In "Optimize Your Mind" and "Optimize Your Body," we looked at some awesome ideas fromChris Winfield, an Inc. colleague who originally put a version of the following together for Buffer. (Buffer lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social-media updates.)
Chris is an entrepreneur and writer, and if you like these posts, he's created a special bonus area with a worksheet and 40 powerful morning habits you can adopt.
Now let's look at his third key aspect of long-term success: optimizing your spirit.
Just as mental and physical aspects of your daily routine can elevate you and push you forward, the same is true when you tend to yourself emotionally and spiritually. Here are a few options to consider:
1. Get Quiet: Try Meditation.
OK, this is technically called meditation, but if the idea of "meditating" is a turn-off, then just think about it as spending some daily quiet time alone. I was one of those people who didn't think I could ever meditate. (Boy, was I wrong!)
Engaging in this daily practice has a lot of positive benefits. Giovanni of the Live and Dare blog points out 76 of them, such as greater focus, better decision making and problem solving skills, improved memory, and an easier time managing hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder. Meditation does this by altering your brain's structure. (It actually grows!)
Meditation also reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, according to Harvard University studies, which are even more reasons to give it a try if you haven't before.
There are so many awesome guided meditations available for free online, and for many people, this is a great way to get started (or to enhance your practice).
- UCLA Mindfulness Research Center: These eight audio tracks are a great introduction to mindfulness meditation, which you can practice on your own.
- The Chopra Center for Wellbeing Podcast: Deepak Chopra, MD, and David Simon, MD, run The Chopra Center for Wellbeing and put out excellent guided meditations on their podcast. The sessions focus on specific themes, ranging from gratitude to taking the plunge.
- 20-Plus Hour Playlist on Spotify: This is a wonderfully curated playlist of guided meditations for Spotify users.
- YouTube is FULL of guided meditations: YouTube is a goldmine of guided meditations. You can choose to watch and listen or just listen. The link above will bring you to a list of the most popular.
- AudioDharma: This site offers a wealth of guided meditations from different teachers and on many different themes. Download them all for free or stream them directly.
Here's a great infographic that gives an overview of the different kinds of meditation, and some tips for fitting in meditation at work.
2. Find a Well of Inspiration.
Inspiration and motivation can come from many places--books, music, podcasts, videos, emails, other people. All you have to do is find the one or ones that resonate most with you and commit to engaging with them. Daily.
Research has shown that inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated...and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.
I have a few apps on my phone that I read daily to inspire and motivate me. They keep me centered and grounded, giving me a more stable mental foundation.
Another way to get inspired involves repeating positive affirmations, which is why I do this both in the morning and at night. In fact, researchers at Stanford University have found that affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and even relationships.
So find a word or phrase that is empowering and motivating to you and repeat it over and over again to yourself.
3. Practice Gratitude: Write What You're Thankful For.
If you woke up tomorrow and only had the things you were thankful for today, what would you have?
By spending time each day expressing gratitude for all of the blessings in your life, you do two things. First, you recognize that even though things may not be exactly as you'd like, you are fortunate to have what you do. Second, the more blessings you are thankful for, the more you draw in or attract. It's like they multiply.
Beyond just realizing your blessings, it also helps to actively appreciate them. For instance, I make sure I spend some time daily with my daughter and wife because I always want them to know how grateful I am to have them in my life.
I write a simple gratitude list every single day (even on the days I don't want to) and, as a result of creating over 1,000 of these lists, I have become a more positive, mindful, and attentive person.
Come up with a list of all of the things that you are grateful for and go over it when you get up in the morning and again before you go to bed at night. You can also take it one step further and pick someone from your past that you're grateful for, get in touch with them, and let them know. Imagine the impact this could have on them...and you!
4. Learn Something New (Every Day!)
According to a study by San Francisco State University, learning something new makes you happier long-term. While it may cause you a little stress in the short-term, at least until you reach some level of comfort, the end result is a higher level of life satisfaction, making it more than worth the initial uneasiness.
What are some things you could learn that you haven't already?
How about painting, drawing, or writing? Or maybe you'd prefer something a little more physical, like rock climbing or learning a particular style of dance. Or you could even go all out and test your strength by trying out for American Ninja Warrior!
5. Spend Less Time With People Who Don't Lift You Up.
Author James Altucher stresses the importance of cutting down interaction with those who drag you down. As James says, "Energy leaks out of you if someone is draining you."
Think about the people in your life: Do they give you emotional energy or take it away? If it's the former, spend more time with them.
If it's the latter, keep your distance, and you'll be happier.
6. Give to Others.
There is something extremely satisfying about helping those around you. It doesn't have to be huge acts of service, either. Something as simple as opening the door for someone or giving a stranger (or loved one) a genuine compliment has the ability to make a huge impact on their day...and yours.
Make it a goal to do something good for someone each day...and the smile on your face will be as big as the one on theirs.
If you have time, you might also want to volunteer at a local charity or nonprofit organization. Websites such as VolunteerMatch, GiveBack, and All for Good can help you find one that's right for you.
7. Evaluate. Track. Enhance.
Maybe you're reading through this list and thinking something like this: "Well, I've already tried a lot of these things, and I'm still not where I want to be."
If so...it might be time to take an honest look at what you are currently doing with your day and figure out where your time is being spent. This is where technology can lend a helping hand.
There are several (this is an understatement!) productivity-based apps available that can help you recognize where you are spending a majority of your time.
For instance, Exist has an app that helps you track your day, giving you insights as to how much time you're distracted versus productive. It also tells you how much time you spend sleeping versus engaged in physical activity. It even tracks your moods.
I also use the Way of Life app to help me keep track of my habits on a daily basis. Spend about a minute each day to track, identify, and change your habits...and as you collect more and more information, you will be able to easily spot positive and negative trends in your lifestyle.
There are also websites that you can use to help you be the best you. One to consider is The Daily Practice. This site allows you to set your own repeating goals, helping you turn them into habits. Or you can check out theXeffect on reddit.
Now let's shift gears and do a little self-reflection.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. "Am I doing what I love?"
Let's be honest, it's hard to be the best version of you if you're not happy with what you are doing with your life.
The late Steve Jobs touched on this concept in the commencement address he gave Stanford students, when he said:
"...for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
So, are you doing things that you'd be happy about doing if it were your last day on this earth?
If not, then maybe you need to think about what you could be doing that would leave you feeling more fulfilled and full of life.
Come up with a list of activities that will satisfy you and add them to your days, so your answer to this question becomes a resounding "YES!"
2. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Ever wake up first thing in the morning worried about something that may happen later that day, week, month, or year? Or maybe you spend a lot of time throughout the day going over future events in your mind, feeling an overwhelming sense of dread as you ponder everything that could go wrong.
This type of thinking can prevent you from becoming mentally ready to go to the next level, so one way to get over this obstacle is to ask yourself:
"What is really the worst thing that could happen if [insert potential future bad situation here] were to come true?"
In other words, by truly thinking through potential situations and their outcomes, you'll likely see that it isn't a life or death deal.
Or you can do "The Work" an amazingly simple process created by author Byron Katie, that will help you identify and question your harmful thoughts. This tool gives you four simple questions to ask yourself and allows you to experience the happiness of undoing those thoughts:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to No. 3)
- Can you absolutely know that it is true? (Yes or no)
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
Try it. Think of a person or situation that's really bothering you--whether it's something you're really worried about or scared of or a resentment or whatever it is--and then ask yourself these four questions. Be honest.
You'll be amazed at what happens. This simple process can be applied to basically anything that you're struggling with.
3. "What good have I done today?"
Benjamin Franklin's day always ended with asking and answering this question, "What good have I done today?"
Asking and answering this simple question at the end of your day provides you with an opportunity to reflect and gives you perspective. It forces you to consider whether you're heading in the direction you want to go and to take others into account.
Did you help other people?
Don't forget, the more good you are doing...the more good will come to you. My friend Hiten Shah has a simple quote in his email signature which encapsulates this perfectly (and which I see him live):
"You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want." --Zig Ziglar
At the end of each day, I write in my journal (or, using the Day One app, on my phone) all the positive things that happened during the course of that day. I also list the things I want to improve upon, which helps give me clarity and direction on what I can do to make the next day even better.
Putting It All Together: My Daily Routine
It's ironic that I spent most of my life fighting structure and routine...and now I help other people realize the power of it.
Having a healthy daily routine keeps me functioning at the highest level possible on all three planes of existence--mind, body, and spirit. I need it to make myself a better person. I need it so I constantly see opportunity and view problems as "situations."
In short, I need it so I can be free.
Here's my current routine:
- 5 a.m.--Wake up (no snoozing!) and get right out of bed. Say, "This will be the best day ever," and then I hit my knees and say a quick prayer. I read a few inspirational messages on apps while I drink a big glass of water.
- 5:15 a.m.--Read a chapter of a book. (I'm currently reading Shift Your Mind, Shift the World, by Steve Chandler, and re-reading The Obstacle Is the Way, by Ryan Holiday.)
- 5:45 a.m.--Write my Morning Pages (while drinking a cup of coffee).
- 6:15 a.m.--Meditate for 20 minutes. (Here are my 9 "hacks" for meditating.)
- 6:35 a.m.--Say positive affirmations out loud while listening to audio like this (approximately six minutes), do some visualizations (approximately three to five minutes), write a gratitude list (approximately three minutes).
- 7 a.m.--Make breakfast for me, my daughter, and our puppy (we recently rescued this little cutie).
- 7:30 a.m.--Walk to Central Park with my dog and daughter and let both of them run around.
- 8:15 a.m.--Finalize my daily action plan and to-do's and check in with my mentor.
- 8:30 a.m.--Start working, focused on my MIT (Most Important Task) of the day (which is usually writing).
- 9 a.m.--Check and respond to email, review website sales, stats, etc.
- 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.--Work (utilizing my "Dream. Dump. Map. Chunk." productivity system).
- 4 p.m.--Work out (either at my club or by going for a run in Central Park).
- 5:30 p.m.--Meet up with someone for coffee or networking.
- 7 p.m.--Spend time with my family, come up with 10 ideas, and learn something new.
- 9:30 p.m.--Floss (this was actually my first real habit), review my day, say nighttime affirmations, give thanks again.
- 10 p.m.--Lights out...sleep.
Don't Be Afraid to Mess Up--Just Start!
It's important for me to let you know that this isn't what my daily routine looked like at the beginning...not even close. I was happy to just be doing one of these things on a daily basis! No, this has been a constant process of experimentation, optimization, and change...it's not always easy, but it's so worth it.
It's OK to "let yourself be sloppy" when it comes to creating new habits. In other words, be specific in what you want, but also keep the flexibility necessary to work within your lifestyle and schedule, so your habits actually stick.
Start small. The American Psychological Association suggests that "to improve your success, [you need to] focus on one goal or change at a time."
One of my favorite examples of starting small to get big results comes from author John Grisham. Want to know what his goal was when he first started writing?
Write One Page a Day.
One page per day. That's it. Sometimes writing that one page would take 10 minutes...sometimes an hour. Many times, he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his "day job" as a lawyer. As Grisham says:
"The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower. My office was five minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee and a legal pad, and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week."
It took Grisham three years to finish his first novel, A Time to Kill, and since getting it published in 1988, he has gone on to write one book per year, selling more than 300 million copies worldwide and amassing a net worth of over $200 million!
All of that started with one page per day...
Never discount the power of consistently taking small, deliberate actions, and the compound effect this can have on your life.
Even one positive habit done daily can be the basis for major change in your life. Just start. In the words of the late Jim Rohn:
"Big achievements come one small advantage at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time."
Others in this series: