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I recently listened to Tom Corley, author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, on Bulletproof Radio Podcast discuss his book and some of the habits of these highly successful people. One of them struck a chord with me: an overwhelmingly high percentage of the wealthy people he researched woke up hours before they went to work. The more I researched the habits of people I admire, the more I realized how common this is. Not only is waking up early common, the activities they perform also have an uncanny overlap.

I always thought I was being smart by nailing down my wake up time to the minute. Work starts at 9, commute takes 20 minutes, get ready in 30, that means I need to wake up at 8:10. Sound familiar? It’s an all too common habit and one I needed to reverse.

Further realization came from Stephen Pressfield in his bookThe War of Art. As he notes, "There's no mystery to turning pro. It's a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our minds to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that." Are you committed to success? Are you a pro or just an amateur? Be a pro, take advantage of valuable time in the morning.

Marcus Aurelius writes in his book Meditations: "In the morning when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present – I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm?…And are you unwilling to do the work of a human being, and do you not make haste to do that which is according to your nature?”

Waking up early when the covers are pulled over, blinds keeping out the light of day and plenty of time exists before any real commitments is incredibly difficult. The snooze button is a formidable foe; It is an enemy not easily conquered. Luckily, you get to wage war every single morning and rise willingly to do the work of a human being.

Why it's so important

While it's natural to feel lazy and sleep in, it's not conducive with becoming a high performing individual. My dad always gave me this advice: To become great you have to practice outside of practice. Everyone goes to practice; everyone is getting that time to build their skills. What makes the difference is what you do on your own time; this is what sets you apart from everyone else. You need to be building your skills and prepping for the day while everyone else just sleeps.
Sleep is incredibly important and one of the cornerstones of living a high performing lifestyle. My experience is that maximizing deep (quality) sleep should be the aim, not purely the length of time you sleep. Waking up 2 hours before you need to leave for work provides plenty of time to get a ton of stuff done, especially if you are focused.
11 morning rituals you can implement now.

1. Workout

Long, stressful days at the office don't leave much time or energy for an intense workout in the evening. 15 minutes in the morning is all you need for a sprint workout such as tabata or kettlebell sprints. Working out in the morning also takes advantage of the fasted state, a powerful technique for maximizing fat burning.

2. Sauna

Based on recent research by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, the sauna is the holy grail of muscle recovery and offers a host of other benefits, plus it’s insanely relaxing. To save time, try the next morning ritual in the sauna, meditation.

3. Meditation

Mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool to start your day. Clear the mind and focus on breathing for 10-15 minutes, take the time for your mind. Your mood, outlook and decision making will all benefit.

4. Journaling

Journaling first thing in the morning takes advantage of a state where our brain (specifically the pre-frontal cortex) is most active. Your next “A-Ha!” moment might be just around the corner if you take the time to get your thoughts on paper. Journaling can also be therapeutic. Try using a free form writing style where you don't pick up the pen and write for a whole page. Don't worry about the content just write whatever you are thinking.
A gratitude journal is also a powerful method of journaling. The 5 minute journal app is a good way to start and end your day.

5. Side projects

That side project you've been meaning to work on; that website or small business that needs attention – Take 30 minutes to an hour in the morning to put in some valuable effort. Without any opportunity for anything to go wrong yet (boss yelling at you, spilling coffee on your shirt) you can work unabated by life's distractions.

6. Plan for the day

A theme I've seen with most of the successful people I admire is that they always have a plan for the day. Their day is outlined and they are prepared for calls and meetings. Use time in the morning to prepare for the day so that you can jump right into being productive as soon as you arrive at work.

7. Pack lunch

Packing your lunch allows you to not only save money but also tightly control what you eat. To start, aim for packing 2-3 times per week until you get a routine in place. This will make a huge difference in the size of your wallet, especially if you live in a ridiculously expensive city like New York (like me!).

8. Read about a subject pertinent to your career

Learn about something that will help you in your career. Take 20 minutes to read a chapter of a book that will advance your knowledge on a particular subject. Like I mentioned before, become a pro. Personally, I much prefer non-fiction in the morning and fiction before bed. It’s what works for me.

9. Skip the news

Tim Ferriss discusses this topic in the 4 Hour Work Week. Reading the newspaper or watching the news can be an enormous waste of time. Just try skimming the headlines then ask a smart and trustworthy co-workers about what is going on in the world. From there, you can research what seems most important to you rather than filtering through everything else. You're essentially outsourcing your current events knowledge.

10. Skip checking e-mail

This is a tip in any morning routine blog post worth its salt. Suspend checking e-mail for at least 2 hours. This way you can work on some things for yourself (see 1-9) before work or personal issues muddy the water.

11. Skip breakfast

I saved this one for last because it may be the most important. This change has increased my productivity by at least 50%. If you're someone looking to optimize their morning, eating a heavy breakfast could quite possibly be the worst thing you could do for your mental capacity. Instead try this.
Nothing worth attaining is going to come easily. Envision a future where you have 2 hours of productive work for yourself, not your boss or your clients. Try implementing just one of these 11 tips for the next week. Drop me a line and let me know how it goes! Thanks.

How to take charge of your morning: 11 morning rituals you can implement now and supercharge your day first appeared on Thinker's Playground

first appeared on Thinker’s Playground

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
– Viktor Frankl

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This hit me right between the eyes today! I've been reading a lot of Viktor Frankl over the past few days and this quote stood out as one of my favourites (although I can't find the original source) – so I stashed it away to mull over later. Then today, while I was working, I caught myself reacting abruptly and impulsively to a text message that rubbed me the wrong way. The message was fine. I was stressed out with the workload in front of me, the crying baby in the coffeeshop I was working in, and just generally tired and cranky. So my response was sent before I'd thought about it and it wasn't the best one I could have chosen – I realised that almost immediately after I hit send. Damn!

I'm not beating myself up about it – no real harm was done. But this scenario really crystalized this quote in my mind, and all at once I realised the benefits I've missed out on, and the problems I've caused myself by reacting on autopilot, nervous energy and impulse for the past few months.

We each have a tremendous amount of power availble to us to control how we respond to and interact in our environment, and it comes from controlling space. "Between stimulus and response there is a space". By making that mental space larger, by a couple of seconds, or even a few days, and taking some time to absorb the situation, we give ourselves so much more room to choose how we want to react and even when we want to react.

Here are a few reasons to create more space between stimuli and your responses:

More Time To Choose A Better Response.

The most obvious reason. Everyone, regardless of how quick-witted or slow they are, can benefit from having more time to absorb a situation before makeing a decision. When faced with a situation (stimulus) our very first reaction is always either an emotional or habitual one. That nanosecond hair-trigger response from our animal brain is where so much of our behaviour begins. Whether it's anger, jealousy, greed, lust or just plain old crankiness, when faced with modern-day stressors our initial, basal ipmulses are not generally the best things to react on.

By taking a little time to distance yourself from a situation, even just a few seconds, you give yourself a chance for your emotional reaction to dissipate and for your higher brain to catch up on what's happened.

You'll Seem More In Control (Because You Are)

This is a trick my business partner and mentor taught me years ago when talking to clients and prospects: the Pregnant Pause.

Usually, when we're asked a question, especially in a stressful situation like an interview or sales meeting, we want to respond as quickly as possible. But taking a short pause for a second or two can not only be a great way to buy you more thinking time, it also makes you seem more collected and in control to whomever you're talking to.

Your answer will be more thought out and seem more deliberate as they can see you've really taken the time to mull over what was said.

You Can Become More Mindful Of Your Reactions

By applying some mindfulness techniques and reflecting on your reactions, you can also learn a great deal about their origins. There is always a reason that you react the way you do.

Whether it's fear of losing control, a past betrayal, critical parents, an abusive spouse, or just having to put up with a situation we really didn't like, we all carry around learned responses to certain types of triggers. (Everyone has baggage, even you). By taking a moment to be mindful of how we're reacting in a given situation, we can start to dissect why we're reacting that way.

From this more objective and distanced viewpoint, we can start to decide on better ways to react in future.

You Can Discover Another, Better Response

Nothing! Sometimes the best response is no response at all. The best reaction is no reaction. So many of the things we say and do were unnecessary and have only contributed to more stress or hurt. The last word in an argument; The hurtful name thrown in to add injury; Unnecessaryly digging up the past; Taking that last cookie.

In many situations you also have the option to not act at all. To absorb, and then to simply do nothing.

You Act Less Out Of Habit

When you start to incorporate this principle into your daily life, even if it's just to one thing per day, you'll start to realise just how much of our behaviour is habitual. For me, checking my phone or Facebook mindlessly is still an issue. Now, when I catch myself – I can pause and ask: "Do I really need to be checking this now?". The answer is almost always "no".

Once we're aware of our habits, we can decide to take more control over them, and create new, better habits.

Try it out! The next time you feel yourself reacting to a stressful, emotional or even a pleasant or interesting stimulus, take a little more time to create space. Absorb the situation, think about how you'd like to react and do so.

The Power Of Space first appeared on Thinker's Playground

first appeared on Thinker’s Playground

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Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who, between 1942 and 1945, survived 4 different Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

Frankl witnessed and suffered nearly every indignation you can imagine. As well as being subjected to slave labour and torture himself, he had to watch his family, friends and fellow men be either directly executed, or worked to death by the Nazi camp guards.

After being freed from the camp at the end of the war, Frankl returned to Vienna where he wrote a book offering a unique insight into the life of a concentration camp inmate from the objective perspective of a psychiatrist.

Man's Search For Meaning is a profound, poignant, and life-altering read that offers so many lessons in what it means to be human, the importance of striving, and the importance of love and compassion. Not only are the stories of his and his fellow prisoners experiences of camp life moving, but the way in which Frankl's reacted to and interpreted those experiences was inspirational.

Frankl's survival and success after his ordeal was likely due to his remarkable mental resilience. From reading his work's it's clear he had an extra-ordinary knack for coping with difficulty through a rare mixture of pragmatism, positive thinking, and compassion.

Below are a few of the sections which I found most insightful – The full book is available from Amazon.

…for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still knows bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.

Tears came to his eyes and I tried to comfort him. Then there was something else to do — to make my will: “Listen, Otto, if I don’t get back home to my wife, and if you should see her again, then tell her that I talked of her daily, hourly. You remember. Secondly, I have loved her more than anyone. Thirdly, the short time I have been married to her outweighs everything, even all we have gone through here.”

We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

…we could say that most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.

The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future — his future — was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.

When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsbility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any how.

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the "race" of the decent man and the "race" of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of "pure race"—and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygeine to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves her. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in her, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.

These last two are my favourites:

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic "the self-transcendence of human existence." It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the
more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.

Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.

Viktor Frankl brought strength and hope to his fellow prisoners and to the countless lives he touched after the war, both in his practice and through his writings.

Some Powerful Lessons In Humanity By Viktor Frankl first appeared on Thinker's Playground

first appeared on Thinker’s Playground

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It's the start of a New Year and people all over the world are taking the opportunity to re-invent themselves, or make the improvements in thier lives that they've been contemplating for a while. On the surface, New Year's resolutions seem like a great idea, but for most people, they only lead to a sense of defeat and disappointment when after a few weeks they've fallen short.

Here's how you can make the most of this opportunity for positive change this January.

Why Make a Resolution?

Why Make A New Year's Resolution in the first place? The answer, is simple: We all have something in our lives we'd like to improve. For most people it's either to lose weight, be more organized/productive, or to be better with money. For others, it can be improving relationships or to relax more. The start of a New Year can make a great checkpoint for taking action, using the end of the lazy, restful and indulgent Holiday Season as a springboard into a pro-active, energized and disciplined new you. Deciding to make the change at New Year can be a double-edged sword, however. On one side, you've taken the time to realise you want to make a change, and resolved to do so. A 2002 study showed that, 46% of resolvers (people who made New Year's resolutions) were still successful in their change after 6 months, compared to 4% of non-resolvers who had decided to address the problem "later".

On the other side, relying on a specific calendar event means relying on an external reason or excuse for change. Changing habits is hard and we often try to force the change reluctantly. Forcing ourselves to make the change as soon as the calendar hits January 1st means it's we're likely not ready to make the change yet (or we would have done so already).

So, while resolving to make a change at New Year is more likely to lead to improvement than simply meaning to do it at some point, you shouldn't necessarily wait until the start of a New Year to begin – You should resolve to start as soon as you realise a change is required, and reap the benefits of your improvement sooner.

Why New Year's Resolutions Fail

If 46% of resolvers have successfully stuck to their resolutions 6 months later, then 54% of resolvers failed (read "gave up") within 6 months. That's more than half! Luckily, psychology can offer some insight into why these people fail and there are some practical solutions to avoid these common pitfalls.

Will-Power Is A Limited Resource

Will-power is like a muscle – the more we use it, the weaker it gets. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and colleagues conducted an experiment with a group of students to test this theory of willpower. They instructed the participants not to eat within 3 hours prior to the experiment. The participants were then split into three groups. Group 1 was given a plate of chocolate chip cookies which they were instructed not to eat, and a plate of healthy radishes which they were welcome to eat as much as they wanted. Group 2 was also presented with the two plates, but were told they could eat whatever they liked. Group 3 (the control group) were given no food at all. After some time, the participants were then given simple geometric puzzles to solve. The puzzles, unbeknown to the participants, were unsolvable.

Groups 2 and 3, who hadn't previously had to resist the cookies, significantly outlasted those in Group 1, who gave up in defeat much sooner. The participants in Group 1 had already exhausted their will-power by resisting the cookie, and so had less to spend on the puzzles exercise. It's interesting to note is that both tasks (resisting cookies and solving puzzles), tapped the same will-power resource even though the two tasks seem completely unrelated.

Setting a challenging task such as resolving to get up earlier each morning and hit the gym might seem managable for the first few days, but as life throws in other will-power-draining stresses (work, family, heavy traffic etc.) there is less will-power available to maintain this difficult new change and we naturally fall back to our old, comforting, convenient, non-will-power-sapping habits.

For a change to be sustainable, we have to realise that our will-power is finite, just like money, time, energy, and patience, and we have to manage it sensibly or we'll fail. Managing will-power can be as simple as setting a much smaller, more managable goal.

Kaizen, is a powerful philosophy based on this very idea. Using a Kaizen approach, we can take smaller, easy steps towards achieving a goal without having to rely on an iron will.

You Didn't Set Realistic, Well-Defined, and Managable Sub-Goals

For a goal to be achieved easily, it should meet three criteria.

  1. It's small
  2. It's well defined
  3. It's rational

Setting goals that are too large is a recipe for failure. While it's fine to have a larger end goal in mind (I want to lose 100 lbs), it's far easier to set smaller, incremental goals to work towards (I want to lose 5lbs). A smaller goal means the reward we feel when we achieve it is earned sooner. This is an important aspect of our Reward System. Accomplishing a goal leads to the release of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and re-inforces behaviour. The more regularly we are rewarded for a certain behaviour, the more we're likely to engage in that behaviour in future. So by setting a small, easily achievable goal, we can ensure that we're rewarded for our effort and encouraged to continue the same behaviour.

Having a well-defined goal is far more effective than having a vague, nebulous goal. Compare "I want to lose some weight", to "I want to lose 5 lbs" to "I want to lose 5 lbs this month". The more specific you are in the goal you've defined, the easier it is to track your progress, to see how much work you've done and how much you still have to do. Again, this ties into our Reward System as we have a clear finish line which, once reached, will reward us with lovely dopamine.

Finally, a goal has to be rational in view of your overall goal. If your aim is to lose weight, you won't do that effectively if you're following a nutrition program for bodybuilders (who spend most of their season trying to gain weight). The program might be great, but it's not designed for the specific goal you have in mind. Even though you persevere diligently, you might be paddling in the opposite direction.

You Weren't Ready To Change

Change is hard, but it's made much harder if you don't actually want to change. Will-power, after all, is the power of your will to do something. Understand there's a disctinction between knowing you should change, thinking it would be nice to do change, and wanting to change. Many smokers I know, know they "should quit" but they don't want to – they enjoy smoking. Quitting would mean giving up something they like, and none of us want to do that. Similarly, we can all relate to fantasising about how nice it would be to be in better shape, or have a less stressful lifestlye, but not wanting to take the steps necessary to precipitate change.

To be ready to make a change, you have to want to make the change, otherwise your will-power is going to be exhausted even faster.

If your New Year's Resolution involves a difficult change, you can make it easier on yourself by focussing on the positive reasons you're doing it. If your goal is to lose weight, you may want to focus on "I want to feel good in my body" or "I want to be able to walk up hills again" or "I want to get more years out of my body". Whatever the reason is, try to keep the focus positive, rather than the negative you're trying to avoid – "I hate feeling tired all of the time". Think carrot, not stick!

Checklist for Successfully Achieving Your 2014 Goals

Here's a checklist of things to keep in mind. If you pay attention to these simple points then achieving your New Year's goals should be a piece of cake.

Make only one resolution!

Tackle one issue at a time. Again, this boils down to will-power, and focus. It's easier to put your energy into one change than it is to try to change a few things at once. You can always set new goals for yourself later in the year once your current resolution has become habit.

Make Your Will-Power Work Less

Understand that will-power is a limited resource. Set youself up for success as much as possible by keeping your goals easy, simple, and removing any hurdles that you can that might tempt you to falter. Don't allow junk food in your kitchen if you're trying to lose weight. If you're trying to quit smoking, drink in bars that don't have a smoking area.

Start Now

You don't have to wait until January 1st to set a change in motion in your life. Start when you're ready and don't worry about dates or how long you have to hang in there. Just focus on completing your next small goal.

Keep Your Goals Small and Managable

It's worth repeating – keep your goals small, and managable. This is not a cop-out and it's not the easy-route – it's the smart route. This Kaizen approach is far more intune with how your brain and body work, so change will feel more natural.

Track Your Progress

Keeping a journal or a log of your progress can be a great way to motivate you. When you're feeling a little burned out or can't remember why you're doing this you can look back on how far you've come. It's a helpful reminder of how capable you are of making this change.

Practice Mindfulness

Practicing Mindfullness Meditation is another great tool when it comes to making healthy changes in our lives. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions (which are really about changing habits) mindfulness can help us to be more aware of our habits, and catch the things that trigger us to fall back into them.

Don't Be Too Hard On Yourself

Finally, understand that it's OK to slip-up sometimes. Habits are hard to break and you can expect to revert back to your old ones from time to time. Be resilient and realise that these slip-ups are just slip-ups, not absolute failures. You can still succeed if you get back on the horse, rather than giving up the first time you land on your ass.

Good luck and a Happy 2014! Please feel free to share your New Year's Resolution, or a change you're undergoing in the comments below :)

How To Keep Your New Year's Resolution first appeared on Thinker's Playground

first appeared on Thinker’s Playground


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