To be truly great at something, we need grit.

Elite tennis player who have grit: Basic (left) vs Djokovic

Grit, or perseverance, is not the only factor for greatness in one area, but success doesn’t “just” happen. We have to make it happen, one small step at a time, with years of dedication.

We may compare ourselves and think that others are just naturally talented, or were given numerous good breaks, or were born super smart. We don’t see the effort they’ve put in, the failures they’ve learned from, and the insecurities they’ve endured on their road to greatness.

If we decide we want that level of success, how do we know what to be gritty about? Psychologist Angela Duckworth says we should look at an intersection of three things

  1. Our interests. Generally, what we liked to do when we were about 12-13 years old, when we were gaining our own way of thinking.
  2. We need to have purpose. What we do needs to be meaningful for us to stick with it.
  3. Reality. Not everything we want to do has opportunity, and persevering in the wrong area can be gut wrenching.

Even when we have these three elements, grit still does not supply a direct line to greatness, nor offer any guarantees. But, we can only get there if we keep taking steps toward it. If we do find a passion that has meaning and is realistic, it may be worth persevering.

Take action: If you find the thing you want to be great at, consider what level of greatness will fit the lifestyle you want. That will give you a better idea of how much grit you’ll need. That is, how many hours per day and for how many years.

:: Inspired by Angela Duckworth’s Talks at Google, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.



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Control our thoughts by designing what we think.

Design our thoughts.

We’re the only one who can truly control our thoughts so it makes sense to put some planning into how we want to think.

Want to think more positively? Or maybe be more present in the moment? Or how about a stronger appreciation for what we have? It’s important to first know what we want our thoughts to be and why, then we’ll have a goal to focus on.

Next, make a plan for how we’ll achieve it. For some, meditation will work. For others it will be a matter of consciously checking in with our thoughts at scheduled times of the day, or a small reward for when we find ourselves thinking in line with our goal.

We may need someone close to us to help monitor our actions, body language and words, since those things are telling signs of what’s happening in our mind.

Who we are, stems from our thoughts – our thoughts lead to actions, which can form habits, and evolve into who we become – so it’s more than worthwhile to put some effort into designing what we think.

Take action: At various times through today, note what kind of personal thoughts you have, write them down and before you go to sleep, review what thoughts you like, and those you want to change. Then figure out what you want to change them to, and why.

:: This SmartLife tip is inspired by Carrie Green’s TEDx Talk: Programming Your Mind for Success.



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Make online interactions more meaningful.

The internet: Time water or tool for good?

We live in a time where we can connect with millions of people and make a positive impact. Yet, many of us spend a great deal of our online moments watching cat videos or judging other people’s lives. We can do better.

Since the internet never forgets, there’s a lot of pressure to be exceptional when we post a meaningful comment, story, or video. This fear of judgement can stop us from starting. But, if we never start, we’ll never become good at it, and we’ll deny people of the impact we could make in their lives.

We all have meaningful thoughts that we can contribute to the world. Sure, at first our ideas may not get the same number of likes as cat videos. There’s no need to compete for likes. Even if no one reads our post, it still starts our habit of sharing meaningful thoughts.

Let go of the desire to be perfect and the fear of judgement. If we can say interesting things, as we all do many times a day, then we can post interesting things. Our thoughts are fascinating, and we can learn to recognize their contributions the more we write and share them. If we do it for ourselves, we’ll get better at it. Then others will eventually follow and be impacted by what we share.

What is meaningful for us, will resonate with someone else, and can help people struggling in similar situations. Cat videos are fun, but it’s time to also contribute more meaning.

Take action: If you’re worried about being judged for your ideas, you can start a blog or social account under an alias until you’ve crafted your contributory skills. Don’t let fear stop you from sharing meaningful thoughts. Your ideas can make a positive impact.

:: Inspired by Marie Forleo’s interview with Seth Godin.



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Less mess means less stress.

Less mess means less stress

When we enjoy something, it’s often our tendency to want to own a piece of it. It could be a souvenir from a vacation, some sports gear from something we tried once, or even comic books that have been collected over years. Or maybe we got drawn in to a great sale, for something we don’t use.

Material possessions don’t satisfy us. After a short time the appeal wears off and instead of stuff giving us a full life, it actually eats away at our freedom. It weighs us down and can cause anxiety over the organization, maintenance, and storage of it.

An over abundance of possessions can distract us from doing what we really care about. If we’ve ever had to clean out the garage, attic, basement, storage locker or pack/unpack a move, we’ve probably felt like stuff is an anchor, keeping us from spending time doing more important things.

There are great benefits to consuming less: our money goes further; it allows for more space in our homes; and it frees us to be able to pick up and go with fewer worries. Plus, it’s calming to be in a clear space.

The thought of going minimal can be hard, but it’s not restrictive. It allows for greater choice. For example, we can purchase fewer, but better quality items. If we rent something instead of buy it, we don’t need to worry about maintenance. Without an anchor of payments, we can be more selective in our careers. Ultimately, owning less gives us more time, energy, money, options, and choice.

Take action: Get rid of 100 things. Here’s a tougher challenge, let a loved one choose 5 of your items to let go. Try selling expensive items, find charities that can use the practical stuff, and toss or recycle the junk.

:: Inspired by Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own

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How to rewrite our self sabotaging stories.

“I can’t…, I could never…, I always…, I suck at…” are words that are pretty common and start the sentences that become our limiting beliefs. We have these thoughts, then say these words, and end up avoiding experiences that could enhance our lives. These excuses enable us to stay in our safe cocoons where we feel comfortable.

Even though we may want more in life, we avoid vulnerability by internalizing personal characteristics that we’ve either made up, or that have been told to us. And worse, we sometimes don’t realize that we are holding ourselves back. We’re our own worst enemy. In fact, we may even enjoy the attention that comes with receiving sympathy, or playing the victim.

For example, have you heard a single friend say “All the good men/women are taken,” and given them sympathy? Or have you said it yourself? Or how about, “I can’t quit my job, I have a family to support.” Heard this one: “You’re so lucky you’re good public speaking, wish I was.” If not one of those, we’re likely guilty of claiming other falsehoods that protect us from self awareness.

But here’s some inspiration: singer Ray Charles grew up broke, blind and a minority, yet gained great success regardless. He didn’t limit himself with sabotaging stories, and we can let go of our own limiting beliefs too.

Pay attention to your false stories, rethink them, and find opportunities to develop in that area. If you’ve grown up with these stories, then it won’t be easy. Start by eliminating the phrases at the start of this tip and replacing them with “I can figure it out,” “I’ll learn to be better at…,” or use the word “yet,” implying future growth, such as, “I’m not good at this skill, yet.”

Take action: Self awareness can be difficult, but definitely achievable. Here are some questions to help: What is a skill you’re not good at yet? Do you have a phobia? What success have you not achieved yet? Do you think you’re too old/young for something? Now figure out why, what stories do you tell yourself that limits you. Rewrite those stories to a belief that you can achieve greatness, and find opportunities to practice.

:: Inspired by Jen Sincero’s book, You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.

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Getting the most from a team.

Taking team lessons from the field.
Taking team lessons from the field.

We have different goals for different teams, at different times. This tip is for getting a high level of productivity from a team we are leading. Maybe, a group at work trying to hit defined targets, or in a community trying to achieve a certain level of excellence, or even a family team working together towards a specific achievement.


In most teams there will be high performers who we rely on to make things happen, the middle level contributors, and low performers who are not achieving their potential.

When working towards a specific team goal, our tendency is often to focus on the low performers and try to increase their contributions, as in the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Unfortunately, the squeaky wheels suck up our time and energy, and bring the rest of the team down. In many workplaces, systems are set up for these low performers. These lesser producers are often given extra support in the form of training, more of our time, and a minor workload. The given support is great, unless it’s at the expense of the rest of the team. The problem is, it often results in providing fewer resources to the high performers.

Our key people are usually the ones that complete tasks successfully without a lot of attention, so we tend to ignore them and just let them do their thing. However, it’s these people that we should be focusing on if we want the team to be more productive. The top-notch workers need to feel appreciated, valued, and respected, even though they don’t ask for accolades. They still need appropriate guidance to grow.

If we redistribute some of our top performers’ less challenging tasks, they won’t relax, they’ll fill the gap with whatever needs to get done next.

Instead of trying to fix the low performers, we should be putting our resources into the superstars. There will likely be complaints from those just coasting along, but the team will reach targets and goals. If we put our energy into the low performers, our team will underachieve, and there will still be complaints.

Take action: What should you do with a low performer? Everyone has a place and fit and often people who are dragging themselves, do so because they haven’t found how they excel and what they really enjoy. While redistributing tasks from the high performers, try to find something that will be a better fit for someone else.

:: Inspired by Ron Clark’s book, Move Your Bus: An Extraordinary New Approach to Accelerating Success in Work and Life.

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Get a jump start on a mid-life crisis.

Get a jumpstart on a mid-life crisis.
Why wait to turn 50 to live like we’re 25?

When we are young, we learn fast. There’s new experiences all around us, constantly: gaining independence, starting our careers, partnering with someone, having children, etc., These happenings keep our brains moving and our minds active.


Somewhere along the way, we tend to settle into comfortable, repetitive, predictable lives. Our mind goes into auto-pilot mode and we get stuck in our comfort zone.

Our brains and biology enjoy this mode. They like the easy route, recognize patterns, feel secure and get lazy. Our cells even crave the chemical balance that has become the norm.

But our mind wants more out of life. Our mind wants to evolve, progress and learn new things, just like the “good ol’ days”. Our mind wants the excitement that comes with novel experiences and this emotion causes conflict with our conservative brain.

To avoid suddenly hitting this crisis, we can pre-empt it, by getting out of our comfort zone early and giving our mind new ways to grow. By doing it early, we can take advantage of making our decisions before our heads are desperate and irrationally clouded.

Anytime we find ourselves boxed in by our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, at any stage of our life, we should shake things up before it becomes overwhelming. That way we have a better chance of making wise decisions that benefit who we want to become, without the stress of urgency that can sneak up on us if we wait.

Take action: Our beliefs influence our thoughts, which become actions, and if repetitive, become our state of being. So if you’re shaking things up, you can flip the equation around and first consider who you want to become, such as a good parent, for example. Next, what actions you’ll need to be that person. Perhaps it’s coaching your child’s soccer practice. Then what thoughts and beliefs will be required to put the task in motion, such as “I can figure out how to coach kids’ soccer.”

:: Inspired by Joe Dispenza, DC’s book, Evolve Your Brain

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It’s not the idea that matters, it’s how you bring it to life.

Lots of us have great ideas, and on their own they can be fun and inspiring, but to make them real is a whole other story.

Whether at home, a workplace, or other group environment, ideas need to be championed to make them a reality. It’s in this stage that we are challenged. Ideas are meaningless, unless acted upon. They need to be developed, shared, grown, tested, improved, turned into something useful, and then shared again. If they are hoarded and hidden, they go nowhere.

Getting others to latch on to our ideas can be tricky because it requires them to change their own thought. They will often put up blockers or excuses. The objections could be based on real concerns, or just a resistance to change. Here’s how to spot the difference…

First, define the problem that the idea will solve. Keep in mind that what may be an obvious issue to us, may not be considered a problem by others. Make sure we’re clear that things could be improved. For instance, if our idea is to go for regular walks with our spouse, we should make sure she or he agrees that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy, before we present the walking concept.

Then, work on removing the excuses. If not immediately fixable, ask if that reason gets solved, would there be any other issues?

Remember that ideas can take time to spread. Try using a catchy name for the idea, and leaving out a prototype for easy visualization. For the regular walks example, the prototype could be an image of a healthy-looking couple enjoying a stroll. If it’s an idea for work, maybe use a mockup of a website or leave a 3D model on your desk where people can see it and inquire about it’s benefit.

Don’t worry about people stealing the idea. The work is in making the idea a reality. If someone adds to it and then feels like it’s their own, then you know you’ve succeeded in getting them on board.

Take action: Learn the process of championing an idea in a small way before going for the big one. Start small by implementing a new idea with one or two people. Grow into bigger ideas with larger groups once you’ve figured out which ideas are feasible, and how to overcome people’s resistance.

:: Inspired by Seth Godin’s book, Free Prize Inside: How to Make a Purple Cow.

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S.M.A.R.T. goals and stretch goals.

These two types of goals can work together for incredible results.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and based on a timeline. This system works really well for defining how to make small adjustments to your current performance to hit short term targets. It’s often used in the corporate world and can easily be applied to our personal lives so that we can turn vague aspirations into a concrete action plan.

For example, if we want to be more fit; we’d get specific, measurable, and set a timeline with, “I want to run up the hill at the park in under 2 minutes, by the end of the month.” We’ll train at the gym twice a week for 20 minutes before work (achievable) and we know it’s within our grasp (realistic). Checking each goal off our list will make us feel great and give us motivation for the next one.

A fulfilled life, however, requires more than a series of short-term goals. It’s also important to stretch ourselves now and then with challenges that we don’t immediately know how to achieve. Such as starting our own business, or fundraising for a charity, or travelling to an unknown destination with little resources, or pushing the previous goal past climbing a hill to perhaps a triathlon challenge.

A stretch goal is innovative and transformative. It may seem audacious at first, so we need a flexible, open, creative mind to brainstorm possible paths to achieve it. If it’s a true stretch, we’ll also need some outside resources. Books, courses, and a coach or mentor can help us figure out how to make it real.

Once broken down, we can pair stretch ideas with a series of S.M.A.R.T. goals, to help turn our big dreams into reality. Even if we don’t end up with the results we initially expect, the journey will improve our lives.

Take action: What stretch goal do you want to achieve? Think big enough that it makes you a little nervous. Next, brainstorm ways that could make it possible, consult some outside sources, and choose the most enjoyable route. Then start breaking it down. You don’t need all the details, just the top line view and first few steps. Know that when ready, you can turn those steps into S.M.A.R.T. goals, and start achieving them.

:: Inspired by Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

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A simple smile can change the world.

Have you ever had a stranger compliment you as they passed by? Or someone you barely know appreciate that you’ve done something well? How about a genuine smile, or a, “Good morning,” from an unfamiliar person?

It makes us feel good, shifts us out of our thinking patterns, and can set us up for a good day.

Now consider how many times we’ve done it for others, we can all spread more kindness in this manner.

Some people are harder to connect with than others. Maybe we have set patterns that we can break, for instance, we never say, “Hello” to a security guard we see regularly at work and think it would be odd to start. Or we think it would be strange to compliment a taxi driver on his driving, because that’s just not what’s done. Or how about a conversation with the outcast parent at your daughter’s ballet class who always sits by herself?

We don’t know what others are going through and what state of mind they are challenged with. A simple smile, or a few nice words can sometimes snap someone out of their negative thoughts and into a better place.

It can be like, The Butterfly Effect where one small kindness can lead to better thoughts, which can lead to better actions, and then better habits, and a better life.

Or maybe our smile goes to a “pay it forward” type of person. If the cab driver we complimented gets a lift in his mood, he might next pick up a school teacher and share a kind word. The school teacher may then be extra encouraging to her students, who then go home and have a good evening with their families.

People do bad things when they are feeling bad, and we can deter them by making them feel good. A simple smile is a small gesture that can have an incredible impact.

Take action: “Hugging is fully returnable.” It’s more than just a cute saying, a good hug can have massive benefits for people. It can relieve stress, give us security, build trust between the huggers, and increase our human connections. Become a good hugger by thinking of the benefits you’re giving the hugged.

:: Inspired by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit.

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