Featured photo by Vale Zmeykov on Unsplash
Taking back time from your own schedule.
We’re not too different from one another, you and I.
We both want the same things — to be happy, to feel useful, to make a difference in the world and enjoy our work.
Everyone has intentions to live the life described above, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
Why? Because we’re creatures of habit.
Sure, you may want to make a significant change in your life, but the way you habitually act undermines that change.
Your intentions want to get in shape, but your habits want you to eat chips.
Your intentions want you to write that book, but your habits want you to procrastinate and watch T.V.
How do you find the productivity, well-being, and creativity you want in your life? You create better habits. But it’s easier said than done.
What Everyone Gets Wrong About Habits and Rituals
You’ve been told you need to develop good habits, but how do you decide which habits to develop?
Do you want to try “x” habit because you read it in Inc Magazine? Or because Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, or Arianna Huffington does it?
I’ve fallen into the trap of copying the habits of successful people in vain, hoping their rituals would cause me to have similar success. That’s not how it works. Their rituals and habits are nothing more than useful tools to get them where they want to go.
I want you to consider developing habits and rituals to help you reach the desired end — a new career, making amazing art, better health, better relationships, etc.
The celebration of habits in and of themselves must stop because it’s useless.
Today I’m going to share some daily practices I’ve adopted, but I’m also going to share why I do them and what end I’m trying to reach by doing them.
These are things that have worked for me. If some sound of interest to you, give them a shot but remember, these are tools you can use to guide your life in the right direction, nothing more.
The Idea Machine
I learned this technique from the writer James Altucher.
Every day, I write down ten ideas. They could be about anything. James says he often writes ideas to help other people, e.g., “ten articles you should write” or “ten ideas for improving your business” and he offers these ideas to people in his network.
The ideas I come up with usually revolve around my writing. One day I’ll jot down “ten ideas for new articles” or “ten ideas for new books to write.”
Most of the ideas are bad. Some are ok. A few are good. Once and while a great one arises.
Think about it. If you write 10 ideas per day, you come up with 3,650 ideas per year. A few of those will be gems.
According to James if you don’t “flex your idea muscle” often, it will atrophy.
I adopted this practice because I want to keep my mind sharp and my writing interesting. I need to keep my writing interesting because writing is my vocation.
If you’re in a creative field, want to start a business, or want to find an easy way to connect with people and build your network, the idea machine strategy might work for you.
Yes, I am yet another person lauding the benefits of meditation.
I meditate every day. I do it because it helps me deal with my inner-critic and allows me to create unencumbered. I do yoga as well, which has the same effect while you’re in motion — an apt metaphor for life.
It doesn’t matter who you are. You have a judgemental voice whispering doubtful thoughts in your mind…constantly.
It tells you that you’re not good enough. It reminds you of “that thing” you’re dreading doing tomorrow or next week. Your inner critic can consume your thoughts to the point it interferes with your life in a major way.
The practice of meditation doesn’t help you silence that voice completely, but it helps you understand the voice for what it is — chatter. Your mind races unconsciously. When you meditate you see this process occurring and knowing how disjointed your thoughts can be helps you take them less seriously.
I also use meditation to concentrate and do deep work.
Deep work is the type of work you do in a flow state. You can’t do deep work with distractions. You must concentrate.
Deep work helps you stand out from the crowd because most people can’t stay in a concentrated state long enough to produce anything of substance.
The key to success in the modern age isn’t speed, it’s attention span.
Meditation helps me increase my attention span, and it could do the same for you.
If you need more clarity in your mind to progress in your life and do meaningful work, give meditation a shot.
Gather the World’s Greatest Wisdom
If I were to tell you that an investment of $15 would yield a $1,000, $10,000, $100,000, or $1,000,000 return, would you invest the $15?
Of course, you would. It’s a no brainer.
What if I told you an investment of $15 really could be worth $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 or $1,000,000?
One book can change your life.
The wisdom found in a book can lead to an idea for a business, a change in your process, or a shift in your perspective. All of which can lead to serious financial gain. But it isn’t just about money.
Reading (usually) lowers your ignorance. There seems to be an inverse relationship between pages read and intolerance.
I read for 30 minutes a day, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly.
Reading helps spark ideas for my writing. It also helps me gain a better understanding of the world and the people in it.
Even though technology has changed, the way we live hasn’t.
Timeless wisdom found in books written thousands of years ago still applies today. Reading to gain an understanding of the recurring patterns in history gives you insights into what’s happening now and what will happen again because history repeats itself.
Reading also helps you solves difficult problems. Read widely across different subjects, because you never know what will come in handy. A problem in your life could require a bit of persuasion psychology, an understanding of history, and biology to solve.
Using a multi-disciplinary approach — meaning you have a base level knowledge of various important subjects — helps you form “mental models” you can employ when necessary.
Express Your Thoughts With Words
Even if you don’t want to be a writer, writing daily can improve your life.
It doesn’t matter what form of writing it is either. You could try Julia Cameron’s famed morning pages, where you write 3 pages filled with stream of consciousness writing. You could write a short blog post every day like Seth Godin.
There’s something about taking what’s in your mind and putting it on a piece of paper or a document that’s cathartic and therapeutic. Sometimes the thoughts in your head swirl around incoherently. Writing forces you to articulate them in some shape or form. This gives you clarity.
If you have a problem you’re facing in the future, you can write about it to purge your worries onto the page.
If you have a big decision to make, you can write about the pros and cons to distill your thoughts.
For people who want to make writing their careers, writing every day is a necessity.
I thought I’d add that in because I know many people who read blogs wish they could write prolifically themselves.
You can build a writing career in 2017, but it involves actually writing.
If you want more creativity in your life or need an outlet to vent your feelings, try developing a writing practice.
Tune Out the World
I saved this practice for last because it’s the most important.
Throughout the day, you literally make hundreds of decisions. You have the notifications of your social media pinging your phone, the newspaper headlines you read at lunch, and the T.V. show to watch at night. You have errands to run, bills to pay, a job to do, and annoyances to deal with.
When you focus solely on the minutiae of being a human being, weeks, months, and years go by like that.
Once a day, I suggest taking time to be with yourself fully. Maybe it’s an hour, or 30 minutes, or just ten, but try to find time in your life to check-out from the everyday hustle and find your mental or spiritual home.
I get the double benefit of writing being something I love and a provider of the sanctuary.
When I write, I’m like a basketball player on the court who can’t hear the thousand screaming fans in the stands because she’s zoned in.
I don’t know what happiness is. I do know the feeling of flow, of being in the zone, of finding the inner depths of myself, is the closest I’ve come to it.
My philosophy in life? A good life provides many moments of flow.
Sometimes flow occurs naturally — in those times where you lose a sense of everything accidentally because you’re experiencing so much joy — but oftentimes it needs to be cultivated and practiced.
My life changed when I realized it wasn’t supposed to be good. Once I realized I wasn’t owed these moments, I sought them.
If flow is the means, what is the end? The end could be many things — meaning, sanity, a sense of connection with yourself you don’t feel often.
Finding your zone or center usually leads to the bi-products you want.
I know why you’re here.
You’re looking for the magic bullet. You want a “life hack” to help you get ahead.
I have bad news for you. Life can’t be hacked. It’s not a software system. It’s a combination of many real experiences.
A hammer is just a hammer. Hammers don’t draw blueprints for homes, nor do they build them. They’re just a tool used in the process of building a home.
In the search for the right habits and rituals, don’t use the idea of productivity as a crutch to feel useful. Be productive because you have something worth producing.
The habits and rituals I provided can and will help you reach your end, but find the end first.
How do you find the end?
By coming up with a rough draft for how you want your future to turn out.
You can’t know the exact answers, but you can find a direction to head in.
Once you have a vague idea where to aim, your efforts become useful and help clarify the end as you move forward.
Doing “just to do” leaves you chasing your own tail