As you may already know I am very curious about habits, behavior psychology and how it all affects success. For over two years I have been experimenting with my routines, work and lifestyle to find that perfect fit for happy and productive, purpose and passion driven routine.
In this article, I’d like to share some of my recent powerful habits I’ve been developing and experimenting with that I have stolen from ultra successful people.
Hopefully, it will be useful and inspiring for you to start engineering your perfect day, that will turn into a perfect life.
Waking up early
Waking up early has been giving me the most significant results since I decided to make a shift from a night owl into an early bird. I used to have my peak hours from 1 am to 4 am and would get amazing work done with sharp focus. Years passed by and I realized that getting enough sleep on a regular basis is a key to ultimate performance and productivity, not to mention the increased quality of life.
For the last two years, I’ve been experimenting with my morning routine which starts by waking up early. I’ve started at 7 am and managed to stretch it to 5 am. My ultimate goal is to go to 4.30 am as I really enjoy working on my morning rituals and getting lots of work done that push me toward my goals. I won’t lie, at the beginning it was a nightmare to wake up early, it’s dark, it’s cold, my eyes can’t open and all I wanted to do was to go back to sleep. Sometimes it would happen, I’d be like, “I’ll just close my eyes for one more minute”.
The more and more I was concerned about my health and lifestyle the more I saw the benefits of getting up early. I’ve seen numerous articles, infographics and interviews with the most successful people on the planet and majority of them were emphasizing the importance of getting up early for their success and life balance. I’ve been greatly inspired by this article: 12 Lessons of Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. for 21 Days by Filipe Castro Matos.
If you have a vision and don’t have the time to achieve it due to family, full-time job or other commitments, wake up 1 hour earlier and work on it every day, until you make it come true. It’s that easy, you don’t find time, you make it. Instead of watching another TV series, go to bed 1 hour earlier and wake up 1 hour earlier.
“It’s that easy, you don’t find time, you make it.”
An important factor of waking up early is to have the “me” time. How many times did you want to read, write, reflect on your life, meditate, stretch, visualize, create, take care of yourself but hadn’t had the time? For me it was always a secondary goal, I’d say, it’s ok, I can do it sometime later when I have time. The thing is if you don’t make yourself a priority, you will never have time to really improve yourself, take care of yourself and grow to become the greatest version of you. In the morning, you have the most precious focus, creative energy and capacity to learn, think and create. You choose to use it on yourself and your work you love or spend it on a daily mindless routine like commuting, consuming news and dealing with daily errands and work that you hate.
I don’t have time for it. One of the most common excuses I hear people say to me when I ask so why you don’t exercise, why you don’t write, why you don’t build a business? You have time, I have time, Barack Obama has time. We all have time, and just to remind you, we all have 24 hours a day, no matter where you live, how much money you make or how successful you are, you have the same amount of time as everyone else. So how some people excel and some don’t? They prioritize. You must come to peace with a fact that you can’t have it all. You either master one thing or you become mediocre at many things, but you can’t have both.
“You must come to peace with a fact that you can’t have it all.”
Making lists, and especially hand-written lists make your brain believe that these are the only things you need to focus on. Once you start working on something you will be bombarded with thoughts and excuses of what you should be doing instead. Hold tight, write these ideas and distractions down to your “later” list, as this little trick makes your brain think about it as a complete task and then you can stop thinking about it and focus on your work. Mindfulness and awareness help you a lot with noticing these thoughts and I will talk about it a little bit later in this article.
I love the idea of essentialism, you need to focus on essential things and say a big NO to distractions and all the endless opportunities. Warren Buffet has an incredibly powerful priorities list method.
Begin with writing down 25 things you want to do in your life. After that prioritize them writing a number from 1 to 25. Rewrite the list by priorities starting 1 to 25, now draw a line after the 5th priority. First five priorities are the ones you need and can focus to really achieve them, and now, the most important part, below the line, 20 other priorities are your “avoid at all costs list”. This is the list of you wanting to become a musician, wanting to write a book, wanting to start a blog, wanting to [INSERT A VERB + NOUN]. Most of the time it’s more about not doing than doing. Doing nothing instead of doing anything in most cases is better for your balance, health, sleep and focus on your main priorities.
The concept of habit stacking is a set of habits, a script of your morning routine to make sure you get the most of your morning and prepare yourself for running the day like a boss.
“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” — Jim Rohn
Habit stacking works like magic for me, my current morning miracle looks like that:
- Wake up at 5 am
- After I wake up I will drink water
- After I drink water I will stretch
- After I stretch I will eat
- After I eat I will meditate for 15 min
- After I meditate I will read 20 pages
- After I read I will write 500 words
- After I write I will plan the day and define MIT
- After I plan the day I will do the affirmations (What do I want? Why do I want it? What am I committed to doing in order to get there?)
- After I do the affirmations I will visualize and imagine doing the tasks
- After I visualize I will work on MIT
- After MIT, I will exercise
Habit stacking is a concept of sticking a new habit to a current one, for example, when you’re brushing your teeth you can read 2 pages right after doing it. You’re more likely to develop a new habit on top of an old one because your brain has lots of synaptic connections for that habit to run it on autopilot. After you start stacking habit on habit, your order becomes a habit too, the best part is that habits are automatic, meaning that it doesn’t use your willpower so you can basically program yourself to do one or the other thing without even thinking about it. I write this article 6 am as a part of my morning miracle after waking up at 5 am, drinking water, stretching, eating, meditating and reading.
Recent research shows that after just 30 minutes of sitting your metabolism slows down 90 percent. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. You already know that sitting too long and staring at your screen is not very good for your posture, mental and physical health. But did you know that the office chair is worse for your health than smoking and kills more people than HIV.
One of the recent habits I am developing now is stretching, I was inspired by my buddy Ivan Shulev who does it every day for at least an hour. At the beginning, I saw it as a waste of time, but incorporating stretching into my morning and workout routines I can see and feel the benefits of being able to sit straight longer, reduced back pain and better flexibility.
My goal is to develop a habit and stretch every 30 min while working as most of the time I am just sitting and staring at my screen. Complementary to that I started experimenting with working standing up, a little problem is that my current nomadic lifestyle doesn’t allow me to work from one place so I need to get creative and use a fridge, put chairs on the table, books under my laptop to make my stand up desk the right height. Once again, thanks to Ivan for leading by showing an example.
Listening to podcasts
For a long time in my life, I was constantly looking for instant gratification, entertainment to be exact, mostly to escape my boring lifestyle and day dream by looking at cartoons, movies and series that would portray something. It would allow myself to impersonate with people on the screen and feel the success they have.
“I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.” — Dudley Field Malone
No matter how fulfilling and immersive these experiences are I decided to invest in the future I want to live in, invest in myself and pay the price of hard and consistent work to become the best person I can. I decided to give up series, stop wasting time on weird videos and minimize time spent listening to music. Instead, I wanted to allow myself learn more, be inspired and have a positive impact on my personality and mindset development.
Below are some of the benefits I see listening to podcasts:
- Learning new things
- Gaining a new perspective
- Getting in the zone
- Finding inspiration
- Uplifting and increasing happiness
I am curious about the top performers, best-selling authors, industry disruptors, creatives, entrepreneurs, lifestyle designers and leaders that inspire and change the world. Check out my list of the podcasts I listen to and you may find something for yourself.
The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes — Lewis interviews bestselling authors, top athletes, successful entrepreneurs and other inspiring individuals.
The Tim Ferriss Show — Tim talks with scientists, authors, entrepreneurs and people who change the world. Topics range from neuroscience to psychology to business and more.
The $100 MBA Show — real life business lessons in short form episodes with Omar Zenhom and Nicole Baldinu.
The Fizzle Show — fun, actionable and inspiring show for creative entrepreneurs.
The Cubicle Crashing Podcast by Lydia Lee — Lydia interviews creative entrepreneurs and individuals about unconventional lifestyle and escaping 9–5. Check out my conversation with Lydia.
Entrepreneur on Fire — John Lee Dumas interviews most inspiring and successful entrepreneurs.
I’ve been meditating inconsistently for over a year now, inconsistently meaning I’d meditate 5 times a week, other weeks only once or twice. However, after spending 10 days in silence in the mountains of Northern Thailand I am meditating at least 5 times a week, for at least 15 minutes. It really helps me to calm down, accept the things happening in my life, get in peace with the present moment, become more grateful and relaxed.
Mindfulness and meditation may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggests new research from the Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis.
I’ve been an active mindfulness advocate for the last year and I will repeat myself again, if you haven’t tried meditation yet, do it, try it for at least 3 days and observe how you feel, I recommend starting with Headspace or Calm app and spend at least 10 minutes a day focusing on your breath and relaxing. The world is buzzing and many things are happening. You are not aware of the world around you but more sadly of your inner self too. Humans can think of 60,000 stories and feel 300,000 emotions every day, how many of them are you aware of?
How do you read more books? I was obsessed with that question and tried to find all the hacks possible, speed reading, reading excerpts, summaries, trying audiobooks, watching videos that explain the most of the book concepts and so on.
I’ve discovered a mind-blowing hack that was there all the time. If you want to read more books, simply spend more time reading. If you don’t have time to read, make more time. Have a book always with you, read after you wake up, read when you commute to work, read while you wait for your morning coffee at the cafe. Having a break at work? Read. Read before the bed. All of these will add up and give you 20–40 pages a day which are around 2 books a month. I used to waste months without reading a single book.
I hope I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of reading books as these are enormous. If some of the wealthiest people in the world like Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg can read hundreds of books a year and Elon Musk can teach himself rocket science reading, it must be important. Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. That’s why most successful people are reading books instead of wasting time watching TV.
Over years reading you will certainly reshape your thinking, you will be knowledgeable and have ideas on many topics, you will think and see differently, you will have answers to common questions, you will feel more confident and creative.
Make reading your priority.
Writing is definitely one of the major skills that have influenced my lifestyle in a positive way. It’s not only very meditative activity as it helps me think deeper but it also allows me to create stories, makes me a better communicator and increases my creativity. When I get into the zone words are just flowing.
What I love about writing the most is the impact it can have. You can potentially reach millions of people by just writing once and publishing it online, you don’t need to repeat yourself and tell everyone personally about your story.
It makes you a better person, you take everything that has been bothering you into words on paper or screen and it leaves you calmer, more satisfied and inspired.
Clearly expressing thoughts and ideas will help you make more friends and influence people. Whether it’s your personal relationships or career, clear communication will help you build smooth and bulletproof future.
Continuous writing can easily lead to additional or passive income stream. Think about it, you can contribute a couple of articles a week to your favorite blog or magazine and make some cash or you can work on a book, sell it online and make money while you sleep. I’ve tried both and will be improving on what I’ve learned.
It helps you clear your mind. According to social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, our brain is always looking to complete tasks, if you have a thought or idea circling in your head it may not stop until you write it down. Once you do it, your brain registers it as a task complete and then you can enjoy your life again. That’s why people wake up at night and can not sleep again until they write down their idea on a napkin or whatever is close to their bed.
It helps you learn. Read and you will forget, see and you may remember, teach and you will understand. Once you are learning something it’s a good idea to write down your notes in your own words how you understand it. Once you start teaching what you have learned you’re taking a critical look at what you want to say and that leads to a better understanding.
It’s a key to success or, at least, one of the keys. I’m not surprised these wealthy and highly successful individuals like Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Bill Gates regularly take the time to put down a pen to paper to express their thoughts.
You will remember things long forgotten. Writing about daily experiences and feelings provides a recorded history. As I was meditating in silence for 10 days in the mountains of Northern Thailand, I was able to access my long forgotten memories and experiences. Meditation has a direct access to your subconscious which registers everything you see, hear, smell and feel. Writing allows you to dig deep and access these memories and write them down so you can learn from your past and recall those amazing moments. it’s important for your future decisions, as Einstein said, it’s insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Defining the most important task (MIT)
Most of the time I’d just write a to-do list of some random tasks I want to do that day and my over optimistic to-do list would go unfinished every day. Now, I am focusing on one major task, the most important task (MIT) of the day that will help me achieve my vision and contribute the most to the future I want to build. I wrote a piece on Forbes about decision fatigue and its consequences which are all about making a limited amount of decisions every day and consuming a certain amount of willpower for each and every decision.
Defining and focusing on my most important task helps me get the most vital task done and move closer to my main goal, if I still have energy left for other tasks, I’d work on secondary and tertiary importance level tasks to run errands, ensure the cash flow and work on improvements for my business and life.
Doing the affirmations
Doing the affirmations is quite new for me, I heard about the concept but never really took the time to do them. Now, every morning I am doing a short positive self-talk that I am already creative, productive, confident, influential, calm, loving, leading, inspiring, humble, intelligent, innovative, attractive, sensible and successful. It really helps me get that little positive boost for the day and adds extra confidence to whatever I do.
The next step for me is to do it in front of a mirror with more energy and belief to really pump up myself with positive energy for the day.
Imagine it with all the details, how does it look, smell, sound, feel? What emotions you’d have, how would you look, what would you do? Make it as realistic as possible and truly believe into it. Practicing visualization daily helps me stay on the track and know that it is inevitable, I’ve already been there and done that, now just need my body to get where my mind already is, the victory.
“The mind is everything. What you think you become.” — Buddha
Visualization is a process of recreating all the images, sounds and feelings in your mind in order to practice in a perfect environment. Turns out, visualization is very popular in sports psychology.
As I was active in athletics for around a decade, I would watch videos of great athletes and analyze their techniques, I’d look at the pictures of pole vaulters and imagine myself doing the same movements jumping over the bar. Before the competition I’d imagine myself warming up, stretching and finally competing. I was visualizing without even knowing about it.
What is the difference between a good and great athlete? Their mental strength and power of visualization. One of the most overused cliches in sport is that 90 percent of performance is mental. According to Doug Gardner, sport is 100 percent mental.
“I am a big believer in visualization. I run through my races mentally so that I feel even more prepared.” — Allyson Felix, 2012 Olympic champion, a 3-time World champion, and 2-time Olympic silver medalist.
Visualization might be as effective as physical training
Australian psychologist Alan Richardson made a little experiment. He took a group of basketball players, divided them into 3 groups and tested each player’s ability to make free throws.
The first group would practice 20 minutes every day. The second would only visualize themselves making free throws, but no real practice was allowed. The third one would not practice or visualize.
The results were astounding. There was a significant improvement in the group that only visualized; they were almost as good as they guys who actually practiced.
In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice and that doing both is more effective than either alone.
There are many benefits of visualization
Visualization process works as a form of relaxation as it reduces anxiety, with visualization there are no limitations, you can be and do anything, you can gain inspiration to pursue your dreams as you have already seen them happen, boost confidence and improve focus to work toward your goals.
One of the most mind-blowing benefits of visualization was discovered by Dr Maxwell Maltz. In his classic book Psycho-Cybernetics, he noted that your subconscious cannot tell the difference between a real memory, and a vividly imagined visualization.
“Your subconscious cannot tell the difference between a real memory, and a vividly imagined visualization.” — Dr Maxwell Maltz
It may sound incredible and too much of an inception but when you visualize you effectively “implant” new memories into your self-image meaning that your subconscious mind “thinks” you are already the success you dream of being.
Start with a simple skill that you want to learn, like waking up earlier or eating slower. That way you can practice with something easier and strengthen your visualization skills before tackling the big complex skills.
I’ve been exercising for over a decade now. I’ve been involved in athletics from a young age of 12, I’ve faced many personal defeats, struggle and growth of my physical and mental body. For the last three years, I switched to the gym, running and stretching. Occasionally trying new things like yoga, surfing, ultimate frisbee, tennis and surfing.
Now I am regularly exercising 4–5 times a week, with exceptions when I get sick or travel. I recently switched from a 3 to a 4-day program that you can see below.
Monday — Chest and Triceps
- Barbell Bench Press 1 x 10, 8, 8, 6
- Incline Bench Press 1 x 8, 8, 6
- Decline Bench Press 1 x 8, 8, 6
- Dumbbell Flys 2 x 10
- Dumbbell Pullover 2 x 8
- Tricep Extension 1 x 10, 8, 8, 6 (adding weight)
- Tricep Dip 3 x 10
- Tricep Bench Dip 3 x 8
Tuesday — Back and Biceps
- Chin Up 2 x 8
- One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 x 8
- Seated Row 2 x 8
- Bent Over Barbell Row 2 x 8
- Lat Pull Down 1 x 10, 10, 8
- Standing Barbell Curl 1 x 8, 8, 6
- Close Grip Preacher Curl 1 x 8, 8, 6
- Incline Dumbbell Curl 2 x 12–14
- Concentration Curl 2 x 10
Wednesday — Rest Day/Cardio
Thursday — Shoulders and Forearms
- Machine Shoulder Press 3 x 10
- Dumbbell Reverse Fly 3 x 8–10
- Military Press 4 x 10
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise 2 x 10
- Dumbbell Shrugs 2 x 10
- Upright Row 2 x 10
- Standing Wrist Curl 4 x 10
- Barbell Wrist Curl 4 x 10
Friday — Legs
- Squat 1 x 10, 8, 8, 6, 4
- Leg Extension 3 x 12
- Leg Curl 3 x 12
- Standing Calf Raise 4 x 12
- Seated calf Raise 2 x 12
According to David J Linden, intense exercise can bring about short-term euphoria, reduction of anxiety, and increases in pain threshold. More than that, I exercise in the morning, right after my morning routine and get that feeling of achievement and motivation to take up other challenges.
If I had to leave only one daily habit in my morning routine it would definitely be exercising. It leads to numerous physical and mental health benefits.
Improve memory and thinking skills. Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.
Increases productivity. Exercising increases the amount of endorphins that are released into your body and increases productivity.
Exercising boosts self-confidence. Exercising can help ease your mind and rejuvenate your body. Working out will make you feel great and boost your confidence.
Working out helps you sleep better. If you are someone who has trouble sleeping or staying asleep then working out is your answer. Exercise helps to clear your head and helps you feel relaxed.
Improves your mood. Exercising lifts your emotional state and as mentioned before reduces stress and anxiety.
This is one of the longest posts I have ever written and I appreciate you reading it all. These habits, routines and realizations didn’t come overnight. It was all based on trial and error, waking up at 5 am for 7 days and then breaking the chain and waking up at 11 am. I wouldn’t read or write for weeks. I would get sick and wouldn’t exercise or meditate.
My point is, you will certainly fail with your new lifestyle managing your new habits. Your old habits will creep in and try to get you back to your comfort zone, don’t give up. Start over and over again until you realise you are the person you always wished to become.
Tomas Laurinavicius is an adventurous designer, blogger & entrepreneur from Lithuania. He is the founder of Despreneur, a magazine for design entrepreneurs and co-author of Mobile Design Book. He is currently traveling the world with a mission to help 1 million people to change their lifestyle for good. Join his email list for more inspiring stories and actionable advice to redesign your lifestyle for success. This post originally ran at tomaslau.com.