How Reading Stories can Change Your Outlook

Katie Corbett holds the book, "One Minute Millionaire"

By Katie Corbett

It’s important to vary the kinds of books you read. Reading different types of material will help you stay engaged, keep learning and retain new ideas. I discovered this at one of the lowest points of my life.

When I picked up, “The One-Minute Millionaire,” by Mark Victor Hansen and Robert G. Allen, I was broke. None of my job interviews were panning out and I didn’t know what to do next. The book was interesting to me for two reasons: (1) who doesn’t want to be a millionaire, and (2) it was laid out in a unique way. The right-side pages are written telling a fictional story of a person who becomes a millionaire. The left-hand pages are organized into standalone lessons for implementing the system and becoming a millionaire yourself. Words, phrases and page numbers from the left side of the book are referenced throughout the story on the right. Since I was in such a dark place in my life, I read the story first.

I was relieved when the fictional story held my attention for an extended period of time. I was so stressed by my current circumstances that it felt good to escape into someone else’s life for a while. While reading the book didn’t immediately improve my finances, it fought off the fear and anxiety I felt so I could tackle the problem more creatively and positively.

At a time when it would have been easy to get analysis paralysis, reading a story helped me keep learning. I learned that my mindset and staying positive were very important, and that I could change my mindset no matter how much—or how little–money I had in the bank. Reading about a fictional character struggling through her own negative self-talk made me feel less alone and I learned, through her relatable, albeit fictional example, how to change thought patterns in the midst of everyday life and personal struggles.

Reading in story form allowed me to retain new ideas better than if I were simply reading a step-by-step guide. It has been three years since I first picked up “The One-Minute Millionaire.” I have not read it every day or even referred back to it many times at all. Yet I am constantly putting its ideas and principles into practice each day in my life, career and business. I know I would not have retained the information nearly as well if it hadn’t been delivered in such an entertaining and engaging fashion.

I’m not a millionaire yet. I’m on my way to getting there. I know I wouldn’t be on this journey without having first read “The One-Minute Millionaire.” I encourage you to pick up a copy, suspend any doubt, fear or skepticism as you read, and prepare to be amazed at your own ingenuity and resourcefulness.

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Be Disciplined: Food and Impulse Control

Katie Corbett holds the book "Perfectly Yourself"

By Katie Corbett

Last night, I ate a dessert that had about 1500 calories. For the past 17 months, I’ve been trying to lose weight. You might think that the afore-mentioned dessert would not make me feel victorious, but it does. Here’s why.

In “Perfectly Yourself,” author Matthew Kelly explains that discipline, especially when it comes to appetite and impulse control, results in greater happiness. I’m inclined to agree, and what has worked for me during my weight-loss journey illustrates that point.

Lesson 1: Do something dramatic to kick-start your progress. I started with The Slow-Carb Diet, as presented in “The 4-Hour Body,” by Tim Ferriss. It involves consuming at least 20 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, avoiding all sugars and white foods, drinking lots of water, and eating no fruit, for six days per week. The seventh day is Cheat Day, and you can eat anything you want on that day. I did this for three weeks. Afterward, I knew I could do anything.

Lesson 2: Track what matters. Each week since I started slow-carb, I’ve been measuring inches. This is more effective than weight because I can see where fat is on my body. (This is also in “The 4-Hour Body” if you want to look it up and learn how.)

Lesson 3: When you’re running out of steam, get help. After I went as far as I could with the Slow-Carb approach, I didn’t want to just gain all the weight right back. I found a product that assisted in appetite suppression and fat-burning, and used that for another six weeks or so. This kept my weight-loss going, and helped me get used to avoiding sweets without keeping a death-grip on my self-control. After I didn’t have sweets for a while, I just got used to not eating them, and they have become less appealing to me.

Lesson 4: Find a workout you love. Throughout this process, I have experimented with all kinds of exercises, and have tried working out both at the gym and at home. I’ve tried swimming, high-intensity interval training, sit-ups, and in the end, running. Running won out as my favorite way to exercise, since its practical, I feel like I’m accomplishing something and moving forward with each workout, and I have a Couch to 5-K plan I use to keep me on track. All I have to do is push play on the PodRunner podcast and do whatever I’m told.

Lesson 5: Keep incorporating little changes into your life to add up to big results. Each day, I leave at least 12 hours between dinner the night before and breakfast the next morning. I drink my tea without added sugar or honey. I try to eat sweets only one day per week. I take measurements on Saturdays to track my progress. Little things are easier to do, and I know I will keep moving forward.

So, as you can probably guess, that dessert I mentioned is a sign of victory because I fully intended to eat it. I knew what I was doing and didn’t mindlessly scarf it down. And I’ll tell you, it was one of the best pieces of chocolate cake I have had in a while.

In what area can you be more disciplined? What are some steps, small or big, that you can take to get there? How will you track progress? Where will you go for help? I’d love to know, so leave a comment. Remember that anything you do to get yourself closer to this self-mastery will help in all areas of your life. And if you decide, as I did many times, that something just isn’t for you, keep trying new things until you find what works.

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Simplify Life: Say “No”

By Katie Corbett

Like many, I enjoy being helpful. There comes a point, however, when my helpfulness to others isn’t helpful to me. I get to a point where I feel like I’m doing things because I feel obligated. I have learned that it is better to simplify my life in order to make the most impact.

As Matthew Kelly suggests in “Perfectly Yourself,” saying no to commitments can be one way to get simplicity in your life. I have found learning to say no to be liberating, because it helps me select what is most important to me and do that. Also, when I say no to one thing, it leaves open space for something better to come along.

Some questions I ask to evaluate opportunities are:

• How does this opportunity align with my personal or professional goals?
• What about this opportunity intrigues me?
• Is there anything about this opportunity that I’m unsure or not excited about? Why?
• What amount of time, energy and/or other resources am I willing to commit?
• Do I like the people I will be working with on this project?
• What does successful project completion look like to me?
• In what ways will I evaluate this project along the way to ensure it is in line with my expectations?
• What will I need to give up or change in order to make room for this project in my life?
• What are my deal-breakers?
• Why do I think I’m the best person to carry out this project?

Asking these questions helps me narrow down what I am and am not willing to commit to taking on. Keeping my own priorities in mind helps me evaluate opportunities and say yes to those I truly want, and no to those that don’t serve me well. I’ve learned that if you think a project is going to be a total headache, it probably will, so best get out while you still can.

Leaving in the midst of a project can be one of the hardest things you have to do. I have needed to back out on a few occasions, either because my circumstances changed or because the project turned out to be dramatically different than I expected. I have found that if backing out is done with grace, kindness and good will to those still involved, everyone will understand and feelings will be less likely to get hurt. And after the hard work of being honest with yourself and others about what you can handle, you will find room in your life for what you truly enjoy.

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Celebrate your Progress

Katie Corbett holds the book "Perfectly Yourself"

By Katie Corbett

I love setting goals. While this means I keep moving forward, I often lose track of what I have accomplished thus far. It turns out, acknowledging and celebrating progress is the key to staying motivated.

In Matthew Kelly’s book, “Perfectly Yourself,” suggestions are given for how to recognize your achievements. Some of the methods I have found helpful are:

Keeping a List of Goals: As I cross each item off my list, and review my list at the end of each day or week, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as I track how far I’ve come.
Involve Others: When I set a goal, such as getting a prototype made of the garment project I’m working on, I told a few trusted friends about the project and gave them a call when the prototype was finished. It was fun hearing how excited they were as, together, we celebrated completion of this step in my project.
Rewarding Myself: When I was in high school, I didn’t always like doing my homework. I did, however, like playing the guitar. On days when I was particularly unmotivated to do my homework, I promised myself that I wouldn’t play the guitar until my homework was done. This not only gave me incentive to finish, but also gave me a way to celebrate at the end.
Taking Time to Reflect on Past Achievements: I was recently at a career workshop where we were asked to list the five accomplishments of which we were the most proud. Doing this reminded me that I had created a CD demo of songs I wrote when I was seventeen, and wrote a rough draft of a novel while in college. Remembering these activities gave me a sense of celebration as I looked back at what I had achieved.
Making Celebration a Part of the Plan: When I start a particularly daunting project, I decide in advance how I’m going to celebrate once I’m finished. My Chief Financial Officer and I recently finished the incorporation paperwork for our garment company. To celebrate, we got together and had mimosas. It was fun to acknowledge this achievement, and now we are sufficiently ready to move on to next steps.

Celebrating success is important, and doing so takes forethought and effort. What are some accomplishments you would like to celebrate? How can you put celebration into your plan of action? What can you do periodically to reflect on past achievements?

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Feeling Stuck? Just Do the Next Right Thing

Katie Corbett holds the book "Perfectly Yourself"

By Katie Corbett

If you’ve ever had a big dream, you’ve also likely had a feeling of anxiety or downright fear that you couldn’t accomplish it. In addition to using the “Fear-Setting” technique developed by Tim Ferriss, I have also found that continuing to move forward is the best way to push passed that fear. Getting started can be the hardest thing you will ever do.

In his book, “Perfectly Yourself,” author Matthew Kelly says that just doing the next right thing is a great way to hold yourself accountable to your goals and keep yourself on track. I have especially found this to be true whenever I’ve felt stuck. Some questions I have used to plot my next move are:

• Where do I want to go? What is my end-goal?
• What is the next step I can take to move me closer to achieving my goal?
• If I don’t know the steps, what can I read or who can I talk to in order to find out?
• If I don’t personally know anyone who has achieved this dream, how can I find such a person?
• If I do know what my next step is but want help, who would be the best person to help me?
• What is the next specific action I can take now to move forward?

When I started my garment project, for instance, I knew that my first step was defining what I was going to create. I knew I needed a seamstress, but didn’t know anyone personally who could help. Then, my first step became finding such a person. I reached out to some friends and to some local entrepreneurial groups on Facebook, seeking recommendations. That was it. That was all I did before I considered this project started. That was the next right thing. After that, the momentum of thanking those who had given seamstress recommendations and reaching out to the seamstresses they recommended was all I had to do. From there, the ball kept rolling.

What is your big dream? What is the next right thing you need to do in your life? Often, we already know what the answer is, and all we need is to take action to get started.

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Defying the Norm: Make Friday your Most Productive Day

Katie Corbett holds the book "I Know How She Does It."

By Katie Corbett

Friday. It’s the workday that signals, for many, the start of the weekend, a day to celebrate, a time to let loose and relax. It comes as no surprise, then, that it is the least productive day of the workweek. I wanted to change that for myself, since, for me anyway, there’s no worse feeling than getting done with work and realizing I didn’t accomplish anything. Goal-oriented much? I know, but bear with me.

In Laura Vanderkam’s book, “I Know How She Does It,” there are several tips suggested to improve productivity. I have taken her suggestions and modified them so they fit my productivity needs. These ideas helped me ensure Friday was a day of the week when I definitely got work done.

1. Set Deadlines for Friday: In my work as a writer, I need to submit articles, content plans and fundraising copy to my manager. Setting my deadlines for Fridays gives me time to get everything done on a day when I’m less likely to get interrupted or have meetings.
2. Plan Weekly Goals on Friday: Laura Vanderkam stresses that to move forward, it is a good idea to plan goals in three areas of life—career, relationships, and self. When I worked at a company with fewer deadlines or where I didn’t have as much control over my schedule, I found it helpful to plan my personal, career and relationship goals on Friday afternoons. This meant I was spending otherwise unproductive time moving my life forward.
3. Work Fewer Hours Each Week: I currently work 25 hours per week at my writing job. That’s typically 5 hours per day, 5 days per week. This means I have 25 hours to get everything done, and that I have to use all of that time efficiently and effectively. Working this schedule requires me to focus and accomplish tasks every day, even on Fridays.
4. Start and Stop Work at The Same Time Each Day: While there are occasionally days when I need to stay late, I typically start work at 9 a.m. and am done by 2:30 p.m. each workday. This spreads out the work among all 5 workdays of each week. It also means I don’t have the luxury of staying late to get last-minute projects finished
5. Be Intentional About How to Spend Time and Energy: In the mornings, I’m much fresher and my mind is ready for intense work, such as writing articles. In the afternoons, I’m in a more relaxed mental state, so making edits to documents, conducting interviews, and meeting with others to brainstorm for upcoming projects is a better use of my time. Following this pattern every day of the workweek makes Fridays just as productive as the earlier weekdays.

In what area can you defy the norm? How can you incorporate better use of your time and energy? If you have a trick that is working for you, feel free to leave a comment so others can benefit.

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Moving Forward: Planning Goals Each Week

Katie Corbett holds the book "I Know How She Does It."

By Katie Corbett

When going through life day-to-day, it can be hard to see the ways in which we have moved forward. Progression, however, is a criterion necessary for satisfaction. Otherwise, how will we know we are heading in the direction we want to go? How will we be confident we are taking solid, concrete steps to get us there?

I first found a strategy for addressing forward momentum in Laura Vanderkam’s Ted Talk, and she mentions it in her book “I Know How She Does It,” as well. She says to develop 3 goals in each of 3 areas of life: career, relationships and self. Do this at around the same time each week. Laura suggests Friday afternoons, since Friday afternoons are the least productive time of the workweek. I have found this strategy very helpful in moving forward in these important areas of life, though I found that planning on Sunday afternoon or evening works better for me, since sometimes I set goals for events or items I have planned for that weekend. I write my goals on my phone, since I always have it with me. This makes it easier to review my goals throughout the week.

One of the many benefits I have gained from this practice is pushing myself to do things that scare me, but are necessary to making progress. As an example, I needed to order materials for the product I’m developing. This involved calling a fabric retailer in Chicago, which seemed intimidating at the time. Because I had it on my goals list, however, I talked myself into making the call.

Now, I’m not perfect, and there are weeks I don’t accomplish everything on my list. If it comes time to set next week’s goals and I realize there is a goal I did not achieve, I ask myself if the goal is still something I want to accomplish and, if so, add it to the list for the next week.

Another thing I will mention is the importance of setting goals that don’t depend on the actions of others to accomplish. Instead of writing “Have conversation with my sister,” I would write, “Send a text message to my sister.” That way, all I have to do is send the text. If she doesn’t reply, or says she is too busy for a chat, I will still have met my goal because I reached out to her.

Just as an example, my goals for this week are:

• Career: (1) Meet with friend to brainstorm ways to reach employees of a certain company who might benefit from career coaching; (2) Take the minutes for the staff meeting at work; (3) Contact paralegal for product development paperwork status.
• Relationships: (1) Praise hubby for 10 things he does well; (2) Go to networking event on Thursday; (3) Go to girls’ night on Tuesday.
• Self: (1) Read at least 1 fiction book; (2) Give dog her medicine Saturday night; (3) Call for information about conference discount.

What goals will you set this week for your career, relationships and self? When will you write them down? Where will you write them down? Do they rely on the actions of others to achieve, or is their accomplishment solely dependent on you? Have fun with this activity. If done consistently, you will start to see yourself intentionally making progress toward living the life you want.

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Achieving Balance: Make the Most of the Time you Have

Katie Corbett holds the book "I Know How She Does It."

By Katie Corbett

No person wants to feel like one area of their life is dominating over all others. I first had this experience when I was working a data entry job fresh out of college. I went from primarily spending my time how I liked to being at the same location for nine hours a day, five days per week, doing work I didn’t enjoy. This period of my life forced me to manage my time better during off-hours.

I didn’t read time management expert Laura Vanderkam’s book, “I Know How She Does It,” until a couple years after leaving that first job, but she makes many points I have found to be true and have made more of an effort to apply to my life. She first points out that every week consists of 168 hours, so there is a lot of time not spent at work. I spent 45 hours at the office and 7 hours sleeping per night, resulting in about 49 hours of sleep. That meant I had 74 hours free the rest of the week. Making the most of that time is the best way to fit everything in to live a full life.

One way I made the most of my off-hours was to take charge of my commute. Since I’m blind and cannot drive, I either hired a driver or took public transportation to work. I found that taking the bus was ideal, since I could listen to audiobooks on my daily commute. Taking the bus also meant I needed to leave at the same time every morning, so I had to head out the door and be ready bright and early. As a result, I made a point to plan what I was going to wear and have for lunch the night before. Taking the bus also involved a walk from my home to the bus stop, and another walk from the bus stop to work. This brisk exercise, repeated for my commute home after work, was a great way to get outside and move, even just for a few minutes each day.

What area could you take charge of each day to make yourself more productive? In what ways could you make the most of your time when not at work? Share any suggestions in the comments. I look forward to reading them!

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