Archive for January, 2012

motivational mondays: creating good habits without goals

01/30/2012

To quote an old apothegm:
“We are what we repeatedly do.”
– Aristotle

Simply put: We are our actions.
Another way: We are our habits.

If we smoke regularly, we are a smoker. If we exercise regularly, we are in shape. If we eat the right foods, we are healthy.

(Keep in mind, I’m tailoring this down to its simplest form. I understand much more complexity exists within the boundaries I’m laying out, but, in the theme of this post, something is much easier to grasp when pared down to utter simplicity.)

The question now, is how do we create good habits instead of bad ones?

how I’ve created good habits

Since I left my 9-5 job, I’ve created a plethora of good, healthy habits – most times without even meaning to. A mindset that I’ve always found hard to adopt, but have seen repeatedly work in my own life, is that of living without goals. Leo Babauta sums it up incredibly well with his blog post: the best goal is no goal. Even Seth Godin, marketing extraordinaire, has an interesting perspective on a similar vein of thought.

This mindset goes against everything I’ve been raised to believe. In middle school we learned the importance of setting goals to improve ourselves. My father preached to me the importance of having five-year goals and ten-year goals. While I never did this, I still always thought, based on what everyone was telling me, that was the way to get things done.

My own real-life examples say just the opposite.

Now I’m not saying that living with goals is a bad thing or doesn’t work. As the newer, slightly sexual adage goes: “Different strokes for different folks.”

But allow me to lay down a few examples for you. Some of the good, enduring habits I have formed in the past seven months are:

Eating healthier

In June I decided I wanted to try Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Body diet for losing weight. I didn’t need to lose weight, I was just curious to see if it worked. I went on the “formal” diet plan and it fell apart within two weeks.

Then, some time in August, I decided to start cutting to the core of his philosophy and just nixed white carbs (breads, rice, flour-based foods, etc.). Since then, I would say I cut down on my white carb intake by 90%, vastly increasing my consumption of vegetables, fruits and legumes, along with a healthy intake of meats.

I didn’t set any goals. I didn’t follow any plans. I just did what I wanted to do, knowing it was healthy for me. And I enjoy it. I feel better.

Writing daily

I abhor the daily word count goal. It stresses me out and I’ve had mini-anxiety attacks when I don’t meet it. In November I created a nice habit by mixing a goal with the concept of living without goals. I declared that I would write 3,000 words a day, or roughly 100,000 words in the month. For those of you that aren’t familiar with word counts – that’s a freaking book.

I wrote 55,000 words that month. About a week into it I realized I wasn’t going to hit my goal. I accepted that fact and, remarkably, ceased worrying about it. Instead of focusing on the goal, I kept in mind that I wanted to produce a higher volume than Stephen King and just rolled with the daily writing. Whatever I got down on paper, I got down on paper. Whatever I didn’t, I didn’t. And I was content.

Now I don’t focus so much on word count, as much as my smokin’ hot girlfriend says I should :), but rather on writing the things I want to write. I’ve made more progress these past two weeks on my novel than I’ve made in the past two months when I kept trying to make goals.

Stretching daily

In mid-December I made a list of workout goals I wanted to achieve. It set an incredibly high standard and I should have known I wouldn’t have even come close to meeting it. I wrote it all out, printed it up, and never looked at it again. As I said in the writing daily piece above, having daily goals like this stresses me out, because if I don’t do it I feel like I’m falling behind and have to re-evaluate and readjust – steps that take more admin time than I’m willing to put forth.

Since then, I’ve thrown that list of workout goals in the garbage and have focused on a few things at a time, the primary exercise being stretching. Since mid-December, I have stretched out almost daily and noticed a substantial increase in my flexibility. My sideways split has increased by seven inches, and I’m incredibly close to touching my chest to my thigh with little to no warm-up. And all this without goals. I stretch simply for the enjoyment of the physical accomplishment.

Learning new things – all the time

Neuroscience, Taoism, medieval society, the Beatniks, new words, barefoot running – these are all things I have a strong desire to learn about. Instead of laying out goals filled with books I wanted to read by certain times, I just learned what I wanted to learn when I wanted to learn it. And I haven’t stopped. I’m all sorts of smart now!! (if only…)

Final example:

Over the summer I lifted weights nearly every day for three months straight. Without fail. I was excited when I saw results, which I noticed on a weekly basis. Whether it was getting more cut in my glamor muscles, as my brother would say, or increasing weight – which I knew to be muscle weight – I saw results regularly. My lifting threshold would increase, my max increased by 40 lbs, and, in direct proportion, increased my esteem regarding my physical appearance and sense of well-being.

All this I did without goals. As soon as I returned from Nicaragua this past October, I laid out a weight-lifting regimen.

I stopped going to the gym after that.

living in the moment

Bottom line(s):

  • Find something you love doing and just do it.
  • Find something that makes you feel good and just do it.
  • Find something that can improve the quality of your life and just do it.

But START SMALL! Nothing is as conducive to putting the brakes on a good habit as the “all or nothing” mentality. Start small, then, as you get more comfortable, work your way up the ladder.

Without goals, you may be surprised by just how high you can climb.

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the importance of disconnecting

01/19/2012

As written Wednesday night, 1/18 at 11:30 p.m:

unplugI’ve spent the past 54 hours disconnected from the world save via my phone (which is a dumb phone, so no web access, thank JC). Posting a Motivational Monday blog post, I disappeared from the World Wide Web for more than two days, and must say it was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced.

No Facebook + No Twitter + No email = A Little Slice of Heaven

In my limited experience as a feeble human being on this raped planet we call Earth, I have had the good fortune to not always be ultimately reliable upon the internet, search engines, word documents and online porn. It is through this experience that I have come to realize the benefits of disconnecting from the online world. I understand this is not a new concept, but stick with me on this one.

Think of how often you’re texting on your phone when you’re out with friends or family. Think of how often you’re surfing the web on your smart phone for something that can wait til later. Think of how many miscommunications we have via these channels because the receiving end misconstrues a word or phrase, not being party to the intended inflection and body language. We have become slaves to immediate gratification, losing one of the most important (and undervalued) qualities in the world today: patience. In a paraphrased quote from Einstein: “Our technology has exceeded our humanity.” (and that was before the World Wide Web)

microcosms

Straight up: Communication technology, while having its benefits, is virtually destroying our ability to effectively communicate, while simultaneously killing our appreciation for the world around us.

Some examples:

1. A couple years ago I was on a first date when about an hour into it she told me how thankful she was that I hadn’t brought out my phone once. Sad, but true.

2. I have a very good friend who has nearly all of her important conversations with potential partners via text message. Whenever she says, “So I was talking with so-and-so the other day…” my immediate response is “Talking or texting?” It’s nearly always the latter. And she wonders why she gets into a lot of arguments with these people. . .

3. People get into heated arguments on Facebook and then let it carry over into real life when they next see this person. I used to be like this, but I sought help. If you find yourself in similar circumstances currently but are unwilling to change, I have a loaded glock and a full bottle of sleeping pills – take your pick.

4. When I worked a white collar job, I would walk in every day to at least 50+ emails of varying natures. I know people who walk in to many more than that. Information overload and more than half of it is white noise.

5. About a month ago on a freak day in the midst of a Cleveland winter when it was 50 degrees and sunny, a girl was walking across a cross-walk in a major intersection with her phone in front of her face, either texting or surfing the Web. Just as she stepped out, an SUV was accelerating toward the walk and almost hit her. The driver was also on her phone, except talking. The walker called the driver a cunt, and the driver, window down, shouted profanities.

For me, all of this serves as a fruitful definition of insanity.

A final note: My main concern is with communication technology – not necessarily information technology (although I understand the lines between the two are more and more blurred every day). While I think there is still value associated with hard copies of Britannica, one cannot deny the effectiveness of search engines and information sharing on the World Wide Web. And I also understand the value of these kinds of communications in emergency situations – I have no doubt it has saved many lives and helped to avoid harmful situations. But, like anything, when taken to the extreme it can do more harm than good. Another fitting apothegm: “Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.”

Maybe the next time we’re on our phone, texting or surfing the Web or even talking, we should stop, put technology away, and take in what is around us:

real life

.

motivational mondays – snow driven

01/16/2012

It’s January. With January comes winter. With winter comes snow. With snow comes fun commutes. With fun commutes comes hydroplaning, skidding semi-stops and driving your cop car backward off a steep embankment (see: Die Hard).

While this taciturn white precipitation lies silently in wait, eagerly anticipating the next unsuspecting automobile operator to overcompensate on a skid, there isn’t a day goes by where people don’t bitterly complain about driving in the snow.

To them I say: shut up and pay attention.

a brief summation about why we should love driving in the snow

Driving in the snow ain’t so bad. Right up front, here are a few distinct advantages:

  • Keeps your senses alert and your mind/body in tune with your actions
  • Places you more in the moment
  • Challenges you
  • Allows you to run red lights pseudo-legally
  • Allows you to be late for work and have a valid excuse
  • Allows you to sleep in and be “accidentally” late for work (see above)

See? Advantages galore.

The reality of the situation is this: driving in the snow is a minor frustration, nothing more. Like any so-called minor frustration, if we view it negatively, our stress levels rise, we become angry, and toxic emotions rise to the surface, inhibiting the potential to live a joyful life. But like anything else, when viewed from a positive light (such as the reasons above . . . well, the first three anyway), the endorphins begin to flow, our minds become more alert and our synapses fire a little bit faster, increasing our reaction speed to possibly dangerous situations and allowing us to appreciate life just a little bit more.

Snow, like rain, is a natural part of life that many of us allow to negatively affect our moods day in and day out. Why can’t we simply embrace the natural course of the seasons instead of shunning them? Why can’t we be grateful that something as simple as precipitation does fall, granting life to everything around us, including ourselves?

a brief summation about why we should love life

Come on – you knew I had to make the correlation to daily living eventually!

Rainer Maria Rilke said in Letters to a Young Poet, “…that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.” Life should be difficult. Anything worth attaining should not just be handed to us, but rather earned through hard work and toil, through blood, sweat and tears. As the Buddhists say, “Life means suffering,” and those who do not suffer can never know what it is to be truly content (not that difficult work implies suffering, but for many it can sometimes be the case).

In this modern age of advanced technology and countless conveniences, this can be a hard mentality to adopt: everything is just so easy. We can fly across the United States in just a few hours. We can heat up cold food in a microwave. We can keep warm in the middle of January in Minnesota without huddling around a big hearth fire. We can get surgery on our eyes to get perfect vision. Plastic surgery. Television. Electricity. Snow blowers. Planes, trains and automobiles. Daily life has turned from hardship to easy in a matter of just a couple hundred years. And so many of us take advantage without even realizing it, myself very much included.

This ease of living, this convenience, can prove a very dangerous thing indeed, for it can make us lazy.

If we let it.

There’s a certain mentality that says if you’re doing something and it’s easy then you’re probably doing it wrong. We fall into lulls, we become complacent, we stop trying to improve ourselves: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Complacency is the worst type of crime. The people we quote on Facebook did not earn the right to be quoted on mere presence alone.

Doing what I do now – writing – I have to motivate myself every day to sit down, eliminate distractions, and put words down on a blank page. Day in and day out. As much as I love writing, it’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do all my life. And by that fact, coupled with my passion, I understand that it’s worth it.

So the next time we do something difficult, the next time we drive to work in the snow, realize that the difficult gets easier with practice. With hard work. With living in the moment and bettering ourselves each and every day in some small way.

So let’s head out onto that snow-packed pavement and just drive.

experience it

01/05/2012

Think about your last disappointment. Was it a movie you saw? A book you read? A date you went on? Or maybe it was just this past New Year’s Eve? Now that you’ve brought it to mind, ask yourself: “Why was I disappointed with the experience?” Chances are we’ll say something like: “The movie wasn’t as good as the previews made it out to be,” or, “The girl was attractive but had no personality,” or, “I didn’t find someone to kiss when midnight struck.” All valid reasons for disappointment. All understandable. And all our own fault.

accepting the blame for disappointment

Disappointment has one strong inherent implication, and that is that we expected something out of the experience based on our subjective view of past experiences and stories. We expected it to be good or bad, exciting or nerve-wracking, awkward or blissful. Now imagine a life of no disappointment.

Having no expectations is a powerful place to be. It allows us to enter every situation with a blank slate, with Locke’s tabula rasa. Why is this powerful? Because we go into everything with an open mind, not allowing stress to invade our mind or tensing our shoulders. We’re always pleasantly surprised, being closer to understanding that there is no good, there is no bad, there just is what is.

Accepting blame for something like this also teaches us another invaluable lesson. And that is humility. According to nearly every religious and philosophical doctrine, pride, or the sense of self, is the basis for all wrong, or all sin. That’s because it makes us act out of selfishness and greed, in direct disregard to others in order to advance ourselves. Imagine humbling ourselves by accepting the blame of what we deemed a negative situation. Imagine the power, the self-control, that brings.

don’t judge

We create our own reality. If a situation was bad, it’s because we made it bad. A car accident isn’t a bad thing. It’s an opportunity. For what? That’s up to us to figure out.

So when the next “negative” situation arises, we should take a step back and examine:

  • Why is this a bad thing?
  • What was my immediate reaction?
  • Why did I react that way?
  • Am I alive?

Then look closely at our answers (although the last one shouldn’t require too much deep thought). If we still have trouble grasping the concept, it can be helpful to turn to this famous Zen story for help:

Once there was an old farmer whose horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer said.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” the farmer said.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” the farmer said.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well thins had turned out.

“Maybe,” the farmer said.

The neighbors viewed the events transpiring at the farmer’s home with judgment. Things were either good or bad, and their emotions were akin to a roller coaster in response. That’s exhausting and stress-inducing, which means it’s harmful to our health (literally) and takes years off our life. The farmer, however, kept an open mind, devoid of judgment, devoid of expectations. He was relaxed and in the flow, never allowing a circumstance to determine his emotional or mental state.

This philosophy is a mental attitude we adopt through consistent application, which will include its fair share of failure as well as success.

If you haven’t already, give it a shot – you may be pleasantly surprised.