This question originally appeared on Quora: What habits have changed people’s lives? Answer by Nelson Wang, entrepreneur and writer with 10 years in technology. Founder of CEO Lifestyle.
When I was seventeen, I was fired from my job as a tuxedo salesperson for missing a rotation. I was devastated. Guess what? I bounced back. I got accepted into a one-year training program at a Fortune 100 company shortly after that. Since then, I’ve built a ten year career in technology at top tier companies including Cisco, VMware, Box, and Optimizely.
When I was eighteen, I met with an agent in Los Angeles to talk about being a creative writer and actor in the entertainment industry. She said I had no chance. Then she told me to go look for another job. My dreams were shattered. Guess what? I bounced back. At the age of twenty-six, I wrote a book, The Resume is Dead, that went on to hit the number one spot in the resumes category on Amazon Kindle and went on to accumulate over 40,000 Kindle downloads and sixty-six reviews.
When I was twenty-five, I wanted to make iPhone apps. Most people said I was crazy because I didn’t know any developers and designers. It’s true, I didn’t. So I started Googling “How to make iPhone apps” and found out that a lot of people were outsourcing development work through Elance. I followed the playbook and ended up making nine iPhone apps, all of which… failed miserably. Guess what? I bounced back and kept building apps. Since then, I’ve had four apps hit the top 100 in different categories.
When I was twenty-six, I interviewed for a director role at a Fortune 1000 company and was turned down. I was disappointed. Guess what? I bounced back and have my dream job now.
The question I’ve always wanted to answer was “How did I manage to bounce back?” Over the last thirty years of my life, I’ve come to realize that many times I’ve been able to get back on track because of one key principle: Embracing habits that drive success. Whether it’s love, friendships, or work, having the right habits in place can completely change your life. Along the way, I’ve taken mental notes on which key habits people should embrace and have compiled them below for you. I’ve never shared this list—until now.
Here’s the list of ten habits that could take your life into the stratosphere of greatness:
1. Use the 10 years test
Make a mistake recently? Feeling worried about what might happen next? I do. I make mistakes all the time. In college, I once flunked an economics course (not so good when you’re an economics major) and was really worried about my future. I could have dwelled on my mistake, but I didn’t. Instead, I use a neat little trick called the “10 years test” to prevent myself from stressing out. I asked myself, “Will this be a problem in 10 days? What about ten weeks? What about ten years?” Every time I ask that question, the answer is almost always no. This helps to identify what’s truly a big issue and what’s not. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
2. Remember to have fun
You spend 40+ hours at work every week. This means roughly 23.8% percent of your time in life will be spent at work. If you’re going to spend that much time there, you should enjoy it! In one of the companies I used to work at, we would celebrate big wins by giving each other high fives, ringing a gong, and congratulating each other. The energy was amazing! Having fun and being in a positive mood will motivate your coworkers. Trust me on this one. Because you know what, awesomeness is contagious.
Sheryl Sandberg has a great quote on how important it is to be yourself at work:
Motivation comes from working on things we care about, but it also comes from working with people we care about, and in order to care about someone you have to know them. You have to know what they love and hate, what they feel–not just what they think. If you want to win hearts and minds, you have to lead with your heart as well as your mind. I don’t believe we have a professional self from Mondays through Fridays and a real self the rest of the time. That kind of division probably never worked, but in today’s world it makes even less sense… It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.
3. Have an idea jar
Sometimes life can feel like a routine. It doesn’t need to be that way. It’s up to you to make life an amazing adventure. Want to write a bestseller? Start writing. Want to explore Italy? Buy a one-way ticket and visit the Colosseum. Want to make a short video to let your girlfriend know you’re thinking about her? Press record on your iPhone and make it happen! Here’s the problem most people run into: When they’re motivated and ready to run with an idea, they can’t think of an inspiring idea at that very moment. The idea jar fixes that. Get an empty mason jar, or whatever container you like, and every time you have a great idea, write it down on a little piece of paper and put it in the jar. The next time you need inspiration, (for example, like a date idea with your girlfriend), just reach into the jar and you’ve got an idea that you’ve always wanted to try. Have a lot of different types of ideas? Simple—just create a jar for each major category. For example, a jar for business ideas, love, friendships, family, and anything else that you can think of!
4. Step out of your comfort zone
Change is scary. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone. But if you want to grow, you need to step out of it. Every time I’ve taken a chance in business, it’s worked out 100% of the time. This has happened to me five times in my life. Every single time, I’ve grown tremendously as a person and learned a ton in the process. In my personal life, I met an amazing person who changed my life at a Twitter event in Barcelona. All because I decided to say hi to her—even though we hadn’t met before. Being comfortable is a good thing. But if you want to grow, you need to step out of your comfort zone. There’s a risk in not taking a risk. It’s complacency. So go ahead. Take a chance.
5. Before you react, seek to understand first
I once worked with a client who was incredibly nice. We got along really well, and were friends. One day, we ran into a small issue and he became really upset with me. At first, I had a really hard time understanding why he was so mad. The issue didn’t have a material impact on his business. I initially wanted to react in a defensive manner, but instead I chose to listen to him as he went on a rant. Finally, after a long period of talking, he eventually opened up to me and told me that the real reason he was upset was because his wife was going through a tough time with her health. Once he told me, I finally understood why he was upset. And my reaction completely changed. I went from being defensive to caring.
You see, all too often, we react too quickly without understanding the full story. That’s why it’s incredibly important to ask yourself, “Do you really know what the other person is going through and where they are coming from?” Seek to understand first before being understood.
6. Whenever you run into an obstacle, remind yourself to view it as an opportunity
This habit helps me elevate the way I think about life. I’ll give you a quick example. A common obstacle I faced in San Francisco back in 2006 was hailing a cab after a night out with friends. It would be a 2 am, freezing cold (by California standards) and nearly impossible to get a cab. What did I do for the next two years? The exact same thing. I’d sit there in the freezing cold and complain, praying that a cab would come by. What if I viewed it as an opportunity? What if I thought, “Hey, it doesn’t need to be like this. We can build an app that would summon cars to come pick us up at a moment’s notice.” Travis Kalanick did. And that’s how Uber was born.
7. Don’t wallow in the past
Whenever I find myself thinking about the mistakes I’ve made in the past, I immediately close my eyes, take a deep breath, and focus on the present. This habit has reminded me of the importance of moving on from the past. Look, we all make mistakes. Moping around and constantly thinking about our shortcomings isn’t going to help our lives though. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You can’t change what’s already happened. Learn from it and move on.
8. Get a blender
We only get one body in our entire lives. You need to treat it with care and respect. It will treat you with that same care and respect when you are one hundred years old. Eat healthy and exercise more.
The year after college, I moved across the country to North Carolina and had a complete disregard for my eating habits. I quickly gained a lot of weight and had random chest pains. I knew I had to start eating healthier and exercising more. So how did I do it? I bought a blender. There are a ton of small, intuitive, and easy-to-clean blenders like the Nutribullet that can help you make delicious smoothies. Every morning (except for the days I’m in a rush—hey, I’m not perfect), I’ll make a smoothie made out of vegetables and fruits. For example, I made a smoothie this morning made up of kale, apples, bananas, tomatoes, and mixed greens. I’ve even incorporated this routine into my lunchtime meal. I’ve been doing this for three years now, and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m also able to think more clearly, and have a lot more energy because I’m eating a lot less processed food. Fresh fruits and vegetables will replenish your body—embrace eating them daily as a good habit. You are what you eat.
(Here’s a picture of my breakfast this morning!)
9. Spend time with people who inspire you
You are who you spend your time with. When I spend time with entrepreneurs, I’m energized. When I spend time with people that are well-educated in finance, I make better investing decisions. When I spend time with people that have a lot of wisdom about life, I learn a tremendous amount from them on how to be a better person. Spend time with people that inspire you.
10. Be grateful for something every morning
All too often we get caught up in the journey. The chase. The work. The tweets. The endless pile of emails. After all, many of us are chasing the American Dream. It could be the white-picket-fenced house. It could be a new car. It could be fame. It could be your dream job.
And in this process, we become so mired in our aspirations that we forget one key principle to being happy: being grateful. Do you find yourself constantly thinking about what you want versus appreciating what you already have? Have you ever told yourself that if you were to attain that oh-so-elusive prize, you would finally be happy? Many people get stuck in this mindset and thus never give themselves permission to be happy.
The irony is that happiness can be attained at any moment that you desire. Happiness is a state of mind. Being grateful is a step towards achieving happiness. Studies have shown that people who routinely express their gratitude over a given period of time are actually happier (when surveyed) compared to people who express the negative aspects of their life over that same period of time. These type of studies clearly show that by being grateful on a consistent basis, you can condition yourself to appreciate what you have, and in turn, increase your happiness. The question is, why? Well, it’s quite simple really—our thoughts have the power to shape our emotions. If we’re constantly thinking of negative things in our lives, we’ll suddenly feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. On the flip side, if we’re focused on the positive aspects of our lives, we can suddenly fill ourselves with optimism.
So the question we should all ask ourselves is, “When was the last time I reminded myself of what I should be grateful for?” This could be your family, your friends, your career, your opportunities, your spouse, or your hilarious conversations with your best friend. One of my best friends, Jerry (name changed), almost died at a very young age from nephrotic syndrome. During that time, Jerry’s mother was at the gym and had an emotional breakdown and began to cry. Luckily, a complete stranger noticed and asked his mother what was wrong. She told her about the condition Jerry was in and how the only way he would survive would be through a kidney donation. After hearing the story, the lady decided to donate a kidney to help him. Because of this person’s generous giving, he’s alive today. And, yes, this is a true story of one of my best friends. I once asked him what he was grateful for. He said on most days, he was simply grateful for being able to see the sun come out. Each and every one of us can easily come up with a list immediately on what we’re grateful for. There are moments, memories, experiences and relationships that can bring smiles to our faces. So every morning, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve been blessed with in your life.
You’ll be happier for it.
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