When people post updates about finishing marathons or passing some major professional milestone, it can be easy to envy them, thinking they’re just naturally successful people. But success is less about the big wins than it is about the little things we do every day to build strength. Because those things become habits, and habits are what we fall back on when we’re stressed, or don’t feel like pushing ourselves another day. In ABC’s new show Quantico, the country’s strongest and most talented FBI recruits are put through a grueling training process that tests the limits of their physical and mental strength. In celebration of Quantico’s premiere, here are 11 things we can all do to ensure we’re reaching our potential.
1. Slip mini workouts into your routine. Exercise often feels like an “all or nothing” deal–if you don’t have the time to do a full session at the gym every day (which, let’s be honest, few of us do), you resign to doing zero exercise on your “off days.” By doing some quick, easy workouts as soon as you wake up — for example, 15 push-ups, 20 jumping jacks, or 30-second planks (all things you can do in your bedroom) — you’ll make exercise just another habit, like brushing your teeth.
2. Feed your brain. Omega 3 fatty acids, which can be found naturally in fish such as salmon and halibut, and fortified in things like eggs, milk, and juice, come with a wealth of benefits for your mind and body. Some researchers have even found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of Omega 3s have lower levels of depression.
3. Make your goals a tiny bit higher each day. Few things feel worse than setting a big goal, like running a marathon, and watching the deadline pass without achieving it. But if you stick to small, specific goals, like adding an extra block each time you run, you’ll be much more likely to stick to them and can celebrate daily successes.
4. Sharpen your intelligence. Recently published book The Superhuman Mind argues that most people have an extraordinary amount of untapped intellectual potential. Oddly, you can improve your creativity & memory by making an effort to consciously associate things you normally wouldn’t. (For instance, asking yourself what sound you associate with the color orange). The scientific term for this is synesthesia.
5. Workout your coping skills. Mental strength is all about recognizing what you can’t control, and focusing on what you can. Practice this by making a list of everything stressing you out and then separating it into two categories: things you can do something about, and things you just have to accept. You can’t make your bills magically disappear, but you can start saving today by heading to the grocery and loading up on affordable ingredients. No matter how overwhelming a problem may seem, there’s always some small thing you can be doing about it.
6. Use jealousy to your advantage. Rather than dwelling on why your friends seem more successful or fit than you, think of them as a valuable resource. Pay close attention to how they work, what their habits are, how they respond to challenges.
7. Keep track of how much you walk. Even people who regularly exercise face serious health risks if they spend the majority of their lives sitting down. Many people say 10,000 steps (about five miles) is a healthy target, but a sedentary lifestyle (ie. a desk job) can easily result in less than 3,000 steps/day. Luckily there are a number of devices and health apps now that allow you to see how many steps you’ve taken in a given day, making it feel almost like a game.
8. Move around at least once every few hours. Even if you’ve committed to exercising or walking more, it can be hard to find time to do it. One trick is to make it part of your social time, like meeting a friend for coffee and then taking a walk while you catch up, rather than sitting at the café (where you know you’ll be tempted to order scones, anyway).
9. Purposely inconvenience yourself. Yet another trick for walking more: lengthen your usual routes. Park a few blocks away from where you’re going. Walk past a few train stops before getting on. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Maybe even walk ten blocks to the drugstore rather than jumping in your car. It all adds up.
10. Stretch your vocabulary. By reading books that challenge you and making a point of looking up the words you don’t know, you can make sure you’re in the habit of constantly learning.
11. Focus on your sense of purpose and identity. When FBI agents are training, they’re not just trying to look better or impress future romantic partners–they’re trying to be stronger so that they can protect others and fight for causes they believe in. The more you think about why you do what you do, the stronger your willpower to succeed in it will be.