“Motivation is what gets you started, but habits are what keep you going.” My mother hit me with this pointer on the phone last week during our regular call on my commute to work, proving yet again that moms really do know best. That catchphrase stuck with me throughout my day, leading me to consider my own habits and how they’ve played a role in my personal and professional life. It comes to this: The biggest misconception about success is that what you did yesterday will help you succeed tomorrow. We need a solid foundation to improve, but to truly become the best version of yourself, you need to keep innovating. It’s a bit of catch-22 — habits give you direction, but when routines become habitual? Not always a great thing. The key to propelling forward is to continue learning, exploring, experimenting, and, you know, letting your brain just think. Freely without constraints. Push yourself by developing these nine simple habits that don’t feel habitual at all.

Lauren McGoodwin is the Founder of Career Contessa, an online career development and mentorship platform for women. Through expert career advice, one-on-one career counseling, online workshops, and job listings, Career Contessa gives you the resources to find a job you love—and be successful in it.

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Tune into podcasts

Does your commute to and from work feel like a complete waste of valuable time? It doesn’t have to be. Podcasts are all the rage right now, and for good reason: they deliver a quick dose of knowledge in a convenient way on a variety of topics. So, stop calling Mom and instead try these 9 podcasts to help jumpstart a smarter commute today.

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Keep a journal

Turns out journaling isn’t just for waxing poetic about your 8th grade crushes or high-school nemesis. Taking a few minutes each day to reflect in writing has been proven to boost your brainpower. Grab a journal (or plain old composition notebook) and start tracking the following each day:

  • What you did or accomplished today
  • What you hope to accomplish tomorrow/this week
  • What you need to do less of this week/month

Reflecting on each month’s goals and accomplishments and writing a quick recap summary can improve happiness, confidence, and overall intelligence.

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Replace Netflix with online learning

Every break you take doesn’t have to involve checking social media or binging on Game of Thrones. The internet is also filled with awesome online learning tools. My current go-to is Skillshare because I can learn fun lifestyle skills or business skills that might, you know, help me increase my salary down the road. It’s a win-win if you can nourish your brain and advance your career at the same time.

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Say no

You can’t boost your personal or professional well being if you’re a “yes woman.” Creating healthy emotional and physical boundaries gives mentally strong people the room they need to grow. Even when they may disappoint others, smart women are still willing to say no as necessary.

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Sleep in more

Nope, that wasn’t a typo. According to a recent Career Contessa article, research shows that aligning work days around employees natural sleep cycles actually makes them more productive and innovative. Specifically, they’re “more focused, less stressed, and generally healthier.” One study found there are even implications regarding our honesty: “Night owls behave more unethically in the morning than at night and… early birds were more unethical at night.” The bottom line is: if you’ve never been a morning person, flex hours might be exactly what you need to up your productivity and make your work smarter.

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Hang out with people smarter than you

Believe it or not, socializing and working with people who are more experienced then you are is one of the fastest ways to learn. I personally experienced this working at an early stage start-up and it’s one of the reasons I now work out of a co-work space each day. A willingness to learn is one of the best personal and professional habits so learn it early and use it often.

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Take a Zumba class

There’s working out, and then there’s Zumba. Learning choreographed dance moves improves your intelligence by keeping your exercise active, instead of passive. A  2012 study showed that Latin-style dance like Zumba “improves mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making.” More research confirms that dance “helps reduce stress, increases levels of serotonin, and helps develop neural connection, especially in regions involved in executive function, long-term memory, and spatial recognition.” Why? Because you aren’t just going through the motions, like running. The extra bonus is that a Zumba class goes by much faster than your daily run because there is literally no time to look at the clock! Again, I’ve personally tested this one.

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Do random new things

If Zumba isn’t up your alley, I’d still recommend finding at least one random new thing to try each month. I recently heard a story on the Fizzle Podcast about a guy working as a dishwasher in a restaurant who decided to take a job at a butcher shop so he could learn a few things about the industry. Well, now that guy runs a few very successful restaurants that focus on high-quality cuts of meat. The takeaway: You never know what will be useful ahead of time. You just need to try new things and wait to see how they connect with the rest of your experiences later on.

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Set aside time to do nothing at all

It’s no surprise that productivity experts recommend giving yourself space for your brain to process what it’s learned. Take some downtime from mental stimulation by practicing meditation or sit silently and reflect. A little solitude is essential to your well-being.

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Comments (22)
  1. 1
    Holly I Schlickbernd June 17, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Love this post! I just started a bullet journal and love it! Great way to track not only my thoughts and ideas, but also helps keeping track of what I have done and need to do.

  2. 2
    Laura Mareno June 18, 2016 at 4:49 am

    I love doing Zumba! It’s so much fun! love this post! kisses:D


  3. 3
    Diana June 18, 2016 at 10:54 am

    The best thing I’ve discovered recently are podcasts! I love listening to them when I’m getting ready in the morning 🙂

    Diana | http://www.thechicdiary.com

  4. 4
    Klaudia June 18, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you so much for Skillshare! I have never heard about this website. This website is very, very useful. 😉
    Sorry for my English. 🙂

  5. 5
    susan June 18, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    I love these ideas! Sometimes doing nothing is just what I need….usually involves reading a good book.


  6. 6
    jayhazelwood June 19, 2016 at 1:47 am

    Unrelated but I love your opt-in popup. I love the “are you on the list” concept. Great work on that, nice take on the opt-in.

    • Jennifer Rose Smith June 19, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks, Jay! I designed it. We hope you will sign up for our newsletter — it only comes once a month and we work hard to make it really juicy and fun.

  7. 7
    Cinnamon June 19, 2016 at 2:20 am

    Doing new things is my goal for this summer because I don’t really like Zumba. I will check out the website for skills, though.

  8. 8
    ahsknaka June 19, 2016 at 5:59 am

    Great tips.

    x https://footlooseheels.wordpress.com/

  9. 9
    hannah lucy June 19, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Loved this, especially the point about learning new things online!

    Hannah | Oh January

  10. 10
    Sanchari Das June 19, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Will definitely try them all to stick to my goals ..

  11. 11
    Mrs. Shockley June 19, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    This was excellent!

  12. 12
    Caroline Wilhite June 20, 2016 at 1:28 am

    I’ve really need to work on three of those: saying no, sleep and doing nothing. I’m booked up for the next couple months, but I’m still squeezing clients into my schedule, especially if they’re friends. I have to convince myself that sleep is not a waste of time. This post helps! Thank you! Doing nothing – can that include cutting my split ends?

  13. 13
    Epitome of now @BYEM June 21, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Yes – habits are so worth it. A great read is “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”. The same author has also written a great book on productivity which uses amazing examples and is really motivating. 🙂

    Scandinavian Slow Fashion coming soon to http://www.byem.com
    Our Conscious Journal at http://www.epitomeofnow.byem.com

  14. 14
    Jewelle Carroll June 21, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    So nice finding this today, it inspired me to actually pick up my journal and write since i’ve bin neglecting it for the past couple months.

    • Camille Styles June 22, 2016 at 6:26 am

      That’s wonderful – so happy to hear, Jewelle!

  15. 15
    Career Contessa June 27, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Love that people are finding my advice helpful! Thank you for sharing!

  16. 16
    Mary July 23, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Podcast and audible books are my to go too before I pick up the phone to call anyone ,except for my mom because moms no matter what are a blessing !

  17. 17
    Susan Lund November 1, 2016 at 11:21 am

    So, call me slow, but I don’t see the post? I don’t get how this blog is set up. I see post headings and opening paragraphs, and links to everything else, but no way to actually get to the article indicated by the title. Where is it?

    • Camille Styles November 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm

      Hi Susan! Just keep scrolling past the intro paragraph and the next slides should appear. Maybe try slowing down a little to give it time to load. 🙂

  18. 18
    Michelle Miller November 5, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Love your list! so helpful but just want to say, don’t stop calling Mom… you don’t know how long she’ll be there and it’s so important

  19. 19
    Julie February 27, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Great list!! Thanks for the reminder and it’s a coincidence that I am working thru a few of these things. I just signed up for a Saturday class! I chose an app/YouTube HASfit which is great if you like to work out at home on YouTube it’s free! Fits with the financial detox article. Lol! I really enjoy all that you do, sometimes I feel a little old for the posts at 46, but overall it is a good reminder that life coaching is impactful at all stages of life. (I might put that in my new journal!)