It was my birthday yesterday and if you haven’t already guessed, I turned a super young age of 20 (plus tax). As a tradition, I like to reflect back on my year and think about the things that I’ve learned in the past year. Some things need repeating from year to year and other things are interesting challenges that I have faced.

Without further ado, I hope you learn some things from my reflection:

1. Stretching is becoming increasingly important for me

Everybody knows how important exercise is but as I get older, I am noticing that I do not recover just as quickly as when I was younger — I have aches and pains in different places on my body that I never noticed before and I know that when I was younger, if I had something bothering me, the next day, it would go away. Not so nowadays. So even though I do focus on exercising at least 3–5 times a week, I also now spend a bit of time warming up, stretching and cooling down — so much so that I’ve experimented with night time yoga / stretches so that I can improve my flexibility.

2. You can’t control what others do or feel, you can only control what you do and how you feel

Sure you might be able to influence what others say or do or feel and when I was younger, I would spend a countless amount of energy trying to get people to say or do or feel a certain way but knowing that it is pointless means you get so much energy back — energy that you’re not using trying to control others.

3. Every single day 1% growth

Borrowed from James Altucher — he likes to think of his life as a chair with four legs: a physical leg, a mental leg, a spiritual leg and an emotional leg. Every single day, grow at least 1% in each of those areas. Over a long period of time this will compound. I’ll share a bit about what I did today to grow each of these areas:
* Kettle bell work out
* Stretching
* Ate a healthy breakfast
* Connected with a friend over lunch
* Connected with a friend over Whatsapp
* Recalled from memory, jokes from my favourite standup comic

4. Notice the implicit and explicit in statements

Today, I received a note from my client that said that we were missing a table. Maybe my memory is failing but I did not know that we needed the table in the first place. Implicit in the statement that we were missing an Excel table is the fact that the Excel table was communicated and expected in the first place. What’s the alternative? Asking a question: could you add this Excel table to this deliverable? Both achieve the same result I think but one is framed as an ask and the other is framed according to an assumption or expectation that may or may not be there.

5. Eat healthy

If your body was a machine, would you keep it well oiled? Maintained? Rust free? Fueled by the very best energy? If you wanted the best performance you would!

And I know we can’t all be perfect but I find that when I eat healthy and put good food into my body, I get more out of my physical and mental self.

6. Get quality sleep

Notice that I didn’t just say to get 8 hours of sleep. You can get 8 hours of sleep but if it’s not quality sleep (i.e., you are waking up all the time, you are disturbed by noise, etc.) you’re not going to give your body the chance to recover. And everybody needs different amounts of rest so get whatever you think you need. How do you know? Find a day where you don’t have any morning commitments. Note down the time that you go to bed. Sleep and wake up whenever you feel like waking up (make sure your bedroom is quiet, cool and dark). Note the time that you woke up. Note how you feel after waking up. As you do this a few times, you will start to find the amount of time that you need to sleep and feel awesome in the morning.

7. Limit your smart device usage

I’m still working on this but I really feel like I am addicted to my smartphone. I check it every morning, check it throughout the day and use it for a lot of things (which are really useful) that I couldn’t imagine living without. But do I really need to check and use it at night? Probably not. Do I really need to see if there are any work e-mails or notifications that came in that I need to respond to first thing in the morning? No.

8. Attention is a scarce resource

I go to a lot of meetings where I’m also guilty of this: I am often multi-tasking or doing other things on my laptop while listening in on a meeting. I once told my friend Shawn that single tasking is the new superpower — and I noticed that he was either skeptical or had already heard this and it wasn’t super insightful but I really believe that if you can really focus and concentrate and be present for things, you have won half the battle.

9. Do the things you want to do

For the longest time, I felt unhappy just going along with others. And I don’t even know why I did some of those things — maybe it was to feel like I belong or to be social but I did things that I really did not want to do when I would have been happier saying no. Don’t do things you don’t want to do. It will drain your energy, you won’t be happy and others around you won’t be happy

10. Realize the power of no

A great book by James Altucher — it’s all about the power of saying no. Say no to the things you don’t want to do. Say no to people you do not want in your life. Say no to the feelings and emotions that are holding you back.

11. Be open to new things

It’s good to say no to the things that you don’t want to do. But how do you know what you like and don’t like? Experiment and be open to new things. Yes bungee jumping or sky diving sounds scary but give it a try at least once. For example, yesterday, I went to a Moroccan restaurant and tried bastella which is a dessert consisting of a puff pastry filled with almonds, caramelized onions, chicken and topped with icing sugar and cinnamon. Strange? Yes. Tasty? I thought so.

12. Create a checklist

There are so many things to think about these days. When I’m working, all the tasks I have to do. When I’m traveling, all the things I have to remember to bring. Why keep all of that in your head when you can write it down and refer to it whenever you want. The checklist is fantastic at making sure you don’t forget something that you need.

13. Get a sleeping mask, earbuds and have comfortable night time wear

Did I mention that quality sleep is important? Having the above items just helps you to get consistently good sleep without having other things (ambient noise, light) randomly affect you during the night.

14. Increase your mouse sensitivity

Sounds like a weird thing but it’s a good trick to get things done faster. And even though it will feel strange, you will get used to it.

15. Breathe deeply

When you’re stressed, you have shallower breathing. Shallow breathing means you won’t get enough oxygen into your system. You’ll get tired. You will want to nap. Or caffeinate yourself. When you are stressed, make sure you are getting a few deep breaths in — it will help relax you, introduce more oxygen into your body and it just feels good.

16. Learn a new skill

This past year, I focused on improving my mandarin. While I’m still not fluent, I’m getting to the point where I’m thinking more in Mandarin than in Cantonese. And all of this while only practicing a few minutes of new vocabulary every day. The point is you can make a lot of progress if you make progress consistently over a long period of time.

17. Track your health

My girlfriend got me a fitbit the past year and I’ve been using it to track my stats such as my sleep time, how many times a week I exercise, whether I got 10k steps in, etc. If you want to improve your physical health, it helps to know where you currently are.

18. Know the value of your time

At a certain point in your life, you may progress to a specific job or level in your company where it does not make sense for you to do things such as mowing the lawn or cleaning the house. If someone can mow the lawn for you for $20 and they take 2 hours to do it but your hourly rate is $100 / hour — it makes sense for you to focus on the things that you are good at and to pay someone else to mow the lawn for you. I’ve noticed quite a few food delivery services popping up which is great — not only are these convenient ways of getting food but it helps you to realize that your time is worth more.

19. Stop and question anything that you do a lot of or every day

What are some of these activities?
*Checking email — do you need to check your e-mail all the time, every day? Or can you batch this?
*Checking your smartphone — whats on your smartphone that’s really important to you?
*Watching Netflix — can you use the time you are watching Netflix to do something else?
*Exercising — are you doing the same exercises each time? Are you challenging yourself to grow?

20. There’s time to be productive and there’s time to do nothing

A weird paradox of life: if you want to motivate yourself to be more productive, do nothing. If you want to motivate yourself to do nothing, be more productive. The second point comes from either burning out, being so productive that you have additional time or from knowing that you need time to rest and relax.

21. Have an opinion

I used to be the guy that would stay as neutral as possible. I would stay on the sidelines, not taking sides until I really had to. Or I would be friends with everyone and make sure that everyone came out happy and satisfied. But I realized that a lot of my friends were bothered by this — they wanted me to pick a side and take that side. Or they wanted me to pick their side. Maybe it’s the idea that the more people there are on a side, the more ‘right’ they are.

Do pick your battles but when you do fight, pick a side.

22. Laugh every day

Or if not laugh, at least smile. It will improve your mood. It will make time pass. It will help get more oxygen into your body. Find a way to make yourself laugh every single day.

23. Relationships are important but you only have so much time and energy to give

I’m just not that kind of person who has every single weekend devoted to hanging out with my friends and family. And because of my limited time and energy, I need to consciously say no to some of the people in my life so that I have the time and energy for the most important people.

24. Tell the people that you love that you love them. Every chance you get.

You don’t know when you might not get the chance to.

25. Impossible is nothing

How do you achieve a miracle? According to Hal Elrod, it’s about unwavering faith and extraordinary effort. Both of these, over time, will help you achieve miracles.

26. Learn how to tell stories

Stories are how people communicate. Stories are devices to help people to remember key concepts and morals. Stories are used to communicate ideas effectively. If stories are so important, why not get better at learning how to tell a good story?

27. If you want to truly know if you have learned something, teach it to someone else

Not only will you have to explain it in a way that helps someone else understand, you may also get asked questions that really test your knowledge.

28. Reading is one of the best forms of education

Reading is one of the best forms of education you can do. You get to experience another person’s life, download their experience and knowledge, learn from their mistakes, all for a few hours of your time. How are more people not devoting more time to read?

29. Solutions vs. Listening

Something I’ve learned as I talk to many of my close friends — not all of them are looking for solutions. Some of them just want to be heard. Some of them want assurance that they’re not crazy. Some of them want me to just reflect back what I told them in my words which might help them see a path forward. When you are talking to your close friends and they bring up a problem, make sure you know what you are doing — are you providing a solution or are you just listening and what does your friend need ?

30. Be mindful

There is no past. There is no future. There is only now. The next time you walk outside, really notice the leaves on that tree. Look at the petals on the flower. Look deeply at the wrinkles in your hand. There’s hidden beauty around us if only we stopped to notice.

31. Be grateful

You are so incredibly lucky to be here and alive. Think about the incredible odds of your parents meeting, you being born, you not having some unfortunate or freak accident. Every single day, be grateful for the people in your life.

32. 80% full

Don’t eat until you’re 100% full. If you want to lose weight, slow down and eat until you are 80% full. You’re going to eat a little bit less food than what you normally would eat and you save a little bit of room for dessert too.

33. Starting is the most important step

Don’t feel like exercising? At least put on your work out clothes and shoes and walk to the gym. Guaranteed that the motivation will hit you by the time you get to the gym and see others working out inside. Don’t feel like writing? Open up that journal and don’t write with an outcome in mind, just write whatever you feel like. The words will come. The important step here is to start — don’t wait until motivation comes to you because it may not ever come to you.

34. Reflect

Block out times to reflect on your day. Reflect on your month. Reflect on your year. Think about what you’ve learned in the past year. Think about what you’d like to accomplish the next year.