I am very curious about habits of successful people and its effects on success. For years, I have been experimenting with my work and lifestyle to find that perfect fit for a happy, productive, purpose and passion-driven routine.

The experimentation has led me to discover and acquire habits of successful people that I’d like to share in this article. Most of these habits are not actually mine but I have 'stolen' them from ultra-successful people.

I hope that this article will inspire you to start engineering your perfect day which, in turn, will evolve into a perfect life.

Waking up Early

Waking up early has given me the most significant results since I decided to make a shift from being a night owl to an early bird. I used to have my peak hours from 1 am to 4 am and would get amazing work done with sharp focus. Years passed by and I realized that getting enough sleep on a regular basis is the key to ultimate performance and productivity, not to mention the increased quality of life.

For the last two years, I’ve been experimenting with my morning routine which starts by waking up early. I’ve started at 7 am and managed to stretch it to 5 am. My ultimate goal is to wake up at 4:30 am as I really enjoy starting early with my morning rituals and getting lots of work done. I won’t lie that at the beginning it was a nightmare to wake up early. It’s dark, it’s cold, and my eyes can’t open because all I wanted to do was to go back to sleep.

I would often tell myself, "I’ll just close my eyes for one more minute."

However, as I become more mindful about my health and lifestyle, the more I saw the benefits of getting up early. Moreover, mornings are when you have the most precious focus, creative energy and capacity to learn, think and create.

I’ve seen numerous articles, infographics, and interviews with the most successful people on the planet and a majority of them emphasized the importance of getting up early because they believe it is a crucial part of their success and life balance. One article that has greatly inspired me is 12 Lessons of Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. for 21 Days by Filipe Castro Matos.

If you have a vision but don’t have the time to achieve it due to family, full-time job, or other commitments, wake up an hour earlier and work on it every day until you make it come true. You don’t find time, you make it. Instead of watching another TV series, go to bed 1 hour earlier and wake up 1 hour earlier.

It’s that easy, you don’t find time, you make it.

My main motivation of waking up early is to have my “me” time. How many times did you want to read, write, reflect on your life, meditate, stretch, visualize, create, or take care of yourself but hadn’t had the time? In the past, it was a secondary goal for me. I’d say, "It’s ok, I can do it sometime later when I have time." The thing is if you don’t make yourself a priority, you will never have time to really improve yourself, take care of yourself.

You always have a choice to use it on yourself and your work you love or spend it on a daily mindless routine like commuting, consuming news, dealing with daily errands, and working in a job you hate.

Making Lists

I don’t have time for it.

This is one of the most common excuses I hear people say to me when I ask them why they don’t exercise, why they don’t write, or why they don’t build a business. But the fact is, you have time, I have time, and Barack Obama has time. We all have time. And just to remind you, we all have 24 hours a day no matter where you live, how much money you make, or how successful you are. You have the same amount of time as everyone else.

So how come some people excel and some don’t?

The secret: They prioritize.

You must make peace with the fact that you can’t have it all. You either master one thing, or you become mediocre at many things. You can’t have both.

You must make peace with the fact that you can’t have it all.

When it comes to prioritizing, one of the most effective methods is making lists, especially hand-written lists because they make your brain believe that these are the only things you need to focus on. Once you start working on something, you will be bombarded with distracting thoughts and excuses. Don't panic. Instead, write these ideas and distractions down to your “later” list. This little trick makes your brain think about it as a completed task making you stop thinking about it and focusing on your work.

Mindfulness and awareness help you a lot with noticing these distracting thoughts and I will talk about it later in this article.

Another method to help you prioritize is essentialism - you focus on the essential things and say a big NO to distractions and all the endless opportunities. Warren Buffet provides a great example how essentialism works by using a priorities list method.

Begin with writing down 25 things you want to do in your life. After that prioritize them writing a number from 1 to 25. Rewrite the list by priorities starting 1 to 25, now draw a line after the 5th priority. First five priorities are the ones you need and can focus to really achieve them, and now, the most important part, below the line, 20 other priorities are your “avoid at all costs list”. This is the list of you wanting to become a musician, wanting to write a book, wanting to start a blog, wanting to [INSERT A VERB + NOUN]. Most of the time it’s more about not doing than doing. Doing nothing instead of doing anything, in most cases, is better for your balance, health, sleep, and focus.

Stacking Habits

The concept of habit stacking is a set of habits that acts like a script of your morning routine. This set of habits ensures you that you get the most of your morning and prepare yourself for running the day like a boss.

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” – Jim Rohn

Habit stacking works like magic for me. My current morning miracle looks like this:

  • Wake up at 5 am
  • Drink water
  • Stretch
  • Eat
  • Meditate for 15 min
  • Read 20 pages
  • Write 500 words
  • Plan the day and define MIT
  • Do the affirmations (What do I want? Why do I want it? What am I committed to doing in order to get there?)
  • Visualize and imagine doing the tasks
  • Work on MIT
  • Exercise

Habit stacking is a concept of introducing a new habit to an existing one.

For example, when you’re brushing your teeth, you can read 2 pages right after doing it. You’re more likely to develop a new habit on top of an old one because your brain has lots of synaptic connections for that habit to run it on autopilot. After you start stacking habit upon habit, your order becomes a habit too. But the best part is that those habits are automatic and don’t require your willpower allowing you to basically program yourself to do one or the other thing without even thinking about it.

In fact, I write this article 6 am as a part of my morning miracle after waking up at 5 am, drinking water, stretching, eating, meditating, and reading.

Here are over 35 goal and habit tracking apps to help you with the process.

Stretching

Recent research shows that after just 30 minutes of sitting, your metabolism slows down to 90 percent. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. You already know that sitting too long and staring at your screen is not very good for your posture, mental and physical health. Did you know that the office chair is worse for your health than smoking and kills more people than HIV?

One of the newest habits I am developing is stretching inspired by my buddy Ivan Shulev who does it every day for at least an hour. At the beginning, I saw it as a waste of time but as I incorporated it into my morning and workout routines, I can see and feel the benefits of it as I began to sit straight longer, have reduced back pain, and better flexibility.

My goal is to develop a habit of stretching every 30 min while working since most of the time, I am just sitting and staring at my screen. Along with that, I started experimenting with working standing up but my current nomadic lifestyle seems to pose a little problem about it. It doesn’t allow me to work in just one place so I need to get creative and use different things, such as a fridge, chairs on the table, books under my laptop to make my stand up desk the right height. Once again, I have my friend Ivan to thank for leading by example.

Listening to Podcasts

For a long time in my life, I was constantly looking for instant gratification, specifically entertainment, to escape my boring lifestyle. I also daydream by looking at cartoons, movies, and series that portray successful people. I allow myself to impersonate with people on the screen and feel the success they have.

I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me. – Dudley Field Malone

No matter how fulfilling and immersive these experiences are, I decided to invest in the future I want to live in. The investment was not easy because it requires hard and consistent work to become the best person I can be. I decided to give up on watching series, stop wasting time on weird videos, and minimize the time I spend listening to music. Instead, I listened to podcasts so I can learn more, be inspired, and have a positive impact on my personality and mindset development.

Below are some of the benefits I have listening to podcasts:

  • Learning new things
  • Gaining a new perspective
  • Getting more focused
  • Finding inspiration
  • Uplifting and increasing happiness

I am curious about the top performers, best-selling authors, industry disruptors, creatives, entrepreneurs, lifestyle designers, and leaders that inspire and change the world. I want to know what makes them tick that gets into the level of success they are currently in.

Check out my list of the podcasts I listen to and find something that can inspire you.

Meditating

I’ve been meditating inconsistently for over a year now. Inconsistently means I’d meditate 5 times in some weeks and only once or twice in some. However, after spending 10 days in silence in the mountains of Northern Thailand, I started meditating at least 5 times a week for at least 15 minutes. It really helps me to calm down, accept the things happening in my life, get in peace with the present moment, become more grateful, and relaxed.

According to a new research from the Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis, mindfulness and meditation help lower the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

I’ve been an active mindfulness advocate for the last year and I suggest that if you haven’t tried meditation yet, do it and try it for at least 3 days and observe how you feel. I recommend starting with Headspace or Calm app and spend at least 10 minutes a day focusing on your breath and relaxing.

The world is buzzing with many things are happening all around you. This busy-ness makes you unaware of the world around you. The sadder thing, however, is we become unaware of our inner self, too. Do you know that humans can think of 60,000 stories and feel 300,000 emotions every day? How many of them are you aware of?

Reading

How do you read more books?

I was obsessed with that question and tried to find all the hacks possible - speed reading, reading excerpts, summaries, listening to audiobooks, watching videos that explain the most of the book concepts, and so on.

After trying all of them, I’ve discovered a mind-blowing hack that was there all the time - If you want to read more books, simply spend more time reading. If you don’t have time to read, make more time. Always carry a book with you, read after you wake up, read when you commute to work and read while you wait for your morning coffee at the cafe. Having a break at work? Read. Read before going to bed. All of these will add up and give you 20-40 pages a day which is around 2 books a month. I used to waste months without reading a single book.

The benefits of reading books a are enormous. If some of the wealthiest people in the world like Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg read hundreds of books a year, and Elon Musk taught himself rocket science by just reading, it must be important.

Here's a secret: ordinary people seek entertainment, but extraordinary people seek education and learning. That’s why most of the successful people are reading books instead of wasting time watching TV.

As time passes by, reading will certainly reshape your thinking. It will make you more knowledgeable and have more ideas on many topics; you will think and see differently; you will have answers to common questions, and you will feel more confident and creative.

Make reading your priority.

Writing

Bocas del Toro, Panama. Photo by Søren Thielcke.
Bocas del Toro, Panama. Photo by Søren Thielcke.

Writing is definitely one of the major skills that have influenced my lifestyle in a positive way. It’s not only a very meditative activity as it helps me think deeper but it also allows me to create stories, makes me a better communicator, and increases my creativity. When I get into the zone, words just flow naturally.

What I love about writing the most is the impact it can have on other people. One article has the potential to reach millions of people anywhere in the world. Writing also makes you a better person because it allows you to put everything that has been bothering you into words. After freeing all those feelings, you feel calmer, more satisfied, and inspired.

When what you're writing clearly expresses your thoughts and ideas, you can gain more friends and influence people. Whether it’s your personal relationships or career, clear communication will help you build smooth and bulletproof future.

Continuous writing can easily lead to additional or passive income stream. Think about it, you can contribute a couple of articles a week to your favorite blog or magazine and make some cash. You can also work on a book, sell it online and make money while you sleep. I’ve tried both and will be improving on what I’ve learned.

Another benefit of writing is it helps you clear your mind. According to social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, our brain is always looking to complete tasks. If you have a thought or idea circling in your head, it may not stop until you write it down. Once you do it, your brain registers it as a completed task and then your mind can rest again. That’s why people wake up at night and can not sleep again until they write down their idea on a napkin or whatever is close to their bed.

Writing also helps you learn. Read and you will forget, see and you may remember, teach and you will understand. Once you learn something new, write it down in your notes using your own words and how you understand it. After that, teach what you learned to others. Once you start teaching what you have learned, you’re taking a critical look at what you want to say leading to a better understanding.

It’s a key to success or, at least, one of the keys. I’m not surprised that these wealthy and highly successful individuals like Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates regularly take the time to put down a pen to paper to express their thoughts.

When you write, you will remember things long forgotten. Writing about daily experiences and feelings provides a recorded history. It also allows you to dig deep and access these memories; thus, write them down so you can learn from your past and recall those amazing moments. Start writing.

Defining the Most Important Task (MIT)

Most of the time, I’d just write a to-do list of some random tasks I want to do during that day and my over optimistic to-do list would go unfinished every day. Now, I focus on one major task, the most important task (MIT) of the day that will help me achieve my vision and contribute the most to the future I want to build. I wrote a piece on Forbes about decision fatigue and its consequences which are all about making a limited amount of decisions every day and consuming a certain amount of willpower for each and every decision.

Defining and focusing on my most important task helps me get the most vital task done and move closer to my main goal. If I still have energy left for other tasks, I’d work on the secondary and tertiary importance level tasks to run errands, ensure the cash flow, and work on improvements for my business and life.

Doing the Affirmations

Doing the affirmations is quite new for me, I heard about the concept but never really took the time to do them. Now, I am doing a short positive self-talk every morning telling myself that I am already creative, productive, confident, influential, calm, loving, leading, inspiring, humble, intelligent, innovative, attractive, sensible, and successful. It really helps me get that little positive boost for the day and adds extra confidence to whatever I do.

The next step for me is to do it in front of a mirror with more energy and belief to really pump up myself with positive energy for the day.

Visualizing

Imagine all the details - how does it look, smell, sound, and feel? What emotions you’d have, how would you look, what would you do? Make it as realistic as possible and truly believe it. Practicing visualization daily helps me stay on track and accept the inevitable. I’ve already been there and done that. Now, I just need my body to get where my mind already is - the victory.

The mind is everything. What you think you become. – Buddha

Visualization is a process of recreating all the images, sounds, and feelings in your mind in order to practice in a perfect environment. In fact, visualization is very popular in sports psychology.

I was active in athletics for around a decade. During that time, I would watch videos of great athletes and analyze their techniques. I’d look at the pictures of pole vaulters and imagine myself doing the same movements jumping over the bar. Before the competition, I’d imagine myself warming up, stretching, and finally competing. I was visualizing without even knowing about it.

I am a big believer in visualization. I run through my races mentally so that I feel even more prepared. – Allyson Felix, 2012 Olympic champion, a 3-time World champion, and 2-time Olympic silver medalist.

What is the difference between a good and great athlete? Their mental strength and power of visualization. One of the most overused cliches in sport is that 90 percent of performance is mental. According to Doug Gardner, sport is 100 percent mental and that's true.

Visualization Might Be as Effective as Physical Training

Australian psychologist Alan Richardson made a little experiment on the power of visualization. He took a group of basketball players, divided them into 3 groups, and tested each player’s ability to make free throws.

The first group would practice 20 minutes every day. The second would only visualize themselves making free throws, but no real practice was allowed. The third one would not practice or visualize.

The results were astounding. There was a significant improvement in the group that only visualized; they were almost as good as the guys who actually practiced.

Another research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice and that doing both is more effective than either alone.

There Are Many Benefits of Visualization

The visualization process works as a form of relaxation as it reduces anxiety. Visualization has no limitations - you can be and do anything, you can gain inspiration to pursue your dreams as you have already seen them happen, boost your confidence, and improve your focus on working toward your goals.

One of the most mind-blowing benefits of visualization was discovered by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In his classic book Psycho-Cybernetics, he noted that your subconscious cannot tell the difference between a real memory, and a vividly imagined visualization.

Your subconscious cannot tell the difference between a real memory, and a vividly imagined visualization. – Dr. Maxwell Maltz

It may sound incredible but when you visualize, you effectively “implant” new memories into your self-image. Meaning that your subconscious mind “thinks” you are already the success you dream of becoming.

Start with a simple skill that you want to learn, like waking up earlier or eating slower. That way you can practice with something easier and strengthen your visualization skills before tackling the big complex skills.

Exercising

I’ve been exercising for over a decade now. I’ve been involved in athletics from a young age of 12. I’ve faced many personal defeats, struggles, and growth of my physical and mental body. For the last three years, I switched to training at the gym, running and stretching, and occasionally trying new things like yoga, surfing, ultimate frisbee, tennis, and surfing.

Now I am regularly exercising 4-5 times a week, with exceptions when I get sick or travel. I recently switched from a 3 to a 4-day program that you can see below.

Monday - Chest and Triceps

Chest

  • Barbell Bench Press 1 x 10, 8, 8, 6
  • Incline Bench Press 1 x 8, 8, 6
  • Decline Bench Press 1 x 8, 8, 6
  • Dumbbell Flys 2 x 10
  • Dumbbell Pullover 2 x 8

Triceps

  • Tricep Extension 1 x 10, 8, 8, 6 (adding weight)
  • Tricep Dip 3 x 10
  • Tricep Bench Dip 3 x 8

Tuesday - Back and Biceps

Back

  • Chin Up 2 x 8
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 x 8
  • Seated Row 2 x 8
  • Bent Over Barbell Row 2 x 8
  • Lat Pull Down 1 x 10, 10, 8

Biceps

  • Standing Barbell Curl 1 x 8, 8, 6
  • Close Grip Preacher Curl 1 x 8, 8, 6
  • Incline Dumbbell Curl 2 x 12-14
  • Concentration Curl 2 x 10

Wednesday - Rest Day/Cardio

Thursday - Shoulders and Forearms

Shoulders

  • Machine Shoulder Press 3 x 10
  • Dumbbell Reverse Fly 3 x 8-10
  • Military Press 4 x 10
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise 2 x 10
  • Dumbbell Shrugs 2 x 10
  • Upright Row 2 x 10

Forearms

  • Standing Wrist Curl 4 x 10
  • Barbell Wrist Curl 4 x 10

Friday - Legs

Legs

  • Squat 1 x 10, 8, 8, 6, 4
  • Leg Extension 3 x 12
  • Leg Curl 3 x 12

Calves

  • Standing Calf Raise 4 x 12
  • Seated calf Raise 2 x 12

According to David J Linden, intense exercise can bring about short-term euphoria, reduction of anxiety, and increases in pain threshold, which I have proven as true. Therefore, if I had to leave only one daily habit in my morning routine it would definitely be exercising because it leads to numerous physical and mental health benefits.

Improve memory and thinking skills. Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.

Increases productivity. Exercising increases the endorphins that are released into your body which increases productivity.

Exercising boosts self-confidence. Exercising can help ease your mind and rejuvenate your body. Working out will make you feel great and boost your confidence.

Working out helps you sleep better. If you are someone who has trouble sleeping or staying asleep, then working out is your answer. Exercise helps to clear your head and helps you feel relaxed.

Improves your mood. Exercising lifts your emotional state and, as mentioned before, reduces stress and anxiety.

Conclusion

This is one of the longest posts I have ever written and I appreciate you reading all of it. These habits of successful people, routines, and realizations didn’t come overnight. It was all based on trial and error, waking up at 5 am for 7 days and then breaking the chain and waking up at 11 am. I wouldn’t read or write for weeks. I would get sick and wouldn’t exercise or meditate.

My point is, you will certainly fail with your new lifestyle managing your new habits. Your old, even more powerful habits will creep in and try to get you back to your comfort zone, but don’t give up. Start over and over again until you realize you are the person you always wished to become.