Written by TKS Toronto student, Isabella Grandic.

How you train is how you perform.

I slap this quote everywhere. I think about it all the flipping time because it’s so TRUE.

If you snooze your alarm every morning, you’re not going to become better at waking up without an alarm.

If you’re unkind to the people around you, you won’t become kinder.

If you’re always late to hand in assignments, you’re not going to become better at not procrastinating.
I’ve spent the past two years relentlessly trying to become a better, kinder and smarter person. One thing I found so notoriously frustrating about self-help books, blogs, etc. was I didn’t know where to start.

I began experiencing the most growth when I started doing small things consistently.

When it comes to action items, I’m like a monkey with a banana. Thrilled and loving life.

Over the years, I’ve tried thousands of things. Here’s a compiled list of 77 small things you can do now.

🗣 Speaking & Conversations

Pause 2 seconds before you speak.

In your head, literally count “one, two.”

Don’t interrupt.

Interrupting, even if you agree with someone, makes them feel unimportant. We all hate getting interrupted. It breaks our train of thought.

But often pause while you speak so others can interrupt you.

There is nothing we love more than hearing our own voices, so let others hear theirs! Make long, deliberate pauses after your points, in case others want to respond/chime in.

Communicate with pauses and vocal fluctuations.

Have your voice + communication sound “interesting.” To keep the other’s ears engaged, ensure there’s no pattern in your speaking. Keep it interesting. Our ears demand variety in sounds. Keep your voice exciting!

This video says it better than I can:

End your voice on a low pitch.

If you end your sentences on a “high” pitch, you’ll seem skeptical of what you’re saying. End them on a lower pitch. You’ll sound more confident. As a girl, this has worked wonders when communicating with my male counterparts.

Know people’s names — say them often and correctly.

My last name is “Grandic” — you can use your imagination to think about the nicknames I got called in middle/high school 🙃. Very few people say my last name correctly. And those that do know because they asked how to say it. I can’t explain how happy it makes me feel when other people say my full name correctly, especially when I’m used to everyone getting it wrong. To everyone, their name is one of the most important words. Be respectful of it. Say it often. Say it right.

Learn how to give a firm handshake.

In my freshman year, I had an impactful drama teacher. I’ve learned so much from him. One of the first things I learnt is how to do a proper handshake. Look the other person in the eyes. Firmly grab their hand, but not too firmly. Generally, match their intensity. Shake three times.

Have strong eye contact.

Open your eyes widely and look into people’s eyes. I’ve struggled with this for years. But, it will change your relationships.

Avoid filler words.

“Yes,” “Um,” “Awesome,” “True,” “I agree,” “Really cool” — GET RID OF THEM. Don’t interrupt people with words that don’t mean much.

Think about it: if you were talking to the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, do you think they’d say “awesome” in the middle of your statement?

Don’t over-nod during conversations.

People will see you as unconfident, needy and trying to “please” them.

Especially as a girl, this has been a profound change.

Keep track of how + when you fidget — and build a plan to stop.

If you had a conversation with Obama, do you think he’d fidget? Throw his hands everywhere? Touch his hair? No.

It comes off as distracted.

Have the intention to listen to hear, not listening to speak.

Clear your mind. Don’t think about what you’re saying next. Actually, listenIf you do one thing from this blog, do this.

Summarize what people said after they’ve said it.

That way, the other person knows you were listening — and you get to ensure you caught everything.

Don’t argue with your sibling.

Or, if you’re really up for the challenge, don’t argue with your parents. Either way, this habit has helped me stop reacting to things that don’t need my attention. Although I want to point out the “stupid” things my brother is doing, I try not to.

Talk to someone with a totally different opinion than you have, and don’t argue.

Instead of arguing, try to understand. Try to talk less. Ask questions. Be curious.

Use more “?” than “.” in conversations.

Ask more questions. Talk less.

🤝Meetings

Be 5 min early to events/meetings.

Respect other people’s time.

Set clear goals before talking to people.

Respect people’s time. Set an agenda, have questions prepared, and do your research. Have an outcome you’re driving towards.

Close your computer tabs during calls.

Be as undistracted as possible, so you can centre your attention on the person you’re communicating with. Never multi-task — people will see the delay in your facial reactions, or that your eyes are flickering around.

💥Collaboration

Ask for other’s opinions before making a final decision.

Try not to let other people go unheard. Get everyone’s thoughts. I got this from the IKEA effect, which I highly recommend reading about. I’ll include a resource at the end.

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created. IKEA sells its furniture unassembled, not only because it’s cheaper, but because we “love” things we’ve built more than what others have built.

Mirror the other person’s body language.

When other people “act” like us, it’s like their part of our “tribe.” We’ll trust them more.

Don’t tell someone they’re wrong.

Humans hate being wrong. We actively try to cover up our “mistakes” with stories.

For example, if you failed a test, your mind would want to blame it on other circumstances. You failed the test because your mom made you stay up late. Or, because one kid was distracting you. Weird how things are never our faults 🤔.

Our brains are fundamentally uncomfortable with being wrong. So, trust me, the person you’re talking to will not like it when you say “you’re wrong.” They won’t change their original belief, but, they will change how much they like you.

Actively admit you’re wrong.

This is part of being vulnerable. It’s hard for us to admit our mistakes, which is why you should do it. You will create a safer environment to work in, and you’ll become more respected by your teammates.

Tell other people what they’re good at with specific examples.

Ideally, as soon as they exhibit that behaviour. Do this for any little thing you notice. This has helped me show my appreciation + love for other people, which leads to better relationships on the team. Everyone loves to be appreciated and feel important. You have the power to gift appreciation.

“Show” don’t “tell” feedback.

Go the extra mile. Don’t just critique, recreate. I once gave my friend extensive feedback on his blog — It probably came off as a little direct, but he didn’t like the feedback. So, I went in an implemented it and showed him the new blog post. He loved the feedback.

Sometimes we take criticism too personally, and we don’t understand that the other person is trying to help. Go the extra mile — show people that you’ll put in the effort and that you care.

Plus, “showing” rather than “telling” makes the next steps for the person more clear. Our brains are bad with uncertainty. When we see something in action, it feels more attainable.

Walk people through your process — not just your result.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made this mistake. Just because some derivation makes sense to you, does not mean that everyone else will understand. Everyones’ brains work differently. Bring people through your process. They will appreciate your result more, and they’ll be more likely to accept it. Even better, they may notice a flaw or offer a new way of doing things. You could end up with a better result.

📝 Written Communication

Avoid long sentences and commas (,)

Try to communicate with more sentences. Don’t make things over-complicated laundry lists.

Avoid sending/publishing your first draft.

Writing is about re-writing. Editing is probably more important than writing the first draft.

👯‍Putting other people first

Work in terms of other people’s timezones and preferences.

In general, work in terms of other people whenever you can.

Use “you” instead of “I.”

Work in terms of other people. Ensure your emails (and all communication, for that matter) have “you” written more than “I.” Think about their incentive.

Ex. “I would like this task to be complete by Friday.” →

“What do you think about completing this by Friday? Will that work with your schedule? Let me know if you need help or support.”

Make things about the other person. They’ll love you for it.

Insist on the other person choosing a low stakes decisions.

Insist. Don’t give up. Hold tight. Give the other person control.

You can start by doing this for ordering food with another person. Let them choose the place.

Develop a habit of writing things from other people’s perspectives.

You might find it difficult to empathize with other people entirely. It may come “unnaturally.”

I’ve worked around this by writing down what it’s like to be the other person. It helps to view things from their perspective and write it out since you can be more “thoughtful” about it.

Put your empathy on paper if it doesn’t come naturally.

💌 Emotional Control

Wait for 24h to respond to a message that makes you sad or angry.

After 24h, you’ll typically settle down. You’ll be in the right headspace to reply.

Wait for 24h before you send a message while you’re sad or angry.

Again, wait till you’re in the right mental space.

When in doubt, ask, “Is that so?” with curiosity.

“Is that so?” is an instant way to end the conversation.

Ex. “Isabella, you would look a lot nicer if you did x,y,z.”

“Is that so?”

They won’t have much to say, and the conversation can just move on.

Write emotional letters, and don’t mail them.

With a pen and paper, write down your feelings. Let them out! If you have lingering emotions, this will help get them out without making things worse.

Sometimes it’s helpful to write letters forgiving other people. You can mail these, or not. It just helps get rid of long-suppressed feelings.

I try to write letters once a month. I never mail them.

❣️Kindness

Try to hug someone once a day.

Hugging is important for your health.

Smile at the grocery store.

… and everywhere. People don’t smile enough. People don’t get smiled at enough. You can change someone’s day by smiling at them. I started developing a habit of smiling by using grocery stores as a “trigger” to smile ear to ear.

Leave notes with your tips.

When you tip someone (financially), leave a nice note. Say “I hope your family is well,” or something along those lines.

I try to go the extra mile. Leave notes with tips. It’ll take a few extra seconds, and it will make the tip 10x more appreciative.

Say please and thank you sincerely.

I’m trying to build the habit of typing “please” instead of abbreviating it to something like “pls.”

Use the mail!

Again, practice going the extra mile. Sending a letter is more thoughtful than sending a text. My friend & I started communicating solely via mail — and it’s strengthened our relationship.

Don’t bash compliments.

Accept compliments. Thank people for them. It feels awful when you compliment someone and they “ignore it” to be polite, but they don’t end up saying thank you.

It can be the most awkward thing ever, but be kind. Thank the other person. Don’t make them feel stupid for complimenting you.

Talk kindly to Alexa, Siri and Google.

I used to scream at my Alexa. But then I thought, “If I can’t talk to Alexa in a civilized way, how can I get better at talking to others in a civilized way?”

It might seem odd, but practice being kind to everyone, including your artificial intelligence voice system. Remember, how you train is how you perform.

🧠 Mental Clarity

Start the day with meditation.

Make it non-negotiable. If you leave your meditation until later, you might never get to it. I got this advice when I interviewed Director X, and I never looked back.

Have a “messy” and “clean” notebook.

I always have a legal pad [amazon], and a nice notebook [amazon].

My nice notebook has my goals for the day, my more structured thoughts and is generally really “clean.”

My legal pad is a mess. It’s where I dump my thoughts and brainstorm.

This helps me:

  1. Keep my goals and thoughts structured (in my nice notebook)
  2. Empty my brain when needed (on my legal pad)
  3. Take quick notes (on my legal pad)

It’s limiting to always “format notes nicely.” But it’s also limiting to have all your notes as unstructured scribbles.

Write everything on your mind on paper at the start of the day.

I try to do this every morning. I sit and empty my head onto my legal sheet. Start your day with a fresh mind, not one cluttered with junk and useless thoughts. SCRIBBLE.

Write things for yourself.

I always try to publish and share. It’s limiting. I used to share all my reflections to all the people I trusted. I was sharing so often, that I wasn’t letting myself genuinely think about how I actually felt.

Because I was sharing, I knew people would read my thoughts, so I tried to “perfect” them.

I’ve since made an effort to write private thoughts, that no one will ever see, every day. While still sharing thoughts with other people.

When you’re distracted/away from the present moment, think about the sensation of your toes.

This sounds like a silly one, but it works wonders. All you need to do is bring your attention to the sensation of your toes. This brings your attention to your entire body as it travels down to your feet. Whenever I find myself drifting in thought, or not being present, I think about my toes which “wakes” my attention up.

Have a go to crying song.

Don’t keep things bottled. When I feel upset, I usually just blast chasing cars and go on a walk.

💝 Self-love

Do mirror affirmations.

Yes, actually talk to yourself in the mirror. It works.

Look yourself in the mirror and pep-talk yourself. Say something kind. Empower yourself.

Walk yourself like a dog.

Schedule time in your week to go on walks to think.

📚 Books

You don’t have to finish books.

I learned this 1.5 yrs ago, and it has since completely changed how I read books. It’s not about finishing the books you start. Read the books you need. The books that give you value.

Buy your books.

Look, I’ve tried kindle. It can be convenient. But, I still haven’t found that it replaces the joy of a physical book.

Mark up your books.

I always have a pen next to me when I read a book. This helps me read actively. And it makes re-reading easier. Again, you need to buy your books to mark them up.

Read chapters twice before moving on.

When you finish a valuable chapter in an addictive book, one of the least-intuitive things to do is to re-read it instead of reading the next chapter.

Hear me out. Just try it. Next amazing chapter you read, re-read it right away.

💻 Digital

Make your phone background photos meaningful.

Whenever I want to work on something, I make it my lock screen.

Delete apps you don’t use.

Don’t clutter your phone (or any part of your life, for that matter).

Learn to type properly.

Grab a marker and do this:

Have a compose-only email tab.

This is a tab where you can compose an email without getting distracted by your inbox.

Use this link, and sign in to your email to set up.

Automatically have your devices on do not disturb mode for the day.

Game. Changer.

Set your phone in black and white.

Your phone’s colours are bright and addictive. Putting it in B&W makes it all the less interesting. Here’s an article on how to do that.

🏘 Physical Environment

Reorganize your spaces.

I LOVE re-arranging furniture and cleaning rooms. I thrive off of novelty. If you’re someone that likes trying new things, I recommend experimenting with your living space.

Have water next to your bed.

So it’s the first thing you do in the morning. Start on a hydrated note.

Don’t sleep with electronics in your room.

For the past two months, I haven’t slept with my computer or phone in my room. If you’ve made it this far in this article — I’m telling you right now, this is the thing to do. Commit to it. You’ll start and end your day on a happier note.

Buy an un-snoozable alarm.

With your electronics out of your room… you’ll need a way to get up. Here’s an alarm clock that doesn’t have a snooze button.

🥅 Goals & Working

Block your days into “themes.”

Instead of doing several different things in one day, I try to give my days themes. Each day I can stay focused, and I get more done at the end of the week — and I feel better.

Have physical space “themes.”

For me, different rooms have different purposes. When I enter a room, I use it as a physical signal to focus on a specific priority. You can also section priorities within a room. For example, in my bedroom I sleep on my bed, do school work on my desk, and read books on my chair.

You can only have three priorities.

If you’re working on more than 3 “priorities,” you likely won’t do them all well. Do less achieve more.

Do things that take <2 mins right away.

Don’t wait until later. If you bought the alarm clock, you’re ahead of the game.

Write down why your tasks or goals matter before starting them.

If I am feeling unmotivated to do something, I start by reminding myself why I’m doing it. And not the surface level why. The “big” why.

Example: Feeling unmotivated to finish my biology assignment.

Why this matters: I need it to finish my biology course.

Why this matters: I need my course to graduate high school.

Why this matters: I need to finish high school to go to university.

Why this matters: I am pursuing my education so I can one day help impact people and solve problems.

Now, it’s not some bio assignment due in 3 days. It’s a step towards my journey of impacting people.

Take breaks based on results, not effort.

I’ve never been a Pomodoro guru. I usually “take a break” after I’ve achieved an outcome. This alone tripled my productivity over the years.

Put money on the line.

If you really want to do something, bet on yourself. Give a friend $1000 that they can cash in if you fail at x,y,z.

Don’t wear PJs all day.

This one is extra tough during the quarantine. I find myself more prepared for my day when I FEEL more prepared. When I FEEL put together, clean and sleek. Is it just me?

Try to be early in all your actions.

This includes sending newsletters, delivering deadlines, etc. At the least, be on time. Practice being early. How you train is how you perform.

🤓 Learning

Spend each week learning about another successful person — emulate them.

I’ve been doing this for almost two years now. Each week, have a person to research and learn something from them. Great examples to start with: Derek Sivers, Sara Blakely and Mathilde Collins.

Re-write, remake, replicate — the best way to start learning.

Re-do what the best have already done. To learn technical subjects, I like to re-write and re-draw their papers in my own words.

Teach others.

I use medium as my teaching ground. You’ll find a way that works best for you.

Buy a whiteboard

Buying a whiteboard was one of the top 10 investments I’ve ever made.

🍀 Resources

The Charisma Myth [book]

How to win friends and influence people [book]

Getting to yes [book]

Some of my top self-improvement resources [Supplementary Read]

Setting good goals [Supplementary Read]

IKEA Effect [Supplementary Read]

Hugging is important for your health. [Supplementary Read]

Compose-only email [Email hack]

Make your phone B&W [Phone hack]

Buying a whiteboard [Amazon]

Un-snoozeable alarm [Amazon]

Legal Pad [Amazon]

Notebook [Amazon]