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17 Ways You Can Develop New Habits and Improve Your Life

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October 23, 2020 12 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I’m an optimist, but I’ve noticed that even the pessimists are jumping on board and making the world a better place. Do we need an, “Entrepreneurs Unite?” It’s time for us to think something new, do something new, and be something new.

As Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Usually, that’s a quote I would use as inspiration when approaching a new year. However, it has been helpful during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the only positive about this horrible, no-good year has been that it has sparked innovation. A lot of innovation!

The thing is, why wait until a new year or stressful time to embrace the new? After all, it’s been found that trying new things makes you healthier and happier. And, you’ll also be more creative, efficient and smarter.

Start with baby steps

If you want to begin flexing your “new” muscles, ease your way into it. It’s a simple way to ensure that you’ll stick with it. Why? Because the following activities are small enough that should be able to easily fit into your busy schedule

Here are six ways you can try something small that will help you get practice for bigger adjustments.

1. Add a twist to something established

Perhaps the easiest way to embrace the new is by putting a spin on the things that you enjoy. For example, if you use the treadmill every morning, go for a run or bike ride inside. You’re still engaging in physical activity, but you’re now getting the health benefits of spending time outside.

2. Shake up your routine

We’re creatures of habit, and that’s not exactly a bad thing. Routines, after all, provide structure, can ease anxiety, and makes planning a whole lot easier.

At the same time, when every day is the same, it can become tedious. And, if not addressed, can eventually put you in a rut. That’s why occasionally you should shake things up.

You don’t have to completely shatter your routine. It’s making slight adjustments. For example, you could take a different route to work. Other ideas would be working somewhere besides your office or having more walking meetings.

3. Use your non-dominant hand for simple tasks

Again, this shouldn’t be too challenging or overwhelming. The idea is that using your non-dominant hand for simple tasks, like brushing your teeth, introduces new neural pathways.

“It’s like having more cell towers in your brain to send messages along. The more cell towers you have, the fewer missed calls,” explains Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, chief of biological psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

Moreover, studies have found that this can improve impulse control and emotional health.

4. Try a new restaurant or cuisine

We all have our favorite restaurants and meals, but you might be missing out something incredibly delicious. And, who knows? Maybe that will inspire you to travel or learn more about where the dish came from.

So, if there is a new Peruvian restaurant in town, try it out. Your taste buds will thank you and you may want to learn more about the culture. And, even if you can’t get to such a joint, find a recipe online and make it at home.

5. Read, write, and draw

When you write, draw and read — specifically, read fiction — a study from Emory University found that stores change the brain. “Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person,” says neuroscientist Gregory Berns, lead author of the study and the director of Emory’s Center for Neuropolicy. “We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”

Berns adds that reading a novel “can transport you into the body of the protagonist.” In turn, this can help us develop empathy and forge stronger relationships. But, the best news for fiction is that it takes you out of the here and now and lets your body and brain relax a little. Your sleep habits can be attained easier if you have a little light reading before bed rather than the light of the TV.

Additionally, you can improve your vocabulary by learning a new word each morning. For instance, I get an email every morning from Dictonary.com containing the “word of the day.”

Other suggestions? Engage in art and journaling. Both can improve the neural pathway that controls attention and focus.

6. Build your schedule around “input” activities

“The vast majority of people (especially those with audacious goals) build their entire lives around ‘output,’” writes Nicolas Cole, author, and founder of Digital Press. “They wake up ready to tackle their To-Do list. At 10 a.m., they have a call (output). At noon, a lunch meeting (output). At 3 p.m., a blocked-off work session (output).”

In short, their “entire day is built to do, with ‘input’ activities becoming something of an afterthought.” Instead, flip the script like Hawk in Cobra Kai — without becoming a bully, of course.

Cole recommends planning “your day around the pockets of time when you read, listen and reflect.” Why? Well, when you finally get around to the “doing,” you’ll have plenty of ideas.

Related: Why People Who Schedule Fewer Tasks Get More Done

Break out of your comfort zone

When you exercise, you eventually have to push yourself harder. If not, you’re going to plateau. It’s like increasing the number of pushups you do or the distance you run. I’m not really sure that exercise makes you happier than mone,- but keeping yourself in shape is well-known for positive benefits. The same is true when embracing the new.

Here are a few ways to break out of your comfort zone.

1. Sign up for a class or workshop

While you can certainly learn on your own, there’s something to say about joining a class or workshop. For starters, you have an expert guiding you, as opposed to frustratingly trying to figure it out on your own. Additionally, this can encourage you to follow through with other tasks that are weighing on your mind.

Also, attending a class or an event can enhance your interpersonal relationships — like taking a cooking class with your significant other. And, getting out — however you manage it, mask and all — gives you the chance to meet new people and expand your network. My wife and I signed up for a “little event” of learning how to make superior chocolate shakes. Then we repeated the “class” over and over with friends.

We now have all the equipment, learned to source superior products from other countries and found great value and commonality with our friends. You don’t have to do the same activity, but find something different and new.

2. Do something that scares you

Are your terrified of public speaking? If so, commit to a speaking opportunity. It may keep you up at night. But, this will force you out of your shell and encourage you to find ways to conquer this fear. Learning how to speak accurately and well is a skill everyone should work on, but the point it — conquer something. Here’s a list of ten PhDs and their suggestions and observations on fears and what to do about it.

3. Freshen up your home or workspace

As I mentioned earlier, we’re creatures of habit. However, if you keep things exactly the same life can get stale. Carve out a block of time to do a little redecorating. Examples could be optimizing your desk setup, repainting your bedroom or putting in a garden in your backyard.

4. Take on new responsibilities

The caveat here is to only take on the new responsibility if you have the availability. After all, you don’t want to overextend yourself. But, if you take this on, look for new work responsibilities so that you can learn or enhance your skillset and knowledge.

You may not have a lot of time, but at least check out some options. A little reading can give you a whole new thought process.

5. Go against the grain

I’ve always wondered why people would flock to popular destinations, such as the beach, on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Sure, the weather is awesome, but why put up with the traffic, crowds and price surging? 

Instead, you can always look for less popular destinations. It’s an effective way to discover a new area and break out of your comfort zone. I’ve found that people flock to popular destinations, and they become popular for a reason — the public doesn’t just vet your business, they vet these places by spending their money there.

Related: Every Individual is Different, So is Every Entrepreneur

6. Plan a trip

Speaking of trips, getting away from your normal routine is the best way to do all of the above in one-shoot. Maybe you’re afraid of flying or a language barrier. As a result, you learn how to cope with your anxiety, or you take a language class. Taking a trip is the best way to explore and break out of your daily routine.

Furthermore, it’s good for your health and wellbeing. Even just planning a trip can make you happy, since it gives you something to look forward to. Besides, you deserve a vacation every now and then.

Go big or go home

Now that your “new” muscles are in peak shape, it’s time to go all in. I mean, why did you put in all the hard work if you weren’t ready to push your limitations?

Take something — anything — and give that thing a bigger effort than you have given something for a long time. The thing doesn’t matter because this is an exercise in “the big push.” It’s an exercise in coming alive. Go hit balls — all day — on the range, or at the batting cages. How much did you improve? How do you feel? How well did you sleep that night? 

Try to make this “thing” not connected with work — just this once. Here are a few ideas for going big.

1. Declutter your life

While some people are born minimalists, a lot of us have a hard time letting go. However, when you let go, you can reduce stress, increase your productivity, and potentially improve relationships.

You don’t need to overwhelm yourself. Just set aside the time to clean out and organize a specific area. For example, on a Friday afternoon focus on your office, and on Saturday move over to your kitchen. Whatever you no longer need or make you happy, donate, or toss.

Try to understand your relationship to clutter, and recognize the mad rush of excitement you get when you clear it all out. That mad rush is your signal that you needed relief from the mess.

2. Evaluate relationships.

Another part of decluttering is removing toxic people from your life. But, you may also want to commit to a new relationship or reconnect with someone. For instance, you could attend a networking event (on a vid, or wherever) or shoot a text to a long-lost friend.

3. Consider adoption or fostering

If you have the resources and have the willingness, adopt or foster a pet or help a child learn a new skill. Besides being a rewarding experience, fostering an animal is another chance for you to develop new skills for yourself. You can even pass along the skills and knowledge you already possess, like teaching a dog a new trick of helping a child improve in a subject matter.

4. Move

You don’t necessarily have to move across the country or overseas. However, that type of moving would really knock you out of your comfort zone. Even just moving to a new community allows you to meet new people and discover new areas that you were never familiar with.

Other areas to move would be: move to a new gym, a new hiking trail, a new type of movie, a new genre of books, a new set of friends for a while. Think something new. Move yourself and your thoughts in a new way — it doesn’t have to be a change of location.

5. Pursue your dreams and passions

Finally, commit to a big goal. If that goal is starting your own business, then work on it as a side hustle. As you grow a new business, you can leave your job and venture out on your own. Your dreams and passions don’t have to be gigantic right now. But make a plan to move forward on one thing you’ve had in your mind for a while, that you’d like to do or become.

A new business is certainly not for the faint of heart, but any new or frightening challenge that will force you to think, do something new — or be something new — can help you evolve.

Related: 3 Tasks that Will Help You Dream Big and Achieve Success

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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