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We have hundreds of definitions of “happiness” described by philosophers, spiritual teachers, writers and regular people. Thanks to our advanced technologies we have discovered “happiness” hormones and can now monitor and register the brain activity of a happy person, to see how it works. We have surrounded ourselves with fancy gadgets that make our life more comfortable and more enjoyable. We have even invented new chemical substances that put us in a state of ecstasy and temporary bliss.
And yet we do not seem to get any happier! Sure, sometimes we feel happy and excited. But there are also moments when we are deeply unhappy, angry or hurt. It seems that technological progress and scientific discoveries has not gotten us even one step closer to the state of blissful unconditional happiness.
What is true happiness and what happiness is not?
I recently found a description of happiness written over 5 thousand years ago in Vedas, an ancient books of wisdom and spiritual knowledge left by the Indo-Aryan civilization.
Wise men of ancient times identified 3 different types of happiness:
1. Forced happiness.
It is basically a misery hidden under the mask of happiness. How is this possible? Have you ever seen a movie that was so stupid to the point of being funny? Or looked at a French bulldog with his flat face, snub nose, short stumpy legs and thought, “Why this dog is so ugly it’s cute!”? As paradoxical as it may sound two extremes are sometimes easy to confuse. A lot of people look at their lives and get some weird and unexplainable satisfaction out of their misery.
I was watching a TV show last night where they took a homeless person off the street, washed him, dressed him in new stylish clothes, gave him a good-looking hair cut, shaved off his long beard and made him a new Identity card, so that he could find a job and stop living on the street. When the poor man finally saw himself in a mirror he started crying. Only they were not tears of happiness.
What he said shocked everyone, “No one will give me any money for a month now! I am going to lose my spot by the church on Sundays!” He did not need a “normal” life and a regular job. He was happy with his old lifestyle.
Forced happiness is when a person convinces themself that they are happy, even though no one else would agree with this statement. Forced happiness is the most harmful type, because all of the energy is spent convincing yourself how happy you are and ignoring those who tell you that you must change something about your life.
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Yesterday as I was walking on a treadmill at the gym, reassuring myself that I would feel great after I was done, when I saw a guy wearing a bright orange t-shirt. The slogan on the t-shirt said “Procrastinators: Leaders Of Tomorrow!” When I read it I could not stop laughing, which was challenging as I was trying to keep the same walking pace and not fall off the treadmill.

I am guessing the guy’s initial plan was to persuade everyone to take it easy and relax instead of sweating it out on the exercise machines. But in any case he got a whole bunch of smiles from everyone who saw him.

For me this great little quote was a reminder of how important it is to bring fun into everything you do.

Sometimes if I feel stressed out or upset I put all my work aside and spend 10-20 minutes reading funny quotes of famous people.

Do you have your favorite funny quote(s) that makes you laugh every time you read it? Or maybe your child or your friend said something really funny the other day? What is it?

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“People don’t change their behavior unless it makes a difference for them to do so.” Fran Tarkenton
Motivation is the driving force behind most of our actions. It is a reason why we get up in the morning. Why we drive to work five days a week even if we do not enjoy it. Why we set goals and why we keep on moving forward.
Motivation is that one factor that often makes a difference between long-awaited success and an untimely failure. Our productivity, determination, leadership qualities, achievements, enthusiasm and self-esteem largely depends on our ability to motivate ourselves and others.
Understanding your motivation.
To put it simply, we take any kind of conscious action for two reasons: 1) because we feel like doing it or 2) because we have to do it. The first type of motivation is called intrinsic, the second – extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is internal and deeply personal. We do something, for no other reason than the inner sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. In other words, we act because we truly want to!
Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by curiosity, challenge, adventure, personal interests, duty and desire.
Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is rooted outside the person and based on two basic external drives: seek pleasure (reward) and avoid pain (punishment).  Extrinsic motivation is stimulated by incentives, fear, outside circumstances (peer pressure, competition), deadlines and social approval.
Whenever you start doing any task, take a moment to reflect what your primary motivators are.
Discovering your intrinsic motivators:
• Are you looking forward to doing this task? Is it related to your hobbies or interests in some way?
• Do you find it challenging, but interesting?
• Are you motivated by an inner sense of duty or your core values? Do you feel that you must do your best, because it would not feel right to do a so-so job?
• Do you feel that the accomplishment of the task will bring you inner satisfaction and fulfillment?
Discovering your extrinsic motivators:
• Are there any financial benefits involved in doing this task?
• Is there any type of fear that holds you back and makes you procrastinate (fear of failure, fear of social disapproval)?
• Do you feel that you would work bester if you had a clear deadline?
• Are you looking forward to some kind of acknowledgement or appraisal for your work?
Combining both types of motivation in an optimum way.
Both types of motivation are not mutually exclusive. In order to achieve maximum results with minimal efforts, there are must be a balance between your levels of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
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John Sculley was sitting in his office scanning through the papers on his desk. Having been president of PepsiCo for 6 years now he knew the price of success. He was great at what he was doing, his company paid him a handsome salary, his employees admired him and he had a reputation of one of the most skilled marketers of all times. His life was perfect. The only person that was darkening his picture perfect life was Steve Jobs.
Apparently the man did not understand that “No means No!” Jobs continued to bug him, trying to convince him to work for Apple. Sculley was absolutely sure, there is nothing Jobs could offer, that would top what he had right now… It turned out he was wrong…
Four hours later he decided to quit his job. On April 8, 1983 Sculley became CEO of Apple. What did Steve Jobs offer him? Nothing he had not offered before. The only thing he did was asked Sculley one simple question, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water to children, or do you want a chance to change the world?”
Sculley chose the latter and during his tenure Apple has increased its sales from $800 million to $8 billion, creating a revolution in computer technologies.
Now I want to ask you a question – How do you want to spend the rest of your life?
If you are still unsure how to answer this question, or feel that you are not living up to your potential, there is a wonderful method that allows you to see beyond your past failures and current limitation and get a little preview of what it could look like and, most importantly feel like.
Here is what you need to do:
Take a piece of paper or open a word document and write “My New Life Story” at the top. Go ahead and do it right now! Do not turn it in to one of those exercises that you read, think “Hmmm… It’s an interesting idea. I should try it sometime”, and then never get back to. You have nothing to lose, but a lot to gain.
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When we are young and have big ambitions and a lot of enthusiasm, we often dream about making tons of money, earning high social status and everyone’s admiration, being with an attractive and fun person, or doing hundreds of crazy things (like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, travelling around the world, solving the world hunger problem).
However, the older we get, the more our dreams and priorities change.
I know that older people (my grandparents included) are usually preoccupied about staying in good health, value companionship and family more than anything else and strive to stay independent.
Our goals made when we were young may sometimes prevent us from achieving goals that we have later in life. Hard work, stress, and long hours spent in front of the computer may negatively affect our health. Maintaining a life of high status and “keeping up appearances” may prevent us from saving money for our retirement. Desire to have a highly successful career can cause our personal life to suffer.
How to choose the right long-term goal that you will not regret achieving? And is it even necessary to set goals?
What is your current BIG goal? Do you believe that after spending decades striving for it, your “future self” will be able to appreciate it?
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I sit in my apartment in Milan, looking out of the window on a street, light with sunlight and cannot stop smiling! A long, cold winter is officially over! And everything looks and feels different. The air is fresher. The snow has melted  and beautiful greens of every hue begin to shine in the sun. People look happier.

Everywhere you look, you see a transformation: days are getting longer, flowers are blooming and trees are getting new tiny leaves.

No wonder spring is considered the season of growth, renewal and love!
Spring is also the perfect time of the year to revitalize your senses and refresh your mind.

Here are tips that will help you to do just that:

1. Get rid of clutter. During the winter our homes tend to become filled with lots of bulk and piles of different things. It is both physically and emotionally healthy to simplify and de-clutter your work and living space once in a while. Right now is the perfect time to do that! Organize your desk, sort out old photos, make room in your closets by throwing or giving away anything that is unwanted, outdated, unused for 2 years or no longer fits. Let the energy flow freely.

2. Captivate your senses with aromatherapy. For thousands of years essential oils have been used by different cultures because of their health-promoting benefits. Use chamomile, bergamot, cedarwood, lavender, rose, or sandalwood to calm down your mind, ease anxiety and stress and soothe tensed muscles. Or choose citrus, peppermint, rosemary and thyme scents to energize your body and uplift your mood.

3. Take a few moments to meditate. Meditation is a great way to calm your mind, increase concentration, release negative feelings and regain your emotional strength.

4. Do nothing for a half an hour. As it turns out there are many physical benefits of doing nothing and just being lazy. Research shows that people who would rather relax in a hammock and read a book instead of working on their laptop or doing their house chores have a better chance of living into old age. Give yourself some rest!

5. Take mini-vacations during the day. You do not have to wait for a two-week vacation to feel rejuvenated and energetic. Instead you can take 15-minute mini-vacations every hour or so to regain your strengths and put some space between you and your hectic work schedule.

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About two weeks ago I accidentally stumbled across one of the greatest manuscripts in Buddhist history called “Letter to a Friend”. It was written by the Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna (1st – 2nd century A.D.) as a letter of advice to his childhood friend Gautamiputra, who later became a king.

Despite its short length (only 123 verses), it covers a variety of topics: one of them – the main qualities that a person should seek in their life partner (as well as to try to cultivate  them self) in order to create strong happy relationships. These qualities are honesty, trust, desire to take care of another person and patience.

Have you noticed that “love” and “physical attraction” are not even on the list? Nagarjuna considered love, passion and physical beauty as a passing phase and, therefore, believed that they are a shaky base for long-lasting relationships.

What do you think?

What in your opinion are the main components of a strong successful relationship? What qualities are you looking for in your partner?

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Do you see yourself as a lifelong student? I do.

I have probably mentioned to you that I often attend seminars and lectures given by spiritual teachers, motivational speakers and other interesting people that I can learn from.

After every lecture a speaker always asks if anyone has any questions. And most of the time just a few people raise their hands. And half those who do, end up asking some complicated or provocative question that has absolutely no other purpose than to demonstrate the intelligence of the person who asks it. Surprising isn’t it?

500 hundred people have a life time opportunity to ask a guru or highly successful person anything they want and get a specific answer to a specific question that can help them grow, improve their relationships, take their business to the next level, and resolve some of the challenges that they are facing. But 98% of the auditorium would rather let the opportunity pass by than to speak up, have everyone’s eyes on them and risk improbable, but very disturbing public humiliation. Believe me, I am not preaching…

I, too, have this irrational fear when it comes to speaking in public. And sometimes this fear holds me back. But sometimes I get enough courage and raise my hand.

What about you? Do you feel timid when it comes to asking personal questions? Or do you freely ask about something that is bothering you or something you do not know?

If you had the opportunity to meet one of the wisest people in the world and talk to them, what question(s) would you ask?

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Julius Caesar was the first person praised for his ability to do several tasks simultaneously. He could write, read and give orders at the same time, which made his contemporaries look at him in awe. Nowadays any office worker, high school student or stay-at-home mom could probably teach Caesar a trick or too about doing multiple tasks at the same time. Multitasking is not considered a rare gift anymore, rather a necessity.

We eat our breakfast, while reading a morning paper. Answer our cell phone while driving. And easily flick between checking our email, following links on Twitter and chatting on Facebook.

Many people consider multitasking the ultimate evil. I disagree. In some situations multitasking can be an efficient way of getting minor tasks out of the way ASAP (given that you do not have to do an outstanding job on any of them). I do not see anything wrong with chatting to my friend while doing grocery shopping, or cooking while listening to my favorite CD and dancing along. Multitasking can make some routine tasks more fun. It also lets us use our downtime productively (like waiting for a doctor’s appointment and planning our next week’s schedule). The true problem is not the concept of multitasking per se, but the way we use it and overuse it!

Downside of Multitasking.

In the movies we often see successful business man and business woman, scanning sales reports while talking on the phone and giving out short orders to the secretary. These people exude power, self-control and organization. Their actions are mesmerizing. They look much cooler than anyone who is able to concentrate on just one task at a time. And it is not only my personal impression. Multitaskers have convinced themselves and everyone else that they are great and highly efficient at what they do.

In fact there was a whole study conducted at Stanford University by the research team of Eyal Ophir, Anthony Wagner and Professor Nass dedicated to identifying the rare cognitive qualities mutitaskers possessed that made them so great at doing several tasks simultaneously.  The study tested 100 college students rated high or low at multitasking. Results of multiple trials were shocking even to the scientists themselves.

It turned out that people who manage to juggle two-three tasks at once pay a big mental price for their “gift”: 1) Their focus suffers; 2) They are easily distracted  and 3) they are weaker at shifting from one task to another, which meant that they are worse at multitasking than any person who is dreadful at multitasking!

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It takes half a second to distract the mind from the task at hand and about 20 minutes to get back into a “flow” state.

Here are 10 more simple tips that you can try to sharpen your ability to focus in just 3 days:

11. Empty your mind. Mental chatter is one of the main factors that impede our focus. Worries, strong emotions or tasks that you do not want to forget take up a lot of your working memory and tire your mind. This is why before getting to an important task that requires your full attention, take a piece of paper or open a text file on your computer and write down any task repeated thought, worry, or interesting idea that is running through your mind. This 5-minute “thought dumping” exercise will calm down your mental chatter and noticeably improve your concentration and productivity.

12. Conquer procrastination. Sometimes all the outside distractions and interruptions make it impossible to stay focused on the task at hand. But sometimes we just do not feel like concentrating and deliberately postpone an unpleasant task for later. Whenever you catch yourself procrastinating ask yourself, “Do I want to be done with this task so I will not have to worry about it in the future?” It is easy to tell yourself stories about how much more motivated you will feel tomorrow. But the truth is that delaying something that needs to be done does not make it go away. If anything it tires your mind and provokes a sense of guilt.

13. Make it anti-boring. It is amazing how long it takes to complete a task that you do not want to do in the first place. Motivating yourself into working on something that you consider boring or tiresome for an hour is easy. Motivating yourself to work on a boring task the whole day makes you qualify for the leading role in the new “Mission impossible” sequel.

Whenever, you have to work on something that you already do not enjoy doing, make sure that you introduce some fun into your schedule. Vary different activities. Do not work on the same task for more than two hours. Reward yourself by doing something that you enjoy in between your focus sessions (make yourself a yummy sandwich, order a big Caramel Frappuccino, listen to your favorite song three times in a row, dance in the corridor or plan your friend’s Birthday Party).

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