Habits, How-To

Eat Your Veggies

I am big into nutrition right now. I may or may not be depending on how great my craving for cookies is in the next couple of months (seriously, I have less nutritional discipline than a Biggest Loser contestant without extreme external-monitoring) but for right now I’m big into nutrition.

Each day I eat a balance of proteins and fiber, less carbs (gotta look good for bikini season) and plenty of water. It wasn’t until I was enjoying one of my colorful meals with my paramour that I considered: what if the food pyramid could be applied to our time budget?

I often speak about priorities here on CFiST but today I’d like to give you a tool to make that concept a reality. So even though Time Pyramid would make an awesome 80’s sci-fi title, in this context I’d like to harken back to the now retired food pyramid.

The Plan

Start by considering all the different activities you do during the day. For example, my list would look like the following:

  • Sleep
  • Eat
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Time with loved ones
  • Work
  • Read
  • Chores
  • Journal
  • Reading
  • Personal care
  • Code
  • Write
  • Television
  • Social networking
  • Online shopping

It’s pretty busy to say the least. Now, here’s how I would break that down, carrying the food analogy:

Grains

The essentials. Require the most servings and form the building blocks of your happiness.

  • Sleep
  • Eat
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Time with loved ones

Fruits and veggies

The enriching activities. Substantial, colorful, and tasty!

  • Work
  • Read
  • Chores
  • Journal

Dairy/protein

Essential, but fewer servings. Build mental strength and get some “culture”. Get it? Yogurt joke.

  • Reading
  • Personal care
  • Code
  • Write

Sweets and oils

Delicious, but to be partaken of… sparingly.

  • Television
  • Social networking
  • Online shopping

The result is a coherent metaphor for time “nutrition”; a way to balance out your activities in the best way possible using knowledge you already know. Pretty cool, right?

So how about you? What does your time nutrition look like? List your activities and try breaking them down into these groups and see how many servings you get in an average day. Feel free to post the results in the comments below and think about eating healthier. I have a hunch that you’ll be glad you did.

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Habits, Philosophies, Productivity

1/4 Cup Change

Pancakes are great. There are many ways to make them, but the same basic recipe remains the same. They taste about the same every time (delicious) and to make things even simpler, the word “pancake” never changes definition, thus averting confusion. They have the same basic toppings, go in the same place after being eaten, and for all these reasons are one of my favorite dishes to make.

Humans are not pancakes.

You see, we come up with recipes for our everyday lives. I, for example, had my productivity tools utterly figured out over the past few months as I established new habits, endeavored to get more done, and did my best to squeeze my hobbies into my life. Things worked like a well-oiled machine, until recently when I realized that a few of my productivity tools were actually preventing me from getting my work done.

I had established my habits, learned my lessons from the process, and was not endeavoring to reshape my life by paring back down to what was essential and necessary. I had changed and my productivity tools had to change with me.

And thus is the greatest challenge of living an active, successful, happy lifestyle: we are not pancakes. We require different ingredients at different times and even the definition of “us” changes constantly throughout our lives. The important thing to remember is that growth is a beautiful thing, and the tools we need to further that growth change.

Be flexible to change and the world will be at your feet. Learn to adapt your recipe and you will become even more awesome than pancakes.

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Commentary, Habits, Philosophies

Is This Real Life?

Context: this particular post was written a couple of weeks ago while the misses was away for a business trip and my work was exceedingly stressful. The commentary is, however, no less universal today than it was then.

Barring a stroke of pure genius, welcome to my ham-fisted introduction, pounded out beligerently on the keyboard well past my bed time on a school night. I’m tired, my head hurts, my eyes are extremely dry, and the cat will, not stop, jumping, into, my lap. At this point, it’s hard to appreciate my tea or find the patience for studying Japanese, my physical circumstances simply don’t permit my attitude a sliver of optimism or enthusiasm. Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore that my perspective as a self-improvement junkie, aspiring polyglot (knower of many languages) welcomes the reluctant learning as a badge of honor; a moment when my willpower and intellectual curiosity won out over my physical circumstances.

You see, today was a difficult day. Besides the brow-beating a 9-to-5 work environment can regularly lay on unsuspecting victims, the absence of my paramour (business trip) has made maintenance of my usual (pardon the term) “swagger” exceedingly difficult. Physically drained, emotionally exhausted, and mentally taxed beyond my usual burn-the-bitch-at-both-ends work style, normal circumstances simply aren’t what they would be in the right lighting. My persistent pesimism born of a physical inability to muster a smile makes crackers bland, tea uninteresting, and conversations labored.

On the flip side, my usual sunny demeanor has its benefits, pardoxically serving as a hindrance to my dispassionate evaluation of the world around me. The same day, viewed with a good night’s sleep, a warm hug from mah bebe, and a fresh batch of esoteric albums to listen to would taste the same crackers with delight, sip the same tea with appreciation, and lead to joke after hilariously delivered joke (I’m a God damn delight). Unfortunately, what this means is that regardless of the circumstances, you and I both are bound and determined to have our subjective evaluations swayed more by our physiology than by the flavor of crackers in front of us (I’m really hungry and all we have are crackers).

So what defines us? Clearly we aren’t serial killers one day and happy-bunnies the next. You see, the common thread that runs through all of our perceptions is our perspective. The perspective that comes from many years of living our own lives, walking in the shoes of others, and having cultural experiences that expand our minds. No matter how pissed off you get that X didn’t do Y or Z doesn’t taste like Q, down at your core you know who you are: a person capable of patience and empathy, unwilling to rely on heartburn and assumptions when making judgments or decisions. You are capable of doing better.

I’m not saying it’s easy, God knows it isn’t. But seeing the world objectively, not attaching a label or a positive/negative evaluation to everything you perceive will help you be a more calm, secure, and happy person. I speak from experience. Look beyond your assumptions and ask yourself, what is happening in this moment? And when you’re done, come back here and tell me about it because once my knee stops hurting and my complexion clears up, I will be a person that wants to hear about your life.

And you will be to.

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Productivity

Don’t Get Busy

I’m big on avoiding burnout. It’s a problem that’s plagued me for years and years and years, hamstringing my productivity at the worst times and forcing me to take a break from the hobbies and pursuits that I enjoy most.

There are simple ways to avoid burnout in the short-term, but a long-term solution requires quite a bit more understanding of how success is constructed.

In this article from the blog Study Hacks, the author details a study conducted by psychologists at the Universität der Künste (the Wolverines if I’m not mistaken…). The short version is that the most successful individuals studied spent their time hyper-focused on one task at a time instead of overloading themselves with many tasks at once.

But while this may be hard to stomach or comprehend, it’s the truth, and it is exactly that psychological bias that causes us to stay in patterns of burn-out. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, if you have to exhaust yourself physically and mentally to slow down, you may be relying on faulty assumptions such as the desire to be perfect, the belief that you should not feel stressed, and the need to delay relaxation until all tasks are done.

There is no easy formula for preventing the big BO, but there are patterns we can recognize within ourselves to improve our quality of life. The most important message is to cut yourself some slack, relax, and do less with more focus. Trust me, you deserve it.

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Commentary, Philosophies

Beauty as Necessity

I am not running for Congress, that much is clear. I’d like to begin with this statement because the following piece is going to seem like a pretty bald-faced “art in schools” speech. I’m not protecting the glee club, I’m not pushing for bigger arts budgets, and I’m not campaigning for mandatory music and art education.

Then again, maybe I am.

I’ll let you figure it out. Over the past several months my already kindling interest in graphic design, art, music, and photography has grown exponentially. I’ve found websites to stoke the flames, engaged in conversations with friends that cultivated my young ideals regarding the topic, I’ve even entered the creative “conversation” myself with my music and writing. The result has been difficult to ignore: either by accident or as a consequence, my demeanor has calmed, my relationships with others have grown more profound, and my appreciation of the little things in life has grown. In short, I’m discovering the fourth human necessity.

My interest began with a graphic designer and musician by the name of Scott Hansen. His blog, ISO50, featured unconventional art and photography, regular music posts, case studies of design in consumer products and publications, and a consistent and inspiring thread of fulfillment. Scott Hansen doesn’t just observe art, it is an extension of him.

For this young artist, his moniker, “Tycho” and the art that stems there-from, are as much a part of him as his right hand. The beauty he perceives in the world is as much a confirmation of his character as it is a satisfaction of his tastes. When he looks at a sunset, treated in a vintage filter and blurred to a dreamy state, this is how he views the world; that same calm that he experiences becomes him.

Art has a tendency to do this to people. Like Cameron in the Chicago History Museum, works of creativity have a way of staring into us, picking out a trait within us that we may be afraid to confront, proud to promote, or unaware of entirely. This knowledge of ourselves grows and makes us more confident, stretching into our engagements with others, manifesting as compassion, connection, and wisdom.

And when we see these displays in gaudy frames in an art museum, we begin to see their fingerprints everywhere. An especially beautiful picture of a sunset in Maui causes us to see our sunsets for their colors and meaning. A song about a subway station causes us to hear the sounds of the train tracks and ramblings of doomsday preachers in a different way. Our life becomes fuller, more meaningful, acting like a foley artist in a film, which brings to the forefront all of the things we would otherwise ignore.

I am more a believer now that I have ever been that the fourth human necessity, aside from water, food, and oxygen is beauty. The significance of our existence, our relationships, and our actions knows only chemical bonds and the passage of time without the inherent quality of beauty. Looked at subjectively, we are slaves to perception. Looked at objectively, we are little more than molecules. But looked at in conjunction, both through the lens of the human eye and within the rules of our physical world, ideas and transactions become meaningful, giving us purpose and peace.

Say what you will about Chinese math scores and the brain drain of the US economy. Without purpose, our calculations have no meaning. Beauty is as essential to our existence as the flesh of our bodies and, regardless of your artistic talent, you too are capable of both creating it and appreciating it in a way that will change the course of your life, right this very moment.

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Habits, Philosophies, Productivity

Spring Cleaning

It’s snowing. Again. It’s always fucking snowing in the state of Iowa. At least, that’s how it feels this year.

So in order to vent my cabin fever, today’s post is about Spring. Spring cleaning to be specific. You see, as of late I have spent a good deal of time trying to get organized, scheduling and rescheduling perceived obligations, and looking for holes in my personality that have led to such a challenging few months.

But the truth is, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the problem is not as simple as it appears.

One approach, featured on the Happiness Project blog, approaches the organization problem with a simple strategy: don’t get organized. Don’t keep things around that you don’t need and be honest with yourself. I mean, what are the odds that you’re going to use that five-year-old coupon to El Pollo Loco?

Extend this concept even further into your life. I had to come to grips with the fact that, despite my desire to become fluent in Japanese, my life is simply too cluttered, and my goals simply too divergent from that knowledge for it to be kept around. I do plan to go to Tokyo some day, and at that time the language will be useful and thus, the habit. But in the mean time, it’s much more advantageous to refuse to become organized.

The important thing to remember is priorities. Though certain scholarly pursuits, hobbies, or activities may seem like great fun, keeping clutter around for sentimental reasons is not nearly as rewarding as keeping a clean house and a clean mind.

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Philosophies

Ask the Right Question

Today’s message is simple:

Sometimes when you ask, “what is wrong with me?” the answer is, “nothing.”

This is a personal anecdote, no hard scientific evidence, but a full week of grappling with this question, finding no answer whatsoever has enlightened me to its importance. Often when we cannot find the answers we need, we are asking the wrong question. In my case, the question was not “What is wrong with me?’ but, “What is causing me to feel this way?”

Our circumstances have a powerful effect in our lives, but it takes maturity to remember that.

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