Photo: Wendy Cope via Flickr
You live your life in 24 hour periods. How you use those 24 hour periods determines who you become and how successful you’ll be.
If you learn to master your day, you’ll learn how to master your weeks, months, years, and life.
All you need to do is become very, very good at living each day.
The problem most people face is that they start their day off wrong, which puts them on a downward spiral throughout their whole day. Momentum is created or destroyed every day with the first few decisions you make.
Additionally, few people spend time planning and imagining the life they want to have and the person they want to become. Very few people live intentionally each day toward a higher vision. Most people are solely living day-to-day, rather than maximizing each day to make enormous progress toward a bigger and better future.
“You are what you repeatedly do.” — Will Durant
How is your day going, today?
Look back on all the things you’ve done so far. Did you act like the person you wish to become?
If you repeated today every day for the next year, realistically, where would you end up?
If you are to really accomplish your goals and dreams, how much differently would your regular day need to be than today was?
Did you interact with people who remind you more of your future, or more of your past?
In order to achieve your dreams, what does a “normal” day look like?
One of the best ways to consciously design your ideal life is to start with your ideal day. What does that actually look like?
What activities must happen daily for you to live exactly how you want to be living?
— — —
In this article, I’m going to show you:
- How you can consistently live better and better days
- How you can set-up your days the night before in order to make success inevitable
- How to consistently make more progress each day than most people make in a month or year
- How to create the life you can only imagine
4 things your brain needs daily to thrive
Before diving into how to create an optimal day, it’s important to take a look at your brain, and what makes your brain happy. At the most basic level, your brain needs 4 things in order to thrive:
“When a man makes his thoughts pure, he no longer desires impure food.” — James Allen
The quality of food you put into your body matters. You become what you consume, literally.
The best foods for brain health include:
- Nuts and seeds — particularly almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Vegetables — particularly avocados, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets
- Leafy greens — particularly spinach, broccoli, celery, and kale
- Fish — particularly salmon, sardines, and tuna
- Berries — particularly blueberries, strawberries, and acai berries
- Spices — particularly cinnamon, sage, thyme, and turmeric
- Healthy fats — particularly coconut oil and olive oil
- Dark chocolate — one of the only foods shown to acutely boost mood, focus, and alertness, according to a University of Nottingham study
- Healthy grains — University of Toronto researchers recently determined that eating carbohydrate-rich foods like oatmeal is equivalent to a shot of glucose, a.k.a. blood sugar, injected into your brain
The worst foods for brain health include:
- Anything with artificial sugar — particularly fruit juices, soda, candy
- Anything that has artificial and white flour
- Most dairy
“Back in the day, the majority of exercise studies focused on the parts of the body from the neck down, like the heart and lungs. But now we are finding that we need to go north, to the brain, to show the true benefits of a physically active lifestyle on an individual.” — Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
The amount of oxygen your brain gets determines how well it functions. Just because you breath air doesn’t mean your brain is getting the quantity and quality of oxygen it needs to thrive.
- The brain uses about three times as much oxygen as muscles in the body do
- Brain cells are very sensitive to decreases in oxygen levels and don’t survive or function well very long without it
Daily fitness is essential to brain health and having a body that can provide maximal oxygen to your brain. Specifically:
- One study found that daily fitness is good for memory and decreases chances of Alzheimer’s
- Okonkwo’s research has shown that people who exercise have greater brain volume in areas of the brain associated with reasoning and executive function. In an interview with TIME, he stated, “We’ve done a series of studies showing that increased aerobic capacity boosts brain structure, function and cognition,” he says, “Other people have found exercise can improve mood.”
Aerobic exercise, like running and swimming, appears to be best for brain health since these increase your heart rate, “which means the body pumps more blood to the brain,” says Okonkwo. But strength training, like weight lifting, may also bring benefits to the brain by increasing heart rate.
Your brain needs information to process in order to continually develop new connections. If the brain isn’t firing, it’s not wiring, and this ages it.
If you don’t use your brain, you lose it very quickly. Memory fades and reality becomes less clear and compelling.
The problem with most of the information people consume is that it is repetitive and low quality — like putting junk in your car, it doesn’t help your brain function well, but actually damages it long-term. For example, scanning Facebook or passively scanning articles like this one don’t challenge the brain enough.
In order for your brain to thrive, you need to continually give it higher quality information, which is often above your cognitive level. You also want to learn actively, which means you’re taking notes and linking what you’re learning in your memory through visualization.
Your memory is entirely based on connection and imagination. So when you’re learning something new, you want to be very active and imaginative with that information. You want to link what you’re learning with as many other things as possible. The more visual and exaggerated you are with how you approach new information, the more memorable it will be. As you change your memory, you change yourself. Thus, learning is not about retaining or storing information, but rather, it is about reframing your entire paradigm.
Thus, the purpose of information is not simply to put more information into the existing mental model you currently have. True learning is emotional and imaginative — thus, it is intended to reframe your entire mental model. If you don’t see and operate differently in the world, you didn’t change.
Change is very, very good for the brain. It’s one of the best ways to anti-age your brain and keep it healthy. Doing the same things over and over and not continually pushing and expanding your mindset and mental model is very bad for the brain. It trains your brain to be lazy. It keeps you stuck in a limiting identity and with an aging and decaying brain.
See the world differently every day.
Learn something new that changes how you view the world every day.
This is how you heal your brain, keep it young, and keep it healthy.
“Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.” — Ann Landers
Research has shown that babies who don’t receive love can die. Oxygen and nutrition aren’t enough. The brain thrives on physical touch and emotional connection.
For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional health of two groups:
- 456 poor people in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study)
- 268 graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939–1944 (the Glueck study)
After following these groups and testing them (e.g., blood samples, brain scans) for several decades, the findings have been compiled.
Here’s the conclusion:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” — Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development
As Melanie Curtin reported on Inc., “The biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.”
Although the Harvard study lays the foundation, there is other compelling research on the importance of human relationships.
This meta analysis showed a 50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships. Put simply, if you have healthy relationships, your chances of survival increase by 50%.
The most loving and deep relationships are built on a very simple foundation: giving and gratitude.
When the focus is on what you can give, rather than what you can get, the relationship becomes a gift to both of you.
There’s no holding back.
No keeping score.
Only in such relationships can you be fully present to the moment and fully un-inhibited in the expression of your love.
— — —
Every single day, you need:
- good nutrition
- and love.
Without these, your brain and soul will not thrive, but instead will shrivel and die. These are the basics that you should build your day around.
The rest of this article focuses on prioritization and productivity.
If you are intentional and strategic, you can achieve more in one day than most people achieve in a week.
Even more, if you’re clear about what you want, you can make enormous progress, daily, toward important goals. Making clear and powerful progress daily is more than many people can say they’ve done in years.
Many if not most people are not pointing their life in a desired direction. They are in jobs and relationships they hate. Put simply, they are climbing a ladder that is facing the wrong wall. As bestselling author, Ryan Holiday has said, “This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.”
Thus, if you can make tangible progress in a desired direction every single day, you’ll be living far more powerfully and intentionally than most of the population.
If you can add productivity and courage to your day, you can radically transform your whole life in a matter of a few short years.
For the remainder of this article, I’ll cover:
- Setting yourself up for success the evening before
- Having an optimal morning routine
- And living daily such that you’re continually expanding both inside and outside as a person
Use Ernest Hemingway’s evening routine for maximized creativity and productivity
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck … That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” — Ernest Hemingway
Apparently, Ernest Hemingway would stop his writing sessions mid-sentence. He did this for a few reasons:
- So that his subconscious would continue chewing-on the idea
- So that when he started writing again the next day, he didn’t have to start from scratch, but could continue where he left off (already with a sense of momentum … )
Your evening routine doesn’t need to be long. But like Hemingway, it’s good to know exactly what you’re going to do when you wake up. It’s good to have done even just a little bit of work so that you have somewhere to pick-up when you first get started.
Facing a blank slate first thing in the morning can be difficult. If you take just a few minutes to consider what you’re first going to do, and even give a minute or two of thought as to what that will involve, then you don’t have to start from scratch.
Pull out your journal just before bed and write down the first few things you’re going to do the next morning. Then, as it relates to the first task or project, write down a few ideas related to that thing.
Your brain is far more creative in the morning and far more analytical at night. Use your analytical evening strength to provide a simple plan and starting-point so your creative morning brain can run wild when you first wake up.
There’s one more side-benefit to creating a runway for your next morning. As Hemingway stated, your subconscious will then be able to focus on and make important connections while you sleep. Thomas Edison did this himself, which is why he was such a prolific and productive creative person (something rare, indeed). He actually had a process. In his own words, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
— — —
This morning routine will save you 20+ hours per week
“Typically, we have a window of about three hours where we’re really, really focused. We’re able to have some strong contributions in terms of planning, in terms of thinking, in terms of speaking well,” — Dr. Rod Friedman told Harvard Business Review
According to psychologist Ron Friedman, the first three hours of your day are your most precious for maximized productivity.
This makes sense on several levels. Let’s start with sleep. Research confirms the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is most active and readily creative immediately following sleep. Your subconscious mind has been loosely mind-wandering while you slept, making contextual and temporal connections.
So, immediately following sleep, your mind is most readily active to do thoughtful work.
On a different level, the science of willpower and self-control confirm that your willpower — or energy levels — are strongest immediately following sleep. The longer you go throughout your day, the less willpower you have. In other words, you experience decision fatigue throughout your day.
So, your brain is most attuned first thing in the morning, and so are your energy levels. Consequently, the best time to do your best work is during the first three hours of your day.
During your morning time, you want to do a few important things:
- Super-hydration — drink 20–40 ounces of water — this will wake you up, making you more alert (your brain needs oxygen to function well)
- Pull out your journal and begin writing
- Create a mind-map of your ideal self
- Write about the top 1-3 things you want to achieve that day
The purpose of this 10-30 minute morning journal session is to reframe yourself as the person you want to become. You want to put yourself into a peak and heightened state where you can live with intention.
Creating a mind-map and also writing down your future goals is very powerful because it reshapes your mindset and memory. Mind-maps when done right work both your right and left brains because they are intended to be visual and emotionally stimulating.
In other words, you don’t want to simply write down your goals. You want images and pictures of your future self and dreams to be in your face. The more imaginative, emotional, and exaggerated, the more they will become real to you; the more they’ll shape your memory and identity.
Every day, you should write down and visualize your future self and dreams. Then, you want to be results-oriented throughout your day in order to achieve those dreams as fast as possible.
When you begin your day right, you start with confidence and momentum. Little wins in the morning lead to big wins throughout your day and throughout your life.
Start right, end right.
Start with vision and focus and you’ll be moving in a clear direction, rather than aimlessly moving without direction.
After you’ve put yourself into a peak and intentional state, it’s good to begin working on the project you left undone or created a simple plan for the night before.
If you work on your most important work first thing in the morning and without distraction, you’ll make progress daily. Over enough time, you’ll have made HUGE progress. This is what Darren Hardy calls The Compound Effect. As he stated, “It’s not the big things that add up in the end; it’s the hundreds, thousands, or millions of little things that separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.”
After you’ve emotionally and imaginatively created and experienced your future vision, and after you’ve done your most important and creative work, then it’s time to get the body moving. It’s time to workout and give your brain a little bit of a break! But also, as you exercise, you’re also giving your brain a HUGE boost, which will provide you with tons of energy and cognitive ability for the rest of your day!
If your 3-5 hours before your workout were focused, you could probably be done for the day. You’ll have made more progress in your morning than many people make in weeks or months.
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Use “forcing functions” to become results-focused
“Wherever you are, make sure you’re there.” — Dan Sullivan
If you’re like most people, your workday is a blend of low-velocity work mixed with continual distraction (e.g., social media and email).
Most people’s “working time” is not done at peak performance levels. When most people are working, they do so in a relaxed fashion. Makes sense, they have plenty of time to get it done.
However, when you are results-oriented, rather than “being busy,” you’re 100 percent on when you’re working and 100 percent off when you’re not. Why do anything half-way? If you’re going to work, you’re going to work.
To get the best results in your fitness, research has found that shorter but more intensive exercise is more effective than longer drawn-out exercise.
The concept is simple: Intensive activity followed by high quality rest and recovery.
Most of the growth actually comes during the recovery process. However, the only way to truly recover is by actually pushing yourself to exhaustion during the workout.
The same concept applies to work. The best work happens in short intensive spurts. By short, I’m talking 1-3 hours. But this must be “Deep Work,” with no distractions, just like an intensive workout is non-stop. Interestingly, your best work — which for most people is thinking — will actually happen while you’re away from your work, “recovering.”
In one study, only 16 percent of respondents reported getting creative insight while at work. Ideas generally came while the person was at home, in transportation, or during recreational activity. “The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor,” says Scott Birnbaum, a vice president of Samsung Semiconductor.
The reason for this is simple. When you’re working directly on a task, your mind is tightly focused on the problem at hand (i.e., direct reflection). Conversely, when you’re not working, your mind loosely wanders (i.e., indirect reflection).
While driving or doing some other form of recreation, the external stimuli in your environment (like the buildings or other landscapes around you) subconsciously prompt memories and other thoughts. Because your mind is wandering both contextually (on different subjects) and temporally between past, present, and future, your brain will make distant and distinct connections related to the problem you’re trying to solve (eureka!)
Case in point: when you’re working, be at work. When you’re not working, stop working. By taking your mind off work and actually recovering, you’ll get creative breakthroughs related to your work.
You can ensure that you’re fully present in what you’re doing by applying a concept known as “forcing functions.” According to entrepreneur, Dan Martell:
“A forcing function is any task, activity or event that forces you to take action and produce a result. I believe the best way to work is to put ourselves into a position to execute. Essentially, forcing us to complete a task.”
Forcing functions are situational factors you put into place to ensure you succeed. In other words, you want to set up your environment so that your default and subconscious behavior is what you want it to be. You also want to set things up so that self-sabotage is difficult.
Here are a few examples:
- When you’re done with work, leave your phone at your office (this will force you to be present when you’re home)
- Remove all unhealthy food from your house (make one decision that frees your mind from having to consciously control or suppress your behavior)
- Work at a library and leave your laptop charger at home (so you only have a few hours to work until your computer dies)
- Set short timelines (“To achieve great things you need 1) a plan, and 2) not enough time” — Meg Jay TED talk)
- High investment — when you begin investing money into a goal, you immediately become emotionally committed
Do at least one thing daily that terrifies you
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” — Tim Ferriss
But you don’t have to constantly be battling your fears. Actually, Darren Hardy has said that you can be a coward 99.9305556% of the time (to be exact). You only need to be courageous for 20 seconds at a time.
Twenty seconds of fear is all you need. If you courageously confront fear for 20 seconds every single day, before you know it, you’ll be in a different socio-economic and social situation.
According to Wayne Gretzky, the best hockey player of all time, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Make that call.
Ask that question.
Pitch that idea.
Post that video.
Reach out to that potential mentor.
If you do one or even a few things daily that are outside of your comfort zone, eventually you’ll be living a different life. Although most of your courageous attempts may not be successful, some of them will succeed. Sometimes, you’ll catch a “lucky” break. And these breaks are what separate you from the masses.
Even more important though is that you’ll become more confident in yourself. You cannot have confidence without positive and goal-directed behavior. You also cannot get motivation and momentum without being active and moving.
Your network is your net worth. Do whatever you can to get access to the people you want to work with and work for.
— — —
How you spend each day matters.
If you optimize for brain health, priority, and productivity, you can live a masterful life.
You can make enormous progress in all that you do.
You can create and achieve enormous visions.
Every day, your brain will change because you’ll be learning new things and becoming a new person.
Enjoy this beautiful life. It’s yours for the taking.
Enjoy THIS day. Don’t waste it. Enjoy it. Build upon it. Remember it.
Ready to upgrade?
I’ve created a cheat sheet for putting yourself into a PEAK-STATE, immediately. You follow this daily, your life will change very quickly.
This article first appeared on Medium.