It’s great to be the big fish, even in a small pond.

The experience of being better at an activity or an action than our peers, is not only confidence building, it can also push us further. Knowing that people depend on us to step up, or competing with someone who pushes us to grow, challenges us. Mentally we are stimulated in ways that we don’t get if we’re middle of, or lower in the pack. Yet, we often forget this concept when deciding what categories we want to belong to, whether the groups are high-end schools, elite sports clubs, or top-tier companies to work in. When performing with people well above our level, it feels discouraging, frustrating, and may cause us to give up pursuing our goal completely. If we are great at playing baseball, and are suddenly recruited by the ‘Yankees’, would we jump at the chance? Probably yes, but if we don’t play at that advanced level, we’ll be benched most of the time, and not have a good experience. If we drop down to a team that’s more suitable to our skill level, we’ll probably make some great plays, get more time on the field, and feel like a hero. Knowing the difference between a good stretch challenge where we fit and can excel, and reaching beyond our range to an arena that will crush us, can be tricky to navigate. Take ego, emotion and social status out of the equation to make a good decision and find the best fit.

Take action: Prioritize personal fit over socially high-level opportunities. It’s exciting when we’re given new challenges, but look for the ones that will stretch your ability and help you grow. Avoid the ones that will stress you out to the point of giving up on them.

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Gratitude is extremely powerful.

It’s common to overlook the importance of a heartfelt “thank you.” Even though we like being on the receiving end of gratitude, we often forget how important it is to give it to others. This tip is not only a reminder to give thanks to people around us, but to also take daily moments to appreciate ourselves, and our accomplishments so far. Ever have trouble falling asleep at night because you’re focused on how things could be better? Bedtime is a great time to switch our thinking to gratitude for something we achieved that day, even if it’s a small thing. These thankful thoughts will calm our minds and put us in a pleasant state, while setting up our subconscious to move towards positivity. One caveat, this attitude is not to say that we should just be thankful for what we have. Gratitude is not about settling for less than we’re capable of. In fact, acknowledging things we’ve done well can actually get the ball rolling to do more things well. For instance, if we reflect on how we made a really delicious family dinner and felt connected to the ones we love, we’ll feel joyful and encouraged to do it again and maybe add to it. If instead we fixate on how we over-cooked the potatoes, we may figure out how to make better potatoes but not be motivated to do it again.

Take action: Having a gratitude jar is a great way to remind yourself of what to be thankful for. Step 1: Reflect on a moment, and pull out something about it that you are thankful for. It doesn’t have to be a good moment, in fact a good challenge is to pull gratitude from a difficult situation. Step 2: Write the appreciation on a piece of paper and pop it in the jar. Repeat this regularly and review the contents of the jar frequently. And don’t forget to express this gratitude to others involved.

Inspired by Kristin Wong’s Lifehacker article, Why Gratitude Makes You a Happier Person.

Take proper care of the goose, to get the golden eggs.

Aesop’s fable is a good lesson for us. In it, a farmer has a goose that lays a golden egg each day. Over time the farmer grows rich from selling the eggs, but also becomes greedy and impatient. He decides to kill the goose and cut it open, to get to the eggs faster. Of course in doing so he loses both the goose and the future eggs. It’s also common for us to grow greedy and impatient with our own metaphorical geese – our relationships, as well as with our self. We may go through a sprint of high production and start to expect that we can maintain that pace, without taking care of ourselves, and relationships with others. For example, it’s not unusual for marriages to start off strong. Then gradually, as we neglect our spouse’s needs, we wonder why all the loveliness isn’t there anymore. Or we can’t understand why our child doesn’t listen to us, but we haven’t put in the effort to listen to her/him over the years. The opposite can also be a problem. If we excessively pamper ourselves, or spoil others too much, there will be laziness, disharmony, or disrespect, and no golden eggs being produced. We need a balance of both, taking care of the goose and making sure the eggs are being laid.

Take action: Are you getting what you feel you should be getting from yourself, your family, and/or people you work with? Consider if you’re taking the time to balance and nurture your relationships properly. Is your child disobedient, or your spouse ignoring you, or do your co-workers seem lazy? Instead of thinking they just don’t care, take a look at your own input into your relationship with them, and spend time appreciating their point of view.

Inspired by Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.

Trade complexity for simplicity.

Many of us live very complex lives. Some complexity is necessary and serves a purpose, But most of us have areas in our lives that are more intricate than they need to be, and can be simplified. Simplification creates space for good things to appear. It enables us to think more clearly, and it makes it easier for other people to connect with us. There are numerous ways to move towards straightforwardness. Some key areas include; prioritization, decluttering, and saying, “No” to situations. 1, Prioritization – the key here is to keep in mind our values and goals, then cut out activities that don’t align. For example, it’s common to consume way more media than is useful for us; TV, articles, newsletters, etc. If we cut back here, we’d have more time for family. 2, Decluttering – it’s generally easier to feel calm when we’re surrounded by a peaceful and tidy environment. An unblocked mind can be created with a clear physical space, so we should pair down the number of materialistic objects we accumulate. We can try taking something out of our home, for every item we bring in to it. 3, Saying, “No” – this concept is about avoiding complexity in all the forms that it comes. By avoiding complicated relationships, we open up to meaningful connections. By staying away from chaotic routines, we can appreciate precious moments. And by saying, “No” to the little things that we don’t need, we create space for purposeful thought.

Take action: If you can’t communicate something simply to someone else, that’s a good indication that you’re involved in something that is too complex. If they can’t easily repeat back your situation, consider if you are overthinking it, or if it’s more complicated than it needs to be. Then figure out how to simplify or streamline it, or if it’s useful for you at all.

Inspired by Leo Babauta’s article, Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life. 

Being authentic in a world of conformity.

When in new situations with people; such as a new job, meeting a significant other’s family, or joining a sports team, we tend to put effort into fitting in and being liked. Conformity can feel safe, easy, and harmonious so we confuse it with a sense of belonging. When we hide who we truly are, we deny the world of our unique contributions. Some people think of it as selfish for not sharing our personal gifts. And conformity plays a number on our own confidence and esteem. True belonging means we can wholly be ourselves, and feel accepted for it. We have a basic human need to be authentic, so that we can be understood. And not only is it important to be truthful to ourselves, it’s also beneficial to cultivate it in the relationships we have, and the groups we are part of. Only then can we make genuine connections. A healthy skepticism toward how a group performs together, can help identify who is going along with “the way we’ve always done things,” and may not be sharing their unique strengths. Try shaking things up and experiment with ‘who’ contributes ‘what’. For instance, if one friend always makes the plans for the group, we could ask to plan the next one, or ask to take turns, and do something different. Or, if we have trouble expressing who we are in a group, we could set up a situation for one-on-one conversation, where it may feel safer for each person to be authentic. Some adaptation and compromise may be required, but if the group is not receptive to allowing real contribution from everyone, then it’s time to rethink the group.

Take action: It can be easier to catch yourself being inauthentic than recognize being real. Take note if you go along with things you don’t believe in. Do you say you’re fine when you’re not? Do you stand up for others who are being treated unfairly because of who they truly are? Once you’re aware, you can start to make a difference.

Inspired by G. Shawn Hunter’s book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact.

Fix frustration by focusing on the things we can control.

Some things are beyond our immediate control, such as the weather, the nature of the industry we work in, the times offered for our favorite fitness class, and other people letting us down. There’s not a lot we can do about these situations, yet we focus on them anyway. We allow these uncontrollable factors to become excuses for not living to our fullest. The worst part is that these components distract us from the matters we can control, such as, our preparedness, our creativity, and our ability to prioritize. A feeling of frustration is like a red flag being waved; it’s a key indicator of us focusing on the wrong factors. We need to pay attention to when we feel this way, especially if we find a recurring theme, and switch our thoughts to something more useful. For example, if we want to go on a hike with a friend, but it could rain, make a pact to go regardless of weather and be prepared with some rain gear. If we get caught in unexpected traffic on our way to a meeting, we can be creative about possible approaches to the situation. Maybe pull off the road and call in to the meeting, and then follow up with a 10 minute coffee regroup once we do get there. Or if obligations are pulling us in too many directions, instead of getting overwhelmed, we can prioritize what we value most, and let the rest go.

Take action: Next time you’re stuck in frustration mode, make two lists. One for the contributing factors you can’t control, and one for those you can. Consider where you’ve been spending most of your energy. If it’s on the wrong list, make a switch and refocus.

Inspired by Jason Selk, Tom Barton and Matthew Rudy’s book, Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life.

How to maximize willpower.

Willpower is like a muscle. It refreshes itself as we rest, starts off strong in the morning, and then gets weak and fatigued later in the day. If we want to accomplish a task that takes willpower and self-discipline, like most of our personal goals do, the best time is when we first wake up, or shortly after. It will be easiest if we perform the task before the demands of the day kick in, and tire us out. Exercise is a very common example of a willpower-requiring task, also studying, nurturing relationships, or meditating. That is, anything that doesn’t need to get done urgently, but is important to our life to be done regularly, or as a steppingstone to a greater achievement. Beware though, there’s societal pressure to get up early to accomplish these things. Success will only be accomplished if the body and mind are rested, by managing to get enough sleep. So if we want to use time in the early morning, is it possible to go to bed earlier, or take naps? (Naps even give us a second chance in the same day to get motivated again.) But, if that’s not feasible, then we can consider pushing back the start of our workday to accommodate the time up front to take care of our personal goals. Or, we could think of a creative way to switch our routine to make room for the things that require self-discipline first. For example, using a form of exercise for transportation to get to work, or by having a sit down family breakfast instead of leaving that bonding to dinnertime, or switching a coffee routine every morning to accommodate studying.

Take action: Decide on one thing that you’d like to accomplish, either regularly such as writing a journal, or as a stepping stone to a larger goal, such as learning a new skill. Now figure out how you can make it happen before your workday starts, in a sustainable, non-torturous way. Adjust your schedule for it, make it happen, tweak it as needed.

Inspired by Laura Vanderkam’s book, What the Most Successful People Do before Breakfast. 

True persuasion is mutually beneficial.

Some people get an icky sense when they think of persuasion because they associate it with manipulation, bullying, and coercion. True persuasion, however, is positive for both parties involved. The person who says, “yes”, should feel good about it because it’s in their best interest. If we’re the ones doing the persuading, we need to do it responsibly. We should make sure we’re asking for something that would benefit the other as well as ourselves. Then we need to appeal to them through their values; what’s important to them, not us. For example, let’s say we want our friend to come grocery shopping with us – people don’t need extra errands in their life so how do we appeal to their values? We might want to go to a high-end store because it has a great bakery, and we need a cake. But our friend doesn’t need cake and feels the store over charges. We know our friend values finding a bargain, so look into what deals the store is offering that day, or find a coupon for them for an item that they will want. Put the extra effort in to make the trip mutually beneficial.

Take Action: Know your audience – consider people you live with or work with who you often need to ask to do something. Figure out what their values are. Do they want respect, leadership growth, an easier life? Next time you want to ask them for something, see if it appeals to one of their values. If not, consider asking for a different undertaking or asking someone else.

Inspired by Bushra Azhar’s website, The Persuasion Revolution.

How to make our self-serving bias work for us.

The majority of people think that they are above-average drivers. Often, when living together, both of a couple will think that they themselves do more than 50% of the housework. And of course, we are all better employees than most of our co-workers. However, none of these examples can be true, or the word “average” wouldn’t exist. It’s common though, especially in individualistic, Western cultures, to think this way. A self-serving bias means that we internalize our achievements, attributing them to our personal abilities, and place blame on external factors when things go poorly. We do the opposite when considering others imperfections. If they fail, it’s because they did something wrong, rather than dealt with a difficult situation. For instance, if we’re in a fender bender, it’s because the other person wasn’t paying attention and caused the situation, while we were driving perfectly. Being aware of our self-serving bias is important, so that we can curb our nature to judge others unfairly. But, the bias for ourselves is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps us build our self-esteem, boosts our confidence, and gives us security. So if we need to lift those attributes, then let’s go ahead and think that we are better than average people. However, if we’re at a stage of self-reflection for growth, then we need to get a more realistic self-analysis, to truly figuring out the areas we are actually better than average and where we struggle. Knowing most of us have some degree of this bias, means we’ll need to compensate for it by being more critical in our self questioning.

Take action: When considering others, flip it around. The next time something goes well for someone close to you, attribute it to his or her personal qualities such as hard work, perseverance and smart risk-taking. When things go poorly for them, question what external factors are an issue.

Inspired by’s article, What is the Self-Serving Bias?

Communicate with “bite-size” pieces of information

Our working memory can only process a small amount of information at a time. If we need someone to understand us, then we need to break down concepts, into easily digestible bits that will fit through the small-holed funnel that allows new information into our brain. If the receiver of the information is already familiar with the subject we are trying to explain, then they will be able to tap into their long-term memory to help them decipher what we are saying. Anything new, however, still has to go through that very small processor, called short-term memory. That’s why it’s important to selectively choose what we say, and prioritize the key concepts, over all that we could, or want to say. Focus on the quality of information over the quantity, and ensure it’s suitable for the listener’s level of understanding. Note how a ‘Ted Talk’ is only 18 minutes, purposefully kept short since the concept being explained is new to the audience. If it were longer, listeners would lose attention, and the message would be received in a fragmented way, instead of fully understood. Plus, associating the information with something that is already in the listener’s long-term memory will help, such as using a metaphor or an analogy. The long-term connection will act like a magnet and pull the new information through that processor funnel.

Take action: If explaining something new to someone, try breaking down the topic into chunks of information and only delivering what they need to know for the immediate future. You can always return to the subject once the first part has sunk into their long-term memory and they are ready to start processing again.

Inspired by Cliff Atkinson’s book, Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire.