Our habits directly control the quality of our life. As a result, if we manage to control our habits, we have more power over our life.
As James Clear writes in his book “Atomic Habits”:
“The quality of our lives depends on the quality of our habits.”
Whether you’re a student, a freelance writer, an entrepreneur, a CEO, or even a kid who goes to school, your habits define who you are.
Every single day.
They either empower you or hold you back from achieving what you want, in all areas of your life.
What follows are ten simple habits that will help you understand how to be successful. These habits are having a strong impact on my life and can transform yours too.
1. Do What Others Don’t Want to Do
This is probably the best tip on how to be successful in life.
A friend of mine, Lisa, moved to Paris for work last year. At first, she was struggling at work and getting to know new people because she couldn’t speak French.
However, she decided to learn the language and practice as much as she could. So she started looking for beginner French worksheets online, going to meetups at night, and attending an intensive course every weekend.
Long story short, she learned French in less than six months. Impressive, right?
I admire people like my friend Lisa.
I once read on EfficaceMente, a great Italian personal development blog, that what successful people usually have in common is this: they do what other people don’t want to do.
To put it another way, if you want to succeed in what you do, one simple habit you can develop is doing more than others (your peers or your competitors) do.
Do those things others tend to avoid or postpone.
And remember this:
“If someone settles for less than they deserve or doesn’t want to make an effort to achieve what they want, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same.”
Go the extra mile and stand out from the crowd. Sometimes what it takes is only a little more persistence. As Jerry Rice, one of the best American football players in history, once said:
“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I will do what others can’t.”
2. Write Down a Blacklist of the Habits that Are Slowing You Down
Many of us indulge in bad habits, unfortunately.
These habits have the power of holding us back from what we want. They consume our time and energy more than we can even realize.
To prevent bad habits from controlling you, a good idea is to identify and write down all the things that are slowing you down and are wasting your time.
According to an article published in Inc., anything you’re spending time on that doesn’t directly align with your long-term goals and vision for yourself should definitely be a candidate for this list.
Do you check your phone too frequently? Do you take too many “long breaks” during the day?
Creating a list of things that are currently wasting your time and energy — and proactively avoiding anything that appears on that list — is a good way to start having more control over your life.
An example of a not-to-do list:
- Don’t check your metrics or stats
- Avoid social media between 9:30 am and 1 pm
- No social media between 2 pm and 5 pm
- Avoid personal phone calls between 9 am and 1 pm
- No food between 9:30 am and 1 pm
- Don’t watch TV before bed
- No redirecting conversations to myself next time I go out with my friends
- Avoid junk food from Monday to Saturday
- No alcohol from Sunday to Friday
3. Focus on the Circle of Influence
One of my favorite self-improvement books is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
In case you have never read it, I highly recommend it.
There is one idea I learned in this book that helped me reframe my mindset, become more productive, and waste less time and energy on useless tasks.
The concept I’m talking about is the Circle of Influence.
According to Covey, there are two areas where we can focus our time and energy.
The first area is our Circle of Concern.
It consists of all the things that might affect us somehow, but that we can’t directly control.
For example, something that belongs to this circle could be what our friends think, the weather, your neighbor’s opinion, the stock market, you name it.
The second area is our Circle of Influence, and it represents the things we can control.
For example, we can choose when we wake up, how much time we decide to spend on an important project, how much we decide to invest, how many times a week we work out, what we eat, how much water we drink, etc.
Benefits of focusing on the Circle of Influence
As you can imagine, if you stop paying attention to anything belonging to the Circle of Concern and you start focusing only on the Circle of Influence, you will start to have more control over your life.
You will start getting more done — which will make you feel more satisfied and less stressed.
Proactive people focus their efforts on the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about.
— Stephen Covey
Once I became familiar with this concept, it helped me become aware of where I was investing my energy and on which circle I was focusing.
And of course, developing this habit helped me become more productive and less stressed at the same time.
4. Work in Micro-Shifts
The best way to do this is by following the same logic of the Pomodoro Technique, finding your ideal shift duration.
In fact, many successful people use this method.
In case you’re not familiar with it, the Pomodoro Technique was developed by the Italian entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo in the 80s and it’s a time management method that consists of working in small shifts of twenty-five minutes of focused work — that is, with no interruptions — but with short breaks.
Each break can last between three and five minutes.
The technique was named after the kitchen timer that Cirillo used, which just had the shape of a tomato — “Pomodoro” in Italian.
The benefits of this time-management technique are many:
- It helps reduce distractions;
- It makes you more productive and helps you get things done;
- Taking frequent breaks prevents tiredness and helps you stay focused and productive;
- You can measure your work and have an idea of how long you have spent on your tasks.
Alternatives to the Pomodoro Technique
After using this technique for a while, I realized I could adapt it to my rhythm. So I tried some alternatives.
I broke down my daily work into forty-minute and thirty-five-minute time blocks, with longer breaks. I also tried ten-minute shifts.
After trying several alternatives, I found my ideal shift duration.
Now I usually work in fifteen-minute blocks— with no interruptions and removing any distraction — and take a three-minute break in between.
It helps me be more productive and get more things done without burning out.
The duration of a block of time is subjective.
So, try different block alternatives and find your ideal structure.
5. Don’t Make Your Bed in the Morning
Let me explain.
You probably came across this advice already:
“Make your bed, first thing in the morning.”
They say it’s good for your mental health and productivity, as it makes you complete your first daily task and sets the tone for the entire day.
According to Admiral William McRaven:
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”
I love the idea of starting the day completing a small task. It’s true that it sets the tone for the rest of your day and makes you more productive.
It jump-starts your mind and body.
However, making the bed as soon as you get up might not be the best thing to do for your physical health.
According to a study from Kingston University, making your bed in the morning might benefit your mind, but at the expense of your physical health, as it traps in dust mites.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in the company of those little fiends for about eight hours, each night.
While making your bed in the morning helps cultivate a humid habitat for dust mites, opening the window and keeping your sheets open kills them off.
What I do instead
So, I usually leave my bed unmade in the morning for a few hours and choose another quick task — that takes less than 5 minutes — to start my day.
It’s usually simply opening the windows to let fresh air in, washing the floor of my bedroom, cleaning the kitchen, or declutter my desk. There are unlimited alternatives.
Just choose what works for you — most importantly choose one or two tasks that help you set the tone for the rest of your day.
In short, don’t make your bed in the morning, choose another quick task.
6. Show Genuine Curiosity in Others by Using Follow-up Questions
If you want to learn how to be successful, you need to know how to behave around others.
As I recently mentioned, many people are good at using conversation starters and finding great topics to talk about, while few people have developed the habit of also diving deep and showing a genuine interest in what you are saying.
Follow-up questions are questions you can ask when you want to know more about what someone is telling you, or more about them.
And these make conversations deeper.
By using them, you not only show a genuine interest in others but, according to an article published in Harvard Business Review, you also understand someone better and encourage them to share more details about what they are already talking about.
By using follow-up questions you will also do something most people don’t do: you keep the focus on the other person — most people instead tend to redirect conversations to themselves.
This will probably make you stand out in their mind.
7. Avoid Meetings or Calls with No Clear Agenda or End Time
I don’t know about you, but I really can’t stand long, never-ending meetings without a clear agenda.
According to Tim Ferris, you should avoid meetings with no clear agenda or end time.
In particular, he said this:
“If the desired outcome is defined clearly with a stated objective and agenda listing topics/questions to cover, no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes.”
He adds that the best thing to do is to request the agenda with the topics and questions to cover in advance.
This is to best prepare and make good use of the scheduled time.
8. Eliminate Small Decisions
Eliminating small decisions, like what to wear each morning, can help you save mental energy.
As Caroline Klatt mentioned in an interview published in Inc:
“Throughout the course of the day, you make thousands of decisions. Some are trivial, like what song to listen to while you’re getting dressed, and some are major, like how to handle a big crisis at work. Eventually, your brain reaches decision fatigue, which lowers the quality of all the decisions you make.”
Also, according to an article published in Forbes, Zuckerberg mentioned several times that he’d rather use his mental capacity to make decisions on how best to serve billions rather than focusing on the small and mundane.
In order to make better decisions — and avoid decision fatigue — eliminate small decisions.
Prepare a list of what you are going to eat during the week. Have a list of all the outfits you are going to wear during the week as well.
If you can, at night prepare the clothes you are going to wear the following day and prepare your lunch.
9. Practice Walking Meditation
Meditation changed my life. Anytime someone struggles with stress or anxiety I recommend it and explain its benefits.
Most of the time, the reaction I get is something along these lines:
“Sira, I don’t have the patience to sit still and focus on the present moment. I just can’t.”
If you are anything like that, I totally understand how you feel. Sometimes, when I meditate I struggle to focus too. It’s completely normal.
Meditating seems easy, but it’s not.
Sitting without moving, focusing only on the present moment and on your breath can be difficult.
A good way to make meditation less intimidating is doing it while you are walking.
Walking meditation helps you switch off totally and reduce stress.
It helps you establish a deeper connection between your mind and body, and it strengthens your mind’s ability to focus.
How I do it
What I do is simply taking a walk outdoors, listening to good meditation music. While I do it, I try to be in the present moment, breathe deeply, and focus on my footsteps.
Sometimes I combine it with listening to theta binaural beats.
After doing it, I feel as good as after practicing seated meditation.
And after practicing it for a long time , I noticed I don’t struggle with anxiety and insomnia anymore.
10. Ask Someone to Hide Your Phone (or Hide It Yourself)
During university, I had a friend, Giulia, who was particularly productive.
During our last semester together she prepared a complicated Marketing exam in only a few days.
One day I was having lunch with her and I asked her how she could do that. She gave me this piece of advice.
When you are working or studying, hide your phone behind your computer.
“Why should I keep the phone behind my computer?” I thought. However, I decided to give it a try.
On that afternoon, I studied for a few hours — with some short breaks to recharge. And I kept my phone hidden behind my laptop, where I couldn’t see it.
Then I understood. That simple piece of advice helped me remove my worst distraction and temptation — my phone. It also helped me stay focused for hours.
However, during the following days, I noticed I still had the temptation to check my phone from time to time.
So I realized the productivity hack I had learned was good, but there was something I could improve.
Instead of just keeping my phone on silent mode, I also had to keep it somewhere I couldn’t easily reach it.
So I asked my mother to hide my phone in another room where I couldn’t easily find it. I did it anytime I was studying.
This simple habit helped me boost my productivity. I finally got rid of the need to check my phone every two minutes. Most importantly, ten months later, I graduated.
When you are working, put your phone on silent and ask someone you trust to hide it. Better if they hide it somewhere you can’t easily find it.
If you can’t ask anyone to hide your phone because you live alone, you can leave your phone in another room on silent.
I tried it and found it almost as effective as someone hiding it for you.
According to an article published in The New York Times, hiding the phone in another room, or simply putting it somewhere where you can’t see it helps you resist that automatic pull to check it.
Tips About How to Be Successful in Life: Summary
- Doing what others don’t want to do;
- Writing out a don’t-do list;
- Focusing on your Circle of Influence ;
- Starting your day with a small task;
- Working in short time blocks;
- Showing genuine curiosity to others through great conversation starters and follow-up questions;
- Practicing walking meditation;
- Eliminating small decisions;
- Avoiding meetings with no clear agenda;
- Asking someone to hide your phone.
If applied, these tips about how to be successful in life can be a great tool to help you get ahead of most people and, most importantly, of yourself.
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