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improve your focus

Get lots more done by improving your ability to focus.

Focus is your ability to gather and direct your attention. The more focused you are, the more successful you’ll be. This applies to academic achievement, athletic performance, work results, entrepreneurial success, skill acquisition, and so on.

onehouradayformula banner longHowever, in the modern Age of Distraction, focus and concentration seem to be in short supply. There’s even a Microsoft study which purports to show that the average person has an eight-second attention span. That’s less than a goldfish.  Now, I don’t know how reliable the goldfish study is—although it’s been cited by several major publications–but I do know that on the days in which I’m focused I’m highly productive, and I manage to cross everything off of my to-do list for the day. On the other hand, on the days in which my focus is scattered I find that I’m “busy” all day, but I get very little done.

Even if you nodded in silent agreement when you read about the goldfish study mentioned above, all is not lost. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to train your attention and strengthen your ability to focus. Below you’ll find 10 ways to improve your focus and sharpen your attention.

1.  Improve Your Focus by Doing One Thing At a Time

Dandapani is a Hindu priest, entrepreneur, speaker and former monk who teaches spiritual tools which help people lead a rewarding life. He recently gave a TED talk on how to develop unwavering focus.

At the start of his talk Dandapani explains that most people today have trouble concentrating for two reasons:

  • First, although as children we were told to concentrate, we were never taught how to concentrate.
  • Second, we don’t practice concentration.

So, how can we be expected to be able to do something which we were never taught how to do? In addition, how can we be expected to do something well, when we don’t practice it? In fact, what we tend to practice repeatedly is distraction. Therefore, we’re really good at being distracted.

Dandapani goes on to say that we tend to blame modern technology for our failure to concentrate. After all, there always seems to be something ringing or beeping and calling for our attention. But is technology to blame?

According to Dandapani, technology is not the problem. He explains that as long as we’re in charge of technology, instead of allowing technology to be in charge of us, we won’t be distracted by technology.

He goes on to say that the way to become good at concentrating is by understanding the mind. Once we know how the mind works, we can control it. And once we can control it, we can focus it. Here’s how the mind works from a monk’s perspective: there’s awareness, and there’s the mind.

Think of awareness as a glowing ball of light. Imagine your mind as a vast space, or area, with many different sections within it. There’s a section for anger, for jealousy, for food, for sex, for happiness, and so on.

Your awareness can travel around the mind, and it can go to any section of the mind that it wants to go to. When it goes to any section of the mind, it lights up that section. In turn, when a section of your mind lights up, you become conscious of it.

Keep in mind that you have the ability to take your awareness and move it to any area of the mind that you want it to go to. The art of concentration is keeping your awareness, that ball of light, on one thing for an extended period of time. As you concentrate on one thing you may feel the ball of light drifting away. When that happens, simply bring it back.

Dandapani goes on to say that throughout the day, we allow people and outside events to take our awareness from one section of our mind to another, all day long. Therefore, we spend the day distracted.  He adds that we can stop this from happening by practicing focus and concentration.

The way to practice concentration—that is, the way to practice keeping our awareness where we want it to be—is by doing one thing at a time throughout the day. Do the following:

  • When you’re talking to someone, keep your awareness on the person you’re speaking to.
  • When you’re working on a report for work, keep your awareness on writing the report.
  • When you’re walking down the street, keep your awareness on walking down the street.
  • When you’re eating, keep your awareness on the taste and texture of the food that you’re eating.

That is, keep your awareness–the ball of light–on whatever you’re doing at the time. Whenever you feel your awareness drifting, simply bring it back. That’s how you learn how to focus and concentrate.

2. Improve Your Focus by Practicing Pre-Commitment

Pre-commitment means that you’re going to decide ahead of time what task you’re going to work on, to the exclusion of everything else, and for how long you’re going to work on that task. Once you’ve decided on the task you’re going to be working on—that is, once you’ve identified your mission–, write it down on a piece of paper, an index card, or a post-it note.

For example, let’s say that you decide that you’re going to work on a blog post for 25 minutes. Grab your pen and an index card and write down the following:

Blog Post – 25 Minutes

Then, set a timer for 25 minutes and get to work on your blog post. During those 25 minutes, don’t allow anything to take your focus away from the post that you’re writing.

3. Build Your Focus Muscles Gradually

Let’s say that you decide to start going to the gym to lift weights. What do you do? You start with the lighter weights. If you try lifting the heavy weights right away you’ll probably get discouraged by your inability to do more than one or two repetitions, and you may even hurt yourself.

In much the same way, when you first start trying to build your focus muscles, you should start out small. If your focus muscles are very flabby, you may want to set your timer for five minutes. Once you’ve focused on a task for five minutes, take a two-minute break. Then, tackle another five-minute focus session, followed once again by a two-minute break.

Each day add another five minutes to your work time. In this way, you’ll be building your focus muscles gradually.

4. Identify Potential Distractions Ahead of Time

Before you sit down to work on an important project, or get started with one of your study sessions, think of all the things that could distract you. Then, come up with a plan for dealing with these distractions. Here are some examples:

  • Are you worried you may be distracted by your cell phone? Turn it off and put it in another room.
  • Are you worried other people may distract you? Find a quiet corner where others won’t be able to find you.
  • Are you worried you might find yourself checking social media sites or randomly surfing the internet? Block distracting web sites on your computer using extensions like FocalFilter.
  • Are you easily distracted by visual and auditory stimuli? Then, when you need to concentrate, stay away from high-activity areas where there’s lots of background noise and movement. You could also consider getting some noise-cancelling headphones.

Find a way to deal with distractions before they take your focus away from the task you’re working on.

5. Meditate to Improve Your Focus

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience indicates that meditators may be better equipped than non-meditators to pay attention and concentrate. The study, by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni, found that meditation changes brain patterns, and confers advantages in mental focus.

Pagnoni, who has studied how meditation affects the brain for many years, recruited 12 Zen meditators for the study.  He compared the 12 meditators to a control group of 12 people who had never meditated.

The study showed that the meditators had more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC) than the non-meditators. The vPMC is a region of the brain linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering.

This means that meditators are better at controlling the brain regions responsible for pulling our focus away when we’re trying to concentrate on something. In order to improve your focus, start saying your OMs.

If you’re not sure how to get started meditating for improving focus, Alan Wallace, Ph.D., explores a systematic path of meditation to deepen our capacity for deep concentration in his book, “The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind”.

6. Get Into the Habit of Saying “No”

You’ve probably heard that the good is the enemy of the great. This idiom has different meanings, and one of them is that you’ll never achieve anything great if you allow yourself to be constantly distracted by the good.

As an illustration, suppose that you’re working on a video course on a topic that is near and dear to your heart. You know that people need the information that you’ll be offering in the course, and you’re certain that you’ll be able to create a top-notch product.

You’re making great progress on your video course, but then you open your email. You notice that you’ve received the following emails:

  • A request for an interview.
  • An email from another blogger asking you to write a guest post for their blog.
  • An invitation to be part of a panel.

All of these things sound good, and you’ll probably be tempted to accept. However, what happens if you do accept these requests and invitations? You’ll be taking your focus away from your video course.

In other words, you’ll stop focusing on the great in order to focus on the good. Clearly, the best strategy to follow here is to decline the invitations so that you can continue focusing on finishing your video course.

In order to improve your focus, learn to say “no”.

7.  Improve Your Focus by Taming Your Monkey Mind

Monkey mind are those thoughts that swing from limb to limb in your head. A lot of the time the distractions that weaken your focus don’t come from the outside. They come from within.

You may be working on an important project, when the voice in your head interrupts you with thoughts like the following:

  • “What if I don’t get the promotion?”
  • “Wait! Did I make that phone call?”
  • “Did my boss look angry when I passed him in the hall earlier? I think he looked a little angry. Is he angry at me? What could I have done to make him angry? I haven’t done anything. Have I?”

Does that sound familiar? To tame your monkey mind, you’ll need to take steps like the following:

  • Practice mindfulness –train your mind to simply witness the present moment without comment.
  • Start a journaling practice—this will allow you to clear your head.
  • When your mind wanders use your breath to bring your attention back to the task at hand.

You’ll find several ideas for quieting your mental chatter in my post, 10 Ways to Tame Your Monkey Mind and Stop Mental Chatter. By quieting your monkey mind you’ll boost your productivity and strengthen your ability to stay focused on the task at hand.

8. Improve Your Focus by Taking Regular Breaks

A lot of people equate taking breaks with wasting time. However, studies show that taking breaks improves our focus.

After a while of focusing on a task, our cognitive control system starts to fail. By switching our attention to something else momentarily–that is, by taking a break–we can then return to our original task and focus on it once again.

Ideally, when you take your breaks you should do the following:

So, for how long should you work before you take a break? Experiment with different work-break ratios until you find the one that works best for you.

9. Improve Your Focus by Doodling

As I explained in my post, 7 Benefits of Doodling and How to Get Started, doodling helps you to concentrate. This is because doodling requires enough cognitive effort to keep you from daydreaming, and yet not enough to prevent you from paying attention to what is going on around you.

If you’re at a meeting or attending a lecture, and you want to pay attention to what is being said, take out a pen and a piece of paper and start scribbling. The minimal attention required for doodling appears to boost focus and memory.

10. Cultivate Your Focus With Deep Work

Cal Newport is the author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success In a Distracted World”. He explains that deep work is something that should be cultivated.

Deep work involves cognitively demanding tasks which require focused, intense concentration for long periods of time. Here are some characteristics of deep work:

  • Deep work pushes your abilities to their limit.
  • It’s work that produces value and makes a difference.
  • It allows you to learn new skills.
  • Deep work gives your life meaning.
  • It’s economically rewarding.

The opposite of deep work is shallow work. Shallow work tends to be logistical in nature, it doesn’t really leverage your skills, and it can be easily replicated by somebody else. Logistical work includes things such as answering emails, attending meetings, and updating your social profiles. These are things that need to get done, but they shouldn’t take up much of your time.

As an example, if you’re a blogger–like I am–deep work is producing high quality articles, eBooks, and video courses. For me, that’s the work that really gets the results that I’m after. Shallow work involves things such as tweaking my blog’s theme, adding new plugins, spending time on social media, and researching ways to increase my mailing list.

In order to cultivate deep work, Cal recommends that you do things like the following:

  • Create a visual scorecard of the amount of time that you spend engaged in deep work.
  • Change your default email habit to “no response,” excepting the few emails that truly matter.
  • Schedule your social media time. The rest of the day, stay away from social media.
  • If you have something very important to work on, consider a “grand gesture” approach. For example, when Carl Jung wanted to write he would leave his busy Zurich life and retreat to a tower he had  built near his rural house in the village of Bollingen. As a second illustration, when J. K. Rowling found herself struggling to complete the final book in her Harry Potter series, she booked a suite at the five-star Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh and stayed there until her book was finished.

Most of you know that I’m working on an eBook on how to learn any skill fast. Writing this eBook is deep work. Since my December 31st deadline for the eBook is fast approaching, I’m going to do the following:

Devote the days from December 26th to December 31st to finishing the eBook. During that time I’m going to devote ten hours a day, every day, to writing the eBook.

That’s my grand gesture. 🙂


Follow the ten tips above and you’ll soon be a heavyweight at focusing. Instead of wondering where your time went at the end of the day, you’ll be amazed at all the important things you’ll be getting done. Live your best life by improving your focus.


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Sunday habits

A Sunday well spent helps to set you up for a great week.

Ah, Sundays! Time moves differently on Sundays . . . like thick molasses. Sundays sound different, too–as if every Sunday the world collectively decides to turn down the volume. You can hear yourself think on Sundays.

onehouradayformula banner longSundays are for waking up slowly, bit by bit. It’s a day for making organic waffles covered in maple syrup and topped with strawberries. Sundays are for savoring your coffee and reading the funnies. In addition, Sundays can be used as a weekly reboot. On Sundays you can reflect on the week that’s ending, reconnect with loved ones, take some time for yourself, and prepare for the week that’s up ahead. And to help you with your weekly reboot, here are 10 Sunday habits that will allow you to hit the ground running on Mondays.

10 Sunday Habits

Use your Sundays to end your week on a high note and jump-start the next week.

1. Plan Your Meals for the Week.

Regardless of whether during the week you stuck to your goal of eating healthy meals, or you fell off the wagon completely, on Sundays you can resolve to eat well during the next week. Stocking up on nutritious food on Sunday will save you money, time, and calories throughout the week.

Do the following:

  • Decide what you’re going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the upcoming week. Choose real food–whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry. Also, include some healthy snacks.
  • Look through magazines or poke around Pinterest and find simple, drool-worthy recipes you can get excited about making.
  • Make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need to make those meals and snacks.
  • Check to see which of those ingredients you already have.
  • Make a grocery list containing all of the ingredients that you don’t have.

Make a visual reminder of what you’re going to be eating each day by getting a chalkboard to hang in the kitchen. Then, fill the chalkboard with your weekly meal plan.

2. Go Grocery Shopping.

Stock your fridge, cupboards, and pantry with healthy, great tasting food for the week that’s about to start by going grocery shopping on Sunday. A great idea is to set up a grocery shopping date with a good friend. That way you can catch up, and get the food that you’ll need for the week. Chat and shop!

3. Do Some Meal Prep.

Doing a little prep work on Sundays will allow you to save time cooking meals during the week when you come home tired from work. Just think: Sunday you is making sure that Wednesday you doesn’t decide to order a pizza because cooking will just take too much time. (Kudos to Sunday you.)

Here’s how to make meal prep more fun: find a binge-worthy Neflix series you can watch as you prep. Then, make it a rule that you can only watch that series while you’re prepping meals or cooking. Booyah!

4. Pick Out Outfits for the Week.

Did you get dressed on Monday only to discover that there was a button missing on the jacket you were wearing? On Tuesday did you find yourself running around your apartment frantically trying to find the shoes that go with the outfit you were wearing?

These hectic scenes can be avoided by deciding on Sunday what you’re going to wear every day of the week. Do the following:

  • Look at the weather forecast for the week and pick out outfits accordingly.
  • Take out your chosen outfits and make sure that everything is clean and ironed, and that there are no holes, rips, or missing buttons on any piece of clothing that you selected.
  • Decide on the shoes and accessories that you’ll wear with your outfits.

Have a designated spot in the closet for your weekly clothes, or put up some wall-mounted racks. There are some great ideas for planning a week’s worth of outfits for the ladies, here. And for the men, good luck!

5. Review the Past Week.

The “weekly review” is a core component of many productivity techniques, including Getting Things Done. Basically, you’re going to ask yourself how the week went, what you accomplished, what you did right, and what went wrong. Ask yourself questions like the following:

  • What did I get done this week?
  • Did I stick to my schedule? If not, what went wrong? How can I prevent these things from happening going forward?
  • Was I focused when I was working?
  • What activities did I enjoy this week?
  • What frustrated me this week?
  • What did I learn this week?
  • What should I have spent less time doing?
  • How could I have made better use of my time this week?
  • What were my energy levels like this week?
  • What should I have spent more time doing?

A weekly review is a great opportunity to give yourself credit for what you did right during the week, and plan to do better where you went wrong.

6. Look at the Big Picture.

Sundays are a great time to step back and look at the big picture. Ask yourself the following:

  • Is my work life going well?
  • Is my home life going well?
  • Am I happy with the direction in which my life is headed?
  • Am I moving closer to my long-term goals?
  • Am I on track to achieve my yearly goals?
  • How am I doing on my monthly goals?
  • Are there any goals that need to be revised?

Use Sundays to make sure that you’re not missing the forest for the trees.

7. Plan and Schedule the Next Week.

Create a master to-do list for the week that’s about to start by asking yourself questions such as the following:

  • What are the 3 most important things that I need to get done this week?
  • What needs to get done this week so that I can move my goals forward?
  • What have I been avoiding that needs to get done?
  • What projects do I have in progress? What are the next steps that I need to take for these projects?
  • What appointments and meetings do I have this week?
  • What opportunities do I want to take advantage of this week?
  • Who do I need to reach out to this week?
  • How can I make this week less stressful?
  • What am I looking forward to this week?

Once you’ve completed your weekly to-do list, schedule each task throughout the week. If you find that your schedule is packed too tighly when you’re done, ask yourself which tasks you could eliminate, delegate, or postpone.

8. Review Your Budget.

Take a look at your transactions during the week. Then, ask yourself the following:

  • How much money did I spend?
  • Did I stick to my budget?
  • Why did I overspend? How can I prevent this from happening again?
  • How can I make sure that I stick to my budget this week?

If you went a little off budget, that’s OK. Just resolve to do better the next week.

9. Steal An Hour Just For You.

Set aside one hour on Sunday–more if you can–to recharge and practice some self-care. Alone. Yes, completely alone. You can do any of the following:

  • Take a long, hot bath.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Sit down with a good novel.
  • Write in your journal.
  • Do something creative: draw, play a musical instrument, do woodworking, or write a short story.
  • Listen to a guided meditation.
  • Listen to music.

It’s not just introverts who need solo time. Extroverts need to set some time aside to disconnect from the world as well. Being alone gives your brain a chance to unwind from the week that’s ending, and to reset and recharge for the week that’s about to begin.

10. Have Fun with Your Family.

Throughout the week there may lots of things that pull you away from your family. However, make it an unbreakable rule that your Sunday family time is sacred. Then, during family time, make sure that you do something fun.

Here are some ideas:

  • Take your family out to brunch.
  • Play a board game together.
  • Go outside and participate in a season-appropriate activity: go sledding, play frisbee, participate in a 5K, have a snowball fight, play football, go bike riding, and so on.
  • Volunteer together in the community.
  • Go to a museum, the zoo, or an aquarium.

Make it a habit to spend some fun, quality time with your family every Sunday.


If you follow the ten habits laid out above you’ll be ending your week on a positive note, while setting things up so that the week that’s coming up can be great. Live your best life by adopting these 10 Sunday habits.


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manage worry

Become a smart worrier by managing your worry.

Worry is a feeling of anxiety and unease that warns us that something is off. Although it’s an unpleasant emotion, it plays an important role in our lives. Look at the following:

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  • Worry can signal to us that there’s something that we need to pay attention to – there’s something that may be threatening our survival or wellbeing. This heightened awareness can prepare us to better address the potential threat that we’re facing.
  • Worry can motivate us to take positive action. For example, worrying that you may do poorly on a test can motivate you to study hard for that exam. Worrying about losing your job can motivate you to update your résumé and spend one-hour-a-day upgrading your job skills. If you’re worried about your health this can be the motivation that you need to start eating healthier meals and to start exercising.
  • Worry can help you to identify possible negative outcomes, which allows you to come up with ways to avoid those outcomes.
  • People who have a laissez faire attitude toward life—those who simply refuse to worry about anything—often live in disarray and fail to plan adequately for the future. They tend to be reckless and too cavalier.

As you can see from the points above, worrying has its benefits. However, worry can become a problem if one, or both, of the following conditions exist:

  1. You can’t turn off your worries—you can’t disengage from your worries.
  2. You keep having the same thoughts repeatedly in an endless loop, without it leading to positive problem solving.

Worry on over-drive can have lots of negative effects, including the following:

  • Worrying leads to stress, and the anxiety caused by stress can keep you up at night and interfere with the quality of your sleep.
  • Worry can speed up the aging process.
  • Worrying can cause intestinal problems and can tax your immune system.
  • People who worry constantly are more prone to depression.
  • When we’re worried our amygdala keeps directing our attention to whatever it is that’s troubling us. This means that we can’t concentrate on other things, such as our work or studies.

Therefore, it’s important to have a strategy for dealing with worry. Below you’ll find 8 healthy ways to manage worry.

1. Challenge Your Beliefs About Worry.

A lot of people think that worrying is a bad thing. However, as was explained above, worry can serve an important function in your life. As long as you manage worry properly, worry is an important part of your repertoire for dealing with the world effectively.

At the same time, worrying in and of itself doesn’t solve anything. It’s a signal that there’s a problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, keep in mind that worry that doesn’t lead to problem solving is a waste of time.

2. Determine Whether Some of Your Worries are Simply Noise.

The previous point indicated that worry is a signal that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. However, sometimes worry is simply noise –repetitive, unnecessary, unproductive negative thoughts that keep popping into your head.

To determine whether the worry that you’re feeling is a signal or simply noise, ask yourself questions like the following:

  • What am I worried will happen?
  • Is this a real problem that I’m facing, or an imaginary “what if”?
  • Is this my mind warning me that there’s something I need to do, or is my brain’s threat detection mechanism just going into overdrive?
  • Are these thoughts helping me?
  • What’s the benefit of having these thoughts?

If you conclude that the worry that you’re feeling is simply noise, then make the decision to stop having those thoughts. Tell yourself the following:

“I’m in control of my thoughts. I’ve determined that these thoughts are simply noise and that they’re not helping me in any way. I’m going to stop focusing on them.”

3. Postpone Your Worries.

A study conducted by researchers in the Netherlands found that compartmentalizing worry—setting time aside specifically for worry—and deliberately avoiding thinking about whatever it is that’s  worrying you for the rest of the day, can help to reduce worry.

Therefore, a useful strategy for managing worry is to schedule worry time. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day to cope with whatever is troubling you. You’re going to use that time to think about what’s troubling you and to consider a solution. Try to make it the same time each day.

This is like making a mental agreement with your worry. Here’s the agreement:

  • Except for your scheduled worry time, your day will be worry-free.
  • You’re not telling yourself to stop worrying. Instead, you’re telling yourself to postpone worrying until the scheduled time.
  • You’re not pretending that everything is going to be OK. It could very well be that your worries are warranted. In which case, you’re going to come up with a plan of action to take care of the problem that is worrying you—at the scheduled time.

4. Practice Realistic Thinking.

Sometimes worry is caused–or at least exacerbated–by the way in which you’re thinking about a problem. You want to make sure that you’re thinking realistically about whatever it is that’s worrying you. That is, think about it in a balanced way. Ask yourself questions like the following:

  • What am I worried will happen?
  • How likely is it that this will happen?
  • What evidence do I have that this might happen? Am I relying on facts or on how I feel?
  • Am I overestimating the probability that something bad will happen? Is my concern realistic?
  • What’s the most likely thing that will happen?
  • Is this problem as threatening as I think it is?
  • If it really did happen, would it be as catastrophic as I’m making it out to be?
  • What would I say to a friend who was worried about this?
  • What’s a more helpful way to view this?
  • What’s a more balanced way to think of this?

After thinking realistically about whatever it is that’s worrying you, you may conclude that it’s not really worth worrying about after all.

In the alternative, you may conclude that although things are not as bad as you were making them out to be, there is a problem that needs to be solved. In that case, move on to the next point.

5. Have a Problem-Solving Session.

If you determine that the worry that you’re feeling is a legitimate signal and not just noise, then you need to conduct a problem-solving session. During this problem-solving session, do the following:

  • Identify what you’re worried about. Instead of feeling generalized worry, you want to be able to pin point exactly what it is that you’re worried about. That is, define the problem that you’re having as clearly as possible. Once you’ve identified what’s worrying you, write it down.
  • Think of how to solve the problem. If you can come up with a way to solve the problem completely, great! Write it down. If not, write down ideas for the next possible step you could take. Do you need more information? Is there someone you can ask for help? Is there a skill that you need to acquire? Is there something you can do to lessen the negative impact in case things go wrong? What’s the most obvious next step that you can take?
  • Take action. Whatever you decided to do in the previous step, do it. Once you have a plan and you start acting to solve the problem, you’ll feel much better. Remember: worry sits on the fence. Jump off the fence and get to work fixing the problem that’s worrying you.

6. Accept the Things You Cannot Change.

What if you try to solve the problem that is worrying you, but you conclude that there’s nothing you can do about it? Then make a note of that. Tell yourself:

“I’ve honored my worry by trying to resolve the issue that is causing the worry, but there’s nothing I can do about it at the moment. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open to see if any possible solutions present themselves, and I’ll think about this again tomorrow at this same time.”

7. Embrace Uncertainty.

People who feel that they need certainty and predictability often use worry to try to gain some sense of control over the future. Those that fall into this category need to accept that uncertainty is a part of life, and that no amount of worrying will ensure the outcome that they want.

Here’s how to embrace uncertainty:

  • Realize that uncertainty is neutral. Something bad may happen in the future, or something great may happen. You may not get what you want, or you may get something even better. Uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of telling yourself that you’re worried about the uncertainty of the future, tell yourself that you’re feeling cautious expectation and excitement.
  • Focus on the things that you can control. Instead of staring in despair at the things that you can’t control, place your attention on the things that you can control, enjoy, or appreciate.
  • Learn to tolerate discomfort. Notice your discomfort, and then just sit with it. See? Being somewhat uncomfortable is not the end of the world.
  • Stay in the present. If you’re focused on the present rather than on the future, then the uncertainty of the future is less likely to bother you.

Manage your worry by embracing uncertainty.

8. Manage Stress

Worrying can be very stressful. When you worry, your body releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In excess, these hormones can wreck havoc with your mental, physical, and emotional health. One way to stop worry from interfering with your quality of life is to reduce the stress that it causes you.

Here are three ways to do this:

  • Meditate. Meditation—mindfulness meditation in particular—takes your attention away from your mental chatter and places it on the present moment. The side-effect of this is inner calm and a feeling of serenity.
  • Exercise. When you exercise your body bumps up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. This translates to instant stress relief.
  • Try Deep Breathing Exercises. Breathing exercises trigger the relaxation response, a physiological change that can help lower your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, and stress hormones.

Finding ways to lower your stress is an important part of worry management.


As you can see from the discussion above, worry–if properly managed–can be a powerful ally. Use the 8 tips above to start worrying constructively and become a smart worrier. Manage your worry and live your best life.

Read Next: 10 Ways to Tame Your Monkey Mind and Stop Mental Chatter



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acceptance and commitment therapy

Metaphors are a powerful tool for resolving issues that may be holding you back.

A couple of days ago I came across a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT has two major goals:

  • Acceptance of the negative experiences you’ve been through, as well as the pain associated with those experiences.
  • Commitment to taking action that is aligned with your values to build a rich, full, and meaningful life.

Metaphors are a popular ACT tool. When I read this I was immediately drawn to ACT because I love metaphors. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post using a garden metaphor.

But, why use metaphors as a transformational tool? Metaphors can draw attention to salient features of a situation that may go unnoticed in a person’s real-world environment. They can also make abstract concepts concrete, and create a verbal world in which people can explore new behaviors.

onehouradayformula banner longIn this post I’m going to share with you three of the most popular metaphors used by ACT practitioners. The purpose of these three metaphors is the following:

  • To help you move forward with your life, in spite of any negative thoughts and feelings you may have;
  • To allow you to let go of the Victim Mentality; and
  • To encourage you to get to work on building a better future for yourself with whatever tools and resources you may have at your disposal at this very moment.

The three metaphors we’re going to be discussing are the following:

  • Passengers On a Bus Metaphor
  • Corpus Delicti Metaphor
  • Deck of Cards Metaphor

You’ll find an explanation of each of these metaphors below.

Passengers On a Bus

Let’s pretend that you’re a bus driver. The bus that you’re driving is full of passengers. The passengers represent your thoughts, feeling, memories, and emotions. As you drive along you can hear the passengers mumbling and saying things like the following:

  • “This bus driver is such a loser.”
  • “This guy’s pathetic.”
  • “What a doofus.”

However, as long as you stick to driving along the “Same Old Route”, the passengers pretty much stay in their seats at the back of the bus and don’t make too much of a racket.

The real problem starts when you try to turn in a different direction, such as turning right on “Dreams Road” or turning left on “New Experiences Avenue”. If you try doing this, the passengers get really upset.

The moment you push the turn signal to turn right or left, the passengers leave their seats, they stand in the aisle, and they start yelling at you:

  • “Where are you going? You can’t turn that way!”
  • “Remember what happened the last time you tried turning on ‘Dreams Road’ – you failed miserably. Stay on the ‘Same Old Route’ or we’ll come up there.”
  • “You’re going to get us lost, or worse!”
  • “Who do you think you are? We’re in charge here. Do as we say!”

There are a lot of passengers on the bus, and some of them are big and scary looking. Therefore, you decide it would be best to listen to them and just stay on the same road. The passengers respond to your decision to have everything stay the same by sitting and quieting down.

Some time goes by and you start getting bored. You’re tired of always driving down the same street and you want to try something new. Nonetheless, when you once again try turning down a different road, the same scenario takes place. The passengers riot—they scream and make threats.

By now you’ve had it. You stop the bus and you tell the passengers to get off. However, they refuse to do so.

You stand up and you wrestle with a couple of the passengers and try to push them off the bus, but they’re too strong. It doesn’t matter how hard you push, they simply resist. You give up, sit back down at the wheel of the bus, and start driving down “Same Old Route” again.

Then, one day, it suddenly hits you: the passengers can yell at you and threaten you, but they can’t actually hurt you. That’s when you decide to drive down “Dreams Road” no matter how upset the passengers get. Sure enough, as soon as you turn to the right all hell breaks loose.

Nonetheless, you stick to your guns and you keep going down “Dreams Road”. After all, it’s your bus, you’re the one who’s driving, and you decide where to go. Now the passengers are screaming in your ear, stomping their feet, and getting blue in the face. You feel somewhat anxious, but you keep driving.

You accept that you’re going to have put up with the passengers’ insults and derision. But that’s not going to hold you back any longer. You’re committed to driving down “Dreams Road”, and the passengers on the bus are just going to have to come along for the ride, whether they like it or not.

acceptance and commitment therapy

Breaking Out of Corpus Delicti

Sometimes people will play the role of Victim because it serves a purpose in their lives. It allows for others to see that they’ve had to endure an injustice. Basically, they turn themselves into evidence of someone else’s wrongdoing.

Think of the crime shows that you’ve watched, such as CSI or Law & Order. You may have heard the term “corpus delicti” mentioned on these shows. The term refers to the fact that there has to be a body in order to prove that a crime was committed. No body, no crime–so the suspect walks free.

In much the same way, you may think that if you move on with your life after you’ve been gravely hurt by someone else, then there won’t be “a body”, so justice won’t be served. That is, if you start doing well, people won’t believe you when you tell them that so-and-so hurt you. They’ll think the following:

“Yeah, right. If that were true, this person would be a mess right now. And they’re not a mess. In fact, they’re doing great. They must be making it up, or at least they’re exaggerating. Whatever happened to them can’t have been that bad.”

Since you want justice—you want other people to know what a jerk the person who hurt you is—you make sure that your life reflects the injustice that was done to you. You do this by acting in a way that is consistent with the harm that you’ve gone through.

As an illustration, you may say things like the following to yourself and to others:

  • “I can’t have a positive relationship with another man/woman because, after what was done to me, I’ll never be able to trust another person again.”
  • “Happiness is just not an option for me because of what I’ve been through.”
  • “My confidence is shot and I’ll live in a prison of self-doubt for the rest of my life because of the things I’ve experienced.”

However, stop and consider whether living this way is really serving you well. It’s understandable that you want your suffering to be acknowledged. Wanting justice is a normal response when a transgression has been committed. But, ask yourself: “Justice, at what expense?”

Look at the following:

  • How much is playing the Victim role costing you in terms of mental peace and wellbeing? Is that a price that you’re willing to pay in order to make sure that others know that you’ve been wronged?
  • Does living a good life mean that the traumatic event didn’t happen, or that what took place really wasn’t that bad? Or does it mean that you were able to muster up the strength and the courage to move on?
  • Does getting yourself off the hook–by releasing the role of Victim–mean that the person who hurt you is also off the hook? Or does it mean that you’ve taken back your life by refusing to hang from that hook any longer?

Tell yourself that you don’t need to act like the walking dead anymore, and release yourself from the need to have your life be evidence that you’ve been harmed. Stop playing the role of Victim in an attempt to get justice. Instead, get revenge by building a great life for yourself.

acceptance and commitment therapy

Deck of Cards

Imagine that you’re playing a card game. First, understand that if you’re going to play well, you need to be fully present. You can’t be thinking about the last game that you played, and you can’t be worrying about the next card game you’ll play. Instead, you need to place all of your attention on the game you’re playing right now.

Second, realize that the hand that you’re holding may not be what you wanted, but it’s the hand you were dealt. You have to play the game to the best of your abilities with the cards you have in your hand. Only those cards are within your control.

After all, what other option do you have? Are you going to throw the cards down on the table and give up? If you do that, you lose. Isn’t it a much better idea to give it a shot? If you play your cards right, you can get better cards, and you may even win.

acceptance and commitment therapy


What did you think of these three metaphors? Apply them in your own life in order to prevent negative thoughts and emotions from holding you back; to break out of the Victim Mentality; and to make sure that you do what you can with what you have, instead of waiting for things to change before you act.

Live your best life by using the metaphors applied in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


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self-improvement holiday gifts

It’s gift-giving time!

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year (I’ve said this before on this blog, and I’m saying it again). I love everything about it: the music, the food, the traditions, the decorations, the movies, the atmosphere. . . But most of all, I enjoy giving gifts.

onehouradayformula banner longHowever, I must admit that deciding what gifts to get for my friends and family is sometimes a challenge. The kids are easy: I just take my nephews and my niece to the largest toy store in Panama and let them look around and pick out what they want. Then we walk around the mall and have a Christmas scavenger hunt, followed by lunch at the food court. We do this every year, and I really look forward to it. The adults on my list, on the other hand, are a whole different matter.

Last year I walked around the mall for hours (and hours) trying to find a great gift for everyone on my list. Honestly, it was a bit stressful. But this year, things are going to be different.

I’ve decided that I’m going to give my loved ones the Gift of Gratitude. That’s right: the Gift of Gratitude. I’m going to get a nice box for each one of them (in feminine colors for the women, and manly colors for the men). Then, I’ll add crinkled paper shreds to the box.

Lastly, I’m going to fill each box with the following items:

  • A gratitude mug so that they can start each morning with a cup of coffee, hot cocoa, or tea, and an attitude of gratitude (plus a laminated copy of my Morning Gratitude Affirmations).
  • A book by the world’s foremost authority on gratitude, Dr. Robert A. Emmons. It’s titled, “The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks.” In it, Dr. Emmons explains why gratitude works, and he offers exercises so that people can practice gratitude in their daily lives.
  • A gratitude journal and a nice pen so that they can write down what they’re grateful for each day.
  • A small box of thank you notes so that they can reap the benefits of gratitude by thanking others (you can read about how this transformed the life of one man, here).
  • Some gratitude cards for when they aren’t feeling very grateful and need some inspiration (I may include some gratitude prompts, as well).
  • A small toiletry bag filled with essentials such as soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a comb so that they can give it to someone who needs it (giving to others helps us realize how abundant our lives are, which makes us grateful).
  • A gratitude stone they can put on their desk so that they’re reminded to give thanks every time they look at it.
  • A little note letting them know why I’m grateful to them (this gives the gift a personal touch).

Doesn’t that sound like a great gift? I think so. You’re welcome to copy my idea, if you’d like. If not, below you’ll find ten more self-improvement holiday gifts you can give your friends and loved ones this holiday season.

10 Self-Improvement Holiday Gifts

If you’d like to give the gift of self-improvement this holiday season, below you’ll find 10 ideas to choose from.

1. The Gift of . . . Whatever They Need Most

I said above that I’m giving my loved ones the Gift of Gratitude. You can give each of the people on your gift list the gift of whatever they need most in order to move their lives forward. Here are some examples:

  • If a friend or family member has just suffered a significant setback—such as the loss of a job, the rejection of their manuscript, a difficult divorce, and so on– then they may need the Gift of Resilience.
  • If someone you love is stuck in the past, give them the Gift of Letting Go of the Past, or the Gift of Forgiveness.
  • If one of the people on your gift list is constantly late for work, meetings, and appointments–and this is causing problems in their life–, give them the Gift of Punctuality.

For whatever gift you choose to give, do something similar to what I’m doing with my Gift of Gratitude. Get a box and fill it with the following:

  • The best book (or books) on the subject-matter;
  • A token that will remind them of the goal that they’re pursuing, such as a poster, a mug, a keychain, a wood block sign, and so on;
  • A workbook filled with practical exercises and action steps;
  • A journal and a pen so that they can write about their journey toward healing;
  • A personal touch from you, such as a letter explaining how you overcame a difficult setback, forgave someone who hurt you, released a painful memory from the past, and so on.

This year, give life-improving gifts.

2. The Gift of A Hobby

As I wrote in my post, 16 hobbies That Will Improve Your Quality of Life, a hobby isn’t just something that you do to pass the time. Picking up a hobby can have mental, physical, and emotional benefits.

If you choose to give a hobby as a gift, there are many hobbies to choose from. Pick a hobby that they’ve mentioned they want to try—or choose something you’d think they’d like—and get them everything they need to get started with that hobby.

As an illustration, I recently wrote about doodling, which can be a great hobby. Among its many benefits, doodling helps with focus and concentration, it spurs creative insight, and it helps to alleviate stress. In addition, it’s easy to learn to do, and few supplies are needed. Here’s all you need to get:

  • A nice doodling how-to book;
  • Some colored pens and pencils;
  • Paper; and
  • Some stencils.

And, that’s it: with these few items you can give someone the Gift of A Hobby.

3. The Gift of A Blog

A great gift you can give a loved one this holiday season is the Gift of A Blog. That is, register a domain name for them (it can be their name and last name, e.g. mattsmith.com) and pay for a year of hosting. This will allow them to do things like the following:

  • Create a portfolio of their work which they can show to prospective employers or clients.
  • Blog as a hobby (they can blog about anything that interests them, such as cooking, traveling, or video games).
  • As a way to document a journey — a weight loss journey, a home renovation project, a journey to financial independence, and so on.
  • They can monetize their blog and create additional sources of income.

With Bluehost, for less than $75 you can get a domain name and a year of hosting. You can find out more here.

4. The Gift of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all the rage these day. And for good reason: being mindful comes with a myriad of benefits, including reduced anxiety, improved focus, and higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction. One of the best ways to achieve mindfulness is through meditation — it can be sitting or active meditation.

If you want to give a friend or loved one the Gift of Mindfulness, one way to do it is to purchase a meditation class package for them. In the alternative, you can give them a package for any of the following:

  • A yoga class.
  • A Tai Chi class.
  • A Qigong class.

Instead of an in-person class, you can get them DVDs so they can practice yoga, tai chi, or qigong at home. Give your family and friends the Gift of Mindfulness, and then sit back and watch how their lives improve.

5. The Gift of An Experience

It turns out that you can buy happiness. And one of the ways to purchase happiness is by buying experiences instead of consumer goods (like purses, ties, or jewelry). This can include things such as the following:

  • Tickets to a concert (the ballet, the opera, a play, the symphony, or whatever they like);
  • A pass to an amusement park or local attraction;
  • Scuba certification;
  • Sky diving;
  • A museum membership;
  • A zoo membership; and so on.

Help your loved ones create positive memories they’ll cherish for years to come by giving them the Gift of An Experience.

6. The Gift of A New Skill

Think of the people on your gift list and ask yourself if they’ve mentioned any skills that they would like to learn. Photography? Entrepreneurship? Coding? Whatever it is, find an online class for that topic and gift it to them.

And, of course, keep in mind that my eBook on how to learn any skill fast will be finished by December 31st and will launch on the first or second week of January, so keep an eye out for that.

7. The Gift of a Positive Habit

If someone you love has been talking a lot about wanting to adopt a specific positive habit, give them the tools that they need to develop said habit. Here are some examples:

  • If they want to start making smoothies so that they can add some greens to their diet, give them a juicer.
  • If they want to lose weight, give them a cookbook filled with healthy recipes.
  • If they want to start exercising, give them a rebounder.
  • If they want to become an early riser, give them a smart alarm that will gently wake them up at the lightest part of their sleep cycle.

Positive habits are a fantastic gift!

8. The Gift of Time

One of the best gifts you can give someone who’s feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities–because they have small kids, because things are hectic at work, or because they’re taking care of a sick relative–is the gift of time.

A few years back—when my nephews were very young– I gave my sister the gift of ten hours of babysitting. Let me just tell you that she was very appreciative (and, as an added bonus, I got to spend more time with my nephews).

9. The Gift of Fun, Laughter, and Play

I think we could all use more fun, laughter, and play in our lives. If you want to give someone this as a gift for the holidays, you can give them things such as the following:

  • Coloring Books and Pencils
  • Board Games
  • Joke Books
  • Funny Movies
  • Sports Equipment – a soccer ball; rollerblades; a boogie board; and so on.

Helping someone to laugh and enjoy themselves is a great gift.

10. Give the Gift of Relaxation

One of my Christmas traditions is watching all the Christmas episodes of my favorite TV sitcom: Frasier. In the episode “Perspectives on Christmas”, radio psychologist Frasier Crane is having a tough time deciding what to get his loved ones for Christmas.

Everyone gets together at Frasier’s apartment a few days before Christmas, and they all start complaining about all the frustrations they’ve had to face that holiday season. Frasier tries to improve the mood in the room by telling everyone he’s going to give them their Christmas presents: he’s going to tell each one of them what they mean to him.

They all think this gift is rubbish, so he proposes to call a massage therapist and have him come over to the apartment to give them massages. This idea is met with a lot of enthusiasm. In the end, everyone agrees that they all felt better and more relaxed after the massage, and that it was a great Christmas present.

Follow Frasier’s example. This holiday season, give the Gift of Relaxation. Here are some ideas:

  • A massage coupon.
  • A day pass to a spa.
  • A box filled with self-pampering items such as bath salts, green tea, an aromatic candle, a good novel, dark chocolate, a stress ball, and so on.

Relaxing during the holiday season sounds lovely, doesn’t it? In fact, in the spirit of self-love, I think this is what I’m gifting myself this holiday season (yes, I’m on my gift lift).


I know that I’ve reaped enormous benefits from my self-improvement journey, and I hope to share that with my friends and loved ones through my Gifts of Gratitude.

I hope the ideas explained above for self-improvement holiday gifts have helped you to decide what to give the people on your gift list this holiday season.


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be interesting
Everyone can benefit from becoming more interesting.

We live in a noisy world, and the more interesting you are, the more likely it is that you’ll be heard above the noise. In addition, being interesting can help you with just about any goal you may have. Look at the following:

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  • Do you want to impress your current circle of friends? Make yourself more interesting.
  • Do you want to meet new people? Make yourself more interesting.
  • Are you trying to attract the attention of a love interest? Make yourself more interesting.
  • Do you want to make lots of valuable connections at networking events? Make yourself more interesting.
  • Do you want to be the kind of person others want to open doors for? Make yourself more interesting.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to be interesting. Below you’ll find 14 of them.

14 Ways to Be Interesting

Here are 14 ways to become so fascinating, people from all walks of life will be drawn to you.

1. Be An Active Person

As I was doing research to write this article, I came across this gem:


The graph illustrates the obvious: lazy people are boring. Lazy people do the minimum to get by at work, they come home and watch TV, and then they go to sleep. The next day they simply repeat these actions. Every day looks pretty much the same.

Could that person possibly have anything interesting to say? No, of course not. Look at the following:

  • When a lazy person is asked “What are you up to?”, the answer is “Not much”.
  • When a lazy person is asked “What are you reading?”, the answer is “I’m not really into books”.
  • When a lazy person is asked “What’s new?”, the answer is “Same old same old.”

An active person, on the other hand, is always doing something. Maybe they’re taking a 30-Day Happiness Challenge; or they’re training for a 10K; or they’ve joined their Neighborhood Watch. When you ask an active person, “What’s new?”, they always have something to say.

So, if you want to be more interesting, get up off the couch and go do something. As an illustration, here are some things I’m doing right now:

  • Working on my eBook on how to learn any skill fast (it’s coming along nicely).
  • Contemplating taking up Stoicism.
  • Making more of my own beauty/personal care products instead of buying the chemical-laden variety at the pharmacy.
  • Taking a kettlebell swings challenge.

By doing lots of things I make sure that when someone asks me what I’m up to, I have lots to say. To be more interesting, be more active.

2. Happy People Are Magnetic, Debbie Downers Are Not

A while ago I wrote about my Personal Manifesto on this site. One of the things that I have on my manifesto is the following:

“I talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person I meet.”

After all, people want to be around others who make them feel good about themselves and about the world in general.

Don’t be one of those people who’s always complaining. The last thing you want is for people to take one look as you walk into a room and think, “Oh, no, here comes doom and gloom”. Happy people are much more magnetic–and interesting–than downers.

3. Be Passionate About Something

If you want to be more interesting, be passionate about something. It can be anything:

  • Be passionate about saving the planet — or whales, or dolphins, or the bees. Find something worth saving that you can be passionate about.
  • Be passionate about your job, career, or business.
  • Be passionate about a social issue – domestic violence, bullying, the rights of the mentally disabled, and so on.

I have a British uncle-by-law who is incredibly passionate about Winston Churchill, and about World War II (his library is amazing). Listening to him talk about these subjects is fascinating.

Late night show host and comedian Stephen Colbert is passionate about JRR Tolkien. It’s so much fun to watch when he has a Tolkien geek-out on his show.

Interesting people have something that they care deeply about. Passionate people are incredibly interesting.

4. Fill Your Brain With Interesting Things

If you want to be interesting, you have to fill your brain with interesting things. Think of it this way: whatever goes into your brain is what will, eventually, come out of your mouth.

When asked how to be a good writer, Ray Bradbury once said you should “stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music . . .” That advice can also be applied to being a good conversationalist. That is, to being interesting.

Become well-read, watch classic films, go to museums, subscribe to interesting blogs and podcasts, and listen to great music. The more cultured you become—the more high quality input you stuff yourself with–, and the more knowledge you acquire, the more interesting things you’ll have to say.

5. Let Your Weirdness Shine Through

Most people go to great lengths to edit themselves so that they’ll fit in. They’re petrified that they’re going to say or do something that may come across as being “weird” or out of the ordinary.

However, in her book, “How to Be Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps)”, Jessica Hagi argues that–to be more interesting–you should embrace your weirdness. Here’s a graph she came up with to illustrate that the more special and strange you are, the more memorable you become:


Do the following:

  • Don’t judge others for being weird.
  • Stop being afraid to let other people get to know the real you, however strange that may be.
  • Instead of being generic, allow yourself to be quirky.
  • Break out of the box.
  • Share your unique insights.

Plus, think about the following: you’re probably already doing things that other people find weird, and they’re just not telling you. So, you might as well stop pretending that you’re as normal as can be, and let your weirdness hang out. After all, being weird is a wonderful thing. Own it!

6. Be Daring, Bold, and Audacious

One of the characteristics that interesting people share is that they’re risk-takers. That is, they’re daring, bold, and audacious. They do the following:

  • They explore–they go places.
  • They push on the boundaries of their comfort zone.
  • They try new things.
  • They play and they have fun.
  • They learn to do new things, and are not afraid to be really bad at first.
  • They create bucket lists and get to work crossing off the items on their list.

Make yourself interesting by getting yourself to get out there and do interesting things.

7. Be Present

If you’re at a cocktail party and you’re talking to someone who looks like they don’t really want to be there, or like they’d rather be talking to someone else, do they make a good impression? Are you likely to want to speak to them again? Probably not.

Part of their attention is on you, but most of it is somewhere else. That is, they’re not present. And no one is interested in talking to someone who’s not present.

On the other hand, think of those people who make others feel like they’re the only person in the room, and like there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. Those people come across as being incredibly likeable, and interesting. And they achieve this by being fully present–by giving others the gift of their full attention.

8. Ask People About Themselves and Really Listen to Them

Dale Carnegie, author of the perennial best seller “How To Win Friends and Influence People”, once said: “To be interesting, be interested.”

It doesn’t matter how much you know, there’s no bigger bore than someone who just talks about himself/herself and doesn’t show any interest in the person they’re talking to. But if you show interest in the other person, they’ll love you for it.

After all, people love talking about themselves. In fact, research shows the following:

“Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money.”

Being an interesting conversationalist is a two-way street. It isn’t just about being a good talker, but also about being a good listener. When you’re talking to someone, be genuinely interested in them. Do the following:

  • Be curious about them.
  • Operate on the assumption that everyone has something interesting to say.
  • Regard everyone as an opportunity to learn.

You can start by asking people about their hobbies, their family, their future travel plans, and so on. Then, make sure that you listen carefully to what they have to say.

9. Become a Good Story Teller

Research scientist Kendall Haven writes in his book “Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story” that:

“Evolutionary biologists confirm that 100,000 years of reliance on stories have evolutionarily hardwired a predisposition into human brains to think in story terms. We are programmed to prefer stories and to think in story structures.”

Stories help our minds to focus. In addtion, stories take facts and concepts and put them in an emotional structure, which makes those facts and concepts more memorable. By learning how to tell good stories you’ll gain the ability to engage your audience and hold their attention.

Here are some tips on how to tell a good story:

  • Set the stage – who, what, when, why, and where.
  • Edit out the boring stuff.
  • Keep your stories simple and straighforward.
  • You can embellish a little to emphasize a point, but not too much.
  • There has to be conflict.
  • After a struggle the conflict is overcome.
  • The struggle leads to some change.
  • Try to come up with a moral or message for your story.

10. Have Three Good Stories Ready

Now that you’re a good story teller, the question becomes: what stories are you going to tell?

Think of at least three good stories people would be interested in listening to. Sit down and mine your own experiences, and think about anecdotes you’ve heard from others that can be turned into good stories.

In addition, keep in mind that being interesting is as much about how you say something than it is about what you have to say. Practice telling your stories until you’re sure you can tell them in an engaging manner.

When you’re practicing how to tell your stories, keep the following in mind:

  • Use your facial expressions to help you get your point across.
  • Use gestures to emphasize the point that you’re making.
  • Use a lively and expressive voice.
  • Become good at pantomine: use your body to act out the narrative.

The other day a friend told me that she had walked in on her husband as he was talking to himself. But he wasn’t just mumbling under his breath. He was talking in an animated voice, laughing, and moving his hands as if he had an audience.

She asked me: “Isn’t that weird?” I answered: “No, that’s not weird. He’s practicing his stories so that he’s ready for when he has an audience. I do it too.”

If you want to be more interesting, practice your stories. (And if you think that’s weird, go back to point #5).

11. Tailor Your Stories to Your Audience

Chris MacLeod, author of “The Social Skills Guidebook”, explains that you have to develop an instinct for the things that people want to hear about. The story that you choose to tell, as well as the aspects of the story that you emphasize, will depend on your audience.

As an illustration, if you’re talking to your grandmother who loves art about your trip to Paris, you’ll want to focus on the museums that you visited. If you’re talking to your friends, you may want to talk more about the Paris nightlife. And if you’re talking to your sister who’s a foodie, you’ll want to tell her about the places where you dined.

If you’re talking to someone you don’t know, watch for signals of engagement to determine their interests. To be more interesting, tailor your stories to your audience.

12. Learn to Tell A Few Good Jokes

We all love to laugh, and we love being around people who can make us laugh. So, always have a couple of good jokes, funny quotes, or funny sayings up your sleeve. Don’t undersell or oversell your joke, be confident, and make sure you get your timing and rhythm right.

13. Learn to Improvise

In my post, “How to Become a Better Person” I wrote about the many benefits of taking an improv class. Taking an improv class will teach you to think faster and better on your feet, which will allow you to push a lagging conversation forward. Also, it will allow you to build on the ideas of others, embrace the moment, and better connect with others.

14. Cultivate a Beautiful Mind

In his book, “How to Have a Beautiful Mind”, creativity expert Edward de Bono–known mostly for his coining of the term “lateral thinking”–explains that having a beautiful mind means the following:

  • You can easily discuss and explore ideas with others.
  • To you a discussion is a genuine attempt to explore an issue, and not a battle of egos.
  • You take genuine delight in finding points of agreement with others.
  • You can appreciate other points of view and you try to see things from other people’s perspectives.
  • When there’s a difference of opinion you can openly explore the basis of the difference.
  • You’re good at setting forth different alternatives, possibilities, and ways of looking at the issues being discussed.
  • If the person you’re talking to has more information on a topic than you do, you listen attentively and ask questions.

Be more interesting by cultivating a beautiful mind.


In summary, people will think you’re interesting if, during a conversation, you achieve the following:

  • You made them feel seen and understood.
  • You made them feel interesting.
  • You made them think.
  • You introduced them to a new idea or piece of trivia.
  • You made them laugh.
  • Through your example you’ve inspired them to take some action to improve their lives.
  • You’ve made them feel better about themselves because they’re associated with you.

I’m going to leave you with a quote by Bethenny Frankel: “It’s more important to be the most interesting person in the room than the prettiest.” Live your best life by becoming more interesting.


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practice gratitude

Life looks better through the lens of gratitude.

You’re probably already aware of the many benefits—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual—of gratitude. In order to reap these benefits, you need to find a way to remind yourself to remain thankful throughout the day. That is, keep gratitude at the forefront of your awareness.

onehouradayformula banner longThe best way I’ve found to do this is to establish a gratitude practice. A gratitude practice consists of simple exercises that encourage you to integrate thankfulness into your daily life. The key is to choose exercises that work for you, and to mix and match them in order to keep things fresh and inspiring. To that end, below you’ll find 8 exercises to help you practice gratitude.

8 Ways to Practice Gratitude

Here are 8 exercises for you to choose from for your gratitude practice:

1. Morning Gratitude Affirmations.

Start your day on the right foot with morning gratitude affirmations. Affirmations of gratitude will help you to set the intention to spend your day in a state of thankfulness. This will allow you to notice the good that surrounds you and to better cope with any unpleasant surprises which the day may bring.

These are the morning gratitude affirmations which I recommend (you can, of course, write your own):

gratitude affirmations

I printed the image above, I had it laminated, and I have it pinned up where I drink my morning coffee so I’ll be sure to see it every morning. You’re welcome to do the same, if you wish.

2. Create a Gratitude Collage.

Gather photos or images of the things, people, and places that you’re grateful for and create a gratitude collage. For example, you could look for images of the following:

  • Your best friend.
  • Your sibblings.
  • A place you traveled to recently which you loved.
  • Your favorite part of the house.
  • Cook your favorite meal and then photograph it.
  • Have someone take a picture of you while you carry out your favorite activity.

You can create an online gratitude collage by using Canva, PowerPoint, or Fotor. Then, use it as your desktop background. That way, whenever you turn on your computer you’ll be reminded of everything that you have to be grateful for.

3. Remember the Bad.

Many years ago I read Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo”, and the following quote stood out for me: “It’s necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.” What that quote said to me was that, in order to truly appreciate the good, you need to contrast it with the bad.

As an example, right now I’m sitting at my desk in my home office, typing away on my computer. However, last week I was having trouble with my internet connection. In addition, on Friday my laptop’s screen suddenly started getting fuzzy, and then it just died.

Therefore, I spent the weekend without a computer. All I had was a tablet, and a faulty internet connection. Needless to say, it was pretty stressful.

However, on Monday I bought a second-hand monitor for my laptop, and my internet provider fixed the connectivity issue that I was having. What a relief!

Now, if I want to feel instantly grateful, all I have to do is compare what I have at this moment, to the situation I was in over the weekend. That contrast immediately shifts my focus to how good things are at this precise moment.

To feel instantly grateful, do the following:

  • Remember a time when you were wet and cold.
  • Remember a time when you felt sick or were in pain.
  • Remember a time when you were scared.

If right now you’re safe, healthy, dry, and warm, that contrast is all you need to feel immense gratitude. Here’s another quote from “The Count of Monte Cristo” that expresses this sentiment:

“Those born to wealth, and who have the means of gratifying every wish, know not what is the real happiness of life, just as those who have been tossed on the stormy waters of the ocean on a few frail planks can alone realize the blessings of fair weather.”

To feel truly grateful, remember the bad.

4. Designate a “Gratitude Spot” In Your Home.

Get all of your family members involved in your quest to be more grateful. You can do this by choosing a spot in your home and designate it as the “gratitude spot”. The gratitude spot is a place where everyone is encouraged to record what they’re grateful for.

Here are some ideas:

  • Have your refrigerator be the gratitude spot–get some pieces of scrap paper and use small magnets to put them up on the fridge. Make sure that there’s easy access to a pen. Tell your family members to write down anything that they’re grateful for on the pieces of paper when they walk past the fridge.
  • Put up a bulletin board, a whiteboard, or a blackboard in a central place of your home so that any family member can jot down their “thank yous”.
  • Get a jar, designate it as the gratitude jar, and place it on a side table in the family room. Set up scraps of paper and a pen next to the jar. (Here’s a cute one you can copy). Your loved ones can write down what they’re grateful for on the scraps of paper and then fold them, and place them in the jar.

gratitude wall

5. Practice Temporary Self-Denial.

My last post was about the Stoic Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Although most of us are reluctant to put ourselves in uncomforotable situations, the Stoics would do so deliberately. They would do things such as the following:

  • Walk around on cold days without a coat.
  • Skip meals and allow themselves to get really hungry.

They would do this because denying yourself makes you appreciate more fully the things that you take for granted.

Michael Norton–a Harvard professor and author of Happy Money– says a bit of self-denial is a huge happiness booster. Here’s a quote from Happy Money:

“…if you love, every day, having the same coffee, don’t have it for a few days. Once you have it again, it’s going to be way more amazing than all of the ones that you would have had in the meantime… It’s not “give it up forever.” It’s “give it up for short periods of time, and I promise you you’re going to love it even more when you come back to it.”

I practice self-denial in order to make things more special. For example, I love tamales. Tamales are available all-year-round in Panama. However, I only allow myself to eat tamales in December and on the first day of January. That is, they’re a holiday treat for me.

On the first of December, or as soon as I can find the time once it’s December, I buy tamales (I’ve identified the place that makes the best tamales in Panama). Then, I light my Christmas tree, I sit in front of it, and I eat a tamale.

I cannot explain to you how good it tastes and what a joyful experience it is. And that’s because I deny myself tamales during the other eleven months of the year.

We tend to think that gratitude is triggered when more riches come into our lives, but it can also be sparked by setting limits and by temporarily denying ourselves so that we can truly appreciate the good that we’re already surrounded by.

6. Carry a Gratitude Stone.

A gratitude stone is a rock or pebble that you carry with you–you can place it in your pocket or in your purse–as a reminder to practice gratitude. Think of it as a gratitude anchor. Whenever you happen to touch it throughout the day, give thanks for something right at that moment.

You can get stones with the word “gratitude” engraved on them, or simply find a smooth stone when you go out for a walk.

7. The ABCs of Gratitude.

Whenever you find yourself with some downtime—for example, when you’re waiting at the dentist’s office, standing in line, or stuck in traffic—go through the ABC’s of gratitude. That is, for each letter of the alphabet, come up with something that you’re thankful for.

Here are four examples of what I would say if I were doing the exercise right now:

  • A – Amazon. I couldn’t find Shakespeare’s “King Lear” or “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” in English anywhere in Panama. However, I’m going to have them soon, because I ordered them from Amazon. Thank you, Amazon!
  • B – Books. I know this is related to the point above, but reading is one of my favorite things to do. (I read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” during the month of October.) Plus, I love being surrounded by books.
  • C – Ceci. Ceci is one of the cashiers at the fruit store which is two blocks away from my building. I walk there every day to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and she always greets me with enthusiasm and has a kind word to say.
  • D – Dogs. Just looking at a dog makes me happy. Today as I was walking back from the fruit store I came across a gorgeous, incredibly friendly husky. When I started petting him he immediately lay on his side so he could better enjoy the experience. That put a big smile on my face.

8. Take a 21-Day Gratitude Challenge.

A short while ago I wrote about happines habits that will tranform your life if you carry them out for 21 days. Two of those habits involve gratitude. Check out the post and increase your happiness, while becoming more grateful, in just 21 days.


I hope that at least a couple of the gratitude exercises explained above resonated with you. If so, use them in order to practice gratitude. Live your best life by being more grateful.


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Marcus Aurelius quotes

Some have called stoicism the ultimate self-improvement philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the “Five Good Emperors”, the five rulers who presided over the most majestic days of the Roman Empire from 96 to 180 AD. Edward Gibbon, author of “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, had the following to say about these five rulers:

“Their united reigns are possibly the only period in history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government.”

onehouradayformula banner longIn addition to being one of the “Five Good Emperors”, Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic. Stoicism is a philosophy for life which was founded by the Greek scholar Zeno. In addition to Marcus Aurelius, Stoicism’s most famous adherents were the Roman statesman Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) and the Greek philosopher Epictetus (55 – 135 AD). Stoicism can be summarized as follows:

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

One of the most succinct statements of Stoic philosophy that we have available today is the book “Meditations”. It was written by Marcus Aurelius during the last ten years of his life while he was on military campaign.

“Meditations” is  a collection of notes Marcus Aurelius wrote for himself as a kind of self-instruction or self-improvement guide. It was a means of practicing and reinforcing his own philosophical convictions.

Although Marcus Aurelius didn’t write it for publication, “Meditations” is one of the greatest texts to have come down to us from classical antiquity. These writings, collected in 12 short books, take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs.

In “Meditations”, Marcus Aurelius tries to answer the deep questions about the meaning of life, such as the following:

  • Why are we here?
  • How should we live?
  • How can we deal with criticism?
  • What is the best way to handle adversity?
  • How does one respond to suffering?

Below you’ll find 7 life and happiness lessons from Marcus Aurelius contained in several quotes from “Meditations”.

Lesson 1 – Take Control of Your Thoughts

Marcus Aurelius explains that you always have control over your mind. Regardless of what may be going on around you, you choose what to tell yourself about what’s happening, and that determines how you feel.

In addition, your happiness doesn’t depend on any external event. Instead, it depends on what you’re thinking. Here are seven quotes from “Meditations” that reflect the importance of taking charge of your thoughts:

 “You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: Everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly, everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, ‘What are you thinking about?’ you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that.”


Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”


You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”


“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”


“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”


“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”


“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions; not outside.”


“Take away your opinion, and there is taken away the complaint. Take away the complaint, and the hurt is gone.”

Lesson 2 – We Each Have a Purpose

Marcus Aurelius believed that we each have a purpose; something we were created for. It is our duty to carry out that purpose. Here’s a quote that reflects this:

“Everything, a horse, a vine, is created for some duty. For what task, then, were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.”

In addition, Marcus Aurelius believed that your purpose is what gets you out of bed each morning. Here’s Marcus Aurelius:

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work–as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for–the things which I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’

–But it’s nicer here…

So you were born to feel ‘nice?’ Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

–But we have to sleep sometime…

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that–as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts. Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?

Lesson 3 – Stay In the Now

I don’t know if Eckhart Tolle, author of “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment”,  was inspired by Stoicism, but mindfulness—of which Tolle is a vocal proponent–is a cornerstone of Stoic philosophy.

Here are three Marcus Aurelius quotes in which he reminds himself to stay focused on the here and now:

 “Confine yourself to the present.”


“Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each one of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.”


“Every hour focus your mind attentively on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last.”

Lesson 4 – Bad Actions Are the Result of Ignorance

Stoics value clear judgement and the pursuit of reason. They believe that unhappiness and evil are the result of ignorance. Thus, if someone is unkind– or acts boorishly– it’s because they’re not thinking clearly. Here’s a passage from “Meditations” that makes this point:

“. . . Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore, none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.’”

Lesson 5 – Constantly Turn Inward

I’m a meditation enthusiast, and so was Marcus Aurelius. Here’s what he has to say about turning inward:

“People try to get away from it all — to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: You can get away from it anytime you like.

By going within.

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful — more free of interruptions — than your own soul.”

Lesson 6 – Stop Seeking the Approval of Others and Stay In Your Own life

Marcus Aurelius writes that worrying about the opinion of others is a waste of time. In addition, neither praise nor criticism from others is important because neither affects the intrinsic value of whatever, or whoever, is being judged and evaluated. Look at the following Marcus Aurelius quotes on this issue:

“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.

We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.

It can only ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you—inside or out.

The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.

It’s silly to try to escape other peoples’ faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.

Leave other peoples’ mistakes where they lie.”


“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”


“Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbors, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so-and-so is doing and why, or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming—in a word, anything that distracts you from fidelity to the ruler within you—means a loss of opportunity for some other task.”


“Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of those applauding hands. The people who praise us; how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region it takes place. The whole earth a point in space . . .”


“Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous. The object of praise remains what it is—no better and no worse. This applies, I think, even to ‘beautiful’ things in ordinary life—physical objects, artworks. Does anything genuinely beautiful need supplementing? No more than justice does—or truth, or kindness, or humility. Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by contempt? Is an emerald suddenly flawed if no one admires it?”

Lesson 7 – How to Deal With Obstacles

One of the lessons that Marcus Aurelius teaches us in his “Meditations” is to turn obstacles into opportunities. Here’s a great quote that refers to this:

“In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them. But when they obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us–like sun, wind, and animals. Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

In addition, Marcus Aurelius admonishes 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?’”


The teachings of Marcus Aurelius remain as relevant today as they were almost 2,000 years ago: go within; stop worrying about the opinions of others; stay in the present; take charge or your thoughts; and focus on what you can control. Live your best life by applying the Stoic philosophy.


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create systems

One of the best ways to save time is to create systems.

If you want to gain back time—to exercise, work on your goals, spend more time with loved ones, and so on–, one way to do it is to create systems that can be automated and streamlined as much as possible.

A system is a method, procedure, or routine which is created to carry out a repetitive activity in a strategic way. Systems can help you run your work and home life more efficiently and effectively. Here are some ideas of things you can create systems for:

  • onehouradayformula banner longSystematize Your Finances. Paying bills, depositing money in your savings and retirement accounts, investing, and so on are activities that need to be carried out on a regular basis. By creating a system to handle your finances you’ll save time and increase your peace of mind.
  • Systematize Your Meals. Food shopping and meal preparation can use up a lot of your time. In addition, if you don’t have a system for these activities you could end up eating unhealthy foods and spending a lot more money than necessary.
  • Systematize Your Blogging Tasks. If you’re a blogger, then you know that blogging can take up a lot of your time. However, by creating systems—for writing your blog posts, marketing your blog, creating eBooks, launching your products, and so on–you can dramatically reduce the amount of time that you devote to your blog.
  • Systematize Housecleaning Chores. If you dislike housecleaning—like I do—and/or you’re not very good at it—again, like me—you should really consider systematizing your housecleaning chores.
  • Systematize Your Mornings and Nights. By systematizing your morning routine, you can ensure that you start each day the right way. In addition, by systematizing your nighttime routine you’ll be able to end each day in a calm and relaxed manner.
  • Systematize Your Handling of Email. Many people suffer from email overload. The good news is that you can be much more productive when it comes to handling your email by adopting a systematic approach to email processing.
  • Systematize Routine Work Tasks. If you’re an employee, or an entrepreneur, there are probably lots of activities that you have to carry out over and over again. By creating systems to deal with these activities, you’ll start getting much better results.

Below you’ll find a 5-step process to help you create systems in your life.

Create Systems – A 5 Step Process

Here are the 5 steps you need to take in order to create systems in your home and work life so that you can gain back time, be more effective and efficient, and increase your productivity.

1. Take Inventory.

Start by identifying the actions that you take on a regular basis, both at home and at work. That is, dissect your day and take a look at all of the different parts that make up what you get done each day. Some of these activities could be the following:

  • Getting ready in the morning.
  • Getting the kids ready for school.
  • Commuting to work.
  • Answering emails.
  • Responding to phone calls.
  • Writing reports.
  • Managing your company’s social media accounts.
  • Going out for a run.
  • Making dinner.
  • Writing a blog post.
  • Marketing your eBook or Ecourse.
  • Getting ready for bed.

Go through the list of activities that you came up with and ask yourself the following:

  • How are you currently getting these things done?
  • Do you feel that you’re being as efficient and effective as you can be?
  • Where are you losing lots of time?
  • Where are you losing money?
  • What activities frustrate you the most?
  • What is not currently getting done as fast or as well as it should be?
  • What’s falling through the cracks?
  • What needs to be streamlined?

On the basis of your review, choose one activity to systematize.

2. Analyze What You’re Currently Doing.

Carry out the activity that you want to systematize using your normal procedure–that is, as you’re currently doing it. Document the process by writing down all of the following:

  • What steps are you taking?
  • What tools are you using?
  • Where are the bottlenecks?
  • What’s frustrating you?
  • How much time does it take for you to complete the activity?
  • How much does it cost to complete the activity?
  • What types of results are you getting?

Once you’ve written down how you currently carry out the activity, sit down with the document you created and look through it.

3. Plan Your New Process.

A system—as was previously stated–is a process that you create in order to streamline tasks and improve efficiency. Take a look at how you’re currently carrying out the activity that you want to systematize and ask yourself questions like the following:

  • What is the result that you’re looking for when you carry out the activity? What is the goal that you’re trying to achieve? What’s the ideal outcome?
  • Are all of the steps that you’re currently taking necessary? Can some of those steps be eliminated?
  • Are you taking the steps in the most effective sequence? Would you get better results if you changed the order of the steps?
  • How can this be done faster?
  • Can you create a checklist?
  • Would a chart be helpful?
  • Would a mindmap make things clearer?
  • Can you create scripts (such as a script for welcoming new clients, a script for answering questions that you get on a regular basis, a script for following up with clients, and so on)?
  • Can some steps, or the entire process, be automated? Is there a machine or a software program you can use? If so, what machine or what software?
  • Can someone else do this — can this activity be outsourced or delegated?
  • If the entire activity can’t be assigned to someone else, are there certain steps of the process that someone else could take care of (for example, hire someone to edit your blog posts; get the kids to make their own beds; or have your groceries delivered)?
  • Do you need to upgrade the tools that you’re currently using?

Write down the new process that you come up with by enumerating each step. Make sure that each step is well-documented and clearly explained.

4. Execute Your Plan.

Once you have a plan—that is, once you’ve created a system–you need to put your plan into action. This can include hiring people, purchasing software, upgrading the tools that you’re currently using, and so on.

It’s now time for the dry run of your new process. Carry out the activity that you’ve systematized by applying the  process that you’ve created, and notice the results that you get.  Ask yourself questions like the following:

  • Did you get the desired results?
  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • How much time are you saving?
  • How much is it costing you, and, given the results that you’re getting, is the cost acceptable?
  • Are you achieving your goal in the simplest way possible?
  • Are there any gaps in the process?
  • Can the process be optimized even further?

Make any necessary adjustments and modifications. Tweak your new system until you start getting the results that you want.

5. Continuously Improve the System.

Although in theory the idea of creating a system is to create it and forget about it, the reality is that every so often you should take a close look at the systems that you’ve set in place and make sure that everything is working as it should.

In addition, ask yourself if you can make any further improvements. Take a look at the following:

  • Is the system still working as it should?
  • Can you lower the cost of the system?
  • Can you make the system even more efficient and effective?
  • Can you improve the system so that you start getting even better results?

Also, it’s very likely that, at first, you’ll be the person carrying out all the steps of each of your systems. However, you’ll almost certainly get to a point where you can hire others.

That is, sooner or later you’ll be able to focus exclusively on the core activities that create the most value for your home life, work life, or business, and hire other people to carry out all the other steps of the systems that you have in place.

In the book “De-Mithify: How to create systems in your small business with free online tools!”, Korbett Miller says the following about systems:

“It’s almost like creating a perfect recipe. You must be able to measure the results, change the process when needed, and always be on the lookout for better ideas.”


Setting up a system on the front end can be a big time investment. In the long run, however, you’re saving yourself hundreds of hours of frustration and stress. In order to live your best life, create systems.


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benefits of doodling

The need to draw may be hardwired into the human brain.

When I worked for the Panama Canal Commission–the US agency that ran the Panama Canal before it was transferred back to Panama in the year 2000–I would often glance over at the general counsel’s legal pad and notice that the margins were filled with doodles.

As he took notes during meetings or phone calls, or as he strategized on how to handle a legal case, he would also doodle. Since he painted during his free time, his doodles were quite good.

onehouradayformula banner longIt turns out that he was on to something. While doodling tends to get a bad rap–in school teachers often reprimand students who are doodling and exhort them to stop goofing off and pay attention–recent studies have found that doodling has many benefits. Among other things, doodling is associated with more effective learning, increased productivity, and better performance. In addition, you don’t have to be an accomplished painter–or even know how to draw–in order to start doodling.

Below you’ll find several benefits of doodling, and some tips on how to get started making your own doodles.

Seven Benefits of Doodling

Doodles are spontaneous uncensored marks that are made quickly and can take many forms, from abstract patterns or designs to images of concrete objects. However, these marks are far being the mindless scribbles of a distracted mind. Doodling has cognitive and emotional benefits.

Here are seven benefits of doodling:

1. Doodling Helps You Concentrate.

In a study published in 2009 in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth in southern England showed that, after a lecture or a meeting, those who doodled remembered more information than the non-doodlers. In the study, Andrade separated 40 participants into two groups of 20 each.

All 40 participants had just finished an unrelated psychological experiment, and they were tired and wanted to go home. However, they were asked to  spend five more minutes on another experiment.

As part of this additional experiment they were asked to listen to a 2½-minute voicemail in which the speaker rambled on about several different topics, and also spoke about a birthday party and who was invited. The voicemail was extremely boring and monotonous, by design.

Twenty of the experiment participants were asked to quickly shade in some little squares and circles on a piece of paper while they listened. The other 20 didn’t doodle. All of the participants were asked to write down the names of those coming to the party as they listened to the voicemail. This meant that the doodlers were switching between doodling and writing down the names of the guests.

Afterwards, the papers were removed and the 40 volunteers were asked to recall the names of the people attending the party, as well as some of the other information included in the voicemail. The doodlers recalled 7.5 pieces of information (out of 16 total) on average, which was 29% more than the average of 5.8 recalled by the nondoodlers. In other words, doodling helps you to concentrate.

Andrade theorizes that doodling helps you to concentrate because it requires enough cognitive effort to keep you from daydreaming, and yet not enough to prevent you from paying attention to what is going on around you. In other words, one of the benefits of doodling is that it helps you to anchor your attention and stay engaged instead of zoning out.

2. Doodling Can Help Spur Creative Insight.

According to Sunni Brown, author of “The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently“, doodling is thought to stimulate areas of the brain which normally remain dormant when you’re just in linguistic mode. This can help you to analyze information differently.

According to Brown, when you doodle “you are lighting up different networks in the brain” and “engaging different information.” This can lead to “ah-ha” moments when the solution to a problem you’ve been struggling with suddenly becomes evident.

In fact, Brown’s professional work includes training company managers to translate ideas and concepts into doodles–or visual language– in order to spark ideas and improve communication.

Doodling is thinking in pictures. The next time you’re stuck on a problem, try expressing the problem as a doodle and notice what ideas pop up into your mind.

3. Doodling Can Help Process Emotions.

Emerging studies show that art expression may help individuals reconnect thinking and feeling. While journaling is a great way to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings, you can get even better results if you add doodles to your journal entries. After all, doodles can help you to recognize and express your emotions.

4. Doodling Alleviates Stress.

In my post on ways to play more and have more fun as adults, I encourage you to get a coloring book for adults. But coloring books aren’t just for fun. The stress-busting benefits of coloring books have been proven to calm the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight response.

However, doodling might be even better than coloring books for getting stress under control because of its simplicity.

In the book Chilling Out: The Psychology of Relaxation, psychologist Christine Selby recommends drawing a continuous line across the page that curves and crosses itself many times as a technique to help you unwind. You can then use a different color to fill in the blank spaces created by the lines.

The repetitive motion of moving the pen across the page making the same shape over and over again is relaxing. In addition, a lot of stress comes from the fear of making a mistake, and, when you’re just drawing a continuous line and shading in wherever the mood strikes you, there are no mistakes.

5. Doodling Can Be A Creative Outlet.

Creativity is proven to boost relaxation, happiness and even problem-solving skills. However, few of us have a creative outlet that we engage in consistently. Doodling is the answer to this dilemma. It can be done anywhere and at any time, and all you need is a piece of paper and a pen.

If you’re looking for a simple creative outlet without a steep learning curve, start doodling for five minutes a day. Doodling is fun and can be very satisfying.

6. Doodling Can Help You Learn Better.

As I’ve written previously, I’m currently working on an eBook on rapid learning. During my research I came across the concepts of focused thinking and diffused thinking. Both forms of thinking are important for effective learning.

Focused thinking, as the name implies, is when you’re concentrating on the information that you’re trying to learn, analyze, or understand. Diffused thinking, on the other hand, is a more relaxed thinking state, one the brain settles into at resting. It allows for the subconscious incubation of ideas and information.

After a while of focusing intently on a subject that you’re trying to learn, sit back with a pen and paper and relax your mind–that is, enter the diffused mode of thinking–by doodling. You’ll learn better.

In addition, as was mentioned in the first point above, doodling helps you to concentrate. So, if you find your mind wandering during a lecture, start doodling in the margins of your notes in order to bring your mind back to the attention sweet-spot so you can listen to the lecture, and learn.

7. Doodling Helps Big-Picture Thinking.

Philosopher Jesse Prinz, a professor at City University of New York, explains that when you’re too focused on something you tend to overthink. This can lead you to focus on details that aren’t particularly important and miss the big picture. Think of the saying, “miss the forest for the trees”.

When you doodle you tend to focus on the overarching ideas and concepts, which is paramount to big-picture thinking. Therefore, the next time you feel yourself drowning in details, stop for a moment and create a doodle that represents whatever it is that you’re working on. It’s highly likely that you’ll find yourself regaining perspective.

How to Start Doodling

One of the best things about doodling is how easy it is to do. In fact, you can get started doodling even if all you know how to draw are stick figures. In addition, you’ll still get all the benefits of doodling even if your doodles are “ugly”. Here are five ways to get started with doodling:

1. Learn the 12 Basic Shapes.

Brown, who has already been mentioned, teaches her clients 12 basic shapes so that they can start doodling as fast as possible. The shapes consist of  dots, lines, angles, spirals, and triangles. It’s a visual alphabet, if you will, which will allow you to draw anything. Here are the 12 shapes:


2. Use Stencils.

If you’re not ready to draw your own shapes yet, use stencils. Get yourself some nice stencils, such as these or these. Then, just trace the shapes and add your own doodles inside or outside the stencil shapes.

3. Follow Along With a YouTube Video.

There are lots of good doodling tutorials on YouTube which you can easily follow along with, even if you’re a beginner. Here’s a good one:

4. Get a Doodling How-to Book.

Whatever you want to learn how to do, you can bet there’s a book for it, and doodling is no exception. In fact, since doodling has become very popular recently, there are now several great doodling books available for you to choose from. Here are four good ones:

5. Doodle Freestyle.

Just grab a pen or a pencil, and paper, and allow your mind to take over. Think of a journal entry in which you allow yourself to ramble, except that you’re using lines and shapes instead of words. Don’t get hung up on trying to draw any particular image–images will start to take shape as you move the pen over the paper.

In addition, don’t allow your inner critic to get in the way. Nobody has to see your doodle, and you can just crumple it up and throw it away when you’re done. Give your mind and hand free rein. You can even try doodling in the dark.


As you can see from the explanation above, doodling has many benefits, and you can get started right away. Live your best life by doodling. Now, go doodle and begin to experience the many benefits of doodling right away!


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