10 Ways to Have a Spectacular Month Ahead (October 2015)

10 Ways to Have a Spectacular Month Ahead (October 2015)

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Tips, Tricks, and Tools to Help You Achieve Your Goals, Cultivate Fulfillment, and be a Force for Good in the World in the Month Ahead.

1. Reconnect with your inner child.

Remember what you used to enjoy as a kid—building sand castles, playing on the swing set, painting with watercolors, [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD ACTIVITY HERE]? Take an hour out of your next chunk of free time and do one of these activities again.

I’ve done all three (and even convinced a few unsuspecting souls to join me) and it’s always a blast! Plus, it will shut off that annoying logical-analytical part of your brain and maybe even reconnect you with something important inside of you that’s been otherwise lying dormant…

 2. Try a new exercise.

A friend once referred to me as “child-like” in my “need for order and routine.” In all fairness, he was saying that we were both that way, but the point remains that it’s sometimes in our nature to cling to what we know and what feels comfortable, but you never grow and learn unless you venture onto new things from time to time, so why not start with your exercise routine?

If you normally go to the gym, try running. If you normally run, take an Orange Theory class. If you like aerobics, go for a swim in the nearest (ideally public…) pool. In addition to working different muscles (or the same muscles in different ways), the tweak to your routine might spark other positive changes…

3. Embrace risk.

The paradox of being an overachiever is that we get rewarded early on for following all of the rules and playing it safe, but at some point, if we want to take our leadership and impact to the next level, we have to recognize when we’ve hit a wall by “playing it safe,” and learn to take risks.

Think about something that you want in your life that you’ve put off doing because of fear of failure (or even just lack of clarity about how to do it….)—maybe it’s applying for a job or award, or setting an ambitious fitness goal, or asking for a raise. Next, list everything that you think you will need to do in order to make that goal happen. Then attach due dates to the items on your list, calendar these due dates (with reminders!) and get cracking! Update and iterate the todo list as you make progress and get new information.

In my experience, most people think that high achievers get where they are because of some magical powers or luck, but the reality is that these people are willing to take risks, and they get shot down…pretty frequently, actually; however, as outsiders, all we see are the wins and it looks like magic. It’s not magic; it’s kahunas.

4. Change your scenery.

When I was organizing the ideas that would eventually evolve into the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential and The New Alpha book project, I found it incredibly challenging to sit at a desk and type…like…impossibly hard. Try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to get the vague, amorphous ideas that were in my head onto the Word document on the screen in front of me. This went on for MONTHS and created all sorts of weird psychological issues for me.

Finally, in desperation, I started stopping at a local Starbucks on my way home from my day job, and giving myself an hour to put down whatever thoughts I had…and boom, the ideas started flowing! I think my brain would rather type out complete unedited hogwash than sit awkwardly, doing nothing in public for 60 minutes a day. Plus, as an extrovert, having people around—but not ones who were likely to interrupt me—was really helpful for my energy levels. In fact, it was probably the most productive hour of my day, and when the hour was up, I closed my laptop, got in my car, and went home feeling pretty darn accomplished, thankyouverymuch!

I’ve also tried this at my local public library (For some reason, being there makes me feel super intellectual!) and on my front patio (which provides plenty of fresh air and a great view!). Once, while perched on the edge of a cliff in Big Sur during what can only be described as a glorious, mind-blowingly, awesome sunset, I wrote an entire blog post.

Over time, as I found my groove, I realized that I didn’t always need the change of scenery, but this step was hugely important in the beginning stages.

5. Laugh really hard.

My mom’s favorite movie is Dumb and Dumber—and if I’ve learned anything from repeat viewings of this terrible movie (Sorry, Mom!), it’s that laughter is super important: it’s fun to do and may even have health benefits. While I’m more of a Stepbrothers fan, myself (“So much space for activities!“), you don’t need a full-length movie to laugh—you can hang out with your most humorous friends, watch a hilarious cat video, or pick up your favorite book by David Sedaris (I love this one, especially!). The point is to find whatever it is that makes you chortle, guffaw, and clutch your stomach in comedic bliss…and do it!

Find whatever it is that makes you chortle, guffaw, and clutch your stomach in comedic bliss…and do it! Click To Tweet

6. Meditate.

I would rather run 10 miles than meditate for 10 minutes. True story. Yet the benefits of meditation are hard to argue with: reduced stress, increased focus, lower blood pressure, and even increased immunity.

If you’re like me and struggle to force yourself to sit still for 20 minutes, try guided meditation (Here’s a good one.) or sign up for a class (I also enjoy the Art of Living classes!). Even once a week or 5 minutes whenever you can is better than none at all.

So what are you waiting for? Get comfy, set the timer on your iPhone, close your eyes, and just focus on the in-and-out of your breath. You’ll be glad you did!

7. Sign up for a class that you’d never normally take.

I have a friend, Janae, who’s an accountant by day, but in her off-time, she takes every single class imaginable—from creating flower arrangements to (I’m not kidding) basket-weaving.

Intrigued by her diverse (and seemingly random…) non-work activities, I asked her why she does this and she said that it’s a great stress reliever (Since it’s completely unrelated to her regular work, it forces her to turn off the work-obsessive part of her brain…), it’s enhanced her creative thinking (by exercising different skills than she normally uses), and she’s met a lot of exciting and interesting people who she wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to interact with—everyone from college students, to artists, to executives at large companies. Plus, because of these courses, she’s REALLY good at A LOT of things, which—as an added bonus—has helped her to get the attention of her peers and supervisors at work.

Bay Area folks, if you’re interested in exploring options here, check out the course on Emotional Intelligence for leaders that I’m teaching through Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Programs.

8. Cook a real meal.

My dad is a chef, so perhaps I’m biased, but cooking is awesome! Again, it can be a highly creative activity, a great stress reliever, and it always gives me much a sense of accomplishment—usually in an hour or less.

While I’m not a natural chef (Sorry, Dad!), I’ve found that after I’ve made a recipe once, it’s significantly easier to do it the second time, and I always have good standby meals for when guests pop by, which is a strangely easy way to really impress just about anyone.

If you’re looking for some cheap, easy, healthy recipes, I love this cookbook and the Fresh20 program, which gives you a week’s worth of dinner recipes using 20 ingredients for under $80 (in most places). They also have a weekly recipe subscription service, which has everything from homemade, healthy chicken pot pie to Thai lettuce wraps.

9. Adopt a pet.

Okay, I should clarify: pets are a lot of responsibility and definitely require some care and feeding. That said, they are ABSOLUTELY worth it! We have two cats at home and they bring so much joy and fun to our lives that it totally outweighs any work or expense that we put into taking care of them.

Contrary to what people typically think about cats, ours have ridiculously lively and loving personalities—they run to us with their tails in the air when we get home, they’re playful (We even taught one of the to fetch!), and they love to snuggle up and cuddle (albeit usually when I’m totally preoccupied with something else—but you kind of have to love that brand of bossy self-confidence!)

Plus, there are significant physical and mental health benefits to having a pet. If you’re curious at all about adding a fuzzy friend to your life, I encourage you to check out the pets available for adoption from your local ASPCA or other shelter.

10. Read (good) fiction.

In truth, I’m a total sucker for non-fiction—and have been known to devour multiple “how-to” guides in a single day. (I think it’s something to do with my curiosity around understanding how things work, as well as my love of practical advice.)

With that said, there’s also a time and place for escaping into another world with a great story and this can be really powerful too. Whether it’s discovering the world of magic with Harry Potter or exploring the connection between family, addiction, and entertainment in the dystopian “future” described in Infinite Jest, reading fiction can be a highly effective way to inspire your creativity, relieve stress, unwind, or just escape to another world when you want to.

If you feel like you don’t have time to read regularly, sign up for Audible, which for $15 a month, allows you to download a book of your choice—or skip their subscription service and sign up to be notified about their daily deals (usually $1-$5), and listen while you exercise, ride the train, walk your cat, etc.

Doing any one of these activities will bring your closer to achieving your goals, finding fulfillment, or even making a positive impact in the world. How will you optimize your potential in the month ahead? We’d love to hear from you; share your ideas in the comments below.

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Danielle Harlan is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential (www.leadershipandhumanpotential.com) and author of the leadership book, The New Alpha (amzn.to/29C0V6j). She earned her doctorate in political science and M.A. in education from Stanford University, where she was a Jacob K. Javits National Fellow and received a Centennial Teaching Award for excellence in instruction. Prior to launching the Center, she was the Chief of Operations for the Carnegie Foundation, where she worked to harness the power of networks and quality improvement strategies in order to solve important educational problems. Named one of Silicon Valley's "40 Under 40," Danielle has also been a speaker for TEDx and worked as an instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension's Corporate and Professional Development Program. In addition, she has given guest lectures at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the “d.school”) and the Career Development Center at Stanford, and has been featured in leading publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, and Women's Health. Danielle started her career as a Teach For America corps member and later served as a mentor and advisor for Global Leadership Adventures, an international leadership development and service program. In addition to teaching in the U.S., she has taught in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, and South Africa. She is a member of the International Leadership Association, the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, and the National Association for Female Executives.

  • Anusha

    Leave reply
    October 1, 2015

    Good stuff Danielle! Thank you for the reminders. I am ready to laugh with “My Cousin Vinny”, embrace risk in getting to some items that have always been long term on my bucket list for a loooooong time now…..I will also try guided meditation..