A 5-Step Routine to Rewire Your Brain As You Sleep

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If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you aren’t feeling 100 percent. Maybe you got down on yourself today. Maybe you wallowed when you could’ve worked. Maybe you compared yourself to the billion and one other people who have something you want—a sure way to feel like dirt.

But none of that matters now.

What matters is what you choose to focus on before you go to bed, before your subconscious plays with your most powerful thoughts and experiences for eight hours. What thoughts will those be?

I’m choosing to think of the moments when I made myself feel proud. I’m going to magnify that feeling with my mind, and I’m going to make it so powerful that my subconscious can’t resist it as I sleep. That way I’ll be thinking positively when I awake, and I’ll be training my brain as I sleep.

I’m going to choose the experiences that made me feel grateful. And if I missed out on actually feeling gratitude for something or someone important, I’ll give myself that opportunity before bed.

 I’ll recognize where I came up short, but I won’t dwell on that. Instead, I’ll think of the amazing things I can do tomorrow to improve myself, my relationships, my career, and all the things I can control.

But the past isn’t one of those things.

So, to everyone who’s feeling down, cheer up. Focus on things you did right, even if the day was a loss. Focus on the people who make your life worth living. And generate the positive thoughts and feelings that you want your day to be defined by tomorrow.

If by some glitch in the matrix you didn’t accomplish anything you’d feel proud about, change that before you fall asleep. Take notes on a chapter in your latest self-improvement book. Write a thank-you card to someone who’s been there for you. Meditate, and visualize the success you wish to achieve in life and love. Draft a knockout cover letter for the position you’ve dreamed of applying for. Make your bed, even if it’s five minutes before you hop back in it. Do a 10-minute workout, or a yoga session. Inch, scrape, and crawl toward the better life you have in mind.

You’ll adopt the mindset that it’s never too late to give your best effort, and that your best effort is always a good option. You’re worth that.

Besides, the alternative isn’t exactly appealing.

 You can wallow a bit more, wishing you were somewhere you weren’t, regretting the things you haven’t done, fearing the life you might not get to live, accomplishing nothing. And as you drift off to sleep, your subconscious will ruminate on those disempowering thoughts. The thoughts will fester. And breed with each other. And occupy more and more of your mind so that by the time you wake up, you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and that a dark cloud has obscured your vision, smothering your joy.

You can do that. But it’s not really what you want.

You want an inspired life where every breath counts, where more of your dreams come true every day, and where you make a difference to more people. That kind of life is the product of a positive mindset. And to attain it, you have to reset your mind every night before you go to bed.

1. Focus on something you accomplished today.

Relive the experience, feeling the encouragement and confidence as if it were happening now. Magnify those feelings.

2. Feel gratitude—especially for the people in your life.

Think about the top five people who’ve made your life what it is, then relive an experience that made you grateful for them. Think about the lucky breaks in your life. Choose any number of minor miracles to feel grateful for, and keep feeding that feeling of gratitude.

3. Visualize.

Project into the future the positive feelings you’ve generated. See yourself accomplishing things that you’ve put off for weeks or months. Feel the pride coursing through your body, swelling up your heart. And express gratitude in advance for your achievements.

 4. Plan.

Brainstorm three critical goals that will bring you closer to the life you want to live tomorrow and write them down. The act of writing down your goals makes them more concrete and makes you less likely to avoid them. It also gives your sleeping brain the opportunity to create solutions for obstacles that stand in the way.

5. Read.

Read something inspiring, and useful, and imaginative, and relevant to the struggles you’re going through. Prefer a self-improvement book with oodles of ideas to test in your own life. Prefer an actual book over digital—the blue light from screens interferes with your melatonin production and sleep cycle.

Reading programs your mind to think in terms of solutions, not obstacles.

Anytime you feel down, and especially before bed, use these five steps to rewire your brain, and to encourage a lively and positive mind.

Article originally appeared on MindBodyGreen.com

How I Learned to Outcompete Much More Experienced Freelancers

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Article originally appeared on FastCompany.com

Most freelance careers take a little while to build. But for a long time, my growth curve looked like the readout of a dead man’s EKG. The main thing holding me back was myself: I was ashamed of being a beginner.

So I hid behind cheesy LinkedIn taglines like “Professional Writer,” and I spun my writing history into sounding impressive. But what that really told the world was that I was scared to be me–somebody new to the game.

Looking back, I lost business this way. Clients who might’ve hired me were turned off by my pretentiousness. Here’s how I finally got over it.

BRUTAL HONESTY WORKS BETTER

I realize now that the better strategy would have been candor:

Hey Businessperson, I don’t have much experience. I’m just starting out—but I can write. And I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. You’ll love my work, guaranteed. If you don’t, you don’t have to pay.

Using this strategy, I wouldn’t have had to wait so long to build up my credibility. And while writing on spec would have been risky for me—putting time into a project without no promised payout—it still would’ve been valuable experience to pad my resume.

Not only that, but in exposing myself and failing more, my confidence and resilience as a new freelancer would’ve doubled in half the time. Instead, my fear of being recognized as a neophyte slowed my progress. Worse, I put more energy into building and preserving a false image than in developing my value. Because I didn’t believe in myself, I couldn’t count on others to believe in me either.

Writing my way out

Fortunately, my favorite area of writing is self-improvement. And the more I practiced things like journaling, self-affirmations, and meditation, the less embarrassed I became. Steadily, my work became more genuine and my strategy for getting it out there more ambitious. I pitched national corporations and painted myself just as I was: an underdog passionate about writing and inspiring others. When I pitched the real me, clients were more willing to take a chance. And I delivered.

Once I shook off my beginner’s nerves, I gave other people a real chance to accept me as is. And why wouldn’t they? I write for hours a day, edit for just as many, and do my best to live and breathe my craft. Businesses need that kind of ethic–and that conviction is my personal brand as a writer. It’s part of my value proposition. I’ve found that clients are willing to bet on me if they sense it and know that it’s authentic—even if my competitors have (much) more experience under their belts.

Here are a few of the bad habits I had to shake–and the new ones I learned to adopt–in order to compete successfully with other full-time freelancers despite being a newcomer.

DROP THE CHINTZY TAGLINES, AND JUST BE A PROFESSIONAL

Professionalism is evident in your conduct and in your work. No amount of taglines can make you a true professional, and other professionals know that. So don’t be afraid to embrace whatever level of your craft where you find yourself. Just be a “writer” or a “designer” or a “consultant”–no need to be a “professional writer” or “expert graphic designer.” Scrap the adjectives. Be humble. People like that.

Professionals are known for their work ethics, not their job titles–and that’s especially true of freelancers. They go to conferences to learn the latest techniques. They read trade publications. They do the thing they say they do for hours and hours a day. So do that.

Many would-be pros drop out of the game before they get a chance to make real money because they aren’t earning enough. And it’s true that working for yourself full-time can take a long time to become sustainable. Many people spend years in the the part-time phase. But if you accept that the money will come eventually–and that it will come faster the more you practice–you’ll feel better about devoting several hours a day to whatever it is you do. Just make sure to do it. Be the professional you want to be seen to be.

How? Start small and work up from there. Browse websites and businesses to see where your work would be useful. Try solving a problem that a company doesn’t know it had, even if it’s a minor a design flaw, or just a clumsy landing page–and even if you’re doing it on your own rather than for money. Work on that project as if you weregetting paid. Stick with it until it’s completed. And at the very least, you’ll have refined your craft. And at the most, you’ll have something real that you can pitch to the company, and if they like it, they’ll buy it.

VICARIOUS EXPERIENCE COUNTS, TOO

Writers can learn from their own mistakes and successes as well as others’. If you study others practitioners’ experiences and absorb them vicariously, you won’t have to stumble around for years learning the same lessons firsthand. You can apply the book knowledge to real work.

I improved my writing considerably after reading just a couple of books. I took frenzied notes on just about every page, then focused on implementing each lesson into my next work session. Super simple. But it takes a level of discipline and persistence that not everybody has.

PRAISE YOUR EFFORT, NOT YOUR RESULTS

The key to sustaining your growth is to praise your effort, not your outcomes. If you rely only on your successes for confidence boosts, you’ll putter out before you earn 10 bucks. You’ll fail dozens if not hundreds of times before you get a positive result. So applaud every ounce of energy you devote toward your goals, whether that means studying or working. If you can’t learn how to support yourself emotionally and psychologically, you may not manage to support yourself financially, either.

START A SELF-ACCEPTANCE PRACTICE

In my experience, the easiest and most effective way to improve your self-acceptance is journaling. It only takes a few minutes at the end of the day. And all you have to write about are the things you were grateful for, especially the things you did–the effort you showed, what you were proud of, and so on.

This simple habit teaches you to accept yourself no matter what level you’re at, whom you’re competing with, and which setbacks you’ve recently encountered. It teaches you to look for the best in yourself, relentlessly, even when that’s hardest. And that’s how you’ll get everyone else in the world to accept you, too–clients and employers included.

How to Handle Rejection

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When you get rejected, the popular response is to quit. That’s why most people don’t pursue their passions or live their dreams.

But the correct response is to keep going, and to go so hard that, by the time you are accepted, you don’t actually need anybody’s opinion but your own.

Take my early freelance career: I’d get a nibble or two. But then, I’d get rejected. So, I’d tuck my tail, curl into a ball and pretend I was dead.

To my untrained mind, the rejection meant I was an imposter. And I fed those imposter feelings by doing more of nothing, which in hindsight was the worst possible thing to do. I’d make $5,000 a year if I was lucky, and I had to settle for living with mom and dad.

Fast forward to today. It’s four years later, and I have my work plastered on the best sites around the web. I’m independent, and I’m doing what I love.

I still get rejection slips, though.

Success magazine politely told me to suck it last week. But I don’t feel the sting so acutely because I have 30 more irons in just as many fires.I keep my confidence high because I know that at least one of my 50 queries or interviews will pan out. And I keep my mind focused on moving forward by continuing to do my best work, by setting goals, and by living the way a successful person lives.

I still want to crawl in a hole and die on occasion. But I never let that feeling stop me from making progress. Because stopping is incorrect.

I borrowed my persistence strategy from Louis L’Amour, who is the famed author of 60 bestsellers.Pictures of his query log reveal one acceptance letter for every 20 stories pitched. Louis went on to say in his autobiography that the only way he kept going was by having hope. He stoked his hope by putting out so many pitches, it would be mathematically inconceivable for them all to get rejected.

“As long as I had the hope of acceptance, rejection never got me down.”
Louis L’Amour

So, whatever you have to do, keep your hope alive. That means keeping your forward momentum through any means possible. It means applying your time and talents to as many different outlets as you can. It means stopping your “poor me” thoughts dead in their tracks, and reversing your inner dialogue with some affirmative action.

Because if you’re doing your best, then you are a success. You don’t have to worry about what others think because they don’t determine your actions: That’s your job. Just make sure you feel good about yourself.

When you feel like quitting, train your mind to go into hyperdrive. Do everything in your power to advance your station. Those efforts will often be small enough to seem insignificant. But when it comes down to forward momentum or a backslide into normalcy, those small efforts will create the tipping point.

If you’ve done enough, you’ll progress into your success, and nothing will be able to stop you. But if you’ve wallowed because you thought you should be further along than you are, then you’ll want to wallow even more when you think of how much further you could’ve gone… if you’d only given the effort.

So, the next time you catch yourself feeling like dog vomit, do something. Do something good that’s contingent on your values and gives you hope.

Effort is the answer.

As a freelancer, I’ve gone through tough times… especially at the beginning. Even recently, I had a holiday lapse where I could barely made ends meet. But instead of crawling into a hole and dying, I pitched person after person and business after business. I wouldn’t allow myself to defeat myself through inaction.

So, even though I felt like a speck, I kept creating value and putting myself out there. And today, I have so much work coming at me that I have to hire other writers to help with the load. I still have more irons in the fire, and I’m still feeding my confidence.

Did you ever hear the Indian parable of the little boy and his grandpa? The grandpa told the boy that every person has a good wolf and a bad wolf inside of him. The boy asked which one wins, and the old man replied, “Whichever you feed.”

So feed your confident beast. Feed your sexy beast. Feed your rich beast. Feed your happy beast. Feed your productive beast. Feed your smart beast. And when the “poor me” wolf howls, let him starve. The same goes for the imposter wolf, the complacent wolf, the lazy wolf and the hopeless wolf.

When in doubt, do your best. Do something. Do anything. Stop reading this article–get out there and do it!

Article originally appeared on Elite Daily

How To Unlearn Narcissism

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 Step into this scene:

You walk into a crowded party and are greeted by a sea of faces—most of them beaming smiles. But instead of a surge of curiosity, you feel an overwhelming sense of pressure. Then you imagine, “Are they thinking about me? Am I pretty enough? Are they looking at someone more beautiful than me? How can I appear more desirable? Please look at me. You don’t want to look at me? Well, you’re ugly.”

Now you know what it’s like to think like a narcissist. I do, too. Because that person used to be me.

A balanced human would think something along the lines of, “She’s beautiful–He looks fun–I want to get to know this person.” But then again, most people don’t have an enormous hole where their self-worth should be. Narcissists do.

The making of a narcissist:

Narcissists are usually talented and attractive people who skipped over one small detail in their formation: that life is about serving others. The satisfaction of knowing that our actions create value for others is what fills us with self-worth. Those who give freely have the most to give. Narcissists, on the other hand, feel the need to constantly take.
They think their self-worth is a result of what others give them. As a reformed narcissist, I grew up thinking that what I had to offer wasn’t good enough. So when I was called handsome or intelligent, I clung to those compliments as life preservers. And I did everything to perpetuate that image.

I pursued sexual relationships to feel validated. Instead of finding my worth and joy in the things I gave to others, I was entirely dependent on the praise of my natural endowments. I was powerless—jumping from one relationship to the next, sucking up as much pleasure as I could and bailing when things got rocky. And I exited each relationship with less confidence and sanity than I had to begin with.

The cycle drove me nuts. After my third live-in relationship, I seriously considered whether life was worth living. That’s when I knew I needed a serious change.

The unmaking of a narcissist:

I’d heard from famous speakers like Zig Ziglar that happiness lies in the giving. “You’ll get what you want if you just help enough other people get what they want,” he said. I was lucky enough to have been exposed to Zig’s messages when I was at rock bottom, living with my parents, jobless, and broken. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would’ve made it.

As it was, I took Zig’s messages to heart. A complete 180 was my only option, so I started helping others through the written word. But in order to stick with the whole “living for others” bit, I had to unlearn the selfish habits that had made me behave like a narcissist. It started with giving up porn.

Porn had always been my biggest crutch. Whenever I was bored, anxious, nervous, or unsure, I turned to porn. The dopamine release was like crack, which distracted me from any uncomfortable feelings I had. But there was one hitch: In all of that self-pleasure, I never actually learned a thing about myself—and I sure as hell didn’t think about making life better for others. It had to go.

The next thing I nixed was casual dating.

My friends and family had described me as a hopeless romantic because I was never happy out of love. As long as I was in a relationship, I didn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of fulfilling myself—I didn’t have to think about how I was making life better for others. If I was giving my girlfriend wild sex, and if the relationship was entertaining, I could lose myself till it ended, which it always did. And when it did, I focused on getting into another one so that I didn’t have to be lonely—so that I could lose myself. Giving wasn’t part of the equation, so I had to let the casual relationships go.

Finally, I gave up dependency.

Your life heads in the direction of your thoughts. When my habitual thoughts were about others serving me—like my mom and dad cooking, cleaning, and providing shelter for me—it was impossible to break out of my selfish patterns. But as I cured myself of narcissism, as I helped others through my writing, and as I grew my profession, I started thinking more about providing for myself. And then one day, I made the leap.

I had to think about myself to survive. I worked hard and improved as a writer so that I could eat, but the motivation wasn’t just for me. I wanted to eat so that I could write, and I wanted to write so that I could help others improve their lives. The better I got at providing for myself, the more valuable my messages became. And after one full year of living solo, I’d left narcissism in the mirror.

These three habits helped me transform:

1. Journaling was instrumental in my transformation.

I didn’t notice my thought patterns until I wrote them down day after day. When I started journaling, I could finally see those selfish thoughts and behaviors, plain as day. Then I’d replace the old thoughts and habits with better ones.

2. Planning out each day was another important step.

If I didn’t plan on being a better me after my journaling sessions, I wouldn’t have gotten very far. So I made concrete action steps that would make me a more confident, generous, selfless, and useful person, day after day. For instance: through journaling, I’d notice that I felt hopelessly dependent on other’s opinions of me when I spent too much time on Facebook. So, the next day, I’d plan to not use Facebook at all, opting for a self-improvement activity like reading or writing.

3. Affirmations were the third critical step in unlearning my narcissistic tendencies.

People who describe themselves as narcissists have an unedited mind that keeps spewing selfish and disempowering thoughts. Ick. When you hear a lie once, it’s just a lie. But when it’s repeated over and over and over and over, you’ll believe just about anything—no matter how insane it is. I believed I was worth nothing because that’s what I kept telling myself.

When I began making affirmations, I thought I was repeating lies. “I am beautiful, I am worthy, I am generous, I am capable, I am independent…” Bullshit, I thought. But as I stuck with the habit, I started believing in them. Then I started acting like I believed them. And then I was them. I realized I’d actually been those good things all along—it’s just that my mind was so programmed with junk that I couldn’t see the truth before.

We are all good—even those of us who behave narcissistically, like I did. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who behaves narcissistically, even if that person is you, it’s best to go solo and to focus on thinking and behaving like the intelligent and inspiring person you were born to be. Affirmations, journaling, and daily planners helped me make the change. So did giving up porn, casual relationships, and being dependent.

Article originally appeared on MindBodyGreen.com

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Article originally appeared at DYLN Inspired

Wellness is a mindset. But how do you change a mind that’s been set for years—decades even? For most of us, we have to battle against disempowering habits and beliefs to achieve the life we want. And that can seem like an uphill affair.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are 5 strategies you can start now to simplify your transition into a healthier lifestyle:  

1. Give Yourself Plenty of Visual Reminders

Set reminders

The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” applies most to self-improvement. Studies at Cornell University showed that people were less likely to eat vegetables when they were stashed in the vegetable drawer, and likelier to eat healthy when the good food was visible. The conclusion? Keep your eyes on the prize. Literally.  

We depend on visual cues. So, for whatever improvement you desire, you can increase your chances of sticking to it by reminding yourself with sticky notes, index cards, pictures, and notifications on your phone.

For example, we know it’s healthy to drink half our weight in ounces of water. But if you don’t have the water bottle in front of you…are you actually going to drink? We recommend selecting one of our 5 vibrant colors of DYLN Alkaline Water Bottles—you’ll never miss ‘em.

2. Get an Accountability Coach

Studies show that we’re likelier to follow through with our goals if we have someone to hold us accountable. People pay thousands of dollars just to have someone check in on their progress! But all you need is a friend or loved one.

Share your goals with them—the more specific, the better. Ask them to help you by keeping you accountable, which could be as little as a 5-minute phone call per week. And set up consequences for not sticking to your plan: like giving your accountability coach a sum of money, or donating to their favorite charity.

Most importantly, pick someone who you can celebrate your successes with—someone who is emotionally invested in your wellbeing. Their presence will legitimize your goals.

3. Make Rituals

Yoga Ritual

Rituals help to strengthen your neural connections to a positive outcome. Running 5 miles a day can seem like a grueling task, for instance. But a good ritual can help you mentally prepare for the challenge. After you’ve laced up, listened to your pre-run jam, and downed your sports drink, you find yourself beating the pavement without difficulty.

It’s all in the ritual. And the stronger it is, the better it supports your habits. 

So try to incorporate more of the things you love into the positive behaviors you want. If you know yoga is the best for your body but find it hard to stick with, mix it up with music. Maybe treat yourself with your favorite green smoothie afterward. Do it with friends. Then when you commit to doing yoga, it’s not just yoga: it’s a time to listen to your favorite tunes, and hang out with your favorite people, and sip your favorite drink. All of those positive associations involved in a ritual will help you stay consistent.

4. Applaud Your Effort

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We strive for goals because we want to be a certain person, or have a certain quality of life. That’s normal. But those incentives statistically don’t hold water—we have a 92% failure rate for new resolutions. What’s the missing link?

It’s self-acceptance.

We get to thinking we’re not worthy of praise until we’ve become the person we want to be, until we’ve lost the weight, until we’ve found success. But if success depends on motivation—which it does—and if you reserve your praise for completed goals, then how can you stick with something that takes longer than a day?

That’s why it’s smart to praise your effort—not the outcome.

When you give your best effort, you need lots of encouragement from yourself to continue the behavior. So applaud your effort. Doesn’t matter if you’ve hit your mark. When you do your best and improve consistently, you will hit your goals. 

You can stay consistent by routinely praising your efforts. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to journal about the efforts you’re grateful for. 

5. Visualize

What was the last fitness goal you committed to but didn’t stick with? Chances are, you stopped because you couldn’t see yourself succeeding. But that can change that if you practice seeing yourself doing what you want.

We tend to fear the unknown—even when the unknown is the thing we want; like health, or vitality. Visualizing helps you overcome that fear by repeatedly exposing you to your desired outcome, even if only in your mind. If you make something familiar enough in your mind, it won’t seem so big—so unattainable—and that gives you the mental fortitude to persist in the necessary habits. 

Conclusion

What healthy habits have you been putting on the back burner? If you prepare a game plan with these 5 mindsets, you can make the quality of life you dream about a reality. So remind yourself of your goals with visual cues. Get an accountability coach. Make rituals out of your healthy habits. Consistently applaud your effort—I’m talking 30 times a day. And practice visualizing your goals before you start your day. 

Oh—one more thing. All of this goal setting and ass-kicking puts a premium on your mental focus, which is related to your state of hydration. So drink lots of the right water.

 

 

What Competitive Beach Volleyball Taught Me About Leadership

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Article originally appeared on FastCompany.com

“Damn,” I thought, after another humiliating loss. “You’re better than 90% of the players here, but you’re finishing on the bottom rung every time. What’s going on?”

I’ve played competitive beach volleyball for five years, and until recently I’d consistently placed within the top three in most tournaments. But I couldn’t seem to master the “King of the Beach” (KOB)-style tournament, where players rotate partners after each game. I rarely placed better than 16th out of a pool of 20, yet I could spring higher, block better, and out-hit most of the competition.

After consoling myself with “I’m better than them” so many times, I realized I wasn’t better. There was some skill missing that I didn’t have or wasn’t using. It was only at my last tournament—where I placed first in my division—where I discovered the missing ingredient. Here’s what I learned.

TEAMWORK IN ZERO-TO-SIXTY
In regular doubles, players practice with each other dozens of times before partnering up. You have the time to establish chemistry and get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But there’s no such luxury in KOB games. Sometimes you’ve met the people that you’re partnered up with before, but a lot of the time they’re perfect strangers. In either case, you’re suddenly thrown together as teammates—and you either make on-the-spot corrections and motivate your partner immediately, or you flunk out of the pool. That’s exactly what happened in my first five tournaments.

Once I got the confidence to critique my partners, I knew I had to execute at my highest level or I’d look like a fraud.

My reaction to unskilled partners was, “What’s wrong with him? Why is he sucking?” So a couple weeks ago I finally tried to switch up my approach, and basically just psych myself up with a new mantra: “I know he can do better. How can I bring out his best?” In other words, I adopted a leadership perspective. And I won.

These are the three main lessons I learned about developing powerful teamwork pretty much instantaneously.

1. FALSE POSITIVITY IS WORSE THAN CRITICISM
I routinely placed in the bottom 20 at my first few KOB tournaments because of false positivity. My partner would shank a pass and I’d just beam, tell him he’d do better next time, and clap him on the back. But better never came.

I focused so much on staying positive that I forgot about my own game. Then I’d shank passes and miss easy kills. I’d swear under my breath and slink from the court after another loss. But boy did I have a big smile!

Then I learned that good leaders need to give good criticism. If you recognize a habit that’s killing your team’s performance, it needs to be addressed and handled—and fast. In my first-ever, first-place KOB volleyball tournament the weekend before last, I learned how to assemble what some call a criticism sandwich. That method has itself been criticized by some experts, but it worked like a charm for me. When my partners weren’t passing correctly, I’d follow this three-step process:

I thanked them sincerely and praised their efforts. “That last dig was ridiculous—such a good dig. I love playing with you.”
Then I’d call out the problem and suggest a solution: “But we’re bleeding points right now, and it’s because of our passing. So get your platform out early and pass it low like you know how. Get it right to my hands.”
Then I’d finish with another positive in the form of a compliment: “You’re playing lights out, so let’s have fun and put the next one straight down. You’ve got this.”
Sticking with that simple sandwich recipe, I improved the most out of every other player in the tournament, finishing first in my pool. All I had to do was ditch my aversion to criticism and address the issues with good humor. Best of all, this approach worked right off the bat, including with teammates I’d never even met before.

2. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH (CONSISTENTLY)
Good leaders do more than set examples. They practice what they preach over and over and over. I flopped in my earlier tournaments because I wasn’t consistent. I dropped my own performance to match my partner’s level of play.

Worse, I didn’t feel confident enough to address the problem. So I just slid to the backseat and watched another loss unfold. I didn’t take responsibility or practice leading from the front.

But once I got the confidence to critique my partners, I knew I had to execute at my highest level or else I’d look like a fraud. I made sure to set the ball two feet off the net and 16 feet high before I demanded a better set from my partner. I squared up my own platform and showed the kind of pass I needed before I asked for it.

That communicated more than I could have with just words—or rather, my words already matched my actions, and both stayed consistent. And it seems in retrospect that each of my partners could tell; each of them subtly but distinctly raised their own performance level. It’s amazing what people will do for you when you show them how to do it.

3. SAY THANK YOU MORE OFTEN
Most of us bash ourselves when we fail, and we forget to applaud ourselves when we get it right. But we all need positive reinforcement for a job well done if we expect continued results. Good leaders remind us of that need by constantly encouraging good behavior.

I said thank you after each play, and I didn’t care if it sounded repetitive, because my thanks came from the heart.
In my successful tournament, I said thank you after each play, and I didn’t care if it sounded repetitive, because my thanks came from the heart. “What a beautiful pass. Just where I needed it. Keep it up!” Or, “That was three spikes in a row! You’re doing awesome man, thanks.”

My gratitude boosted my partners’ confidence so that they performed at their peak. And the final scorecard proved it: I won each game by an average of 10 points or more.

Looking back, it isn’t all that surprising that the secret to building great teamwork right away is just a dose of leadership. But when it’s just you and a partner, it sometimes feels wrong to take the reins. But that didn’t mean being domineering or bossy. All I had to do was confront issues head on, play as hard as I wanted my partners to play, and thank them consistently for doing good work. That’s something anybody can do—not just leaders.

What Happened When I Replaced My To-Do Lists With “Love-to-do” Lists

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To-do lists are for robots, which I’ve discovered I am not. In my experience, the more “grownup” you become, the more you’re forced to mechanically check things off a list just to get paid. That’s life—welcome to adulthood, kid. But life wasn’t working out the way I’d wanted it to; I got stuff done, I just hated doing it.

So when I finally quit my job to strike out on my own, I decided to inject a little humanity back in my work. To do that, I had to give my to-do lists the boot. I stopped writing those and began writing “love-to-do” lists instead.

I figured that since humans thrive on positive emotions, my career might take an upswing if I committed to doing more of the things I love. That was the theory, anyhow. Here’s how it went for me.

QUITTING MY JOB, AND SHIFTING GEARS

I first considered making this switch when I recognized that no amount of professional accomplishment would make me truly happy. I’d done a lot for my last company, and I’d done well there as an employee. But by the end, I still found that I had to wrench my brain for even a so-so idea. My creativity was suffering, and I just didn’t have enough of those “hell yes!” moments over the course of an average workday to love what I was doing. I was feeling autopilot set in.

I figured that since humans thrive on positive emotions, my career might take an upswing if I committed to doing more of the things I love.
The impulses to defenestrate my laptop and scratch up some adventure became more frequent. But I wasn’t able to rationalize fun for the sake of fun. The articles wouldn’t write themselves, I knew.

I still know that, and yet working for myself has turned out to be quite different—thanks in large part to the love-to-do lists I began writing shortly after going solo. Adopting them while I was still finding my footing as my own boss was liberating. Since I was charging what I wanted, I often had the freedom to write one really good article a day—or even one a week—which freed up a lot more time to do the things I loved.

Which ended up being terrifying.
Our culture has an enormous amount of lazy shame. We can hardly live with ourselves if we aren’t producing something. It’s actually pretty common for first-time freelancers to experience acute anxiety that even though they’re making ends meet, they just aren’t working enough.

I got over this fear when I realized that living my life and doing the things I loved made me better at my craft—and subsequently just as productive and creative as I needed to be in order to earn a living and feel good about doing it.

MAKING MORE TIME TO GET MOTIVATED
In my long hikes in the mountains, I’d find inspiring ideas hiding behind every bend like little forest sprites. Breaking away from the desk to play beach volleyball filled me with competitiveness and the hunger to constantly improve. That helped me go after bigger clients and work harder at my writing game. And lying down in the afternoons to do absolutely nothing—except gaze at the clouds—trained me to accept silence, and to listen for inspiration.

The more love-to-do’s I checked off, the more satisfied I became with my life and my work.

But here’s the thing: I’m as disciplined and productive as ever. I’m as focused playing guitar for 30 minutes as I am researching an article. So yes, I still have to do the standard to-do’s—meet with client X, take phone call Y, edit Z draft. But I don’t approach those work tasks with the same sense of dread that I used to.

Now that there’s something energizing and actually enjoyable waiting for me just past every task, my motivation feels pretty much bottomless. Writing this article, for instance, wasn’t the apex of my professional desires when I woke up this morning. But it turned out to be fun because I’m channeling the positivity I generated from this morning’s rock-climbing session into something productive.

Our culture has an enormous amount of lazy shame. We can hardly live with ourselves if we aren’t producing something.
And when the weekends come, I’m guilt-free. I don’t feel the need to be busy for the sake of busyness, so I can relax, and recharge, and do what I love. You know, like a human. When I settle down to my keyboard the following Monday, I don’t have the back-to-reality blues that most people have—because I know that I can do a little of what I love during the workday, too. That keeps me present at work, and relaxed. And that’s when I do my best. That’s also when I get paid the most.

SCHEDULING WHAT YOU LOVE TAKES DISCIPLINE
If this sounds like a paean to self-employment more so than an endorsement of love-to-do lists, it isn’t entirely. You don’t actually need to quit your job in order to gain more time to do what fulfills you. No, your boss probably won’t like it if you duck out every Wednesday afternoon to go for a bike ride. And it’s true that work is still work—it can’t all be fun, which is why your employer pays you to do it.

But building more “love” into your to-do lists isn’t about trying to change all that. It’s just a strategy to consciously and regularly do more of the enjoyable things you already do (haphazardly) over the course of a workweek. That way you have more energy and inspiration to excel at what you do. And like anything else, it takes discipline.

You don’t actually need to quit your job in order to gain more time to do what fulfills you . . . [but] it takes discipline.
To get started, take an hour tonight after work to do some journaling, and reflect on the activities that energize you most. Start your list first with the things you actually love to do in an average week. (If you don’t normally go squirrel-suit skydiving on an average week—or have never even tried it—don’t add that right away.) Then work out from there. If you’re coming up short, think about what you used to do on an average week—when you were a kid, back when having fun was okay. Write those down.

Once you have a few past or current pleasures accounted for, you can think a little more wishfully. Write down some things that appeal to you even if you’ve never tried them—like salsa dancing.

Now you need to commit. Pick two or three items that you can realistically accomplish next week. Then schedule those love-to-dos right alongside your other work-related imperatives. Those are now appointments on your calendar like any other, so you need to keep just as much as you need to not miss that conference call or meet that project deadline.

My daily love-to-dos look something like this:

Meditate
Journal
Do some sprints
Break away from the computer every 30 minutes for a round of pushups
Read some fiction
Play some guitar
Sing
Play with the dog
Reflect on the things I’m grateful for
Look at the clouds
I don’t always check off every single thing on this list every single day, but I can always hit most of them—whereas before writing love-to-do lists, these activities were just periodic pastimes.

And for my week, I’ll schedule some bigger activities that I can’t do every day:

Take a long hike in the arroyo (I live in Albuquerque)
Practice volleyball at least twice a week
Go rock climbing at least twice a week
Play a doubles beach volleyball tournament on Saturday
Go to choir practice
Spend time with my nieces and nephews
Climb the biggest tree by the river

Other than professional singers, not many people have “sing” on their to-do lists. But then again, not many people have committed to actually scheduling out the things they love to do. Will you?

Article originally published on FastCompany.com

5 Decisions That Can Change Your Life Today

Decisions are the difference between the life you have and the life you want; they’re also the reason why most people are stuck in lives they wouldn’t plan for.

That was my case.

Three years ago I was your average millennial male. I mooched off my parents. I had zero direction, and I was no closer to a career than my 10 year-old, Sponge Bob-watching, Cheeto-fingered self. I knew I needed change. But I always hoped for a change of circumstance—like a new girlfriend.

After burning through so many girlfriends I found myself a quarter of a century old and with absolutely nothing to show for it. I couldn’t ignore the truth: my unhappiness and lack of success was my decision. So I radically altered my decision making process.

Three year later I’m (finally) independent in the career I love. I’m a millennial mentor and writing coach. I’m published on the best websites in the world. And by sticking to 5 key decisions, I’ve shed my failure identity.

If you have a feeling that you’re meant for something more, here are the 5 decisions that will help you achieve more:

1-Control your morning thoughts

Eternally sunny dispositions are the exceptions. For the rest of us, we have to work hard to choose useful thoughts. The most important time to do it is first thing in the morning.

You can regret the shit storm that is your life, or you can be grateful for all the opportunities you have to improve. You can feel oppressed by the things you know you have to do, or you can get stoked to do things that will make you rich and happy.

For every negative thought there is a positive spin waiting for your effort. So treat every morning as a challenge to shape your best thoughts; to weed out the negativity; to prepare for a sensational life. No one else will do it for you.

Don’t get out of bed until you’ve meditated on what you’re grateful for, on the cool shit you get to do, on the people you get to help, on the people who’ve helped you, on the towering goals you’re building towards, on your challenges, and on your accomplishments.

Think useful thoughts.

2-Encourage yourself

Think of the great coaches throughout history, like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley with the Bulls and Heat. These guys motivated their team’s championship efforts with kindness and encouragement, not whips and lashes. The best coaches look for and find the best in their players.

You are your own coach. Will you encourage yourself to succeed? Or will you bash yourself into defeat?

I made a habit of bashing myself: for the money I should’ve made, for the independence I hadn’t earned. But the bashing never got me anywhere. I just felt more and more ashamed. And as I saw others rising higher and higher, I felt more and more defeated.

When I made the effort to encourage myself no matter what, I finally found the support I needed to succeed. (It took me 27 years to figure this out. But, better late than never.)

So support yourself.

Do it by heading to the nearest mirror as soon as you spring out of bed. Describe all of the good things you see. Comment on the man or woman you know you can be, the accomplishments you know you’ll achieve, and the encouragement you promise to give yourself along the way.

Then anytime you start thinking negative thoughts during the day, fall back on your morning affirmations. If you don’t have your back, who will?

3-Do real work

Nothing happened in my writing career until I got disciplined with my time. But after a solid year of blocking out my morning for writing—and strictly limiting email and social media for 10 minutes in the afternoon—I built a body of work that my clients pay out the proverbial ass for.

From 8-12, dedicate your mornings to proaction. Ban all incoming information. Direct yourself—otherwise, you risk being directed by people who don’t care about your dreams. No email is going to kick ass for you, and neither will any number of facebook or twitter notifications. So do—real—work.

4-Set daily goals

If you don’t plan out action steps, you’ll be battling against the world to accomplish anything.

Think of it like this: you have a billion different people all over the world vying for your attention over social media, TV, advertisements, and the interwebs. How will you compete with them for the life you want to live?

If you don’t have big-ass, juicy, self-directed goals that get you off your butt, you simply can’t compete.

So set goals for learning. Set goals for work accomplishments. Set goals for relaxing. Set goals for fitness and fun. Set goals for your hobbies. Set goals for anything that will benefit your life as a balanced human being, no matter how big or small.

When you get into the habit of checking off the things you want and need to do, you’ll be living the life of your design. Success is only a matter of time.

5-Journal at the end of every day

Your life is built on your thoughts. If you change your thoughts, you change your life. Journaling is the best way to do it.

Every thought you have influences your behavior, even the ones you don’t know you have. Those niggling subconscious thoughts are the reasons why most people don’t live the lives they want. But when you reflect and write down your thoughts at the end of each day, you make the subconscious conscious. Then you’re in full control of what thoughts you reproduce the next day.

If you can’t accept a certain limiting thought, you’re free to choose a better thought to take its place—but only after you become aware of it.

So, every night, take 15-30 minutes to look back on the thoughts and actions that made your day. Jot them down. You’ll end up seeing all the invisible things that held you back. Making your thoughts concrete will give you confidence in your ability to change them; you’ll automatically come up with solutions for a better tomorrow*.

(That’s been my experience at least. It’s like having a spider in your house: if you see the spider, you’ll squash it. If not…it’ll have thousands of babies that come to feast on your flesh in the middle of the night. Well, maybe not that dramatic. But still bad.)

Conclusion

Your life is the sum of your decisions. So take control of them. Take charge of your day from the start with positive thinking and affirmations. Take ownership of your direction by setting daily goals and sticking with them. Limit your distractions. And reclaim your subconscious by changing your thoughts with a journal.

It’s hard, but who said life was easy? If the no-job, no-hope millennial who lived on his parents couch could do it, so can you.

This article originally appeared on Elite Daily

3 Steps to Become More Resilient

3 Top Sustainable Clothing Brands to Try-  CheatSheet.com

           (Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com)

Success of any kind takes time, consistent effort, failure and resilience. Take the late Louis L’Amour, for example. He’s regarded as America’s greatest storyteller, with over 60 published novels — most of them bestsellers.

In his autobiography, Education of a Wandering Man, L’Amour shares his failures like a badge of honor. It was a big badge, too. A picture of his submissions log reveals countless rejections. Had L’Amour identified with his failures, he would’ve quit long before greatness. Instead, he viewed failure as a step to success. And he kept stepping.

“I knew there was going to be failure, I just didn’t know how much,” L’Amour said.

If you’ve dealt with some colossal failures in your business, you’re on the right path. Keep going. But if you want to convert those failures to success, you need more resilience.

How I grew resilience

For my first 24 years, I had about as much resilience as a kale chip. I refused to try anything I wasn’t automatically good at, and I rarely, if ever, put myself on the line. I was so brittle that if I failed, that meant I was a failure. Because of my fear of failure, I was completely dependent on my parents, which only fed the fear.

But in my mid-twenties, I realized that I could only be happy if I provided for myself. So I confronted my demons. I saw just how brittle I had become, and I planned to become more resilient.

In studying experts like Brené Brown and Josh Waitzkin, I learned that resilience comes through celebrating effort, not results. That concept conflicted with my perfectionist attitude. I wasn’t used to coaching myself, and the idea of positive thinking seemed laughable, considering my lack of success.

But what choice did I have? I couldn’t surf couches forever. So I began my own three-step resilience routine.

1. Affirmations and encouragement

Each morning I looked at myself in the mirror and said out loud all the good things I saw or wanted to be. (I know, this conjures up images of Chris Farley’s motivational speaker character from SNL. But funny as it may be, it worked for me.)

I listed all the things I knew I’d accomplish. I congratulated myself on the effort I gave the day before, regardless of the outcome. And I gave myself permission to fail.

2. I started a daily planner

I wrote down all the goals I wanted to achieve in a week and gave myself daily directives to reach them. When I checked off an accomplishment, no matter how small, I would flood myself with encouragement for the effort, for the consistency and for the persistence I showed.

Instead of depending on results for motivation, I relied on my own encouragement and the checklist of accomplishments that told me I was succeeding. I chose to depend on the things I could control.

3. I adopted a nightly journal

I used a journal to reflect on and dissect my daily effort. I praised the energy that I put into succeeding, noting the important thoughts and actions that pulled me through. I reflected on how my attitude affected my efforts and what I could do to change my attitude.

I also wrote about where I didn’t give my best effort. But instead of focusing on the negative, I appreciated myself just the same, told myself how much better I would do the next day and made specific plans to do so. Every directive I came up with through journaling was fed back into my daily planner so that I could improve the next day.

Resilience gave me independence

My resilience routine obliterated the brittle mindset that had held me back. I took a leaf from L’Amour and started my own rejection list. Each “thanks, but you suck” letter I received meant that I was one step closer to results. So, like L’Amour, I kept stepping. (Unlike L’Amour, I am still waiting on my 60th bestseller.)

Related: 5 Daily Habits to Optimize Your 2017

The more I praised my effort, the more courage I had to step into the arena and face failure. And I failed with style. I got rejection after rejection from all the big websites, including this one. Query letters to new clients went unanswered or rejected. There were even people who got offended at my attempts to succeed. But, unlike my brittle former self, I kept going. I celebrated the failure. Every time I chose to applaud my effort rather than dwell on mistakes, I became more resilient.

Within one year of adopting a resilience practice, I went from a couch-surfing boy adrift to an independent man, a writer — published on the world’s best sites — and a contributor to my local business community.

My resilience practice gave me an inner strength that helped me succeed not only as an entrepreneur, but as an athlete, friend, brother, uncle, role model and son too.

Conclusion

Are you where you want to be professionally? Are you able to take risks? If not, start your resilience routine today.

Come up with the affirmations that you need. Encourage yourself from dawn to dusk. Plan out your day, celebrating your efforts as you achieve. And reflect on your day each night with a journal, assessing what you did right and where you can do better.

Encourage yourself. Take risks. Accept failure. And embrace success.

15 Signs You Need a Social Media Cleanse

Social cleanse

(Article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com)

The shiny red notifications. The ‘likes.’ The tags.

Don’t kid yourself — you live for those little guys.

But they’re nothing more than a digital high. Social media is fast becoming an addiction in our hyper-connected world, and it’s silently wrecking you. Maybe you don’t even realize how much you depend on those comments, shares and follows. If you recognize any of these symptoms, it’s time for a social-media cleanse.

1. You’re uninspired.

Inspired people do inspiring things. Of the 99 billion options, social media is not one. Make room for inspiration in your life by trimming the Facebook fat.

2. Your to-do list never gets done.

One step at a time is the best advice for accomplishing anything. But our modern world begs for a caveat: One uninterrupted step at a time. Social media competes for your focus and swamps your ability to power through work.

Related: 3 Ways to End Technology Distraction

3. You haven’t hung out with offline friends in a month.

Social media is instantly gratifying. Flip open your laptop or glance at your phone, and you get a quick fix that affirms your opinions and latest selfies. But it’s not truly satisfying because it isn’t the real thing. Trust me: You need the real thing.

5. You mindlessly navigate to social media during downtime.

Success is a combination of dozens of small habits. Each of your programmed responses either pushes you forward or pulls you back. Reaching for your smartphone like a zombie doesn’t scream “success.” During your weeklong social cleanse, retrain your brain to fall back on useful things. Engage in mini-sessions of directed mindfulness, read a book or reflect on all the gifts that make you grateful in life. See how many success-boosting habits you can form in the gaping void created by social media’s absence.

Related: 25 Best Habits to Have in Life

6. You’re stressed by big deadlines.

Big projects require massive focus, and that can’t exist alongside little distractions. Eliminate the biggest of the media and step away from social media. Make these self-imposed breaks a deadline ritual. They can help get your head in the game and prime your brain for peak performance.

7. You’ve started to think in Facebook posts.

You know it’s bad when a pithy quote pops in your head in the form of what’s sure to be a well-received Facebook post. I’ve been there, too. It’s why I’m writing this article.

8. You’re having problems with impulse control.

Whether your guilty pleasure is snarfing down an entire bag of popcorn or binge-watching “Game of Thrones,” impulse issues arise when you forget how to say no. Continually checking in on trivial matters that rule Facebook and Twitter is a recipe for atrophy. Exercise your executive function and take back control by refusing to be tempted to check your notifications and timelines. Abstain for a week, a month or however long it takes for you to get your head together.

Related: Study: Constantly Texting and Checking Social Media Makes You ‘Morally Shallow’

9. You’re indecisive.

We use social media as a crutch for uncertainty. Instead of identifying the best possible solution and making a plan to pursue it, we turn to social media as an escape. No bueno. A social cleanse forces you to make tough decisions from your own place of self-knowledge, without crowdsourcing a response to each little thing life throws your way.

10. You haven’t read a good book in a while.

Life is better with books. But it’s hard to read something useful when every spare second is devoted to social media. Your online fast is the perfect opportunity to make reading a habit. Read a book — the kind with pages — an hour before bed. The routine itself and the calming activity will help you drift into a more restful sleep.

Related: Reading Books Makes You Smarter, Richer and Surprisingly Healthier 

11. You’re falling behind on fitness goals.

You have only so much room in your life to choose which habits you’ll cling to. Instead of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning, strap on your Fitbit, lace up and beat feet. When you feel the urge to tweet, bust out some jumping jacks or squats. Do useful things for your body.

12. You believe you need social media to be OK.

You don’t. I promise. You experienced happiness before you lost yourself in social media, and you’ll be happier without it interrupting your life every five minutes.

13. You’ve stopped doing your favorite things.

Nearly 100 percent of entrepreneurs are human beings who need fun to recharge and strike a balance. Social media feels good, but it steals time away from doing the things you love. Even worse, its insidious nature means it tries to intrude when you do let yourself live in the moment. You don’t really need to send an update on whatever you’re doing right this second. People can wait three hours (or a lifetime) without learning what you were up to for an afternoon. Rediscover what it feels like to be a human.

Related: How Wanting ‘Likes’ on Social Media Is Killing Our Capacity for Actual Joy

14. You worry you haven’t grown as a person.

Personal growth is a product of undistracted reflection. It’s difficult to assess your thoughts and habits against where you’d hoped to be by now. But if your mind is constantly shifting back to social mode, it’s downright impossible. Shed your social shackles and get to know you.

15. You don’t get time away from your computer.

There’s only so much screen time a person can take before she loses her soul. (I seem to have misplaced the study link, but you get the picture.) If your job keeps you at a desk for eight hours a day, you need offline stress relief. Your soul can’t do much to further your goals and career if your eyes and posture are shot from all those hours parked in front of a screen.

Related: The Shocking Lessons I Learned After I Quit My Social Media Addiction in 3 Days in the Desert

4. You’re so distracted you forgot to add No. 4 in its cozy and rightful place between No. 3 and No. 5.

This might be more of a personal problem, but maybe you can relate. I’ve lambasted social media, but it’s only as evil as you make it. Get some perspective by going cold turkey for a week or a month — whatever you need to regain control. Then, integrate social media back into your life in appropriate doses. When you first rejoin the social conversation, 15 minutes a day is plenty. Maintain your new direction through self-discipline. During the week, daylong fasts can prevent social media from regaining its hold on your life.