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Optimal Living 101: Action - Top 50 Big Ideas!
Action: It’s time to just do it. Let’s take consistent, impeccable action, shall we?
Here are my Top 50 (!) Big Ideas from my Optimal Living 101 class on Action.
1. Strengthen Your Willpower Muscles. Roy Baumeister, one of the world’s leading willpower
scientists, tells us: “Improving willpower is the surest way to a better life.” Researchers call
willpower the “queen of all virtues.” It outpredicts IQ for academic success by a factor of 2 (!!)
and is THE greatest predictor of the quality of our health, happiness, wealth, relationships and
everything else we care about. Good news is we *can* strengthen our willpower muscles. We’ll
2. Meditation. Ultimately, willpower is all about being able to put your attention where you
want, when you want and then to be able to take the action you deem most noble. The starting
point, though, is your ATTENTION. Best way to train your attention? Meditation. (Again, this
isn’t wisdom from a levitating monk in the Himalayas. This is from conservative scientists.)
3. Breathe Deeply. Easiest way to boost your willpower in the moment? A deep breath. Breathe
in to the count of four. Out to the count of six. In to four. Out to six. In to four. Out to six. Ah…
We’re now out of the fight-or-flight response and into the “pause-and-plan” response—which
is where we want to be if we want strong willpower.
4. Exercise. Kelly McGonigal, the Stanford-based researcher who is a leading thinker on
willpower, tells us that exercise is the “closest thing to a wonder drug.” John Ratey tells us that
exercise is like taking a little bit of Ritalin (for attention) and a little bit of Prozac (for mood)
while Tal Ben-Shahar tells us that *not* exercising is like taking a depressant. You want
willpower (and therefore happiness)? Exercise.
5. Eat. Low glucose is one of the quickest ways to crush your willpower. Solution is simple:
notice when you’re off, check in to see if your glucose might be low and, if so, eat.
6. Build Your Willpower Muscle with Small Exercises. When you do one little thing (like sitting
up straight or working out consistently) you build your willpower in other areas of your life. It’s
like a muscle. Amazing. By doing your dishes every night you also are more likely to eat better,
exercise more and all that jazz. (Note: Just like a muscle you can over train so start slow and
7. Reduce the Variability of Your Behavior. Science is clear: Want to install a new way of being?
Reduce the variability of the behavior you want to optimize. (In other words, get up at the same
time or meditate at the same time or exercise at the same time or start writing/creating at the
8. Be Nice to Yourself. Notice when you’re off and correct yourself. But don’t go all albino
monk from The Da Vinci Code on yourself. Science says: Self-criticism reduces willpower.
9. Pre-Commit. Again, 99% is hard. 100% is, paradoxically, easy. When we make a 100%, non-
negotiable commitment, it’s a LOT easier than kinda sorta committing.
10. Tidy Up. Fascinating: A clean home/work space = higher willpower. Your place a mess? Tidy
11. Create Bright Lines. Lawyers say a very clear contract has “bright lines.” It’s unambiguous
what the terms are. We need to create bright lines in our lives—unequivocally clear standards
that we are unequivocally committed to. Ranging from I won’t cheat on my spouse to I won’t
have another drink (ever) to I won’t eat another donut this year to I won’t check email before
doing what’s most important to me in the morning to. What are your bright lines?
12. What Do You Need to STOP Doing? The first step to optimizing our lives is to identify the
things that are destroying us. What’s the #1 thing you need to stop doing that, if you stopped
doing it, would have THE greatest impact in your life? Do you have any habits that are holding
you back? Drink too much? Smoke? Watch too much TV? Surf the internet/FB/etc. too much?
Yell at your spouse/kids/colleagues too much? OK. Stop doing that.
13. What Do You Need to START Doing? Once we’ve indentified the things that need to go,
let’s look at what we need add in to our lives. What’s the #1 thing you could start doing that, if
you started doing it consistently, would have the most positive impact in your life? That’s called
your“keystone habit.” Time to rock it!
14. Follow Your Bliss. AND Your Grunt. Joseph Campbell is very well known for his “Follow your
bliss!” line. Profound wisdom. But… Later in his life he said he wished he had also said, “And
follow your grunt!” Inspiration is important. So is hard work.
15. Be Consistent on Your Fundamentals. It all starts with the fundamentals. What are yours?
How’re you doing with them? Mine: Exercise + Nutrition + Attention Training (= Meditation +
Optimism + Gratitude). And, let’s remember to put the fun back in fundamentals. (Again,
remember: This is all supposed to be fun. If it isn’t fun you’re not doing it right. :)
16. Turn Your Discipline into Blissipline. What happens when we have FUN rockin’ our
fundamentals and living with more discipline? Simple. Our discipline becomes blissipline!
(Thanks for that word, Michael Beckwith!) Seneca described it in sweet prose 2,000 years
ago: “How much better to pursue a straight course and eventually reach that destination where
the things that are pleasant and the things that are honorable finally become, for you, the
17. Consistency Over Intensity. It’s awesome to set New Year’s resolutions or make a big
commitment to change everything from here on out! And… It’s a LOT better to hold that
intense enthusiasm in the context of a deep commitment to be more CONSISTENT on the little
things. Consistency over intensity. If you tend to bounce all over the place and up and down,
this is H.U.G.E. (I speak from experience. This commitment to consistency has completely
18. Ask Yourself: Now What Needs to be Done? We’re not always going to feel like sunshine
and roses. That’s just how it is. In those moments we need to ask ourselves “Now what needs
to be done?” Then we need to do it. To be the type of person who does what needs to get done
whether we feel like it or not is a hallmark of awesomeness.
19. Just Do the Dishes. Byron Katie says we never have more than one thing that needs to get
done in any given moment. She calls it “doing the dishes.” Whether it’s sending an email, going
for the walk, eating dinner, taking a deep breath or doing the dishes, be present to that activity
20. +1 or -1. Abraham Maslow tells us that in any given moment we can either step forward
into growth or back into safety. +1 or -1. +1 or -1. +1 or -1. We want to pay attention and notice
which way we’re headed. We feel *great* at the end of a day full of +1s. Lots of -1s? Those are
the days we want to “unwind” with a beer or glass of wine (or 5).
21. You’re Not Lazy. You’re a Coward. Steve Chandler makes the distinction between being lazy
and being afraid. Too often we say we’re “too lazy” to do something but that’s not what’s
*really* going on. We’re too afraid. So, next time you aren’t doing something, don’t let yourself
off the hook with the (oddly) socially acceptable excuse that you’re lazy. Say, “I’m just a coward
and I’m too afraid to do this.” (Then, let’s just do it.)
22. Commitment + Re-Commitment. Committing to something is important. It’s even more
important to RE-commit. And then re-commit again. And again. And again. (An airplane from LA
to Europe is off course 99% of the time. But the pilots know where they’re headed and they
consistently re-commit to get us there.) Of course, we also need to know when to let something
go but we don’t make that decision when we’re just feeling lazy/afraid.
23. Zero-Base Your Thinking. Brian Tracy tells us that we need to “zero-base” our thinking. We
need to look at our current commitments and ask ourselves, “Knowing what I now know, would
I still choose to start this project/relationship/etc.” If the answer is “No,” it’s wise to figure out
what you need to do to either get out of the project or optimize it!
24. Be Willing to Experiment. Have a Growth Mindset. Ralph Waldo Emerson told us that all
life is an experiment—the more experiments the better! We need to embrace what scientists
call a “growth” mindset (vs. a “fixed” mindset) where we embrace life’s challenges as
opportunities to learn *rather than* as evidence that we’re an idiot. Very big difference. Let’s
25. Moving From Incompetence to Competence. Whenever we develop a new skill we move
thru several key phases. We move from unconscious incompetence (not even aware we suck at
something) to conscious incompetence (we’re now aware) to conscious competence (if we pay
attention we can do it right) to unconscious competence (we can do it right in our sleep).
Embracing these steps is important to mastering anything!
26. Quit Being a Perfectionist. Become an Optimalist. Tal Ben-Shahar tells us that there are
actually two versions of perfectionism: a healthy perfectionist and an unhealthy perfectionist.
They’re so different that he coined the word “optimalist” to describe the healthy perfectionist.
Whereas a perfectionist actually thinks they can attain perfection, the optimalist embraces the
constraints of reality and knows that his/her ideals are more like guiding stars than distant
shores. HUGE distinction. With that perspective, we tend to procrastinate a lot less.
27. Mistakes Are Just Mis-Takes. As Michael Beckwith tells us, mistakes are simply “mis-takes.”
Not a big deal. Imagine you’re filming a great movie—which is your life. Do you expect to get it
all perfectly in one long awesome take? Of course not. We will need to re-shoot certain scenes
when we flub our lines. That’s the essence of a growth mindset-oriented otpimalist. :)
28. 99% Is Hard. 100% Is a Breeze. When we make a 99% commitment to something, it’s
actually a LOT harder than making a 100% commitment. We need to know what’s important,
commit to it and make that commitment 100% non-negotiable. Then, when the whiny little
voices come into our heads, we can escort them out and get it done.
29. Act As If. Not feeling inspired? Act as if you were. Imagine the most plugged in version of
you rockin’ something and then ACT AS IF you were that person now. This isn’t hokey woo woo
self-help stuff. Scientists tell us this is a powerful practice of happy peeps. Don’t feel like acting
like a higher version of yourself? OK. Imagine someone you admire. How would theyapproach
30. Completions. We need to finish what we start and honor commitments we make. If we
have a bunch of dangling incompletions, we’re going to be draining energy. When you start
31. Kaizen. We want to embrace the idea of constant and never-ending improvement. Always
looking for little ways to improve ourselves. Did you get a little better today?
32. 80/20 Principle. The 80/20 principle tells us 80% of our goodness in life comes from 20% of
our activities. We need to find that 20% and multiply it!
33. Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law tells us that the amount of time something takes to
complete will expand to the amount of time we give it. (Ever notice how much you can get
done when you need to get ready for a 2-week vacation?) Therefore, we want to deliberately
constrain the amount of time we give a project and see how much we can get done.
34. 80/20 + Parkinson’s Law. Put 80/20 + Parkinson together and you have a very powerful
combo: Most efficiently doing what’s most important = optimal productivity goodness.
35. One Small Step. What’s one small step you can take in the direction of your dreams? You
want to exercise but are having a tough time rockin’ it? Great. Commit to walking in place
during ONE (!) commercial tonight and every night for a month. You’ll be shocked at the places
that commitment will take you. :) (Same rule applies for anything: Meditate for 1 minute a day,
write one sentence for your blog/book, etc.)
36. 10,000 Hours. Did you know Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team
and wasn’t even the best athlete in his family growing up? Yah. We have this pervasive cultural
myth that great peeps just pop out of the womb that way. But, uh, that’s not quite how it
works. Look at a Jordan or a Mozart or a Darwin and what you’ll see is a human being who
“deliberately practiced” (as scientists like to describe it) their craft year-in and year-out
37. Become a Master. George Leonard tells us there are four basic approaches to life. We can
be fall into the not-so-good categories and be a Dabbler, a Hacker or an Obsessive. Or, we can
be a Master. We want to become the Master. Where we learn to love the inevitable plateaus in
our progress and life becomes our practice.
38. < 2 Minutes? 1-Touch It! This is THE #1 time-management tip out there: If something takes
you less than 2 minutes to do, DO IT. Period. Email, bills, clothes in the hamper, dishes in the
dishwasher, etc. Implement this one strategy and you’ll be on fire.
39. Get Your Inbox to Zero. How’s your inbox looking these days? Practice getting your inbox to
zero once every 24 hours. I’m not talking about obsessively waiting for the next email and
avoiding your work. Only check email when you have time to respond to items that take less
than 2 minutes and commit to getting your inbox to zero. You’ll notice the emails that linger
tend to be the ones you don’t feel like making a decision on. Make the decision. You’ll feel a lot
40. Set Some Higher Standards for Yourself. If your inbox is out of control, the primary reason
is simple: It’s because you don’t have very high standards for yourself in that area of your life.
Solution? Raise your standards. Do that and you raise the quality of your life.
41. How Can You Make Yourself Proud? Feeling stuck/ anxious/ overwhelmed/ whatever? OK.
We all do at times. Now, ask yourself, “How can I make myself proud in this moment?” And do
42. What Does Feeling Like It Have to Do with It? Feeling/inspiration is awesome when you’re
deciding what goals are worth pursuing. Once you’ve made the commitment to write your
novel or launch your business or become a better parent and it’s time to take action in the
moment, whether you “feel like it” or not has NOTHING to do with it. Do what you said you
43. Crying Babies & Promises. Make a promise to someone? See how fast you can follow
through. Make it a game. Norman Vincent Peale tells us that “promises are like crying babies in
a theater, they should be carried out at once.” (Love that.) Start noticing how often you tell
people you’ll do something for them and make sure you *only* commit to doing stuff you’re
44. Put Some Constraints on Your Email Time. Does your whole day evaporate in a blur of
emails? Mine, too, if I let it. Solution: Put some constraints on your email time. Don’t check
your email until AFTER you’ve done what you’ve decided is most important. Only give yourself
an hour of email (or two) a day and time it—having fun efficiently moving thru your inbox. This
45. Know the 4 Quadrants. Stephen Covey had a handy-dandy model to help us figure out
where we’re putting our time. 4 Quadrants. We could either be doing important or not
important things that are either urgent or not urgent. A lot of us are in fire drill-mode,
constantly responding to Quadrant I stuff that’s both Important + Urgent. We often also get
caught up in distractions that are Urgent but not really Important (Quadrant III). And, of course,
we waste time in stuff that is neither Urgent OR Important (Quadrant IV). We want to sharpen
our saws and invest more time in Quadrant II activities that are Important but Not Urgent. We’ll
46. Put First Things First. Once we identify what our priorities are, we need to put first things
first. As Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things that
47. Shift from Quadrant IV to Quadrant II. I like to play a fun game and notice when I’m shifting
into Quadrant IV time-wasting activities (like checking email or FB for the xth time that day)
then shift to a soul-nourishing Quadrant II activity like going for a walk, doing some burpees,
playing with our baby, etc. We’ll have fun showing you how to make this a game and help you
identify your Top 10 Quadrant IV + II activities. Good times.
48. A Penny for Your Persistence. Two choices: I’ll give you a penny today and then double it
every day for a month OR I’ll give you $1m today. Which would you like? *Insert Jeopardy
music* I hope you picked the penny doubling. And, if you could, pick a month with 31 days b/c
in February that doubling penny would be worth $1.3m but in July it’d be worth $10.7m.
Amazing, eh? And so it is with life. Persistence pays.
49. Just Do It. Develop a bias to action. “Do it now. Do it now. Do it now.”That’s a good mantra
to have playing in your mind for the activities that matter most to you!
50. What Are Your #1s? Remember the #1 things we’re going to STOP and START doing? Great.
What are yours? Get on that. And, any time you find yourself wobbly and getting stressed, slow
down and figure out what you need to stop doing and what you need to start doing. This is my
#1 practice for staying plugged in when I feel stressed. H.U.G.E. Try it! :)
51. Be Happy Now! We need to remember WHY we do anything: to be happy. So, when you
find yourself getting stressed out about how you’re doing with all this, remember to step back
and practice the most important activity of all: simply being happy.
If you’d like to explore these Big Ideas with me, join us for my Optimal Living 101 class on Action!
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