Ryan Anderson Ph.D.

The Mating Game

3 Easy Things You Can Do to Be More Successful

If you want to be a better version of yourself you need to adopt these habits

Posted Jul 25, 2016

Source: Maklay62/Pixabay

Don’t let your dreams be just dreams. It’s important to dream big, but imperative to create the habits that will get you there. Without action dreams are really just ideas. The truth is, every single person alive has massive potential. You have just as much potential as Barrack Obama, Warren Buffet, or Mark Zuckerberg (female leader)– the difference is they have ruthlessly pursued their dreams. With hard work and discipline they have uncovered their potential.

It’s true that some successful people are lucky. There are many really talented and/or dedicated people that aren’t as famous as others who are less talented/dedicated. It’s probably fair to say that both hard work and luck play some kind of a role in the determination of success. The saying that “Success is the intersection of hard work and luck” has at least some truth to it.

Although you can’t necessarily control the ‘luck’ that you receive, there are definitely habits that you can adopt to help you realize the best version of yourself. If you really want the best from life you really have to offer life the best version of yourself.

1. Sleep more

This might seem crazy – ‘How am I going to increase my productivity by spending more time sleeping? Shouldn’t I be trying to spend less time asleep?’ We’ve all heard stories of successful people that only sleep a few hours each day. A significant number of prolific figures have adopted odd sleeping schedules. Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Salvador Dali, and Leonardo Da Vinci all reportedly slept for less than 3 hours total a day.

Such patterns are definitely not for everyone, and arguably quite dangerous. Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of people in the world get an average of considerably more than 3 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. According to 2015 protocols released by The National Sleep Foundation (based on a very large study), the average amount of sleep a person should get in a 24 hour period varies depending on how old they are, but they do offer some general guidelines:

  • 3 – 5 years 10-13hrs
  • 6-13 years 9-11 hrs
  • 14-17 years 8-10 hrs
  • 18-64 years 7-9 hrs
  • 65+ years 7-8hrs

Apart from the numerous documented health effects of sleep deprivation (heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, mood changes, neurocognitive slowing to name a few), sleep is just really really good. There is even evidence to suggest that lack of sleep can lead to a decrease in IQ.

You get better while you sleep

Your mind is quite busy while you sleep. Evidence suggests that we strengthen memories during sleep and do a kind of mental ‘rehearsal’ of skills we have learnt but not yet mastered. (restorative/recuperative)

You live longer, and are happier

There is research that links too little sleep with higher mortality rates. Additionally there have been suggestions that inadequate sleep patterns can lead to a generally poorer overall quality of life.

You are more creative

After a good night’s sleep your brain reorganizes and restructures memories, making them stronger and more vivid.

Sleep = health

All in all, adequate sleep is simply a marker of good health. It helps with being energetic throughout the day, maintaining healthy eating patterns (metabolism), and immune function.

Also, sleeping at night is generally considered to be better for you than daytime sleep. Obviously, there are social benefits to being awake during the day. Additionally, people who work nightshifts suffer from a range of health effects (cardiovascular issues, digestive upsets, obesity, heart disease etc.). Sleeping during the day also disrupts our natural circadian rhythms, and can lead to Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD).

There are a few simple things you can do that will help you get adequate sleep:

  1. Try and go to bed at the same time each night. The body appreciates a predictable sleep routine. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule helps to set and regulate your body’s internal clock.

  2. Have a relaxing bedtime ritual. This follows on from the point above. A relaxing activity (done routinely) can help to separate sleep time from activities that cause excitement. Many people choose to read or do a similarly calming activity.

  3. Exercise. Regular exercise tires you and helps you to sleep better. One large study found that 150+ minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity provided a 65% improvement in sleep quality.

  4. Assess your sleep environment. For most people this will be their bedroom. Make sure it is cool, comfortable, and noise free. You also want to make sure it’s free of light (at least while you’re asleep). You don’t want temperature/noise/lighting distractions to be disrupting your sleep time.

When all is said and done, getting adequate sleep really is one of the easiest and best things you can do for your body.

2. Save before you spend

Theoretically, becoming wealthy might seem fairly simple: earn more, and spend less. In practice, it’s a bit harder to execute.

Although they both might seem hard, spending less is probably the easier variable of the two to control.

When it comes down to it, a lot of success (be it wealth creation or success in life in general) is determined by the ability to delay gratification. Knowing this and doing it can be VERY different. We might realize that we should save for the down payment on that new two-bedroom bungalow, but resisting the temptation of a $25 lunch special can be hard to do. Very few people can say that they always think about tomorrow before today, or that they have never fallen victim to temptation (be it related to money, food, effort, or whatever.

In a famous psychology experiment conducted in the late 1960’s, kids were offered a simple choice between having one marshmallow now, or several marshmallows if they could wait for a bit. The conundrum here is “do I take the small reward now, or wait for a bit and get a bigger reward?”. Most of the kids were unable to wait and took the reward straight away (they opted for immediate gratification).

So kids have trouble delaying gratification. This is hardly an insightful discovery, but the interesting part was yet to come. They did follow-up testing on the kids many years later (the kids were now adults) and they found that kids who were able to wait longer tended to have better life outcomes – they had higher tertiary entrance scores, achieved higher levels of education, and had a lower body mass index (BMI).

The lesson here is that those that are patient and can resist temptation tend to win in the long run. Doing the hard work now (whether it be saving, putting in effort or just resisting something tempting but bad for you) will pay off in the end.

Obviously saving money is important. The kind of saving I’m talking about isn’t just a few pennies here and a dollar there, I’m talking about putting money away before you spend it. Clearly not all of your money, but a portion, for future goals and unexpected expenses.

For some people this might seem laughable. If you’ve only got $5 left at the end of the week how much can you really save? If invested properly, money can increase exponentially by itself over time (without you doing anything). One important thing you need to realize is that compound interest is basically magic. Einstein described it as the 8th wonder of the world.

I’m not going to pretend to have any kind of profound financial insight. I have no doubt that the figures I’m about to present may be under/over estimations of reality. My interest is in people’s psychological tendencies, and in this case, where they become problematic.

Let’s consider a group of scenarios where you have $5, $10, $20, $50, or $100 each week to save. The actual dollar amount going into your account each week is less important than the habit of doing it.

For example, if you were to consistently put away just $5/week, your balance after 10 years would be nearly $4,000. If, however, you had $20/week to put away, then in 20 years time your balance would be more than $50,000.

Compound interest is basically magic.

The assumption I’m making here (and it’s a very realistic one) is that you will be getting a return of 8% compound interest per annum (p. a.).

Now the point here is not to scare you with numbers. The message I really want to get across is that money grows, and quickly.

There are plenty of reasons why people don’t save, but developing the right mindset can be critical (and quite hard). There are a few tips you can use:

  • It can be really useful to start thinking about money in terms of what it will be worth in the future, rather than what it’s worth now. Every $5 you have today will be worth more than $10 in 10 years if invested at 8 p.a. In 20 years it will be close to $25, but in 30 years your original $5 will be more than $50. This might not seem like that big a deal, but remember that this is passive growth (you don’t have to tend or contribute to it at all).
  • Automate as much as possible. Going into a bank and manually depositing money is a thing of the past. People generally get paid directly into their bank accounts. Setting up an automatic online transfer is easy, convenient, and takes a lot of psychological effort out of saving. Let’s say you get paid a sum of $1000 each Tuesday. You could set up an automatic transfer of $50 to run each Wednesday into a savings account. Your savings will grow but you won’t really feel the sting of putting money away.
  • Then you see something that you want to purchase (but know you shouldn’t), imagine a stranger offering you a choice between giving you your would-be purchase, or the money it would take to buy it. If you would rather accept the money then you may as well not buy it and just keep/save the money.

3. Optimise your mind

Your mind is probably the most valuable resource you have. It’s capable of amazing feats, yet is far too often under-utilised and under-appreciated. Keeping a healthy mind is one is one of the important things you can do, if you want to win at life.

Feed your brain

Before rushing out of the door on an empty stomach in the morning, consider that having a good breakfast can set the stage for making intelligent decisions all day long, not to mention satisfy physiological cravings and giving you a really good boost of energy. Skip the meal, however, and you run the very real risk of over-eating during the day.

Like any other part of your body it needs to be fed. It’s really important to start the day with a healthy, balanced breakfast. You could do worse than having some combination of fruit, protein, good carbohydrates (oatmeal etc.), and healthy fats. This may involve: granola, yogurt, fresh fruits (bananas, cherries, avocados). You should consider adding brain foods such as spinach, lentils, oily fish, blueberries, and pumpkin seeds to your diet.

Know when to do what

There is evidence that the brain works differently at different times of the day. While this may differ between people, there are some general principles we can use to guide us.

Mornings are typically when the brain is most active. This has been referred to as ‘deep thought time’ and is generally considered a good time for performing tasks that involve thorough analysis. Peak cognitive alertness occurs roughly 2-4 hours after one wakes up. This can be an ideal time to read or write something complex. If you are trying to learn a new task or concept, attempting in the morning may be your best bet.

However, there is reason to believe that while optimal thinking time may be in the morning for many adults, this is probably not the case for teenagers/younger adults. A Canadian study found that older adults performed considerably better than young adults on cognitive tasks conducted in the morning, but not tasks conducted later in the day. Findings such as this have led some neuroscientists to suggest that morning classes for teenagers/young adults are ‘cruel’.

Afternoons are generally thought to be a good time for collaboration. This is at least partly due to the fact that many people eat during the 12-4 p.m. period, and often with others. Socialization is more likely to occur in the afternoon than in the morning, and so this is a good time of day to schedule meetings, have conferences, or brainstorm ideas with colleagues.

Evenings are a good time for strategic thinking, goal-setting, or planning for next day. Between about 5-9 p.m. the brain is winding after a demanding day. Although performance is sub-optimal during this period, it can be a good time for reflection and allows for creative juices to flow. Your time might be better spent revising information already learned, than grappling with entirely novel data.

Keep your brain active

I’m sure you’re well aware of the cognitive benefits of maintaining an active mind as an elderly person, but I’m not just talking about staving off Alzheimer’s. The benefits of staying mentally active apply (to some extent) to people of all ages.

With the right stimulation your brain can reshape, adapt, and change in ways that you probably never even considered. This remarkable ability is referred to as neuroplasticity. Maintaining mental acuity is largely about novelty: constantly exposing yourself to new mental activities will keep you sharp in the long run. There are plenty of ways you can improve your mind, but I’ll list just a few here.

  • Read voraciously

Not the stuff you read everyday (blogs, email, and social media feeds don’t count). Consume real literature. Develop an insatiable lust for knowledge and in unquenchable thirst for prose. Read both fiction and non-fiction. Learn from other people’s experiences. Learn valuable new skill-sets. Reading widely is like leading multiple lives; it can make you think critically, evaluate in ways you wouldn’t have before, think, wonder, imagine. Einstein famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

A good memory is strongly associated with the health and vitality of your brain. Just like muscular strength, the more you ‘work out’ your memory, the better you will be at processing, storing, and recalling information. Mental athletes spend hours each day performing rigorous cognitive exercises. No-one is suggesting you have to be an elite performer but there are a few things you can do to strengthen your memory.

Even simple exercises, done regularly, can have a marked impact. Try and memorize the phone numbers of 10 friends. Memorize grocery lists, or poems, or state capitals. As well as having obvious long-term cognitive advantages, it’s really cool (and useful) to not be reliant on organizers/phones/reams of paper. If you don’t know about it already, read about the Method of Loci (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci). I’m not saying that this technique will change your life, but I can’t prove that it won’t.

  • Solve puzzles

Doing this is great because different kinds of puzzles exercise different parts of the brain. Do crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, solve mathematical puzzles, Sudoku etc. You get the idea. Video games are jam-packed full of puzzles (not to mention mental alertness and attention tasks).

Some of the things listed here may be beyond you, and that’s fine. If you only do 1 thing a day to improve your life, and then gradually work up to 2, and eventually 3…then at least you are heading in the right direction.