Zoom back seven years and change. I’d dropped out of school, was working a $10/hr job, drank and did drugs every single day, and had criminally low levels of motivation bordering on total depression.
What changed? How was I able to do the one thing so many of us are desperate to do and finally put my foot down? I’ve studied personal development for the better part of a decade.
The things I learned helped me make a permanent change. It’s impossible for me to go back to the way I once was.
What follows is all of the wisdom I’ve gained through constant learning, years of experience, and gallons of blood, sweat, and tears. I did all the work, now you just have to follow my directions.
Laser focus for 90 days – There’s no magic formula that tells you how to conjure up the motivation to start, but once you do, get it in your head that you’re going to commit 90 days to ruthless execution toward your goals. Don’t look past that benchmark at all. It’s long enough to see progress and short enough to commit to without getting overwhelmed. One study showed that it takes 66 days to form a new habit. I used that time frame myself and tacked on a bit more for style points. Try it.
Use this phrase to decide what to do with your life – “That would be cool…” I always used to say things like “It would be so cool to be a writer.” “It’d be cool to write a book someday.” It’s the thing I always came back to. After years of struggling with motivation, I followed through with writing because it was compelling. You need to find something that pulls you instead of feeling like you need to push yourself.
Focus on your strengths – You build passion by getting good at something, not waiting for passion to fall in your lap. It’s easier to get good at stuff you already have an inkling you’d be good at. I took a Strengths Finder test and followed the recommendations for skills and habits to build as well as routines to follow. Most of the skills and habits mentioned based on my profile dealt with reading and writing. Funny how that works.
Time blocking is key – Time blocking is the best productivity strategy I’ve ever used. Dedicate a time period each day to work toward your goal, develop a skill, or build your project. Choose a length that stretches you but doesn’t overextend you. I chose 1 hour of writing before work. Do the same thing, at the same time, daily. Do it even if it means you sit still for 30 minutes stuck in procrastination mode. Just sit there. Learning to be bored is a skill that teaches you how to do deep work.
Flow states are your best friend – Flow states happen when you get in the zone and lose the sense of time. At first, it’ll be difficult to get into them because you’re so used to being distracted. Time-blocking and dealing with the tension of boredom cause you to want to start working eventually. Once you start working, you can hit a groove and you often end up working well beyond your predefined time period.
A unique little focus trick – Thought I’d throw this one in here. It’s specific, but it works really well. If you’re doing a certain task and want to get into flow listen to the same song on repeat while you work. It has a hypnotic effect on you that allows you to focus more. Try it.
Learn to say ‘no’ – If you can’t set boundaries, you’ll never reach your goals. Once writing became important to me, I had to say no to other things that were getting in the way. Friends would ask to go get drinks. I’d politely decline. I told myself no when it came to certain distractions like T.V. I stopped feeling obligated to dole out my time. Saying no teaches you to prioritize yourself first, which is what you need to do before you can truly help anyone else.
Brainwash yourself – For a while, I did nothing but read books,watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts, and watch educational content like documentaries. I knew I’d fall off track if I allowed any negativity into my mind — news, politics, gossip. I focused on curating my sources of information because I knew input equals output. There’s a lot of negativity in the world and re-wiring your mind with positive inputs is a great way to block them out so you can focus on your work.
Don’t try to change others – Resist the urge to convert people to your new ways of thinking. Remember, you thought similarly to those around you not too long ago. Don’t get on your high horse now that you’re working on yourself. People only change when they want to. Lead by example. Trust me, once people see you start to move differently, they’ll notice it and come to you.
No one is a prophet at home – Don’t expect others around you to believe in your mission. After all, why should they? If you’re just getting started, you have no proof. Since most people don’t change their lives, why would they expect you to? The people around you have an impression of you that’s hard to change, so don’t try to change it. You don’t need their approval.
Build a trusted cabinet – When you start to learn from others, you’ll find a few people smart people you trust. Follow their wisdom and ignore everything else. Build your own personal cabinet of mentors and use them for guidance instead of listening to everybody.
Develop a skill stack – I learned this concept from Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comics and author of the classic self-help book How to Fail At Almost Anything and Still Win Big. It’s hard to be the best in the world at one thing. It’s easier to have a set of complementary skills. Think of having complementary skills as ‘2+2=5.’ I can write blog style and copywrite, shoot videos, do public speaking, make no-code websites, and market myself on social media, just to name a few skills.
Develop your skills in this fashion – You want to become T-Shaped. This means you have one skill you’re really good at and a bunch of other skills you’re decent enough at. All the complementary skills feed into your main skill. To this day, I start my daily routine by sitting down to write something.
Systems > Goals – Having super specific goals doesn’t work as well as creating systems that create outcomes you want. As a consequence of my system, daily writing, product creation, marketing, I’ve made money, built an audience, and created a network of people around me. It’s okay to have goals, but it’s important to focus more on the system you need to achieve your goals.
Build a latticework of mental models – In short, this means picking up a set of handy rules of thumb you can use to make better decisions. This way, you can get ahead without being a genius. Also, have a basic understanding of a bunch of different subjects to develop multi-disciplinary knowledge and avoid domain dependence, which means you’re smart in one area but fail to reach your potential because you lack a basic understanding of others.
Read books – This cliche piece of advice is too worthwhile to leave off the list. Where do you think I got the mental models from? Where do you think I learned half of the concepts I’m talking about in this post? Books are such a cheat code. Smart people took the time to do all the work for you and present the answers to you in a digestible way. Full stop, most people don’t read, period. Doing so puts you ahead of the pack.
But don’t become a sport reader – Don’t read for the sake of being able to tell others how many books you’ve read. It’s both tacky and counterproductive. Read because you want to do something with the information. If you read a book on leadership, become a better leader. If you read a book on productivity, become more productive. Don’t get high off self-help content. Use it.
At a certain point, reach this mode – I don’t read a ton these days. I’ve consumed so much information that I’m in the period of my life where I need to just build. Information only gets you so far. After you build a base of knowledge, it’s best to put yourself in the arena and focus more on turning your dreams into reality.
Ship your work – There’s no way to figure out if your idea will work until you put it out there for other people to see. Most people get stuck in research mode — they have all these ideas but never share them. You need to get feedback on your projects from the real world to see if the ideas are actually good. Sometimes the answer is no, but knowing that saves you tons of time. Imagine spending a year working on a product that fails vs. coming up with a product concept to test with customers in 30 days. When you ship, you can iterate your way to success by finding out what works and what doesn’t.
Take your L’s – You have to learn how to accept rejection and failure. If you can’t, you’ll never accomplish anything, period. Learning to take your L’s just means you can handle temporary defeats without getting butthurt and quitting. It means you don’t let your losses define who you are as a person. It means you learn to extract lessons from failures and setbacks instead of feeling sorry for yourself. You course correct over time until you win. After taking a few L’s you learn they’re not as bad as you thought they would be in the first place.
Play the long game – Once you’ve been through the 90-day threshold and found something that seems promising, go all-in on it and don’t look back. If you can’t delay your gratification, you’ll always end up running in circles jumping from one idea to the next. The irony of attempting a bunch of get-rich-quick schemes is that it takes longer than getting rich at a moderate pace by picking a lane and sticking with it.
Achieve one self-improvement arc and you’re free – A self-improvement arc happens when you’ve made serious progress and accomplishments in a field, e.g., you’re a full-time writer with a few books under your belt. Once you have a huge solid foundation of success in one area, you can branch into other things. You don’t have to have one single defining life purpose, but you do want to hit some critical milestones in a single area. After that, it’s like you’ve beaten the video game and get to spend the rest of your life achieving side missions.
If you simply read this one post, got to work, and never read any of my stuff again, I’d be thrilled.
There will always be new waves of people looking for guidance. I don’t want people to read my work forever, I want to let my little chicks free and let them fly.
Don’t pride yourself on learning, pride yourself on doing.
Don’t get stuck on the self-improvement content treadmill. Go out there and kill it in your real life.
I’m pulling for you, friend. Can’t wait to see what’s next for you.
About the Author
Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.