1. View your life as a series of projects. Here’s why:
- Most people view their life in terms of basic stages: College > Career > Marriage > Children > Old Age. There’s nothing wrong, but a lot of your potential will be left unrealized.
- Consider viewing your life this way: Internalize a habit > Learn a new skill > Create a prototype > Self-reflection > Experiment > Learn another skill. Or something similar. Your growth will be at least 3x faster than your peers. You can achieve so much more.
- Projects can be any work, craft or skills you want to work on. You can create individual or group projects. Pick something you’re interested in. It’s even better if the demand out there is huge.
- When I first worked on my side projects, I thought the biggest reward was to see the projects succeeding. Well, I had an even bigger reward — seeing myself grow. I hope you will have the same experience too.
- Being able to self-direct a project and work on it say a lot about yourself. Now, here’s the question: Are you willing to take action?
2. Construct your own mental library. Here’s how:
- Read a wide variety of non-fiction books, such as chemistry, philosophy, accounting, business, investing and mindset to build up your own mental library. The point of doing so is not to make you a nerdy bookworm, but to familiarize yourself with a steep learning curve and the discomfort of entering uncharted territory.
- Don’t worry if you can’t remember all the content — you don’t have to. The process of understanding the context at the moment is more important than remembering it. Information is abundant, the processing ability is scarce. After all, you’re a living human, not a pen drive.
- I suggest reading books because it helps you cultivate focus. Anyway, you may also learn things from encyclopedia, education websites or YouTube channels. There are many great resources online. Just remind yourself to practice unwavering focus while learning online — the cost of distraction is huge.
- What to learn? Self-learn topics that interest you. I am an engineering graduate, and I self-learn data science and machine learning online. While I’m far from being proficient at it, my thinking and reasoning ability have improved.
- Don’t worry if you’re busy. Start small by doing this for 30 minutes a day. It would be great if you treat it as your hobby. In fact, that’s what I do. Do not interfere this process with short term profitability — we’re in for our long term benefits.
3. Challenge your own thinking. Here’s why:
- According to my experience, we’re either improving or degrading. If we think we stagnate, we’re in fact degrading. And the best way to improve is to challenge ourselves.
- Most people wait for the external circumstances to challenge them, but that’s not the best strategy. Be the one who challenges yourself. Become your own challenger. That’s how you raise your own bar, instead of depending on the benchmark set by people around you.
- You can probably think of someone who seems to rise above the competition, enjoys doing his things and produces incredible results. I guess that’s simply because he doesn’t wait for the environment to challenge him.
- In the past 7 days, I’ve challenged the way I balance discipline and flow, my understanding about capitalism and examined my morning rituals. I don’t go into the minute details here, but that’s literally what I did. I shared my insights of self-challenge with my wife yesterday, while I was driving around the town.
- When you challenge yourself, you don’t have to announce to the world. Know your purpose. Growth happens internally, and improvement manifests externally. Don’t challenge yourself with the objective to impress people. Impress yourself instead. Over time, you’ll find challenging yourself fulfilling.
4. Experiment. Here’s what I mean:
- We usually don’t succeed the first time we try. That’s the way it works. No toddlers can walk smoothly at their first try. No entrepreneurs managed to build a multi-million/billion businesses at their first try, even if some of them tend to give you that impression. You get the point.
- I was stupid. I was naive. I thought by preparing myself over and over again, I would execute something perfectly and achieve the grand results. HELL NO. It never works that way. I playfully laugh at myself whenever I reminisce about it.
- But it doesn’t mean we don’t have to prepare. We still have to prepare. We still have to plan. We still have to equip ourselves with the right skill, mentality and team.
- Then, experiment. Identify your variables. Fine-tune them. See what works best. Rinse and repeat. Experiment happens everywhere — in our daily life, businesses, relationships and of course the laboratories. For example, I’ve been experimenting different education styles and administrative process with my education centre. Over time, I produce better results.
- The key is to experiment smartly. Don’t make foolhardy experiments. Resources are valuable, don’t burn all your resources prematurely. I believe you can see how conducting smart experiments make you smarter.
5. Spend time with people way smarter than you. Here’s why:
- We are the average of five people we spend the most time with. Our subconscious is shaped by our surrounding, whether we admit it or not. Personally, I find this very true, even though I used to disbelieve it.
- As long as you’re open-minded, smart (or wise) people pull you up to their standards. It’s a rather natural process — just like how spending time with calm people makes you calmer as well.
- What if people around you aren’t as dedicated in personal development as you are? Spend time with great authors or mentors then. In other words, read or look for those people digitally.
- To connect with mentors or high quality people, you basically have to do two things: be communicative and provide value. Give before you get. If you think you have nothing to give, upgrade yourself until you have something to give. For example, I’m writing here to attract like-minded people like you. English isn’t my mother tongue, Mandarin is. I practiced writing by myself until I can write smoothly here on Quora.
- You don’t have to passively accept anyone who enters your life. You have the power to choose your associations. Choose wisely.
If you can practice these 5 things well, you’ll become both smarter and wiser.
Dylan Woon writes more here.