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How 12 Highly Productive People Used The Power Of Routine To Achieve Greatness

How 12 Highly Productive People Used The Power Of Routine To Achieve Greatness

Admit it. You’ve wondered.

In those quiet moments when you thought no one was ‘listening’ you’ve asked yourself: “Could I be next Steve Jobs? or the next Warren Buffett? Or >insert name of famous person<?”

The truth? You can. The secret to being a high achiever is a lot simpler than you’d imagine. It’s all about routine and focus.

I mean, sure, these high achievers like Jobs and Branson are incredibly talented. There's no question about it. They all have unique qualities and abilities that many of us don't have. But here’s the thing: We all have unique talents. What most of us don’t have is the ability to create routines that help us focus and make the best of our natural talents. As you’ll see later in this post, Jobs was able to harness his talents through incredible focus by asking one simple question every day. That one question directed his focus and helped him first develop his talents into powerful skills. He then used these skills to create world changing products and companies. Many times.

You too can make the best of your natural gifts. What you need is a system that helps you to hone your skills. And then apply those skills in a focused way to make the world a much better place. And a great place to start? Study their daily routines of some of the highest achievers the world has ever seen.

Here are the routines of 12 high achievers who made a huge impact on the world:

Steve Jobs changed the world by asking himself one question everyday

9 minutes and 10 seconds into his 2005 Standford commencement speech Steve Jobs talks about one daily habit that probably made the biggest impact on his life and work.

Everyday he’d ask himself “If today was the last day of my life would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” When the answer was “no” for too many days in a row he knew he had to change something.

This question kept Steve focused on what really mattered.

He goes on to explain “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to make the big choices in life. Because almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, fear of embarrassment and failure, all these things just fall way in the face of death. Remembering you’re going to die, is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Warren Buffett generated a personal net worth of over $57 billion by nurturing one important habit

Buffett’s daily routine includes a lot of reading. In fact, he spends about 80% of his day reading.

And he does this every day.

I remember watching an interview on CNBC where he mentioned that he reads at least 3 annual reports or company prospectuses (a couple of hundred pages each) every day. When asked how to get smarter he held up a stack of paper and said. “Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

When he’s not busy reading, Buffett is deep in thought — usually assessing various companies’ competitive advantage. This is how he decides on what stock to buy. Right from the beginning of his career, he’s applied the principles in Benjamin Graham's book — ‘the intelligent investor’. And he’s never deviated from them in his entire career that spans well over 50 years.

As at October 2014 Forbesreported his net worth to be $67 billion. His company called Berkshire Hathaway is now the fourth most valuable public company with a market capitalization of $330 billion!

So how did he become such a great investor?

Routine. Consistency. Habits.

Buffett’s routine involves reading widely and thinking deeply. All this reading and thinking has one single focus— to be the greatest investor of all time.

Winston Churchill had an unusual but effective approach to making world-changing decisions

Churchill had a fairly unusual approach as far as high achievers go. Most high achievers jump out of bed early, and use their first few hours as a springboard for success.

Not Churchill. He didn’t physically get out of bed until about 11 AM. He would use his early hours effectively though. He’d wake up at 7am, catch up on local news and speak with secretaries. He’d then bathe, walk outside, then start work with whiskey and soda. Though he didn't physically get out of bed till 11 AM, he used those hours between 7am and 11am to do his most important thinking and decision-making. This routine helped him set the tone for a productive day.

Benjamin Franklin started and ended his day with one simple question

According to this article in fastcompany Ben Franklin’s morning routine stretched from 5am to 7am, which started with one question: “What good shall I do today?”

Having set his agenda for the day by 7am, Franklin would work from 8 to 11am, and then again from 2pm to 5pm. At the end of the day he’d ask himself “What good have I done today?” His routine had a singular focus —doing the most ‘good’ each day. In the evenings he’d revisit the day’s events to see if he’d achieved his goals from the morning. He’d ask himself how much ‘good’ he had done during the day.

And that is how this high achiever used his routine to focus on his outcomes.

Beethoven created immortal music with a routine that started at dawn

Beethoven would wake up at dawn, have a cup of coffee and would work till 3pm. He’d usually take a small break for lunch followed by a midday walk.

In fact, Beethoven had a tendency to take frequent, well-timed breaks — a trait common to most great achievers. He knew how to pace himself and avoided burnout. Beethoven spent winter evenings at home and devoted them to serious reading. He never composed music in the evenings – this was done in the earlier part of the day. He went to bed at 10pm at the latest.

So Beethoven’s mornings were focused on his most important work – creating music.

Barack Obama starts off each day by transforming himself into an endorphin machine

Obama has a fairly regular routine that allows him to fit everything into his day. He starts his day with a workout at 6.45am. Vigorous exercise is known to stimulate endorphin production — a feel good hormone in the body.

After this great start, he has breakfast with his family and usually gets the Oval Office at about 9 AM. He makes it home for dinner but sometimes goes back to work and stays as late as 10 PM. He sorts through odds and ends, catches up on work and gets ready for the next day. Obama’s also very careful to minimize decision fatigue — he prefers not to make decisions around food and clothing.

Obama’s routine is all about getting him to focus on the things that matter and eliminating ‘noise’.

Charles Darwin made huge contributions to science thanks to a rigid schedule, which incorporated a lot of walking

Charles Darwin stuck to a very rigid schedule that started at 7:00 in the morning. Having been an avid hiker in his younger years, Darwin’s routine incorporated plenty of walking. He’d start off the day with a short walk, followed by breakfast. He’d then work through the morning till lunch at 12:45. This was the biggest meal of the day.

His afternoon consisted of two walks, reading, and backgammon. Darwin could not tolerate much socializing, and kept it to a maximum of 30 minutes at a time. Darwin’s rigid schedule included regular exercise – another attribute of highly successful people.

Gandhi used a minimalist approach to lead the world’s largest democracy to freedom through non-violence

M.K. Gandhi would start his day at 4 am followed by his prayers at 4:20. He’d then do a bit of writing, after which he’d work or rest. He’d have breakfast at 7am, followed by a brisk morning walk that spanned 5kms.

Gandhi was a true minimalist. He ate from a small bowl to remind himself to eat small portions. He ate mindfully and slowly. He possessed very little apart from the clothes he wore and some utensils for cooking and eating.

He dressed very simply in a humble white cloth — which represented his allegiance to the average Indian who lived a frugal life.

When he met the king of Great Britain in London in his simple wrap around cloth a journalist asked him “Mr Gandhi, did you feel under-dressed when you met the King”. Gandhi replied, “The King was wearing enough clothes for both of us!” Gandhi worked hard to minimize distractions in his life and focused on what mattered most to him and his cause — freedom through non-violence.

His laser-focused approach enabled him to become a prolific writer, a great speaker and a greater politician. His routine enabled him to generate incredible resilience and keep him doggedly focused on his goals. His daily habits enabled him to lead India to freedom through non-violence — something that hadn’t been believed possible before.

Richard Branson leverages his morning routine to successfully run over 300 companies

According to this business insider article (which includes a charming video interview with Richard Branson) he attributes his successful running of over 300 companies to waking up with the sunrise – at 5.45am.

Branson is a great believer in getting fit and healthy and often kicks off his day with a swim around his island. If the wind’s up he goes kite surfing and occasionally has a game of tennis. This is followed by a good healthy breakfast and then work.

He also loves to incorporate a bit of music into his day.

John Grisham built a career as a writer by harnessing the power of ‘one page a day’

When Grisham first began writing, he still had his day job as a lawyer.

To do both, he’d wake up at 5:00am,shower, and then head to work — five minutes from home.

By 5.30am he was sitting at his desk with a cup of coffee and a yellow legal pad.

And this is when the ‘one page per day’ plan kicked in. He’d set himself a simple target. To write one page each day.

Sometimes this page appeared in just ten minutes, while other days it took one or two hours. Regardless, he stuck to his routine and finished that page before he started his day’s work (as a lawyer).

Stephen King became one of the greatest writers by faithfully following rituals – some of which he didn’t understand

Here’s an extract from the book Lisa Rogak, Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King

“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” he said. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.

“It’s not any different than a bedtime routine,” he continued. “Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”

Victor Hugo — a prolific writer and artist — woke up each morning to the sound of a gunshot followed by a public ice-cold bath on his roof

Hugo would wake up each morning to the sound of a gunshot from a fort. This was followed by a public ice bath on his roof in water that had been left out overnight. This days would include long strenuous exercise on the beach and a daily visit to the barber.

When Hugo set out to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the fall of 1830, against the seemingly impossible deadline of February 1831, he bought himself an entire bottle of ink in preparation and put himself under house arrest for months. He did this by locking away his clothes (to avoid any temptation of going outside) and lived in a large grey shawl which reached right down to his toes.

He finished the book weeks before the deadline, using the entire bottle of ink to write it.

So there you have it. Some of the greatest achievers and their daily routines.

So what do all of these great achievers have in common?

Three things:

  1. The stay focused on their cause or their life goal. They were all masters of eliminating distraction that took them away from their main focus.
  2. They were all early risers and made the most of the first few hours of their morning.
  3. Almost every one of them incorporated some form of exercise into their daily routine.

You can do this too

You want to make a huge impact on the world? You can.

You want to devote the rest of your life to a meaningful pursuit that leaves the world in better shape than you found it? You can.

The thing is you have enormous untapped potential just like Steve Jobs or any of these other high achievers did. You just have to work out how to access that potential. And a great way to start is to develop a routine that eliminates distractions and keeps you focused on your objective.

You need to focus on turning your talents into skills through a consistent routine, and deliver them to the world in a way that makes a massive impact. It won’t be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. In fact, I can guarantee that there will be many times when you’ll want to quit.

People will call you insane for dreaming those audacious dreams. But the worst crime you can commit is to believe them and not yourself. See, our job is to be the elite few that dare to lead the world away from mediocrity and into excellence. It’s to defy self-imposed boundaries and accomplish things that were previously considered ‘impossible’. It’s to contribute to the world in such a powerful and meaningful way that the ripples are felt for decades to come.

You can do this.

I believe in you.

So get started.

Right now.

Featured photo credit: antb via depositphotos.com

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

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Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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