SMART Goals: How to Better Accomplish Goals

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No matter what you’re trying to accomplish in life, whether it’s financial, relationships, self-improvement, or for any other reason, it’s not going to mean if you don’t know how to set them up properly or if you can actually achieve them.

We know that setting goals can be important to us. We know that setting them up can be a major source for our happiness and well-being. Heck, we know that just the act of writing down your goals makes us more likely to accomplish them. So where do we start with them?

One effective way to do this is to use SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time frame. Associated with management legend Peter Drucker and his concept of management by objectives, SMART goals are easy to remember, easy to set up way to better accomplish any kind of objective, whether it’s a big project you or your team is tackling, getting a new job, or just starting out in a new field.

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1.Specific

We all have vague plans on what we want to do. We want to lose extra pounds. We want to read more books. We want to meditate more. Yet a lot of us don’t do them because we don’t how much weight we want to lose, we don’t know what books to read and where to read them, we don’t know where and when to meditate.

This is why when it comes to establishing goals, it’s best to be as specific possible. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds in a month. Maybe you want to read 21 books by the end of the year. Maybe you want to meditate for at least 5 minutes before you sleep. You’ll notice with the examples provided that all of them have numbers attached to them. Attaching a number to your goals can be useful as they can be helpful with tracking metrics when it comes progressing to what you want to achieve.

We’ve talked about the “what” when it comes making your goals specific, but another important piece is the “where” and “when.” Much like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Where will you accomplish your goals and when will you do them? If you want to work out, you can find a designated work out spot like the backyard or garage and do them each day in the mornings. When you decide to exercise plays a role in your overall health.

None of this is going to matter, however, if you don’t answer the big question with your goals: why do you want to achieve this goal? The goal isn’t just to improve yourself, it’s also to take on the identity when working towards your goal. The goal isn’t to just to run more, it’s to be a runner. The goal isn’t just to read more, it’s to be a reader. The goal isn’t just to meditate more, it’s to be a meditator. Once you figure out why you want to achieve a goal and take on the identity of the goal you’re working towards, it’ll be both much easier and much more satisfying to achieve it.

2.Measurable

How are you going to measure the progress you’re making towards your goal? Measuring the metrics is a great idea is because 1. It keeps you accountable when you are (and aren’t) making steps towards your goals and 2. It gives you a baseline of how much you’re doing. For example, you want to write a book and you want to measure how much you exactly write per day. This is where holding a habit-tracking journal comes in handy. You can use it to keep track of how many words you write in a single day and how far along you are towards that book. If you keep track of the number of words you write per week, you’ll see what your total average is. Then you can decide whether you want to maintain that average and treat writing like a marathon or dedicate some days to write a bit more like a sprint.

Measuring the metrics towards your goals, whether it number of words written, how many laps you ran, or calories lost, can give you the visual representation needed to see how far along you are. Measuring can also make working towards your goals much more satisfying. It can help push you through and make the strides needed not only to achieve whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, but smash them as well. Once you hold yourself accountable and promise yourself to build the habits necessary to achieve your goals, it gives you the mindset to accomplish anything.

3. Attainable

How do you know you can achieve this goal? Years ago I tried to doing the NaNoWriMo Challenge. My goal was to write a novel in the span of one month. For the first few days I was excited. I thought I had the motivation to write the first draft of an epic fantasy novel. But then, I had the pressures of college classes with upcoming deadlines, projects, and assignments. Combined with losing motivation and enthusiasm with the writing, that was when I knew I couldn’t complete NaNoWriMo Challenge in time. I failed.

When establishing goals, you have to know whether or not your goals are attainable. Do you have the time, skills, tools, habits, and motivation to accomplish them? Looking back, I failed because I didn’t properly time block which parts of the day will spent on college activities, which parts will be on free time and which parts will be spent on actually writing.

Achieving goals is a commitment; you have to make sacrifices, learn new skills, and find resources and people to help you achieve them. If you’re going to find time master a skill such as playing chess or writing a book, then you will need to find specific parts of your day to make time for those activities, and that requires quitting other things such as television or social media. You also need to find a community of people that share your goals and can help both keep you accountable towards your goals and encourage you achieve them.

Making your goals attainable can feel daunting. In fact, it should make you feel uncomfortable. That’s what happens when you’re trying to make some big change in your life. Making a change requires sacrifice and you’ll make trade-offs along the way. You’ll lose things, but you’ll also gain much more in the process. That’s what it takes to attain your goals.

4.Relevant

When it comes to setting up goals, you shouldn’t chase them just for the sake of attaining them. They should be stepping stones for much bigger things in life. Going back to identity, the goals you set up should be reflective of the identity you want to form. If you chase goals that don’t reflect the identity you want to become, then you will lack the motivation to achieve them.

An exercise you can try to ensure your short-term goals line up with your long-term goals: think ahead 10-15 years and imagine what kind of life you want. It can be a new home, an ideal career, getting married, whatever you imagine. Now, work backwards and establish the goals that can push you in the right direction. This is how you know the goals you’re setting up are relevant to you.

Once you figure out what goal you want to chase and why it matters to you, it’ll make working towards them that much easier. Figure out what matters to you and cut out the excess.

5. Time-Bound

Finally, when can you complete this goal? Having your goals time-bound is great for many reasons. One, it once again keeps you accountable. Imagine the last time you tried to set up a goal but kept delaying it over and over again until you just abandoned your goal. Saying you will complete x in y amount of time will help you keep track of completing them. I want to lose 20 pounds in two months. I want to read 21 books by the end of the year. I want to complete this project in six months. All of these great examples of making your goals timely.

Having time-bound goals is also great for setting up milestones. Whenever you pass a certain milestone, you can use that celebrate your wins with friends and loved ones and further motivate you to push further. Setting up milestones can also help set up expectations of what the scope, budget and tools you need to accomplish your goal right on time.

Be realistic when it comes to setting up your deadline. Will your goal be completed in a few days? A week? A month? Years? Decades? Consider the scope of your goal, whether you have the skills and resources to achieve them, and ask for a friend to help them out. Once you set the time, your SMART goals are ready to go.

Additional Caveats

Before continuing on with your SMART goals, be aware of these additional tips and avoid some of the pitfalls.

  • Have a friend help you along: You’ve most likely noticed this by now but the word accountability has been thrown around plenty of times and for good reason. There’s no point in setting up a goal if no one is there to keep in check. To make yourself more like likely to accomplish your goal, have a friend act as your accountability buddy. It’s no secret that when it comes to forming good habits or breaking bad ones, establishing pacts and being a part of a group helps tremendously. One study shows that those who sent weekly progress reports to their friend accomplished significantly more than those who don’t.
  • Write your goals down: to reiterate, putting your thoughts into paper is surprisingly powerful, whether it’s dealing with stress, finding meaning and purpose, and especially, goal setting. The same study mentioned also says that those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who don’t. The simple act of taking out a pencil and pen writing down what you want to accomplish is incredibly helpful as it’s a reminder of what you want, where you will complete them, how you will complete them, who will help you, why you want to complete them, and when it will be completed.
  • Don’t cheat yourself: this is understated, but incredibly important. Be honest with yourself not just on what the goals you’re setting up, but also how you accomplish. You can lose 10 pounds in a few weeks, which sounds great, but if you got that through starving yourself looking like a twig, then you have a problem. Remember, the purpose of SMART goals is to get you closer to the ideal life that you want. If you don’t enjoy the process taking small steps towards your goals, then you won’t enjoy being at the top of that peak.

SMART goals is a way to help better define and move towards what you want the most in life. It is by no means the only way to approach goal-setting, but I hope this gives you a better understanding of how to set yourself up for success, even when it’s by no means clear cut. It’s always good to have a plan, no matter where you go.

The Problem With Success Stories

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We all heard that story. That guy or gal that went from being dirt poor to being incredibly rich. With a lot of effort, ingenuity, and intelligence that person beats the odds and becomes a huge success. You’ve seen movies, TV shows, Youtube videos, books, podcasts and every medium imaginable tell that story. It’s a story we’re all familiar with.

But what if I tell you that we’re getting them all wrong?

Don’t get me wrong. All of us have this vague, human desire to be successful, despite how ambiguous all of that is. We all want that perfect car, perfect house, perfect job, perfect lover, perfect whatever. But life is not perfect. It never is. And neither are those success stories we keep getting spoon-fed in whatever TED Talk you’re listening to right now. Here is the problem, or rather, problems with success stories.

  1. It Fails to Take Into Account Randomness and Probability

Imagine you work for a music label. You are looking to find the next big superstar musician. You search through the Billboard music charts. Do you decide to sign an artist that’s currently has a hit on the top 20? Or do you decide to look for “second-best” who is at 22-30 on the charts?

It’s incredibly tempting to choose someone on the top 20 because their big hit single is killing it in the charts. But this is actually a bad idea. In an analysis of 8,297 musical acts that from he US Billboard 100 from 1980 to 2008, they found out that those who charted at 22-30 had the more sustainable career in music. A lot of the artists who charted in the top 20 were products of viral marketing and exceptional marketing. It should come off as no surprise that those artists ended up having a failed follow-up and being flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders. “Second-best,” meanwhile, were far less reliant on luck and had actual merit future performances. These are where music labels should start signing up.

The same logic applies in other fields, such as professional sports and business. It’s easy to find an athlete scoring three-pointers three times in a row during tryouts but absolutely fail them in an actual exhibition, or invest in a potential start-up that makes it onto the list of Fortune’s 100 Fastest Growing Companies List but realize that the company you invested in is growing more slowly than the competition in the next year and ends up bankrupting the year after.

A lot of us don’t take into account randomness and probability. We don’t realize how incredibly low the chance is when it comes to wining the lottery or being accepted into a prestigious college like Harvard. We look at success stories and don’t ask ourselves how unlikely that person met the head of a big company or how lucky that person did when they won a game of pachinko. We always pay attention to the unlikely winners but never everyone else.

2.Survivorship Bias

Continuing off of business, we always look at the fastest-growing, the most innovative, the most inventive, and of course, the most successful. A lot of us are inspired by budding entrepreneurs, a lot of whom don’t complete college, who go on to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who make it big, earn lots of money, go on television and radio experiences explaining how they made.

But a lot of us don’t see the failures, the businesses that don’t take off. Only about 25% survive up to 15 years in business, about 33% survive the first 10 years, and only 70% make it beyond the first year of business. And what’s even worse? Half of businesses fail within the first year.

The reason why we don’t see these failures is because of survivorship bias. It’s where we only see the stories and assume that’s the whole story, without considering the stories of past failures. We often hear more about stories of success because they’re considered more attractive. But if we only consider stories of success, we forget the base rate of success and overestimate the odds of success.

While survivorship bias is the most common in business, it can be found elsewhere. A lot of people dream of being an athlete with the pedigree of a Roger Federer or a Lebron James, but it’s also incredibly hard to to get recognized by a major sports league and even harder to have a team sign you up and get sponsorship deals. A lot of us dream of creating that hit indie video game that charts Steam, but without garnering a level of hype, most of us end up dumping games in the storefront that nobody buys because no one has heard of it. A lot of us dream of being a best-selling author, but many of us just publish a book that only sells a few thousand copies.

The next time you look at a success story, think of all the people who tried to follow the formula of that person and failed. When it comes to success, many of us fail to take into account how difficult it is to succeed in that particular field.

3.It’s yet another form of procrastination

Imagine you have read all the best self-help books in the world, watched all the best TED Talks in the world, and listened to the best self-improvement podcasts in the world. You take to heart their advice, you get that burst of dopamine inside your brain, and you get a shock of motivational energy inside you. You feel like you’ve taken steps towards improving yourself. Except there’s only one problem.

You haven’t actually done anything.

We like hearing success stories because it feels good and we want to make improvements towards ourselves. As a result, we keep consuming more and more of these stories. But the truth is you haven’t done a single thing to hold yourself accountable and discipline yourself into changing yourself. It’s a term called “Action Faking:” the illusion of taking action just so you can impress others and fool people into thinking you’ve made changes to your life.

While there are many ways action faking can manifest itself, consuming success stories without thinking critically the steps taken towards getting that success, the obstacles blocking it, and the lessons from those stories, it’s basically another form of procrastination. You’re only distracting yourself from the unpleasantness and pain necessary from making the meaningful changes needed to becoming a better version of yourself.

4.Social Comparison

Imagine you’re on Instagram. You scroll through your phone and you look at your friend’s profile. You notice all of their achievements, all of the places they’ve visited, the people they’ve met, the photos they’ve captured, and, of course, they’re successes. You admire your friend for all they’ve done.

But then you start comparing yourself to them. You stop appreciating what you have (your gifts, your talents, your own accomplishments and talents) and start noticing all the things you don’t have. This is where the social comparison starts.

Now let’s make on thing perfectly clear: I am not implying that using Instagram (or any other social media service, for that matter) is a bad thing. In fact, one study shows that browsing on Instagram can actually lower loneliness. That same study, however, shows that it can only lower loneliness if people were less inclined to perform social comparison. While the study has shown that using social networking sites can both decrease and increase loneliness, what moderates it is one’s tendency to commit to social comparison.

When it comes to social comparison, evaluating one’s own abilities and opinions by comparing themselves to others, this is a widespread idea in the social media age but by no means a new phenomenon. You can argue that it’s human nature to compare yourself to the rest of the members of your tribe. In fact, this is has turned into a measurable psychological construct that traces itself back to the 1950s, despite not being a thoroughly explored and studied.

When we focus only on what other people think of our abilities and opinions, we lose sight of our selves and what we really want in our lives. When we only look at other people’s successes, we obscure the bigger picture and forget that those successes only tell half the story. We lower our self-esteem and forget our own talents, our own strengths, our own values, our own struggles, and flaws. We lose our sense of selves and, ironically, feel more lonely and less social as a result.

5.Narrative Fallacy

As a species, we love stories and we can’t resist weaving the life of someone into a narrative. When it comes to explaining the success of start-ups, businesses and well-known entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, we always try to explain their successes through the form of stories. It makes sense, how did these men rise to their meteoric size in terms of wealth and influence? One such pattern was how Jobs was adopted according to one of his biographies and how that motivated him to succeed and challenge preconceived notions of the world.

However, Jobs himself refuted that idea:

There’s some notion that because I was abandoned, I worked very hard so I could do well and make my parents wish they had me back, or some such nonsense, but that’s ridiculous […] Knowing I was adopted may have made me feel more independent, but I have never felt abandoned. I’ve always felt special. My parents made me feel special- Steve Jobs

This is a perfect example of narrative fallacy, the tendency to explain the complexities of the real world into oversimplified stories. The problem with this stories is that, as previously shown above, it fails to take into account randomness and probability. We omit certain details when it comes to a person’s supposed life story and make up new ones in order to explain away someone’s success.

What is the Narrative Fallacy and Why it Exists ...

The danger with this, of course, is that when you start imitating the patterns of success without taking into account all of the above problems, you’ll end up asking yourself “How am I not successful yet after following the tips from all the biographies I’ve read?”

What To Look For Instead

Now, I don’t want to completely poo-poo all over your parade. I’m not here trying to discourage you from living your best life or to abandon your dreams or to stop listening to success stories. What you need to do is to not only take into account randomness and probability or to stop procrastinating, but to also look for the real, tangible ways people can build success and to really start examining the ways people live their lives.

What to Look For #1: Habits and Routines

When it comes to success, we want it immediate. We want to win the lottery and win that million dollars. We want to perform at the stage with a thousand adoring fans. We want to create that business that everyone buys from and knows the name of. But we forget that success isn’t always instantaneous. More often than not, it’s the result of the habits and routines of that person.

A lot of successes weren’t overnight successes. They were the result of constantly fine-tuning they’re skills until they were incredibly good at it. Michael Jordan kept shooting hoops and practiced being good at it until coaches started to notice his talent. Jerry Seinfeld practiced his craft of telling jokes until he caught the attention of comedy clubs and network executives. Maya Angelou kept writing every single until her poetry gained the resonance of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons.

The next time you read a book or listen to a podcast or watch a video on top-level performers, ask “What books did you read and how do you fit time into reading?” or “What is your morning routine like?” or “How does the creative process work?” Being incredibly good at something isn’t just being born to be good at something, it’s about building the habits and routines to perfect them to the point it becomes automatic.

What to Look For #2: Failure

Life is rarely, if ever, straightforward. Chances are, you’ve encountered failure in your life. There’s also a great chance that someone you look up to or inspire to has encountered failure too.

When we only look success, it gives us the optical illusion that we only look at our own failures and never the failures of others. More often than not, the opposite is true. That person has probably encountered many failures throughout their lives as well. We forget that for every successful free throw, there’s hundreds of failed shots. For every great book, there’s multiple revisions filled with typos, plot holes, and inconsistent characterization. For every good investment, there’s hundreds of failed businesses and stocks.

None of this is meant to discouraging. The opposite. Only when you learn how to fail first, you learn how to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and be one step closer towards achieving something worth the effort.

What to Look For #3: Values and Strengths

The final and most important thing to look for is what were they’re values and strengths. What were they good at and how did they perfect those strengths? What were the core values they were taught and how did they embody them?

As you can imagine, finding out what someone is good at involves a whole lot of failing at other things. Some people were just passionate at something and developed it over the course of their entire lives. Others were just bored their strengths started as a hobby. Many used their strengths as a creative outlet towards whatever pain they went through life and worked from there. Whatever the case, it’s important to pay close attention to how they got through life practicing their abilities to the point they became so good they couldn’t be ignored.

What’s more important, however, were their values. What ideals were they taught as a child? How did they exemplify those values throughout their lives? As soon as they found success, what did they do to establish they’re legacy? We all like stories of how someone rose from rags to riches, but without values such as compassion or generosity or charity, that same person gets consumed by their ego and they’ll lose those riches faster than they earned it. We all want to achieve our dreams, get rich, get famous, chase those likes and comments, but you need values in order to maintain that success and not let our own worst impulses consume us.

We all have role models in our lives, and while many of them are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, we use their lives as a compass for our own. But too many of us are fooled by randomness, look only at the successes and not the failures, procrastinate, focus only on what we don’t have and fixate on convenient narratives. To find success in our own lives, we need look past that. We need to look at the habits and routines, the failures and shortcomings, and the strengths and values in order to find the right path towards life.

My Experience with Audiobooks

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For the first time in my life, I tried out listening to audiobooks. I managed to finish an entire audio recording of a James Baldwin novel, tried out different genres, switched between fiction and nonfiction, and listened to some audio series exclusive to Audible.

And you know what, I enjoy it.

Listening to an audiobook is a different experience compared to reading books in print and through electronic devices. They are indeed a time investment and require some active listening and testing out different things such as switching listening speeds or context switching much like reading an actual book. I’ve listened to audiobooks while doing laundry, walking at the park, and resting after work. I’ve alternated between listening during the day and listening before sleep.

I also read a print book and listened to an audiobook simultaneously. What I noticed is that I read at a much faster pace than a lot of people. While I was able adjust the speed to match the narrator’s speed, there were times where I felt that the reading was slow for me, especially the parts that weren’t all that important to me. I experimented with different speeds, ranging from slower to higher speeds, and I felt comfortable with 1.1-1.2 speed when read and listen at the same time. Feel free to adjust the speeds to your liking. If you don’t know what your reading speed is, take this test.

I enjoy the usage of tone and accents for the different characters, how certain words and phrases are supposed to be pronounced (especially foreign words), and when onomatopoeias sound like actual sounds. It enhances the book and turns it into an audio series. In one book, its dark, dramatic, and foreboding, And in another, its bawdy, dirty, and plain hilarious. A great audiobook turns an already great book into an audio series you can listen to while you do the laundry, drive the car, or when you feel too tired to read the print book.

I’m still fairly new to the world of audiobooks and there are a lot of new habits I want to try such as listening to the audiobook of a book I already listened to and try out different lengths of audiobooks. But I enjoy the world of audiobooks and I will stick with the medium for awhile.

Reading Habits and Reading Tips

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In the span of January, I have finished a literary classic in one day, a dense fantasy novel, a self-help book on habit formation, a novel on chess that was turned into a Netflix series, and a book that tells the fascinating history and science about the mundane act of breathing. And these are not even all of the books I’m currently reading.

Reading books is one of those activities that should be a priority for everyone. It may seem difficult to read books in the modern age because there are so many things chasing our attention these days. But once you make it a habit, it is an incredibly rewarding experience. Reading has too many advantages. Reading literary fiction makes you more empathetic and allows you to experience the lives of characters and worlds different from yours. Reading nonfiction increases and enhances your knowledge of the world. Reading keeps your brain healthy and protects you from Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative illnesses. I have put reading as a high priority habit and I make it a goal this year to read more books. When it comes to reading more, I have established these habits, some I have employed for a while and some that I have employed relatively recently. I hope you find these reading habits helpful when it comes to you, especially in a noisy and distracted world.

Ask Why You Want to Read in the First Place

When it comes to reading more books, ask yourself why you want to read more in the first place. I have already listed above the advantages of reading more books, but what kind of reader do you want to be?

While I’ve always identified as a reader young in my life, when it came to non-assigned school books in high school and college, I have always been a big fantasy fan, mostly Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons novels. Last year, during the pandemic, I started to become a “self-help tourist,” someone who read self-help titles, because I wanted to focus on improving myself because what else could I do at home? A lot of the titles I read in 2020 were nonfiction titles, more than I’ve ever read in a normal basis. I consider myself an average reader, but I know I can read more. I’m focusing a lot more on philosophy, science, and a bunch of other genres that don’t involve fantasy. I still read fantasy every now and again, but I’m ready to read other books.

When it comes to reading, read whatever the hell you want. Love sci-fi and fantasy? Read em. Watched that steamy romance series on Netflix and want to continue the series in novel form? Go on ahead. Prefer comics and manga? Read those if you want. Read the books you want to read and enjoy them as entertainment. Use them as a foundation that way when you read the literary classics, the dense and philosophical, and the long and challenging, your brain will be ready take them on because you know how to enjoy reading.

Likewise, if you enjoy the deep and philosophical, the long and the dense, then that’s great. You’re interested in challenging your brain and your preconceived notions of the world. It’s a great basis for living a deep, satisfying, intellectual life. Once you adopt the identity of a reader, now you actually have to start reading.

Find the Time and Place to Read

This seems like a no-brainer. But you will be surprised with the number of people that say “I don’t have enough time to read” or “I would love to, but I’m too busy.” Saying that you don’t have the time and place to read is like saying you don’t have the time and place to exercise your body. Much like how you shouldn’t neglect your body, you shouldn’t neglect your brain.

When it comes to reading, you first need to look at your environment. How difficult or easy is it to read a book in my environment, physically or digitally? Prime your environment when it comes to where you want to read. In my room, I always place a stack of books where my eyes can obviously see it. When it comes to work, I always look for places for where I can read books in peace. Experiment with the different places you can read books and make sure you reduce the friction when it comes to where you read. The most convenient times when it comes to reading for most people are either when you wake up, during lunch break or at night before you sleep. Where I work at, I always read after lunch in one of the dorms. However, there are times where the clients that I work with tend to be loud and disruptive. When that happens, I decide to read at home quietly and uninterrupted in rooms that I associate with reading, mainly my room or in the living room. When it comes to digital, I simply make reading apps more apparent in the home screen of my phone and make reading sites more easily clickable when I open my web browser.

Establish How Much You’re Going to Read Each Day

If you’re just starting to build a reading habit, the most important thing is to just show up and read, even if it’s just one. One page read is still more than what you’ve read previously. If you try to read too much too quickly and read a book that is way above your skill level, then you’re more likely to fail. You don’t want an elementary school-level kid read War and Peace in just one sitting? Figure out your skill level for reading and read as much as you can, even if it’s just one page.

A habit that has worked for me is to read at least two chapters or 20 pages of a book per day. It’s a habit that I’ve been able to maintain and I’ve managed to complete books in the span of a week. I’m not perfect with this habit, though. There are days where I’ve been distracted either due to national events or personal life stuff. But even when I miss a day, I always make sure I rebound and continue this reading habit. Nobody is perfect and you shouldn’t be too hard for yourself. What you need to do when you establish your reading habit is to associate your reading with a certain time and place and just show up to read whatever many pages you want to be read. It’s that simple.

My reading goals and steps to get there. Thanks to Mark Manson for the idea.

Don’t Just Read Whatever Everyone’s Reading

As tempting as it is, don’t just read whatever books everyone is reading at the moment. We’re a social species, so it’s only natural to pick and read books everyone’s reading because we want to fit in and be part of the discussion, so to speak. But you don’t want to just pick up best-sellers from Amazon or on the NYTimes list or whatever. You want the knowledge or experience from the books you’re reading to be rare and valuable. Another reason is that you want to be unique, original, independent thinker. You can’t do that if you just read the same books everyone reads.

To quote Haruki Murakami, “”If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Read Old Books

Related to the previous tip, while it’s incredibly tempting to read the newest, latest book everyone’s been reading, readers should also pick up older books, specifically ones that are older than ten years ago. Why? Because bad or mediocre books (and a lot of ephemeral media for that matter) fade away from public consciousness and are straight up forgotten. Any book that is older than ten years and is still widely read means that the ideas of that book have lasting power.

There is actually a name for this phenomenon: the Lindy Effect. The Lindy Effect is where the older a non-perishable item (ideas, music, and especially books) is, the more likely it will be around in the future. It’s the reason why books as old as human civilization like the Odyssey or Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are still widely read and will continue to be for future generations. It’s the reason why the Great Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn are still taught in high school classrooms. It’s the reason why Pride and Prejudice and War and Peace are beloved by literary critics to this day.

Note I have nothing against reading newer books, I like being introduced to new ideas or old ideas repackaged in a modern context. But if you want to read books filled with timeless ideas and wisdom, then you should read the classics. To make this easier, here’s a tip: alternate between reading one book that is new and reading one book that is at least older than ten years. If you can’t do that, then read at least read one old book per three new ones.

If You Just Want the Main Idea of a Book, Listen a Podcast or Read a Blog

You might be asking “wait, I thought you want me to read more books?” Well yes, but there’s a whole ton of books out there in the world and there’s only so much time you can read them. And that’s not getting into excess amount of content, entertainment, and information options out there. Chances are, you’re not going to read all of the books out there in the world.

To make things simpler when it comes searching for your next book, if there’s an idea that interests but you don’t want to spend your time reading an entire book on the subject, then just listen to a podcast episode, TED Talk or Talks at Google about said subject. Or read a blog post about said subject. Psyche has a lot of great guides that are basically step-by-step blog post adaptations of books. If the subject interests you enough and you want to know more, read the book!

I’ve encountered books where the main idea can be easily summarized in a few pages and the rest of the book are just a bunch of anecdotes and studies that basically restate the main idea over and over again. They tend to be least favorite books to read and I tend to quit them more easily. If a book can be easily summarized in a few sentences, they aren’t worth reading.

Remember that time is the most precious resource out there. You don’t to waste them reading books you don’t like or books that can be easily summarized. If you just want the main idea, blog posts and podcasts can do the job for you.

A Note on Audiobooks

I cannot end this blog post without talking about audiobooks. There are obviously advantages to audiobooks such as the fact you could listen to them while driving or any other kind of work and the fact spoken word can feel like a different experience than reading something from a page.

Look out for a future blog post where I talk about audiobooks. I’ll do some experimentation when it comes to establishing audiobook habits in February. One advice I can give is that you should switch between audiobook and written book, that way you can get a good feel of how much of a different experience it is to switch between the different forms of books.

Conclusion

In the era of constant busyness and distraction, reading is more important now than it has ever been. It can feel daunting to find the time to read but once you make it a habit and actually enjoy reading, the rewards are immeasurable and priceless. There have been times where I read a particular section in a book and I feel roundhouse kicked in the head by the mind-blowing ideas I have read.

Reading is a priority habit that anyone can accomplish. While I do enjoy the entertainment and escapism of film, television, and video games, there is something about reading that when you read one book about one idea and you find another book that reinforces that idea or contradicts and critiques another, it can feel like mental jiu-jitsu. Reading is key to becoming a clear and independent thinker, and that’s a gift in this day and age.

Finally, I want to give a huge shout-out to Psyche, James Clear, Naval Ravikant, Andrew Kirby, Mark Manson, and Cal Newport for being the inspiration of helping me give better, practical tips on how to be a better reader. Check out their content if you want more tips on reading more.

After One Week, What Did I Learn From My Week-Long Break?

After my week-long break from non-essential tech, what did I learn? Did my week-long break during the final days of 2020 made me learn anything? Did I gain anything? Here’s what I learned.

1.Technology is Unavoidable- And In Many Ways Beneficial

Even if you take out the tech that you consider unessential (social media, streaming sites, video games, television, etc.), you cannot get rid of technology outright in your life. And you know what, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I was able to use my phone to make contact with faraway family members, look up stuff such as whether certain foods and recipes are healthy enough, learn a language and listen to music through radio, which is unavoidable when you drive or go somewhere.

While I felt the benefits of not using certain tech (more on that later), I did feel the hindrances as well. I managed to do plenty of drawings during the pandemic and even managed to finish my sketchbook in just one year, which has never happened to me, and I’ve been drawing for a long time now. When it comes to drawing ideas, I look up Pinterest and search for ideas there. For the entire week, however, I forced myself to take different drawing ideas through other ways. I mainly drew inspiration from my own home or through my own imagination. It was a different way to be creative and I’m glad I challenged myself through, but I still think the internet is a great place to find inspiration and express yourself creatively. Don’t expect me to use Instagram anytime soon, however.

2.A Chance to be Alone With Your Own Thoughts

I’m genuinely convinced that being bored is a lost art. There were many times where I just laid down and just examined the contents of my thoughts. It’s a practice that can be foreign to people who spend too much time alone. I think it’s a necessary practice to have periods of time where you have zero input from anything online and just examine both your thoughts and the environment around you.

When I did my extra work hours after the holidays, one of my tasks was to act as gatekeeper. I spent many hours doing absolutely nothing and I spent very little time on my phone because I wanted to break the habit of looking at my phone constantly during work. It was difficult and unpleasant at first, but after awhile I gained valuable insight. I was able to observe the little details of the environment I was working on. I felt the difference between the cold winter air and warming sun on my skin, I observed the little grass roots growing near the bushes, the soft crackling of the leaves as I paced around every few moments. I felt like I was in the middle of Robert Frost poem and I can’t believe I missed some of these details at a place I’ve been going to work at for the last few months.

When it comes to my thinking at home, I realized how many thoughts I had in my head, ranging from personal worries to more trivial and insignificant ideas, such as “what I was missing online.” I realized that the only moment, the thing that exists is the moments that are happening now. I was able to be more conscious about the thoughts I generated in my head and have a lot more control over both the thoughts I had in my brain and what I’m actually competent at.

3.More Time For Reading

One of my priorities during my week-long break is reading books. I’ve managed to read 13 books ever since the pandemic hit stateside. Not bad, but I know I can increase the number of books completed by a good chunk. During my break I tested out different habits when it comes to reading. On the first day of the year, I read and finished the Great Gatsby, a book I read a long time ago back in high school, in one sitting. It took me about two hours, the average length of a full length movie, in order to finish. And I fully enjoyed reading the book for its great prose, tragic, well-written characters, and fully realized 1920s New York setting. Reading an old book is a good test to see how timeless it is.

I’ve also been mixing up my reading and switching between novels that are the average length and a fantasy novel that take a longtime to read and I always make it a habit to read somewhere around two-four chapters per day and it’s a habit that has worked for me. The break has definitely allowed me to read a lot more and reading is going to be an incredibly big priority for me in 2021.

4.Re-establishing My Relationship to Tech

I mentioned in a previous blog post that when it comes to tech you have to think about your values and how the tech you use maximizes those values. You want your technology to serve you and not the other way around. You don’t want to be the product to the systems you develop.

I spent a lot of time during the last week of the year thinking about my habits, what habits are good for me and what habits are bad and how to maximize those good habits and reduce, if not eliminate, the bad ones. I found that during the first days of my break, it revealed that I had information cravings. What that means is that I just wanted to know things, often for the sake of knowing. Much like how eating a lot of of food doesn’t make you healthy, knowing a lot of things doesn’t make you any smarter. The easiest fix for this is not just to cut down on the information you consume, but to find better ways to be informed. I’ve found that books are the best solution to this, though longform articles and podcasts work too.

The break has also helped me reestablish my relationship with entertainment as well. Your entertainment should also be on the longform as well. Examples include albums for music and documentaries for movies. I also feel like I can schedule them at night since there the best time for me after work. As you can tell, my (developing) philosophy when it comes to technology is all about maximizing your values and not just using tech all willy-nilly.

Conclusion

In future blog posts in the new year, I will give you posts on how to ensure your tech habits serve you, your family and community. I gained a lot of insight during my weeklong break. The cheat day was very beneficial and helped me reexamine how I use tech and how to use it in my day-to-day schedule. I hope you reexamine how you use your technology for the better. Happy New Year!

My Week-Long Excursion From Non-Essential Tech

Taking a Break from Technology | Ottawa Therapist

Starting the day after Christmas, December 26, 2020, I will have a 7-day week long break from nonessential tech.

Look, I know a lot of you had a rough year. You probably spent too much online and on your phone, on social media. I stopped using certain sites like Twitter and Facebook a few years ago. I have no regrets quitting, but even the things I’ve learned during the early months of quarantine was that I needed to reestablish my relationship with technology and entertainment. I found some blogs and podcasts, took their advice, and I feel like I’ve improved my well-being after applying it to myself.

But I want to take it a step further. I want to take the monastic approach and spend an entire week with no tech that isn’t essential to my job or certain parts of my life. I’ll still have my phone on to take calls, I’ll still read and send text messages if I need to, I’ll still look through emails and reply, I’ll still listen to music and podcasts, and I’ll still use my laptop and/or phone as a way to read books if I have to. I’ll still use Youtube for yoga and exercise videos. If I have to use the internet it to get recipes, look for directions, or for emergencies, I’ll use it.

But that’s the limit of how I’ll use it during that week. I won’t check out online news. I won’t go to Youtube, Twitch, Reddit, or any other sites for my free time. I won’t use any of the streaming services like Netflix. And I won’t surf online and randomly search stuff out of random curiosity. That seems to be my Achille’s heel.

I will however have cheat day on New Year’s Eve where I’ll play video games. Much like how cheat days for dieting have shown to work when cutting down on certain foods, I will have a cheat day when it comes to New Year’s Eve for video games. But only for video games, not for any other types of tech.

To be clear, I am not doing this to punish myself. The opposite, I’m doing this to as a way to gain a better understanding of myself and look for ways to improve myself inward. I can’t do that if I’m constantly distracted and bombarded with too much information.

I’ve already figured out ways I can make the most of that week. I can do a whole lot more reading. I can write a lot more. I can test myself and meditate for longer periods of time. I can do a whole lot more art and express myself creatively.

But more importantly, I want to think for myself and have no other inputs from other minds. I feel that’s more important than ever to stop mindlessly following the rabble and just be alone with your thoughts and think for yourself. There are stories of people who managed to learn how to be alone and gain a whole lot more insight towards themselves. Matthieu Ricard spent many years in the remote areas of the Himalayas learning how to be alone and he’s considered the happiest man in the world. If he can do it, anyone do it.

If anyone wants to join me, feel free. But this will be an interesting test for me. Somewhere after January 2, 2021, I will write up a follow-up blog post describing what I’ve learning through my week-long excursion into solitude. I hope I can give you some great insights.

What I’ve Learned From Working With Kids

My apologies for being gone for so long. I have been, among other things, working as a behavioral coach for kids with serious emotional issues for about three months. I’ve been doing the standard safety practices (washing hands for 20 seconds, hand sanitizer, six feet apart, face mask) and let me tell you, I’ve learned plenty about what it’s like working with kids. Without going too much into detail for privacy reasons, their issues tend to vary between anxiety problems to having issues handling their emotions and lacking in emotional maturity. This is the perfect job for me since emotional maturity is an important skill in the real world.

Despite the challenges with the kids and the current conditions at the time of this writing (where I’m at, they have installed a curfew until late December), not only am I doing fine, I’m more than that. I feel incredibly happy with where I’m at and I managed to ride the pandemic like the wind. Okay, that was a pretty weird metaphor. But despite the challenges, I’m actually at a better position in life than I was when the pandemic started hit stateside.

Do you have challenges working with emotionally challenged kids during the pandemic? Are you or will you become start at an entry-level position that involves that type of work? I can give you some tips on how to work well with kids, especially those in need of emotional guidance. This is what I can tell you that can help both the kids and your sanity.

The Logical and Critical Thinking of the Kids’ Brains Are Underdeveloped

During my online training for my job, one of the things I learned is that while the brains of the kids and teens are developing, their ability to think logically and critically won’t be fully developed until around 25 years old. What that means is that trying to reason with them will be a difficult task. While it is important to have teens to develop their abilities to use logic, reasoning, and critical thinking, do not expect them to follow your commands using logic alone.

The kids’ brains are also subjected to various distractions and lack of focus. In an increasingly noisy and distracted world, this has become more apparent. I also notice how easy it is to prime the minds of the kids through advertising jingles and products. They also find it incredibly difficult to sit still alone doing nothing for 20 minutes.

When working with these kids, know what you’re getting into. These are not adults that happen to be slightly smaller, like the ancient world believed they were. Their brains work very differently from the average adult, and you need to approach them from that angle. These kids are not ready for adulthood just yet.

Creative Activities Are Effective

While the logic and critical thinking skills of the kids I work with are lacking, the creative and artistic sides of their brains work pretty well. In fact, some of the kids show promising talent with their art. Although not all the kids share equal enthusiasm when it comes to artistic expression, when they put their minds to it, they can achieve great results.

The artistic mediums they use vary. Their favorites tend to be Perler bead art, paintings ranging from standard canvasses to rocks, and drawings ranging from regular pencils to oil pastels. We always schedule the art breaks before they start classwork and in the afternoon after they’re all caught up with assignments. It works incredibly well when it comes to their health and well-being.

This should be something that should not only be encouraged for the students, but the staff should do as well. You don’t have to be Da Vinci or Picasso to be an artist. You just need to play alongside with the kids and contribute something artistic along with them. I have never played with bead art in my childhood or any point of my life. But after seeing some of their creations, I tagged along and made some bead art of my own. I’m still a beginner, but the careful tweezing of the beads and the careful assembling of them in a tray is a calming experience. I never would’ve gotten into it if it weren’t for clients and staff I work with.

Physical Activities Are a Must

As we’ve seen from numerous research studies, the key to a healthy mind is a healthy body. Therefore, physical activity should be considered essential to the health and well-being of kids, especially those with emotional and mental health issues.

While weather conditions will vary, we always do our best when it comes to scheduling times where we do physical activities. The physical activities can range from wiffle ball, to basketball, to frisbee, to volleyball, and many other sports. The good thing about the kids that I work with is that they have a lot of pent-up energy and enthusiasm when it comes to playing sports. It is fantastic that they have the willingness and energy to play sports and be physically active. At least they’re not the type of kids who do nothing but watch TV and spend too much time online. It’s essential kids and teens get the necessary time and energy needed to exercise and engage physically, since it’s essential for both the body and the mind.

The staff should also be engaged physically as well. They should look over the kids when they play, enforce the rules of the game they’re playing, and should act as scorekeepers and coaches. And if they invite you to play, play with them. It’s a time to bond with the kids and it will also help you better engage and understand the kids.

With that said, there are times where the kids will be too energetic and be too aggressive when they play. As will be explained in the next section, there will be times where you have to disengage and say no.

Learn When to Say No

There was a time where I played volleyball with one of the teens. I was never good at it when I was a teen myself, but I still played among the demands from who I work with. She was incredibly good at it, but the way she spiked and served the ball was pretty aggressive. At a certain point, the playing turned into rough-housing and I knew that we had to stop. She wanted to continue but I refused. She ended up hating me for the rest of the day and the day after as well.

There will be times where you have to say no. In a previous blog post, I detailed all the ways how you can say no. When working specifically with these kids, however, the big priority is all about de-escalating the situation. If the physical activities end up being too aggressive and escalate to the point where someone gets hurt, then it’s time to say no. If they end up asking for something they want and you don’t feel they don’t deserve it, it’s a good idea to hold off for now. If they’re spend too much time on their break and not doing the classwork they’re supposed to, it’s time to redirect them and return focus back to class work.

They will refuse, they will get angry, and they will show animosity towards you, but it’s ultimately for their own good. You can’t let their feelings get in the way when it comes to raising them. You have to show them discipline and you can’t always play nice with them. This is where you have to say no.

Be On Your Best Attitude

The kids you’ll work with will have problems with emotional regulation. They will have problems with getting along with adults. They will have problems with getting along with their peers. The point is, they are going to have issues when it comes to their attitude.

Don’t let their bad attitude affect your attitude towards them.

When you come to work, you need to have a level of professionalism. Cynicism and pessimism can spread just as badly as a virus, and it’s just as harmful. There have been days where the kids end up having a grump morning and that can easily snowball into a bad day. That will inevitably affect how you work as well. You cannot let their dark clouds invade your peace of mind.

Your mind needs to have rationalization, it needs optimism, and it needs resilience when it comes to work. I recommend being on your best attitude when it comes to working with them. Approach them with a level of sympathy, but don’t be so embroiled by their personal problems unless you’re a therapist. Along with social distancing, keep an emotional distancing from their personal life unless you feel that they will be a threat to themselves or others. In that case, have emergency contacts at the ready.

In my experience so far, however, the kids I work with don’t show signs of that. I do see potential with the kids that I work with. They just have problems with emotional maturity, focus and motivation. When it comes to attitude, always have a plan but keep an open mind.

Have a Routine

Last section, I mentioned how the kids can have bad starts to their mornings. For you, that means you need to start having routines when it comes to your work week. You should plan out your day in terms of time blocks.

Deep Habits: Three Recent Daily Plans - Study Hacks - Cal ...
An example of time blocking

For me, I currently use the Time Block Planner by computer science professor, Cal Newport. I use it plan out what tasks I will be doing throughout my day. I plan the classroom activities in the beginning of class, the morning classes the rest of the morning, lunch break at noon, PE at the afternoons, and helping with leftover assignments and activities at the end of the school day. If something happens at work and I get knocked off schedule, then I simply update it whenever I get the chance.

The main reason I use the Time Block Planner, however, is it keep track of my daily metrics. There’s a section in the planner that you can use to keep track of progress towards a skill that you want to develop. I use it to keep track of the number of conversations I have at work, both with the students and with coworkers. The daily metrics section can be used to keep track of whatever skill you want to develop and cultivate, such as how many words written in a session, or time spent exercising. There’s a lot you can do with the Time Block Planner.

You shouldn’t just plan what you will be doing at work, however. You should also cultivate a morning routine and figure out what to do after work.

For mornings, it is very important to at least have 7 hours of sleep. Not only will you be less effective at your job if you sleep less than 7 hours, it can actually be fatal if you sleep less than the recommended hours. Since morning routines can be different for everyone, I’ll give you what I do every morning. I wake up at around 5:45 AM. I take a shower, I eat breakfast, and I turn on my phone to check up on my emails to see if there’s anything interesting on it. And as a general rule of thumb, I do not have any social media on phone and I do not turn on my laptop in the mornings. After that, I leave home and go to work, where my mind switches to work mode.

When I’m done at work, I go to my Time Block Planner and I note that my shutdown is complete. What that means is that work is over and my mind switches from work mode to home life mode. It’s important that you switch your mode of thinking when you end work, especially in this line of work. You need to make your work life and home life separate entities. Things don’t end well if you don’t. When your done at work, you need to find high quality leisure activities to restore your well-being after work. Once again, it varies. You can read a book, journal, meditate, listen to music or podcasts, or watch the dozens of shows and programs from the dozens or so streaming services out there. More information if you click here. Yes, I linked the same blog post twice. I’m shameless.

Once you find a routine, it will soon develop into a habit and your brain runs on autopilot. It’ll take awhile before it clicks. Trust me, it took me weeks to figure out the right morning routine. But you’ll feel the benefits as soon as it becomes a part of your work week.

Every Little Gesture and Compliment Counts

One of the most rewarding things about working with the kids is that when you do something small for them, such as giving them the ball during PE or just saying a simple thank you, the kids will reciprocate and say thank you back. It’s a genuinely good feeling and it reminds you why you’re working in the field in the first place.

When you give out compliments, you can’t just give them out like free samples of candy at a supermarket. You have to mean it and it has to be for things that are actually noteworthy. We don’t give out participation trophies on a silver platter. Whenever I praise one of the students, it’s because I’m genuinely impressed. I’ve seen some of the kids create impressive works of art, plow through an insane amount of class work, and hit balls across the field. When the kids put their mind to it and achieve something, it’s appropriate to give them the adequate praise.

When it comes to gestures, they don’t have to be grand or spectacular. They can be as simple as retrieving the ball during PE, playing their favorite card game with them, or listening to their favorite songs during class. If you feel like they earned it, you can fulfill their requests and they will feel immediately thankful for it. The smallest acts of kindness are the ones that make the most difference.

Be a Role Model

The final piece of advice is the one where all the other previous tips have been leading up to. As they say, be the change you want to see in the world. What that means is that, if you want emotionally-mature, focused, knowledgeable kids, you have exemplify those values yourself. The kids will never do what they tell you, but kids (and human beings in general) will learn through example and socialization.

The human brain has shown to have tremendous resilience, and despite its shortcomings and biases, the brain can find ways to heal itself through trauma. It’s especially true for the brains of children and how they experience trauma. What they need is a good environment and people willing to work for them. That’s where you come in.

If you want your kids to write well, you have to write well yourself. If you want your kids to focus and concentrate, you have to focus and concentrate yourself, especially in a world where there’s a whole of demand for attention but not a whole lot of supply. If you want your kids to be physically active, you have to be physically active yourself.

You don’t have to be perfect, or special, or anything like that. Heck, I still feel distracted on my phone every now and again at work. But, it requires a lot of practice to be good at your job. Once you become a dependable worker, you’ll be indispensable to your employers. But more importantly, you’ll be indispensable to the kids. And, after all, isn’t that the real reward when you decide to work for the kids?

Why Are You Unhappy?

During the course of your life, do you ever stop and ask yourself, “Am I happy?” If the answer is no, then ask the follow-up question, “Why am I unhappy?”

When you were a kid, you never had to ask yourself if you were happy. You simply were. You never had to worry about getting a job. You never had to worry about getting an income. You never had to worry about debt. You never had to worry about having insurance. You never had to worry about getting a girlfriend, getting married, having someone close to you die, having children, retiring, or any of the unexpected twists and turns that can (and probably will) happen. You never had to worry about anything. You were simply happy.

No matter your circumstances, go deep inside and ask why you feel sad, angry, fearful and any form of discomfort. If your unhappy because try to be overcontrolling, is it because you felt like you had no control over your own life as a child? If your unhappy because you don’t like yourself, ask, “who am I anyway?” If your unhappy because of your own thoughts, do I need to slow down and rethink my perspective?

Building happiness comes from within. You can always build it no matter the card your dealt with in life. All you have to do is ask “why am I unhappy?”

How to Live Your (Digital) Life According to Your Values

As our physical lives become more increasingly connected to our digital lives, it can be easy to get lost in the chaos and lose sight of who we are. The best way maintain our sense of selves is to identify what your values are and how to apply that to how we use the internet. More importantly, however we should use those values to help emphasize what to focus on and what not to focus.

There has never been more information in the world than there is today. In fact, there is so much of it that it’s straining our cognitive capacity and it’s hurting our ability to focus. The over-abundance of information is causing us to fall victim to the shortcomings of our brains such as confirmation bias and negativity bias. It’s creating just as many problems as it’s solving. Many of us who dwell in the screens of our smartphones on a constant basis are realizing the negative side effects of being on social media for so long.

If you want to take back your attention and go back to enjoying the digital life again, then one of the things you need to do is to take a step back and ask yourself what your values are and if your applying your values online and in social media.

Values

What are values anyway? To put things simple, they are the things that guide your life. They are the things that determine who your friends are, what you major in college, what job you take, what habits you build, and millions of decisions, large and small, that should be the guiding principle of your life.

When you make decisions according to those values, you feel contentment, satisfaction, happiness. When you make decisions against those values, you feel wronged, empty, incomplete, unhappy. When it comes to making decisions in life, you need to make a conscious effort on what your values and and whether you’re living them or not. If you don’t, the feeling of existential dread will come in, you’ll be swept into groups and individuals that will manipulate you into their bidding, and you’ll end up making bad decisions that will mess you up in the long-term.

So how do we determine your values? First, you need to be aware of the actions your taking. Whether it’s reading a book, buying something, or using your phone (a topic that will be discussed later in greater detail), everything you do is defines what kind of person you are and how you inhabit those values. For example, if I decided to dedicate my time and attention towards painting, that means I value creativity. If I choose to hold off on ordering takeout for tonight in order to save money, that means I value frugality.

When it comes to values, we need to determine what good values are and what bad values are. According to acclaimed blogger Mark Manson, good values should be evidence-based, constructive, and controllable, while bad values are emotion-based, destructive and uncontrollable. A good value is evidence-based if the value can be studied and tested in a test. A great example would be the Big 5 personality traits or the OCEAN model. OCEAN stands for openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (or in some cases emotional stability). All of the values here are measurable and the traits are built upon decades of research and they are highly trusted amongst researchers. In contrast, emotion-based values are at best not very reliable and at worst completely destructive. Speaking of which, constructive values should do good to yourself and others and they should not cause harm to you and others. And finally, your values should be something you can control because if you choose a value you can’t control, then that value will control you. A good example is social approval. While you may have some control over social approval, you do not have complete control over it. People will have wildly different opinions, there will be a ton of competition when it comes to conquering attention depending on the industry, and trends change. Chasing for social approval can lead to decreased self worth and a loss of identity if that’s the only value you go for. However, if you decide to chase community, compassion, and unity, then not only are you choosing values that you can control, you’ll gain social approval as a side effect of following those values.

If you still find it difficult to determine what your values, then use the list of common personal values to get you started. Be selective with your values and reflect if you actually live by those values. Choose about 5-10 values:

Accountability
Accuracy
Achievement
Adventurousness
Altruism
Ambition
Assertiveness
Balance
Being the best
Belonging
Boldness
Calmness
Carefulness
Challenge
Cheerfulness
Clear-mindedness
Commitment
Community
Compassion
Competitiveness
Consistency
Contentment
Continuous Improvement
Contribution
Control
Cooperation
Correctness
Courtesy
Creativity
Curiosity
Decisiveness
Democraticness
Dependability
Determination
Devoutness
Diligence
Discipline
Discretion
Diversity
Dynamism
Economy
Effectiveness
Efficiency
Elegance
Empathy
Enjoyment
Enthusiasm
Equality
Excellence
Excitement
Expertise
Exploration
Expressiveness
Fairness
Faith
Family-orientedness
Fidelity
Fitness
Fluency
Focus
Freedom
Fun
Generosity
Goodness
Grace
Growth
Happiness
Hard Work
Health
Helping Society
Holiness
Honesty
Honor
Humility
Independence
Ingenuity
Inner Harmony
Inquisitiveness
Insightfulness
Intelligence
Intellectual Status
Intuition
Joy
Justice
Leadership
Legacy
Love
Loyalty
Making a difference
Mastery
Merit
Obedience
Openness
Order
Originality
Patriotism
Perfection
Piety
Positivity
Practicality
Preparedness
Professionalism
Prudence
Quality-orientation
Reliability
Resourcefulness
Restraint
Results-oriented
Rigor
Security
Self-actualization
Self-control
Selflessness
Self-reliance
Sensitivity
Serenity
Service
Shrewdness
Simplicity
Soundness
Speed
Spontaneity
Stability
Strategic
Strength
Structure
Success
Support
Teamwork
Temperance
Thankfulness
Thoroughness
Thoughtfulness
Timeliness
Tolerance
Traditionalism
Trustworthiness
Truth-seeking
Understanding
Uniqueness
Unity
Usefulness
Vision
Vitality
Note: this is by no means exhaustive list. If you need more help go to https://www.valuescentre.com/

After choosing, write down your top values in no particular order and make sure you reaffirm these are the values you live for. When you’re done, it’s time to apply these values to your digital life and remove the rest that does not serve you.

Tip #1: Ask Yourself, “Who are my Real Friends?”

When you first signed up to these social media services, the main reason you signed up for them is no doubt because you wanted to connect to friends and family. While that sounds all well and good, be and honest ask yourself, “Do I actually have meaningful and purposeful interaction with these people?” If you actually look up your friends list, chances are you’ll find people you used to hang out with during high school or college because of the environment you grew up with. You’ll see aunts, uncles and cousins that you only see on special occasions but otherwise don’t really hang out with. If you have those people on your friends list and you don’t interact with them on a consistent, meaningful basis, then maybe it’s time to cull them from the list.

Another approach is to look at the people you follow and ask yourself if those people are adding value to my life and if these are helping me grow as a person. Do these help me overcome my anxieties and worries or are they making my problems worse? If the answer to both of those questions are not yes, then it’s time unfollow them. It seems harsh, it’s your digital health we’re talking about and you need to start living up to those values, so be ruthless.

Tip #2: Go Longform

In the age of the always-connected, 24/7 media world, it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on. If you’ve been on social media long enough, you’ve no doubt had information overload at some point. Too often, when people write news articles and post them on social media, the intention is less to do with accuracy, clarity, and being informative, and more to do with pushing people’s buttons on a particular issue that’s framed as important but actually affects very little people. These help fuel harmful cycles of emotional addiction and are harmful to both our mental health and online discourse.

If you want to stay informed without feeling overwhelmed is simple. The best way to do this is to unfollow, unsubscribe, and limit the amount of information you get from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc. Go completely merciless and unfollow all outlets that post articles that feels like it was written in just 5-minutes.

After you’re done, switch to longform content. That includes podcasts, books, and longform reads that at least have 1,500 words and take a good portion of your time to read. There’s many reasons why this works regardless of what your values are. One is because it forces you to engage with the content your reading. Reading/listening to this type of content requires your brain to focus and think critically and deeply with the subject matter. Secondly, it forces you to slow down and consolidate what is being said. Reading a tweet can enter your head in one ear and go out the other. Reading a book challenges your brain and requires cognitive fitness. And finally, it helps with revaluating with what your values are. For example, if I value faith, you have to ask yourself, “what is faith?” By engaging in in-depth articles on devout monks, listening to extensive interviews on people who’ve followed their religious doctrine, and reading books on how different schools of thought interpret the meaning of the holy text, you’ll have a better idea of what it means to have faith.

Tip #3: High Quality Leisure

Another reason why most of us spend time online is because of entertainment. We’re all familiar with the emojis, the likes, the comments, and the ubiquitous cat memes.

Pwease don’t weeve me

This doesn’t seem like a problem at first. But when you go through Youtube rabbit holes, scroll through random subreddits, and look up bizarre GIFs and memes on Imgur, only to realize you’ve wasted precious hours of time when you could be doing something more productive, then that becomes a problem.

Much like you should take the slow and longform approach of consuming journalism, you should do the same when it comes to sports and entertainment. Don’t just watch highlights of the best basketball plays, read a biography or watch a documentary of your favorite player. Don’t just play a freemium farm game on your phone or a mobile gacha RPG, play the full length, in-depth game that requires time and strategy to beat. Watched a 5-minute video on a philosopher and you want to know more about the ideas and theories behind that system of belief? Read the philosophical text yourself and listen to a podcast about the philosopher’s rationale and how it relates to modern living.

If you want to eliminate distractions and bad habits, you need to replace them with habits that not only occupy your time and attention, but also enhance your well-being and the well-being of others. Find hobbies and activities that bring joy to you and to others. For example, if you have a green thumb and want to do something environmentally-friendly, then cultivate a garden. Do research into different plants and crops, find what is the best season to grow them and the best soil to use. Gardening takes time and effort to do, but the results are fantastic when it comes to yourself, your neighbors, your community, and the earth as a whole.

And that’s another thing. If you have a hobby you enjoy such as crafting, writing, or painting then find a community that you know will support your high-quality leisure activities. There are many vibrant online communities that can help support and improve your endeavors. Find the community that is right for you and ensure they will hold you accountable for your hobby.

Tip #4: Time and Place

You know what to do, now is the time to plan out when you’ll implement these activities. When scheduling, you need to block out avoidable distractions (i.e. your phone) when your out at work, in school, or whatever activity. Since this will vary depending out what type of work you do, I’ll give out how I schedule my work to show you an example of what should be done.

  • I wake up, shower, eat breakfast and check my phone for updates on my email and social media for about 30 minutes before I start working.
  • By the time I get to work, I time block myself at my work for the entire shift until lunch. That means I do not look at my phone and I turn off most notifications and text messages.
  • After lunch, I have an hourlong break. I spend that hour either interacting with staff, clients, or reading of some kind.
  • I continue doing uninterrupted work until 3 pm, where I go home.
  • I check my emails three times: one in the early morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night. Admittedly, this is a work in progress.
  • Finally, I spend the rest of the late afternoon/evening doing some kind of downtime activity. Depending on the night, it can reading, writing, gaming, streaming, drawing or any combination of those activities.

Your work life should looking something similar to this. It should have some level of planning and scheduling involved, as well as some open space in case something goes wrong. Feel free to experiment to see what works for you.

Final Tip: You Are What You Consume

Every decision you make online is a reflection of your character and your attitudes towards life. Every app you have on your phone and how much you spend time on it is reflection of what you value the most. Every time you follow a person on Twitter, every time you post a picture on Instagram, every time you make a comment Facebook, and every time you like and favorite a video on Youtube, it’s an accumulation of how you spend your life online. Heck, every time you use your phone, it’s a reflection of your personality.

Every action you make online reveals a deeper psychological drive within yourself. Whenever you follow your favorite streamer on Twitch, it reflects a deeper need to connect and follow a person you admire, despite never meeting them in-person. If you complain a lot on social media, then you are inadvertently training your brain to focus only on the negative and complain a lot. If you habitually look your phone up again and again just to see the latest updates with your friends and events, then it reflects deeper issues with anxiety.

Whenever you’re online, you must always be mindful of whatever activities you choose to do and what type of content you consume. You are what you think and you are what you consume. Your values should decide not only what you consume online, but also decide how you spend your digital life. Sometimes, less is more.

Building a strong mindset

Having a strong mindset is key when it comes to getting a job, managing stress, developing relationships, and overall success and happiness. A mindset is a set of attitudes that influence how we think about our talents and abilities. A mindset can dramatically shape how we view ourselves and how we view our lives. A strong mindset is needed when it comes tackling life’s biggest challenges, especially the ones now, and it can help develop resilience and strength in ourselves. Before discussing how to build a strong mindset, we need to talk about the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, spent a multitude of her research on the idea of a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is where we assume that our character, intelligence, talents, and abilities are static. They do not change overtime. They do not grow overtime. What we are born with is what we got. In contrast, a growth mindset is where we assume that our character, intelligence, and talents grow are dynamic. They grow and change overtime and with enough teaching, practice and effort, you can succeed in anything.

Dweck spent two decades researching the topic and it was tested on both children and adults. The findings can be summed up:

  • A fixed mindset believes intelligence is static, leads to a desire to look smart, and therefore a tendency to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as without benefit, ignore constructive negative feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result. they achieve less than their full potential.
  • A growth mindset believes intelligence can be developed, leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to embrace challenges, stand back up despite setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find things to learn from others who have succeeded. As a result they reach a seemingly ever-higher levels of achievement.

How you view yourself is very important not just with you succeed in life, but how you deal with challenges, how you deal with failure, how you view yourself among others, how much effort you put in what you’re working on, and how much you utilize your potential. A strong mindset doesn’t mean mindless positivity or ignoring your problems, it means tackling issues head-on and having a series of attitudes that can help face the challenges of life.

So how do you develop a strong mindset? How do you develop a series of attitudes meant to encourage growth and how do you let go of a weak mindset that hinders our progress and leave you living a less than satisfying life? There are many steps that can help foster a strong mindset.

Thinking Empty Thought Clip Art at Clker.com - vector clip ...

The very first step is to acknowledge the thoughts inside your mind. Try this exercise. Close your eyes and observe the thoughts inside your mind for thirty seconds.

Ready…

Set…

Go…

Did you notice the voice inside your head? Did you also notice that most of the thoughts you had were negative? If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. It has been found that about 75% of the thoughts that the adult human brain has are negative. Our brains was never designed to make you happy. Our brains were designed to protect us and keep us safe. Our brains can do amazing things such as make us feel the senses, perform motor tasks, manage attention, and so much more. In fact, researchers have noted the remarkable plasticity the brain has in the last few decades. However, the brain should not be able to dictate to control everything, especially not your thoughts.

The one thing you have to remember is that you, yes, YOU, are the boss, not your brain. Go against Descartes’s famous statement and remember, I am, therefore my brain thinks.

In order to have a strong mindset, you must first realize that you have full control of your thoughts. If you want to control your thoughts, you first need to observe the thoughts in your head. Don’t resist them-just observe them and let them go. You don’t have to give your thoughts any power unless you give them power. Keep doing this and as soon as master you master, your brain will run out of topics to bring up. Once that happens, your mind will be at ease and you can spend your time and management on more productive things.

Finding something you enjoy doing

One of the misconceptions we have in the modern world is that we need to focus on work only and that work has to be arduous and grey and we need to put all the activities and hobbies we used to enjoy doing away when we become adults.

That can’t be further from the truth. We need to find work that gives us meaning and happiness. In fact, happy workers are 12% more productive at work. Don’t just find work. Find work based on your interests and your skills. The best way to do that is to get into a hobby.

Find hobbies you can get into, preferably hobbies that can help you gain new skills and test your mind. Whether it’s physical activities like weight lifting or yoga, or mental activities like crossword puzzles, chess or reading books. Even stuck at home, you can find plenty of hobbies where you can develop important skills and develop that strong mindset. Physical activities aren’t just important for your body, they’re important for your brain, especially when it comes to fighting off depression and anxiety. Mental activities, meanwhile, keep your mind in the now, they help moderate against developing future emotional problems and instability and they can eliminate unnecessary stress and strain in the brain. It’s incredibly important to train your brain and body and to develop good habits.

Manage your Attention and Focus

When you do activities you love, it’s important to have undivided attention and focus. That sounds easy at first, but in an increasingly distracted, noisy world, it can be difficult to finish your workout if you constantly have to hear your notifications go off.

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The good news is that we don’t have to be constantly distracted. There are changes we can make to build a resilient lifestyle without having to be distracted by a phone.

The first is to ask your tech is serving you and not the other way around. Do the threads and people I follow give me value and make me a better person? Or are they harming me and making me feel worse? If the answer is not the former, then it’s time to unfollow.

Get rid of news sites and apps dedicated to small form, flashy, emotionally-driven content designed to generate clicks instead of inform you. Seek out longform, challenging reads that question your views and inspire you to be curious. After cleaning house, remove apps that are redundant because you’ve done the steps above.

After this, schedule your time. Ensure you make the good habits and activities above easier to access by scheduling time for them and within reach. For example, whenever I wake up and grab a cup of coffee, I make sure I have a book right in front of me so I can have something to read in the morning. Conversely, whenever I go to sleep, I make sure I do not have a phone near my bed. I, instead, put the phone in the kitchen and leave it there to ensure that I have a good night’s sleep.

These are all very simple, easy to utilize techniques that can make big results if you stick with it. For more reading, I recommend following Cal Newport and Nir Eyal. Both of them take managing your attention seriously and have a lot of knowledge on the subject. I also recommend Mark Manson’s the Attention Diet as well.

Embrace Challenges and Setbacks

We all go through setbacks and challenges. Sometimes they’re external events, other times they’re challenges me impose ourselves. When that happens, we need to embrace the idea that we’ll all go through hardship in our lives. It’s not about living life without life without problems, but living life with meaningful problems to solve.

Super Mario Galaxy 64- Fire level and Final boss struggle ...

Think of it like a video game. Most video games (with exceptions of open-ended video games such as Sims or Animal Crossing) focus on having a goal you need to reach. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting to the end of the level to defeating a certain number of enemies before heading to the next stage. When you’re going through the level of a video game, chances are you’ll have no idea how to solve that level unless you try different ways in order pass through. In some cases, usually at the beginning of a video game, the path forward will be easy to figure out and easy to solve. The more you progress through a video game, however, the problems become more complex and you’ll have to find new, alternative ways to solve them. While it might be challenging at first, once you execute the action and find the way, not only will you have beaten the level and move on to the next stage, you’ll find happiness knowing you’ve not only moved on to the next part of the game, but you found a way to do it.

That’s not only how you should look through life, but how you should approach it. When you go through adversity, don’t try to control it. It is what it is, this is the hand we’re dealt with. What matters the most is how we view our situation, our belief in it, and how we respond to it, our actions. As noted above, you need to take control of the thoughts of our situation. Is there anything I can do it? Is it as bad as I think it is? How can I dispute it? And most importantly, how can I use this situation propel myself upward?

The most successful people out there all dealt with rejection, failure, and disappointment in life. Thomas Edison famously said he failed his way to succeed when many of his inventions were either failures or misfires, Stan Lee’s idea for Spider-Man (initially inspired by a fly) was rejected by his editor and called it “the worst idea ever,” Amelia Earhart went through serious health and financial problems before her famous Transatlantic flight. The examples are endless.

The point is, understand what you can and can’t control. Once you do, focus on the things you can control, create an action plan and propel yourself towards success. No matter what goal you set yourself, whether it’s as simple as getting good grades or losing weight or something more personally important and life-altering, embrace whatever life throws at you and ride the wind.

Build a Social Support Network

The bedrock for all of these steps is that you need to have a group of people that will help you and give you meaning and value. By that, I don’t mean just following your friends on Facebook, Twitter or any other socials. I mean spend effort to have meaningful interactions.

Even while you social distance, you still need to connect, interact, and build support with friends, family and your community. This is an important step as its key to building happiness, climbing higher in the job ladder and it builds a stronger community.

The first thing you need to do is to get out there and find people that share interests similar towards yours. It can be difficult at first. pandemic notwithstanding, but you need to make a conscious effort to make new friends or else, you won’t get any. If you need a boost, this is where self-talk comes in handy. Tell yourself “I am good at making friends,” “I can make meaningful relationships,” “I know others will like me,” or any variation of the above.

Once that happens, show up and initiate the conversation. Don’t be afraid that you might embarrass yourself and face rejection. Say hi, introduce yourself, ask for contact information, follow up on it, and schedule a hang out. Rinse and repeat.

Following the cycle can be daunting if you’re shy or out of practice, but like all good habits, it’s something you actively have to do in order to achieve long-term friendships. It’s like a performance, you have to practice if you want to get better at it. These all sound like simple things, but they can make huge strides when it comes to building the strong social support needed for strong minds. In fact all habits are small, but they can all make a huge difference in your life and the people around you.

Conclusion

As you can tell, all of these steps build on each other when it comes to building a better mind. We need a strong social support if we want be held accountable for our habits. We need a clear mind if we want to turn the tide to our favor. We need to find something we enjoy doing in order to find others that likewise do the same. All of these steps are interconnected and while they may be small actions to take, they can all make the difference in your life, especially when you do them all together. It may not be easy at first, but once you put them into practice, it can make a tremendous change to your mindset and how you approach whatever challenge you face in life. Go ahead and give them a go!

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