Young At Heart, Old In Habits

I think of a lesson I have learned in life each day and then I share each lesson with you, in case you have run out of your own…

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Stopped at a traffic light, I noticed a tragically deaf teenager scanning through radio stations, searching for something that appealed to him.

I know he was deaf because I was more than a car length behind him on his left, with my windows rolled up, and I could hear his radio better than my own. I assume he needed it so loud to feel the sound reverberate through his seat since he obviously could not hear the words or music.

What fascinated me, though, was that he was listening to the radio. Old school, with DJ’s and commercials, and everything. It seemed anachronistic for a teen to scroll through radio stations while the older guy behind him simply told his car to “Play my podcasts”. I was enjoying commercial-less, hand-picked content just for me while he did what I used to do 20 years ago.

I am surprised that terrestrial radio is still alive but the more I think about it, the more I realize that young people are not as forward-thinking or innovative as most of us would believe. For example, look at the computer. Why am I still interfacing with my blogs through a keyboard? Why does a computer still emulate a typewriter anyway? It is nice to see gesture and voice commands beginning to take over but why didn’t we start that way? Or with something better? Why do we still use cars when we could have much better options available? Why isn’t there something way cooler than cars already?

It is interesting to me how much we cling to familiarity and tradition, even when we have all the resources to create truly mind-blowing things. Old habits die hard, but wouldn’t it be better if we let them die sooner so we could live to build new habits? Imagine how the world might look if computers were better than a glorified replacement for a typewriter? If cars weren’t a fresh take on horse and buggies but something completely different? If what replaced radio and cable was not fancier radio and cable but something that threw out those ideas and tried something totally different?

That poor, deaf teenager never seemed to find what he was looking for. I would have told him about Google Music, Librivox, Pocketcast, or Audible, but I never learned sign language. Of course, I probably would not have told him anything he didn’t know already because… well… you can’t teach a new dog old tricks (but what is a “new” dog, anyway?).

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What Are You Filling Your Space With?

I look at each day and figure out what life lesson I learned from it. I share each lesson on this blog.

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To create more time to spend together, Nicole and I have built some efficiencies into our otherwise busy days (such as trading breakfast for pre-prepared smoothies). Our plan worked. We have more time in our evenings now.

Ironically, we found ourselves not knowing what to do with that time and on at least a few occasions we have spent our extra time trying to agree on what to do with the time.

As a society, our lives are cluttered with work, social affairs, hobbies, and passions, and habits. In fact, our lives are much like those overstuffed closets you see in cartoons. When you yank something out of it, you create space and everything falls into that space, burying you. Many people fail at breaking a habit (like smoking, for example) because they do not have any idea what to fill the time and space that habit used to take with (such as exercise or bubblegum chewing–something that is equally mindless and a little alluring).

When you create space in your life, you must be intentional about what you will fill that space with. If you do not decide what to do with your life, then everything else (and everyone else) in your life will decide for you.

Incidentally, we ended up playing cards, staying up late to finish the game. Nicole won, this time…

 

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It’s the Waking Up

Today’s Lesson: Sometimes you have to look at a problem backwards to move forward.

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I have been hearing a lot of experts speaking about needing enough sleep. Our lack of quality sleep seems to be reaching alarming proportions.

Personally, I have no trouble falling asleep. I have already written about my experiments with sleep but I realized something new today. The trouble with having good sleep does not lie in the “sleeping” part. Most people sleep just fine. The problem is having to wake up at the wrong time.

I wake up 3 hours before I have to be to work (an hour and a half of that is spent driving, so I actually wake up an hour and a half before I have to leave for work). For me, waking up properly means having time to “ease into” the day, which includes having breakfast, checking messages, often blogging, and almost always making a latte to go. Most of my grooming has been shifted to happen before I go to sleep so I do not have to wake up even earlier.

I find going to bed at 10:30 pm and waking up at 5:30 in the morning is not a good habit for me. Yet, going to bed at midnight and waking at 7:00 am has no ill effect at all. Same hours of sleep but the times are shifted.

I have to figure out how to shift more of my morning routine to my evening routine so I can rise a little later and hopefully curb some of the deleterious effects of waking up before the sun.

If you ask me, no one should have to do that. Sleep tight.

 

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Leave It All Behind

Sometimes the best way to move on is to move out.

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After pricing moving vans, moving crates, and moving services for our transition to the Sunshine State, Nicole and I decided to do something that might seem drastic.

We decided to just leave everything behind.

Whatever I can not fit in my car is either being trashed or donated. It turns out the cost of moving all our clutter (everything from plates and storage jars to lamps, desks, and dressers) is about the same cost for us to just acquire new stuff.

The nice thing is, almost certainly we will not replace every item, one for one. I am betting we will find that many of the things we did not take with us we did not actually need. We will also find which things were really important because they will be replaced first.

As far as I am concerned, this is a great way to edit our lives to the essentials and shed the burdens of our pasts, our consumerism, and our former habits. Starting over is a way to build new habits, shed weight emotionally and (maybe even physically), and learn what parts of our lives are worth keeping. Mostly, though, it helps create space where there was clutter and invites to live our lives better (or to live better lives).

 

Today’s Lesson: Moving across the country can be costly but carrying your past with you can cost even more. 

 

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Today’s Lesson: Goals Are Dumb. [141007]

I was mad, depressed, and frustrated. 3 of my 4 teams missed their goals and I did not know what else I could do to help us all move forward.

One of the best lessons I have learned this year is that goal-setting is a terribly inefficient way to actually reach goals. Most of my life, I have been taught to set a specific goal (I want to make a million dollars, for example) and then work toward it, step by step. Once achieved, set a bigger goal, and repeat.

Today I was reminded that goals rarely breed success. Instead, they are a set-up for disappointment and frustration when you do not reach them (especially if you have set them too high). Goals also impose artificial limits on success. What happens when you reach your goal? You set another, higher one. Then another one, then another one… a start/stop herky-jerky process that does not flow into potential but rather keeps putting up stop signs along the way.

Worse, goals undermine your self-esteem. What happens when you set a diet goal? You probably do not achieve it (or do not maintain it) and then you start a spiral of self-loathing for not reaching it. So you set another goal and try again and beat yourself up again. There is an entire industry built around this depressing cycle and the first couple weeks after New Year’s Eve is a boon for it, because they know we will be back next year…

What should we do instead?

What works better for me is to live by systems. Form habits that forge success and forget about the destination. When I remembered that with my teams, I threw away the goals we were chasing. I concentrated instead on the habits we were trying to build. The teams immediately accelerated and we finished the month at number one! A funny thing happened, though. We were so excited about being the number one team in the company that we started looking at our goals again. We are still at the top but it is a challenge to get back to the “systems” vs “goals” mindset.

I will give you another concrete example of the difference. The first time I decided to live a vegan lifestyle (not eating or wearing any animal products), I set a goal to be completely vegan within 3 months. That’s exactly how far I made it before I gave up, too, and of course, I was not completely vegan when I quit. I was not even a good vegetarian by the time I gave up. I did terrible.

I set a vegan goal to work toward at least 3 more times and failed every time. I eliminated all animal products from my diet, agonized over it, gave up and went back to eating meat and cheese. I felt like a failure and was certain I was never going to make it.

It wasn’t until a friend gave me the advice I needed, that I was able to succeed. He said, “Stop trying to go vegan. When you sit down to dinner tonight, just choose not to eat any meat or cheese for that meal only. That’s it. Just make it through dinner tonight. Then, at breakfast, remember you can make that choice again, but don’t worry about it until then. It’s just a choice, and you make it one meal at a time…”

I did not realize it, but my vegan friend was helping remove the pressure of goal-setting and instead was offering the foundation for a system of habits that would lead me to be vegan and more. When I removed the stop sign of the goal, I was able to speed past it, and by the end of that year (more than 10 years ago!) I was completely vegan and had dropped 50 pounds!

Today’s lesson is: stop the madness of goal chasing and instead build systems and habits that will take you where you want to go, and well beyond.

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Life Balance [140915]

 

I am a workaholic. I am often chastised for checking email on vacation, responding to messages at all hours, or taking calls during mealtimes.

 

There are plenty of reasons for this… for example, the last time I took a vacation and tuned out work, I was promptly punished by having to work three times as hard to catch up over the next few weeks. My team’s performance suffered as well. I probably have an element of competition and an old school mentality of “the way to get ahead is to work harder than anyone else”, too. This, of course, was great advice when I entered the workforce (before the internet was born) but it is not a good policy now, in an always-connected economy. Trying to out-work your competition today means never not working and is a quick way to a heart attack, alienating family and friends, or worse.

 

I try to find balance between reaching the goals I am paid to reach and reaching my personal goals (which are sometimes the same), as well as maintaining a social circle, relationship, family commitments, and trying to stay reasonably healthy.

 

The way to moving forward is no longer “work hard, get good grades, and save every penny”–all three will lead you to stress and an early grave. Today, the person who achieves the most balance wins. You can not out-work anyone in a 24/7 economy. College has become prohibitively expensive for many people and the return on investment has declined since the dawn of the internet and cheap access to knowledge became prominent. Being frugal in a volatile economy and watching your hard-earned savings deplete and de-value is one of the most depressing things I have witnessed over the last two decades.

 

Sage advice today might sound more like, “Live well, be nice, try new stuff, and spend money on experiences you will remember instead of on toys you will forget.”

 

Yesterday, I wrote about the law of opposing forces and it is interesting, isn’t it, to observe how the world works to balance itself on the macro-scale, too?

 

As the economy declines, stress rises, and the world environmentally shifts, equal and opposite forces also rise to meet the challenge and restore balance. We see more and more people embracing the art of “life-hacking” to enjoy more (money, freedom, time) with less (stress, tradition, obsolete rules). We see a rise in people choosing a vegan lifestyle and trading their chairs for a pair of five-toe running shoes. We see more and more farmers adopting organic, cruelty-free practices and people recycling and reducing emissions. People are abandoning college and lifetime careers in exchange for vagabonding, learning through experience, and leveraging free online learning with practical, hands-on knowledge.

 

All of these things seemed crazy or on the fringe just 20 years ago. People looked at me like I had 3 eyes when I “came out” as vegan 15 years back. Now, I can eat nearly anywhere and almost everyone knows what the word means. I remember discarding everything in the same trash bin when I was a kid and throwing McDonald’s bags out of car windows when we were done eating because… well, why not? And who cared where food came from as long as it was delicious? That “global warming thing” seemed like a debatable idea only ten years ago and cars that run on electricity were still a crazy thing for rich people to most of us. Now all of these things are mainstream, or at least in the realm of “normal”.

 

This is a mouthful of disposition to say the lesson I learned today is the world seeks balance. Whether on the scale of society (we react to global warming with environmental conscientiousness) or on an individual scale (I react to gaining weight by exercising), Isaac Newton’s third law of motion holds true. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”–this is what I call the law of opposing forces. The key, of course, is to shift back toward balance before imbalance gains enough inertia to get out of control (exercise is good when you are overweight and out of balance, but if you are too overweight, then too much exercise at once could give you a heart attack). Incidentally, that is Newton’s first law of motion… “an object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.”

 

 

Newton figured out the secrets of motion and probably had no intention or idea that his theories could apply philosophically to our lives, as well. However, I think the father of Philosophy… Aristotle… had it right long before Sir Isaac Newton. Aristotle gave this advice more than 2 thousand years ago and it is just as true today for a healthy, happy life. He said, simply: “All things in moderation.”

 

 

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Today’s Lesson: Embrace Change Like a Warm Fuzzy Panda [140902]

I like to change my look once in a while. Last year, I let my grow hair long. This year it is more like a Caesar cut. I went from wearing shorts and t-shirts or polos to giving away my tees in place of collared button-downs.

Embracing change is important. It helps us learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and when we are out of our comfort zone, we are led to learn and grow.

When I had long hair, it was a learning experience (I learned I didn’t like it!). I had to change how I cared for it and I noticed how other people perceived me differently. Just a simple change to my look actually changed others!

What can you change today about your habits, or your look, or your demeanor to see if you can improve your life by doing one small thing differently?


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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140715

If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” –Bernard Baruch (American financier and philanthropist)



Nicole decided to give up sugar for a week. I didn’t have to join her, but it sounded like an interesting experiment so I thought I would show support by giving up sugar for a week, as well. Solidarity!

Giving up something is not easy. Our lives are so full and there is so much junk and baggage all around us (emotional, spiritual, mental, and material). Whenever you give something up, you essentially try to create space, either for something else or just to have breathing room.

The funny thing is, when you create a clearing for something in life, that space is immediately filled with the excess baggage, junk, and clutter the same way clearing a space in a pond is immediately filled with water when you pluck a rock from the bottom. What fills that space is what is already surrounding the space, whatever is pressing in from all sides.

For me, only a few minutes after giving up sugar, everything looked like a lollipop! All I could think about was sugar. I wanted a Pepsi, a scoop of ice cream, a sugary latte, Cap’n Crunch, a brownie, anything!

I made it through the day, but not until I realized the problem wasn’t a desire for sugar. My problem was not protecting that clearing and letting something else fill the space instead.

This same effect happens when we try to give up anything, like smoking or alcohol, for example. When you give up smoking, all you want to do is have a cigarette. Your day is consumed by trying to rationalize why you should have just one or just a few hits or screw it–you can quit tomorrow, etc.

We struggle because we made the clearing but forgot to protect the space. We must consciously choose what goes in that space or the brain will choose the easiest solution by default–usually, whatever was there before! If that is not an option, then the alternative default setting is boredom, and our brains avoid boredom more than anything else.

Once I recognized that I was not protecting my space, especially when I was feeling bored mentally, I found other things to do. In place of my sugary thoughts, I jumped into work (there’s always plenty of that), then I left the house to meet friends, and, of course, I blogged.

It turns out sugar is not something I need. It’s just something I use to fill the space of a much worse habit: that awful boredom.

Remember, when you clear space for something in your life, you must protect the space by consciously filling it with something better (exercise, a different habit, meditation, writing, etc., whatever works better for you). Our default baggage is boredom or just going back to what was already there.

Whenever you drop a habit, be quick to put what you want there in your life and then protect that space so it can grow! If you are doing that, you’ll probably never be bored and will struggle much less.

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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140703

We don’t have to compromise with our thoughts.

Every morning for a few weeks now, I wake up and follow the same routine. Ritualizing my morning helps keep me on task and ensures I honor my commitments to health, habits, and personal energy.

There is one commitment, though, that I try to get out of every morning. Exercise. I’m not a fan of exercise. I love being active; I just hate mindlessly repeating a task for the sole purpose of making my body sore so it will, in theory, feel better. Nonetheless, I recognize the importance of exercise and because I lead a very sedentary, non-active life most of the time, I know I need exercise.

It’s a small commitment, too. Each morning, I wake up, remind myself to be in a good mood and embrace the day ahead, open the windows, start my work computer (which takes 20 minutes to boot up), drink a BIG glass of water, feed the cat, use the bathroom, start up a podcast, and then… 30 push ups and 3 minutes of jumping rope, followed by a little stretching and 10 minutes of meditation. It’s not a lot (it used to be less), but it’s better than no exercise at all. It’s a small enough commitment that I can fit it in the morning and not hate my life.

Still, each day, I try to rationalize my way out of it. “You woke up too late,” my brain says, “There’s not enough time today,” or “You’re tired; just double up on it when you get home instead,” or “You deserve a day off… just one; make up for it on Saturday,” etc. Sometimes it’s just a straightforward, “I don’t want to!”

It’s very taxing mentally, to have this internal debate each morning. I really don’t like exercise for the sake of exercise and I won’t sacrifice any more time to go to the gym or take classes or find other times to be active, so what am I to do?

I only just came to realize that I don’t have to listen to my brain! I don’t have to compromise. I can just do the exercise anyway. My brain’s job is to be lazy, to put the minimal amount of physical effort forward (after all, if I’m not doing anything, then my brain is no in danger of being hurt) and my brain wants to conserve energy for thinking (because that’s all it does so it wants as much energy as possible to devote to its only task).

My brain doesn’t want my body to waste time and energy getting strong or worrying about fitness or looks. My brain just wants to think. And it will think about anything. If the most interesting thing going on is debating over exercise or more sleep, it’s going to think about it (and it’s going to vote for more sleep where it does its best and funnest thinking!).

So today, I realized my brain is just trying to trick me into doing what it wants instead of what my ego wants. “Ego” is a bad word in modern society but I do not agree with that at all. My ego always wants what is best for me. It wants me to be my best, to look my best, to eat better (so I look my best), to feel great and have high self-esteem. My ego’s job is to help me live up to my potential. Despite what people “think”, ego is not bad. Of course, too much of anything can be bad but to those people who say the only way to live is to be selfless and only considerate of anyone but yourself, I say: “Leggo my Ego!

To be fair, many people don’t use their brains enough, but sometimes it is better to ignore your thoughts and just do what you set out to do… because you know what’s best for you even if you try to think your way out of it.

 

 

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