how I became a morning person – 6 ways to hack your mornings

improve yourself

“Here’s some of the things I’ve changed in my life to become a morning person.

1_A good morning starts the night before.

Get all the things you need ready the night before. It’s a double time saving as some morning-tasks take longer as your brain is still waking up. I get my laptop and gym-bag by the front-door ready to go and get my clothes in a pile ready to put on.

Mentally prepare for the next day by scanning your calendar. Knowing what’s on and where you need to be, removes any lingering questions from your head.

Clear your mind for sleep. Phil Jones, MD of Brother UK and president of Forever Manchester, told me he has an iPad by his bed to note down anything on his mind so he can wipe it from his conscious and have a good night’s sleep. He can then pick up his thoughts again in the morning.

Work out what helps you sleep. Getting to sleep is a challenge for almost all and so much has been written on how to get a great night’s sleep; what worked for me was simply reading, and occasionally herbal sleeping pills.

2_Improve the transition from fast asleep to wide awake.

Use a Fitbit as an alarm. It’s a wrist-based fitness tracker that’s comfortable enough to be worn in bed, and it includes a silent vibrating alarm. It’s a far more gentle way to wake up, with the added benefit of waking just you up, and not your partner.

Don’t hit the snooze button. A study in 1999 that involved Harvard Medical School found that the going back in to sleep mode disrupted your ability to concentrate.

Get a Wake Up light. These devices simulate sunrise, filling a bedroom with a glow around thirty minutes before wake-up.

3_Wake up earlier and make it count.

Reclaim the morning and get up earlier. There’s no feeling like being in the office at 7am and having a full 2 hours before everyone else comes online. Don’t aim too early at first; stagger yourself back slowly in twenty minute increments.

Don’t waste those extra hours in the office. Set yourself micro-goals that will impact on your day, with a 9am deadline. I want to wrap up my replies to urgent emails, set out my to-do list for the day and I like to include a social element. Catching up with a member of the team before 9am is a rewarding way to start the day.

4_Reward yourself every morning.

Do something you wouldn’t normally do each day, something that makes you happy.It’s a great to hack your morning to increase productivity, but if you can build in something that also makes you happy then you have a double win. It doesn’t have to be complicated; a donut at your desk, a smoothie and a newspaper in a quiet part of the office or something that has bacon in it.

5_Exercise to gain energy in the morning, not lose it.

Do it. Do it. Exercise first thing. Exercise in the morning gives energy, rather than taking it. I always hit the gym first thing: it gets my body and mind fully awake to hit the rest of the day.

Get someone else to motivate you. I love training alone, but I never put in as much work at the gym as when I’m with someone else.

Exercise gets you out the house earlier. There’s no need for a shower if I’m going to be caked in sweat in twenty minutes, so the only thing standing between me and leaving my house is putting on my gym kit.

6_Save coffee till later. Go water. Go juice. Go vitamins.

Ease the body in with something that isn’t coffee. Sleep is hard work for the brain, it needs to make sense of all the craziness of your day. When you wake up, don’t provoke it with coffee, but feed it with the hydration and nutrients it needs to get up and running.

There are other coffees. Early morning nutrition is vital.

Go Berocca. Just launched in the US, Berocca fills you with vitamins and gets you hydrated with water.

Have an awesome morning tomorrow!”.

Al Mackin co-founder & CEO of Formisimo and founder & chairman of theEword

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how to apply lateral thinking

improve yourself

“Pretend that you’re trapped in a magical room with only two exits. Through the first exit is a room made from a giant magnifying glass, and the blazing hot sun will fry you to death. Through the second door is a room with a fire-breathing dragon. Which do you go through?

The first door, of course; simply wait until the sun goes down. 

The answer to this puzzle is an example of what psychologists call ‘lateral thinking’. The most elegant solution presents itself when you approach the problem sideways, rather than answering it head-on. Though the question is presented as a binary choice —one option or the other— when you disregard the assumption that you must act immediately, the ‘best’ answer becomes obvious.

The trouble for most of us is that even if we’re ‘creative’, our default setting is ‘linear thinking’. But that default can be overridden.
Here are five steps to train yourself to think a little more laterally with any challenge:

1_List the assumptions
When confronted with a question (problem, challenge, etc.), write out the assumptions inherent to the question. In the case of the puzzle above, the list might include the following:

  • You want to get out of the room
  • You have to choose one of the two options
  • You have to do something now
  • Room One will kill you no matter what (or so we think!)
  • Room Two will kill you no matter what

2_Verbalize the convention
Next, ask yourself the question: how would a typical person approach this problem? Map out the obvious, straightforward solutions. Then ask yourself: what if I couldn’t go this route?

3_Question the question
Ask yourself: what if I could rewrite the question? Rearrange the pieces to form a new scenario. In the trapped room scenario, instead of “which do you go through?” you might rewrite the question to ask “will you go through one of them?” or “will these really kill you?” or “do you even need to go through one of them?”.

4_Start backwards
Often the route to solving a problem is revealed when you start with the solution first, and try to work backward. For example, asking the question: how would I get into a trapped room if it were adjoined by a room made out of a magnifying glass? By reframing the challenge in this way, you’ll notice that I stripped away the details that cause you to overthink the answer to the trapped room example. But in a real-life scenario, this question might sound more like “how could we renewably generate 10 gigajoules of electricity?” rather than “how could we make the city more energy efficient?” —a vague question that often results in straightforward, but ineffective answers like “get people to turn off their lights more”.

5_Change perspective
Finally, one of the reasons innovation often happens when outsiders enter a new industry, or when disparate groups bump into one another, is because fresh perspective are convention-ignorant. To kickstart lateral thinking, you might do well to pretend you were someone else trying to solve the problem. Say, if you were a magician, or a scientist, or a track and field star, how would they escape from the fire room? Or how would the fire-breathing dragon answer this question? Etc.

In our modern work culture, we generally cling to two conventions when solving problems: 1) put your head down and work relentlessly until fortune strikes; and 2) spend as little effort as possible. The problem with each of these philosophies is actually somewhat lazy. Mental work is more difficult than rote physical work, though we often fool ourselves into thinking that because you can see the latter, it’s just as or more valuable. Conversely, no one ever changed the world by cutting corners. It’s the combination of the two, hard work and mental flexibility, that leads to revolutions.”

Shane Snow journalist & cofounder of Contently

9 principles to help you keep calm in chaos

improve yourself

“It’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them; it’s vital that we learn to transmute them into fuel to feed our fire.

1_Acknowledge that all emotions come from within. It is not outside forces that make us feel something, it is what we tell ourselves that create our feelings. A blank document, canvas, or unmarked to-do list is not inherently stressful—it’s your thoughts that are stressing you out.

2_Find someone you respect, and use them to stay honest. Whatever you do, there are individuals that you can learn from. You can study their story, works, techniques, successes and failures. You can listen to interviews or even reach out to them by sending an email. You can discover patterns of success and apply it to your life.

3_Recognize there is life after failure. No failure, no growth.

4_Read purposefully, and apply your knowledge. Reading prepares your mind, even helps you avoid foolish mistakes, but at the end of it all there must be the result of some action: a failure, maybe a success, or a lesson.

5_Challenge yourself to be brutally honest. It’s important to be mindful of the urges that obstruct us from showing up, engaging, committing, and being present.

6_Reflect on what you spend the most time on. In my own observations, people who do excellent work, who master their craft, do so because of their ability to prioritize.

7_Remind yourself: you weren’t meant to procrastinate. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.

8_Put the phone away and be present. It’s not that we live in an age of distractions, but rather an age where we are failing to teach and embrace mindful motives.

9_Remind yourself that time is our most precious resource. It provides a sense of urgency, to realize that you’ve lived a certain number of hours and the hours ahead of you are not guaranteed as the ones you have lived.

The way we lead our lives and do our work must embody the principles that we practice. Less comparing, criticizing, and consuming; more creating, learning, and living.”

Paul Jun writer and author

42 practical ways to improve yourself

improve yourself

“I’ve compiled 42 of my best tips which might be helpful in your personal growth journey. Some of them are simple steps which you can engage in immediately. Some are bigger steps which takes conscious effort to act on. Here they are:

  1. Read a book every day. Books are concentrated sources of wisdom. The more books you read, the more wisdom you expose yourself to. What are some books you can start reading to enrich yourself? Some books I’ve read and found useful are Think and Grow Rich, Who Moved My Cheese, 7 Habits, The Science of Getting Rich and Living the 80/20 Way. I’ve heard positive reviews for The Tipping Point, Outliers and The Difference Maker, so I’ll be checking them out soon.
  2. Learn a new language. As a Singaporean Chinese, my main languages are English, Mandarin and Hokkien (a Chinese dialect). Out of interest, I took up language courses in the past few years such as Japanese and Bahasa Indonesian. I realized learning a language is a whole new skill altogether and the process of acquainting with a new language and culture is a totally a mind-opening experience.
  3. Pick up a new hobby. Beyond just your usual favorite hobbies, is there something new you can pick up? Any new sport you can learn? Examples are fencing, golf, rock climbing, football, canoeing, or ice skating. Your new hobby can also be a recreational hobby. For example, pottery, Italian cooking, dancing, wine appreciation, web design, etc.  Learning something new requires you to stretch yourself in different aspects, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.
  4. Take up a new course. Is there any new course you can join? Courses are a great way to gain new knowledge and skills. It doesn’t have to be a long-term course – seminars or workshops serve their purpose too. I’ve been to a few workshops and they have helped me gain new insights which I had not considered before.
  5. Create an inspirational room. Your environment sets the mood and tone for you. If you are living in an inspirational environment, you are going to be inspired every day. In the past, I didn’t like my room at all because I thought it was messy and dull. A few years ago, I decided this was the end of it – I started on a “Mega Room Revamp” project and overhauled my room. The end result? A room I totally relish being in and inspires me to be at my peak every day.
  6. Overcome your fears. All of us have fears. Fear of uncertainty, fear of public speaking, fear of risk… All our fears  keep us in the same position and prevent us from growing. Recognize that your fears reflect areas where you can grow. I always think of fears as the compass for growth. If I have a fear about something, it represents something I’ve yet to address, and addressing it helps me to grow.
  7. Level up your skills. If you have played video games before especially RPGs, you’ll know the concept of leveling up – gaining experience so you can be better and stronger. As a blogger, I’m constantly leveling up my writing skills. As a speaker, I’m constantly leveling up my public engagement abilities. What skills can you level up?
  8. Wake up early. Waking up early (say, 5-6am) has been acknowledged by many (Anthony Robbins, Robin Sharma, among other self-help gurus) to improve your productivity and your quality of life. I feel it’s because when you wake up early, your mindset is already set to continue the momentum and proactively live out the day. Seth recently wrote a waking up early series which you should check out to help cultivate this habit.
  9. Have a weekly exercise routine. A better you starts with being in better physical shape. I personally make it a point to jog at least 3 times a week, at least 30 minutes each time. You may want to mix it up with jogging, gym lessons and swimming for variation.
  10. Start your life handbook. A life handbook is an idea I started 3 years ago. Basically, it’s a book which contains the essentials on how you can live your life to the fullest, such as your purpose, your values and goals. Sort of like your manual for your life. I started my life handbook since 2007 and it’s been a crucial enabler in my progress.
  11. Write a letter to your future self. What do you see yourself as 5 years from now? Will you be the same? Different?  What kind of person will you be? Write a letter to your future self – 1 year from now will be a good start – and seal it. Make a date in your calendar to open it 1 year from now. Then start working to become the person you want to open that letter.
  12. Get out of your comfort zone. Real growth comes with hard work and sweat. Being too comfortable doesn’t help us grow – it makes us stagnate. What is your comfort zone? Do you stay in most of the time? Do you keep to your own space when out with other people? Shake your routine up. Do something different. By exposing yourself to a new context, you’re literally growing as you learn to act in new circumstances.
  13. Put someone up to a challenge. Competition is one of the best ways to grow. Set a challenge (weight loss, exercise, financial challenge, etc) and compete with an interested friend to see who achieves the target first. Through the process, both of you will gain more than if you were to set off on the target alone.
  14. Identify your blind spots. Scientifically, blind spots refer to areas our eyes are not capable of seeing. In personal development terms, blind spots are things about ourselves we are unaware of. Discovering our blind spots help us discover our areas of improvement. One exercise I use to discover my blind spots is to identify all the things/events/people that trigger me in a day – trigger meaning making me feel annoyed/weird/affected. These represent my blind spots. It’s always fun to do the exercise because I discover new things about myself, even if I may already think I know my own blind spots (but then they wouldn’t be blind spots would they?). After that, I work on steps to address them.
  15. Ask for feedback. As much as we try to improve, we will always have blind spots. Asking for feedback gives us an additional perspective. Some people to approach will be friends, family, colleagues, boss, or even acquaintances, since they will have no preset bias and can give their feedback objectively.
  16. Stay focused with to-do lists. I start my day with a list of tasks I want to complete and this helps make me stay focused. In comparison, the days when I don’t do this end up being extremely unproductive. For example, part of my to-do list for today is to write a guest post at LifeHack.Org, and this is why I’m writing this now! Since my work requires me to use my computer all the time, I use Free Sticky Notes to manage my to-do lists. It’s really simple to use and it’s a freeware, so I recommend you check it out.
  17. Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). I’m a big fan of setting BHAGs. BHAGs stretch you beyond your normal capacity since they are big and audacious – you wouldn’t think of attempting them normally. What are BHAGs you can embark on, which you’ll feel absolutely on top of the world once you complete them? Set them and start working on them.
  18. Acknowledge your flaws. Everyone has flaws. What’s most important is to understand them, acknowledge them, and address them. What do you think are your flaws? What are the flaws you can work on now? How do you want to address them?
  19. Get into action. The best way to learn and improve is to take action. What is something you have been meaning to do? How can you take action on it immediately? Waiting doesn’t get anything done. Taking action gives you immediate results to learn from.
  20. Learn from people who inspire you. Think about people you admire. People who inspire you. These people reflect certain qualities you want to have for yourself too. What are the qualities in them you want to have for yourself? How can you acquire these qualities?
  21. Quit a bad habit. Are there any bad habits you can lose? Oversleeping? Not exercising? Being late? Slouching? Nail biting? Smoking? Here’s some help on how you can quit a bad habit.
  22. Cultivate a new habit. Some good new habits to cultivate include reading books (#1), waking up early (#8), exercising (#9), reading a new personal development article a day (#40) and meditating. Is there any other new habit you can cultivate to improve yourself?
  23. Avoid negative people. As Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. Wherever we go, there are bound to be negative people. Don’t spend too much of your time around them if you feel they drag you down.
  24. Learn to deal with difficult people. There are times when there are difficult people you can’t avoid, such as at your workplace, or when the person is part of your inner circle of contacts. Learn how to deal with them. These people management skills will go a long way in working with people in the future.
  25. Learn from your friends. Everyone has amazing qualities in them. It’s up to how we want to tap into them. With all the friends who surround you, they are going to have things you can learn from. Try thinking of a good friend right now. Think about just one quality they have which you want to adopt. How can you learn from them and adopt this skill for yourself? Speak to them if you need to – for sure, they will be more than happy to help!
  26. Start a journal. Journaling is a great way to gain better self-awareness. It’s a self-reflection process. As you write, clarify your thought process and read what you wrote from a third person’s perspective, you gain more insights about yourself. Your journal can be private or an online blog. I use my personal development blog as a personal journal too and I’ve learned a lot about myself through the past year of blogging.
  27. Start a blog about personal development. To help others grow, you need to first be walking the talk. There are expectations of you, both from yourself and from others, which you have to uphold. I run The Personal Excellence Blog, where I share my personal journey and insights on how to live a better life. Readers look toward my articles to improve themselves, which enforces to me that I need to keep improving, for myself and for the people I’m reaching out to.
  28. Get a mentor or coach. There’s no faster way to improve than to have someone work with you on your goals. Many of my clients approach me to coach them in their goals and they achieve significantly more results than if they had worked alone.
  29. Reduce the time you spend on chat programs. I realized having chat programs open at default result in a lot of wasted time. This time can be much better spent on other activities. The days when I don’t get on chat, I get a lot more done. I usually disable the auto start-up option in the chat programs and launch them when I do want to chat and really have the time for it.
  30. Learn chess (or any strategy game). I found chess is a terrific game to learn strategy and hone your brainpower. Not only do you have fun, you also get to exercise your analytical skills. You can also learn strategy from other board games or computer games, such as Othello, Chinese Chess, WarCraft, and so on.
  31. Stop watching TV. I’ve not been watching TV for pretty much 4 years and it’s been a very liberating experience. I realized most of the programs and advertisements on mainstream TV are usually of a lower consciousness and not very empowering. In return, the time I’ve freed up from not watching TV is now constructively used for other purposes, such as connecting with close friends, doing work I enjoy, exercising, etc.
  32. Start a 30-day challenge. Set a goal and give yourself 30 days to achieve this. Your goal can be to stick with a new habit or something you’ve always wanted to do but have not. 30 days is just enough time to strategize, plan, get into action, review and nail the goal.
  33. Meditate. Meditation helps to calm you and be more conscious. I also realized that during the nights when I meditate (before I sleep), I need lesser sleep. The clutter clearing process is very liberating.
  34. Join Toastmasters (Learn public speaking). Interestingly, public speaking is the #1 fear in the world, with #2 being death. After I started public speaking as a personal development speaker/trainer, I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate better, present myself and engage people. Toastmasters is an international organization that trains people in public speaking. Check out the Toastmaster clubs nearest to you here.
  35. Befriend top people in their fields. These people have achieved their results because they have the right attitudes, skill sets and know-how. How better to learn than from the people who have been there and done that? Gain new insights from them on how you can improve and achieve the same results for yourself.
  36. Let go of the past. Is there any grievance or unhappiness from the past which you have been holding on? If so, it’s time to let it go. Holding on to them prevents you from moving on and becoming a better person. Break away from the past, forgive yourself, and move on. Just recently, I finally moved on from a past heartbreak of 5 years ago. The effect was liberating and very empowering, and I have never been happier.
  37. Start a business venture. Is there anything you have an interest in? Why not turn it into a venture and make money while learning at the same time? Starting a new venture requires you to be learn business management skills, develop business acumen and have a competitive edge. The process of starting and developing my personal development business has equipped me with many skills, such as self-discipline, leadership, organization and management.
  38. Show kindness to people around you. You can never be too kind to someone. In fact, most of us don’t show enough kindness to people around us. Being kind helps us to cultivate other qualities such as compassion, patience, and love. As you get back to your day after reading this article later on, start exuding more kindness to the people around you, and see how they react. Not only that, notice how you feel as you behave kindly to others. Chances are, you will feel even better than yourself.
  39. Reach out to the people who hate you. If you ever stand for something, you are going to get haters. It’s easy to hate the people who hate us. It’s much more challenging to love them back. Being able to forgive, let go and show love to these people requires magnanimity and an open heart. Is there anyone who dislikes or hates you in your life? If so, reach out to them. Show them love. Seek a resolution and get closure on past grievances. Even if they refuses to reciprocate, love them all the same. It’s much more liberating than to hate them back.
  40. Take a break. Have you been working too hard? Self-improvement is also about recognizing our need to take a break to walk the longer mile ahead. You can’t be driving a car if it has no petrol. Take some time off for yourself every week. Relax, rejuvenate and charge yourself up for what’s up ahead.
  41. Read at least 1 personal development article a day. Some of my readers make it a point to read at least one personal development article every day, which I think is a great habit. There are many terrific personal development blogs out there, some of which you can check here.
  42. Commit to your personal growth. I can be writing list articles with 10 ways, 25 ways, 42 ways or even 1,000 ways to improve yourself, but if you’ve no intention to commit to your personal growth, it doesn’t matter what I write. Nothing is going to get through. We are responsible for our personal growth – not anyone else. Not your mom, your dad, your friend, me or LifeHack. Make the decision to commit to your personal growth and embrace yourself to a life-long journey of growth and change. Kick off your growth by picking a few of the steps above and working on them. The results may not be immediate, but I promise you that as long as you keep to it, you’ll start seeing positive changes in yourself and your life.”

Celestine Chua founder of Personal Excellence