into our brains. The conflict exists because we have two minds:

  • A Rational Mind; and
  • An Emotional Mind.

These two minds are constantly competing for control.

In “Switch”, the Heath brothers refer to the rational mind as the Rider, and they refer to the emotional mind as the Elephant. They explain that if you want to start acting differently, you need to follow a three-part framework:

  1. Direct the Rider
  2. Motivate the Elephant
  3. Shape the Path You Want to Travel On

In this post you’ll discover more about the Rider and Elephant analogy. In addition, you’ll learn one strategy for directing the rider, one strategy for motivating the elephant, and one strategy for shaping the path you want to be traveling on. That is, you’ll discover how to change your life.

The Rider and The Elephant

As was stated in the introduction, the Heath brothers use the analogy of a Rider and an Elephant in order to explain the tension that exists between the rational mind and the emotional mind.

Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and appears to be the one in control. However, the Rider is very small compared to the Elephant, so his control is tenuous at best. Whenever the Rider and the Elephant disagree on which way to go, the six-ton Elephant usually wins out.

The Elephant wants instant gratification, while the Rider wants to sacrifice short-term gains in order to acquire an even larger reward in the future. Look at the following:

  • The Elephant wants to go out dancing, while the Rider wants to stay in to work on creating a passive source of income.
  • The Elephant wants a cheeseburger with fries, while the Rider wants a lean protein with some veggies on the side.

The Rider can keep the Elephant on the right path for a while through the use of willpower. The problem is that willpower is limited. More often than not, the Rider’s willpower is depleted while the goal is still nowhere in sight. At that point, the Rider loses control and the Elephant wanders off the path.

That’s why you make plans to spend the night hard at work, but you end up boogying the night away at a nightclub (silently cursing the Elephant).

In order to make a change you need to enlist both your rational and your emotional minds–in other words, get the Rider and the Elephant to agree on where to go. In addition, you need to make sure that the path that leads to the change that you’re trying to make is easy to travel on. There’s more on each of these below.

Direct the Rider – Make It Clear What Needs to Be Done

Not all of the problems related to change stem from the Elephant. Sometimes, the Rider is the one who appears to be resisting change.

The Heath brothers point out that most of the time, what looks like resistance from the Rider is actually a lack of clarity. That is, the Rider isn’t sure what needs to be done in order to create the desired change. Therefore, he ends up leading the Elephant in circles.

Dan and Chip explain that there were two professors at West Virginia University who wanted to persuade people to eat a healthier diet. Their problem was that telling people to “eat a healthier diet” is very unclear. People will not act to make the desired change because they don’t know what to do.

  • Is there any particular diet they should go on?
  • Should they stop eating meat? Should they limit eating meat to the weekends?
  • What if they just try portion control?

The number of possibilities for eating healthier is limitless, and so the Rider does a lot of thinking and analyzing, but nothing gets done.

These two professors had data showing that most Americans drink milk. In addition, milk contains very high levels of saturated fat. Just by switching from whole milk to 1% milk, the average diet would immediately attain the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat.

Therefore, the vague instructions of “eat a healthier diet” turned into the following: “switch from whole milk to 1% milk”. That’s much clearer and easier to act on. But they didn’t stop there.

Most people will drink whatever milk is in their refrigerator. The key is to make the decision of selecting the 1% milk, instead of the whole milk, at the supermarket. In the end, the instructions that the professors started giving people were something like the following:

“When you’re at the grocery store, purchase 1% milk instead of whole milk”.

These instructions are crystal clear. The Rider knows what to do, and can confidently direct the Elephant. To make change, be very clear on what it is that you’re going to do.

Motivate the Elephant – Make an Emotional Appeal

When you want to make a change, it’s vital that you get the Elephant on board. After all, the Elephant is the one that’s going to be doing the work. In addition, you need the Elephant’s energy and passion. However, you can’t convince the Elephant with logic and facts.

The Elephant can “know” that something is good for you, and still not be motivated to start walking down the path toward the change that you want to make. This is because what’s important to the elephant are emotions, not logic. In order to motivate the Elephant you need to make an emotional appeal.

Here are some ways to appeal to the Elephant’s emotions:

  • Make the change visual. If you’re trying to lose weight put a photograph of yourself at your ideal weight up on your refrigerator.
  • Think of how good you felt when you were at that weight, and imagine feeling that way again.
  • Look for stories of people who have succeeded in making the change that you’re trying to make, and let those stories inspire you.

To make changes, appeal to your emotions.

Shape the Path – Craft Your Environment to Support Change

Imagine the following scenario: the Rider is trying to get the Elephant to climb up a steep, rocky path. Even if you’ve appealed to the Elephant’s emotions, for how long do you think the Elephant will remain on that difficult path? Obviously, not for long.

Now think of a path that’s on a downward slope which has been cleared of all debris. Better yet, think of a path that’s been slicked with oil; the Elephant just has to slide down the path. Isn’t it much more likely that the Elephant will stay on that path? Of course it is.

You need to set up your environment in a way that will allow you to succeed. If you’re trying to lose weight, there are many things you can do to set up your kitchen environment in a way that will help you to achieve your goal of weight loss. Here are some examples:

  • Have a bowl of fruit on the counter.
  • Throw out the cookie jar.
  • Put healthy snacks in clear containers and place them in the refrigerator at eye level so that they’re the first thing that you see when you open the fridge.
  • If you must have potato chips and other fattening snacks in the house, place them in a cupboard that’s difficult to reach.

You want to make it as easy as possible for the elephant to walk down the right path. Make changes by setting up your environment in such a way that changes are easy to make.

Conclusion

Think of a change that you want to make in your life, whether it’s modifying your eating habits, becoming an early riser, and so on. Now do the following:

  • Make your goal very specific and give yourself very clear instructions on what you’re going to do.
  • How can you make your goal emotionally appealing?
  • How can you set up your environment to help you?

Live your best life by making positive changes in your life with the strategies explained above.

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inner peace

We must each find peace from within.

When you carry peace within you, you have the ability to remain calm and joyful at all times, regardless of outside circumstances, or what life offers you at any given moment. Here are some definitions of inner peace:

  • Inner peace means being mentally and spiritually at peace.
  • Inner peace means freeing your mind from worry and negative thoughts.
  • Inner peace is a state in which the mind is quiet and serene.
  • Inner peace is having the ability to connect to the supreme self which is eternally at peace.

Inner peace may seem to be a lofty goal, but it’s a state of being that’s attainable for all of us. Below you’ll find six ways to achieve inner peace.

1. Accept What Is. Whatever is happening in the present moment, say “yes” to it. Don’t resist it; don’t struggle against it; and don’t try to argue with it. The present is already here, and it is what it is. When you struggle with the way things are now, you’re struggling with the entire universe.

No amount of arguing will change the present moment. Arguing with the way things are now just creates suffering. Instead of arguing, accept and surrender to what is. Then, ask yourself what the present moment requires of you, and do it.

2. Practice Non-judgment. There’s a TV show called “Rectify” which is about Daniel Holden, a man who spends 19 years of his life on death row for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Then, he suddenly gets released when new evidence is uncovered which points to his innocence.

While on death row, his mother sends him books on spirituality, philosophy, and religion, and those books become his salvation. The teachings in the books show him how to cope with being on death row.

In one scene of the first episode of the show (31:20), there’s a flashback to Holden sitting on the cot in his prison cell. He can talk to the man in the cell next to his through the wall; the other prisoner’s name is Kerwin. Here’s a dialogue that transpires between the two men:

  • Kerwin: “I can’t do time the way you do it.”
  • Daniel: “I don’t do time.”
  • Kerwin: “That’s what I’m talking about. I can’t do time, by not doing time, the way you do time.”
  • Daniel: “Maybe if you didn’t judge the experience while it was happening . . .”

Both men were on death row. However, they were having very different experiences. Kerwin was angry and full of resentment because he was judging the situation he was in. Daniel, on the other hand, was calm and serene, because he wasn’t judging the situation. He was in a cell, but he wasn’t doing time.

The moment in which you start judging whatever is happening to you–and labeling it as “bad”, “unfair”, and so on–, you put yourself in a cell. You can free yourself from your self-made prison by practicing non-judgment.

3. Transform Your Addictions Into Preferences. There’s a fantastic book called “Handbook to Higher Consciousness” which was written in 1972 by Ken Keyes. I wrote about it in my post “37 Tidbits of Higher Consciousness”. In his book, Keyes indicates that you should transform your addictions into preferences.

An addiction is any desire that makes you upset or unhappy if it’s not satisfied. Here are some examples:

  • If you get upset because you ask someone for help and they refuse, then you’re addicted to having people acquiesce to your requests.
  • If you get upset because your car won’t start in the morning, then you’re addicted to having a car that’s in perfect working condition.
  • If you get upset because the grocery store is out of your favorite breakfast cereal bars, then you’re addicted to your breakfast cereal bars.

When you transform your addictions into preferences, here’s what happens:

  • If you ask your friend for help and he agrees to help you, that makes your day even better than it was.
  • However, if he refuses to help you, everything is still fine. After all, being helped by your friend is just a preference. It’s OK if he doesn’t help you.

The same applies to the car and breakfast cereal bar examples. By transforming your addictions into preferences you will no longer feel restless and unhappy if your desires are not realized. And this leads to peace of mind.

4. Teach Your Mind to Become Still. A turbulent mind cannot be at peace. We need to teach our mind to move from turbulence to tranquility. The way we do is through the practice of meditation.

You can begin to meditate by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Then, treat any thoughts that try to take your attention away from your breath like clouds passing through an otherwise sunny day. If you start to think of something that makes you angry or anxious, do the following:

  • Don’t try to push the thought away.
  • At the same time, don’t place your attention on it.
  • Simply allow the thought to make it’s away across the horizon of your awareness and then let it drift off.

While a mind that jumps indiscriminately from thought to thought is stressed and agitated, a mind that is still is at peace.

5. Practice Mindfulness. A mind that is at peace is in the here and now; it’s not thinking compulsively about the past and the future. You can bring your attention back to the present moment by doing the following:

  • Place your attention on the feeling of aliveness in your body: in your hands, your arms, your legs, and so on.
  • Place your attention on an object in your environment, and take a moment to really look at it.
  • Take a moment to feel gratitude for something in the present moment: the coffee you’re drinking; the comfortable chair you’re sitting on; the sweater that’s keeping you warm; and so on.

Allow your mind to find harmony with the present moment. True peace arises in the now.

6. Use Your Willpower to Choose Thoughts that Make You Feel at Peace. In his book, Love Is Letting Go of Fear, Dr. Gerald G. Jampolsky sets forth 12 lessons for creating inner peace. Lesson 11 is about willpower. When most people think of willpower, they think of the following:

  • Use your willpower to choose to eat an apple instead of a chocolate brownie.
  • Use your willpower to choose to go out for a jog, instead of sitting on the couch with the remote in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.
  • Use your willpower to choose to study instead of playing video games.

However, you can also use your willpower to choose your thoughts. That is, choose thoughts that will help you and bring you peace, instead of choosing thoughts that will hurt you. Do the following:

  • Throughout the day pay attention to your thoughts.
  • When you realize that you’re entertaining thoughts that hurt you, stop.
  • Switch over to thoughts that help you, and that make you feel at peace.

Keep telling yourself that you can always choose thoughts that will bring you inner peace.

Conclusion

Achieve inner peace by applying the six lessons above on a consistent basis. Start right now, regardless of what may be going on in your life. Live your best life by creating inner peace.

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