Personal Growth

Three Principles for Developing Resilient Habits

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is therefore not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

Ever heard of the phrase “it takes 21 days to build a habit”?  The saying comes from the observations of Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon in the 1950s, who noticed that his patients took about 21 days to get used to seeing their new faces. This was observed even among amputees who felt like they still had a phantom limb until about 21 days.

In this great blog post by James Clear, he explains how we missed a key point in Dr. Maltz’s observations. When Maltz wrote about his experiences, he explained that, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

Note the minimum of about 21 days. According to further research cited in Clear’s article, the true number of days it takes to establish a habit is between 18 days to 254 days. A much wider range than the 21 days. Depending on the complexity of the new habit and how adept we are at incorporating it into our lives, it could be as short as 3 weeks or up to almost 9 months to establish a new habit.

In order to build habits that hold up even during the busiest times of our lives, the implementation of the habit development must be given proper thought and attention. Here are three principles I have around building resilient habits based on some of the successful habit development that I’ve achieved.

1. Expend minimal energy

The key to making habits stick is to make it as easy as possible to start. If the initial hurdle to start the habit is too high, you’ll be stopped in your tracks before you can even begin. So how do you go about making it easier to start? Here are a few examples from my life.

Every morning I do a 7-Minute workout. The workout is usually a high-intensity workout composed of a variety of 30-second exercises. In my bedroom, I have a yoga mat setup and ready to go. In order to expend minimal energy to get started, I don’t put the mat and towel away after the workout. I just keep it there. So when it’s time every morning for me to workout, I don’t need to pull out the yoga mat and drape a towel over it. It’s there and I can get started. No excuses or added energy to pull out the mat and towel.

Yoga mat setup and ready to go.

Here’s another example. I’ve recently started to add a dash of pink Himalayan salt into a glass of water to support my adrenals in the morning. Instead of having to remember that I need to do this everyday, I just put out the salt and a glass out on the stove top the night before so I see it first thing in the morning. No need to use my memory or my willpower. It’s there and ready to go. Lowering the bar again for better adoption.

A glass and pink Himalyan salt setup as I walk into the kitchen.

There are many ways that you can lower the bar for your specific habit. If you’re planning on going to the gym every morning, put your workout clothes out on your dresser the night before. If you want to stop drinking sugary drinks, throw out any that you might have in your fridge and replace them with sparkling water. Make it as easy as possible for you to start your habit. More than likely, once you start the first step of the habit, you’ll will yourself to continue the momentum.

Once the habit is ingrained in your routine you don’t necessarily have to keep the bar lowered. At some point you want the habit to be automatic – which is the whole point with habits! But exercise caution with eliminating the cues too early – it’s too easy for the brain to go back to the laziest route if the habit isn’t ingrained yet.

2. Visualize your daily progress

One of the most important ways to keep yourself motivated to develop your habit is to visualize your progress. Visualizing your progress provides motivation everyday to complete the habit and build momentum. Visualization can be done by printing out a blank calendar of the month and putting an “X” on every day you complete the habit. My favourite tool to visualize my progress is the Hustle Calendar which makes it easy to see the entire year with one look.

The Hustle Calendar helps me keep track of my daily goal to blog for 15-minutes.

Everyday that I complete my daily habit I get the pleasure of marking a big red “X” on the day. The calendar helps keep me motivated to keep the streak alive and build upon my successful habit. It also draws out some trends I see with my habit. For example, I tend to notice my success rate takes a dip when I’m on the road. This helps me strategize on how I can incorporate my habit even on the road. The more data that you collect on your behaviour, the better you’ll be able to take action to improve upon it.

3. Opt for baby steps

This might be the simplest yet most important advice I have around developing a habit. We often get excited about starting a habit – going to the gym three times a week or meditating for 20 minutes everyday – that we forget to remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

The typical scenario is that we show great consistency over the course of the first few weeks of the new habit and then life happens. Something happens at work or family that throws you off your new rhythm. By the time you go back to the habit, it feels a lot harder to get back the momentum and eventually you get down on yourself for not being able to stick to it. It’s something I’ve had to deal with many times and it’s highly discouraging.

Developing good habits isn’t easy and being patient with the process and gentle with yourself is extremely important. Imagine planting a seed. You don’t want to overwhelm the seed initially with too much water. You want to let it grow at its own pace. You also can’t see the progress until the plant has emerged from the soil. Habit development is the same way. Be gentle to start, set a lower bar, make it easier for you to continue to build the habit. The reward will be a more well-established habit that is more resilient when “life happens”.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

According to Charles Duhigg and his book, The Power of Habit, about 40-45% of our daily decisions aren’t actually decisions they’re habits. Fourty to fourty-five percent! If we don’t take control of our daily habits, we’re essentially letting half of our day run in autopilot rather than consciously doing what’s most beneficial to us. So if you’re working on incorporating a new habit into your life (and ideally just try to work on one at a time) make sure you’re reviewing the three tips:

  1. Expend minimal energy
  2. Visualize your daily progress
  3. Opt for baby steps

There are a ton more things that I would add to building better, more resilient habits but I’ll stop here for now. If you have any other suggestions or ideas to build habits, please post them below. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are and experiences have been.

Personal Growth

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday (Part II)

This post is a two-part series on the Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday. Part I can be found here.
 It’s not the years in your life that counts. It’s the life in your years. – Abraham Lincoln
 In Part I of the post, I introduced the seven questions you should ask yourself everyday. If you haven’t read that post yet, I highly encourage you to go back and read it before continuing. This post is about how to implement these questions on a daily basis. I’ll show you the tools that I use to remind, record, reflect, and act on the questions.


A quietly underrated aspect of the daily questions is making sure you remind yourself to record your questions. In the early going as you’re trying to build up the habit, having a reliable reminder is essential. In fact, Marshall Goldsmith (who writes about the Daily Questions in his book Triggerspays someone to call him at the end of everyday to ask him his daily questions.

If you can’t afford to pay someone to call you everyday, you can use a free automation service like IFTTT to schedule a daily reminder email. In the reminder email, I plug-in the link to the tracking spreadsheet (see the reflection section) so I can easily access it when I need to record my score.

In whatever way you remind yourself, the important part is that it’s automatic. Whether it’s an alarm on your phone or a friend who calls you, make sure it’s on your radar at the end of the day without taking up much effort.

Speaking of the “end of the day”, I’ve set my automatic reminders for 5:00 p.m. I’ve found that the timing is good as I’m typically wrapping up my workday between 5 to 6 p.m. Your timing could be later like after dinner or right before you go to bed. Find what time works the best for you to receive the reminder.


I record my scores on a Google Sheet. I prefer the spreadsheet because it’s cloudbased and accessible wherever I can get the internet. Google Sheets also have the same functionality as an Excel file so if I wanted to slice-and-dice the data, it’s pretty easy to do. In fact, I’ve plugged in a chart that helps me visualize my daily scores.

Screenshot of sample spreadsheet

I’ve created a sample spreadsheet for you to use. Feel free to go in and make a copy for yourself by going to File -> Make a Copy. You’ll notice that I’ve added a few scores already just so you can see it in action. Delete those scores when you’re ready to start recording.

When I’m recording my scores, I have a couple of simple rules for myself:

  • Trust my initial gut-instinct for the score.
  • Stick to whole numbers. Decimal places are not allowed. (This makes it harder to “sit on the fence” with a score).

Finally, my recommendation is to record at least 21 days of consecutive scores. It’ll be a helpful baseline to start seeing some trends with your scores.


Once you’ve recorded the score of the day, now comes perhaps the most important part – reflection.

I use a service called TalkSpace which provides unlimited text/voice messaging with a licensed therapist. On days that I have something I want to talk through, I open up the TalkSpace app or webpage and leave a message for my therapist. The therapist responds within 24 hours with her thoughts and perspective. I’ve been using TalkSpace since May 2015 and it has been an indispensible part of my personal growth toolkit.

Whether you use a service like TalkSpace or not is up to you. You may prefer writing a quick comment in the Google Spreadsheet or journaling about it or calling a friend to talk through your day. The important part is to pull your thoughts outside your mind. You’d be surprised how much clarity you get from verbalizing or writing your thoughts down.


If you stop just with recording and reflection over a period of 21 days, you’re still going to get a lot out of it. But if you’re like most people, you’ll want to take action on the information that comes out of your daily questions.

There isn’t a cookie-cutter method for you to take action on these questions. You might prefer to collect data for 90 consecutive days before making some course adjustments or you may want to take action on a daily basis. There is no “right” answer.

That said, for me, I generally like to work on improving my score on one question over the course of a month. For example, if I’ve noticed that “Did I do my best to set clear goals?” is consistently a low score for me, I’ll focus on improving that score over the course of a month.

To remind myself of the question I’m working on, I use a Google Chrome plug-in called Momentum that gives you space to set one goal everyday.


Every time you open up a new tab, you’ll see the Momentum dashboard and remind yourself what the one goal was for you (along with a beautiful photo that changes everyday). It’s a nice way to keep the question top-of-mind throughout the day.

Every morning, before I get started with my work, I open up my spreadsheet and review yesterday’s scores. I plug in the question I’m working on – currently it’s “Do my best to set clear goals” – and go about setting my goals for the day.

And that’s it! Rinse-and-repeat this process everyday. The next step which I’m currently developing a process for is a quarterly review of my scores. Stay tuned to the blog for more thoughts on that.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts with this process? Do you think it’ll work for you? Is there anything missing that you’d add?

Personal Growth

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday (Part I)

This post is a two-part series on the Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday. Part II will be released next week.

Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Last year, I read a book called Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and summarized my key takeaways. It’s an excellent book about how triggers in your environment can have a significant impact on your behaviour whether you’re aware of it or not.

One of the key takeaways from Triggers was about the power of awareness in helping us change our behaviour. Changing our behaviour – especially as an adult – is possibly one of the most difficult challenges we’ll ever face. After all, we’ve ingrained behaviours and routines for years and years, and changing our behaviours can mean fundamentally changing the way we live.

Goldsmith provides a really practical tool to help us create awareness called the Six Daily Questions. The concept is simple – ask yourself six questions at the end of every single day and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how well you think you did with the question.

I was a little skeptical about this concept at first but I decided to trial it for a few weeks to see if it made an impact in my life. After all, Goldsmith is one of the most celebrated leadership coaches of all time and I figured what works for them might work for me.

Before we go through the questions, I should explain how these questions should be asked. I’ve journaled in the past to questions like “What was the highlight of my day?” or “List three things you are you grateful for today” but I often felt a disconnect with the questions.

I’m not sure how to explain this but when I was answering those types of questions it felt more like a passive exercise. Almost like I was recounting someone else’s day (although it was my day) and it lacked the sense of forward progress on why I did what I did that day.

Don’t get me wrong, I think reflection is very important in creating awareness, but with the goal of becoming a better version of myself everyday, I felt like those reflections questions weren’t capturing those thoughts properly.

So here’s how Goldsmith’s Six Questions differ: they all begin with the phrase “Did I do my best to…?”

When you start every question with “Did I do my best to…?” the question goes from passive reflection to active thinking. Instead of “Did I achieve this goal today?”, you’re asking yourself what effort did I put in to achieve this goal? The question becomes about the intention and effort you put into that goal rather than the result.

With Goldsmith’s Six Questions, you’re not trying to control the result (we often don’t have immediate control over that) but you’re trying to develop the improvement process. This makes every question I ask a lot more powerful because now I have the ability to honestly answer to myself – did I really do my best today or is there room for improvement?

Hopefully that makes sense. Now, onto the six questions.

Goldsmith’s Six Questions

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
  3. Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy today?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

These are six great questions to start with and will provide you with a baseline of questions to answer everyday. Below you’ll find a slightly different version with seven questions I ask myself everyday.

My Seven Questions

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
  3. Did I do my best to create meaning for myself or others today?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy today?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?
  7. Did I do my best to be physically and emotionally healthy today?

You’ll notice that Question #3 for me is modified slightly to clarify that meaning can be created for me or for others. Question #7 was added as health and wellness – both physically and mentally – are important pieces for me.

Your questions might look different than mine or Goldsmith’s – and that’s okay. You have different objectives and priorities in your life so making the questions relevant to them is critical to making this “sticky” for you.

Regardless of which questions you end up with, my recommendation is to setup some sort of system – a notebook, an Word document, a spreadsheet, etc. – to help you keep track of your scores. Remember, you’re scoring yourself between a 1 to 10. With 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

At a minimum, try these questions out over a period 21 days. Even if you need to stop after 21 days, you’ll get a good baseline of where you stand with your questions. You’ll build awareness of areas in your life that you’ve got under control, that might be a little of out of control, and bring light to areas that you thought were important but maybe not as much as you originally thought.

In Part II of this post (to be released next week), I’ll take you through how to make this process even stickier by introducing the accountability partner, a spreadsheet template, and automation tools to help you remember to record your scores. If you think of this article here as the WHY you should ask these questions, Part II is more of HOW and WHAT of implementing this in your life.

Personal Growth

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious, you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
– Lao Tzu

I started to meditate about 3 years ago and it’s become an important part of my daily habits. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t easy getting started and it still isn’t the most natural thing for me to do. It’s taken some experimentation with what works for me and adapting a meditation practice around that. Your meditation practice might look completely different from mine – and that’s okay. The important part is that you put in the time to meditate to help you achieve greater mental control and calmness.

I’ll take you through a bit of my journey with meditation and the process and tools that have worked for me so far. If you already believe in the positive effects of meditation, you can skip Part I and just go right into the techniques and resources that I’ve been using. Either way, Part I will be helpful in helping you understand the WHY behind meditation. So let’s begin!

Part I: Why Meditate?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s beneficial to meditate and in no particular order here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced and heard others experience as well.

  • Helps you move into the present
  • Brings about peace and calm in your mind
  • Builds your perspective and compassion for others
  • Helps you feel like you’re in greater control of your day
  • Helps you detach yourself from situations and outcomes
  • Slows down your day
  • Allows you to cut through the busywork and focus on doing what matters most
  • Creates silence during our noisy, busy days

According to Tim Ferriss, the majority of top performers (80%) he has interviewed through his podcast have some sort of meditation practice. I know some of the above might sound “woo woo” and some of it probably is. But the important part is how meditation affects you personally. If you get even a modicum of peace and calm from a 5-minute meditation, maybe it’s worth it for you? After all, 5-minutes is not a bad tradeoff for that kind of feeling.

Part II: How to get started

I initially struggled to get my meditation practice going. When I first tried to meditate, I read a book called Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield. I listened to the accompanying CD and went through the guided meditation practices but I found the experience to be extremely difficult. In fact, I began to dislike meditating after realizing I wasn’t particularly good at sitting in silence for 15-20 minutes.

Retrospectively, I think I tried to do too much too soon. In my opinion, a 15-20 minute meditation is too long for a beginner (especially without some sort of meditation coach) to do on their own. The key is to start small with a 1 or 2 minute meditation. This way you get a small “hit” of that calm, rewarding feeling to get you going.

The “calm” feeling could be different for you. It might not be a feeling of calm but rather a feeling of inspiration and excitement. It could be a feeling of understanding and love. Try to remember that positive, rewarding feeling so that it brings you back your next meditation session.

Rain Wilson (from The Office fame) talks in a podcast episode about how meditation for him is like watching the ticker symbol of a stock market go by. The symbols are your thoughts and they just scroll past you. You’re not attached to the thoughts, you just observe them and let them by. I think that’s a pretty good analogy. Meditation is not eliminating all your thoughts and getting into a “blank” mindset. It’s about appreciating the thoughts and that they exist, but not getting caught up in it.

So here are a few tips to help you start to meditate and I’ll break them down for you in a bit more detail below:

Start with just 2 minutes.

Meditation is just like any sport or exercise in that the more “reps” that you put in, the better you get at it. You wouldn’t run a marathon for your very first run, right? So it make sense to not make your first meditation session a 60-minute session. Start with something small – like, very small. Start with a 2 minute meditation and see if you’re able to handle that. From there, up the timing to 5-10-15 minutes. But take it really slowly. Don’t rush yourself. It’s one of those things where you won’t just be able to “will” your way to doing more. Mary Meckley, host of the Daily Meditation Podcast, suggests that you meditate just up to the point that where you’re able to continue a little bit longer but you save that “little bit” so you can come back excited to meditate next time.

Learn simple techniques to get you going. (e.g. box breathing technique)

I learned a simple breathing technique called the “box-breathing technique” from Ben Greenfield at a conference in 2015. The technique is simple but surprisingly hard to master. Basically, you slowly breathe in for a count of 5, hold your breathe for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, and hold (your empty lungs) for a count of 5. Then repeat. This technique allows you to oxygenate your body while allowing you to focus on your breath – not your distracting thoughts – during your meditation. If you find yourself having difficulty concentrating, this is a good technique to practice. Try it once or twice during your first meditation.

Find out what time of day you are best able to meditate.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of times during the day but early mornings and evenings seem to be the best time for me. For you, it might be different. Try experimenting with a 2-minute meditation at different times during the day to see which one delivers the greatest benefits. When I used to work at a fast-paced sales organization, I would find time to do a quick 5-minute meditation over lunch which created some calm in an otherwise chaotic environment. It was super helpful in helping me reset and get ready for the second half of the day.

Part III: My favourite resources

There is a ton of great resources available to get started with your meditation practice. Books, apps, podcasts, and so much more provide resources that you can often tap into for free. Out of all the resources that I’ve experimented with, here are the two that have allowed me to cultivate my meditation practice.


Calm is a meditation app available on iOS and Android. It gives you the flexibility to do a timed, non-guided meditation or a guided meditation based on different themes like gratitude, happiness, sleep, etc. It’s the first app I used to help me create a meditation habit – starting with a 2-minute meditation. It has a ton of great background sounds that you can choose from and I like how simple it is to use compared to other meditation apps that come loaded with too many extras. Download the app and start with the 1 or 2 minute meditation then go from there.

The Daily Meditation Podcast

This (free) podcast allowed me to take my meditation to the next level. Led by a fantastic meditation teacher, Mary Meckley, a new podcast episode is released everyday. Every episode is unique as there is a new weekly theme and every day of the week features a new style of meditation from affirmations to mudras to walking meditations. When I started getting bored of my 5-minute Calm app meditations, I was looking for alternatives to help me improve my meditation practice and The Daily Meditation Podcast was the perfect fit. I wouldn’t be able to meditate now for 10 to 20 minutes without having learned the meditation techniques Mary teaches through her podcast.


Another notable app is called HeadSpace. I’ve tried HeadSpace in the past and they’ve got a great (and free!) called the Take-10 which provides 10 short meditations with helpful video explanations to get you started.

The good news is current meditation apps are constantly updating and innovating to make meditation more accessible and new apps are being created as more people begin to meditate!

So I hope this gets you started with your meditation practice. It’s a powerful practice to cultivate which impact so many different aspects of your life. Just make sure to be kind to yourself. Your first few weeks or months of meditating won’t be easy. I still struggle to convince myself that it’s worth the time to meditate especially when I’m in the midst of a busy day. But those just might be the days where you need to meditate the most.

Good luck! And feel free to post your personal experiences with meditation. I’d love to hear from you.

Personal Growth

My Ship List 2015

There’s only 6 hours until 2016!

I’m borrowing a page from Seth Godin’s book to share with you my 2015 “Ship List”. The Ship List is anything that you “shipped out” over the course of the year (I’ve cheated a bit to include milestones in this one). Seth compiles his list every year and it’s a great tradition.

Here is my 2015 ship list which includes some personal and professional milestones. The process of compiling the list was actually quite interesting. It allowed me to take a moment and reflect about my year and scroll through my calendar. It’s helpful because it makes you appreciate how much you can accomplish in 365 days.

Jan – Joined Actionable Books as Client Engagement Manager.
Mar – Completed the Art of Charm Rapport Program in Los Angeles.
Apr – Moved into an apartment to live on my own for the first time.
May – Attended the Less Doing Live Conference in New York City and implemented Less Doing methodologies to my day-to-day.
Jun – Created a Mastermind Blueprint and launched a 10-week Mastermind POD program with Actionable Consultants.
Oct – Oversaw the planning of the East Coast Tour for ACP recruitment.
Oct – Received my first capoeira belt.
Oct – Wrote and gave a speech on failure at my high school.
Dec – Oversaw the planning of the New York City Tour for ACP recruitment.
Dec – Celebrated the one-year anniversary with my girlfriend.
Dec – Published 30 new posts on my blog in 2015.

Here’s to making your 2016 a highly productive year!

Personal Growth

Five apps I use to stay focused and be more productive

With so much distraction out there, it’s hard to stay focused. Here’s a list of five apps that I love using on my phone and laptop to stay organized, focused, and ultimately more productive. Feel free to leave any tips about apps that you use in the comments section.


To me, email is one big to-do list. I have emails to reply to, emails to save for future reference, emails that require a future check-in, emails to archive/delete, etc. Every email requires some sort of processing.

Now add in the complexity of emails that you can’t deal with right now or want to follow-up with later. Slowly your inbox will start growing with tasks you can’t deal with at the moment and you hit inbox overwhelm. helps you manage your email better by returning emails to your inbox at a better time. It makes following-up with people a lot easier and keeps your inbox clean since you know that email is coming back to you at the appropriate time. They’ve also built in a “Snooze” function for their Gmail app which allows you to snooze an email sitting in your inbox so it gets re-sent to you. helps me keep my inbox to less than 5-10 emails at any given time and has been the best app investment I’ve made to date. The only issue I’ve found of late is that the cost of the subscription has gone up quite significantly. If you’re a Gmail user and want to go with a free alternative, you might want to check out Boomerang as well.

Cost: $25 USD/month

2. StayFocusd

StayFocusd is a free plug-in for your Chrome browser which prevents you from spending too much time on unproductive sites like Facebook, Twitter, BuzzFeed, Netflix, etc. You basically set how much time you’re allowed to go onto your favourite websites during the day and it’ll prevent you from accessing them once you go over your limit.

For example, I have my daily allotment for Facebook and Twitter set at 15 minutes. That gives me enough time for a quick peak at what’s going on in that world but not enough time to get lost in the wormhole.

Cost: Free

3. Evernote

You may have heard of this one… a lot.

Evernote is one of the most popular note taking tools on the web. I primarily use it to help me capture information. Any interesting article goes into my “Cabinet” folder in my Evernote and I use its powerful search functionality and their “Context” tool to pull up relevant information on demand.

I also try to keep my Evernote super simple. I only use three folders – Action Pending, Desktop, and Cabinet. Action Pending is for any note that I need to tag/process, Desktop is for anything that I’m actively reading/working on during the week, and Cabinet is for any note that I’ve already processed or I’m keeping for future reference.

If you don’t have Evernote, download it and start saving notes/articles into it to start creating your “external brain”.

Cost: Free for the basic version. $6.99/month for Premium.

4. Pomodoro

I use an app for the iOS but there are a ton of apps out there that have a similar functionality. The concept is based on the “Pomodoro Technique” where you breakup your tasks/projects into 25-minute working periods followed by a 5-minute break. Personally, I prefer 15 minutes followed by a 3-minute break because it feels less daunting when I start the timer. This is great when you find yourself procrastinating and need that kick-in-the-butt to get yourself going with a short time limit or if you have a disciplined morning schedule where you need to keep switching through 15-minute tasks.

For me, it’s little momentum helps me get started on tasks that I’m not super excited about or limits how engrossed I get into non-crucial tasks (e.g. checking email).

Cost: $2.29 USD (for the version I use)

5. 7-Minute Workout

Not specifically a “productivity” app but getting some exercise in during the day is key to keeping your energy levels up. With this app, I’ve basically replaced going to the gym which saves me about 1.5 hours every day. If you take this seriously and make it part of your everyday routine, you can see the impacts pretty quickly. I follow the workout with a 5-minute stretch which helps prepare my body for a focused day at work.

Cost: Free (plus in-app purchases)

[Bonus] Rescue Time

If you’re an avid activity tracker like myself, you’ll like Rescue Time. Rescue Time keeps track of your computer-related activities and categorizes the activities based on how productive they are. At the end of the week (on the free version), you’ll get a overall score for the week and a broad categorization of where your time went. Based on where you’re spending your time, you now have the awareness of where your time is going and how you can modify your computer habits or keep them trending in a productive direction.

Cost: Free (Premium is $9 USD/month)

What apps do you use to help you stay productive throughout the day?

Personal Growth

Three Things I Learned From Giving a Speech to My High School

Last month, I had the opportunity to return to my high school to give a speech to the student body. It was my 10-year anniversary since graduation and the school had asked me to come back.

For the speech, I decided to talk about my personal experiences with failure. Something I don’t think students get enough support and coaching for when they experience it firsthand. You can read the full speech here but I wanted to share three things I learned from giving a speech.

At some point, you’ll likely be in the position to deliver a speech so hopefully this will be helpful in your preparation or helping you “level up” your future speeches. I’m by no means a professional speaker but I think I can provide a bit of value for you here.

If you have any other tips or ideas for speech writing, please post them below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Tell Personal Stories, Be Passionate, and Be Real

I know, it’s three rolled into one learning but I think it’s important. I had just read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseih before the speech and he mentioned the three keys to his speeches. And they helped me out a lot.

I remember the night before the speech, I read my girlfriend my speech. She said she liked it but she wished she could get to know more of “Peter”. So I added an additional personal story to the speech.

I think it ended up being the best story of the speech. And it really helped bring my “real” self to the audience. So as you write your speech, make sure you’re checking off all three boxes:

✓     Tell Personal Stories

✓     Be Passionate

✓     Be Real


Making It About Learning

Speeches are difficult because you have to consider who is in your audience and what you think they’ll find valuable. This thought can spiral into thinking too much about your audience and losing your authenticity because you’re thinking too much about what other people will think about your speech.

What I found really helpful as I was writing this speech was making it a learning process for me. I was fortunate to be writing a speech that was on a topic that I had significant expertise in – me! – but I think you can do it for any speech.

If you have a keen interest in the topic of the speech and you make it an opportunity to dive deeper into the topic or better structure your opinion of it, then you make it a much more exciting and pleasurable experience for you. The process of writing it becomes educational and sharing the speech with other people becomes a bonus!

So focus on the process, make it as valuable as possible for you, and you’ll be able to better detach yourself from the outcome of the speech (e.g. how it is received) which is the worry that many speakers have when giving a speech. If the audience loves it, then that’s just icing on the cake.


Give Yourself Plenty of Prep Time

I started brainstorming ideas for my speech about three weeks before the speech date. And I wish I had more time!

I had written any thought, insight, or anecdote related to the speech down in Evernote so I would be able to review them at a later date. This was a really helpful process because I began thinking about my speech early on and began to connect the dots on certain themes at that point. The end result was not the same as I had first imagined it as initial themes and anecdotes that I thought would work well were replaced by others. But it really did help “marinate” my ideas.

I think speech writing is such a fabulous opportunity to reflect and learn. So I’m really thankful that I had given myself plenty of time to research the topic and brainstorm anecdotes that I thought would be valuable for the students. So if you have the luxury of time, make sure you use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how your experiences have shaped who you are.

What are some of your speech writing experiences? What does your preparation process look like? Feel free to post below!

Personal Growth

Appleby College Homecoming 2015: My Chapel Service Speech

Achieving Success Through Failure

Why Students Who Fail Now Will Win The Future

Good morning! Thank you very much for having me here today. It’s a real honour to be back on the Appleby campus and be here with you.

Thank you to Dr. Carter, Reverend Lucock, and Mrs. Ford from the Alumni Relations Office for inviting me here today. I’d also like to acknowledge the alumni here for their 50th Year Reunion. What an amazing occasion… congratulations gentlemen!

It was Closing Ceremony in June, 2001. Because of the rain, we all had to move to the J.S. Gardiner arena for the ceremony. It was my second year at Appleby College and I was just about the graduate Middle 2.

Two years earlier, I had moved from my hometown in Kobe, Japan to Oakville and started my Middle 1 year at Appleby. The last couple of years had all been new territory for me. New friends, new environment, new school, new everything.

As the Closing Ceremony began to wrap up, the final part of the ceremony – the reading of the Honour Roll started. I remember the Honour Roll announcement to be an anxiety-ridden experience.

Back in Middle 2, my last name was Woschina so I literally had to wait until the very end to find out. Gorchynski, Jessani, Leung… I heard the names of my friends getting called up one by one. Until it came to – or what should have been my name – and…

Nothing. It was onto the Upper 1 Honour Roll.

I was devastated. Ashamed at myself! I looked at my mom. She looked confused. I was pretty sure she thought they must’ve forgot my name somehow.

It was a quiet ride back home. I went to my room after the ceremony and teared up. It was one of the toughest experiences at Appleby.

Failure. It’s such an ugly word and feeling. It’s one of those words that if we could avoid using… we try to at all cost. Failure means a step back from progress. Failure means that you weren’t good enough. Failure means that everyone else notices. Failure means you couldn’t live up to expectations.

It’s no wonder that culturally failure is so taboo. What’s the worst outcome for a test? Failure or, let’s just say, anything less than you or your parents expected. What’s the worst outcome for a job interview? Failure to get the job – not getting selected. What’s the worst outcome for asking your crush out on a date? Well, you might already know failure looks like for that.

But is that really true? Is failure such a bad thing? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s the reason why we live in a world with great inventions and ideas. It’s because of failure that we’re able to grow, and personally, the reason why I’m the person I am today.

Back in Upper School when I was a student the boys didn’t have a Softball team. Interest had ran out from the Seniors and the team was put on hiatus.

But I really wanted to play!

So I contacted Ms. Creelman who was the Director of Athletics at that time and asked her what it would take to start a softball team at Appleby. She told me I’d need to find a minimum of 10 guys to play by 4pm that day.

So that morning I rallied a handful of friends at the library -and told them I was starting a softball team and we had 6 hours to find guys for the team. Some of the guys I rallied had never even touched a baseball glove before.

At 3:50pm we all walked into the room that Ms. Creelman told us to meet at and at 3:55pm, we had our 10th player walk in. We had a team!

We also realized at that point that we needed a coach. So we literally went door to door around the school to ask teachers still in their offices to coach a softball team that had just been formed 10 minutes ago. We came across Mrs. Dodd’s office, saw her door ajar, 10 boys filled the room and pleaded her to coach us.

And Mrs. Dodd to her credit… (I’m pretty sure had no idea what was going in her office as we crowded into it) said she’d coach us.

That season we ended up making the playoffs on the last game of the year. It was incredible. And it would’ve never happened if a group guys and a couple of teachers didn’t take a chance on making it happen.

Appleby gave me a lot of opportunities to try things and take risks. And I learned valuable lessons with every opportunity. There is no better time than now to experiment, make mistakes, and take risks. You have such an incredibly supportive environment around you. And if you don’t know if there’ll be support for your idea, just ask. There’s no harm in trying and you might be surprised!

We often gloss over the failure that successful people have had in order to get where they are today.

Take Pablo Picasso, who painted more than a thousand paintings and you can probably only name three of them.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron wouldn’t even be household names for any of us if J.K. Rowling gave up after she received 12 rejections in a row for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

After 10,000 failed attempts, Thomas Edison finally developed what is now the modern lightbulb.

So we know it takes failure (sometimes multiple failures) to get to where we want to go. But I think we all still have a fear of it. And I think it’s because of the unknown. We fear failure because we don’t know what happens after we fail. We often picture failure as an ending point. It’s all over when we fail… when it can really be the start of something completely new and remarkable.

Seth Godin, one of the most influential business bloggers in the world, explains our resistance to failure this way,

“I think it’s fear, and I think we’re even afraid to talk about this sort of fear. Fear of art. Of being laughed at. Of standing out and of standing for something.”

Art, according to Godin, means creating and doing something you believe in. Something you’re passionate about. Something you know that if it existed in the world, the world would be a better place.

I believe that art is in all of us. The world – or right here at the Appleby Community – will be a better place if you can bring out the best version of who you are – the one who’s not afraid of taking risks. The YOU that can bring a smile to someone’s face, the YOU that can lift up the spirits of those less fortunate, the YOU that can be the next J.K. Rowling, Malala, or Steve Jobs if you didn’t let the fear of failure stop you.

I think we sometimes hide who are because we’re afraid that others will see us. And we’re afraid of exposing that. We’re afraid of failure.

But as we’ve seen, people who take risks, and realize that failure is the price of admission, are the ones that ultimately make a dent in this world. Average is easy. The world tomorrow will be ruled by people who create remarkable stuff.

Last October, I took a personal development program in Los Angeles to work on my confidence and communication skills. One of the activities that we had to do was to go out onto the streets of Hollywood alone and ask a stranger to write down the first three impressions they had of me and sign their name next to the first impressions.

I was pretty nervous. Even as an introvert, I generally enjoy engaging people in conversation but to stop a stranger in the middle of one of the busiest streets in America and ask them for their first three impressions of me was terrifying.

What if someone got annoyed at me? Angry even? What if a cop stopped me to ask me what I was doing? What if someone wrote something particularly mean or nasty? How would I cope with that rejection?

Over the course of two hours on the street, I collected 20 signatures. And to my surprise, the top three comments I received were Friendly/Nice with 12, Funny with 8, and Outgoing with 4. My highlight was actually having an actor dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean come up to me and write “very cool, clean cut, and handsome” as his first impressions of me.

The whole point of that activity, as our coaches explained afterwards, was to shake off the fear of rejection. By putting us into a situation where we were confronted with that possibility – in a really public space – we realized that the “other side” of rejection wasn’t too bad!

Yes, I had some people walk past me or ignore me but the confidence I gained from the majority of the people that had something nice to say about me made it worth facing the potential rejection. We put too much stock into failure and rejection that we diminish the benefits of the success or learning experience that we gain from giving it a shot.

So how do we make this actionable? How do we implement failure and learning from them more regularly in our lives? Here are three ideas that I’d like to share with you.

#1 – Don’t Blame Others (Take Responsibility)

There are so many situations and circumstances that may cause you to fail. The noisy neighbour’s dog keeping you up at night, the classmate that didn’t do his part for a project, the family emergency that pulled you away from completing the assignment.

Whatever the case might be, you ultimately have to take the responsibility. When you become the owner of your actions, you take responsibility for the learning experience. You can think about how you could’ve done things differently to avoid the same mistakes next time.

Next time, you can go over to the neighbour and mention the noisy dog, you can set better expectations with your classmate to help him complete his part of the project, or you could’ve have built in more buffer time for an assignment knowing that some sort of emergency can come up anytime.

When you take responsibility, you take responsibility for your life. People will respect you for it.

#2 – Daily Reflection (Putting Learning First)

I use a service everyday called TalkSpace where I have unlimited access to text or leave a voice message with a licensed therapist. I report to her about how my day went and go through a list of six questions and rate myself on a scale of 1 to 10. Here are the six questions I ask myself:

1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?

2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?

3. Did I do my best to find meaning today?

4. Did I do my best to be happy today?

5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?

6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

And we talk through them… without judgment. Somedays I do better and somedays I don’t. And there’s a reason why I start each question with “Did I do my best…” because it’s not about the result but about the effort I took to become a better version of myself that day.

Daily Reflection is about putting learning first. When you get the opportunity to reflect, you put things into perspective. The challenges you experienced that day make a little bit more sense. You develop compassion for yourself for mistakes you might’ve made.

If you can’t pay for a service like TalkSpace, find someone who is interested in spending a few minutes everyday to reflect or write in a journal. Both are fantastic alternatives.

#3 – Give Yourself Permission to Fail

Instead of looking at all situations as all or nothing. Win or lose situations. Give yourself permission to think of situations or challenges as a learning experience. Keep yours eyes open for new ways your could’ve prepared or executed. And above all, be okay if you do fail. It’s the learning that counts.

Over my career so far I’ve had to opportunity to work at a microcredit bank in Africa, led students on life-changing volunteer trips at Me to We and Free The Children, and worked at a leading billion-dollar technology company. And every single experience has taught me something new. I’ve had many failures like being passed over for a promotion not knowing exactly what I wanted to do in my life. But I want to assure you, the pain? the disappointment? It passes. You move on. And, as long as you learn from them, you get better.

At the company that I work for now, called Actionable Books, we’re changing how organizations learn and develop through bite-sized learning workshops. We have a small team of 8 people and we just received $2 million dollars in investment to help us grow our organization. It’s scary but exciting. We know there are going to be mistakes and failures that we’ll make along the way. But I know that I’ll be applying every lesson I’ve learned starting from here at Appleby to do my best to make it success.

Today’s special service is called the Founders Service. And it’s a tribute to the thousands of students who have passed through this very chapel and hallways of this school. A school that has been built on the genuine passion and energy of students and faculty who believe in the power of learning, character, and community.

This school, our school, is the school it is today because of those who have passed here before us. Let’s honour their legacy by living true to our school motto “Nec Temere, Nec Timide” – “Neither rashly nor timidly”. I challenge you all today to bring your art – your genuine passion and energy for something you believe – and don’t let the fear of failure get in your way. It’ll be the greatest tribute you can give to the generations of students who have come before us and help you build your own foundation during your time here.

Thank you.