Wisdom//

21 Life-Changing Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading

They'll set you up for a happier, more fulfilling life.

Billion Photos/ Shutterstock
Billion Photos/ Shutterstock

The average CEO reads one book a week. Why? Because highly successful people know that the key to living a happy and successful life is having a dedication to lifelong learning.

Unfortunately, information by itself isn’t enough to live a happy, healthy and successful life.

“If information was all it took,” Derek Sivers once said, “then we’d all be self made billionaires with 6 pack abs, living on the beach somewhere.”

Instead, we need to take the information we read in books and figure out how to implement it into our life.

So if you’re ready to take action, here are 21 actionable ideas from the books I’ve read that will help you live a happier, healthier, and more successful life.

1. If you want to be more influential, use the power of “because”

Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer once did an experiment where she asked people who were waiting in line to use a Xerox machine if she could cut in front of them: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”

60% of the people Langer asked this question to let her cut in front of them. However, when Langer changed her statement slightly and asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have five pages?” Langer found that almost everyone (93%) let her cut in front of them.

Why? The use of the word “because.” In the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” psychologist and marketing professor Robert Cialdini says,

“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

2. Write down important ideas you want to learn

Humans are inherently bad at retaining information. We forget almost all of the things we read and hear about. However, when we write things down, we’re far more likely to retain it.

This is exactly what Beethoven used to do when he composed music. In the book “Managing Oneself,” Peter Drucker, the founder of modern business management, says,

“Beethoven left behind an enormous number of sketch books, yet he said he never actually looked at them when he composed. Asked why he kept them, he is reported to have replied, “If I don’t write it down immediately, I forget it right away. If I put it into a sketchbook, I never forget it and I never have to look it up again.”

This is why whenever I learn about an interesting idea, I write it down immediately. I write it down so I can understand and remember the concept better. Even if you don’t ever re-read what it is you wrote down, the simple act of writing it down will increase your ability to retain information.

3. Make your bed in the morning

In his book “Make Your Bed,” legendary Naval Admiral William H. McRaven says that if you want to find success, and maybe change the world in the process, you should start off by making your bed.

Why? Because when you make your bed first thing in the morning, you’ve accomplished your first task of the day. This puts you in a “winning” mindset and makes it easier for you to accomplish your next task.

“And, if by chance you have a miserable day,” McRaven says, “you will come home to a bed that is made – that you made – and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

So the next time you wake up after a nights sleep, make your bed. It’ll only take you a few seconds.

4. Get your most important work done in the first 3 hours of your day

Researchers have found that, on any given day, you have a limited amount of willpower. In the book “The One Thing,” Gary Keller, founder of the largest real estate company in the world, says,

“Because you have a limited supply of willpower, each act of will creates a win-lose scenario where winning in an immediate situation through willpower makes you more likely to lose later because you have less of it.”

Willpower, therefore, is a timing issue, which means you have to learn to manage it and make it work in your favor.

If you have something important or difficult to do, don’t make it harder than it needs to be by waiting until the end of the day to do it. If you wait until later in the day, when your willpower is at its lowest, then you’re either never going to do it or you’re not going to do it well.

Instead, you should always do the hardest things first in the day because that’s when you have maximum willpower.

5. Become genuinely interested in other people by asking questions

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

This quote comes from the classic book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This is one of the many key principles Carnegie talks about in his book, and is something I’ve consciously tried to do in my own life as well: “become genuinely interested in other people.”

Since reading this book, I’ve found there is always something genuinely interesting in other people, whether it relates to what they do, what they want to do, or what they like to do. All I need to do is find that specific interest I have in someone, and then ask them questions about it.

The great thing about this is that because what I’m asking is interesting to me, I become genuinely interested in them. As a result, this build a greater connection between me and the person I’m talking to.

6. Marry someone who complements and supports you

Whether it’s a seminar, a conference, a book, or a personal development course, nothing will ever be as good for your success and personal growth than finding the person you’re going to marry.

Studies consistently show that married individuals live longer, they maintain better health, and they’re happier. Married individuals also do better financially than single individuals.

According to the book “The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially,” Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher provide evidence that shows that even after controlling for age, education and other demographics, married people make 10 to 50 percent more than single people. And it’s not because financially successful people get married, but because a healthy marriage between two people who complement each other naturally leads to financial success.

Why? Because being with someone who supports you naturally makes you a better person. They challenge you, they show you what you need to work on, and they push you farther than you could’ve ever pushed yourself.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that the average millionaire gets married early, many of whom got married before they were successful. These findings suggest that if you want to be successful in life, you should find someone who complements you and who you can depend on.

7. Pare down the amount of decisions you make every day

There are hundreds of things, if not more, that have to be decided on a daily basis. Some decisions are important, but most are trivial. Unfortunately, studies have shown that, as humans, our capacity to consistently make well thought out decisions is finite.

What this means is that when you use your brainpower earlier in the day deciding what to eat for breakfast, for example, you’ll consequently have less of it later in the day when you have to decide if you should have that piece of cake or not. This is what’s known as decision fatigue, which is the psychological condition where making a decision in the present will reduce your decision making ability in the future.

John Tierney, coauthor of the New York Times bestselling book “Willpower,” says,

“Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue – you’re not consciously aware of being tired – but you’re low on mental energy.”

Simply put, every decision you make uses up your mental energy. So in order to save your mental power for the important decisions of the day, you have to learn to automate the mundane decisions you experience on a daily basis.

8. Spend money (but not on stuff)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, money can buy you happiness, but only if spent on doing things as opposed to being spent on having things.

In the book “Luxury Fever,” economist Robert Frank concludes, after a careful review of evidence, that those who think money can’t buy happiness just don’t know how to spend it properly.

Frank says that the positive feelings we get from material objects are fleeting. Spending money on experiences, however, produces positive emotions that are both meaningful and longer lasting.

Frank’s research says that spending money on activities, such as a concert, a ski trip or a group dinner out, brought far more happiness than material purchases like shoes, cars or expensive watches.

9. Write a list of the 50 things you want to achieve in life

In the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey talks about the importance of knowing what you want in life. Covey talks about the idea that life is meant to be lived out intentionally. It’s not meant to be left up to chance. More often than not, though, this is what most people tend to do.

Just a year ago, I was like this. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life and because of this, I wasn’t doing anything with my life. Having no direction, I decided to make a change and to think every day about what I wanted my life to look like.

This is why I wrote a list of the 50 things I want to do (and will do) with my life in the next 20 years. This was a list that was very hard to create but the benefit of knowing what you want in life is that you start seeing opportunities all around you to then act on what you want. This allows you to act on your goals faster because you know whose advice to take, what opportunities to say yes to, and what information is important for you to learn.

10. Get your daily routine right

Having a list of goals for yourself is just one part of the equation. The second part to the equation is you then have to set up your daily routine to get you closer to those goals.

Will Durant (not Aristotle) once said, “we are what we repeatedly do.” But if you are what you repeatedly do, then becoming a success isn’t the result of specific actions you take, but is the result of habits you build into your life.

This means that success isn’t something you seek out. Instead, success is the accumulation of habits you build into your daily routine. In turn, those habits are what build you a successful life.

This is what most people fail to do. Often times, you get people who say they want to build an audience online, start and grow a business, or run a marathon, but what they do on a daily basis doesn’t reflect that.

So tell me, what does a typical day for you look like? Can you say that what you’re doing on a daily basis will bring you closer toward achieving your goals? If not, then think to yourself, how different would your regular day need to be in order for you to accomplish your goals and dreams?

11. Build one habit before you work on building another

When it comes to building a new habit into your daily routine, research shows that it takes an average of 66 days. So whether it takes you a few weeks or a few months to build a habit, learn to stick with that action long enough until it becomes a part of your daily routine.

Once you build one habit into your life, then you can work on building another habit. If, however, you split your discipline trying to wake up at 5:00 am every day, write every day, read every day, and go for a run every day, you’ll most likely not be able to carry through on any of them.

In the book “The One Thing,” Gary Keller says,

“Success is sequential, not simultaneous. No one actually has the discipline to acquire more than one powerful new habit at a time. Super-successful people aren’t superhuman at all; they’ve just used selected discipline to develop a few significant habits. One at a time. Over time.”

12. Start creating a large volume of work

People who are considered original, such as Seth Godin, Picasso, or Mozart, do not always consistently create work that is great.

Seth Godin, for example, has once said that over 50% of his posts are average. Yet, Seth Godin is one of the greatest and most popular writers in the world.

The total number of artworks that Picasso created in his life has been estimated to be around 50,000 works of art, but Picasso is only known for about 10 pieces of art.

Similarly, among the 50 greatest pieces of music ever created, 6 belong to Mozart. But in order to create those 6, Mozart had to write over 600 songs.

Not everything Godin, Picasso, and Mozart created was innovative and revolutionary.

In the book “Originals,” Adam Grant says,

“It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade-off between quantity and quality – if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it – but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.”

What this means is, in order to create a few masterpieces of your own, you need to learn to create a lot. So what large volume of work are you creating?

13. Force yourself to make a decision

Whenever you don’t know if you should say no to something, do what Tim Ferriss says you should do in his book “Tribe of Mentors” and simply rate it on a scale from 1 to 10.

The one condition, however, is you can’t use the number 7.

Why? Because 7 is too safe of a number. 7 doesn’t commit to anything. If you rate something a 7, there’s a good chance you’ll feel obligated to say yes to it.

Whereas, if you rate something a 6 (terrible) or an 8 (exciting), it’s a lot easier to quickly decide whether or not you should even consider it.

The benefit of making decisions this way is that it forces you to make a decision.

14. If you want to persuasive, get the incentives right

In the book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect,” Matthew Lieberman, a social cognitive neuroscience professor at UCLA, says,

“Pain and pleasure are the driving forces of our motivational lives.”

This should be obvious, but so many people don’t understand how important incentives are for shaping people’s motivation to do something.

If you want to persuade someone to do something, whether it’s to buy your book or work well on your team, then you need to get the incentives right.

This is the most important rule when it comes to influencing other people to take action. As Benjamin Franklin once said,

“If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest and not to reason.”

15. Develop keystone habits such as running

In the book “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg talks about the importance of developing keystone habits, which Duhigg defines as “small changes or habits people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

The habit of running is a perfect example of a keystone habit because if you start to run every day, not only would you become healthier, but you would also start eating better. Because running releases endorphins, you would also start feeling more satisfied with life, your cortisol levels would go down, which means you would feel less stressed, and the ability you would develop to push through adversity while running would naturally carry over into all aspects of your life.

This is what keystone habits do. When you develop a keystone habit, you’ll start to see improvements in other areas of your life as well.

16. Find external motivations for yourself

Unfortunately for many of us, very few things we set out to do in life are rarely ever intrinsically motivating at first. When we set a goal for ourselves, whether it’s starting a business, becoming a writer or training for a marathon, we almost always have to be externally induced to get through the early stages of our goal pursuit. But what eventually happens over time is that the activity becomes intrinsically rewarding in itself.

In the book “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth,” John C. Maxwell says,

“The whole idea of [intrinsic] motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.”

Without that external spur to get us started, however, we may never get over the hump to the point where we want to do it for ourselves. This is why we all need to be externally motivated to do an activity until the activity itself becomes intrinsically rewarding.

17. Keep a calendar on your wall

In his book “Deep Work,” author and professor Cal Newport shares the productivity advice that Jerry Seinfeld used to become a successful comedian.

What was the method Seinfeld used? He kept a calendar on his wall. And for every day that Seinfeld worked on his craft as a comedian, he would cross out the date on the calendar with a big red X.

“After a few days, you’ll have a chain,” Seinfeld said. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing the chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.”

This method works because it breaks down your biggest goals into small goals you can achieve today. All you have to do is focus on making the next X.

18. Stretch regularly and avoid sitting down for long periods of time

For many of you who are reading this article, you’re probably doing so while sitting in a chair. And although the simple act of sitting in a chair may seem like a normal and comfortable thing to do, an evolutionary perspective would say that sitting in a chair is actually quite unusual.

In the book “The Story of The Human Body,” Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman says that the act of sitting in a chair is not something our bodies are meant to do for long periods of time.

According to Lieberman, a common problem caused by sitting in a chair for hours at a time is your muscles will start to atrophy. This is because when you’re sitting, you’re not using any of your leg muscles to support your weight. As a result, Lieberman says,

“Your muscles will start to deteriorate in response to prolonged periods of inactivity by losing muscle fibers, especially the slow twitch fibers that provide endurance. Months and years of sitting with poor posture in comfortable chairs combined with other sedentary habits therefore allow trunk and abdominal muscles to be weak and to fatigue rapidly.”

This doesn’t mean you have to stop sitting in your comfortable chair. I’m surely not. But what Lieberman suggests you definitely do is stretch.

“Fortunately, stretching effectively increases muscle length and flexibility, making it a good idea for anyone spending long hours in a chair to get up and stretch regularly.”

19. Be a continuous student by trying to learn from everybody

Genghis Khan was one of the greatest military minds who ever lived. More importantly, though, he was also a continual student, whose victories were largely the result of his ability to take the best ideas, innovations, and practices from every culture his empire encountered.

In the book “Ego Is The Enemy,” Ryan Holiday says,

“Under Genghis Khan’s direction, the Mongols were as ruthless about stealing and absorbing the best of each culture they encountered as they were about conquest itself. Though there were essentially no technological inventions, no beautiful buildings or even great Mongol art, with each battle and enemy, their culture learned and absorbed something new. Genghis Khan was not born a genius. Instead, as one biographer put it, his was “a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will.”

Genghis Khan became the greatest conqueror the world has ever known because of his willingness to learn from others more than any other conqueror that has come before and after him.

20. Create multiple streams of income

The average millionaire has seven sources of income. The average person, however, only has one source of income, which is typically their job.

Having just one source of income isn’t terrible, but the danger of only having one source of income is what happens when things go bad?

What happens if the economy goes into another recession or when your company finds someone better who can do your work at a cheaper price?

On the other hand, what would happen if you set things up so that you were getting income from seven different places each month? It would probably do a lot for you.

Understand that if you’re like most people, who rely only on their salary from their job, then you’re going to make a lot less money than you should and you’re going to enjoy life a lot less.

This is why Warren Buffett says creating multiple streams of income is one of the most important principles you can learn in life. All it takes in order to do this, though, is a little bit of discipline and a desire to learn.

21. Learn to create an automated income source

We’re lucky. We live during a time where it has never been easier for individuals to create a residual, or automated source of income for themselves. So if you would like to free up your time so that you can make money while doing the things that matter most to you, whether that’s traveling the world or spending time with your family, then here are a few things you can do:

1) Start a blog. This has perhaps become the most popular way to earn a passive income nowadays because it’s relatively easy for anyone to do. Launching your own blog only takes a couple of minutes to setup and is cheap to start. The only costs are those associated with purchasing your domain name and paying for hosting. After that, start creating amazing content that people would be interested in reading or sharing. If enough people love your content to visit your site a lot, then you can monetize it through affiliate deals, self-advertising, sponsors, or by selling your own product.

2) Create an online educational course about something you’re passionate about, whether it’s on how to market a book, how to start a business online, how to do Facebook marketing, etc.

3) Become an investor. Invest in things that you’re informed on, whether that’s real estate, businesses, or mutual funds.

4) Create a business that doesn’t require you. Or build a business around something you’re passionate about and put someone else in charge to run it.

5) Write an eBook or a book and learn how to self publish, market, and sell it online. This can be a lot of work upfront, but once the eBook is created and marketed, it can provide you with a passive revenue stream for years. You can either sell the eBook on your own website, Amazon, or offer it as an affiliate arrangement with other websites that provide content related to your eBook.

These are just a few of the things you can do to create a passive source of income, although there are still a lot more things you can do as well.

The great thing about spending time to learn how to create an automated source of income for yourself is that you then no longer have to always be trading your time for money. This is the difference between being rich and being wealthy. Being rich is all about having money while being wealthy is all about having time.

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