What steps should I make if I want to develop my brain to the maximum?

What steps should I make if I want to develop my brain to the maximum? by @NelaCanovic

Answer by Nela Canovic:

Here are 9 small habits that can optimize your brain, boost your knowledge, and take your personal development to the next level.


ONE. Approach each day with laser focus.

Want to make progress in your personal development? Start the day by asking yourself this question first thing in the morning: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?

  • Why this habit matters: it encourages you to think strategically about your life, it keeps you focused on your goals, it forces you to prioritize, and it serves as a personal promise to yourself.
  • How you can incorporate this habit into your day: put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, and come up with an answer on the spot. Then, as you go through the day, make sure you’re working on completing what you’ve identified as your one thing.

TWO. Develop your life strategy.

Focus on the work you’ve planned to complete today, but always keep your eye on at least two steps ahead. Think before you act. Is your behavior geared towards achieving a one-time effect, or will you feel benefits in the long run? Is what you’re doing today going to help you become who you want to be in 10 or 20 years? Become strategic so that you can achieve long term results that your future self can benefit from.


THREE. Always have goals to aspire to.

It’s a great way to stay focused on what is truly important to you, and it gives everything you do more meaning. Ask yourself, where do you see yourself in the future, who do you want to become, what would be an ideal lifestyle for you? Write down your top 3 goals, then map out what you need to do every day so that you can reach them. Create a schedule for the week so you give yourself a little time every day to work towards achieving your goals.


FOUR. Build your motivation.

Before you start embarking on anything new, get your brain on board with what you’re about to do. Why? It helps you get motivated to take action and become fully absorbed in your work. Try these 3 motivation-boosting techniques:

  • Instead of approaching any work as a chore, turn it into a choice. Tell yourself, “This is something I really want to learn more about.” The benefit? It gives you a greater sense of control about what you’re doing.
  • Remind yourself of the value of your efforts with this question: “Why am I doing this?” Make the connection with the initial reasons for working on something to begin with. It can be to pass an exam in order to graduate from college, apply for a job in a company whose values you admire, finish a difficult project at work to advance to the next level, learn a new skill, solve a particular problem yo’re currently dealing with, etc.
  • Increase your focus by visualizing what you’re about to do. This is a technique called building a mental model; you imagine in detail what you expect to see, learn, read, or do. As you imagine the details, be sure to cover all the steps you will be doing. For example, if you’re doing research or are studying for an exam, visualize covering a certain amount of material (chapters, paragraphs, sections), taking notes on the important concepts you discover, writing down questions to research later. The benefit? By telling yourself a story on what you’re about to do, you train your brain to anticipate next steps and map out the entire learning process in a way that’s easier to understand.

FIVE. Optimize your life learning experience with books.

Why read books? So that you can feed your brain, learn new things, reconnect with a topic you feel passionate about, and absorb the life experiences of other people. Here’s how to start building this habit:

  • Check out recommendations on the best books of all time on Quora to pick writers and topics that many consider to be timeless and unique.
  • Download the Goodreads app to find books on the topic that interests you, get recommendations, add books to your bookshelf, and track your reading progress.
  • Explore books that can challenge your mind and help you redefine the concepts of success and happiness:
    • Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: the psychology of survival and finding strength to live in circumstances where most would give up. It is written as a real life story by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. It is also one of the most humbling reading experiences of my life. I recommend it to every human being.
    • The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer: a roadmap to achieving happiness, an exploration of what letting go can do to one's life (it's not what you think! so be prepared to be challenged as you read this), and a discovery of what happens when we tune out the noise of our busy lives.
    • The Untethered Soul (also) by Michael A. Singer: transforming your relationship with yourself and the world around you, a practical guide to letting go of painful experiences, living mindfully, and freeing yourself from habitual thoughts, emotions and energies that limit your growth, your work, and the quality of your life.
    • Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Happiness by Tal Ben-Shahar, one of Harvard University's most popular lecturers. Treat happiness not like an end goal, but like a habit by actively working on becoming happier every day.
    • Choose the Life You Want: The Way To Lasting Happiness Moment by Moment (also) by Tal Ben-Shahar. This is another book on positive psychology with many examples of how you can apply this concept to your daily life.

SIX. Develop your critical thinking skills.

As you learn new things, it is important that you don’t just take everything you see, hear, and read for granted. Instead, you should focus on forming your own opinions and ask yourself why these things matter to you. The same applies to advice other people give us: just because someone tells you what you “should” be doing doesn’t mean you should automatically do it or that you will have positive results if you do.

Here are a few ways to work your critical thinking muscle:

  • Expose yourself to different points of view (f.ex., on world history, philosophy, politics, literature, spiritual practice, art, technology, etc.).
  • To better understand how things work, ask questions: not just those that others can respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to; ask open-ended questions that begin with why and how.
  • Distill from all the information you gather what is important to you (based on your own personal goals, values, and priorities) and figure out what you can learn from it.
  • When someone offers their opinion or advice on what you should do, ask yourself: Does the advice align with my personal values? How would I benefit from following it? Or in following their advice, am I looking for approval, do I want to emulate them because I admire them, or do I just want to be liked so I can have more friends? Understanding the motives for our behavior is important because then we can adjust our actions so we can grow and learn from every situation we encounter.

SEVEN. Make entertainment work to your advantage.

Watching a TV show you like to follow is one thing. But often that hour goes by, and you find yourself channel surfing, finding another show, then another, then maybe a movie. Next thing you know, it’s 3, 4, or 5 hours later and you realize you should already be asleep.

Try a different source of entertainment that doubles up as a learning experience:

  • Finding Joe: It's a documentary about the professor and writer of mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the concept of the hero's journey: why the myth of the hero is still important to us, how we can discover what excites us and gives us greater purpose, and what we can do to apply these ideas to the personal journeys in our lives.
  • YouTube FightMediocrity channel. It is a channel dedicated to fighting mediocrity through big ideas, using self-improvement books and animated important concepts that are in short video format.
  • BBC documentary series The Ancient Worlds. British historian Bettany Hughes shares her passion for ancient societies and talks about everyday life in ancient Alexandria, Rome, and Athens. She gives an in-depth look into the way society was organized among Minoans, Spartans, and the Moors.
  • BBC documentary series Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit. It’s hosted by Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge. She explores questions such as how the Roman Empire was constructed, how it functioned, what the infrastructure was like, and how different parts of the world merged together to expand one of the most powerful empires of all time.
  • BBC travelogue in 3 parts Ibn Battuta: The Man Who Walked Across the World. This show is about a 14th Century scholar who covered 75,000 miles, 40 countries and three continents in a 30-year odyssey.

EIGHT. Be smart with your commute.

Whether you are walking, taking the bus or train, or driving to school or work every day, all that time adds up. Why not plan ahead so that you can maximize your commute to learn new things and get strategic about how to achieve goals that are important to you? Podcasts can make your commute time much more interesting by feeding your brain, keeping you alert and focused, and by boosting your curiosity.

Here are some ideas:

  • Optimize with Brian Johnson (my top pick: More wisdom in less time to help you live your greatest life. Condensed big ideas from the best books on optimal living and micro classes on how to apply these ideas.)
  • The Inquiry (a debate on a controversial topic in the news and 4 experts challenging each other with 2 views, for and against the topic)
  • Intelligence Squared (the world’s leading forum for debate and intelligent discussion, led by great orators and sharp minds)
  • Achieve Your Goals with Hal Elrod (creator of The Miracle Morning, provides ideas to cultivate a morning routine and boost productivity)
  • Planet Money (stories about smart people, economics, politics)
  • Radiolab (show about curiosity, interesting ideas, science, philosophy)
  • This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt (a podcast dedicated to intentional leadership, with the goal to help you live with more passion, work with greater focus, and lead with extraordinary influence)
  • Happier With Gretchen Rubin (a fun show led by bestselling author of The Happiness Project, with small ideas you can apply to your life to exercise your happiness muscle)
  • Radio Headspace (a podcast to give you inspiration for a healthier, happier life, with topics such as mindfulness, being happier, and changing the world)

NINE. Train your mind to be calm.

We live in a world where information is always at our fingertips, decisions need to be made quickly, and we are “on” 24/7, with little time to pause and reflect on why any of it is truly important. As a result, we can feel overwhelmed, stressed, and sometimes even dizzy and out of breath. There is one simple yet very effective practice that can help, and it’s meditation.

  • The benefits: Meditating can declutter your brain of thoughts that distract you from the brilliant work you could be doing. In addition, you will notice better focus throughout the day, more concentration, improved ability to cope with the day’s events, and a greater sense of calm.
  • The app: There’s a free app you can download to start training your mind, and it’s called Headspace. Start with a 10 minute session. It's fun and easy to use.

What steps should I make if I want to develop my brain to the maximum?

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