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inner peace and the right side of the brain

A brain scientist discovered Nirvana–or inner peace–in the right side of the brain.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained brain scientist who suffered a stroke in 1996–at the age of 37–in the left hemisphere of her brain. She spoke of her experience at the 2008 TED Conference and wrote a memoir titled “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey”. Dr. Taylor was named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People in 2008.

In both the TED.com talk and the book she describes what the four hours felt like during which she was having the stroke and she watched her brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process information, and what life was like afterward. In addition, Dr. Taylor explains her discovery that through the right hemisphere of the brain, the part of her brain that was untouched by the stroke, inner peace is just a thought away.

You can find out a lot more about this remarkable woman and her fascinating experience below.

Each Hemisphere of the Brain Has Its Own Personality

Dr. Taylor explains in her TED.com talk that if you’ve ever seen a human brain, it’s obvious that the two hemispheres–or the two cerebral cortices–are completely separate from each other.

If you’re familiar with computers, the right brain hemisphere functions like a parallel processor, while the left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. Because they process information differently, each of our brain hemispheres thinks about different things, they care about different things, and, Taylor argues, they even have very different personalities.

The two hemispheres do communicate with each other through the corpus callosum but, other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate.

The Right Hemisphere

Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment; it’s all about right here, right now. It thinks in pictures and abstractions and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our body.

Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems and then it explodes into a collage of what this present moment looks like, smells like, tastes like, sound like, and feels like.

Dr. Taylor explains that we are energy beings connected to the energy all around us through the consciousness of our right brain hemispheres.

The Left Hemisphere

Our left hemisphere is a very different place. It thinks linearly and methodically. It’s all about the past and about the future.

It’s designed to take that collage of the present moment and pick out detail after detail. It then categorizes and organizes all of that information, associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned, and projects into the future all of our possibilities.

The left side of our brain thinks in language. It’s the internal brain chatter that connects us to the external world. It’s the calculating intelligence that reminds us when we have to do the laundry and pick up bananas on the way home.

And most importantly, the left side of the brain is the voice that tells each of us: “I am”. And as soon it says that, each of us becomes separate from the energy all around us, and separate from everyone else.

That’s the portion of the brain that Taylor lost on the morning of her stroke.

Some of the Things Taylor Experienced While Having Her Stroke

In her Ted.com talk, Dr. Taylor shares the following about her experience while she was having a stroke:

  • She looked down at her arm and she realized she could no longer define the boundaries of her body. She could not define where she began and where she ended. The atoms and the molecules in her arm blended with the molecules and atoms in the wall. And all she could detect was energy.
  • Her brain chatter went totally silent. It was as if someone had taken a remote control and pushed the mute button. She found herself inside a silent mind.
  • Then she was captivated by the magnificence of the energy around her.
  • Because she could no longer feel the boundaries of her body, she felt enormous and expansive. She felt as one with all the energy surrounding her. And it was beautiful. It was Nirvana. Any stress related to her job was gone. Any stressors from the outside world were gone, and she felt a sense of complete peacefulness. She lost 37 years of emotional baggage.
  • She was lost in an existence of love and expansiveness, of color and energy.
  • She adds the following: “In the wisdom of my dementia, I understood that this body was, by the magnificence of its design, a precious and fragile gift. It was clear to me that it functioned like a portal through which the energy of who I am can manifest here. I wondered how I could have spent so many years in this construct of life and never realize I was just visiting.”

Life in La-la Land

Taylor explains that when the cells in her left brain became nonfunctional because they were swimming in a pool of blood, they lost their ability to inhibit the cells in her right hemisphere.

In her right brain, she shifted into the consciousness of the present moment. She had no memories of her past and no perception of the future. Instead, she was in a “right here, right now, the present moment is all there is” awareness. She calls this experience being in La-la land.

Describing this state, she sounds like a mystic:

“All details of my life and language were gone. Language is a kind of code, and things were no longer reduced to coding. I was looking at the big picture and could see how everything is related. Everything is in motion, connected in a dance of grace. The brain is what imposes boundaries, and boundaries convey a perception of separation, but that’s a delusion. Everything is one . . . I got to sit in the space of silence gurus meditate toward for years.” (Source).

However, in many crucial ways, for a long time after having her stroke she was like an infant. She couldn’t talk, she had forgotten how to walk, and math and reading were gone. Someone gave her the pieces of a baby’s puzzle and she stared at them without comprehension, perplexed.

She found that in order to learn anything she had to take information from the last moment and apply it to the present moment. When her left hemisphere was completely nonfunctional early on, it was impossible for her to learn.

For example, she eventually became physically capable of putting on her socks and shoes, but she couldn’t understand why she had to put the socks on before the shoes. To her they were simply unrelated actions and she did not have the cognitive ability to figure out the appropriate sequencing of the events.

Over time she regained the ability to weave moments back together to create an expanse of time, and with this ability came the ability to learn methodically again. She adds that life in La-la land will always be just a thought away for her, but she’s grateful for the ability to think with linearity once again.

More of Jill Bolte Taylor’s Insights

Here are some more of Dr. Taylor’s insights:

  • She was shifted into the power and the beauty of what is, right here right now, that we’re often distracted from because the left hemisphere is so tuned in to so many details.
  • “I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle,” she wrote in her book. “The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria.”
  • “We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now we are brothers and sisters, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment, we are whole, we are perfect, and we are beautiful.”
  • We have this tiny little group of cells in our left hemisphere that says “I am”, and as soon as it does that we become individuals, solid, separate from everyone else. (Source).
  • We’re not in a balanced brain society, we’re spending most of our time in our left hemisphere, which creates stress. (Source).
  • The knowledge that we are connected to everything else is always there, people are just not privy to it because the left brain is so dominant.
  • Dr. Taylor describes that she was floating from isolated moment to isolated moment because her left hemisphere-which is the one that makes connections between moments-was no longer working. Therefore, “A” no longer had any relationship with “B”. The result was that she was totally focused in the present moment.

The 90 Second Rule

This is the 90 second rule from the book “My Stroke of Insight”: When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.

That is, something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. It takes less than 90 seconds for those chemicals to totally flush out of the body .

This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.

How Can We Exercise Our Right Hemispheric Circuitry?

Dr. Taylor concluded her TED.com Talk by saying the following:

“Right here, right now I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are, I am, the life force power of the universe. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you . . . The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be.”

Dr. Taylor made the decision to maintain the dominance of the right brain in areas in which it performs better than the left brain.

She consciously avoids certain places in the mind where impatience, worry, criticism or unkindness live. Anytime her awareness drifts there, she consciously steps over to her now-familiar right side, where compassion and a subjective sense of time make things very different.

She explains that the blue sky is always there, and she sees the blue sky as the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere is the clouds, and the clouds represent brain chatter. The clouds come in and they block the view of the blue sky, even though the blue sky is always there.

The brain chatter comes online and then it’s organizing and categorizing and dramatizing all of our lives in the external world.

But when you quiet down those thoughts you get rid of the clouds; you unveil what’s always been there – which is the existence of the right hemisphere and that peacefulness and that awareness that everything is one and everything is connected. That is the experience of euphoria.

Dr. Taylor adds that she’s very clear that her brain chatter is a tiny group of cells that perform a specific function and that she has a say on whether or not that circuitry runs. All she has to do is make the decision that in this moment, she’s not going to have those thoughts; she’s not going to run that particular circuitry.

She focuses her mind on the bigger picture and thinks about other things and blocks the clouds from being there.

In addition, she sets aside a day every week for her authentic self–a silent day of right-brain consciousness. She nourishes her right brain hemisphere with music, guitar-playing, and water-skiing. She also combines her science-training with her art by creating anatomically correct stained glass brains which she sells as fine art.


When Dr. Taylor was having her experience of Nirvana, was she delusional as a result of having a stroke, as some have argued? Or, as she maintains, was she touching real perceptions of an unexplored facet of reality, one that is wired into all of our brains, should we only learn to reach it?

I, for one, choose to believe that we can all reach this state of peacefulness by balancing our brain and becoming more in touch with our right brain hemisphere. How about you? Live your best life by spending more time in your right brain hemisphere.

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reboot your life

Everyone has wished at some point or another that life came with a reboot button.

We’re all familiar with the term “reboot” when it comes to computers. Rebooting is a troubleshooting method: when your computer is giving you trouble—for example, a program locks up or is simply not responding–you shut it down and restart it. In addition, a common way to reboot your computer is to press down on the Ctrl+Alt+Del keys simultaneously.

Sometimes an area of your life—or perhaps more than one—has gone completely off track and makes you feel bogged down and like you just can’t move forward. If this is the case, instead of making small changes here and there, you may want to wipe the slate clean and simply restart in that area of your life. Here are some ways in which your life may need a reboot:

  • You’ve been eating unhealthy foods for a few months and you’ve gained weight and are feeling sluggish.
  • You’ve been staying late at work for what seems like forever and are feeling burned out.
  • Your schedule is so packed with things you need to get done, that you feel nauseas when you look at it.
  • Your relationship with your significant other hasn’t been going well for a while.

If you feel like you need a fresh start in any area of your life, read on. Below you’ll find 10 ways to reboot your life and get a fresh start.

1. Reboot Your Diet

If you’ve been eating unhealthy foods for a long period of time, you probably need to reboot your diet. You can do this by following a detox plan.

“Detox” is short for detoxification. It consists of a focused, short term diet that will allow your body to eliminate toxins and jump-start a weight loss program or help you to completely alter your eating habits. One of the main goals of a detox diet is to eliminate toxins from your body – which is why it’s also called a cleanse.

Wheat—such as pasta and bread—is usually eliminated completely during a detox–, as well as sweeteners — such as refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. In addition, most detox diets encourage you to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, sometimes as smoothies and shakes.

Going on a detox diet can help you to reboot your diet and set the stage for improving your eating habits and your health.

2. Reboot Your Wardrobe

How many times have you opened your closet and thought the following to yourself:

  • I have nothing to wear.
  • Nothing in here fits.
  • Everything in here is either stained, wrinkled, or is missing a button.

This probably sounds familiar to a lot of people, and not just women. If this sounds like you, then you need to reboot your wardrobe.

A great strategy for rebooting your wardrobe is to create a Project 333 for yourself.  Courtney Carver invented Project 333 to challenge people to wear only 33 articles of clothing for 3 months — including clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories. Here’s what to do:

  • Go through your wardrobe and choose the 33 items you’ll be wearing for the next three months. Everything that you choose has to fit and be in good condition.
  • Put everything else in boxes. Seal the boxes with tape and put them out of sight.
  • For the next three months all you’ll be wearing are your 33 items.

Following a Project 333 will do all of the following for you:

  • Help you identify your personal style — the clothes that you love to wear and that flatter your body type.
  • Help you identify holes in your current wardrobe.
  • Stop you from impulse buying.
  • Motivate you to keep everything in your closet clean and in good shape (after all, you only have a few things to wear).

3. Reboot A Room

If you feel like you’re going to drown in stuff every time that you enter your house, get a fresh start by rebooting a room. Choose a room of your house in which you spend a lot of time and do the following:

  • Take everything out. You want to end up with an empty room, which will allow you to see how open and free the space feels.
  • Step back and visualize the ideal look of that room.
  • Only put back the things that you need, love, and use (and which really belong in that room).
  • Go slowly, starting with the most essential items.

Once you see how neat and organized everything looks in your newly rebooted room, and how much space you’ve created in that room, you’ll probably be inspired to reboot every room in your house.

4. Reboot on a Retreat

We all need to get away from it all from time to time, especially when we start to experience burn out. Chronic stress can make you feel exhausted–emotionally, mentally, and physically. In addition, stress can zap your motivation, interfere with your ability to concentrate, and even cause health problems.

Going on a vacation—or more specifically, a retreat—can help you to leave the mayhem of the day-to-day behind so that you can reconnect with yourself and what really matters to you. A few days at a retreat can help you to clear your mind and gain new perspective.

There are even retreats which focus on specific life areas. For example, you can find retreats for any of the following:

  • A fitness retreat.
  • A marriage retreat.
  • A life-reassessment retreat.
  • A career retreat.

In addition, one option is to go on a one-year sabbatical.

5. Reboot Your Internal Clock

If your sleep cycle is out of whack–you stay up until 3:00 a.m. watching Netflix and checking Facebook–and you get up sometime after 10:00 a.m., you need to restart, or reboot, your internal clock. Your body’s clock is “set” by cues like light, when you eat, or when you exercise. Here are two ways to take advantage of these cues to reboot your internal clock:

  • Stop eating during the 12-16 hour period before you want to be awake. So, if you want to start waking up at 7:00 a.m., stop eating at about 5:00 p.m. the day before. Don’t break your fast until you wake up at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. There’s scientific research to back this up.
  • If you want to start getting up at 7:00 a.m., get thirty minutes of bright light ten minutes after waking up. In addition, keep lights low at the end of the day, and stay away from bright computer screens or television exposure shortly before bed.

6. Reboot You Calendar

If you find that your calendar and daily schedule are jam-packed with activities and commitments, most of which fill you with dread, then it’s time to reboot your calendar. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and start re-creating your calendar from scratch.

Before you add anything back on your schedule, take the time to reexamine whether that task or activity really needs to be there. Question everything:

  • Your commitments;
  • Your commute;
  • The tasks that you carry out on a regular basis and whether they really need to be done;
  • The amount of time that you spend on each task;
  • How often you perform certain tasks; and so on.

Only put back into your schedule the things that you absolutely need to do, and the things that you love to do.

7. Reboot Your Finances

If financial stress is keeping you down, you need to reboot your finances. Do the following:

  • Get all of the food that you’re going to need for the month.
  • Get necessities such as toothpaste and toilet paper.
  • Write down the absolute essentials that you have to spend money on throughout the month, such as bus fare and the cost of utilities.

Then, for 30 days, spend absolutely no money except for the things on your “absolute essentials” list. Use the 30 days to reevaluate what you’re currently spending your money on, create a budget, and create a plan on how to better deal with your finances.

8. Reboot Your Goals

There’s a little less than 100 days left of the year. How are you doing on the resolutions that you set at the start of the year? If the answer is “not well”, then you need to reboot your goals. Do the following:

  • Take a look at the goals that you set at the beginning of the year.
  • Choose just one and discard the rest.
  • Start fresh on that goal, as if it were January 1st.

It doesn’t matter if you tried to go on a diet in January and were back to eating junk food by the second week of February, or if you started working on your ebook in March but quit after a few days. You’re giving yourself a fresh start on your goal.

Ask yourself why you failed to follow through on your goal, make the necessary adjustments to your plan for achieving your goal, and get to it.

9. One-Hour-A-Day Reboot

You can get a fresh start each day–that is, reboot every morning–in just one-hour-a-day. Regardless of what may have happened the day before, you can start each morning with a clean slate by devoting the first hour of the day to doing the following:

Give yourself the gift of a daily reboot.

10. Extreme Reboot

Sometimes life goes so severely off course that we need an extreme reboot. The extreme version of a life reboot is to quit your job, file for divorce, sell everything that you own, and move to a new city (or even another country).

Only you can decide if such drastic measures are necessary. However, more often than not by pressing the Ctrl+Alt+Del keys in one or two areas of your life, all other areas will start to fall into place.


If you feel that you’re stuck in a pattern, you’ve been following the wrong path for too long, or your life needs a jolt, you need to reboot. You can get started with the ten reboot strategies explained above. Live your best life by rebooting any area of your life in which you need a fresh start.

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writing nonfiction tips

One of the best ways to move up in the world is to improve your nonfiction writing skills.

Improving your nonfiction writing can help you whether you’re writing a memo to your boss, preparing a business proposal for potential investors, writing a blog post, asking for a grant, or even if you’re writing a love letter. Below you’ll find 54 tips to improve your nonfiction writing.

1. Read Great Writers. Almost every article you’ll ever read on how to improve your writing will begin with the following advice: to be a better writer, read great writers. Good writing is simply not possible without reading. Read for all of the following reasons:

  • For inspiration.
  • To grasp the art of language.
  • To learn effective writing techniques.
  • To appreciate the nuances of words.

2.  Be a Critical Reader.  In the point above I recommend that you read a lot. However, instead of reading passively, you should read critically. That is, when you’re reading, always be alert to what works, and what doesn’t.

3. Develop Your Own Voice. Developing your own voice will make your writing stand out. Also, finding and developing your own voice is the best way to gain a loyal base of followers. Your writing voice is made up of the following: your choice of words; the way in which you put your words together; a distinct way of looking at the world; and having your own opinions.

4. Learn a Word a Day. Having an ample vocabulary is one of the best ways to improve your writing. You can increase your vocabulary by learning a word-a-day. There are many ways to do this. One is to simply open the dictionary each morning and pick a word.

5. Create a Writing Habit. You become a better writer by writing. Make it a habit to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis. Establish a schedule for writing and stick to it. In the words of Ray Bradbury: “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

6. Confidence is Key. In The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, Ayn Rand recommends that you approach your writing with the mindset that, although not everything you write will automatically be perfect, you have the capacity to make your work what you want to make it. She adds that when you write you must leave all your self-doubts behind and have total self-esteem.

7. Write With Authority. No one is going to take you seriously unless you take yourself seriously. Stop second-guessing yourself and calling your own authority into question. The best way to do this is by removing statements that weaken your authority from your writing. Here are some examples:

  • “I think”
  • “Maybe”
  • “I believe”
  • “In my opinion”

Write with authority and you will be seen as an authority.

8. Be Well-Versed on Your Subject-Matter. One of the best ways to write with authority is to be well-versed on your subject matter. Ask yourself if you already know enough about the subject to be able to write about it intelligently. If you don’t, do more research until you do.

9. Know Why You’re Writing. Every time you sit down to write something, decide on your purpose, goal, or aim for writing. What are you hoping to achieve with this letter, essay, or blog post? Look at the following:

  • Are you trying to persuade your readers to take a particular course of action?
  • Is your purpose to entertain or amuse your readers?
  • Is your purpose to inform or explain an idea?

Then, write in a way that will allow you to achieve your goal.

10.  Choose Your Tone.  Your choice of words and the way in which you construct your sentences will determine the tone of the piece you’re writing.  Your tone and purpose are very much related: your tone will be defined by the reason for which you’re writing.

11. Decide On a Thesis. You want your writing to have a clear and concise main idea which is made clear to the reader early on.

12. Make One Point. Ask yourself the following: “What is the one point that I want to make?” Here’s some advice proffered by William Zinsser, author of “On Writing Well”:

“Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five—just one.”

13. Write An Outline. Rand–who has already been mentioned in this post–also recommends that you always begin by writing an outline. An outline is a plan of mental action, and all human endeavors require a plan. She indicates that the basic pattern of an outline is to state what you’re going to demonstrate, demonstrate it, and then announce a conclusion.

14. Write From Your Subconscious. As a final tip from Rand, she recommends that you write directly from your subconscious, as the words come to you. The outline you prepared before you started writing will guide your subconscious. Therefore, there’s no need to use your conscious mind as you write; simply allow the words to flow automatically. Later, once the first draft is done, you can use your conscious mind to edit your writing.

15. Follow the IBC Strategy. Have an introduction, body, and conclusion.

16.  Write a Sh*tty First Draft. Don’t be dismayed if your first draft looks nothing like the polished articles you see in magazines, or the blog posts written by your favorite bloggers.  As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of everything is sh*t.”

17.  Start With a Hook. Grab your reader by the throat in the introduction.  If you catch their interest at the start, they’ll want to read on.

18. Keep Unity in Mind. Have a unity of pronoun (first person, second person, etc.), a unity of tense (past, present, or future), and unity of mood (casual, comedy, irony).

19. Choose the Right Word. In Keys to Great Writing, Stephen Wilbers recommends that you understand the power of a well-chosen word, and trust the word to do its work. The French have a phrase for it—le mot juste— the exact right word in the exact right position.

20. Delete Unnecessary Modifiers. As an example, instead of “free gift”, write “gift”. Also, avoid the following qualifiers and intensifiers: unique, quite, rather, pretty, really, very, kind of, actually, basically, practically, virtually.

As Mark Twain once said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

21. Beware of Adverbs. Stephen King says the following in his book, On Writing: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”.  However, adverbs are not always evil.  You can use an adverb when it changes the meaning of the verb.

Roy Peter Clark, author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, has a podcast in which he explains that, at their best, adverbs spice up verbs or adjectives. At their worst, they express meaning already contained in the verb.

Here’s an example:

  • The accident totally severed the boy’s arm. “Severed” means “totally severed”, so the adverb is redundant.  Take it out.
  • If the boy’s arm had been partially severed, that would be a different case.

Now consider these two sentences:

  • She smiled happily. “Smiled” contains the meaning of “happily”, so it’s a bad use of an adverb.
  • She smiled sadly. In this case, “sadly” changes the meaning of the verb. This is a good use of an adverb.

22. Keep Sentences Short. In The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well, Paula LaRocque recommends that you vary sentence length to avoid tedium, but, in general, your sentences should be around 20 words long.

Here’s a quote from  Zinsser on this topic: “There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.”

23. Be Clear and Concise. If it’s possible to cut a word out, do so.

24. Don’t Use Big Words. When you feel the urge to use long or obscure words, remember that one hallmark of great intellect is the ability to make the complex easy to understand. Also, keep in the mind that the front page of The Wall Street Journal and all of USA Today are written for the eighth grade reading level.

Keep the following in mind:

“Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.” — Strunk and White

“Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.” — Strunk and White

25. Be Yourself. Zinsser points out that readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine.  Therefore, a fundamental rule is to be yourself.

26.  Become a Word Collector. Another tip Zinsser provides is the following: “develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive.”

27. Make Your Writing Flow. Your writing should flow well: each paragraph should develop logically from the previous one.  In addition, each paragraph should be related to the main idea of the essay (or whatever it is that you’re writing).

28. Write Good Paragraphs. Paragraphs are the foundation of anything you write. A paragraph is a group of sentences organized around a central topic. Here are some basic rules when writing paragraphs:

  • Focus on one idea per paragraph.
  • Each paragraph should have a topic sentence which expresses the paragraph’s single, supporting idea.
  • The paragraph’s supporting sentences provide details, examples, and instructions.
  • There should be clear transitions from one paragraph to the next.

29. “Who” or “Whom”. Know When to Use “Who” or “Whom”. Brandon Royal offers this handy guideline in The Little Red Writing Book for the perennial question of whether to use “who” or “whom”: if he, she, or they can be substituted for the pronoun in context, the correct form is who. If him, her, or them can be substituted, the correct form is whom.

  • Example: “I want to know [who/whom] did this.” In this case, “He did this,” clearly sounds better than “Him did this”—so the answer is “I want to know who did this.”
  • Example: “[Who/whom] should I ask about this?” You would “ask him,” not “ask he”—so the answer is “Whom should I ask about this?”

30. I and Me. Learn when to write “You and I”, and when to write “You and me”. There’s an easy way to do this: drop the word you then try the sentence with I and me and see which one sounds right. For example:

  • You and (I/me) should join a Zumba class.
  • I should join a Zumba class.
  • Me should join a Zumba class.

Obviously, in the example above you should write, “You and I should join a Zumba class.”

Here’s another example:

  • He’ll make you and (I/me) do it.
  • He’ll make me do it.
  • He’ll make I do it.

In this second example you should write, “He’ll make you and me do it.”

31. Use Active Verbs. Claire Kehrwald Cook admonishes her readers to pay attention to the verbs that they use, and when they find a weak one, to substitute it for something more vigorous.

32. Be Careful With the Passive Voice. The passive voice forces the reader to search for the intended meaning.  In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. Replace passive sentences with active ones and watch the real subject emerge from the shadows. Here’s an example:

  • Passive: In summer, many fresh vegetables are offered by the open-air farmers market.
  • Active: In summer, the open-air farmers market offers many fresh vegetables.

You can read more about the active and the passive voice in this article by “Grammar Girl”: Active Voice v. Passive Voice.

33. It’s What You Say, and How You Say It. Style is no substitute for substance. At the same time, substance buried in an unreadable presentation isn’t worth much either. When you have a diamond in the rough, polish it with the right editing.

34. Aim for the Right-Branching Sentence. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, make your meaning early, and let your weaker elements branch to the right. Here’s an example from a New York Times article which Roy Peter Clark uses in his book “Writing Tools”:

“Rebels seized control of Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, on Sunday, meeting little resistance as hundreds of residents cheered, burned the police station, plundered food from port warehouses and looted the airport, which was quickly closed.”

The sentence is 37 words long, but the meaning is captured in the first three words: Rebels seized control.

35. Mix Things Up. Once in a while, for dramatic variation, write a sentence with subject and verb near the end.

36. Avoid Run-On Sentences. A run-on sentence joins at least two independent clauses–a group of words that contain a subject and a verb which could be a sentence by itself– without a conjunction or adequate punctuation.

For example: “These are my favorite jeans I wear them whenever I can.” You could rewrite this as two separate sentences, use a semicolon to separate the two independent clauses, or use a conjunction. (These are my favorite jeans; I wear them whenever I can.)

37. Beware of the Comma Splice. A comma splice is a type of run-on sentence. It’s when you use a comma to separate two independent clauses. Here’s an example: “It’s sunny out, wear a hat.” Again, the way to fix it is to use two sentences, use a semicolon, or use a conjunction. (It’s sunny out, so wear a hat.)

38. Revise Dangling Modifiers. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a noun that does not appear in the sentence, or a noun that is positioned unclearly.

Here are two examples published in the Guardian:

  • Hopping briskly through the vegetable garden, John saw a toad. (John was hopping through the vegetable garden?)
  • Gently warmed in the oven and smothered in cream cheese, my friends loved the bagels. (Were the friends warmed in the oven and smothered in cream cheese?)

39. Avoid Redundancy. Don’t say the same thing twice. Here are some common examples:

  • Unknown stranger
  • Absolutely essential
  • Completely unanimous

Writers often become redundant in an effort to be emphatic. However, you should only use the words that are necessary to convey your meaning.

40. Check Your Use of Capitals.  Learn when and how to use capitals correctly. Here’s a handout which reviews the basic rules when it comes to capitalizing: A Little Help With Capitals.

41. Use Proper Punctuation. When we speak we can pause, stop, or change our tone of voice.  When we write we have to rely on punctuation to clarify what we mean.  Four of the most misunderstood punctuation marks are the following: semicolon; colon; dash; and comma.

42. Learn Apostrophe Rules. Use apostrophes correctly. There are three occassions in which the apostrophe is used:

  • To indicate the possessive.
  • To indicate missing letters.
  • Sometimes to indicate the structure of unusual words.

43. Avoid Nominalizations. Use verbs when possible instead of the noun forms of verbs, known as “nominalizations.”

  • An unclear use of nominalization: “The implementation of the plan was successful.”
  • Clearer sentence: “The plan was implemented successfully.”

44. Don’t End a Sentence With a Preposition. Jack Lynch explains in his “Guide to Grammar and Style” that there’s a substantial body of opinion against end-of-sentence prepositions (such as: to, with, from, at, and in).

  • No: “The topics we want to write on.”
  • Yes: “The topics on which we want to write.”

However, don’t let this rule make your writing clumsy or obscure; if a sentence is more graceful with a final preposition, so be it. (Source)

45. Be Careful With Homonyms. Homonyms are words that sound alike. Here are some examples:

  • Your and you’re
  • Whose and who’s
  • Its and it’s
  • Compliment and complement
  • Brake and break
  • They’re, there, and their

46. Among or Amongst. Should you use among or amongst? Both are correct and mean the same thing, but among is more common.

47. Learn to Manage Your Time. At the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism–which gathers hundreds of storytellers to Harvard each fall–Morgan Entrekin, CEO of Grove/Atlantic Press, was asked whether talent or hard work counted more among authors. He answered that talent matters, but the writers who can manage their time and energy well show the best results in the long run. (A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work)

48. Follow George Orwell’s Advice. When writing, ask yourself George Orwell’s six questions:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  • Could I put it more shortly?
  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

49. Create a Reference Library. When you’re writing and there’s something that you’re not sure about, look it up. For convenience, collect the best grammar references. You can start with these books:

50. Think On Paper. Don’t wait for an idea to be fully formed in your head before you begin writing: think on paper. Howard and Baton, the authors of “Thinking on Paper”, indicate that writing is “the father to thought itself. . . We do not so much send our thought in pursuit of words as use words to pursue our thoughts.”

51. Avoid Clichés. Avoid clichés like the plague. (See what I did there?) If you’re going to use a cliché, try to give it an unexpected twist: “Never go to bed angry . . .  stay up and plot your revenge.”

Thomas Pinney, author of “A Short Handbook and Style Sheet”, has the following to say about clichés:

“[Clichés] offer prefabricated phrasing that may be used without effort on your part. They are thus used at the expense of both individuality and precision, since you can’t say just what you mean in the mechanical response of a cliché.”

52. Remove Unnecessary Euphemisms. A euphemism is an indirect way to say something. As an illustration, a “depressed socioeconomic area” is a “slum.” As a second example, “in the family way” is “pregnant”.

53. Never Forget to Edit. Here are some editing tips:

  • When you’re done writing, put it aside. Go do something else. Then come back and read it, pretending that you’ve never read it before.
  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • Read your writing out loud.  This will allow you to hear problems that you aren’t able to see. Also, listen to how your words sound – rhythm and alliteration are important.

54. Create an Editing Checklist.  Are there certain words that you’re constantly having trouble with? For example, you may confuse advice and advise, or affect and effect.  Make a list of your problem areas–we all have them–and make sure that you always double check for these in your writing.


As I wrote in my post “50 Characteristics of An Educated Person“, an educated person has the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas in writing, clearly and concisely. Achieve this objective by starting with the 54 tip above.

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Your Personal Development Plan

Take charge of your personal development by creating a plan.

Lots of people plan their finances. They tally up what they own and what they owe; they assess where they want to be financially in 1, 5, and 10 years; they develop a plan for getting to where they want to go; and then they execute their plan. However, few people do this for their personal development.

Why is it important to create a personal development plan? Because, as motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development”. To create your personal development plan you need to do the following:

  • Evaluate where you are right now in terms of your personal development.
  • Decide where you want to be 1, 5, and 10 years from now.
  • Develop a plan to get there.
  • Execute your plan.

Specifically, you want to take a look at the following;

1. Character Traits. Your character traits describe the kind of person that you are, and how you respond to different situations. Some of your character traits will be positive; here are some examples of positive character traits:

  • Agreeable
  • Cheerful
  • Confident

In addition, some of your character traits will be negative; here are some examples of negative character traits:

  • Careless
  • Cynical
  • Egocentric

When creating your personal development plan, you want to take stock of both your positive and negative character traits. Then, ask yourself the following:

  • What other positive character traits do I need to develop?
  • How can I develop these positive character traits?
  • How can I overcome my negative character traits?

2. Attitude. Your attitude is a reflection of your state of mind and your perceptions about a situation, a person, or an object. Just like with character traits, people have both positive and negative attitudes.

Here are some examples of positive attitudes:

  • Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.
  • There’s always something I can do to change any situation that I’m in, even if it’s just adjusting my attitude.
  • I have what it takes to deal with anything that life throws at me.

Here are some examples of negative attitudes:

  • Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
  • Things will never get better, so there’s no use trying.
  • I’m surrounded by stupid and inept people.

When creating your personal development plan, ask yourself:

Include your answers to the questions above in your personal development plan.

3. Habits. A habit is a routine of behavior that you repeat over and over again, almost unconsciously. Good habits will move you toward your goals, while bad habits will move you away from them.

Just as there are positive habits that will make you rich, thin, and healthy, there are positive habits that will help you to achieve your personal development goals. Here are some examples:

  • The habit of gratitude.
  • The habit of meditation.
  • The habit of keeping your focus on the present.

At the same time, just are there are negative habits that will make you poor, fat, and unhealthy, there are negative habits that will have a detrimental impact on your personal development goals. Here are some examples:

  • The habit of always comparing yourself to others.
  • The habit of constantly allowing your mind to wander.
  • The habit of over-analyzing your decisions.

Ask yourself the following;

  • What positive habits will allow me to achieve my personal development goals? How can I develop those habits?
  • What negative habits do I currently have which will be an obstacle to the achievement of my personal development goals? How can I drop those habits?

Add the answers to those questions to your personal development plan.

4. Beliefs. What you believe is what you think about reality. Your beliefs influence how you think and how you behave. Positive beliefs can expand your life by opening new possibilities to you, while negative beliefs can limit your life by restricting what you think you can do.

As an illustration, a positive belief in the area of finances would be the following: “Making money is about adding value to the lives of others, and I have lots of value to offer.” Here are three positive beliefs in the area of personal development:

  • Failure is just a stepping stone to success.
  • With hard work and perseverance I will achieve all of my goals.
  • Happiness is a choice, and I’m making the choice to be happy.

On the other hand, here’s an illustration of a negative belief in the area of finances: “In order to make lots of money I have to sacrifice my health and my family time.” Here are three negative beliefs in the area of personal development:

  • If I fail it means that I’m not smart or talented enough.
  • I don’t have what it takes to do well in life.
  • Life is hard, and then you die.

When preparing your personal development plan, ask yourself the following:

  • Which of my current beliefs are serving me well and helping me to achieve my personal development goals? What other beliefs would be helpful? How can I adopt those beliefs?
  • Which of my current beliefs are holding me back and preventing me from achieving my personal development goals? How can I overcome these negative beliefs? What better, more empowering beliefs, can I replace them with?

5. Emotions. Take stock of your emotions. What are your most prevalent emotions? Are you happy most of the time, or are you frequently sad or anxious? Obviously, there are positive and negative emotions.

Positive emotions include the following:

  • Joy
  • Serenity
  • Love

Negative emotions include the following:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Feeling Dejected

Ask yourself the following:

  • What positive emotions are you already feeling on a regular basis? How can you feel those emotions more often?
  • What other positive emotions would you like to feel? How can you feel those emotions?
  • What negative emotions are you feeling on a regular basis? How can you get yourself to feel those negative emotions less often?

Include the answers to the questions above in your personal development plan.

6. Personal Development Skills. In order to achieve your personal development goals, there are certain skills that you’ll need to develop. Here are some examples:

  • The skill of anger management.
  • The skill of managing stress.
  • The skill of emotional management.

Ask yourself the following: “What skills do I need to develop in order to achieve my personal development goals?” Then, add those skills to your personal development plan.

7. Personal Development Goals. You can set your personal development goals by looking at what you wrote down for all of the previous points. For example, if you identified “confidence” as one of the positive character traits that you want to develop, then one of your personal development goals will be the following: “Become more confident.”

As a second example, if you identified stress management as one of the skills that you want to develop, then another of your personal development goals would be: “Develop stress management skills.”

Add your personal development goals to your personal development plan.


Creating a personal development plan, and executing said plan, will make you a happier, better adjusted person. Use the points discussed above as inspiration. Live your best life by creating a personal development plan.

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keep track of what you read

Enhance your reading experience by keeping track of what you read.

The other day I came across the name “Federico Garcia Lorca”. When I saw it I thought to myself, “That name sounds familiar”. Since I couldn’t remember who he was, I Googled him. It turns that he was the most important Spanish playwright of the 20th century. His most important works were “Yerma”, “Blood Wedding”, and “The House of Bernarda Alba”.

That’s when it clicked: I recognized his name because I read his plays in high school. At that moment I even saw an image of my high school Spanish teacher’s face in my mind. However, I couldn’t remember anything about the plays. Nothing, not a word, zero, zilch, zip, nada . . . This realization made me come to the decision to start keeping track of the books that I read. That way, I can go over my notes every so often to keep the books that I’ve read fresh in my mind.

In case you’ve thought of doing the same—or have just thought of it now that I’ve mentioned it—below you’ll discover 12 ideas on how to keep track of what you read.

1. Keep a Book Log. The most basic way of keeping track of what you read is simply to keep a book log or a spread sheet. Every time you read a book, record the following: the book’s title; the author; the date it was published; the length; the genre; when you started reading it; and when you finished the book.

2. Add a Rating System. In addition to the information above, you can add a rating system so you can keep track of how much—or how little–you enjoyed the book. You can rate the book from 1 to 5, or you can copy Amazon’s star system. If you want to take things a step further, rate the book on different elements. Here are some examples:

  • Rate character development from 1 to 10.
  • Rate the book’s pace from 1 to 10.
  • Rate the quality of the writing from 1 to 10.
  • Rate plot development from 1 to 10.
  • Rate how much you enjoyed reading the book from 1 to 10.

3. Add Additional Tidbits. Along with the basic tracking information, you can add additional tidbits about each book you read, such as the following:

  • Why did you decide to read the book?
  • Where were you when you read it?
  • Would you like to read more books by the same author? If so, which ones?
  • Did the book inspire you to find out more about a specific topic?
  • Do you know someone who would love this book?
  • What’s the author’s nationality?
  • What language was the book originally written in?
  • Has the book won any awards?

4. Write a Book Summary. Another option is to write a summary of each book that you read. When you’re done reading the book, close it, and write down what you recall. You can include a plot summary, something about the characters and the setting, and also record your opinion of the book. Try giving yourself a word limit such as 400 or 750 words.

5. Write an Amazon Review. If you want to take things a step further, every time you finish reading a book, log into Amazon and review the book. Try to be as helpful as possible so that others can make an educated decision on whether or not to buy the book based on your review. Whenever you want to look back at what you’ve read, simply look over your Amazon reviews.

6. Keep a Book Quotes Journal. Whenever you find a fantastic sentence, or paragraph– in a book that you’re reading, add it to your book quotes journal. As an illustration, when I read “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare, I wrote down the following quotes:

  • “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty!” – Lady Macbeth
  • “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t.” – Lady Macbeth
  • “Something wicked this way comes.” – The Witches

7. Track Your Books on Goodreads. Although I’m not currently on Goodreads, I understand it’s a fantastic platform for book lovers. Goodreads allows you to do all of the following:

  • Track the books that you’ve read, are reading, and want to read.
  • You can rate books and review them, as well as get recommendations on what to read next.
  • In addition, you can see book reviews and updates from your friends, and comment on them.

And, there’s even an app!

8. Try Your Hand at Literary Criticism. Use a notebook not only to keep track of what you’ve read, but also to sharpen your literary criticism skills by writing in-depth book reviews. Why go through the trouble of doing this? In order to better appreciate and understand the books that you read.

Ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • What‘s the plot?
  • How does the main character—or the hero—evolve during the story?
  • What is unique about the main character?
  • What’s his or her major character flaw?
  • What are the challenges that the main character faces?
  • Is there an antagonist?
  • Who are the secondary characters? What purpose do they serve?
  • What is the relevance of the setting? How does it affect the theme or the mood of the book? Does the setting symbolize the emotional state of the characters?
  • What is the main conflict in the story? How does the conflict develop? What’s the climax? How is the conflict resolved?
  • Who is telling the story — what point of view does the author use?
  • What’s the main theme? Are there other themes?
  • Does the author use foreshadowing – does the writer clue the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story?
  • Does the author use symbolism? Symbolism is when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself. For example, in “The House of Bernarda Alba” the weather—that is, the heat—symbolizes passion and sexual frustration.
  • Is the book an allegory? An allegory is an extension of a metaphor. For example, “Animal Farm” by George Orwell is an allegory of the events leading up to the Russian revolution (something I was very surprised to discover many, many year after having read the book).

9. Get Yourself a Book Journal. In order to keep track of the books that you read, you can simply use a Moleskine or any other notebook that you have lying around. However, you can also get yourself a book journal. Here are three popular choices:

10. Research the Author. Most of the time, an author’s life experience will have an important impact on their work. Therefore, while you’re keeping track of, and analyzing, a book that you’ve read, it’s a good idea to do some research on the author.

For example, Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote a book titled “No One Writes to the Colonel” which is about a colonel who waits his whole life for a pension from the government that never came. In many ways, Garcia Marquez was writing about his own life.

First, Garcia Marquez lived with his grandparents until he was eight years old. His grandfather was a colonel who constantly complained about the government pension that had been promised to him, but which never came.

Second, the book depicts the extreme poverty that the elderly colonel and his asthmatic wife lived in after their son was killed. In an interview, Garcia Marquez explains that in the book, he was describing the poverty that he himself lived in while he was stationed in Paris after the newspaper that he worked for was shut down.

Knowing these things about Garcia Marquez made his book come alive for me.

11. Start a Book Blog. One way to keep track of the books that you read is to start a blog. Choose a blogging platform, think of a great name for your blog, and start posting your book reviews online. Whenever anyone asks you to a recommend a book, simply direct them to your blog. And, who knows, you might just build yourself a nice following.

12. Keep a Books-to-Read List. In the back pages of your book journal or notebook, keep a list of the books that you want to read. Every time you hear of a book that sounds interesting, add it to your list. You’ll never again find yourself sitting there wondering, “What should I read next?”


So little time, so many books to read! You certainly don’t want to take the time to read a book, and then promptly forget that you read it and/or what it’s about. Live your best life by keeping track of the books that you read.

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skyrocket your charisma

Contrary to popular belief, charisma isn’t something that you either have, or you don’t.

It’s a myth that charisma is a magical quality, or a gift from the gods, that some lucky individuals are just born with. Science has shown that becoming more charismatic is about adopting charismatic behaviors. This means that anyone can learn how to “light up a room”, boost their X-factor, and have that “it” quality.

Why would you want to become more charismatic? Because charisma can help you with all of the following:

  • Be more successful at work;
  • Be a more effective and respected leader;
  • Become a better salesperson;
  • Attract a love interest;
  • Get your message through to others–your students, your colleagues, your company’s board of directors, the neighborhood association, etc.;
  • Win political office; and so on.

Boosting your charisma will help you in just about any life situation. After all, attraction is a powerful tool. It can help you to get what you want without having to resort to either coercion (stick) or payment (carrot). Below you’ll find 20 brilliant ways to skyrocket your charisma.

1. Be Present. Olivia Fox Cabane is an executive coach to the leadership of Fortune 500 companies, assisting them in becoming more persuasive, influential and inspiring. She’s lectured at Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, and the United Nations. In addition, she’s the author of The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism.

Cabane indicates that charisma determines whether people will “like you, trust you, and want to be led by you”. In her book, she explains that there are three pillars of a charismatic personality. These are: presence, power, and warmth. Let’s start with the first of these – presence.

Being present is about being fully in the moment. There’s something magnetic about someone who is giving all of their focus and attention to the here and now. On the other hand, it’s off-putting when you’re talking to someone and they seem distracted, like their mind is somewhere else.

To be more charismatic, focus your mental and emotional energy on the person that you’re talking to. In addition, ask clarifying questions; don’t interrupt them when they’re speaking: and listen to them fully, instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next.

2. Be Powerful. The second pillar of charisma identified by Cabane is being powerful. When others perceive you as someone who is powerful, it means that they think that you can make things happen. And that perception makes you charismatic.

Here are some things you can do in order to increase your charismatic power:

  • Feel confident and powerful.
  • Stand tall and hold your head up.
  • Nod your head selectively when something important is brought up.
  • Drop your pitch at the end of a sentence so that it sounds like you’re making an assertion, instead of raising the pitch at the end so that it sounds like you’re asking a question.
  • Be knowledgeable – people who come off as being smart, also come off as being powerful.

3. Show Warmth. The third pillar of charisma, according to Cabane, is showing warmth. You transmit warmth to others when you make them feel like you care about them. That is, you make them feel like you genuinely like them.

This is hard to fake. In order to be able to show warmth toward others, you have to develop warmth within.

Right now you may be thinking: “But I’m not really a ‘people’ person. I don’t think I can be warm towards others”. The good news is that warmth can be developed. Here are some things you can do to develop warmth:

  • Feel fellowship toward others; after all, we’re all on the same boat.
  • Develop empathy –try to put yourself in the shoes of the other person and ask yourself what they may be feeling.
  • Feel curious about other people. Why do they see the world the way do? What makes them tick?
  • Tell yourself that there’s something that you really need to know, and that the person sitting in front of you has been sent to tell you what it is.

In order to convey warmth to others, do the following:

  • In almost any situation, think of yourself as the host, and try to make others comfortable; put them at ease.
  • Use your voice – speak in a soft, rich tone.
  • Give sincere compliments.
  • Use your eyes to transmit kindness; you can do this by softening your gaze.

To sum up Cabane’s recommendations on how to be more charismatic, she indicates that you should stare like a lover, stand like a gorilla, and speak like a preacher. What does this mean?

  • You want deep, but warm eye contact.
  • You want to stand in a way that broadcasts power and confidence.
  • You want to speak in a slow, confident, resonant and warm voice.

One way to achieve this is to think of yourself as a preacher. You care about your congregation (warmth), you have confidence that the strength of God is with you (power), and you’re fully committed to your mission (presence).


(Photo Credit: Like a Lover; Like a Gorilla; Like the Dalai Lama)

4. Use Imagery. A lot of charisma is related to what you say, and how you say it. John Antonakis, Ph.D.,—a professor at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland who teaches people how to become more charismatic–explains that there are twelve charisma tactics that you can use to increase your charisma. Nine of those tactics are verbal, and three of them are nonverbal.

You can use these tactics in practically any situation:

  • When you give a speech or a presentation;
  • During meetings; and
  • During one-on-one conversations.

In addition, you can use them both personally and professionally. Keep in mind that you don’t need to employ all of the tactics in every conversation; instead, use a balanced combination.

The first of the nine verbal tactics is using metaphors, similes, and analogies to help your listeners understand, relate to, and remember your message. Using imagery makes your message more vivid and interesting, which makes it more effective.

As an example, here’s something Fox Cabane said during a presentation about charisma:

“In controlled laboratory experiments, researchers were able to raise, or lower, people’s levels of charisma, as if they were turning a dial, just by instructing them to exhibit specific charismatic behaviors.”

You can immediately see yourself turning a dial—as you stand up straighter, soften your gaze, and put some enthusiasm in your voice—and gradually raising your charisma.

5. Tell Stories. The second verbal charisma tactic is to tell personal stories and anecdotes to make your message more engaging and to help your listeners connect with you. Charismatic people are good story tellers. You can use this tactic whether you’re at a cocktail party, chatting up a pretty girl at the gym, or running for president.

Someone who uses the tactic of story-telling often is President Obama. His speeches are often peppered heavily with stories and personal anecdotes. This makes the audience relate to what he’s saying and identify with him.

For example, when he called on parents to toughen up on their kids and exhort them to get good grades in school, he shared that this is what he did with his then eleven-year-old daughter, Malia. Here’s the story:

  • Malia got a 73 on a science test.
  • She was upset because her parents had always told her that the goal was to get 90 or above on any test.
  • Obama sat down with Malia and they came up with a game plan on how she could do better the next time.
  • And it worked. On her next science test, she got a 95.

Obama was telling the audience: “I encourage my kids to do well in school, and this is what I’m asking you to do, as well.”

6. Use Contrasts. The third verbal charisma tactic is to use contrasts to clarify your position by pitting it against the opposite. John F. Kennedy used contrasts when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”


One way to use contrasts is to ask: do we want this (insert a negative), or do we want that (insert a positive). Here’s an example: Do we want to live in a world in which refugee toddlers wash up on the beach, or do we want to live in a world in which the international community gives refugees the safe harbor and aid they need?

7. Ask Rhetorical Questions. The fourth verbal charisma tactic is to ask rhetorical questions to encourage engagement. As with all the other charisma tactics, rhetorical questions work both in public and private settings. As an illustration, if you’re talking to a subordinate who is chronically late for work, you can ask him the following:

  • Where do we go from here?
  • Are you going to keep coming up with excuses to explain why you’re always late, or are you going to start taking steps to get here on time?
  • Are you willing to become the type of employee this company can count on?

8. Use Three-Part Lists. The fifth verbal charisma tactic is to use three-part lists to distill your message into easy takeaways. Three is the magic number because most people can remember three things, three is enough to provide proof of a pattern, and three gives an impression of completeness.

If you think about it, you’ll notice that three-part lists can be found in everything from religion to politics. Here are three examples:

  • Religion: Three Wise Men with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  • Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • The U.S. Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

Here’s an illustration of using a three-part list in a speech: “Let’s think of what we did right, let’s think of what we did wrong, and let’s use what we learn from that analysis to get back on track.”

9. Use Expressions of Moral Conviction. The sixth verbal charisma tactic is to use expressions of moral conviction that reveal the quality of your character. People are moved by ideas and values. For example, when Obama was running for president he appealed to the electorate with a message of hope, a new beginning, and a new future.


As another example, Ruth Blatt, Ph.D., writes in her article “How to Increase Your Charisma” that rock stars often display moral conviction to strengthen their bond with their audience. She uses U2 as an illustration. During their 360-degree tour, the band had fans march around the stage with pictures of then-imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi (a Burmese political prisoner).

10. Reflect Your Listener’s Sentiments. The seventh verbal charisma tactics is to reflect your listeners’ sentiments to make them identify and align themselves with you. To achieve this you can use statements such as the following:

  • I know that you’re frustrated, so am I.
  • I want things to change as much as you do.

11. Set High Goals. The eighth verbal charisma tactic is to set high goals. Antonakis writes in an article for the Harvard Business Review that Gandhi, an incredibly charismatic leader, used this tactic. Gandhi set the almost impossible goal of liberating India from British rule without using violence, as laid out in his famous “quit India” speech.

12. Convey Confidence that High Goals Can be Achieved. Once you set high goals, you have to convey confidence that those high goals can be achieved. This is the ninth verbal charisma tactic. Again, Antonakis cites Gandhi, who demonstrated that he was confident that India would “wrench her liberty with nonviolence from unwilling hands” when he said:

“I know the British Government will not be able to withhold freedom from us, when we have made enough self-sacrifice.”


13. Use Nonverbal Tactics. The three nonverbal charisma tactics that Antonakis recommends that you use in order to become more charismatic are:

  • Using body gestures.
  • Using facial expressions—being emotionally expressive.
  • Keeping an animated voice.

Here’s how to apply these tactics:

  • Punctuate your words with appropriate gestures.
  • Express the emotion of your words consistently with your eyes and face.
  • Vary the volume, tone, pacing, and pauses to emphasize your message.

Former President Bill Clinton is an expert at using nonverbal cues to wow an audience. In particular, he’s great at moving his hands in sync with what he’s saying. You can see how he does this in his DNC speech, below.

14. Remember People’s Names. When you remember someone’s name, it makes them feel important and respected. It fills that person’s desire for attention and love. One technique you can use is to look into the person’s eyes and repeat their name: “Hi Marcia, nice to meet you.”

Then, try to make a mental association that will help you remember the name. For example, “Marcia is from Maine, and she has long, blonde hair like Marcia from the Brady Bunch”.

15. Use Humor. Professor Joseph Nye of the Harvard Kennedy School explains that charisma is a sense of “personal magnetism”. He goes on to say that one way to make yourself more magnetic is to use humor. After all, as Herbert Gardner said, “Once you get people laughing, they’re listening and you can tell them almost anything.”

Nye indicates that Ronald Reagan—who ranks as the third most charismatic US president after Bill Clinton and John Kennedy—had an extraordinary ability to use humor to project warmth of personality.

As an example, on October 21, 1984, in the second presidential debate with candidate Walter Mondale, Reagan was grilled over his age by Henry Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun. Here’s how Reagan answered:

“I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

You can watch a montage of the famous Regan wit, below:

16. Be Energetic. Professor Alex Pentland from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studies social signals. Along with his team at MIT, he created a small device they call the “Sociometer”. The device—worn around the neck—is used to gauge a person’s charisma.

To do this, the Sociometer measures not what you say, but how you say it. “So the first thing is energy,” says Pentland in an interview on CBS.  He explains that to be charismatic, you have to be energetic. Pentland goes on as follows:

“It shows up in your hands. It shows up in your voice, the way you carry yourself and do things.”

Pentland explains that one of the best predictors of whether an idea will be accepted by others is if the proponent of the idea sounds excited, and his speech is fluid. That is, you can predict how likely it is that an idea will be accepted–even if you don’t pay attention to the substance of what is being said–based on the way in which the speaker presents the idea.

17. Make Yourself More Attractive. Studies show that people who are rated as attractive are treated more favorably than unattractive people. This is even truer for women than for men. Look at the following:

  • In an election, a handsome man holds an edge over an ugly rival that is worth 6 to 8% of the vote.
  • The edge for an attractive woman is worth 10% of the vote.

While it’s true that you’re born with certain immutable physical traits, you can make yourself more attractive by being well groomed, wearing clothes that flatter your body type, and eating well and following a fitness routine.

In addition, being comfortable in your own skin will go a long way toward making you more attractive to others.

18. Master Emotional Control. Charismatic individuals have the ability to control and regulate their emotional displays. They can remain calm and collected even in times of crisis. If they get angry and show it, it’s always on purpose and to make a point. They’re good emotional actors, and they can turn on the charm when they want to.

19. Appeal To the Self-Interest of Others. Charisma, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And one way to make others see you as being charismatic is to appeal to their self-interest. In other words, be curious about others and make them feel that their views and needs are important.

As an illustration, when Dr. Pentland, the MIT professor mentioned previously, was giving a presentation on charisma at the Boston Museum of Science, he started off by saying:

“Thank you all for coming, and I hope that we can get some things going that will benefit you”.

Basically, he was communicating the following message: “This speech isn’t about me and what I want; this speech is about making your life better”.

20. Be Positive. People who are always complaining, who criticize others, and who see everything as a problem are anything but charismatic. Charismatic people, on the other hand, have a positive, can-do attitude. They don’t over-dramatize, and they give the impression that they’re ready to take on whatever life throws at them.


Have you ever been in a meeting in which one person presented an idea but was met with a lukewarm response, and then a few minutes later someone else presented a very similar idea and was met with enthusiasm and applause?

If you have, then you’ve witnessed the difference between someone who lacks charisma and someone who has it in spades.

Wouldn’t you like to be more charismatic? I think we all do. You can get started with the 20 tips above. Live your best life by becoming more charismatic.

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ten good habits

At the beginning of 2015 I asked myself what habits I wanted to create this year.

In the first nine months–or 2/3– of 2015, I’ve created 10 new habits. I honestly believe that adopting these habits has made me a stronger, happier, and better person. That is, I’m now better than I was when the clock struck twelve on December 31st, 2014.

The ten habits that I have to thank for helping me to move up a notch–or two–on the ladder of life in the past nine months are the following:

1. Following a Morning Routine. By creating the habit of following a morning routine I’ve been starting my days off right. My morning routine consists of the following:

  • As soon as I wake up I give thanks for the day that’s about to begin.
  • I make my bed.
  • I brush my teeth and scrape my tongue.
  • I have a glass of warm lemon water.
  • I eat a healthy breakfast.
  • I follow a ten minute routine which is very similar to Yoga – it’s called the Five Tibetan Rights.
  • I meditate for ten minutes.

Once I’m done with my morning routine I shower, brush my hair, and get dressed, and I’m ready to go out the door.

2. Weight Lifting. Although I’ve been exercising on a regular basis for years—I’m an avid runner—, weight lifting was not part of my exercise regime. However, after reading about the myriad of benefits of weight lifting, I decided to reduce the amount of cardio that I was doing and start hitting the gym three days a week.

Since mid-April, I’ve been doing the following:

  • I run outside three days a week, for roughly an hour each time.
  • I lift weights at the gym for about 50 minutes, three days a week.

As a result of creating the habit of weight lifting I’ve lost weight, and I look—and feel—more fit and toned. In addition, I’ve grown stronger.

3. Reading. When I was growing up, and all through college, I read voraciously. I’ve always loved reading. However, once I got into law school I lost the habit of reading for pleasure (I had more than enough reading to do for school).

I never really picked up the habit again, until about four months ago. That’s when I started setting aside one-hour-a-day to read quality fiction, every day. In fact, I started a “be well-read project”. So far, I’ve read the following:

  • Macbeth (1611) by William Shakespeare – A story about ambition, greed, and betrayal.
  • Leaf Storm (1955) by Gabriel García Márquez – A colonel does what is right, even though it will incur the wrath of the town.
  • No One Writes to the Colonel (1961) by Gabriel García Márquez – A colonel spends his life waiting for a pension that never comes.
  • Big Mama’s Funeral (1962) by Gabriel García Márquez – A collection of short stories.
  • In Evil Hour (1962) by Gabriel García Márquez – Someone in the village keeps leaving pamphlets all over town exposing the locals’ shameful secrets.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) by Gabriel García Márquez – The masterpiece of this Nobel literature laureate.
  • The Oedipus Cycle (approximately 420 BC) by Sophocles –A trilogy about the life of Oedipus, King of Thebes, and his children.
  • The House of Bernarda Alba (1936) by Federico García Lorca – A tragedy written by the most important Spanish playwright of the 20th century.

4. Writing 1000 Words a Day. This year I’ve created the habit of writing 1,000 words a day (at least), whether I’m inspired to do so, or not. I either write an article for this blog, or I add another section to whatever eBook I happen to be working on at the moment. Here’s why this is an important habit to adopt:

  • The more you write, the more you prime your brain to come up with writing ideas quickly.
  • Creating a habit of writing strengthens your writing muscles, so it becomes easier to transform thoughts and ideas into sentences and paragraphs. That is, you become a better writer.
  • The small goal of “write 1000 words today”, turns into a 60,000 word eBook in just two months.

Why did I adopt this habit? Because I’m a writer, and writers write.

5. Drinking Water Throughout the Day. Panama is hot all year-round –it often feels like a furnace. In addition, as I’ve already pointed out in this post, I exercise a lot. However, I’ve never been very good about drinking the amount of water that my body needs to stay hydrated.

This year, that has changed. I got myself a Lifefactory glass water bottle—which I highly recommend (mine is red)—and I created the habit of carrying it around with me all day long and drinking from it regularly.

In addition, I tie eight rubber bands around the bottle’s handle. Every time I finish all of the water in the bottle, I take a rubber band off, and refill the bottle. My goal is to have taken all eight rubber bands off by the end of each day.

As a result of creating this habit I don’t get drowsy while I’m working like I used to, I have more energy, and my skin looks fantastic.

6. Dwelling on Positive Experiences. Whenever something positive happens to me throughout the day—I get an email from someone saying one of my eBooks changed their life, a friend compliments me, or I move one of my goals forward—I stop and let it sink in for at least thirty seconds.

I adopted this habit in order to combat the negativity bias – the brain’s tendency to pay more attention to, and remember more vividly, negative input from the environment. By dwelling on the good I’m rewiring my brain for happiness.

That is, my new habit is counteracting the negativity bias and has made me a happier person.

7. Reading the News. A lot of people feel that reading the news is a waste of time –after all, they’re reading about things that are outside their circle of influence. If there’s nothing they can do to influence world events, why bother knowing what’s going on?

Well, I’m not one of those people. I think it’s important to be informed. That being said, I don’t spend a lot of time reading the news: I spend just enough time to be aware of the most important issues and news of the day. Here’s what I read:

  • Every morning I get “The Ten Things You Need to Know Today” from The Week delivered to my inbox.
  • Every morning I get “The Brief” from Time Magazine delivered to my inbox.
  • I skim the two most important Panamanian newspapers: La Prensa and El Panamá Amèrica.

Creating this habit has helped me to ensure that whenever I’m with a group of people and they start discussing current events, I can jump right in and make a smart contribution to the conversation. In addition, I believe that knowing what’s going on in my country–and abroad–makes me a better citizen.

8. Performing Random Act of Kindness. Every day I’m consciously on the lookout for something positive that I can do for someone else that day. It’s usually something small, like the following:

  • Holding the elevator door for someone.
  • Racing little kids when I go out for a jog – my jogging route is a promenade that’s always full of families hanging out in the evenings, and little kids will often start running beside me as I jog by.
  • Getting a cup of coffee, a chocolate, or some cookies for the guard downstairs.

There’s a lot of research out there done by positive psychologists that shows that being kind to others raises your levels of happiness. Therefore, just like dwelling on the good things that happen to me each day, this is a habit that I’ve adopted in order to increase my happiness levels.

9. Applying the 20-20-20 Rule. Near the beginning of the year I noticed that my eye sight was getting blurry. I concluded that this was because of all the time that I spend staring at a computer screen, and I decided to research how to fix the problem. That’s how I found the 20-20-20 rule.

The rule is as follows: every 20 minutes, take a break for 20 seconds, and look at an object that’s at least 20 feet away. I’ve been doing this for about two months now. As a result of adopting this habit, my vision has become a lot less blurry.

10. Following a Night Routine. Just as creating the habit of following a morning routine has helped me to start the day off right, creating the habit of following a night routine has helped me to end the day the right way. My night routine consists of the following:

  • I get everything ready for the next day – I prepare breakfast, set out my clothes, pack my bag, and so on.
  • I dissolve half a tablespoon of Natural Calm plus Magnesium-Calcium Drink in a glass of water and drink it.
  • I review my day and write down ten things I’m grateful for.
  • I plan for the next day.
  • I do a ten minute session of Spring Forest Qigong to unwind.

When I’m done with my night routine I brush and floss my teeth, wash my face, put on my pj’s, and I’m ready for bed.


There’s only one-third of the year left to adopt the habit, or habits, which you promised yourself you would create at the beginning of the year. Be a better person by the end of 2015 by creating at least one new habit. Live your best life by adopting positive habits, such as the ten I outline above.

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Baltasar Gracian

The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a collection of strategies for making ones way in the world.

Early 16th century Florence had Niccoló Machiavelli, and 17th century Spain had the Jesuit scholar Baltasar Gracian. Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom is comprised of 300 precepts which teach us to temper the innocence of the dove with the wisdom of the serpent.

The German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer were both great admirers of The Art of Worldly Wisdom. Here’s what they had to say about it:

  • “Europe has never produced anything finer. . . in matters of moral subtlety.” – Nietzsche
  • “Absolutely unique. . . a book made for constant use. . . a companion for life. [These maxims are] especially fitted to those who wish to prosper in the great world.” – Schopenhauer

I just finished reading The Art of Worldly Wisdom and have summarized what I understood from the book as the 35 pieces of life changing wisdom–that will make you more powerful and successful–which you’ll find, below.

1. Always Keep Learning. Actively cultivate knowledge in areas that are valuable to you. You are what you know. Wise people can do anything.

2. Keep People Wanting More. People will always want something from you, and when you give it to them, they will always want more. However, it is always up to you to decide how much you give to others. In addition, it’s wise to always hold something back.

After all, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom Gracian brings up some important truths about human nature.  He says, “Hope remembers and gratitude forgets.” Also, he reminds us that “He who has already drunk turns his back on the well.”

3. Strive for Excellence. Continuously strive to improve yourself, and continuously work on your craft. In terms of working on yourself, motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that, “Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development”.

When it comes to perfecting your craft, Malcom Gladwell explains in “Outliers: The Story of Success” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world-class. Put in the hours and strive to become one of the best in the world in your field.

4. Go Big or Go Home. People want to be thrilled; they want to see something they’ve never seen before. Fame, as Gracian points out, is the sister of giants. Don’t color inside the lines: go to extremes.

5. Be Pleasant and Courteous. People do business with people they like. How you do something is as important as what you do. Be pleasant and agreeable, and win the goodwill of others. In addition, courtesy will always be your best calling card.

6. Work Hard. You’ve probably heard the saying that “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” It doesn’t matter how talented you are: you won’t succeed if you don’t work hard.

7. Don’t Raise Other People’s Expectations. Gracian points out that when you raise people’s expectations, reality will never be able to catch up to their imagination. Instead, promise what you’re sure you can deliver, and then make sure that you live up to that promise.

In addition, although it’s common to hear that you should under-promise but over-deliver, a recent study by University of Chicago business professor Nicholas Epley shows that there’s little value in over-delivering.

Epley speculates that promises function as a mental contract: they nail down our expectations. We expect the promise to be kept, but we don’t anticipate more than is promised. Over delivering doesn’t have much of an impact, so don’t waste your efforts.

8. Make Yourself Lucky. In my post, “How to Make Yourself Lucky”, I explain that there are steps that you can take and mental attitudes that you can adopt in order to make yourself lucky. You can make yourself lucky by doing things such as the following:

    • Have a positive mental attitude.
    • Take the initiative instead of passively waiting for what you want to come to you.
    • Meet new people.
    • Put yourself out there: write articles on your subject of expertise; showcase your talent on YouTube; create an online portfolio; etc.
    • Be of service to others.
    • Craft a compelling story for yourself.

And, of course, be prepared, for “Readiness is the mother of luck”.

9. Be Informed. It’s important to have practical knowledge of current affairs. Of course, you don’t want to become oversaturated with information that is irrelevant to you, but you need to know what’s going on in the world and have an informed opinion on important issues.

10. To Persuade Others, Find Their Motivation. The art of persuasion involves more skill than determination. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the other and determine what it is that they want.

As Gracian points out, everyone wants something. It can be being well thought of, making money, and so on. The trick is to identify what sets people in motion, and then appeal to those desires.

11. Focus Your Efforts. You can’t know it all, you can’t do it all, and you can’t succeed at everything. However, you can be very knowledgeable in one or two areas, as well as develop your expertise in one or two fields. Go for depth instead of breadth. As Gracian points out, “Intensity leads to eminence”.

12. Know When to Say “No”. The only way you can “yes” to the most important people and activities in your life is by saying “no” to everything else. Say “no” to the following:

  • Causes you’re not deeply committed to.
  • Networking events that will have a negligible impact on your career or sales prospects.
  • Taking on more work than you can handle.
  • Doing work that other people should be doing.

Follow Gracian’s advice: “Don’t belong so much to others that you stop belonging to yourself.”

13. Identify Your Strengths. The only way to achieve prominence is to identify what you excel at—that is, identify your strengths—and then focus your efforts on improving those strengths. Master you areas of greatness, what comes naturally to you and you do well, and use your gifts to help others.

The more you can differentiate yourself from the competition, and the better you become at using your strengths to solve the problems of others, the more successful you’ll be.

14. Quit While You’re Ahead. When you’re doing well you may be tempted to think that your luck will last forever. However, as Gracian points out, “A long run of good fortune is always suspicious.” Don’t overstay your welcome, and know when to cash in your chips.

15. Do Good. Speak well of others, and do good deeds. Help create the kind of world you want to live in. To quote Gracian, “Speak what is very good, do what is very honorable.”

16. Think Before You Act. There’s a difference between being bold and being rash. Although you should have a bias for action, never act incautiously. In addition, if you doubt the wisdom of an undertaking, it’s safer not to act at all.

17. Be Diligent, But Once You Decide On a Course of Action, Act. Once you have a plan of action, work your plan. A brilliant idea that is not executed is worthless. Dale Carnegie once said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.”

Instead of dwelling on the difficulties, act.  If you need to, move slowly, and feel your way forward. Here’s a motto which Gracian recommends you live by: “Make haste slowly.”

18. Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks. It’s foolish to take unnecessary risks. Instead of jumping into the deep-end of the pool, wade into the shallow end taking steps slowly. Here are some practical ways to apply this precept:

  • Conduct market research to determine if there’s a demand for your service before you quit your job to start your own company.
  • Create a prototype of your product before investing heavily in materials and equipment.
  • Invest in adequate insurance.
  • Acquire the necessary knowledge before acting.
  • Float your ideas by people whom you trust and whose opinion you value.

19. Never Lose Your Self-Respect. A common saying is to live as if the entire world were watching your every step. However, Gracian argues that this isn’t necessary, because you’re watching everything that you do, and that fact alone should be enough to keep you on the right path. After all, what matters most in the end is the reputation that you have with yourself.

20. Never Lose Your Composure. The only thing you can control in life is yourself. Learn to master yourself thoroughly. Impressive credentials won’t do much for you if you lack poise and if you can’t remain calm under pressure. Emotional self-control will help you get far.

Here’s a quote from Gracian:

“Control yourself, especially your sudden impulses. It takes much reflection to keep a passion from bolting like a horse; and if you’re wise on horseback, you’re wise in everything.”

21. Adapt To the Situation. Not everything requires your best effort or the same amount of resources. Gracian notes that “The good falconer uses only the birds he needs.”

In addition, everyone has a different temperament. Adapt yourself accordingly. As Gracian advises, “Whether you’re with a serious person or a jovial one, follow the current, and politely transform yourself.”

22. Always Keep Them Wondering. Niccoló Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that good news should be given a little at a time; that way you stretch out the positive impact of the good news.

For example, if you’re going to offer your employees ergonomic chairs, give them an extra day of paid vacation, and treat them to a meditation class, don’t let them know about all three things at once. Instead, do the following:

  • Tell them about the chairs.
  • A month later, once the novelty of the chairs starts to drop, let them know about the extra vacation day.
  • Three months later, let them know they’ll be getting a free meditation class to help them de-stress, be more focused, and be more creative.

Just think of all the goodwill this approach would generate: every so often your employees get a bonus. At the same time, Gracian recommends that you follow a similar approach when it comes to revealing your talents and skills to others. He says the following:

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

Make your skills and talents limitless by displaying them a little at a time.

23. Give It a Try. Wayne Gretzy once said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” A lot of people don’t achieve their goals because they don’t even try. You can’t achieve your goals, and you can’t succeed, unless you try.

24. Choose Your Friends Wisely. You are the company you keep. Here’s another quote from Machiavelli:

“There is no better indication of a man’s character than the company which he keeps; and therefor very properly a man who keeps respectable company acquires a good name, for it is impossible that there should not be some similitude of character and habits between him and his associates.”

And here’s one from Gracian:

“Put the right people beside you. The company you keep can work wonders. Customs and tastes and even intelligence are transmitted without our being aware of it.”

25. Save For a Rainy Day. Life moves in cycles. In the summer, prepare for the winter. During times of plenty, store up supplies for times of scarcity.

26. Look the Part. Although it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, most people do. The world judges people not for who they are, but for who they seem to be. As Gracian indicates, “Do, but also seem”. He also says, “Have merit, but know how to present yourself.” Make sure that your exterior reflects your inner excellence.

27. Think Before You Speak. Be careful with what you say. Once you’ve said something, you can’t take it back. Look at the following: Before you speak, T.H.I.N.K.:

  • T – Is it true?
  • H – Is it helpful?
  • I – Is it inspiring?
  • N – Is it Necessary?
  • K – Is it kind?

In addition, there’s no need for everyone to be aware of your affairs. Stop divulging all of your plans to anyone you come across. The less people know what you’re up to, the less likely it is that they’ll be able to dissuade you, sabotage you, or stand in your way.

28. Beware of Your Weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses, and it’s important to identify them as such. Seek to minimize your weaknesses so that they don’t tarnish your strengths. In this way, you’ll be turning moles into beauty marks.

If you don’t identify your weaknesses, you can be sure that others will. After all, people are quick to notice faults in others. And once they’ve identified your faults, they’ll use them against you. Therefore, know how to deal with your weaknesses so that you can be on guard.

29. The Best Revenge is Massive Success. Thinking of ways to get back at those who have hurt or wronged you is a waste of time. Instead, direct all of your efforts toward setting and achieving worthy goals. After all, success is the best revenge. Gracian says it best:

“Each of your successes will be torture for those that wish you ill, and your glory will be hell to your rivals. This is the greatest of punishments: to turn success into poison.”

30. Never Compete With Someone Who Has Nothing to Lose. Don’t risk your reputation by arguing or competing with someone who has nothing to lose. People who have nothing to lose will resort to shameless ploys, mudslinging, derision, and so on.

Even if, in the end, you win the argument, you will have lost –time, respect, and so on. Always remember, “You don’t have to attend every argument to which you are invited.”

31. Don’t Be Overly Sensitive. You don’t want to be so fragile that people have to walk on eggshells around you. Don’t do the following:

  • Be quick to take offense.
  • Have a long list of resentments.
  • Be easily annoyed.
  • Insist on having your own way all the time.

You should demand respect, but don’t hold on to a silly sense of honor. As Gracian would put it, don’t be made of glass.

32. Don’t Put Others On a Pedestal. Stop telling yourself that those in a position of authority are so far above you that their life is unattainable. Don’t think so highly of others that you allow them to manipulate you and take advantage of you.

If you feel that your value is not being recognized, walk away, regardless of how important or powerful the other person may be (or may appear to be).

33. Live and Let Live. The best life is a peaceful life, and the way to live a peaceful life is to live and let live. Stop meddling in things that don’t concern you. Avoid unnecessary conflict, don’t speak about the affairs of others, and don’t worry about things that don’t matter.

34. Be Realistic. It’s a good thing to have a high opinion of yourself and of your abilities. However, be sensible and have a clear vision of reality. If your expectations are too high, when experience fails to deliver you’ll be miserable. Aim high, but not so high that you continuously miss the mark.

35. Always Have Goals. Always have something that you want to learn, do, or experience. In order to be happy, keep hope and curiosity alive.

36. Be Shrewd. A shrewd person knows that there is malice in the world and that others are often deceitful. Therefore, they’re prudent in what they do and say, and they practice discerning awareness. In addition, shrewd people know how to make the most of their resources and circumstances.

Gracian warns to be shrewd, but not cunning. That is, don’t be devious or treacherous.


Gracian demonstrates Machiavelli’s know-how, with scruples. Use his precepts to become wise, powerful, and successful. Live your best life by following Gracian’s timeless wisdom.

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George Washington

George Washington’s rules of civility are more than just etiquette.

When George Washington–the first president of the United States of America–was about 16 years old, he copied out by hand a list of 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”. The rules are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in the 16th century.

Although at first glance the rules appear to be simply rules of etiquette, in the book “Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace”, the author explains that “the rules seek to form the inner man (or boy) by shaping the outer”. That is, they’re a way of molding your character by shaping your behavior.

There’s a quote attributed to Emily Post that says the following:

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

That’s what Washington’s rules of civility and decent behavior reflect. The rules are about focusing on other people, instead of just thinking of our own narrow self-interest. In addition, they’re about being willing to make small sacrifices for the sake of living in a community and getting along well with others.

Although there’s 110 rules, I’ve chosen the 32 that I consider to be most relevant to today’s day and age. You’ll find them below (keep in mind that some of the language is a bit antiquated).

1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

2. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

3. The gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

4. Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind of thereof.

5. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

6. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savors of arrogancy.

7. Let your ceremonies in courtesy be proper to the dignity of his place with whom you converse, for it is absurd to act the same with a clown and a prince.

8. When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it.

9. Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, and presently or at some other time; in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no signs of cholor but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

10. Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts.

11. Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.

12. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.

13. Play not the peacock, looking every where about you, to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stockings sit neatly and clothes handsomely.

14. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.

15. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ’tis a sign of a tractable and commendable nature.

16. Utter not base and frivolous things among grave and learned men.

17. Speak not of doleful things in a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them, change if you can the discourse.

18. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.

19. Deride no man’s misfortune though there seem to be some cause.

20. Be friendly and courteous.

21. Give not advice without being asked, and when desired do it briefly.

22. In things indifferent be of the major side.

23. Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to parents, masters and superiors.

24. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

25. When another speaks, be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not nor prompt him without desired. Interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.

26. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof.

27. Be not curious to know the affairs of others.

28. Let your carriage be such as becomes a man grave, settled and attentive to that which is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others say.

29. Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

30. Be not angry at table whatever happens and if you have reason to be so, show it not but on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.

31. Let your recreations be manful not sinful.

32. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.


There’s a TV show called “Sleepy Hollow” in which the main character, Ichabod Crane, comes from the time of George Washington. His manners are impeccable, and it’s a pleasure to watch how he behaves himself and relates to others.

The world would be a much better place if we all behaved in accordance with Washington’s rules of civility and decent behavior. In case you’re curious, you can read all 110 precepts here. Live your best life by being well-mannered.

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what to do when you don't know what to do

Sometimes you just don’t know what to do.

You’re a grown-up. So, you’re always supposed to know what to do, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Look at the following situations:

  • You have a problem at work, and you don’t know what to do.
  • Everything is going as it should. Then, something unexpected happens that derails your plans, and you don’t know what to do to get your plans back on track.
  • Your business is not doing as well as you had hoped, and you don’t know what to do.
  • There’s a goal that you would like to pursue, but you keep procrastinating on getting started because you don’t know what to do.

First, accept that it’s OK not to know everything. Then, look for a way to get back in the game. Below you’ll find five things to do when you don’t know what to do.

1. Get More Information. Whatever problem you may be having at this moment, you can rest assured that someone else has already had that problem. And they’ve solved it. In addition, they’ve written a book or an article about the problem and what they did to solve it, or they’ve created a YouTube video explaining what they did.

Look for that information and use it to plan your next step.

2. Find a Mentor. One of my favorite TV shows of all time is “The West Wing”. It’s fast, it’s entertaining, and I learn something new every time I watch an episode of the show, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before. In one episode, Leo—the Chief of Staff—tells the following story to his assistant, who’s going through a hard time:

“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.

 “A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

 “Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

 “Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”

When you’re facing a problem and you don’t know what to do, find a friend or acquaintance who has already been in the hole you’re currently in. Then, ask them for help getting out, or for some advice or ideas on what to do.

3. Act, Learn, Build, Repeat. The Harvard Business Review has an article in which they lay out the process that you should follow when you don’t know what to do. The process they recommend is the following:

  • Take a smart step as quickly as you can. A smart step is one which you can take quickly with whatever means you already have at your disposal. Make sure that the step you’re thinking of taking could not result in a loss that’s greater than what would be acceptable.
  • Reflect on the results that you get once you take the smart step. Every time you act you get some sort of information or feedback in return. Are you now closer to your goal? Did taking the step reveal that there’s something else that you need to do? What did you learn from the action that you took? Build on the results that you got by acting.
  • Repeat until you solve the problem or achieve the goal. Act, learn, build, and repeat until you achieve the results that you’re after.

 4. Do The Obvious. The other day I came across a booklet called “Obvious Adams: The Story of A Successful Businessman”. It was first published as a short story in the Saturday Evening Post in April, 1916. The story was an immediate hit and soon became a business classic.

Oliver B. Adams was an ordinary man. He was not particularly bright, good looking, or charismatic. However, he was in advertising—which is a very competitive field—and he managed to rise to the very top of the world of advertising. He did this by having a knack for the obvious.

Here’s what the author of the booklet, Robert R. Updegraff, once said about doing the obvious:

“The trouble is, the obvious is apt to be so simple and commonplace that it has no appeal to the imagination. We all like clever ideas and ingenious plans that make good lunch-table talk at the club. There is something about the obvious that is–well, so very obvious!”

Adams succeeded because at every step of his life, he did the obvious thing. That is, he did the thing which most people miss because it’s so simple. Instead of coming up with long, drawn out, complex plans, he would look for the most common sense approach to solving the problem before him.

The next time you don’t know what to do, follow Obvious Adams’ lead. Ask yourself, “What’s the obvious solution or the obvious next step?” Then, do the obvious. (You can read “Obvious Adams”, for free, here.)

5. Find a Bright Spot. In their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain that one approach to solving problems is to look for bright spots. That is, find out what’s working and do more of it.

For example, suppose that your child comes home with their report card. The good news is, he got an A+ in English. The bad news is, he’s barely passing science. At that point, if you’re going to follow the bright spot approach, you would do the following:

  • Ask your child what he’s doing in order to get such good grades in English.
  • Then, brainstorm ways in which he could apply those same strategies to studying for science.

When you’re facing a situation in which you don’t know what to do, think of problems that you’ve solved in the past, or think of goals that you’ve been successful in achieving. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did you solve those problems?
  • What strategies did you use?
  • What did you do to achieve those goals?
  • How can you apply what you’ve done in the past to achieve your goals or solve problems, to the problem that you’re facing in the present?

Figure out what to do, when you don’t know that to do, by thinking of the bright spots in your life and looking for ways to clone or replicate them.


Stop allowing the phrase “I don’t know what to do” to paralyze you. Instead, do one of the five things explained above. Live your best life by having a strategy for those times when you don’t know what to do.

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