Commentary, Philosophies

Do What You Love

I work at a respectable company. I’ll go ahead and skip the details and simply tell you that it is a good job that ensures that my paramour and I do not want for the necessities.

It is a rewarding job, though sometimes quite menial. Each day I show up around 8 AM and perform some technical tasks, some mundane ones, and then get home around 5 PM, much to the joy of a happy puppy and a beautiful girl.

This makes for a rather content existence, but there’s always a persistent feeling of wanting something more at my job. So, in order to remedy this, I took on the responsibility of writing and designing the company community newsletter alongside a couple of my co-workers. This, as it turns out, has been a more significant decision than I had anticipated.

I began editing our first issue one day, determining the layout, setting the typographical elements, etc. when I noticed that I had become quite hungry. I am not one to shy away from food; a hyperactive metabolism necessitates constant consumption or risk of acute discomfort at the lack of food within me. Altogether, this was quite peculiar. Had I really become so consumed with editing this little newsletter that I had not even been aware of one of my more basic needs?

I slept on it and as I put my shoes on to head in the next day, the newsletter the only real task ahead of me, I became aware of an expectancy that I had not experienced before at the prospect of leaving for work. The reality was now pretty plain: this copy-editing and designing was (gasp) fun.

There was an excitement about it. An excitement that, truth be told, we should all have when approaching our most basic endeavors. But the important thing that I wish to convey is this: you should not find ways to come to grips with what you do, but instead do what you love. It is a cliché at best, but it is a very real and important one. When we grow up, the common myth tells us that we must accept our less-than-attractive fate and deal with the banality that is adult life. That is simply not the case.

We now have more tools and opportunities available to us than ever before to make our dreams a reality; the list of valid excuses dwindles by the minute. Unlike in the 80’s when access to sound production meant paying out the ass for studio time and equipment, we now have the technology within our homes to become what we admire. I am not going to give up the stability and happiness of my family for the all-in pursuit of a dream, but I will dedicate what time I have available to the healthy commitment to a craft that brings me great pleasure.

We have needs in our lives, but they extend beyond food, water, and shelter. We need beauty, we need excitement and we need fulfillment. These things are present in the world, we need only to put in the work and find the way to make them present in our everyday lives. Now go get ’em tiger.

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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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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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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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Commentary, Philosophies

We Can Build It, We Have the Technology

I’m a self-help and productivity junkie; on that there is no argument. I’ll try any to-do list app, download calendar programs that make me breakfast, and use flashcards to memorize my strengths and weaknesses. During my perusing I came across two very interesting ideas: 1. Dreaming is usesless without doing and 2. social media is not a gathering, but a stage. The former is easy an extremely important idea, the latter a paradigm shift in the way we “act” in our lives, and the implication is a simple question: what are we really doing with our lives because of these truths?

The aforementioned calendar applications I have their uses, but the reality is that, until recently, I had been living my life for productivity. The flaw with this method, of course, is that productivity and creativity are not the end goals in themselves; they are the vehicles for greater action. For example, my unflappable determination to find the best to-do list has been long-developing and had, in its own rite, turned into a hobby of sorts. I would sift through the app store, mentally crossing off all the solutions I had tried and discarded. Once I finally found the holy grail (Any.DO, I highly recommend it), my immediate response was to go back to the app store and see if anything was better! Really? I had to ask myself “what am I really trying to accomplish here?” and, since answering that question, I have since been happier, more productive, and less broke on 99 cent apps.

Part of my new, more productive lifestyle was the utilization of news reader services, which led me to another truth that impacted my life significantly. Sifting through the news feeds of my favorite websites, I stumbled upon (using reddit, ironically) an article pointing to research that suggests that, though our methods of communication are more numerous/ubiquitous, our actual number of friends and meaningful activities had greatly declined (by as much as 40-50% in most cases). The research concluded that social networking of all kinds are not really a substitute for our in person interactions, but instead a platform upon which we may express ourselves in the presence of others. The principle makes sense: what requires a greater and, hence, more meaningful expenditure of personal resources? “Liking” a comment or going to have coffee with someone?

So I considered it and I came to a pretty confounding question: if tools facilitate action, and action dictates substance, why aren’t we using our tools to their fullest potential? Think about it: we can instantly exchange messages with friends, why not message them that their favorite band is playing right now? If we can post links on each others’ walls, why don’t we post the website of a restaurant we could go to? Extend the principle past social networking: if we can access the Library of fucking Congress, why can’t political junkies get their American history straight? I would never disparage pictures of cats (because I love them), but if we can instantly chat with someone of another nationality instantly, why aren’t we using the tool to become fluent in a new language?

Are we really using our tools to their fullest potential? Furthermore, are we really exercising ourselves to the fullest potential? I believe that we are not disinterested, but distracted; lost amongst the constant stimulation and too burdened by light-hearted entertainment to confront the real questions in our lives. Unable or unmotivated to learn and grow our intellectual garden, why not invest in and utilize the proper tools?

It’s really not a question of why but when. We have the tools, we have the information, and dreaming about our favorite endeavors is as useless as throwing coins in a fountain without the action to make them a reality. So consider, while you watch 300 and consider how bad ass Leonidas looks, why not work out? When you watch a cooking show and think “boy that looks good…” why not learn how to cook it? The world now more than ever is oversaturated with potential energy, the question is, when will you get up and start moving?

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What do you think? Are you ready to get started? Have you already started? Join the conversation on the Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Inspiration, Productivity

I Am, Therefore I Think

Staring at a blank page, exhausted and taxed, it’s easy to conceive why we may be, at times, uninspired. Even coming up with words in this very moment is a struggle the likes of which I have not faced this millenium. But in a situation like this, three things come to mind.

The first: A little effort, day in and day out, no matter how small, makes a difference. Even if the end product is short, even if you only clean one dish, even if you only learn one word in Japanese, you made a difference today.

The second: habits are liberating. The decision to sit down and write this morning was an easy one because I have made writing a priority. In this way, the cognitive burden of choosing whether or not to put in the effort was made before I even woke up this morning, freeing my mind for more challenging tasks.

And the third: acting when uninspired or doing when bored are powerful creators, in the same way that smiling when sad creates happiness. Our moods and motivations are a two-fold tango of underlying mood and action, and the interplay between them works in both directions. We may be moved to smile by something that makes us happy or create by something inspiring, but the physical act of smiling also causes us pleasure and creating something breeds inspiration.

When you’re tired, work out. When you’re bored, do something. The truth is that restlessness is simply your hungry brain, standing in front of a full fridge, deciding what it wants to eat.

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What about you? What do you do to get motivated? Join the conversation with CFiST on Twitter and Facebook!

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