5 Keys To Great Sleep

Why is sleep so important and how can we drastically improve our sleep quality? I’ve been listening to a great audiobook called “Sleep Smarter” by Shawn Stevenson. Applying the tips and strategies from it I was able to improve the quality of not only my sleep, but my waking time as well. Following these simple tips you can do so almost “over night”.

Why sleep is so important

Sleep isn’t merely time where we are unconscious. It is a time where our body rests and regenerates itself. There are a lot of hormonal processes happening in our body during sleep. When we take great care of our sleep, this affects our entire organism. For a long time I thought: “I’ll sleep less, so that I can do more!”, but this book has laid out clearly (backed up by peer-reviewed studies) that there are many severe downsides to having suboptimal sleep quality and quantity. These include: depression, cardiovascular disease, increased inflammatory markers and obesity. Sleeping too little has been found to result in decreasing one’s telomere length – this means you’ll age faster (with all of aging’s downsides, not only wrinkles).

Our sleep affects our digestion, physical regeneration and the function of our brain

During nighttime our brain does its “housekeeping” – it physically cleans itself from waste products via the glymphatic system as well as stores data to long term memory – which is crucial for learning. So if we don’t get proper rest then our brain can be severely disturbed in its function. When sleep deprived our brain enters a “survival mode” and parts of the brain that are used for higher functions like decision making, logical thinking etc. are impeded. Our body tries to conserve energy, especially when under stress. This can be physical, mental stress or also “stress” from sleep deprivation. This can result in a tendency to resort to habitual behaviours as our brain goes into “survival mode”.

Sleep deprivation messes with our gut flora (which is crucial for healthy digestion) and our sense of hunger, as it suppresses leptine which is a hormone related to satiety. Furthermore problems with sleep have an effect on our body’s insulin sensitivity. The tricky thing is the combination of the effects on the brain, gut flora and on leptin levels as well as insulin sensitivity as it can promote bad food choices. Increased feelings of hunger combined with a decline in our ability to make proper long-term decisions can thus lead to weight gain and potentiall diabetes.

Work performance

Mental and physical performance suffer. There have been many studies and I recently took a look at a study on “The Effects of Fatigue and Sleepiness on Nurse Performance and Patient Safety” which concluded with: “The evidence is overwhelming that nurses who work longer than 12 consecutive hours or work when they have not obtained sufficient sleep are putting their patients’ health at risk; risk damaging their own health […]”

If you think that you are “winning time” by sleeping less you might actually be making more mistakes by sleeping less which you then have to fix afterwards. You’re not winning anything but losing both in your work performance and health-wise.
As you prioritize sleep and get proper rest, incorporating these 5 tips for proper sleep, you can improve your sleep quality, performance, overall happiness and health:

1) Light

The sun is crucial in establishing a natural circadian rhythm. This has a strong effect on optimal hormone secretion which in turn affects important deep sleep. Sunlight even on a cloudy day is stronger than most artificial light sources (even SAD-therapy lamps) it is always to be preferred. Especially get some sunlight during the early hours of the morning. The light tells our body that it’s time to be awake and active cortisol gets secreted. Cortisol is called a “stress-hormone” but it may be referred to as an “activity-hormone”. You want your body to secrete cortisol – in the morning, not in the evening. This way we can help our body settle into a natural rhythm: awake in the morning, sleepy in the evening. Besides sunlight helps us produce serotonin, the precursor to melatonin which is important for sleep (it helps shift your circadian rhythm to sleep).

Now if we don’t get appropriate sunlight during the day our body gets confused and the line between day and night becomes fuzzy. We may feel really tired in the morning as well as throughout the day (as our sleep quality suffers). This is often compensated by heavy caffeine use which in turn can further affect sleep quality. Even having a coffee 5-6 hours before sleep can impair deep sleep (without you knowing it)! More on that below.

I’ve been in the “Twilight Zone” quite a lot in my life, feeling exhausted in the morning, never quite waking up – until it got dark outside… It is such a relief to have a properly functioning sleeping rhythm these days and to enjoy getting up early. If you’re stuck in a negative spiral: There’s a way out! So be creative and find ways to get your daily dose of natural sunlight.

Blue Light

The advent of modern technology has introduced a “second day” to our bodies, if we so choose. This messes with our natural biological rhythms. If we sit in front of a bright electronic screen for the entire evening prior to going to bed our body thinks “I need to be awake and active!”. Melatonin is suppressed – this is not what you want! Shawn Stevenson suggests to avoid screens at least half an hour before going to sleep and to use a blue light blocker like Flux on your computer. I use both use Flux and stopped doing computer work right before bed. I now get to bed earlier and sleep better than I used to.

Blackout Curtains

There are studies linking excess light during the night (everything besides the moon and stars) to depression as well as a decrease in sleep quality and quantity. The suggestion is to darken your bedroom so that you cannot see your hand before your face. If you are living in the city, chances are there is going to be a lot of intrusion from the outside. You cannot change that, but you can get opaque curtains that block light pollution at night completely. I’ve been making my bedroom darker and it’s much more cozy this way!

Not quite sold yet? Check out this article on The Guardian describing a study where campers fell asleep about two hours earlier as they were deprived of all artificial light exposure in the evening.

2) Exercise

A great thing to do, especially if our sleeping rhythm is temporarily or chronically off (this means we have trouble getting and “waking” up or have difficulty falling asleep), is to exercise – especially in the morning. Only 6 minutes of high intensity exercise like Tabatas are said to help the body settle into a higher level of cortisol, helping facilitate a natural sleeping rhythm. As a result we can feel energised and awake in the morning and sleepy in the evening. I’ve shifted my daily workout to the morning, straight after getting up and haven’t regretted it since. That being said: Any exerxise is better than no exercise. A recent study even seems to refute the commonly held belief that evening exercise inferferes with sleep.

3) Sleep Rhythm

We’ve got to respect the natural hormonal cycles of our bodies which are heavily influenced by the natural cycle of the sun. Shawn Stevenson calls the time from about 10pm to 2am “Money Time Sleep”. In this time our body expects us to be asleep and we can make use of the natural secretion of Melatonin (which on average peaks at 10:30). That is if we got enough sunlight, were active during the day and avoided bright screens in the evening! Melatonin helps us to get proper sleep and suppressing it by staying up too late will mess with our sleep and we may enter a “second wind” as our circadian rhythm shifts into another phase of wakefulness. It might then be very difficult to fall asleep. Hormones and our rhythm get out of balance and as a result sleep quality suffers – even if we sleep the same amount of hours.

Consistency

It is recommended to not shift sleeping and wake times for more than 30 minutes. Shawn Stevenson as well as other resources suggest: it is a bad idea to sleep in on the weekends. The reason is that our body expects a consistent rhythm (dictated by the sun) and synchronizes to it. So remember: If you want really great sleep then you should “hit the pillow” before 10-11pm hits.

Now if you think you’re a “night owl” – I can understand. I was a night person for most of my life. Check out my article about Getting Up Early to find out why and how I changed to being a (happy) morning person.

4) Bedroom

Plants

It’s really important that you have a sleeping environment where you feel comfortable. You can get some plants like english ivy or snakeplant – these two help clean the room air. What may also help you relax and feel at ease is a small indoor fountain or arranging things for symmetry.

Device-Free

Laptops, tablets and phones create an unsuitable neuro-association for your bedroom. You want to associate your bed with sleep – not with browsing the internet, working on the laptop or watching an exciting movie. If there’s one thing I learned in the last few years it is the power and impact of habits and rituals.

Temperature

16-20 degrees Celsius is a good temperature. If it’s too hot then your body will have difficulty downregulating its core body temperature, a process that happens during sleep. This is probably a little colder than most people sleep.

5) Beverages

For many of us a morning without coffee is difficult to imagine. Yet hear me out. Caffeine has a half-life period of 5-6 hours. This means that after six hours half of the amount of the stimulant is still in your system. If at 5pm you drink a big cup of coffee, at 10-11 in the evening you are still going to have half of that cup in your body. That’s like half a cup of coffee before bed. The problematic thing is: you might think that it’s no issue for you, because you’re able to fall asleep regardless but to cite one study: “Caffeine, even six hours before bed has been found to increase sleep latency and reduce total sleep time as well as time spent in deep sleep. REM sleep was not affected.” This may lead to a chronic sleep deficit and you may not feel as rested as when getting proper sleep consistently. The problem here is that feeling tired during the day may then lead to higher caffeine consumption which in turn can aggravate sleep problems. The solution is to have a caffeine curfew at around noon. I can’t comment from my personal experience as I don’t drink caffeine beverages.

Alcohol

Drinking in the evening has been found to disturb deep sleep. Alcohol makes falling asleep easier, but the body goes “too deep” during the first part of the night (this is because of alcohol’s effect on adenosine) and then sleep gets “too light” in the later parts of the night as the body tries to compensate. Thus your whole night can be negatively affected. Alcohol prior to sleep should be avoided.


A quick recap

  • Get morning sunlight. This helps your body get into a natural rhythm where you’re feeling awake and energized during the day and ready to sleep in the evening. At night you’ll have solid and rejuvenating deep-sleep.
  • Control devices in the evening, as it messes with your sleep cycle making your body think “time to be awake now!”. Also get rid of light pollution in your bedroom. It’s not about the stars and the moon but strong artificial light sources like passing cars or streetlights.
  • Get moving. Phyical activity improves sleep. Especially morning exercise can wake the body up and help with establishing a natural rhythm.
  • Follow the the sun’s rhythm. “Money Time Sleep” from about 10pm to 2am is the ideal time to spend in bed. If you are still wide awake at 11pm you might be getting into a second wind, making it hard to fall asleep and causing possible long-term problems with performance and health. Consistently go to bed once your Melatonin peaks (at around 10:30 on average) in order to help your body maintain and heal itself optimally. Being disciplined will yield great benefits!
  • Have a “sleep sanctuary” where you feel comfortable and that you keep cool. Make your bedroom a “device-free zone”, so that it’s associated with sleep instead of work or entertainment. This makes it easier to fall asleep. You can use plants or a small waterfall for a relaxing atmosphere. Setting up your bedroom for great sleep is an investment that can help you make sleep a priority in your life. It’s saying: “I’m investing time and energy in improving my sleep because I recognize that it is important and that great sleep has many benefits!”
  • Be careful regarding coffee and alcohol. Recognize that coffee has a half-life of about 6 hours. A caffeine curfew around noon can be very beneficial to get great sleep and thus perform and feel great during the day. Avoid alcohol before bed – you might fall asleep quickly but it harms sleep quality.

I really recommend getting the book: “Sleep Smarter” by Shawn Stevenson. I’ve learned a lot from it and implementing the tips my sleep and energy levels have improved. I hope that this overview was helpful to you and I wish you great sleep!


 

“Recent studies have shown impaired performance of executive functioning including measures of verbal fluency, creativity, planning skills, novelty processing, and driving performance. The impact of sleep deprivation is likely to be particularly prominent in tasks that strongly depend on attention, i.e., tasks that require other than well-learned automatic responses will be most vulnerable.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2778638/]
 
“We provide preliminary evidence that children with shorter sleep durations have shorter telomeres. This finding is consistent with a broader literature indicating that sub-optimal sleep duration is a risk for increased physiological stress and impaired health.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5662004/]

“We found that sleep duration was positively associated with telomere length among women under 50 years old.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21853136/]

“Telomeres were on average 6% shorter in men sleeping 5 hours or fewer compared with those sleeping more than 7 hours per night. […] Short sleep duration is also associated with cardiovascular disease and other health outcomes such as obesity, raised levels of inflammatory markers, and depressive symptoms.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483149/]

“Living in areas with greater outdoor nighttime lights was associated with delayed bedtime and wake up time, shorter sleep duration, and increased daytime sleepiness. Living in areas with greater outdoor nighttime lights also increased the dissatisfaction with sleep quantity and quality and the likelihood of having a diagnostic profile congruent with a circadian rhythm disorder.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863221/]

“[…] electric light at night, even at low levels, may lead to circadian disruption directly and/or sleep disruption indirectly, either of which may result in adverse health consequences for human beings. […] The physiological effects of light at night and sleep disruption have been ‘proven’ in the sense that there is general acceptance in the scientific community of its truth; i.e. a consensus of experts.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375361/]

Impact Habit #3 – Planning Is Everything

Planning is everything; The plan is nothing“. That’s a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower, but what to make of it?

Once we have a clear goal we can devise a plan. By anticipating the future and crystalizing action-steps we imagine a path that can lead us to our goal. Next we start executing. Once our actions meet the real world, something amazing happens: Learning! (actually we might not always enjoy this step 😉

Most likely our plan isn’t going to work out as we initially thought it would! If so we have to realise that: The plan is nothing. We have to be flexible enough to abandon our old plan and make a new plan, incorporating the lessons we’ve learned so far (parts of our initial plan will likely still remain valid).

So this impact habit actually hast two parts:

1) Understanding that planning is crucial and making a habit out of it. Using our amazing brain to devise a plan to get to our destination gives us clarity and inspiration to take action. We anticipate things that might happen and find the most effective, efficient route to our destination. Pen and Paper are great, very tangible medium for “getting our ideas out”. To think beforehand about the best way to go gives us a big advantage. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.

2) To let our initial plan go once the time has come. What actually matters is not the plan we devised and which we might now have become attached to. It is that we are consistently progressing towards our destination. The plan is just a tool that helps us to get there and we have to remind ourselves that there are many, many ways. What matters is that we keep our focus on the goal. It’s easy to get attached to our plans because we think: “I have this amazing plan. It’s going to take me to my goal in a straight line! I really want to execute this plan”. Then by “investing” in our plan (following it up with action) we might develop attachment. This can be compared to someone playing at the casino or investing in a stock. In our minds we might confuse the plan with the goal. So if the real world tells us: “Nope. You’ve got to learn, change your approach and be flexible!”, then we have got to listen and adapt. This can be painful, but often it’s a necessary “wake-up call”.

One example from my own life: I’m very passionate about increasing my productivity, using my time effectively and delivering the most possible value to others. My initial plan for doing that was: I’m just going to minimize sleep so that I can maximize my days. I had been doing this for years now!

Over the last few months I finally realised that when I sleep too little and don’t take deliberate time to rest and recover, if I don’t get deep sleep to rejuvenate my mind and body, then I am headed for bad performance and disease. True, it was my plan, but I realised that it doesn’t lead me to my destination. Even if I pushed myself, if I exercised and motivated myself strongly, there was a kind of “brain fog” that clouded my mind and I just couldn’t perform at my best. So right now I am executing an alternative plan: I’m prioritizing sleep over sheer work-hours. I am learning how I can optimize my sleep, how I can get more deep sleep and also learning about the many far-reaching effects of sleep on health: hormones, digestion, mental performance but also interactions with aging and many potential diseases. I decided that I want to properly support my body so that I can perform at my best each day – even if that means sleeping more. My paradigm shifted from: “Sleep? I’ve got to do it… Let’s minimize it so that I can maximize my work…” to: If I have a great sleep quality then I’m going to have great work and life quality!”This was a huge shift for me. It was very difficult for me to step back from my initial plan. To finally admit to myself that it wasn’t working. I always tried to go back with my initial plan (and I can still feel the urge and old habits keep resurfacing), even if I was falling asleep many times during the day and my performance was suffering from lack of sleep. I needed a new plan. It’s like Eisenhower says: “The plan is nothing”. The plan doesn’t matter once it has expired. It’s not about the plan. It’s about getting to our destination. This is what I have to remind myself of regularly – the destination and the vision I have.

It is crucial to realize the value of planning. We have an amazing mind, more complex and powerful than any computer we have been able to build. It takes energy and effort to use it and to plan ahead – but it’s absolutely worth it! Planning strengthens our motivation, gives us clarity and it helps us with taking specific, calibrated actions. Even if it doesn’t take us to our goal in a straight line – we now have this great opportunity for learning. We go, step-by-step, until we reach our desired goal.

This is a really simple lesson, but it is a very profound one. Think about it!
I encourage you, especially if you usually don’t make plans, to give it a go: Choose 1 goal that you currently have and, on a sheet of paper, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What exactly do I want to achieve? (try to be very specific)
  2. Why do I want to achieve it? What are my deep motivations?
  3. Why have I not achieved it already? What’s been holding me back? (be honest, this is valuable feedback so you don’t repeat a strategy that has already failed in the past. Anthony Robbins also likes asking this question.)
  4. How can I go about making it a reality? Write a general plan of how to do it. A rough strategy, no too many details.

Now if you feel motivated to keep going:

  • Write down 3 small, specific actions you are committed to taking within a week for making tangible progress towards your goal. These should be about a maximum of 10 minutes long and specific, doable and simple! Be realistic! It’s better to make it small AND get it done than big but only on paper. This is for building momentum.

If you want you can publicly commit to your goal in the comments section. Accountability is a very powerful tool for self-motivation! i’ll definitely be cheering you on!

From Idle To Ideal – How To Leverage Your Commutes For Success

Today I want to help you discover the great potential of your commutes! All those times you have to spend in public transport or your car, going from place A to place B. We’ll look at how these are the ideal times to improve your life and make progress with your goals. Chances are that commutes make up quite a big portion of your day and I’ll make a case that it is absolutely essential to use this time wisely as all of our time is truly limited and valuable.

Let’s talk about our day. We all have got 24 hours in a day. About 8 of these hours we spend sleeping. Another 8 hours, except on the weekend, we spend at work earning money (unless you are having your own business or really love the work you do, then it’s a little different). This leaves us with roughly 8 more hours. Of these 8 hours we can allot about 2 hours for shopping, preparing food, eating and other household chores. This leaves us with 6 hours that we can spend however we chose. Think about this for a moment.

Now a portion of this time will be spent cultivating our relationships with friends and family, entertainment (reading, watching movies, listening to music) and sports. In this time we also have to fit making progress with our goals, projects and develop our mindset and essential skills for improving the quality of our life and achieving worthwhile results. My conviction is that if we don’t upgrade our mindset constantly and choose our goals wisely then our life isn’t going to magically develop itself in the direction that we wish! If you’ve ever taken up a somewhat complex project (like learning a musical instrument, studying nutrition or marketing or writing and maintaining a blog) you know how much time and energy these things take!

6 hours isn’t much to fit in all of these things. But: Actually it’s even less. Let’s be honest and take a look at our phone usage and other forms of low-impact activities that lull us with instant gratification (Facebook, Computer Games). I don’t have to tell you how quickly time flies by when you’re surfing the web… This time we can’t recover. If you’re serious about improving the quality of your life I suggest being careful with “shallow entertainment”, more on this later. But there’s more. We lose about a third of our whole 6-hour block of time (some more, some less) commuting. This includes going to work, going to the supermarket. These are idle times where we are just going from A to B. If you think about 2 hours in comparison to 24 hours it doesn’t seem like that much – but as we’ve seen there are many things you have to do, if you like to or not. And from those 6 hours which you can spend as you wish, about a third is spent commuting! In general my strong suggestion is to really check if you are spending your time wisely and in your long-term interest overall and to get a grip on “entertainment” and “shallow relaxation” which makes you passive (like watching TV etc.).For the sake of this article let’s stick to commute times (about 2 hours!) as here we can easily see the impact of using this time more effectively.

I hope you agree that each hour you have available to you is valuable for making a positive impact in your life. Each minute is crucial. Now think about how most people spend their commutes (if you ever go on public transport and have the opportunity to observe others). My observations: Most people I see either listen to music, zone out and stare out of the window, play games on their phone (bejeweled or whatever is “in” at the moment). A lot of people also read the newspaper (that is stimulating “rags” for entertainment). It’s not often that I see somebody where it seems to me that they are using their commute in a “deliberate” way. What do you think is going to be the impact of random activities on your life? It’s like a scattered beam of sunlight – none. If you focus the energy through a magnifying glass on the other hand you can make a fire.

This idle time is the ideal time to do certain things:

1) Relax

If you are going by public transport (train, bus, subway) you can deliberately relax. You can close your eyes and do a progressive relaxation visualisation (What’s really simple is to imagine a warm fluid flowing from the top of your head, slowly spreading over your body and relaxing the corresponding parts of your body). You can also take a look at Progressive Muscle Relaxation (it can be done so it’s barely recognizable for others). Also you can do deep belly breathing (filling your belly from the bottom up, then up to the chest but without raising your shoulders). It is said that you only need about 6 deep breaths (full breath in as before and then breathing it out like you would blow through a straw, repeat for 6 times) to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system (this is rest&digest, the opposite of your fight&flight or stress-response). You can also experiment with different forms of “meditation” (guided or on your own) and recondition your mind to deal differently with stress. It’s always a good idea to relax. Let’s be real. Most people alive today are having too much stress in their life and in their body and mind. If you do this after work on your way home then you will be much fresher once you get home. Instead of feeling exhausted, wanting to zone out in front of the TV or computer you’ll be more motivated and energetic to actively engage with life! To make progress with things that actually matter and that are really meaningful to you. Goals or a vision that gives your life purpose.

Why am I speaking up against relaxing with your phone, computer or TV? It’s because when we engage in these activities we zone out in shallow relaxation (unless we fall asleep watching TV ;). Our mind and body can’t really relax. We are being bombarded with, often unrelevant, information while being in this in-between trance-state. It is pleasant in the short run but delivers no long-term benefits, quite the contrary. It’s not work but it’s not rest either. In addition, as you well know, we can get sucked into a myriad of different things when connected to the internet. For these reasons I suggest relaxing deliberately and intelligently. Our body and mind craves proper rest and relaxation. Zoning out isn’t effective and it won’t energize and refresh you like deep breathing, meditation, or doing some progressive muscle relaxation can. You can try these things and enjoy the amazing benefits on a regular basis. The results of improved well-being, deep relaxation, contentment and increased productivity as well as creativity will speak for themselves! If you still feel very tired once you’re getting home then you can do a  “power nap” for 15-30 minutes. I don’t suggest sleeping longer than 30 minutes as you’ll enter a deeper phase of sleep and might have trouble getting up. Also if you enjoy relaxing with music that’s fine, yet in my opinion deliberately relaxing offers additional benefits. If you want to keep the music going then you might enjoy listening to a guided meditation with background music as an alternative.

2) Learn

Going on the subway is a great time to read or listen to an audiobook. In the beginning it might take some effort to change your habits and actually do something instead of zoning out. Remember your goals and vision for your life and reflect on the many ways learning something new will improve your life. Also initially it might be challenging to concentrate with distractions being present. If so you can use earplugs or listen to brainwave entrainment or subtle music to help you concentrate while reading. Alternatively you can listen to an audiobook. You can even do this while walking, riding your bike or driving your car! Audiobooks are amazing. Anthony Robbins for example tells a story of how he used to always listen to audiobooks back when he was working as a janitor. This is a great example of intelligently leveraging time and resources! Now when I look at how many people’s lives he has positively impacted I can’t help but be inspired to do likewise. You might think that it’s just your commute time and no big deal if you’re zoning out. But if you really want to take your life to the next level and transcend your current circumstances using your time wisely is crucial – just like Anthony Robbins did. If you spend 2 hours each day listening to audiobooks. My last audiobook I listened to was about 6 1/2 hours long. The length of course varies and longer books might have up to 12 hours of playtime. This means you can easily listen to one book a week (even if you commute less than 2 hours)! Or you can listen to them multiple times to really take in the information. That means you can potentially take in four books a month! Of course it’s also about retaining the information and actually applying it – but say that four books a month just from using your commute time effectively isn’t an amazing prospect. Just imagine what you could learn. A lot of people don’t even read four books in a whole year.

3) Journal

Writing down your goals and clarifying your vision or reflecting on certain things in your life can have a much greater impact than you think. It’s extremely effective because you can get your thoughts out on paper and this allows you to relate to them in a whole new way. Things are more “tangible” once you put it out there. You can take a different vantage point or brainstorm on possible solutions to a problem you might be facing. You can also write affirmations or goal statements if you like.

Okay now that you’re hopefully convinced of the amazing potential of your commute times. How do you actually change your habits and turn your idle times into ideal times?

a) A goal. You need a goal that actually motivates you. Changing your habits takes effort. It’s easier to zone out and be on the phone like everyone else. It’s easier to keep doing what you have always been doing. But remember – you’ll also keep getting what you have always been getting. Why do you want to leverage your commute times? What worthy, big, meaningful goals fill you with inspiration and make you feel determined to take concrete action towards their fulfilment? How do you think leveraging your commutes can help you with that?

b) Experiment. Try it out. See what suits you and what you like most. Discard what doesn’t suit you. Find what’s most effective in your life. Allow yourself to “make mistakes”. Allow yourself to enjoy it! Have fun. Fall off and get back on! Most of all remember why you’re doing this and you’ll be successful in changing your habits.

c) Enjoy. As you settle in you will begin enjoying this new way you’re spending your commutes. You’ll feel purposeful, inspired and more centered in your life. You’ll feel proud of yourself – first because you were able to actually make a change where so many people struggle and second because now you are really making the most of your time.

You can listen to a whole book in a week, get really clear on your goals or completely change your state of mind from being very stressed to moving into relaxation and arriving at home after work and feeling refreshed and ready to work on your projects and do something meaningful – or to meet your friends without having to rely on coffee. The message is clear: You’re serious about achieving your goals and doing what’s good for your long-term benefit. 

Use your time wisely because it is limited. We all have got the same amount of hours in a day and how we use it completely matters. 

3 Keys How To Stay Grounded In Your Own Energy

Today I want to talk to you about how to really connect with your own energy and “frequency”, regardless of what is happening around you. At times people might be negative or have a mean attitude towards you. We’ll talk about how you can stay strong, centered and aligned with your own heart. How you can stay on your path and purpose by seperating what’s going on for other people from what’s going on for you. I’ll show you 3 key points to empower yourself by taking full responsibility of your own thoughts and your own behaviour. Sound good?

For many years this was a big issue for me. I have always felt a lot of emotions when talking to people, ever since I can remember. Especially if the other person would be in a strong negative state or if what they said or did triggered something within me. I would be very affected. I used to get drawn into other people’s drama, but also self-created negativity a lot! I wouldn’t really take responsibility for my thoughts, roll with the drama and start blaming other people for my own emotions and reactions. Of course following this I would suffer the consequences… At some point I realised that I was harming myself more than anyone else and decided I would do what it takes to develop and maintain a positive mindset – regardless of what was going on around me. This clear decision for positivity has totally paid off. I was able to learn this skill on one hand by doing a lot of meditation and contemplation – on the other at my recent job. At my work I’m handing out information at railway stations to potential customers (doing promotion). I get all kinds of responses from people! There are really positive, kind and loving responses. Many people are super-happy and grateful and they chat with me and we have a great interaction. At the same time I get responses where people are just trying to unload their negativity or view me as a nuisance. People who might be having a bad day or are caught in their own drama and negative mental habits. For my own health and well-being I had to learn how to not take these things personally – to stay strong and grounded and positive within myself.
Now let’s talk about a few very effective strategies and a crucial attitude-adjustment for taking ownership of your own thoughts and emotions and for drawing clear and strong boundaries:
Key #1: Attachment
When we are affected by somebody else’s behaviour, it’s usually because we have an atttachment. We have a specific expectation of how we want that person to act and treat us. When this expectation is not being met, we are frustrated or get angry. We think: “If this person treats me nice, then I’m going to feel nice. I’m going to be happy”, but if that person  is really mean then we feel hurt and we think: “I’m not getting the love I deserve. I’m not being accepted!”. It is completely natural to want others to like us. Sometimes it’s the healthier choice though to let this go. The first step to getting back into your own energy is noticing and then releasing this attachment. If somebody is treating you in a mean way: Release expecting them to be any other way than they are behaving. When you really want them to be different – so that you can feel different, them not meeting your expectation is going to cause you a lot of pain! So you’ve got to say: “Yep. That person was super negative towards me. But that is their thing. I’m leaving it with this person. I don’t need that person to change in order to feel good. I’m taking full responsibility of myself“. You’ve got to feel the boundary: Try stretching out your hands (seriously) and feel your space of how far you can reach. That’s your own “space”. From there on it’s the other person’s responsibility how they behave. Even literally – if you need to take a step back or tell somebody to not get closer then do that – it’s your good right to keep your space clear. But you’ve got to take ownership only of your own space – not try to change the other person. Because the thing is you probably can’t. So the first step to getting grounded again in your own energy is to release your attachment of having others be or having things go exactly as you wish. You’ll feel immediate relaxation from that!
Key #2: Intention
I talked about our own space – now we take full ownership of that space and of ourself. We set a clear intention of where we want to go from here. Whenever there is emotional confusion and drama and we are getting triggered, we have to connect with our heart and really allow ourselves to feel – within our own space: “What is my emotional need in this moment? What do I want? What is my goal and Intention for this situation? What is my own agenda?” We have to do these things for ourself – not trying to change the other person but getting in harmony with ourself. It’s not about the other person’s agenda – their agenda might be to unload some negativity and vent their anger, but your own agenda. When people are talking to me my goal is to do a good job and I want to take great care of myself emotionally. I want to have positive interactions. Now if I talk to someone and they are being excessively negative, even after me trying to be empathic: at some point I’m going to say: “I don’t want to talk anymore”. If the interaction is very negative then I don’t want to harm myself with that contact. So I’m having a strong feeling that I want to do things that are good for myself. I want to use my time effectively. Then really feeling this intention. Especially when we get confused  and lost in some drama, emotion or reaction it is important to step back and ask ourself: What is my goal in this situation? I want to have a clear and positive state of mind. I want to be positive and productive. I want to be in great contact with myself and contribute something to the people around me. Once you have a clear intention of where you’re going it’s much easier.
I encourage you to also think about this beforehand. Let’s take an example: If you often have difficulty with some coworker you’re always getting triggered by then you could reflect at home: “Okay. My intention is to have a positive state of mind for myself. A positive attitude. Why? Because I want to stay productive during the day. I want to stay emotionally healthy and balanced and I don’t want to ruin that by engaging in some victim mentality, blaming, hating or engaging in drama with or of others. I want to stay positive. Why? Because I want to move along with my work and priorities. Because I want to have an amazing day where I’m happy and enjoying myself. Because I want to nourish habits that actually support my long-term growth and I want to slowly weaken habits that are harming me”.
It’s really important to have a strong intention for that situation. Then your plan of action can be: “If this thing happens with my coworker then I’m going to connect with myself and draw a boundary. I’m going to be nice to that person even if they’re being mean and I’m going to end the conversation. I’m going to say that I don’t want to talk anymore and that I will continue working. “Have a great day”, and then I’ll just do my thing. This would be a clear intention which will help you in a possible conflict situation. You’re going to remember your intention and values and this will help you stay on your path and in integrity with yourself.
Key #3: Positivity
We might think that when we are “pushing” somebody away in our mind who is being very negative towards ourself, that we actually solve the problem. We might start blaming or criticising them in our head. BUT the thing is: It’s not really about our thoughts. It’s not of we are the victor in our mind over the other person. If we think: “I am a better person, I am much kinder”. The question is if and how our emotions are affected. Once we are emotionally affected and feeling strong negative emotions towards that person this is a sign that we have already started engaging with the drama or negativity. We have become passive. How do you take responsibility of the situation and release the negativity? It’s by taking great care of your emotions by releasing the attachment. Letting go of wanting the situation or other person to be different.
There’s a great saying: If you don’t like a situation you can either:
a) change the situation
b) change your attitude
c) remove yourself from the situation.
Next you get clear on your intention, what exactly do you want, and your course of action. Then you remove yourself from the situation, you put up a healthy  boundary, or you start being empathic and develop compassion for the other person’s situation.
I want to encourage you to take a few seconds and reflect on your values, as your values are what give you orientation and direction in life: What’s my intention, what are my feelings, what are my needs and priorities? What are my values in a conversation with somebody? How do I want to communicate with others? What impression do I want to make and how do I want to show up in the world? What influence do I want to have on other people around me? What habits do I want to nourish? Once your values get clearer and clearer you will begin auto-correcting your own behaviour in challenging situations and be in more and more integrity with yourself. As you make staying positive a habit, then even if people are being negative a part of you will just not buy into it anymore. You’ll keep up a smile and focus on doing what is beneficial for you and for others. This is a great learning process and as you start taking more responsibility of what you’re thinking and doing in these situations you’ll be letting go of needing to change others. Now with a clear intention in your mind and heart you will be feeling more connected with your own energy and manage to stay aligned with your purpose, values and goals. Being empowered in this way you are able to take strong action and draw clear boundaries where necessary. You can feel this positive attitude, which gets you where you want to go – no matter what’s going on around you!
 
What if you still get lost in drama or negativity, get emotionally confused or have difficulty seperating other people’s feelings from your own?
What helps in these situations is to seperate other people’s “stuff” from yours. You can recognise that this other person was negative to you, they were blaming or they brought some difficult energy. You just acknowledge that. Then you can say: “Yes. That came from this person – and I’m leaving it with that person. It’s like this person brought the negativity and drama as an unwanted gift and you are saying: “Nope, I don’t accept that gift. That gift of negativity is with you and it remains with you. You have responsibility of that and I am not taking it“. You really seperate yourself from that strongly. Then of course you’ve got to take full responsibility and full ownership for what’s going on in your own mind. For what you might be perpetuating. Most likely there are judgemental thoughts, negative thoughts or hateful thoughts. It might seem like these thoughts make us the “winner” or “better” than the other person. Yet the reality is that we are losing when we do that. We are harming ourself more than anyone else. Emotionally we are stepping right into negativity and this can really impacts our emotional well-being, our performance and even darken our whole day. It’s never pretty! You really want to avoid that and the big load of unnecessary stress hormones in your system.
As you can see staying in your energy by finding your own values and getting really clear about them is extremely powerful. The more you practice it, the stronger and clearer you get and the more connected you will feel with your own purpose and with your own emotions. Then it becomes easy to see if somebody is trying to push negativity on you. You recognize: “Yeah,  that’s coming from this person” and you no longer feel compelled to engaged with it. You have a clear standard for what behaviour you accept from yourself, as well as from other people. You might even notice yourself becoming empathic and begin understanding that: “This person is really having a bad day. They’re not happy right now”. It’s such an amazing shift to go from anger to compassion. Instead of being judgemental to gradually start seeing other people’s pain and manage to stay empathic, even if they’re being mean. This is an extremely empowering place to be at!

How to Develop Essential Habits – Bright Lines

Bright Lines is an extremely effective concept for adopting new habits or changing detrimental behaviours.

When we want to make a change in our life, we might not be sure exactly how we’re going to do it. We know something is off and we make an attempt to change it – but somehow we revert back to our old habits. Maybe because there’s too much stress in our life or we don’t even know where exactly we want to go. Or maybe because our why (the reason we want to change) simply isn’t strong enough. Bright Lines help in all of these cases!

So what is it about? It is about having Rules that are very clear. This means that when you want to change something in your life – instead of making a weak or unclear decision – you make a very strong and clear one. Instead of grey you make it black and white. An example:

You want to improve your health and maybe reduce your sugar intake: A bright line is to not eat any products that contain additional sugar on the label. You would still be able to eat natural products like honey (depends on where you draw your line of course). So each time you now make an eating decision, or when you’re shopping:

  • you have absolute clarity. You know which foods are okay and which are not. When you pick something up and read the label – you don’t have to think about it and use willpower. Instead you can very easily make a decision based on this Bright Line that you’ve established for yourself.
  • you save willpower. This is especially important in the beginning when establishing a new habit. Changing your behaviour takes effort and your brain likes to do what it’s used to and what feels comfortable – especially when under stress.[1] It can already be challenging enough to change our eating habits – if you don’t have clarity about how you’re going to do this then you are going to make it even more difficult for yourself! With Bright Lines the temptation to break your resolve is going to be much weaker, because you have clear rules!
  • you make it actionable. When you’re standing in the shop – you know what to do and you take action. You put the product in question back into the shelf and you get something else. That’s a clear action that will get you closer to your goal. It’s a beginning and the change is now real. Well done!

If you follow this strategy then changing your behaviour becomes easy. I’m not kidding here. I’m using this a lot in my own life and compared to making changes when you are lacking clarity it is like day and night! It makes change so much more effective when you establish Bright Lines and clear rules for your own behaviour.

How do we implement this?

1) Decide. You make a clear choice. What is your Bright Line to optimally support your goal going to be? It needs to be right for you. Not for somebody else or dependent on what other people think. You’ve got to feel: “This is a good decision. This supports me with my goal(s)!” Your goal? That’s the WHY. The magic here is not in the Bright Lines concept, but the magic is in the WHY. If your why is strong enough – if your reasons are convincing you will be successful. Your why includes:

  • Negative consequences if you fail or don’t change your behaviour. Maybe you’ll get sick or don’t like how you look or you don’t have a lot of energy and feel lethargic most of the time. Realistically, if you don’t change, these things are going to get even worse. You need a very strong why in order to gain leverage for change. You’ve got to clearly see: “Yes this is affecting me, this is very negative if I continue and I am going to suffer.” You’ve got to make this clear to yourself. You have got to be realistic and face the facts honestly, using your best judgement. It’s a little uncomfortable, but necessary.
  • Positive consequences if you do follow through and change: “I’m going to have more energy, I’m going to feel happier and more emotionally balanced. My mind is going to be clearer. I’m going to be more healthy and feel great about myself.” You need to really get clear on the details of your WHY. Best write it down in handwriting so that it can sink in! This is what’s going to make the shift happen in your life. This is extremely important. If the why is not in place then this whole concept is not going to work.

2) Ignore. Disregard what other people tell you. If you start employing Bright Lines people might get irritated. Your friends might say: “What? You don’t eat any sugar? Isn’t that a bit extreme? Come on…” People might feel a little uneasy (they can smell that you’re changing things up!). From my own experience? Bright lines work. Period. If you make a clear decision it might seem extreme – but so what? The main thing is that it works. In the beginning you need these bright lines to support your change. Once your behaviour has aligned and your identity has shifted (to one that supports healthy or successful actions by default, actions that align with your vision for your life) and you feel like: “I don’t really crave these sugary snacks that much anymore” – then you can be more casual about things. You can have a snack here and there and it’s not going to be so bad. But chances are you won’t enjoy it so much anymore (I warned you right?). If we don’t have this Bright Line in the beginning however and listen to our friends then we might fall back to our old behaviour. So that’s very dangerous! In the beginning these strong and clear rules give you a lot of security and orientation. They help you to be successful in changing your behaviour and habits.

So when it comes to other people giving you advice: Only listen to someone who is already successful in what you want to accomplish. Is he or she succeeding in changing their habits? Is that person having healthy eating habits? If not – it’s best to disregard their advice. It’s not going to lead you where you want to go. Even if this sounds harsh and if it’s a good friend or even a family member. Be friendly and say: “Thank you for sharing, I need to do it my way. I’ve got to learn by myself how to do this.” Then you just follow through on your own best judgement. That’s going to get you where you want to go.

3) Improve. It’s like learning to throw darts. You’re not going to be immediately successful all the time. There’s going to be challenges, you may partially revert back to your old habits and that’s okay. As long as you are getting up again!  It’s important to remember that this is a learning process. You’re throwing darts and the better you get at it the more often you are going to hit the center. You need to track what you are doing, so that you know if you are actually succeeding or not! I suggest pulling out a calendar and decide: “For 30 days I am going to avoid anything where it says “sugar” (or glucose syrup and similar processed stuff) on the label.” Or:  “For 20 days I am going to take the stairs over electric staircases and elevators.” (That might be challenging if you work in a skyscraper so be careful with what you commit to!). Then for each successful day you draw an X (VERY satisfying).

Another important thing about daily habits: If you want to establish a strong and solid habit then you’ve got to do it daily. You’ve got to make a streak: 20 days or 30 days, whatever you chose. If you feel uncertain you can go for 7 days but I suggest a longer time. It is better to set a small goal and keep doing it for longer than a big one for a shorter time! Then IF you miss a day for whatever reason (something very unexpected happened or you got sick), the next day you have to make doing your habit your top #1 priority. You’ve got to just schedule it and get it done so that you keep your streak alive. This is crucial for building the new habit and reconditioning yourself!

So as you start applying this concept in your own life you’re going to:

  1. Find out your why.
  2. Make clear rules and a strong decision.
  3. Ignore what other people tell you as you’ve got to find out for yourself how things (especially your mind) work. Back away from people’s advice who aren’t successful in what you want to accomplish.
  4. Lastly you need to constantly improve and track what you’re doing. Put down that X – every single day. Make a streak. This way you check that you are succeeding. If you fall off then you’ve got to make it a priority to get back on the horse. Simply make it your top priority the next day to keep your streak alive. This is crucial!

There’s going to be ups and downs in the process – you don’t knwo what exactly is going to happen and how things will unfold. You are going to learn a lot about yourself! Yet with Bright Lines you now have a very strong and useful guideline for changing your behaviour. I wish you much success with letting go of self-sabotaging behaviours and adopting healthy and supportive habits. So that you can have an amazing impact! Not only on your own life but also on the lives of others!

 

 

 


[1]
“Stress has been shown to increase habitual behavior— for better or worse! Two experiments at UCLA and one at Duke University found that stress increased people’s gravitation toward habitual behavior. Based on her study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Quinn, J. M., A. T. Pascoe, W. Wood, & D. T. Neal. Can’t control yourself? Monitor those bad habits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (2010).), Professor Wendy Wood argues: “People can’t make decisions easily when stressed, are low in willpower or feeling overwhelmed. When you are too tired to make a decision, you tend to just repeat what you usually do.” This holds true for both good and bad habits and is a crucial insight for their importance in our lives.”
Guise, Stephen. Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

Impact Habit #2 – Clarity is Power

Back in the days I was going to school and later when I was living at the outskirts of Vienna I wasn’t really clear about what I wanted to do with my days. I really wanted to make progress and move towards my goals. But actually: I had no clarity about what exactly I wanted my days to look like. Most of the times my days would end with me being very frustrated. In the evening I would reflect about my days and I’d think: “Wow. I really didn’t achieve something today. I really don’t feel like this day was successful.” Often I felt devastated and completely depressed. Even when I had worked very hard on that day and did many many things. What I was lacking was a clear vision and strong focus. I didn’t have a clear image of what I wanted to do and so it was impossible to reach my goal and destination. As a result I wasn’t “successful”.

What exactly do you want?

A good definition of success is: “Achieving a pre-determined goal.” So you set a clear goal, you achieve that goal and then you have an experience of success. Simple right? What if you don’t define a clear goal for yourself and don’t even know what success means for you? Then you won’t feel successful! Ever. No matter what you do… Even if you work for 12 hours straight on a given day. Only if you define a clear goal and then reach that goal (or its sub-goals) can you have an experience of success. Why is experiencing personal victories so important for your overall success? Find out in my article on Staying Motivated.

Clarity is Power. I can see it in my own life. Nowadays I usually have a plan for the day – I know what I want to achieve on a given day. I have one thing that is most important, also healthy rituals and habits that support my productivity and well-being. I have clarity about what I want to do, but also about my bigger vision for my life. A lot of the times I achieve the goals I set for myself – because I know and consistently remind myself of what I am working towards! This way it becomes tangible and I can move in the right direction and not be scattered and all over the place like I used to be. Focus – where you are collecting your energy like the beams of the sun with a magnifying glass. This way you really have an impact. With Impact Habits you can easily focus your energy on making changes at the right places – where it matters most.

A little technique

I use a little trick each time when I need clarity – honestly I use it almost every time when I record a video. Often I start recording a video and it just goes nowhere. I’m all over the place and my message isn’t clear. I’m not happy with my performance… What I then do is:

  • I close my eyes and in my mind’s eye I visualise a clear goal. I visualise that I finished the video and that I feel proud because I’ve made a good video. I imagine the quality of the video being good and that I was able to get the message across really well. I imagine that I delivered strong presentation. I imagine that I feel comfortable and proud of myself for achieving what I wanted to achieve.

For one or two minutes I visualise these things and get a clear picture in my head of the moment where I have achieved my goal. The point in time where it’s done. Where I feel confident and satisfied with myself and my performance. I also allow myself to become emotionally engaged and dwell in that vision for a while. Then I just let it go and continue working.

I must admit: Almost every single time when I do this – when I set a clear intention: It works! I perform in a way where I achieve my goal. This can work with anything! I also do this in other areas of my life.

Clarity is power.


 

Here’s a quick exercise to go deeper, but first we have to differentiate between “lacking clarity” and “being open to possibility”. When you’re going through the world with an explorer’s mindset saying: “I’m open to experience, I’m open to learn, I’m open to play and explore like a child”. That’s definitely a good attitude! What we want to resolve is a state of confusion, where you want something, but you can’t really define it. Or you are constantly allowing yourself to get distracted. You’re not feeling good where you are! Once you have made up your mind, made a clear decision and know where you’re going – this gives you an incredible amount of strength and motivation and self-esteem.

  1. Write down 3 situations in your life, recently or many years back, where you lacked clarity and focus. Where you felt confused and scattered. How did this state of mind feel and how did it affect your performance? Is this a desirable habit or even character trait?
  2. Write down 3 situations where you did experience clarity and focus. Find situations where you actually achieved what you wanted because you made a strong decision and made up your mind. Where you had a crystal clear vision in your mind’s eye or where you could really feel what was important to you and what you were going for. Write next to it how that made you feel. What was the impact of this, very different, attitude? Is this a desirable habit you may want to nourish? What impact will it have on you and those around you if you deliberately bring more of this clarity into your life every single day?
  3. Lastly write a short paragraph about WHY it is important for you to work on this habit of clarity and really knowing where you’re going. Also take some time to think about the consequences of not working on this crucial area of your life. Maybe you even want to try out the little technique I introduced. Before you do some task where you have to perform – at a presentation, a meeting, or maybe it’s getting up with purpose in the morning. I actually do this exact same thing before going to sleep. I visualise how I imagine the morning to be and set a clear intention for the next day. Using strong goal-setting and visualisation in your life today can enable you to make conflicting intentions and self-sabotage a thing of the past and gain certainty, purpose and definite results.

Clarity is Power. When you focus your energy things start happening. You remember that success means achieving a predetermined goal. Instead of being divided between 10 different things you get crystal clear on what you want and then concentrate your energy on reaching it. You don’t allow yourself to get distracted and keep going. Then when you achieve it you have an experience of success and this motivates you and builds your self-esteem to tackle bigger things!

Impact Habits – #1 Integrity

Today I want to start a video series called Impact Habits!

A few years ago I was living on the outskirts of the city of Vienna. There was a forest nearby and next to the house a small river was flowing. At night one could hear the animals from the nearby forest. It was a very nice place to live at and very serene. Yet I was at a point in my life where I was feeling intensely depressed. I was very discouraged and wasn’t happy with where I was in my life but also with myself. I had almost no money and was struggling financially. What was especially tough for me though was that I really wanted to change things, but I just couldn’t figure out how!

Every time I tried something, I felt like there was somebody standing behind me who was sabotaging me. I felt like my mind and my habits, my whole conditioning were working against me. I was running on autopilot and the autopilot just wasn’t working. Whatever strength I mustered and energy I invested in changing things, I always felt like being thrown down to the ground – again and again. It was a very tough and intense time. I’m sure you can relate to situations in your own life where you feel something inside of you is blocking you. Or you have a sense that certain habits are not helping you. You may feel like you are just sabotaging yourself while other people are having a much easier time succeeding, like your habits are keeping you “down”. That is exactly the reason why I am doing this video series. Because I have experienced the contrast between:

  • Getting up in the morning and feeling depressed and demotivated. When starting a project I was very quickly feeling discouraged. I had extremely high expectations of myself and I never approved of myself and my small successes. I almost never said to myself: “Great Lukas! You did that small step. That’s amazing!”, and by giving myself a pat on the back aroused motivation. I was always discouraging myself: “This isn’t good enough. You are not making enough progress. You won’t succeed with this anyways…”. Because of this I stopped many projects – simply because I was having a very negative relationship with myself and bad habits. When trying to work I fell prey to many distractions. I couldn’t even focus for a few minutes or read a book.
  • These days when I get up in the morning I usually feel very motivated and strong. I have a purpose and I know why I am getting up. My mind is clear. I follow through on the things I say that I am going to do most of the time. I have a daily routine and a daily ritual for my mornings and evenings and I usually get done what needs to get done. I work in a very focused and productive manner.

I learned that it is possible to totally change things around if one has a clear goal (a strong enough why), and applies consistent effort. Remember: it’s about small steps! Many people try to change their life quickly. They try to change many things at once. What that mostly leads to is discouragement and failure. We have to make small adjustments and small steps and build on them. We have to teach ourselves to celebrate the little victories because they will get us to our goal eventually. This is how I changed a lot of things in my life and how I am now able to have a completely different experience of life. Just by doing the small steps. Sure it takes work and consistent focus, but the rewards are really amazing!

When we do change something in our life, it is important that we focus on one thing at a time! This way we can really concentrate our energy and don’t scatter it into all six directions. Focusing our energy, like we would bundle the beams of the sun with a magnifying glass, will bring an impact. This way we will achieve results. That’s also why I call this series Impact Habits. Because by changing these small habits we:

1) Have a direct impact on our life because we are focusing our energy on a single habit.

2) Stack these small habits like building blocks. What you build stays and you can build on top of that. The bigger it gets (the more positive habits you install) – the more impact it has (ie. positive changes in your mental state but also health, job, productivity, finances, relationships). You can also imagine a small tree that starts growing. Once it’s big it starts to give it’s shade and fruits. In the beginning you have to carefully tend to it – later on you don’t even have to water it. It just starts giving on its own! It’s the same with learning to change your habits. Another analogy is that water is flowing down a river but there are a lot of hindrances. What we are doing by aligning our habits, by building Impact Habits is that we are taking away the hindrances so that the water can flow smoothly and quickly. As a result a lot of water can flow almost by itself!

In that process it is very important that we don’t focus too much on the results in the outside, but that we keep the focus on our own process of improvement. At times we have to check if we are making progress. Do we need to change the right direction or the way we are working? Do we need to tweak this or that? Our main goal that we want to achieve is: A smoothly flowing process where we are joyfully moving towards our goal. So the main focus should be on personality-development where we are enjoying both the learning and the doing, while gradually making measurable progress. Because this cycle of positive feedback is where all the results will originate. If you are not having much success in your life then probably you haven’t developed a habit of succeeding. Check out my article and video on Staying Motivated for more details on developing strong internal motivation.

Working towards your vision has to become a fulfilling habit for you, it cannot be done by sheer force. We need engagement and enjoyment in the process if we want to succeed! This way we will be taking consistent action towards the realisation of our vision.

If you don’t know what your goal is (or could be), then it’s important that you define it. I have another article/video on this topic about writing down and clarifying your vision gradually (or developing one if you don’t have a vision for certain areas of your life) called Nurturing Your Vision. Now that I’ve covered the general information about why building strong and supportive habits is so important, let’s jump right in with the first habit we are going to work with:

Impact Habit #1: Integrity

What is integrity? It means that you are trusting yourself, you are feeling connected with yourself and you have confidence in yourself. You are upright. You keep your word, You do what you say you are going to do. This makes you feel good about yourself and gives you an internal strength. Other people can feel this too!

I want you to remember a specific time in your life when you said you were going to do something. You planned to do something, but… you didn’t do it. How did that make you feel about yourself? Maybe for a few hours, for a day, maybe even for a few days? Ask yourself honestly: “How does this impact me?”.

The next time you commit to another action at a later time, a few days or maybe a week later, you are going to feel a little insecure. This is because you are carrying around a negative reference from not following through last time. This can develop into a very negative, self-sabotaging habit, which later can become part of our identity. We might say or think something like: “I never follow through. I can’t keep my word”. Or maybe we try to ignore it and act like everything is fine (that’s how I did it for many years). In any case we become scared to even start a small project because we become afraid of failing, can’t trust ourself and don’t want to disappoint ourself. We are missing the strength that comes from many positive references of following through on what we say – on a consistent basis! The first step towards change is self-awareness. We have to admit to ourself that there is a problem in order to begin solving it. We have to acknowledge that this a habit we have to change if we want to be succesful and happier with ourself. 

Now what if we actually keep our word? Think back to a situation in your life where you did keep your word. Recall and notice: How did it feel to keep your word? How did it feel to follow through? How does it feel to complete what you said you were going to do? Chances are this feels very good to you. This gives you strength. Even a few weeks or months later! If you remember that situation where you did follow through, it is going to give you confidence in yourself! 

It is extremely important to feel confident in yourself and your ability to follow through and take action – this is how you can take more and more small steps that will eventually lead you to the successful completion of your projects and to the fulfilling of your vision! A vision that you clearly hold in your mind’s eye, can feel as tangible emotions in your body or hear as a strong voice that carries you through your days. Independently from your external circumstances and if they already reflect it.


I want to invite you to a small formal exercise to immediately take action on what you just learned. To help you with recognising the paramount importance of keeping your word and doing what you say, so that you can feel good and confident about yourself. So that you feel strong on the inside and ready to tackle bigger and more difficult projects and challenges!

Take 5 minutes and write down on a sheet of paper:

A) 3 situations from your life recently (or go back further in time if you can’t remember any recent situations) where you didn’t follow through, didn’t keep your word and violated your own integrity.

-Write next to it: How did that make you feel? What do you think are going to be the consequences or impact of doing this? Are they positive or negative and harmful? Write down whatever comes to mind and go into the emotions that come up. Put your hand on your heart and genuinely ask yourself: “How do I feel about this on the inside?” How does it feel right now, thinking about this situation where I violated my integrity?

B) 3 situations from your life where you DID follow through and kept your word. Times where you were trusting in yourself, where you were upright and kept and strengthened your integrity. Then write next to it: How did that make you feel? Even now as you are thinking about it? Again put your hand on your heart and be really honest. Ask yourself: “How do I really feel about this? How do I feel about following through and keeping my word? What is it like to be a man or woman of my word?” Again write next to it what you think will be the consequences and impact of this behaviour.

C) Write a short paragraph on why you think developing this habit of integrity is important in your life. What are going to be the rewards if you had really really strong integrity? Find your strongest why for changing this habit – this is going to be the fuel for change. Then also write down what will happen if you don’t work on this habit. If you don’t develop your integrity or it even deteriorates. Reflect about the most important areas of your life: your relationships, finances, your body and health and any important goals or projects you might have. What impact is this going to have if you don’t work on this?

I hope that this article was helpful and that you could get some value from it. I look forward to doing more in this series because I think that Impactful Habits are a crucial tool for changing our attitude, behaviour and thus changing our life. For becoming happier, more productive, successful and clearer in our mind. For living our life from action instead of reaction, so that you can actually have an experience where you get up in the morning and feel motivated. When you start a project then there is no inner saboteur – maybe the project is demanding and difficult, but you know that you have yourself on your side and that your habits align with your vision. An experience where you feel that you are supporting yourself and that you can trust yourself on each step of the way. Where you are constantly moving in the direction of your vision and you just know that you are going to make it a reailty.