Showing posts with label self improvement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self improvement. Show all posts

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Letter To My Young Son

A Letter To My Young Son On Rules To Live By

Not my son pictured

The morning your mom came into my office and told me she was pregnant, I laughed. We had some drinks the night before, and I thought she had a slight hangover.  She then produced a home pregnancy stick that was positive.
My response was, “those things can often be wrong.”
To which, she replied, “it’s the second one I’ve taken this morning.”
See, we had planned to start a family, and just weeks after agreeing to start, you were on your way. In life it’s not up to us to decide the timing of things, life operates with its own clock.
At first, we were both unsure what to say to each other, or what to do next. We stood in the middle of the room and hugged. Talking about our feelings, we were anxious, nervous, scared, elated, sad, and happy. 

I say we were sad, and maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but the sadness was a part of the fear. Fear that I’d fail you like so many other parents, including my own. Fear that I couldn’t be the man you needed to raise you, provide for you and keep you safe. 

And some of that fear was pure selfishness. I knew that my life, our lives, were going to change, and change is a psychologically driven fear with roots in our DNA. 

It’s a funny thing about fear. 

Once we get to that point in our lives that we feared, we learn that it’s not so bad after all. Unless you’re being chased toward a pride of lions by hungry Hyenas in the African savannah. Then the fear is justified. You’re just fucked.
There were many nights I laid awake wondering what the fuck am I going to do? 

How can I do the things a dad needs to do?

Shit, I haven’t even been to Ireland or Paris yet. 

I think this over-analysing thought process is normal for expecting parents, but how do I know? 

You are my first child, and the only experience I had previous to this was watching other people with their kids, and hell, they seemed like pros compared to me. 

I couldn’t get into their mind to see their hopes, dreams, and fears. 

I was left to scramble my thoughts, like eggs that were beaten to make an omelet, only to decide that sourdough toast was a better option.
But this letter isn’t about fear, or remorse, or anything negative at all.
To the contrary, this is a letter from me, to you, about all that I hope you learn about life and your place in this world.

This is the world

This world is an amazing place filled, at times, with less amazing people. Not all people, mind you. 

There are people that don’t think, feel, act, or operate with the same appreciation for the delicacy of life that I do.
And that’s ok.
Just like having a little whiskey is ok. Or a beer, or glass of wine. 

But like these drinks, a little too much of them will give you a hangover. So understand that a little poison now and again stiffens the soul, just don’t over do it.
What I hope to show you is a world that was as beautiful as the one I experienced as a kid. 

One where the sun shines, the rain rains, the moon moons, and the stars shine. 

A world where the breeze messes up your hair before taking class pictures and nobody cares. 

Where a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was the currency of the lunchroom and a candy bar was traded on the secret black market of the playground. 

Where playing and running and jumping are just what you do, like fish swimming, and not something you have to plan on your schedule to do, like going to the gym.

But make sure you shower. Nobody likes a smelly person. 

And, as my grandma used to tell me every day: “Make sure you have clean underwear on. In case the firemen have to rescue you. It’s only fair to them.” Oh, and make your bed first thing every morning.
I want you to laugh until it hurts, and I want you to sing your heart out. 

I want you to cry, and get mad. Like really pissed off, mad.

It’s ok to be happy, sad, joyful, and mad. 

These are all traits that make us human, and they’re perfectly wonderful to experience. 

But be careful with them. 

Emotions are personal, they can be as light and delicate as a butterfly’s wings, or as sharp as a razor, and you should tread lightly over other peoples.
To wit: tell the truth, play by the rules, and don't cheat. 

Help others who are less fortunate, share what you have, and don't boast. 

Don't blame others for your own errors, and don't compare what you have with what someone else has. 

Be quick to forgive and be a peacemaker, and to know that every human being has value regardless of their bank accounts, the color of their skin, their sex, or where they live. 

As your mom says, “Somebody loved them enough for them to get to where they’re at, and they love someone else as well.” So try to remember that.

There’s a lifetime of wisdom, built from experience that I wish I could telepathically share with you. 

But that’d be weird for both of us, I believe. I’d be all up in your head sharing memories and emotions, and you’d be exposed to some degenerate thoughts and things unsuitable for someone as young as you. They may even get your dad in trouble with the law, so it’s probably better that we lack telepathy skills. 

Besides, the best knowledge comes from experience. We learn more by doing, and failing, then by watching.

Having said that, In light of these limitations, I’d like to share my list of 10 rules (actually 13) to live by.

10 Things Actually 13 Rules I Hope You Live Your Life By

  • Be kind. Learn to be compassionate to everyone you meet. Some are doing better than you. Others are having a harder time. But they all feel, they all hurt, love, and laugh.

  • Be respectful. Treat people with dignity and respect. You will meet people that seem like they don’t deserve it, but as I said earlier, everyone is dealing with stresses, sense of loss, and pain that you have no idea of and since they bleed the same as you, they deserve to be treated as such.

  • Listen. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Unfortunately, most people only want to hear themselves speak and don’t really care to listen. If you take a moment, and just listen to others, you’ll learn a hell of a lot.

  • Do what’s right. It’s easy to make the popular decision, to join in, but is that right?  Stand up for the person being picked on, defend what makes this life better. Most people will do what’s the popular thing to do, and they won’t understand how it negatively affects someone else. Take a stand when necessary, especially for those that can’t take a stand on their own. Simply do what’s right, especially if nobody is looking or watching you do it. It’s called character and integrity, and it’s a damn limited trait today.You’ll sleep better at night.

  • Get some sleep. Speaking of sleep, get yours. This idea that you have to work yourself to the bone is bullshit. Right now in our society, there’s a glorification of always being busy, which is shit. Yes, you need to work hard, but don’t sacrifice your health by denying sleep. It helps relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. It also helps maintain health and wellbeing.

  • Daydream. Spend some time lost in thought, watching eye floaters cruise around on your eyeballs. Thoughts will flutter into your head, great ideas will ride a bolt of lightning, and clarity, most of all, will appear from behind the fog. Most of all, daydreaming is a skill that helps you connect with the universe and everything around you and it with you.

  • Do your best. In everything you do, offer your best effort. Be satisfied with your work, not the outcomes of it.

  • Workout. Workout both your body and brain. This idea is more about your general health, but do something to exercise your body and mind every day. Play guitar, piano, tuba, whatever to make a bunch of noise. Run, swim, and lift weights to increase your heart rate and breathing. And read. Not because I got my degrees in English Literature, but because reading will spark your creativity and cognitive thinking skills. These activities will help make you fit, and aids in sleep which makes you dream, and dreaming is one of the most powerful human experiences that is in extremely short supply today.

  • Go the extra mile. If someone needs a hand, lend them both. If they need a dollar, give them $5.Generosity is a finite resource, however. Be willing to go the extra mile but don’t let people take advantage of your generosity.

  • Expect nothing, give everything. Be willing to dig in the dirt, and don’t expect people to pamper you. You’re entitled to nothing, so be prepared to do the work necessary to get what you need before you work to get what you want. Clean up after yourself first-and-foremost to make it less difficult for others later. It’s like eating vegetables. Once you eat your vegetables, you can have ice cream.Just don’t expect the world to serve up bottles after bottles of formula or whatever it is you want to drink. Sorry, this was written while you are an infant and you really seem to like formula right now.

  • Love Mom. Treat your mother with love and respect. Everyday. She’s the only one you have, and trust me, losing a relationship with your mom is something that will weigh on you like a backpack full of stones.

  • Fail, and fail again. Be willing to fail at something, every day. Make discomfort your comfort level. See, most people, your parents included, are scared to do something because they might fail. Shit, there’s a ton of things I want to do, and because I rationalize the potential loss or failure, I never get started on them. This tendency is typical of people. It’s safer not to try than possibly succeed. But you my young son, you only have one life to live, so live it. Make it the one you want, by making mistakes, by failing, you’ll learn about ways to do things right. And you’ll get shit done.

  • Leave things better than you found them. Make people's lives better by how you treat them and interact with them. Try to make this a better world and not just yourself. There’re enough selfish clowns out there as it is, so why be part of that herd?
That’s about it.

If you can live your life by at least a few of these rules, you’ll live a happy, full life, one that makes other people's lives better as well. You won’t be able to master all of these traits, but if you can get a couple down just right, you’ve done a heckuva job.

Oh, and be happy.

Smile every day just like you do now.

Still, not my son

Even now, when you’re toothless and goofy, smiling makes you have a better day and those around you have a better one also. It’s amazing how a smile can transform your mood and that of the people around you. 

If you’re having difficulties smiling, find someone who makes you smile. 

Like you do for me, or your mom does for me when I’m in my “serious mood.”

In final, it all comes down to the one simple truth: Treat people the way you want them to treat you.

Good luck and I love you.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Do What's Right

Just Do What's Right

"Always Do Right.

This Will Gratify Some People And Astonish The Rest"

Self Improvement begins with the self.
It's the first time in about a year you've had a chance to eat out at a restaurant.

Money's tight, and it's difficult to get everyone together at the same time.

While you're sitting at dinner with your friends, you realize that it's 5 days away from payday. Perhaps you're having a beer, or a glass of wine, while your table is having appetizers. You see in your head the price of your dinner bill skyrocket, and you're not sure it was a good idea to eat here.

A young couple at the table next to you is in the process of paying their bill before they leave. As they get up, they walk away from their table as to leave the restaurant.

A moment or two passes, and you can see that under the table is some money sitting on the floor.

You get up and see it's two $100 bills.

What do you do?

Do you chase after the couple to return the money? Which way did they go?

Do you flag down the restaurant staff? Are you sure they would even know who's money it is?

When things are difficult, the path we choose is the result of weighing the options and deciding the best way forward.

It can be a choice between taking the longer, more arduous path versus doing what's simple, easy and fun.

It can be a choice of doing what's right and what's easy.

Too often it seems that what we want is in direct competition with what we need. That shouldn't be the case and it shouldn't be the result of a bifurcated trial.

Every day we're presented with two options. The path we choose leads to another set of binary choices that lead so on ad infinitum.

It becomes an infinite loop that perpetuates itself forever.

Just do what's right.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How To Develop Expert Habits One At A Time

Develop Expert Habits One Step At A Time - That Is, Until You Find Your Shortcut

In this post, we'll discuss the process of skill acquisition and what it takes to develop expert habits, one at a time.

Master This!

Trying to develop mastery of any task or subject takes time. That's something we all know and is well understood.

But for some people, it seems simple. They make mastering a new skill or task appear effortless, but why?

What separates those individuals who can master anything quickly from the rest of us?

Growing up in Southern California, playing outside was never a question.  Every day I'd be outside running imaginary routes from the famous "Air Coryell" route tree of the early '80s Chargers.

Other days I spent dribbling around the multiple defenders I could imagine, scoring a goal off a self-pass from the walls of the indoor venue that the San Deigo Soccers like Julie V. played in.

Whatever I did, it was to emulate my sports heroes, and I spent hours trying to hone my skills.  One of my kid brothers was so smooth at acquiring new skills that it drove me crazy.

I'd spend hours in the driveway shooting hoops, kicking a ball against the retaining wall in our front yard or working out in the pool - only to be shown up by my kid brother. He'd ask what I was doing; I'd tell him, and he'd effortlessly perform better than I could.

On top of being taller and better looking, being able to pick up a skill or task and outperform me with little effort, after hours of me sweating, just didn't seem fair.

It wasn't.

He had an edge - he was able to watch me and could identify something in my actions about what worked and what didn't.  So he focused on what did work and discarded what didn't.

When 20 > 80 - What To Do About Efficient Learning 

Lately, there is a whole cottage industry of experts finding ways to speed up the process of skill acquisition from novice to intermediate to expert.

Tim Ferriss, for example, is the author of The 4-Hour Work Week (among others) and has reinvented his career by studying and showing others how to accelerate the learning curve. Much like my kid brother, he focused his efforts on the tasks that worked and discarded the others.

It's a school of thought that there has to be a shortcut to expertise.  That there is a more effecient mode of learning than countless hours of dedicated practice (more on this below).

Part of the philosophy behind Tim's strategy is the belief that there are repetitive processes that masters learn over time that shortcut the usual process of skill acquisition to mastery.

It's a philosophy based in part on the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule.

The Pareto Principle builds on a Roman philosopher that grew peas centuries ago. He observed that of all the peas planted in and around Rome, 20% of all the plants yielded 80% of every harvest.

This theory has been tested over millennia and in a number of industries and states that 80% of your productivity returns comes from 20% of your efforts.

In order to find a shortcut to mastery, first, we have to understand what mastery is and how it is a task best acquired.

Seminole Moment

At Florida State University it can get hot, humid and steamy. Unless you're a glutton for being fed upon by mosquitos the size of buzzards, spending a lot of time indoors seems the sane route.

It's under the gaze of fluorescent and LCD lights with air conditioning that K. Anders Ericsson, a man who wears a tight beard colored the same as the salt and pepper hair on his head, specializes on Cognitive Behavior at Florida State University.

Originally from the University of Sweden, his research has developed the concept of the 10,000-hour rule of mastery, which states that it takes 10,000 hours of highly dedicated, extremely focused practice to become an expert at any task.

Check Mate - How Learning To Overcome Different Strategies Actually Works

In one published study, Ericsson references the research by renowned psychologist Adrianus de Groot. In his research, de Groot, who was a master a chess himself, studied how world chess masters studied and acquired new tactics.

The chess masters were asked to announce their moves aloud when undertaking an unknown move or unfamiliar tactic.

What de Groot discovered wasn't that the chess players had an expansive memory any greater than anyone else, or that they possessed an incredible speed of cognition, rather the chess masters possessed a unique speed of tasks and tactics they were already familiar.

So the most revealing aspect of the study wasn't the acuity of the chess players, rather it was their ability and speed at which they operated under previously mastered stratagems.

In other words, they found shortcuts in how they responded to new and unfamiliar situations from hours of dedicated practice.

This study shows that mastery isn't the capacity to think on your feet quickly, or be able to process new information and cogently respond, rather the rapidity at which one can act on tasks that they have already mastered.

" performance is viewed as an extreme case of skill acquisition" 
(Proctor & Dutta, 1995.  Richman, Gobet, Staszewski & Simon, 1996; VanLehn 1996) 
What this research tells us about developmental processes and skill acquisition is that when we try to develop expert habits, it takes time, highly focused dedication to the techniques and refinement before mastery.

Once expertise of any particular task is achieved then, it next becomes a process of finding the shortest route to the desired outcome. This is where labels like "genius," expert," and "master" become attached to someone.

It's because through these highly acquired tactics and skills, performing the functions appear to be effortless. My brother could watch me and see what worked, discard the rest and had mastered the skills faster than I did through traditional trial and error.

The Balance Necessary For Mastery

So why could my brother pick up skills faster than I did?

He was able to dedicate his focus on the 20% of my actions - and those of others performing the same tasks - that resulted in the 80% of the desired results.

For some people, they can intuitively pick up what works effectively simply by watching others perform a similar task.

For most of us clods, it takes plenty of time of highly dedicated practice to learn how to develop and acquire the skills necessary.

What we find is that the two schools of thought regarding skill development and mastery should be in perfect harmony.  A balance between the need to devote massive amounts of time to highly dedicated practice - the 10,000-hour rule - and the ability to achieve mastery faster.

Somewhere in between the 10,000-hour rule and the Pareto Principle is the sweet spot we should strive for then.

By finding that balance of devoted, dedicated practice, while focusing on what yields the greatest results regularly, we're able to fulfill our goal of developing expert habits one at a time.

Do what the experts do, find what works for them, discard the rest and get started on your own road to developing expert habits.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Power Of Habit Over Your Life And What You Can Do About It

The Power of Habit

The little things we do without thinking, and how to change them for the better 

Every morning you get out of bed and probably go about a routine that you have set on automatic.

These little actions are done by rote and without any conscious thought - in other words, they've become habits.

Perhaps you get up, get dressed, lace your shoes and go for a run.

Maybe you grab your water and yoga mat and head off to your studio.

Did you brush your teeth or use mouthwash before you left the house?  How about your hair? Do you shower before you leave, or did you take a shower the night before?

If you did any one of these things and didn't think about it before hand, that's the power of habit.

Every time you catch yourself checking your Facebook or other social media without thinking about it first, that's the power our habits can take on us.

So, if our unconscious actions can dictate our behavior, what then, does it take to change our actions to take on the desired effect?

For example, imagine you have a new goal you want to accomplish.  With summer coming around soon, maybe it's to lose a couple of pounds or get in better cardiovascular shape to be more active this year.

Don't pretend that losing a couple of pounds to look and feel better outdoors isn't on your radar. Most of us have a social pull to fit in, to feel better, to look our best, and losing a couple of pounds can have a profound effect on our self-esteem.

Besides, I need the analogy for my argument.

So how do you create better habits in a safe, constructive way?

Understand the 3 Step Process of the Habit Loop to Build Better Habits

It takes decisive action with attention to the small details that will make lasting change.
In Charles Duhigg's seminal book on habits, he discusses how the power of habit dictates our actions and influences our outcomes. 

Citing research, Duhigg claims there is a process of three steps that form a loop in our behavior.

1) The first is the cue - what are the shortcuts you need to get more done, more easily?

2) The second is the trigger - what causes you to act?

3) The third is the reward - what do you get in return for the action?

This loop of cue, trigger, reward is the basis for building a habit.  And remember, a habit can be an automatic action that is good, or one that is not. 

Over time, this anticipation can develop into a craving for the reward and result in action that is beyond our conscious control.

Think about checking your email.

The cue is that when you open up your computer or smartphone, your inbox automatically updates all of your new emails. It may "ding" or pop-up a notification that you have a new email.

The trigger is the desire to know who emailed you, what about, and how important is it.

Finally then the reward is opening your email inbox and reading an email.

Research indicates that this process is one that tickles the same part of our brains like cocaine - it's exhilarating and releases significant amounts of dopamine, the chemical for pleasure in our brains, and it's why we get a slight thrill every time we open up our inboxes. We begin to anticipate the happiness that we get from the reward.  It's this phase that reinforces the habit loop (more on this phase below).

The anticipation of seeing a new email is a similar experience to expecting the rush from amphetamine. It also helps explain why social media platforms like Facebook are so popular and addicting.

So how do we change negative behaviors and create ones that we want?

Unlock Your Potential While Breaking Old Habits

Duhigg reports that habits are potentially 40% of all our daily actions, meaning that there are unconscious actions we do automatically almost half the time.

Because as we develop habits, our brain creates patterns that it relies on as a shortcut to save time and energy.  So, in effect, the old habits and patterns never disappear, which helps explain why it's so easy to slip back into the negative habits we were trying to change in the first place. 

How then do we rid ourselves of negative habits? The sad part is that we can't.  

So the trick then is to refocus the brain on what part of the habit loop needs to change and be modified.

In other words, you need to create a new habit loop, one that is built around the actions we want over those we don't. 

The primary factor, however, is in developing a craving for a new reward.  

The craving for a reward is what drives our actions, and if unsatiated, will continue to build on an unconscious action - how the scent of food can make you crave that item, even if you just ate. 

If you are trying to build an exercise habit, the key is to set a cue such as putting on your shoes first thing in the morning, and then after a run, have a reward set up.  

As you develop these conscious acts, by reinforcing the rewards, you begin to create the anticipation of reward.  

That anticipation creates a craving for the next reward, and once a craving is established, the roots of habit spread and become unconscious, leading to new habit formation.

So reward yourself to create a new habit. Eat that chocolate, drink that beer, sit on your duff and watch T.V.

If you really want to make a difference in your habits, it's that simple. But only if you operate within a habit loop.

Otherwise you're rewarding nonsense.

If you'd like to read Charles Duhigg's awesome book, click on the picture below.  I do get a small referral fee for each sale, just FYI.

Friday, April 8, 2016

7 Simple Ways To Maximize Your Productivity

The Seven Simple Tips That You Can Start To Use Right Now To Maximize Your Productivity 

1)  Distraction Free Zones 

Create a distraction "free" zone.  Find a space you can work, uninterrupted for a decent amount of time. Turn off your phone and email notifications, close all unnecessary windows, tabs and don't check Facebook and other social media.

If you're at home, turn off the TV.  Even though you like the "white noise" that the TV provides in the background, turn it off.  It serves as a distraction to your focus.

Let your coworkers, friends and family that there is a period of time that you need to work without disruption.

Then close the door to your office, find a quiet place to work.

2)   Separate Life From Work And Work From Life

Create a workspace separate from everything else.  This is especially important if you have to, or choose to, work from home.

It's like having a dog.

If all your dog ever does is runs around the house and yard, he's not getting the exercise needed.  But as soon as you set off and take him for a walk, to the park, or beach, and he sniffs around, he's going to be happier and more satisfied.


Because a change of venue sparks something in him, and it works the same for us.  Getting up and moving to a new workplace, some new site, makes a part of our brain activate in a way that's different.  It's the stimulus of a new environment that helps spark a drive and energy toward our production.

3)  Measure Once, Cut Twice 

Now that you have a work space and people understand the importance of your work, cut it down to size.  Take the large projects you have and break them down into smaller, more manageable pieces.

In carpentry, there's an adage to "measure twice, cut once." In this instance, you should invert those two concepts.  Measure once, see the size and scope of the project and cut it down to as small a portion as possible.  Another tip is to make a list of what you need to do, how many steps you predict it will take and set about one step at a time.

For example, let's say you're a weightlifter, and you want to try to lift 1 ton.  While that's humanly impossible, the idea is by breaking your target weight down into smaller amounts; it may take more repetitions to accomplish, but you'll be able to get to a ton in due time.

4) Time To Get To Work  

Dedicate your time.  

Commit to working in dedicated, highly focused periods of time.  This concept is called the Pomodoro Technique and is one that instructs us to work in small batches of time, with an immediate break from all related activities.

In other words, set limits on the length of time you plan on working and make sure you have very clear boundaries that include breaks in the intervals.

5) Fight The Battles To Win The War

In my recent past, I spent a long time coaching sports.  Team sports, individual sports and focused on individual development within the concept of teamwork and cohesion - one of the tenants was to make your teammates better, and one of the tools of the trade I used was to curate ideas.  In other words, I'd take what I observed, heard, saw, and researched to funnel that information down to a granular level in order to help solve whatever issue was on the team, or individual's, way.

How this applies to you, is that you should think about your work as little minor tasks to accomplish and that over time these micro-accomplishments will add up to something greater. Indeed, the sum is greater than the parts - but focus on the parts that matter.

Now, here's a horrid analogy that summarizes these concepts.  I hate the conflation of sports and war, but they are prevalent in society so here goes - Think about your tasks as minor battles in a larger war.

By focusing all your energy and troops on the small battles one at a time, you have a better chance of winning the war as it were.

6) Just Say No! 

Learn to say NO.

There's always more to get done and more than you can ever hope to accomplish.  So learn to say no.

Obviously we all have a finite amount of time in a day and a finite quantity of energy to get the tasks accomplished.

It may take awhile for clients, family and friends to learn, but eventually, they'll learn that by you saying no to their every demand and whim, you'll be happier and more productive over the long-term.

It's not easy to do but critical for success.

Be willing to say no will free you up with extra time and energy to focus on the tasks most critical and important to you.

7) Yield When You Come To A Stop Sign

As we discussed earlier, learn to set limits.  

It's a tactic that will help you break down your tasks into simpler, manageable ways.

Your tasks are the vehicle, the engine of your success.

But like an engine, it requires maintenance, upkeep and can't be run forever without breaking down.

Don't just work for the sake of work.  Make it a priority to stop when you should and rest when it's time.

Most importantly - DO NOT VEER OFF YOUR PATH - No U-Turns.

Taking decisive action in granular ways will lead you toward the goals you want.

Life's funny, we don't get to choose our birth, few decide their demise, but to quote Pearl Jam, 
"I know that I'm born and I know that I'll die, 
  the in-between is mine" 
Take advantage of the opportunity we have. We don't get to decide the boundaries of our lives too often, so make the most of what you know that you have. It's easy to want to do something, or want to be somewhere, but what's holding you back?

Regardless of your goals, these 7 tips you can use right now will maximize your productivity for all the time you have left.