Tag: motivation

The 5 Key Steps to Becoming More Independent

How independent are you? 

Becoming more independent is the first (and most important step) to living life the way you want to. While social contact is important and necessary, life is ultimately a personal journey – no one else can live it for you. You must be able to make decisions for yourself and act on them.

While most of us would not enjoy an entire lifetime of solitude, there’s immense value in being more independent. The less you need to rely on others, the more you will be able to achieve by yourself. You will be able to focus more on your own goals, and dedicate the time necessary to attain them. In short, you will find yourself becoming the captain of your own life – and others will respect and envy you for it.

So how do you become more independent? The 3 key steps are:

Step 1. Learn to be comfortable alone 

What’s the longest time you could spend alone (and still enjoy it)? 

For most, the answer is: not long at all. This is not surprising, as we are social creatures and constantly look to others for help and support. Whether it’s playing sports, eating, working (or doing just about anything in modern society), it usually involves at least one other person. Simply put, we are not used to being alone – it feels unnatural.

Unfortunately, there’s no way around it. As uncomfortable as it may be, you must learn to be comfortable being by yourself. Just like with anything, it’s all about practice and repetition. If you’re highly dependent on the company of others, aim to spend just 3 hours alone to start. Work your way up to a whole day (24 hours) spent alone working on your own projects or simply relaxing. Practice and internalize it until you’re fully comfortable.

Practical ideas for becoming more comfortable spending time alone:

  • Go to the cinema and watch a movie by yourself.
  • Spend a day at the cafe or local library – read a book or just relax.
  • At night, go to a busy bar or lounge by yourself and have a drink.
  • Go on a long walk through your own city/town, as if you’re a tourist discovering it for the first time. Take some pictures along the way!
  • If you want to really test your progress, try going on a trip all by yourself. Pick a place, buy an airplane/train ticket, and go! This is not something most people even consider, but you may find it’s just as enjoyable discovering a place all by yourself.

Important: in this day and age, just being physically alone may not be enough – most of us are plugged into various social networks through our smartphones and tablets, constantly receiving and sending updates from others. It is important that you learn to switch these off too. Start by only checking for updates/email every hour (this may be hard enough for some), then work your way up to only updating yourself once a day.

Man on a mountain peak

Enjoying your own company is a skill worth having

Step 2. Start saying “no” more often

This one is simple: if you don’t want to do something, just say “no.”

As a general rule, your new default answer should be “no” unless you are truly excited at the idea of doing something. You can start off with excuses if it makes saying no easier (e.g. say you’re busy, you have already done that recently). Eventually, the goal is to be confident enough to say, “no thank you, I am not interested.”

Your time is valuable – don’t waste it by doing things you’re not even interested in. If you upset a few people in the process, so be it. Be very clear with people about what you will (and won’t) do.

The only exception to this rule is if you’re being invited to something that makes you somewhat nervous. That is, if you feel that it’s an opportunity to push yourself to do something new and exciting (e.g. skydiving, scuba diving, public debate, your first 5K run). Say “yes” to these kinds of invitations – chances are, you’ll be glad you did.

I’ve written a whole post about the importance of saying “no” – check it out.

Step 3. Develop a habit of relying on yourself when solving problems

When most of us come across a difficult problem or a seemingly impossible challenge, our first instinct is to ask someone else for help. There’s nothing wrong with this, especially if it means we can get to a solution quicker.

However, the truly independent person thinks differently. Instead of running off to get help, he sees and opportunity to learn something new. He is industrious, resourceful, and self-reliant.

Before asking for help, try solving/fixing the problem on your own. Here’s how:

  • No matter what, relax. Breathe. Keep calm, and your thinking will be clearer.
  • Think about a time when you had to solve a situation in the past. How did you do it? What tools did you have at your disposal?
  • Is it a practical matter – such as fixing a household object? Try searching for a solution on the internet (search for “hot to fix/solve [your problem here]” on Google). I would be surprised if someone hasn’t already listed out detailed steps for solving such an issue. In many cases, you can even find an instructional video for it!
  • If it’s a quantitative/intellectual problem, don’t panic. Break it down into parts and list out all your knowns and unknowns. Then, figure out how you would determine each unknown. Write it all down as you go – getting it all down on paper is a great way to organize your thoughts.
  • If you’re still stumped, try going for a (solitary) walk. It happens to us all – unable to arrive at a solution after staring it in the face, we end up discovering it at a seemingly random time (e.g. in the shower).

If you have exhausted every possibility, go ahead and ask for help. However, try to make self-reliance a habit. Whenever possible, aim to tackle a problem on your own.

Step 4. Growing a Thick Skin

If you’re going to cultivate independence, it’s valuable to build an immunity to rejection and failure. And trust me – you’re going to face a lot of naysayers when you demonstrate that you’re walking your own path.

Fear of rejection is very common.

Some fear for their reputation (or public image), while others are afraid of having their feelings hurt. Many do not like the idea of failure in general (used to being praised for their efforts, they do not take criticism well). Rejection is perhaps the most extreme form of criticism – it’s a flat out “no” to whatever was proposed.

You have to learn to overcome this fear. You won’t be able to take action when it counts if you are worrying about what others will think or say. Constant fear of failure will leave you paralyzed, unable to begin whatever it is you want to do. To achieve what you want, you have to build up an inner courage – be confident that you will succeed.

The first step is to realize and accept (truly accept) that rejection is universal. It happens to everyone, everywhere. Any time we ask for anything, we must accept the possibility that we won’t get it. Simply put, you are not going to please everyone in the world.

Secondly, consider this: people aren’t against you – they are for themselves. Everyone acts in his or her own best self-interest. When someone rejects you, don’t take it as personal insult – instead, recognize that the person is just trying to look out for themselves (and they are gambling that there are better alternatives than whatever you proposed).

Finally, you must be willing to experience failure and rejection more often – this is the only way to truly overcome your fear of it. As Thomas J. Watson (former president of IBM) succinctly put it: “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” You must learn to pick yourself up and try again. And again.

So how do you practice failing? Identify what you’re most afraid of failing at – and force yourself to go do it more often. A few examples:

  • Are you intimidated by the idea of asking out someone you are attracted to? Many a grown man, for example, shudders at the thought of being rejected by an attractive woman in public. Try this: go to a trendy, active bar on a busy night and order a drink. Then, stand by the bar and talk to every person that comes by to stand next to you – be flirty, playful, and maintain eye contact. If you do this, you will end up talking to at least 10 new people every 30 minutes. A quick and effective confidence builder.
  • Are you still in school? Perfectionism is rampant in academia, where many strive for 100% / A+ / 4.0 GPA. If you have been playing it safe, try pushing yourself – take a challenging or more competitive course. Your grades may suffer, but the experience will be invaluable. Whatever failure means for you, it’s better to experience it (and learn from it) sooner rather than later – harden yourself up, because life after school gets a lot less predictable.
  • Are you a creative type afraid of releasing your work to the world? Don’t be afraid of ridicule – your biggest problem will be getting people to even read/watch/consume it! It’s a competitive world out there, and the more practice you get the better. Get your work out there – don’t apologize for it, and ignore the critics (no one remembers the critics anyway). Start anonymously if you have to – if your work is online, you can just register a blog (e.g. tumblr) and start publishing immediately.
  • Are you afraid to apply for a job at your dream company? Please don’t put them on a pedestal – they are mortals, just like the rest of us. You have nothing to lose – just send the application already. Worst-case scenario is you don’t get the job – not the end of the world. Being rejected now is not going to hurt your chances of getting the same job in the future, so don’t be shy. In fact – start applying to companies/positions you’re apparently under-qualified for (note: don’t just apply blind – genuinely craft your résumé/CV to the position).

The way to overcome your fear of rejection is simply to get rejected. Over and over again. 

Over time, you might even develop a standard defense mechanism – I have personally found laughter to be the most effective. I don’t take the rejection seriously, and in doing so I refuse to let it get me down. If you take it personally, try going for a run (any kind of workout helps) or watching a funny movie/show to get your mind off of what happened. Eventually, you will get to a point where most rejections don’t faze you at all.

The best thing you can do after a rejection (or failure of any kind) is to try again. Don’t accept no for an answer. Pick yourself up and have another go. Most people will be outright amazed that you have the courage and will to do so – and you will immediately earn their respect.

Most importantly, try not to consider rejection a bad thing at all. Take it as a sign: if you’re not being rejected at all, you may not be aiming high enough. Most things worth pursuing are not easy to come by – you have to want it bad enough.

To summarize: getting used to failure and rejection is a key step to strengthening your mind and preparing yourself for big undertakings. Just as with anything, practice is key – get your failures in early, and learn to get up, laugh rejection in the face, and try again.

Fear of rejection is common (“what if she says no?”)

Step 5. Becoming More Adaptable

Independent people, while set in their ways and confident about what they want, are also able to adapt – when the situation calls for it.

Being adaptable means to be able to easily adjust to new conditions. It means dealing with different cultures, people, and environments. More than anything, it’s about getting used to being outside of your comfort zone.

So why become more adaptable? 

Simply put, it’s the best preparation for the unknown. By getting used to being out of your comfort zone, you will be ready to take on life’s challenges and setbacks. And when it comes time to seizing the opportunity to get what you want, you won’t hesitate. You can’t possibly prepare for every possible outcome, but you can take steps to give yourself the best possible chance at coming out on top.

Becoming more adaptable is both a mental and physical exercise.

You must prepare your mind for the (bumpy) road ahead. Life is not fair. Life is tough, and there will always be obstacles that get in the way (e.g., rejection, unexpected relocations, family/societal pressures, sickness). You must internalize the idea that you are tough, strong, and unyielding. That you are going to get through this, no matter how hard it gets.

The worst thing you can do is pity yourself. It will be tempting, but you must resist. If you ever find yourself thinking that someone (or everyone) seems to have it in for you, just remember this: people are not against you, they are for themselves. Every person simply acts in his or her own self-interest, in a way that they think will maximize their own happiness and well-being. In short, you may be overestimating just how much people even care about you. Don’t pity yourself – instead, believe that you have the power to improve your situation.

If you want to be adaptable, it helps to throw out any prejudices, stereotypes, or assumptions you may hold.

Do you have something against a particular country, race, or ethnic group? Are you uncomfortable around religious people, or perhaps can’t stand the sight of atheists? Do you assume that you’re more intelligent, simply because you support a certain political party, or because you have chosen a certain career path? This kind of thinking will only hurt you in the long run: whenever you (inevitably) discover that your assumptions don’t match reality, disappointment and frustration will set in.

Learn to see the world for what it is, and draw your own conclusions. Negative, judgmental thoughts hold you back by preventing you from thinking clearly and making rational decisions. There is no one “right” way about things. Life is not a movie (read: it’s not black and white). The easiest way to start is by questioning everything, and making it a habit to draw your own conclusions. An open mind will take you a long way in this world.

From a physical standpoint, you must prepare yourself to deal with new environments and situations. If you’re used to a sedentary lifestyle (indoors, perhaps in school or at an office), try doing the opposite – spend more time outside (start by going on a walk once a day). If you tend to drive everywhere, try getting around by walking or taking public transport. Challenge yourself by disrupting your typical, comfortable routine – a minor discomfort once in a while will only make you stronger.

Some practical ideas for becoming a more adaptable person:

  • Go travel (preferably to another country). Nothing will open your mind faster than full immersion in a completely new environment. If possible, go alone – the more you have to think on your own feet, the better.
  • If you ever get a chance, seriously consider living (or studying) abroad. This is the fastest way to becoming more open-minded. You will come back home with a brand new perspective on life – it will help you empathize more for those who may be new to your city (or community). For a real challenge, try living in a place where people speak a different language.
  • Throw yourself into unfamiliar environments. This is especially easy to do if you live in city: if you’re not much of a nightlife person, try going to a bar or nightclub. Take an improv class, or go to a few yoga sessions. There are always local businesses offering low-cost introductory classes for new members – take advantage of these offers and try out something new.
  • Put yourself into situations where you interact with different people. Try crashing a cultural festival in your city/town. Go to parties where most of the attendees are strangers. Have a chat with a homeless person. In short, talk to as many different kinds of people as possible. It’s if you don’t fit in – the point is to have fun and challenge yourself.

As you become more adaptable, you will toughen up. You will develop a thicker skin, and be less affected by public embarrassment.

Chameleon sitting on a wooden log

Be like a chameleon – a truly adaptable creature

* * *

Phew! That was a long post, I know. But that’s it!

As you internalize and practice these 5 techniques, you will find that you are becoming more independent. Increasingly, you will be seen as the person who gets things done – and more people are likely to ask you for help. Rare is the person who takes initiative and claims responsibility.

Don’t be surprised if you start receiving better treatment from others as a result, too. Just like how banks and investment companies seek out clients who are already well off, people are generally more willing to help if they feel you need their help the least. This is somewhat of a paradox, but it’s all in your favor.

Independence gives you both freedom and responsibility. Freedom to act as you wish, and the responsibility to make your own decisions (without the guidance of others). Above all, it offers you the chance to take control of yourself.

There’s plenty of more work to do. The path won’t be easy, and there are no quick shortcuts. Becoming more independent you are giving yourself the highest chance of long-term success – at the very least you will know that you have the willpower to go it alone.

How To Choose the Right Goals For You (and Stick To Them!)

As you train yourself to be a strong-willed, independent individual, it’s crucial that you set the right goals to work towards. If you’re going to cultivate a singular, unwavering focus on achievement, it helps if you’re working on something that suits you.

Part 1: Choosing The Right Goals For Yourself

The process begins with a simple question:

What do you actually want out of life?

(If you can answer this with any degree of confidence, you’re ahead of most.)

Think about it for a minute – don’t be in a rush to answer. Once you have a rough idea formulated in your head, write it down. Say it out loud. Does it still sound right to you?

First, make sure that what you want is actually your own thinking. It’s easy for outside influences and opinions to drown out your inner thoughts. There are all sorts of “socially acceptable” goals ingrained in us from a young age – e.g. “graduate from a top university” or “get a high-paying job at a stable company.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with these pursuits – as long as you have had the final say. You are unique – neither your parents, nor your friends (or even your spouse) can speak for you here. Your needs and desires are unique to you – listen to yourself.

It is also important to ask yourself why you want to achieve/obtain whatever it is you claim to want. Many state that their life goal is simply to be powerful (or famous). Start digging deeper into your motivations. If your goal is just to be “rich” – can you explain why? Perhaps you want to own rare and exquisite things. Why, again? Is it because you have an appreciation for the finer things (and would like to be surrounded by good design and craftsmanship), or is it because you want to signal to your friends that you are a success?  Maybe you feel that the riches would allow you to be free (of financial obligations, and of the need to work for a living). If that’s the case, perhaps what you really want is to live a life with less stress, without having to worry about outstanding debts and obligations. Again, there is no wrong answer here – it’s all about asking, “why do I want this?” repeatedly, until you arrive at the ultimate goal.

Post it notes with goals

Writing post-it notes is the easy part!

Finally, the goal must be attainable. In other words, it must not be so unrealistic that it comes with a built-in excuse for why you wouldn’t be able to achieve it. It must be something you can start working towards right now – not at some distant moment in the future, when you will “finally be prepared.” For example: if you have never built a website before, don’t go out and set a goal of replacing your full-time income in 6 months via a web application. One step at a time. The goal must be actionable – there must be a series of practical steps that can be taken in order to achieve it. Bottom line: you have to be able to imagine yourself attaining that goal. Visualization is a powerful motivating force – you will discover that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you act like the kind of person that has already achieved your stated goal, you will find that it’s much easier to actually become that person.

Still out of ideas about what to set your sights on? Consider the following:

  • Is there something you have been putting off for a long time? Perhaps you’d like to lose weight, build muscle, or finally get around to switching careers. It could be anything at all – if it has been troubling you, maybe it’s time to face it head on. This is all about going after your greatest weaknesses (or personal sources of insecurity). For many, this would be a good starting point.
  • Is there something you’re already good at, but haven’t been doing/practicing in a while? This is the opposite of the previous point – the idea is to build on your existing strengths and make the most of your natural talents. We all have something that we’re good at – think about what you would do better than 95% of your friends/peers. If it’s writing, your goal could be to write a short story or novella. If it’s photography, you could put together a portfolio of your best images. If it’s a physical activity or a sport, you could aim to start training again on a regular basis. Building on strengths works great, as you are far more likely to enjoy the process – and there’s a chance you could truly become exceptional.

A word of warning: it will take time and dedication, no matter the activity. Remember to keep it actionable: if you are set on writing a novel, aim to write a certain number of words per day – and stick to it!

If you’re not sure what your strengths are, taking a few personality tests/quizzes may actually be useful. I suggest starting with the Big Five personality test. For a career-focused assessment, I recommend the RIASEC quiz. Both of these are free and quickly done online.

While there is still much debate about the validity of such tests (the Big Five has the most scientific support), the idea is to start the process of discovery. In fact, the test questions may even more useful than your results. As you’re taking these quizzes, you may even catch yourself “lying” – picking the answer that you feel is most “appropriate” for someone like you, instead of admitting that you may, in reality, be very different. As an example, you may discover that you are not as charitable as you thought. That you’re not as social. That you desire the attention from others, and take it every chance you get. It works best if you’re honest. Remember: no one is perfect, we are all only human.

In a nutshell, it’s all about identifying your greatest strengths and weaknesses – and setting actionable, measurable goals to work on something you deem important.

Think long and hard about what you want. Be honest with yourself about why you should work to get it. Time is limited.

Calendar notebook with goal entries

Find a goal tracking system that works for you

Part 2: Staying Focused On Your Goals

So you’ve decided what you want – how do you actually stay focused while setting out to achieve it?

Here’s the thing: this topic has already been explored to death, and there is no shortage of productivity resources/blogs/tools/etc out there. There’s a good chance you have heard of all the tips below. This article is as much a reminder to myself as it is a summary for others. It’s simply what works.

1.) You have to prioritize.

While it’s great to have many ideals and potential paths to go down, you can only really focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking doesn’t work for creative tasks – I have yet to come across anyone who is able to do real creative work (e.g. drawing, writing) while chatting on the phone.

Not to worry. Turns out, the best way to get many things done (and be highly productive) is to focus on one thing at a time, and see that thing through to completion. Then start the next project. And so on.

Begin by taking your goals and whittling them down to just 3 – these are going to be your 3 projects/targets to focus on. You must also prioritize projects among those 3 – one has to be most important (or time sensitive) than the other two.

If you’re absolutely determined to work on more than one thing on a regular basis, split them up: one can be a short-term goal (e.g. to complete today), one is a medium term goal (to complete this month), and one is long term (to complete this year). The short-term goal should ideally change often, as you will primarily focus on that one – after all, it’s something that should be actionable and achievable.

The most effective strategy is to just have one overall goal (the long term one), while setting short and medium term sub-goals that will help you achieve it.

2.) Commit to your goals by writing them down (and sharing them with others).

Now that you have decided on (up to three) goals to work on, write them down! While you can use software, nothing beats pen and paper. Write down your goals and hang them up where you will be constantly reminded of them.

After you commit your goals to paper, share them with a friend. Many (including myself) find that the goal becomes more “real” once you tell someone else about it – it’s akin to going “public” with a piece of personal information. By sharing your goals with others, you are forcing yourself to be more accountable – you wouldn’t want to “disappoint” your friends, would you?

3.) Make it a habit by setting aside time every day to work on your goals.

It is important to make your project a daily practice – even if you can only spare 15 minutes per day to start. Successful creators have routines.

Don’t be frustrated if you have a day job – many programmers and writers hack away at it after (or before) work. In fact, having a day job may add a welcome constraint – if you have only an hour or two to work on something, you are less likely to muck around and actually start doing whatever it is you need to do.

Work on it daily. Make it a habit.

Two paths diverging in the woods

Choose wisely, but always choose your own path (not someone else’s)

4.) Modify Your Environment

Find (or create) a distraction free environment that will allow you to succeed. (caveat: if one of your goals is to create something)

If you don’t take control of your environment, it’s very easy to get distracted. In the past, this was easily solved just by being alone in a quiet room (your home office, or a library). Today, there is the added noise from connected/mobile devices. Some check their social media and email accounts hundreds of times a day – this all but guarantees that they will not be able to focus long enough to create anything novel.

  • Physical environment: find a quiet space where you can work by yourself, with no distractions or noises (e.g. from television, street noise, etc.) If it helps, get a pair of headphones and put on classical music to help you concentrate. For some, this might require a bigger life change. If you’re still living with your parents, move out. If you’re living with roommates that end up just distracting you and dragging you down, move out and get your own place (it will be more expensive, but the peace and quiet you get will make it all worth it).
  • Digital environment:  try going on an information diet. Stop reading (or watching) the news, and unsubscribe from blogs unless they directly help you achieve what you want. If there’s something truly serious happening, others will tell you about it anyway. Uninstall computer games, and delete all unessential apps on your phone. My strategy is to leave my phone at home, and to only check email/calls twice a day (at most).

Note: negative people (non-believers) are not good either – usually they are an annoyance and will drag you down. Stop hanging out with them. While objective criticism can be helpful, all-out negativity and incessant nay saying is rarely productive. There is no time for negativity if you want to achieve your goals. In the end, you may derive great pleasure from doing what others said would be impossible.

5.) Get into the mindset of creating.

If you want to achieve something, you must rewire your thinking to that of a creator (not a consumer). 1% of people create content for the other 99% to consume/purchase/view. Start thinking like someone who’s always creating.

This is not easy, especially if you are used to a routine of nonstop entertainment (e.g. watching TV, surfing the web, browsing products in a mall, playing computer games). You have to hack your brain to think differently – don’t give up, as these changes won’t happen overnight. Some ideas to get you started:

  • If you watch a lot of TV, see if you can sit down and create something related to your favorite show. It could be a timeline of how the plot has progressed, or a diagram of how major characters are inter-connected. If you’re really ambitious, you could try writing the plot outline for the next episode before it airs. What you produce is almost irrelevant – the idea is to start thinking like a show creator, instead of a viewer.
  • If you are always shopping for stuff online, try this: get a piece of paper and make a list of everything you have ever bought (go as far back as you can remember). Next to each item, write the price you paid (if you can remember) and whether the item was worth it in the end (yes/no). While this is an interesting exercise in of itself, it could spark an idea to create something of your own – perhaps a blog post of your top 10 favorite purchases of all time, or a summary of products you recommend. Find a way to get yourself creating more, and buying new stuff less.

If you make progress here, the results will be very satisfying. Creation is power. This post explores the concept in greater detail.

6.) Just start (write that first sentence!)

This is how I go about writing these posts. I force myself to start and write the first sentence. It doesn’t matter if it sounds silly or lame – anything is better than nothing. Then, I just write whatever comes to my mind. Organization, structure, and spell-check all come later. The idea is to start, and build momentum from that.

Once begun, the job’s half done. Do the smallest possible thing to get started. If you’re writing, just write the first sentence (or start writing the outline of the final book/whatever). If you’re going to become better at tennis, go hit some balls – it doesn’t matter with who, or where. Get into the habit of doing whatever it is you want to get better at.

Do the smallest possible thing. Don’t fall into the trap of “analysis paralysis” – there will always be time to make it “perfect” later. if you’re at all serious, you’ll stop reading here and do it now!

Good luck!