A Note On Criticism: Allowing Comments On My Blog

A few weeks ago when I started blogging, I configured the settings so as to disallow comments on my posts. I did this because Steve Pavlina, a hero of mine, doesn’t allow comments on his blog, and when I considered the vitriolic and inciting comments I see on YouTube, I thought: “Why would I want to hear strangers’ opinions?”

But I changed my mind.

The truth is that I’ve been afraid to hear criticism. Being criticized is a visceral feeling; it’s an uncomfortable experience which challenges the perspectives we hold of ourselves, and it takes a lot of emotional energy to deal with. On the internet it’s at its worst!

Before I started blogging, I saw this video and was astounded at the verbal abuse people receive. Mind you, these are complete strangers –people who know nothing about the situation or life of the person they’re taunting. It’s not okay. I was afraid of receiving hateful messages such as these.

But that’s not to say all criticism is unfair or vile.

I know of musicians and poets –very talented ones– who won’t show anyone their work, not even their best friends, because they claim that everyone tears down their work instead of giving amiable, constructive feedback. These artists are severely limiting themselves.

One of my favorite books is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I’m reducing the amount of stuff I own, because I want to live a more mobile lifestyle, but this book is physically sitting on my nightstand (as opposed to having it on my Kindle). I’m currently reading it for the third time.

In one passage, Steven Pressfield describes how excited he was when he finally had success as a screenwriter –a movie had been made with his script– but when the movie came out it was a huge failure. In a bad review a critic wrote, “… Ronald Shusett and Steven Pressfield; we hope these are not their real names, for their parents’ sake.”

He had given up everything to realize his dream. So when that first success flopped, he was down in the dumps:

My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit. Hell, no! “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”

I love this book! I’d read this passage before, but the meaning didn’t hit me the way it did this time. It reminds me of The Man in the Arena speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in Paris, France; 1910. I had a high school history teacher show us this before the AP test:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

We can’t control what people say. It’s up to us to bravely be ourselves, and even though we’ll make mistakes, we must be proud of the fact that we tried –and then try again.

Criticism happens, whether we want it to or not, and although it’s often uncalled for or just plain wrong, we eventually have to face what other people say about us.

Think of it this way: would unfair criticism hold sway over us if we decided that our own opinion, our own idea of our work and ourselves, is more important than what’s passive-aggressively said by strangers on the internet?

A quote by Marcus Aurelius:

I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.

The truth is, even if someone makes an outrageous comment about my work, it’s my decision to get upset about it. Feeling criticized is a matter of perspective. Yes, much criticism is unwelcome, and people throw tantrums with the aim to put down others, but: Do I have to let it affect me? Do my thoughts turn traitor and say, “She’s right. I am an asshole. Why do I suck so much?” Sometimes, maybe. But my thoughts are my own, and I choose to take responsibility for them. I choose to be my own friend, and decide for myself, “Does this person have good intentions? Is he taking his stress out on me? Is what she’s saying valid?” With these questions, hateful comments become harmless to me.

For anyone who wants to improve, criticism is a powerful ally, just as long as at the end of the day you value your own opinion. If you want to improve yourself and become a better person, you must learn to deal with criticism, all of which can be good, bad, or plainly uncalled for.

Criticism is unavoidable, and yet, it’s as impersonal as phenomenon such as the weather. But how you let it affect you is up to you —don’t give that power away! Want to get better at what you do? Well unfortunately you must stomach trash heaps of comments, without allowing the haters to scorch you, in order to find honest and well-intended feedback that’s going to help you as opposed to tearing you down. It’s not easy. But it’s worth it.

I won’t blind or deafen myself. I won’t turn off my brain. When I hear criticism I’ll listen to it, process it, and decide whether or not agree with it. Then I’ll let it go. It doesn’t have to affect me. In the end, it is my opinion of myself that follows me around all day. I choose to face disapproval instead of running from it, because how I perceive it is my decision. A tool to become better.

Plus, it feels more inclusive for an online audience if they can comment on your posts/videos. So please leave me a comment on this post. Do your worst. (Or compliment me, because compliments are nice to hear sometimes. 😉) Have a great day.

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Self-Love, And Why I’ve Had None Of It

We’ve all been depressed. Maybe not chronically, but we’ve all been in slumps at some point. I’m not talking about grief, which is sadness from loss; when I say depression I mean when someone feels hopeless or utterly weighed down by life.

My mood is directly correlated with my self-image. If I’m in a period in which I think positively of myself, I’m in a great mood, and conversely, if I fall into self-destructive behaviors (such as the ones I’ve written about down below) I feel toxic.

This article isn’t about my problems. This blog isn’t a diary. However, it’s about a more personal subject than I’m comfortable writing. I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned from my experiences, I can help other people who read this –something I hope for each of my posts.

I believe the concepts of self-esteem and self-love are not black-and-white. Someone’s self-esteem is not either “good” or “bad”: there are highs and lows, with every degree in between. This article’s about bad behaviors I’ve seen myself fall into when my self-esteem’s at a “low”, along with simple ways I’ve learned to let go of them.

 

When I’m in a slump…

I Kick Myself When I’m Down 

If I fall into this mental pattern, I’ll look in the mirror and think: “You’re ugly. One of your eyes is bigger than the other. Your nose is too big. Your eyes squint too much.” When I mess up, I’ll get frustrated or call myself an idiot; even worse, I might blame someone else for what happened.

A lot of us struggle with this. We want everything to be perfect, including ourselves. We see people on TV and social media, and we ask, “What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I more like them?”

This topic reminds of a memory. Several months after our relationship ended, my ex girlfriend and I decided to become friends. Thankfully, we were friends in a healthy way and we are friends even now. One time I told her about a bad sexual experience in which a girl made me feel ashamed of my body. Ana looked furious. She said, “Well is she a barbie doll? Is she perfect in every way? (‘No…’) Then she has no place to talk!” In this moment, I realized that nobody is perfect. It sounds cliché but it’s true: Nobody is perfect.

People often hen-peck each other, trying to make themselves feel better by putting someone else down. It was certainly true with the girl who made me feel bad, and understanding this, I could let my negative feelings go. (Thank you Ana!!)

The definition of cliché is, “a word or a phrase that lacks original thought.” Well, people do say nobody’s perfect with no original thought behind it. People say it all the time. However, have you ever considered the gravity of that phrase?

Most of us want to be perfect. We all have things we are insecure about. Even the prettiest humans, the richest, the most athletic, and most well-liked, are all insecure and scared about certain aspects of themselves. It’s hard to believe. We like to think, “Once I change this about myself I’m finally going to be happy. I’m going to be overjoyed, because I won’t have to worry about this anymore.” Then, if we succeed in changing it, we might be happy for a limited time, until we find new problems to worry about. Once again, we’re scratching our heads and asking what’s wrong with us.

It’s easy to blame dissatisfaction on not having the things we want. Too easy. So, when we’re upset, a lot of us have the habit of kicking ourselves. “Why are you so stupid/ugly/broke/fat/lazy?” Sometimes we say the meanest things.

I’ve realized, after years of wanting things, that getting what I want won’t necessarily make me feel better off. Worrying about things outside of my control will only cause me more problems. I’ve learned to accept my flaws: sometimes I even delight in them! I try to be proud of who I am, instead of feeling crappy that I’m not who I want to be. I make mistakes, which is okay, because nobody is perfect. Everyone has problems. When I mess up I accept responsibility, and I try not to do it again, but it’s not worth getting down on myself over. I forgive myself of everything. Saying, “Woe is me. I am a piece of shit,” will only cause more difficulty for me. Mistakes are in the past, and the past is done and over with; nothing can be done about it. Unlike mistakes, self-reflection and self-forgiveness are in the present and the future. I can forgive myself. I can learn from my mistakes. So, I do.

I Act Like My Feelings Don’t Matter

I am a people-pleaser. I pretend not to be sometimes, but I know deep down that I just want my loved ones to be happy –and what’s wrong with that?

The problem arises when I’ll put other peoples’ interests ahead of my own well-being, or when I care about other peoples’ feelings so much that I’ll be dishonest to them in order to spare their feelings.

My parents and I have had issues. I know their expectations of me, and when I haven’t wanted to live up to their expectations, such as doing well in school and getting a good job (I’d rather be self-employed), I’ve lied to them. I’ve lied about my report cards. I’ve told my parents I’m going to work when really I’m going to the library to write and work on music. It’s made our relationship very poor sometimes, and it makes me feel bad about myself, because why would I do that? Why would I lie to my mother and father?

On the other hand, I went to college (as my parents wanted) when I knew I shouldn’t have. I’ve worked jobs I didn’t need to and didn’t want to. I’ve stayed in relationships I didn’t want to be in, instead of breaking my partner’s heart and claiming the space I knew I needed.

The truth is, my need to please other people comes from insecurity. I’m so scared of those people not loving me or thinking badly of me if they know the truth. But, lying to them or myself always hurts the people I love, and it hurts my self-esteem. A personal belief of mine is that lies always come out in the end. It’s better to be honest, even when it’s hard. Easier said than done, but I guarantee if you’re honest, especially if you’re honest in situations you find it hard to be, you and the person you are trying to shelter are going to be better off.

There’s no cut-and-dry formula for finding a balance between our own needs and the needs of those around us. But, I do know that if I’m honest with myself about what I want, and I tell people what I want or don’t want (even when it’s difficult!), I’m on the right path.

I Don’t Accept Compliments From Others or Myself

I think many people are worried about being egotistical, and as a result, they never give themselves compliments or allow themselves to feel good from hearing praise.

This is hogwash. Of course we should be able to feel good about ourselves! We should be proud of who we are, as individuals. There is obviously a point when it becomes unhealthy, but tooting our own horns can be good sometimes.

When I’m down on myself, when I’m over-critical about what I’m not or what I can’t do, I forget to feel good about who I am and what I can do. It’s a matter of perspective. For example, when someone compliments me, I’ll brush it off; it’s as if what their saying about me doesn’t matter. When someone calls me smart, handsome, or says I’m good at something, I’ll say “thank you” and then deflect by either giving them the same compliment or by quickly changing the subject. Maybe sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that someone else can feel those ways about me.

It’s not right. I should value the feedback I get from other people, and respect them by accepting the praise. I should allow myself to feel good about it. When I compliment someone else, which I often do, I make sure that I mean what I’m saying; I should expect that when someone compliments me, they also mean what they’re saying, and respect them by accepting it and feeling good for a moment. I’ll take a second to pause –to really feel the weight of what they’re saying to me– and then, after I’ve processed their remark, say thank you.

 

If you liked today’s article, or if you have anything you want to say about it, click on my “Contact” page and send me an email. 🙂 I’ll try to write more consistently. Between Thanksgiving, a new job, and these crazy two weeks, I haven’t sat down to write until today. But I’m proud of what I just got done. I feel good about myself. 😉 Have a good one!

Making Friends With Your Inner Genius

You’ve heard this spiel before. “In every one of us, we each have an inner genius.” You’ve heard that, right? It sounds like complete BS, like the corny motivational poster you’d see in a guidance office.

I used to think it’s nonsense. But now I, for one, believe it’s true.

The reason why it sounds so ridiculous is because very few people recognize when their inner genius surfaces. Then when you recognize it, you can cultivate it.  Listen to me.

Your inner genius surfaces when you are in a “flow” state.

What is flow? “Flow”, as a concept, has been described for thousands of years by Eastern religions, but wasn’t introduced to Western culture until the 70s when psychologists started to describe it.

There are a bunch of ways to explain flow. But by my definition, flow is when you’re in the zone. It’s when time flies by because you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing right now, and if you’ve ever been in the zone before, you know it feels great.

Now that I have a basic understanding of flow and how it works, I’ve gotten better at getting in the zone. It’s hard sometimes, because I’m still a novice, but  for the most part I know what I need to do, intellectually, and it’s becoming more intuitive all the time. Once you understand how it works, it becomes easier in other areas of your life, and you can use it to skyrocket your productivity. It’s much easier for me now than when I started.

So, here are tips from what I’ve personally figured out about getting in the flow state.

Find What Gets You In The Zone

I’m sure that you’ve been “in the zone” before. I imagine everybody has. Maybe it was while you were playing a sport, while drawing, public speaking, or while hanging out with your friends.

Figuring out which activities get us in the zone is important, because if we can consciously practice getting in the zone, we can bring that practice to other areas of our lives.

It seems that as we get older, we stop having fun. We stop playing games. When we were kids we had so much fun, all the time, because we were always playing, and we had nothing to worry about. But it’s different now: We have responsibilities. For most of us, we spend all our time handling responsibilities, recovering from doing so, and then repeating the cycle. As children, we have energy and enthusiasm. But as adults we’re exhausted all the time.

If you only work, watch TV, drive your kids to school, eat and sleep –if you don’t have any hobbies–, it can be hard to figure out what gets you in the zone. But find something that interests you. Try new things. If you say, “I don’t have time for that,” you’re making an excuse, because for one you’re reading this article right now. I’m sure this isn’t the only website you’ve been on in this sitting. If you want to grow as a person, you should be asking yourself, “How do I make time for that?”

For me, I know I get in the zone when I play guitar and sing, draw, write, read a good book, study something that intrigues me, and sometimes when I drive fast on the highway (don’t tell my mom).

A good rule of thumb is that the activity interests you and that you find it fun. If it’s slightly challenging, you have a better chance of getting in the zone.

Okay, so now that you’ve found an activity of choice, something you genuinely enjoy, and you’ve made time to do it, you’re well on your way to utilizing the flow state. If you haven’t done so, make sure you do it. Thats the first step. Now you’re ready to hear tips of how to get in the zone and how stay in the zone.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

It’s hard to stay focused on something if it’s dreadful. I’m not a very good student. I wouldn’t be a good soldier, either. This is because I don’t like doing what someone tells me to without first understanding why I’m doing it. As a result, doing homework is terrible –absolutely one of my least favorite things to do. Time marches on very slowly and I work at a snail’s pace.

One day in college I had an assignment due for my English Comp class. I had to write a mock business proposal to a company of my choice. My friend Kiran wanted to come over and play videogames, and when he showed up in the afternoon, I’d barely gotten anything done. How could I? It was so boring!

Kiran wanted me to be done, so he started helping me out. I decided not to use his idea, but this is what he did: he started writing the proposal to MLG (a company that puts on live videogame competitions), asking them to host an event at our school. He made it very silly. I don’t remember exactly what he wrote, but it was the equivalent of having hula dancers and a roller skating competition. I don’t know. I said, “I can’t pass that in!” And he laughed and responded, “Why not? It meets all of the requirements.” Then I realized something: the assignment didn’t feel so boring when it was made silly and fun. It was less painful to do. I realized that I was the one making this assignment so painful. I told myself, “this has to be a serious proposal,” but it absolutely did not! I made up my own fun ideas, and I finished in less than an hour.

Here’s what I learned:

Make it fun. No matter what you’re doing, make it fun for yourself. Make it interesting, make it silly. Do whatever you have to to make it fun.

Anything can be made enjoyable. It depends on how irreverent you want to be to that little voice that says, “No, this sucks! Nothing good can come out of this. You have to be serious.” I didn’t believe it then, but now I do. Now I make jokes about everything.

There’s a concept called gameification. Wikipedia states, “Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.” What this means is that companies will use aspects of games, and playing, in order to make their products more fun (and make more money!).

When I lived near Orlando, I frequented a coffee shop in Winter Park called Austin’s Coffee and Film. It was a cute little place the locals were crazy about. Next to the register was always a bucket for tips, but usually it was only filled towards the bottom. One day was different. There were two tip jars, and above them said, “Which super power is better?” One jar was for “Flying” with a drawing of a superman-esque stick figure flying, and the other jar said “Talk to animals” with a little illustration to depict it. Both of the tip jars were literally over-flowing with bills. They made giving them money more enjoyable, more competitive, and they were rewarded for it!

Making a boring task fun can be achieved in a number of ways. The Kiran example and Austin example show how it can be done by changing your perspective on what you’re doing, but sometimes that’s hard to do, so an easier strategy is to give yourself rewards: “When I do this, I will give myself that.” People have always done this. When they finish work, they head to the pub with their friends.

Having a beer after work can be nice, but an entire day is a long period of time without taking a break. In order to be in the zone, you must have a certain level of focus. If you don’t rest until the end of the day, you’re going to burn out. My solution: set timers. When I need to do homework, I set my oven timer for an hour, and when it goes off I take a short break to watch TV or something (whatever I feel like).

**a quick interjection: I just realized I’ve been writing this article for two hours. I would’ve thought it’s only been half an hour. That means I was in a state of flow. 😉

Think back to the activity you chose (the one from “Find What Gets You In The Zone”). It’s fun, right? Well, even though I have fun playing guitar, I still get tired of it. So, it’s important to take breaks. Frequent, short breaks can work wonders on productivity.

Don’t Be A Perfectionist Yet

Among writers, a popular Earnest Hemingway quote: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

What this quote means is that you shouldn’t be critical of the work you’re doing this moment. Many beginner writers will edit as they write –a terrible thing to do. If you’re always backtracking, getting stuck on the little things, you’re not gonna get anything out on paper.

There’s a phase for writing, and then, afterwards, there’s a phase for editing.

This is true of anything. It’s okay to make mistakes. If I got frustrated every time I made a mistake while learning a new song (first of all, I’d go bald from stress), I would never learn it.

As I’m writing this article right now, I’m spewing words onto the screen, typing rapidly, and I’m not looking back at what I just wrote. This is a very tip for staying in the zone, because you cannot be overly self-conscious while in the flow state –it’s one of the six scientific requirements, actually. Being self-conscious about what you’re doing, instead of just doing it (like me typing very quickly) is distracting. And distractions are a no-no.

No Distractions

How could you expect to focus on what you’re doing if you’re distracted? How would you ever get work done if you check Facebook every five minutes?

If you’re distracted you won’t get in the zone.

Studies are coming out about how multi-tasking’s a myth, and that switching between activities is a huge loss of productivity, because you have to stop focusing on what you’re doing to focus on something else. Your brain can’t do two things at once.

The solutions to this are simple:

  1. Find a quiet place to work. If people are vying for your attention while you’re attempting to concentrate, you’re going to have a tough time. Find somewhere you won’t be bothered.
  2. Turn off notifications. Notifications are anything that makes noise to get your attention or pops up on your screen. Put your phone away; either silence it or put it on airplane mode. I work on a Mac (which is better than a PC 😜), which means my computer has iMessage. The problem with iMessage is that its default mode has texts pop up right on your screen! It’s horribly distracting. I turned off that feature and also hid my Dock, which on PCs is called the taskbar, so that if I want to check my messages, I have to scroll to the bottom of the screen where it’s hidden. Because they’d also show notifications, I never have Twitter or Facebook open while I’m working. Sometimes, I find it helpful to turn my computer on airplane mode.

When you’ve been working a bit and now find yourself feeling distracted, it’s time to take a break. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Text your girl/boyfriend for a bit. Do whatever you want for 20 minutes or so.

The more you’re focused, the easier it will be to flow. So, limit distractions and interruptions while you’re working.

Now, to Clarify: Some Distraction Might Be Helpful

Remember when I said that one of the requirements for being in flow is that you can’t be self-conscious about what you’re doing? A little bit of healthy distraction could help you relax.

There’s a reason why candles and rose petals are cliché of romance. It’s because the candles’ flickering and the flowers’ scents distract you a bit, making you focus on something besides yourself (making you less self-conscious), which feels relaxing.

The human brain can’t focus on two things at once. But if you’re doing two activities that don’t involve the same brain functions, it won’t ruin your productivity –it can even help! Right now I’m listening to dubstep. Since dubstep is generally just sounds without words, it doesn’t distract me while I’m writing. If I listened to my favorite genre, pop-punk, I’d get distracted by the lyrics because I’m using my brain to write words: I can’t focus on writing if I’m also listening to someone speaking –both those activities use the same parts of my brain, the parts that process language.

So what helps you focus? Maybe, like me, it’s listening to music. Perhaps chewing gum or playing with a fidget spinner helps you sit still. It’s different for everyone. Occasionally I hum or tap my foot while writing, and it helps.

 

Once you figure out your personal way of getting in the zone –by doing an activity you enjoy, learning how to have fun, and finding your best ways to focus–, you can use those techniques to every aspect of your life. I used to hate washing dishes. I still do, if I don’t relax and have fun with it. Now, I make sure to let go: I sing and dance and reward myself when I’m done! Time flies by.

I loved writing today’s article and I loved writing my most recent one too. I hope you have a great Sunday. Thanks for reading this. ☺️

Setting Long Term Goals (And Actually Accomplishing Them)

It’s been a long time since I’ve even heard someone speak about their “New Year’s resolution”. In grade school, right before the two weeks off I’d waited for since September, we’d get asked to write down our resolutions. When I think back, I have no idea what I wrote for those assignments, but I know one thing: I never followed through with any of them. I wonder how many people do follow through with theirs. Maybe the reason why I haven’t heard someone talk about their resolution in years, is because most of us have had similar experiences to mine. I’ve never heard someone say, “My resolution this year is to blah blah blah,” and then six months later find out they achieved their goal.

Not to say that all of us fail at New Year’s resolutions; if you’ve accomplished yours in the past, that’s awesome! Tell me about your experience!

Although I don’t participate in that particular New Year’s cliche, I do always think of goals. Unfortunately, I haven’t succeeded in achieving them. I’ve always forsaken them in the pursuit of short-term pleasure; not on purpose, of course, but it does happen. I highly doubt I’m the only one with this problem.

So why do we fail at goals? When we write plans down, why do we not achieve them? My first reason is one I just alluded to.

Short-term Pleasures Murder Our Ambitions

A concept I wrote about in my first article is that small actions add up to greatness over time. I want to learn how to play the bass, but if I tried to learn it all at once, it would be impossible and I’d fail. I’m not a musical prodigy …yet. 😉 The truth is, I won’t know how to play it, if at all, until an unknown time in the future. It’s not in my power to turn an “on” switch and know how to play. What is in my control is that at any moment I can make the decision to put down what I’m doing, pick up the bass and practice. It’s a goal I need to take small bites of, because I’ll choke if I try to swallow it at once.

I’ve heard that someone can become fluent in Spanish with 480 hours of conscious practice. It’s not true for everyone, of course, and it depends on a huge number of factors, but let’s say it’s true for simplicity’s sake. 480 hours of study. If I tried to study for that long I would starve to death. Now let’s think of it like this:

Half an hour of study a day will make me fluent in 2.6 years,

an hour a day will have me fluent in a year and four months,

and two hours a day would be less than 8 months.

This is clearly just speculation. But there’s truth in it.

The rate at which we achieve anything is proportional to the work we dedicate today–the time we dedicate right now– towards what we want to accomplish. I originally wanted to learn Spanish after my parents brought me to a Mexican restaurant in the first grade. It’s been 15 years since then, and I still want to learn Spanish. I’m now 21 years old. Going by the 480 hour idea, if I spent just 5.2 minutes a day since then, I would already be fluent!! Theoretically. The hard truth is that I could’ve been fluent a long time ago if I had made even a relatively small effort to.

It’s hard to stop doing what we want to do right now and instead take this moment to do what we know we should. It can be very difficult, depending on the moment. Of course I don’t want to learn or study when I get home from a long workday –I’d rather watch tv!–, but if I think about the person I want to be in one year, five years, 10 years from now, I’m positive that I want to have accomplished more. Even if I want to play Red Dead Redemption 2 all day, I know if I do that too often, I won’t ever learn Spanish.

One strategy to keep focused on my goals is to remind myself of them. I put reminders everywhere: on my wall, on my phone background, in my car –anywhere that I will see my goals. When I choose what I want to spend my time on right now, in this moment (I’m serious!), I have my goals fresh on my mind. Sticky notes are a wonderful tool.

Our Goals Aren’t S.M.A.R.T.

You may have heard this acronym before –it’s common in schools and businesses:

See the source image

What does it all mean? Basically, if you don’t think the logistics through on your goal –even if your intentions are pure– you won’t achieve it. This is a dumb example, but if I said, “I swear that tomorrow I’m going to sprout wings and fly,” it’s not gonna happen! S.M.A.R.T. is a classic way to remember the requirements for a goal to be accomplished within a time frame.

Okay, even though I just said all that, I don’t agree with everything about the S.M.A.R.T. acronym. Not all of my goals fit within the parameters (I’ll talk about them in a bit). It’s great for business, because if money is being thrown somewhere, you better have a realistic idea of when and what’s gonna happen: otherwise, you have no idea what the future will hold, and with business deals you need to make guarantees to the best of your ability. Particularly, I think the strongest points of this concept are Specific, Measurable, and Achievable. I already mentioned why Achievable is important with my silly “sprouting wings” example. It’s also important because it’s easy to be over-ambitious when saying what we will accomplish. Long-term goals are named as such for a reason.

Goals should be Specific. Otherwise, if you’re too vague about what you want to achieve, you may keep working at it forever, without ever checking it off your list. Like I said: I want to learn Spanish. But when have I done that? It sounds so simple, but really: when have I truly learned it? Most people would say “When you can speak and understand it.” But! I could be very proficient at speaking and listening to my classmates, who are non-native speakers, yet not understand a word that someone from Venezuela is saying. I’ve watched my dear friend Ana, who’s originally from Puerto Rico, speak in Spanish to people from all over South America, despite the different accents and slang. She even went to Spain for a field trip in college, and she didn’t have any problems communicating! That’s because she’s fluent. I want to achieve fluency in Spanish. Fluency is the specific goal I choose, and for me, that means I can understand and speak with someone who speaks Spanish from any country. I won’t be able to memorize every little bit of slang, but communication still won’t be a problem. That is my goal.

In my previous article about exercise I talked about how my fitness journal is important. This is because it lets me measure my progress, and without doing that, I would’t have any data on how fast I’m improving. I can use that past data to project goals into the future. The longer I keep up with my log, the farther in the future I’ll be able to set realistic benchmarks. For example, if in a workout I went from lifting 4 sets of 15 pound dumbbells (I’m not very strong yet…) to 4 sets of 30 pound dumbbells in a matter of 3 months, I can now think about what I hope to achieve next month and three months from now, with real data to back up my plans.

We Don’t Break Down Our Goals Into Smaller Benchmarks

Let’s go back to my goal of playing the bass. Now, I could think about that goal as one massive benchmark, “Learn the bass guitar”, but that’s an overwhelming thought. I don’t know the first thing about playing bass. However, I’m a guitarist. Since I know what it takes to play an instrument, I can break “Learn the bass guitar” down into smaller chunks of goals, such as:

Learn five chords, learn 10 chords, etc. 

Learn major and minor scales.

Get a teacher. (teachers aren’t necessary but they’re very helpful)

Learn a song. 

Write my own song on the bass.

Finishing these little goals is a hell of a lot easier than trying to learn it all at once. If you have a long-term goal, I recommend doing as much research as you can about what it takes to achieve it. This way, you can break it down into sub-goals, like I did up above. I can even set time-frames to my sub-goals: learn one song by Sunday night, learn three chords today, and so on. Don’t screw yourself over by trying all-at-once to accomplish something huge! Be a friend to yourself, and plan out little things you can do, and if you are diligent and make good decisions in the moment, those little things will add up to great success over time.

 

I hope you liked today’s article, because I had fun writing it. And I hope you have a great day. 🙂

Starting To Exercise For Once In My Life

Do you like to exercise? I don’t. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could. Maybe a person only enjoys it if they’ve been doing it awhile, and then, since they’ve gotten used to the feel-good endorphins of exercise, they begin to crave it.

I used to listen to the Jason Ellis Show every day, and there was one episode featuring Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy, a man who used to “snort cocaine for breakfast” and is rumored to have drank 4 bottles of Hennessy a day, said he started working out constantly after he quit drugs. He works out daily now, and he claims it helps him stay clean. I wonder why. Maybe it’s the feel-good endorphins, but it might also be something more.

Even though I loathe to do it, I can’t ignore the cut-and-dry evidence of what benefits exercise gives. It increases happiness, boosts your metabolism, relieves stress, helps prevent a whole list of diseases, and –this what I’m most interested in– it cultivates mental focus. Perhaps this mental focus is what helps Ozzy stay clean. But I just want the ability to focus while writing and learning. It also wouldn’t hurt if I packed on a little bit of muscle. 😉

I want to become fit. I want to feel lighter, stronger, and nimbler. I want to feel clear-minded. However, the way I “feel” isn’t a quantitative measurement.

I’ve heard that the military measures someone’s physical fitness on three levels:

  1. Strength
  2. Endurance
  3. Flexibility

And these abilities go hand in hand: imagine someone who’s very strong but gets tired when they go up a flight of stairs, or somebody who’s strong and has endurance but can’t bend down to tie their shoes –neither of these people are truly fit.

Fitness Journal

A very helpful tool for accomplishing goals, a journal can give you insights into how you’re progressing and what you could be doing better. Big companies keep “journals” of everything they possibly can, so that when the end of the year comes and it’s time to review, they have data which lets them know if something isn’t going according to plan, and where, why and how things went wrong.

Since exercise and diet go hand-in-hand, and also since I have a bad habit of not eating until dinner time, I made the decision to record what foods I consume throughout the day. Without a doubt, my diet seems insane to most people, but I know it works for me and there is a science behind it. I won’t, however, be writing about my diet in this article.

My plan is to do alternating days of strength training and cardio. Today I did strength training, so tomorrow I’ll run on the treadmill. I’ll also take two rest days per week. I’ve heard that rest is important when it comes to building muscle.

Here’s my fitness journal so far:

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It’s obviously an exaggeration to say I’ve never exercised before. But, I think if I added up all the hours I’ve spent gyms, that I’ve never spent more than 12 hours in them. Compared to my friend Rhys, who’s been hitting the gym hard since before high school, I’m seriously slacking!

I don’t know how to lift weights. But I do know how to do push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. That’s why I’m starting off by doing body weight exercises. I also know how to do cardio (if I’m sweating, it means I’m doing at least a little bit of cardio). Rhys says he’ll teach me lifting if I get myself a gym membership, so once I’m not making significant gains from body weight exercise, I’ll get a membership to wherever he goes. This plan also gives me time to save some money, because gyms are not cheap.

Just like my article from yesterday, I’ll post an update a few months from now on how my exercise is going. Thanks for reading and have a nice night!

 

Fixing My Horrible Sleep Habits

I get home late. Then I eat late. Then I usually watch anime until it’s very late at night. My body is– after living this way through high school and college– used to this pattern of behavior. Basically I stay up until I’m too exhausted to keep awake, and then I begrudgingly go to sleep. However, I feel fatigued most of the time, and due to a few brief experiments, I’ve figured out some personal benefits of going to bed on time and waking up earlier. For example: days felt longer. I always felt better, both physically and mentally. I got more done. So, naturally, I’d like to incorporate an earlier sleep pattern so I can reap these benefits regularly.

What I’ve noticed for me (and this is why I eventually fall back into my old patterns) is that it’s incredibly difficult to get to bed on time in our modern world. Socially, economically, and technologically –plus, it’s just plain nice to relax at nighttime by watching TV or surfing the web. However, is it worth the damage to my health? Is it worth feeling run down all the time? My answer is “no”. I’m ready to change my sleep habits for good.

Here are my strategies…

1. Wake up at the same time each day // Create a standard routine

Depending on circumstances such as work, school, family, etc., we all have different times we should get up. I currently work sorting packages at an Amazon warehouse, and at the moment, it’s my only source of income. I work an afternoon shift 5 days a week; I don’t have to be up early, but they’ll occasionally offer extra shifts at 9 am. And I live with my parents, by the way: being 21 years old, seeing my parents first thing in the morning, before I “wake up”, does not appeal to me. I usually stay in bed just to avoid them. But I need the money from those extra shifts, and because I’ve slept until noon for a number of years, getting up and leaving for work at 8 am doesn’t sound doable (for now).

I like to do certain things in the morning. Actually, I need to eat, shower, and have a little time to wake up before I go somewhere, or I’m setting myself up for a bad day. Maybe I only need an hour and a half? That gives me half an hour for each activity. I like to also read for awhile before I leave the house, and I would prefer time to meditate, but right now I’m focusing on the essentials. So, by my estimate, the time I should wake up every day is 6:30.

My essential routine will be this: wake up at 6:30 am, get out of bed right away, go downstairs and boil a pot of water for green tea; brush my teeth, brew the tea, and then shower; lastly, I’ll eat breakfast and enjoy my tea before starting my day. I must be done with this routine by 8:00 am. 

2. Change my night-time habits

I have the worst habits at night. As I alluded to in the introductory paragraph, I’ll get home late at night usually after hanging with a friend, chow down whatever I find in the fridge, and then I’ll usually stay up to 2 or 3 am, often smoking weed because I’m bored, and watching anime on my laptop. It’s actually almost 1 am while I’m typing this.

The solutions to these problems are easy to imagine. I’m sure my sleep quality would improve dramatically if simply eat earlier and don’t use my laptop at night. The problem is… my body’s gotten very used to this behavior. As it stands, I’m unable to fall asleep before 2 am, so I get bored and hungry.

I came across my solution a few weeks ago while I was camping with a friend at Mount Monadnock State Park in New Hampshire. The trip was two nights. On the first night I got sleepy a few hours earlier than usual. On the second night, after a day of hiking, I was ready to sleep at 9 pm! That’s a 5 hour difference from my typical night, which is a huge difference. Knowing that blue light from screens stimulates a person to stay awake, and that exposure to sunlight during the day will help your body find a circadian rhythm, I’m positive that I can facilitate this change at home.

From now on, I’ll eat dinner early (perhaps between 5 and 6 pm), and then not eat afterwards. I’ll make sure to eat as much as I can during the day so that I don’t get hungry at night. The sun sets pretty early here in November, but I’m also, within reason, not going to look at screens after sunset. I’m installing f.lux on my computer and phone, which is a free program that filters the blue light from your screens: this way, if I have to look at my devices after dark, they won’t stimulate too much.

I think it’s important for me to separate my working day from nighttime. Otherwise, I’m still “on” when I want to shut my brain off for sleep. Once I get home from work at night, I’ll try to relax through non-stimulating activities: reading, stretching, drawing, and maybe even taking a bath.

3. Two other changes

As I mentioned above, sunlight helps your body find its circadian (sleeping) rhythm. It’s proven that office workers with windows by their desks sleep better than their windowless coworkers. I don’t spend much time outside these days, but I know it’s time to change it. I’m sure getting sunlight at any time will help me, but especially soon after I wake up and also from mid-afternoon until sunset, and I think that it’d even help me if I looked out the window while eating breakfast. It’s cold and I don’t want to go outside in the morning.

While I was camping, another likely reason I felt sleepy is that I exercised considerably by hiking a mountain. At the moment, I live a sedentary lifestyle; considering the proven benefits to someone’s brain, metabolism, mood and energy levels, I should seriously be more active!

I’ll make an effort to go outside and exercise more. Whenever the weather’s nice, I’ll try to sneak in a walk outside. The end of this article leads me to my post for tomorrow, titled Starting To Exercise For Once In My Life.

A short recap of how I’ll help myself sleep:

  • Wake up at 6:30 am, every day
  • Get in the habit of a standard morning routine
  • Stop looking at screens at night
  • Separate my workday from nighttime through relaxing activities
  • Go outside more and exercise

In a few months I’ll post an update on this, sharing how the transition goes and the results these changes have on my sleep.

 

See you tomorrow! 🙂

Time Adds Up Into Success Or Failure

If you spend just 30 minutes a day learning how to play the trumpet, by next year you’ll have done 178 hours of practice. You could learn how to be a programmer, you could write a book, you could do so many things with only a short time every day. Also, you could meditate or take that time to do something entirely for yourself, like cooking a full breakfast in the morning –you would be a more equanimous person a year from now. What I’m trying to say is that all of us waste time on things we don’t even want to.

Because it also works in reverse, unfortunately. When I spent hours a day playing Pokémon as a child, it eventually added up to me playing thousands of hours of Pokémon (I’m serious). In 6th grade I spent $1.25 almost every school day on ice cream at lunch. Imagine what the calories, sugar, and money of that adds up to? I don’t want to. I always tell people if I wasn’t an idiot would have dropped out of high school, because with all of that time I could have taught myself tremendous skills –instead, I spent many hours a week learning how to be a good employee, when I just wanted to learn self-employment.

My friend’s dad (his son wasn’t there) was hanging with my dad at our house, and he kept pestering my other friend and I while we were playing xbox (Portal 2 on the 360). He talked up and down about how his son wouldn’t listen to him, how if we saved $100 a month, every month, until we retire, we would have a million dollars in our savings. I didn’t care at the time, because I was a teenager, but he had a good point. A hundred dollars isn’t much money and if you plug the numbers into a retirement calculator, Mr. Paynich’s claims check out. This is the awesome power of time.

So how can we utilize this power in a practical way? How do we choose what to cultivate, without becoming overwhelmed by the options. First off, let’s simplify:

Assets accrue money over time. Habits accrue us knowledge and health over time.

Now, we just need to ask ourselves: What do I want my life to be like in the future? If we picture how wealthy, healthy, and happy we want to be, we can take 30 minutes right now and invest that time towards our goal. This site is chock full of habits and strategies that yield long-term results. What do you want your life to be like? Make it happen with small steps. Because if this article is conclusive of anything, it’s that slow but steady steps in the direction you choose will take you wherever you want to go.

In our culture, with us being inundated with advertising and marketing ploys, it’s easy to believe that change can happen overnight. It doesn’t. If we are to accomplish long-term goals, we are helpless to “set it and forget it”. What we must do is devote our immediate time to something right now. I’m serious: right now. If you spend half an hour a day towards doing something, what will you have accomplished in five years? In ten years?

I’m going to write one blog post a day for the foreseeable future. Tune in one year from now to see the results. Also, personally, I’m fed up with the amount of time I’ve wasted watching tv and surfing the web. It’s time to change what I do with my time. 🙂

 

Update, 11-13-18: Although I planned on putting a blog post out every day, yesterday I got the chance to spend time with friends I don’t see too often, and I made the decision to not rush writing a post before bedtime, because I don’t want to release articles that aren’t up to my imagined quality. This blog isn’t even important to me compared to accomplishing my goals. Instead of writing a blog post every day, I’ve decided that I will sit down every day to write. I can’t guarantee that I can write quality, daily blog posts. But I can make the decision to write for an hour or ten minutes or even three hours, every single day, as long as I sit down and dedicate a moment to my blog. It’s better to be flexible. Onward and upward!